The juridical basis of the distinction between lawful combatant and unprivileged belligerent is fundamental, since a lawful combatant is entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution for "ordinary" crimes, while of course being subject to prosecution for war crimes. Members of the armed forces of a state are entitled to take part in a conflict, are styled as ‘lawful combatants’ and upon capture are to be treated as prisoners of war, entitled to the detailed regimen set out in the third Geneva Convention of 1949. Article 4(A)(2) provides that lawful combatants are entitled to POW status so long as they are commanded by a person responsible for subordinates, carry a “fixed distinctive sign,” carry arms openly, and operate in accordance with the laws of war.
International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine
President Volodymyr Zelensky announced 26 February 2022 the formation of a new unit - the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine [inozemnyj-legion], which will be composed of foreigners ready to fight back with the Ukrainians to the Russian occupiers. The President addressed all citizens of foreign countries who are friends of Ukraine. Anyone who wants to join the defense of security in Europe and the world can come and stand side by side with the Ukrainians against the invaders of the XXI century - the Russian occupiers.
Russia conducted a military operation in Ukraine from 24 February 2022. President Vladimir Putin called its goals the protection of the population of Donbass from “genocide”, as well as the demilitarization and “denazification” of the Donbass. neighboring state. The fact that Ukraine intends to involve foreign volunteers in the hostilities was announced on February 27 by President Volodymyr Zelensky. Then he announced the creation of an international legion of territorial defense of Ukraine.
According to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, during the special military operation, approximately 6600 foreign citizens arrived on the territory of Ukraine in order to conduct military operations on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for a reward, in other words, mercenaries. By 01 June 2022, their number has almost halved to 3500 people. This was announced during a briefing by a representative of the Russian defense department. "Hundreds of foreign mercenaries in Ukraine were destroyed by long-range Russian high-precision weapons shortly after their arrival at the places where they were undergoing additional training and coordination of tactical units. But most of the mercenaries were destroyed in the combat zone due to the low level of training and the lack of real combat experience" said the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Major General Igor Konashenkov.
Another part of the foreigners decided to leave Ukraine after a real-life clash with the Russian army. Interviews and videos with the participation of citizens of Britain, the United States and other countries have circulated on the Internet, urging compatriots not to go to Ukraine because of the high danger and the lack of supply organization and command vertical in coordination with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
By the beginning of May 2022, the Investigative Committee of Russia opened criminal cases against 75 mercenaries participating in the battles on the side of Ukraine. According to investigators, they came from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Norway, Georgia and other countries. The cases were initiated based on the testimony of Ukrainian prisoners of war who are in Russia.
The Supreme Court of the Donetsk People's Republic sentenced two citizens of Britain and one citizen of Morocco, who fought on the side of Ukrainian militants, to capital punishment - the death penalty. According to the laws of the DPR , the sentenced Britons Aiden Aslin and Sean Pinner, as well as the Moroccan Saadoun Brahim, will be shot. The head of the judicial board said that the convicts can appeal the decision within a month. In addition, the presiding judge in the courtroom noted that Pinner was recognized as a terrorist in the UK and was wanted for participation in hostilities in Iraq and Syria.
The 48-year-old Pinner worked as an instructor in the ranks of the armed forces of Ukraine. The Briton was captured in April 2022 along with soldiers from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Mariupol. The 27-year-old Eslin was among those who “voluntarily laid down their arms” Marines of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Mariupol.
As emphasized in the Prosecutor General's Office of the DPR, taking into account the wartime and the gravity of the crimes, "the mercenary may be given an exceptional measure of punishment - the death penalty." The accused built his defense on the assertion that he and his comrade were officially in the service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, therefore, the provisions of the Geneva Convention on the maintenance of prisoners of war should apply to them. In turn, the investigating authorities of the DPR provide evidence that Aslin fought on the side of Ukraine voluntarily and received monetary rewards for this. Thus, he is not a combatant and should be tried under republican criminal law.
On 08 June 2022, the mercenaries pleaded guilty to acts aimed at seizing power by force. The relevant article of the Criminal Code of the DPR provides for the death penalty. Aslin also pleaded guilty under the article "Training in order to carry out terrorist activities." The mercenaries surrendered in Mariupol in mid-April. British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said that the British government intends to file a protest in connection with the criminal case against Aslin.
The Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security notes that Russia needs this tribunal in order, first, to satisfy the bloodthirsty aspirations of its public, which believes that the Anglo-Saxons are at war with the "Russian world." Secondly, it is a threat to other foreigners who are fighting on the Ukrainian side. Third, it is inciting British public opinion against Boris Johnson's decisive steps in support of Ukraine. Fourth, terrorist trading in the lives of hostages is forcing Britain to establish at least some kind of legal relationship with the DNR.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine called the "trial" of foreign servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the temporarily occupied territories insignificant. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko noted that all foreigners who fight on Ukrainian territory as part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Therefore, in accordance with international humanitarian law, they are subject to the legal status of combatants, the spokesman said.
"All servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who are captured by the enemy enjoy the rights of prisoners of war. The enemy is forbidden to commit violence against them, intimidate or behave inhumanely," Nikolenko said. The Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed that the "trial" of UAF servicemen in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories is insignificant. "Such public courts place the interests of propaganda above the law and morality, undermine the mechanisms for the return of prisoners of war. The Ukrainian government will continue to make every effort to release all defenders of Ukraine," the diplomat concluded.
Aiden Eslin wrote: “First of all, we are not mercenaries, we are paid and treated the same way as any Ukrainian. I have taken on the responsibility to protect the Ukrainian people and its citizens. Secondly, we are not military tourists, as some say. I have met many military tourists, and they do not stay long. I am serving for the fourth year, I was one of the first British paratroopers in the Ukrainian Marines and I wear my beret with honor, one of the few foreigners. "
"All foreign citizens and stateless persons who take part in hostilities on the territory of Ukraine as part of the Armed Forces are admitted voluntarily to military service under a contract in accordance with the 1992 Law of Ukraine" On Military Duty and Military Service ". (…) Relevant persons are servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who are subject to the legal status of combatants. This status, among other things, gives such persons the right to be treated as prisoners of war in the event of falling into the hands of the enemy, "- said in a statement the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The British Sean Pinner and Aiden Aslin, as well as the Moroccan Saadoun Brahim, were charged under Part 2 of Art. 34 of the Criminal Code of the DPR (“Commission of crimes by a group of persons”), art. 323 of the Criminal Code of the DPR (“Forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power”) and art. 430 of the Criminal Code of the DPR (“Mercenary”), the agency specifies. In the DPR, such crimes are punishable under wartime conditions.
Article 232 of the Criminal Code of the DPR provides for criminal punishment for undergoing education and training for the purpose of terrorist activities. This article provides for punishment in the form of a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years (according to one of the parts) and up to life imprisonment (according to the other). Article 323 of the Criminal Code of the DPR, which provides for punishment up to the death penalty - for actions aimed at seizing power by force. The militants were charged with actions on attempts as part of the Ukrainian armed formations to carry out actions to seize power in the Donetsk People's Republic.
There are men who want adventure, a sense of significance and are harking back to World War II rhetoric. Some of the potential foreign fighters may be white supremacists, who are believed to be fighting on both sides of the conflict. They could become more radicalised and gain military training in Ukraine, thereby posing an increased danger when they return home.
Recruitment was narrowed in March 2022 to those with military experience, and paused entirely at the beginning of April. A spokesman for Ukraine’s so-called “International Legion” told Canadian media that sending untrained volunteers to the front was becoming more of a hindrance than a help, and supplies of firearms and ammunition were running low.
An estimated 6,824 foreign mercenaries from 63 countries had come to Ukraine to fight for Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, the Russian Defense Ministry stated on 18 April 2022. Of these, 1,035 have been “destroyed,” while several thousand remain. Four hundred foreign fighters are holed up in Mariupol, where nationalist forces, including the neo-Nazi fighters, have refused to surrender. The most numerous group of foreign fighters (1,717) arrived from Poland, while around 1,500 came from the US, Canada and Romania. Up to 300 people each came from the UK and Georgia, while 193 arrived from the Turkish-controlled areas of Syria.
These figures were announced by Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov. According to the general, 1,035 foreign mercenaries have been killed by Russian forces and 912 fled Ukraine, leaving 4,877 active in the cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Nikolaev and Mariupol.
On 01 April 2022 the Ukrainian authorities temporarily suspended the recruitment of foreign mercenaries due to their lack of sufficient combat experience, as well as due to a shortage of weapons, the Canadian newspaper National Post reported. “There are several reasons for stopping recruitment, one of which is the lack of firearms,” the publication quotes the words of a representative of the Foreign Legion of Ukraine. “Our parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, will vote this Friday on some positions related to the foreign legion, and based on this vote we can continue [setting]."
The quality of those who want to fight is likely to differ from case to case. There will be those who have no military experience and will be required to pick up the basics, such as weapons handling, in a matter of a few days. Even for those vets who have been in combat situations before, this is a completely different experience. The skills most in demand now in Ukraine require previous military training, handling specific equipment, or organizing civil resistance. Those without military experience are likely to be assigned logistical tasks such as transporting supplies or personnel to the front lines. Someone with a Category C license, for example, driving trucks is probably a better use of his experience and skills than fighting on the front-line. Where they go depends where they could backfill the Ukrainian units. The difficulty of that is they might obviously not speak Ukrainian so they'll probably be nationally put into teams. So all the UK volunteers would form a UK unit.
The Ukrainian government said by early-March 2022 about 20,000 foreigners from various nations had already joined. While reliable numbers are hard to come by, it's believed that thousands of foreign nationals have already rallied to the Ukrainians' cause. "Very rough figures put it at around 20,000. The majority of them are European and North American. There are 500 from Belarus and also some Japanese volunteers," Ed Arnold, a research fellow for European Security at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, told DW 11 March 2022.
Americans could face criminal penalties, or even risk losing their citizenship, by taking part in an overseas conflict, according to a senior US law enforcement official. US authorities worry about what could happen if an American is killed or captured – or is recruited while over there to work for a foreign intelligence service upon their return home. For German nationals who want to travel to Ukraine and join the war effort, there are, in principle, no legal obstacles to prevent them from doing that. A UK Foreign Office spokesman told DW: "We advise against travel to Ukraine and anyone who travels to conflict zones to engage in unlawful activity, should expect to be investigated upon their return to the UK."
Countries like the UK and Canada have laws banning their citizens from participating in military action against a country they are not at war with. The Czech Republic has also has passed legislation making joining another state’s armed forces illegal. Other countries, such as Germany, have warned that if any of its nationals who join the war effort in Ukraine violate international law, they will be prosecuted. In the past, several European countries have tried some of their nationals who have fought on either side of the eight-year conflict in the Donbas.
The possibility of members of far-right groups travelling to Ukraine has alarmed some Western countries. German officials have told local media that they are monitoring individuals known for their far-right activism and are trying to stop them from travelling to the conflict zone. According to the German interior ministry, fewer than 10 German nationals with far-right affiliations are known to have gone to Ukraine. There was no indication of a large influx of far-right volunteers.
Adviser to the head of the President's Office Oleksiy Arestovych said “We receive military aid from other countries, a foreign legion of volunteers from other countries, many of whom have been formed. No matter how two legions had to be formed, which are now being recorded for the defense of Ukraine. Our resistance is becoming full-scale".
"Ukrainians have the courage to defend their homeland, to defend Europe, to defend the values of civilization. However, this is not just Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of a war against Europe. Against the unity of Europe. Against basic human rights in Europe. Against all the rules of coexistence on the continent," Zelensky said.
According to the Regulations on Military Service in the Armed Forces by Foreigners and Stateless Persons, approved by Presidential Decree of June 10, 2016 # 248, foreigners have the right to join the Armed Forces for contract military service on a voluntary basis, including in the Territorial Defense Forces ZSU.
"In this regard, all foreigners who wish to join the resistance to the Russian occupiers and protect world security, the leadership of Ukraine offers to come to our country and join the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces. A separate unit of foreigners is formed - the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine. This will be the key evidence of your support for our country."
"To all foreigners who want to join the resistance to the Russian occupiers and protect world security, the Ukrainian leadership offers to come to our country and join the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces," - said in a statement posted on the country head website. Contact the Defense Attaché of the Embassy of Ukraine to register with the International Legion and for all details (contact information will be available on the Embassy's website).
Foreigners wishing to join the international legion will be assisted to the maximum extent possible, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. "All these people now have the legal right and legal framework to join our troops and fight under the command of the Ukrainian army. All of them are welcome. And every embassy of Ukraine, every consulate general of Ukraine openly provide such people with all the necessary information. Their entry into Ukraine will be simplified to the maximum extent possible," Kuleba said at an online briefing.
Kuleba clarified that the logistical problem is that Ukraine cannot now be reached by plane, but assured that Ukraine would help foreigners come and fight if they wish. "Over the past three days, almost from the very beginning of Russian aggression, we have begun to receive many hundreds of requests from foreigners, including the Ukrainian diaspora, who want to come to Ukraine and help us protect our land. Some want to do this because they love Ukraine and want to protect it, some understand that Putin attacked not only Ukraine, but European security and the world order and want to protect it, some have open accounts with Russia and want to fight Russia specifically without taking into account specific Ukrainian interests," the minister explained.
Ukraine’s president signed a decree temporarily lifting the requirement for entry visas for any foreigner willing to join Ukraine’s International Defense Legion and fight on Ukraine’s side against invading Russian troops. Foreigners who wish to travel to Ukraine and join the International Legion to fight against Russia can do so without a visa starting from March 1, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced amid the ongoing military offensive launched by Moscow.
Zelensky’s Order 82 establishes a visa-free regime for the duration of the current state of emergency, and instructs the Ukrainian government to begin its implementation immediately. The only exception is made for citizens of the “aggressor state,” meaning that any Russian nationals who’d like to take Kiev’s side in the conflict are not welcome.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said that the first of 16,000 foreign volunteers are coming to the country. "Ukraine is already meeting foreign volunteers who are coming to our state. The first of 16 thousand, they are going to defend freedom," he said in a video message published on his Telegram channel 03 March 2022.
The Saeima (parliament) of Latvia at an extraordinary meeting on 28 February 2022 urgently approved amendments to the law on national security, allowing residents of the republic to fight on the side of Ukraine as volunteers. The amendments to the law were conceptually approved by the Saeima Commission on Defence, Internal Affairs and Prevention of Corruption on the evening of February 27. Those who begin service in Ukraine will have to immediately register with the registration unit of the national armed forces reserve, the amendments provide. Until now, the law had prohibited Latvian citizens from serving in the armed forces, internal army, military organization, intelligence or security service, police or judicial services of a foreign state or other subject of international law.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace believes the British have better ways to help Ukraine than go to war. He stated this on the air of the Sky News channel. "There are people who will want to go [to Ukraine]. I would say that only if you are not properly prepared, if you are not an experienced soldier, I think that there are better ways to contribute to the security of Ukraine," Wallace said. "If you want to help and you are a citizen of the United Kingdom - come and enlist in our armed forces," he added.
The Mainichi Shimbun daily newspaper reported Wednesday that 70 Japanese men, including 50 former members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces and two veterans of the French Foreign Legion, had applied to be volunteers in Ukraine.
The official representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said that about 200 mercenaries arrived in the nationalist battalion on the territory of Ukraine from Croatia. "Last week alone, about 200 mercenaries from Croatia arrived through Poland and joined one of the nationalist battalions in southeastern Ukraine," Konashenkov said.
Mercenaries sent by the West to help Kiev will not be eligible for prisoner of war status, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said 03 March 2022. "I want to officially emphasize that all mercenaries sent by the West to help the Kiev nationalist regime are not combatants under international humanitarian law. They do not have the right to the status of a prisoner of war," he said.
Czech nationals will have the chance to join Ukraine's defence forces to battle Russia's invasion without fear of punishment at home, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on 03 March 2022. Under Czech law, it is illegal to join foreign armed forces without an exemption from the president who is the commander-in-chief of the Czech army. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison. CTK news agency reported at least 300 people had sought an exemption to answer Ukraine's call for foreign volunteers to fight Russia's invasion.
Combat-trained Americans, along with thousands of other foreigners, are participating in the military operations in Ukraine on the side of Kyiv. Such an assessment is given in an article published on 01 May 2022 in the American newspaper Politico. The material notes that in Ukraine, in particular, the Task Force Yankee group, headed by the American Harrison Josephowitz, operates. He previously worked as a police officer in Chicago, Illinois, and also served in the US Army (ground forces).
Josefowitz told journalists of the edition that in the indicated group "more than 190 volunteers", some of them are expected to participate in hostilities. According to him, those who previously served in the armed forces are used for this. The publication notes that members of the Task Force Yankee facilitate the delivery of medicines and food to the battle lines in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine in the interests of Kyiv.
"An unspecified number of other Americans, many of whom have served in the military, are believed to be in the country, fighting Russian forces along with Ukrainians and volunteers from other countries, although US troops are not directly involved in the fighting, but sent military equipment, humanitarian and financial aid," the article notes. It claims that the Ukrainian embassy in Washington "faced the need to process requests from thousands of Americans who want to help in the fighting." The material states that the Ukrainian side "uses the Internet to recruit volunteers for foreign troops <...>". As follows from the publication, "Josephowitz <...> said that there are thousands of Americans and other volunteers in Ukraine."
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|