A ‘small number’ of British soldiers have reportedly ignored orders not to go to Ukraine
The British Army is reportedly trying to track down troops who are suspected of traveling to Ukraine despite the UK government’s stated wish to avoid entangling itself in the Ukraine-Russia military conflict.
Moscow attacked Kiev in late February, following a seven-year stand-off over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk peace agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbas republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularise the status of the regions inside the Ukrainian state.
“We are aware of a small number of individual soldiers who have disobeyed orders and gone absent without leave, and may have traveled to Ukraine in a personal capacity,” a British Army spokesman told Sky News on Wednesday. “We are actively and strongly encouraging them to return to the UK.”
UK service members are currently prohibited from traveling to Ukraine for any reason, even if they have been granted leave. The spokesman said those who violate that rule “will face disciplinary and administrative consequences.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace previously told UK lawmakers that any members of the military who join the fighting in Ukraine will be prosecuted when they return. He said British civilians are strongly discouraged from volunteering to fight alongside Ukrainian troops. British law prohibits Britons from fighting in the service of any foreign state that is at war with a country with which the UK is at peace.
News of the possible UK desertions comes one week after Paris police detained 14 French Foreign Legionnaires of Ukrainian origin who were stopped on a Ukraine-bound bus. The soldiers, five of whom were AWOL, were suspected of making the trip to fight for their native country. The other nine Legionnaires had been given leave to go to Poland and find family members who fled Ukraine, but they were prohibited from crossing the border into the former Soviet republic. The Foreign Legion is a branch of the French Army.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree late last month forming an international brigade to fight alongside Kiev’s government forces. Some NATO member nations have allowed civilians to fight in Ukraine as volunteers, but they have vowed not to send their own troops.
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The US State Department has discouraged Americans from traveling to Ukraine, but said it won’t stop them
Washington has no plans to keep track of US citizens who volunteer to fight for Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian attack, the State Department said, warning, however, that such trips can result in “capture or death.”
“When Americans travel abroad they are not required to register with the Department of State in any way, so these are not metrics we would track,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Friday when asked how many Americans have traveled to Ukraine amid Kiev’s recruitment campaign for a “foreign legion.”
Price noted that the US government still urges Americans to avoid going to Ukraine, but suggested no action would be taken against those who opt to do so.
The spokesman went on to say that travel to Ukraine poses “risks to personal safety,” and that US citizens “should be aware that Russia has stated that it intends to treat foreign fighters in Ukraine as ‘mercenaries’ rather than as lawful combatants or prisoners of war.”
Washington, nevertheless, expects Moscow to “respect all of its obligations and law of war,” Price noted, warning of “potential attempts at criminal prosecution” and a “heightened risk for mistreatment” for the American “volunteers.”
Approximately 100 US citizens have passed the screening to join the Ukrainian armed forces fighting the Russian offensive, Kiev’s military attaché in Washington DC has revealed.
Since Moscow launched its offensive on February 24, some 6,000 people, mostly Americans, have reached out to the Ukrainian Embassy in the US to express their willingness to serve alongside Ukrainian forces, Major General Borys Kremenetskyi, has told the news agency AP.
Interviews with volunteers have been conducted by Kremenetskyi and other diplomatic staff in the US capital via Zoom.
According to the official, half the applicants had to be rejected early in the vetting process as they did not have the required military experience, had a criminal background, or were either too young or too old. Others did not make the list because the embassy was not able to adequately check their background. To be granted official permission to fight for Ukraine, those candidates who make it through the initial stages have to undertake a final Zoom interview.
Before any foreigner can join up, they are required to sign a contract to serve without pay in the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. The combatants have first to get themselves to Poland, then cross the Polish-Ukrainian border at a specified point. They are given weapons on arrival in Ukraine but are expected to provide their own protective gear.
The comments follow reports that around 100 Americans had been screened to join Kiev’s forces as they fight Russian troops after Ukraine explicitly called on foreign volunteers to join the conflict. Citizens from a number of other countries have also lined up to do the same. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that some 16,000 foreign fighters were expected to arrive in Ukraine last week.
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbas republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.
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