For What Are We Born, if Not to Aid One Another?
March 21, 2022 11:03 PM   Subscribe

"After years of serving in smoldering occupations, trying to spread democracy in places that had only a tepid interest in it, many are hungry for what they see as a righteous fight to defend freedom against an autocratic aggressor with a conventional and target-rich army"
20,000 people, from over 52 countries, are in the process of heading to Ukraine to fight, after a plea from Zelenskyy. Among those are large numbers of American veterans - yet a number of challenges and barriers exist: vetting; logistical, and legal.

The history of foreign volunteers joining international conflicts is long and storied, with the situation in Ukraine bringing echoes of the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, both for good and ill: for example,half of the majority-civilian foreign volunteers in the Spanish civil war died. Many joined the fight, along with civilian leftists, with the YPG in Rojava, and in 2014 in Ukraine. But who is joining now in the defense of Ukraine? While some high-profile fighters with experience fighting Russians, such as the Canadian sniper known as Wali or Suhail al-Hamood, a Syrian nicknamed Abu TOW for his success in destroying Russian tanks, have joined, the conflict has sparked a lot of talk and interest among American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zelenskyy called for "all friends of Ukraine" to come and resist the Russian invasion, regardless of experience; but the implementation and sudden surge of volunteers has caused confusion; especially as the military and many embassies are requesting only experienced military veterans to appear. Some are using the new, slick website to get information about joining the official Ukrainian International Legion. The Ukrainian embassy faces difficulties sorting through all the volunteers, given their strong vetting process, which requires proof of passport and any military service, as well as social media checks, has approved few for formal inclusion in the International Legion, leaving many impatient and trying to find other ways to more quickly join the fight.. Many who are not able to successfully join have joined the Georgian Legion, a formalized paramilitary group that accepts American recruits. And many who are not successfully able to join either have joined paramilitias with "lower requirements to join", but often still feel frustrations at not being placed directly into the fight.

Accordingly, veterans unable to sign up directly in advance are taking a number of routes: some come to join established unofficial or quasi-official groups; others talk and try to coordinate plans in Internet forums such as r/VolunteersForUkraine; others appear to be showing up in the area with the intention of "winging it". A number of US veterans, including author and veteran Matt Gallagher, came to train Ukrainian citizens in defensive tactics [video] and specifically in counterinsurgency tactics that were successful against Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Aerial Rescue Group is operating in conjunction with the Ukrainian government and the charity Salam to evacuate children, but are saying that even after evacuation, they remain vulnerable.

Yet there are deep concerns overall around these troops and these fighters. Many fighters are coming from a number of different political traditions; there are far-right South American fighters coming from Brazil, along with leftists flooding to anarchist militias. When American military veterans are training others to kill Russians, or actually engaging in combat themselves, some have concerns they will be perceived as a coherent American fighting unit and cause an escalation of the war. There is also a high lethality rate and heavy fog of war, with propaganda operating on both sides. The Russian government has announced it will be considering all fighters as mercenaries,and failing to apply the Geneva Convention to any prisoners of war. It's unclear what has happened to high profile fighters like Wali, and unclear how many casualties, if any, that foreign fighters overall have faced. A lot of information is coming from social media, which can be skewed, as some choose not to post for a variety of reasons and those that do often are trying to justify their own actions, such as with two "Boogaloo Bois" rejected from the International and Georgian legions; one attempted to spin a highly improbable tale of terror and derring do.

[Note: this is a thread specifically about foreign fighters in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. If you are looking for the latest Ukraine megathread, it can be found here. Feelings about the overall invasion of Ukraine go here, and suggestions of places of how you can personally help are here]
posted by corb (63 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this.
posted by jadepearl at 11:18 PM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just yesterday, my daughter came home from school talking about "Mad Jack" Churchill, a veteran who fought in WWII riding a motorcycle and wielding both a sword and bow (Side note: How in the hell has this man not gotten a movie biopic yet?).

For some reason, after reading this post, I envisioned a Ukrainian battlefield full of "Mad Jacks".
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:55 AM on March 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

Random fact: arrows penetrate sandbags when bullets do not, so bows and arrows have been occasionally used in modern warfare as recently as Sarajevo.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:29 AM on March 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

Though I'm sure Ukraine is grateful for the help, it's easy to see the pitfalls for them in this. Any bad behavior by foreigners becomes instant propaganda for Putin or causes injury to innocent Ukrainians. And this is the sort of situation that attracts nutters. Ideally, you would want these volunteers to be vetted in an adjacent country, by experienced ex-military types, before they are allowed into Ukraine. NATO could organize this, if it wanted.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:38 AM on March 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

Don't forget about the Chechens that are in Ukraine, fighting for the Russian side. And also don't forget about the Chechens that are in Ukraine, fighting for the Ukrainian side.
posted by NoMich at 5:08 AM on March 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

Speaking of foreign fighters: Syrians join Russian ranks in Ukraine as Putin calls in Assad’s debt

While I'm sure Ukraine can use more well-trained boots on the ground inside their country to defend it, until the long range shelling and missiles stop, the war will continue to be prosecuted by Russia with horrible effect. Stopping those is not within the capability of Ukranian forces without a major change in tactics and materiel, and is dangerous in terms of escalation because it involves attacking "Russian" territory.
posted by lalochezia at 5:14 AM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ah, the Emoluments Clause. Haven't heard that name invoked since the early days of the Orange Muppet. It would really be the cherry on top of the shit sundae if a bunch of veterans volunteering for deadly combat to protect Ukrainian democracy from Russian aggression were to be prosecuted for it, after the DOJ so publicly refused to look into Trump's blatantly obvious foreign entanglements.
posted by Mayor West at 5:38 AM on March 22, 2022 [14 favorites]

I do worry about the presence of American combat forces on the ground in Ukraine. Yes, they're volunteers, and not operating under American leadership, but what difference does it make? If Putin can produce video of American troops shooting at Russian forces, that's a full-on cassus belli. Hell, even if he can't produce video, just the Rolling Stone article is enough to fuel a decade of false flag operations claiming American aggression as justification for escalating the Russian response. If someone tries to argue that mercenary companies comprised of American soldiers are functionally distinguishable from proper American squads, then what's to stop Putin from dressing a bunch of his guys up as (say) Mexican special forces and having them open fire on US Border Patrol?

This seems like the sort of thing that we would have well-vetted processes in place to prevent, but I guess this is something of a unique moment in history for the US. It's been a long time since we were on the periphery of an extremely popular military operation that we weren't actively fighting in.
posted by Mayor West at 5:54 AM on March 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

Sorry to triple comment, this'll be my last comment for a while, I promise:

corb, this is a fantastic post, and has given me at least a day's worth of things to read and consider. Thanks for putting this together.
posted by Mayor West at 5:56 AM on March 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

So, it's not so much World War III as it is the Spanish Civil War, Mark II, I guess.
posted by briank at 5:59 AM on March 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Comment and a couple replies removed; if you want to have a conversation about how the site itself is engaging with the topic of Ukraine, that's an okay thing to do in MetaTalk, but doing it as a terse whatabout sort of jab in a thread on the blue isn't gonna go anywhere good.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:16 AM on March 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

If Putin can produce video of American troops shooting at Russian forces, that's a full-on cassus belli.

It's worth taking a step back and thinking about what a cassus belli actually is. A nation can go to war whenever they wish - as Putin did against Ukraine. The cassus belli is the international diplomatic argument which absolves other nations from participating in aiding the defense, in whatever form that may take. So, any actions Putin may take only create a new cassus belli to the extent that we believe other nations will interpret them as giving Russia a reasonable cause to escalate to a wider conflict.

Based on the reporting on behaviors around this conflict, I see little reason to believe that exterior to the United States the presence (or even death) of some Americans in this fight will noticeably change already formed opinions. In fact, to this point it appears that it is Russia, not the other powers, which is using State resources to engage foreign nationals from outside the region into the conflict. Ukraine is trying to some degree, but by their own admission were not equipped nor prepared to quickly facilitate a large foreign mobilization.

It is perhaps a more challenging domestic question as Americans are very unfamiliar with seeing their own people die in conflict. The past twenty years have been particularly sterilized of even the relatively few losses experienced. If a significant number of U.S. citizen volunteers were to perish, I could see that impacting domestic politics towards increased hawkishness in a dangerous way - not because I believe pushing back on Russia is necessarily bad or impossible, but because hawkishness as retribution for the dead does not lead to carefully calibrated policy.
posted by meinvt at 7:19 AM on March 22, 2022 [13 favorites]

I'm disturbed by the idea that the war is like WW1.

From WW2 and onwards, the "modern system" of warfare has dominated, characterised by rapid movement, armoured formations in combined arms operation with infantry, and close air support.

But with drones and sophisticated portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, it could be that the "modern system" doesn't work any more. Armoured formations and close air support aircraft are too vulnerable.

If so, overseas volunteers might actually be useful even without much training. Like WW1 and the American Civil War, wars would be back to being decided by who can throw the most bodies into the fight, and whose economy collapses last.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:24 AM on March 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

I really want to caution anyone against thinking the Ukrainians are "winning" at this point.

There's a lot of talk about how they're counterattacking and so forth, but I believe from the Russian point of view, they're keeping the Ukrainians where they want them. Fixed by the forces in front of them, unable to break contact and withdraw across the Dniepr, and the noose slowly tightening.

Even the gruesome casualties and equipment losses may be in line with what they were expecting and able to withstand.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:37 AM on March 22, 2022 [10 favorites]

bows and arrows have been occasionally used in modern warfare as recently as Sarajevo

Apologies if this is a derail: Bows and arrows were used in a tribal conflict in 2008 relating to Kenya's presidential election that year. The AFP/Getty photo at the top of this NYT article went viral at the time, if I remember. A few more pictures, via google images.
posted by msbrauer at 7:39 AM on March 22, 2022

Story about former members of the Canadian military fighting in Ukraine, and a follow-up Twitter thread about "Wali", a Canadian Forces sniper who entered the conflict and was claimed to have been killed in action by Russia (he's alive and was interviewed by CBC reporters this morning).
posted by nubs at 7:57 AM on March 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

Fascinating. Still working my way through this great post.

I've always slightly wondered whether or not I'd have joined the Spanish Civil War if I'd been a young person at the time. Twenty years ago, I'd have said, "yes." This may be testing that claim. It somehow seems a lot more compelling than this particular war, but perhaps that's just romantic cherry picking and self-serving justification. (I suspect the only thing I'd actually be useful for today is building IEDs, which don't actually seem to be needed. To be clear, I've never made them and have no plans to do so. But, I know a lot more about electronics and chemistry than how to use guns or knives.) I also really like a soft bed and an electric tea kettle.
posted by eotvos at 8:40 AM on March 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

All those 80s wargames I got back in the day are now current news.

Most US servicemen trained to fight Warsaw Pact forces qualify for social security now tho.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

If Putin can produce video of American troops shooting at Russian forces, that's a full-on cassus belli.

Huh? The Russians do this kind of shit all the time. They had Spetsnaz in Syria, operating under the extremely thin guise of foreign fighters, and the US didn't declare war on Russia. We killed the poor SOBs, when the Russian commanders failed to acknowledge that they had forces in the area via "deconfliction" channels, which is sort of the risk you take when you do that sort of thing. Sucked to be them, I guess. (I've been told the Russians were made to grudgingly admit that they "might" have been Russians, in order to be permitted to recover the corpses. Such are the games we play.)

There were Russian pilots flying Russian aircraft in both Korea (definitely) and Vietnam (almost certainly). Neither led to an all-out war between the US and Russia, or NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The hand-wringing "what if the Russians don't approve of what we do?" puts us at a huge disadvantage and plays right into the Putinist sabre-rattling. All he has to do is threaten to escalate, and everyone apparently tucks their tails and backs off. Which just encourages him to threaten escalation more frequently, because he knows it works.

You cannot win against a bully by appeasing them.

The Russians are absolutely, positively going to threaten to broaden and escalate the war as they begin to realize they are at actual risk of losing it, and they will use any pretext, or none at all, to do so. We need to be mentally prepared for that threat, because it's going to happen, and we need to collectively not flinch when it does. It doesn't matter if we send sheep-dipped regular Army personnel, as Russia traditionally has done, or quasi-civilian volunteers, or Blackwater mercenaries trained at US government expense. The truth doesn't matter to Russia, so there's no point in letting Western strategy be constrained by the optics as they might be perceived by the Russians.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:52 AM on March 22, 2022 [69 favorites]

It's hard to see how bringing in Syrian fighters in any meaningful number doesn't make the Russian political aims even more impossible than they already are, even if they are only used to guard already taken areas.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:12 AM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

The hand-wringing "what if the Russians don't approve of what we do?"

Part of this comes from the fact that this isn't a unilateral response by one leader. NATO is 28 separate countries, some of whom actually border on Russia.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:12 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Russians are absolutely, positively going to threaten to broaden and escalate the war as they begin to realize they are at actual risk of losing it, and they will use any pretext, or none at all, to do so.

Yah every time I hear something along the lines of "NATO doesn't want WW3" I can't help but think, you might not want it, but you kind of have it already, so it's probably a good idea to stop hoping for the best and start planning for the worst.
posted by nushustu at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2022 [10 favorites]

If Putin can produce video of American troops shooting at Russian forces, that's a full-on cassus belli.

They aren't troops in American uniform, nor acting under the direction of the American military. Being an American citizen doesn't make you an American soldier for purposes of international law.

(Casus belli.)
posted by praemunire at 9:41 AM on March 22, 2022 [23 favorites]

I really want to caution anyone against thinking the Ukrainians are "winning" at this point.

Plus all Putin probably really wants is to steal all the natural gas reserves and ensure a water supply and he is already about 2/3rds of the way to achieving that. I'm sure the Russian peace negotiators are requiring Ukraine give up their natural resources and promise the water will be allowed to flow south. Putin is the greatest kleptocrat the world has ever known so it would 100% fit with his history. Geopolitically, the gas hold on Europe is weakened if they can buy from a Ukraine that is integrated into the EU and possibly NATO.
posted by srboisvert at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think the nuclear thing is getting derailly, but the Bret Devereaux ACOUP article on Nuclear Deterrence and how it applies to Ukraine was good. Unfortunately there aren't perfect answers. You obviously don't want to default to a full first strike. But if you allow nuclear brinksmanship to work, you create an incentive for every nuclear power to do more brinksmanship to achieve their goals, which makes you less safe in the long run.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:13 AM on March 22, 2022 [10 favorites]

They aren't troops in American uniform, nor acting under the direction of the American military. Being an American citizen doesn't make you an American soldier for purposes of international law.

So I think the issue for some is that they are troops in American uniform, at least in some cases. One of the things that we know is a shortage for the Ukrainian army is specifically uniforms, protective gear, and boots. That sounds incredibly boring, except for the protective gear, but it's a real issue not just because uniforms all look the same and help identify friendlies, but also because modern clothing is just not built to hold up under wartime conditions. If you look at some of those videos on the links, you'll see people, for example, rapidly flattening themselves to the prone position for firing. That's only one example, but that stuff is collectively hard on clothes.

And so some of the Ukranian information being put out is "bring your own uniform and gear". Again, makes sense for their position, and the boots and protective gear in particular make sense, but there are issues with wear of an American uniform even in civilian day to day - you've probably heard active duty soldiers or veterans snark about it over the years, depending on who you're adjacent to. A number of soldiers I think do see that there could be concerns in just bringing their uniform to war - but also, there's not a lot of really good alternative replacements inside the United States. It's the most effective stuff for a reason.

I still think it doesn't make the US culpable, but I do think it might make better propaganda videos for Russia to claim that NATO is at war with them and they're managing to hold them off.
posted by corb at 11:34 AM on March 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

Couldn't anyone just go down to their local army surplus store and nudge the preppers out of the way and buy fatigues?
posted by schyler523 at 11:49 AM on March 22, 2022

sheep-dipped regular Army personnel,

posted by jenfullmoon at 12:45 PM on March 22, 2022

Usually via being discharged from active duty and instantly hired by a CIA-run front company.

In reality, most military personnel who get to work for the CIA through a process called "sheep dipping." This is where the military pretends to separate you, but you secretly still work for it and the CIA.

The canonical example being Air America.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:01 PM on March 22, 2022 [5 favorites]


Real sheep dipping involves dumping sheep in a metal trough (or if your ranch is large and fancy, a specially built narrow pool like the log ride at Six Flags where you can do a bunch assembly line style). The pool is filled with drugs to kill parasites and worms.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:53 PM on March 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

1) I assume a good way for nation states to get some of their forces/trainers battle experience is to launder them through other states' conflicts as "volunteers."

2) I assume a good way for nation states to aid and coordinate with an embattled nation state without formally joining the war would be for "volunteers" to embedd on the ground in the conflict.

3) I assume the world has many actual volunteers for adventure/mayhem enough that 1 and 2 are not the sole source of volunteers.

4) I assume that many of the american volunteers of type 3 are more likely to be interested in helping russia or furthering an insurrection in the US. See The Bugalooligans

5) War is hell, i hope russia's war fails quickly and ends lastingly
posted by anecdotal_grand_theory at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think my biggest worry with this is - how do we/ anyone know whether some of these volunteers are not really Putin fan-boys? I assume that's why the vetting process is so slow, but I still worry, given the massive propaganda/ disinformation war that Russia has waged - and has been winning until recently.

This adds to my fears that so many other countries have been, in part radicalized with good effect - see for instance this most recently from the UK, which, if true, is a truly dangerous development.

I fear that Ukrains star as a media darling might be soon dimming and that the same old suspects will be manipulated into pressuring western regimes to leave Ukraine to its fate.
posted by doggod at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2022

This war involves the large but somewhat broken-down military of Russia fighting the smaller but scrappier forces of one other country, Ukraine, entirely inside Ukraine.

Ukraine is being resupplied, to extent, by the West. But currently, this conflict does not much resemble either previous "world war", in which huge, cutting-edge military forces of multi-nation alliances went head to head on multiple fronts.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

> Eliot Cohen in The Atlantic: "...we must announce that there will be a Marshall Plan to rebuild the Ukrainian economy, ...
If Russia is defeated we need to strongly consider a Marshall Plan for them too. The West's treatment of Germany after WWI resulted in conditions of disgruntlement and grievance that led people to support Hitler and Nazism, but by extending a hand after WWII we gained an ally.
posted by technodelic at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

AE Housman (who was writing about the British BEF in 1914, a 'professional' as opposed to conscript army):
These, in the days when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and the earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:35 PM on March 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

Anarchist militias in Ukraine, you say?

(as said upthread, WWI keeps coming back)
posted by doctornemo at 4:58 PM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

There are/is entire cultures and military practices based on defending against Russian imperialism.
posted by Buntix at 5:06 PM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Report from CNBC on American volunteers with an emphasis on medic training. Something to note is the use of landmines in Kyiv in the interview with wounded medical personnel.
posted by jadepearl at 11:00 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Article from Christian Science Monitor with more focus on French volunteers though it covers Wali and an American: In Ukraine’s call to arms, foreign fighters hear cry for justice
posted by jadepearl at 11:17 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

There are all sorts of people going to fight for all sorts of reasons, but when judging them as a whole, keep in mind that it's mostly only the idiots and posers who will be giving news interviews or posting on social media about it.

Those who announce their intentions make themselves and their families a target, to a regime that has already shown itself willing to carry out revenge attacks against British citizens on British soil, and able to get away with it.

Ten days ago Russia put a missile within 15 miles of the Polish border to hit Yavoriv, where they claimed foreign fighters were being staged. It's still not clear if there were actually foreigners killed there, but 35 Ukrainians died, and it's very possible that some fuckhead compromised their location by posting selfies from a training facility.

I have an ex-British army friend who I haven't seen lately. But I haven't asked where he is, because he wouldn't be stupid enough to tell me, and I'm not stupid enough to ask.
posted by automatronic at 3:49 AM on March 23, 2022 [7 favorites]

I hope your friend comes back with some stories to tell.
posted by acb at 4:26 AM on March 23, 2022

Usually via being discharged from active duty and instantly hired by a CIA-run front company.

In reality, most military personnel who get to work for the CIA through a process called "sheep dipping." This is where the military pretends to separate you, but you secretly still work for it and the CIA.

For those that aren't aware, the Russians used a very similar approach in the annexation of the Crimea in 2014. A whole bunch of 'little green men' turned up with Russian military equipment and weapons, but no insignia, and took over the airport, parliament and military bases. Putin initially claimed they were spontaneous local militias who had seized equipment from Ukrainian bases, but later did somewhat admit to them being Russian special forces (which was obvious from their equipment). Similarly, the Russian army has been propping up the 'independence' of the rebelling Donbas region for years, but are supposedly discharged volunteers, though paperwork found on them when captured has regularly proved otherwise.

Notoriously in 2014, a Russian Buk missile system crossed the border and the next day shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from a rebel-held area, before heading back to Russia, though obviously they've always refused to accept the findings.

Russia has said that it will treat any Ukrainian-aligned foreign soldiers as mercenaries, not subject to prisoner of war status if captured, whether they're part of the International Legion or otherwise.

So in terms of a casus belli, I think they will rather get laughed out the room (or the politer diplomat equivalent) if they try and claim foreign unofficial fighters, or those under Ukrainian chain-of-command are actually official NATO or US formations given they've had actual full Russian units operating barely unofficially in Ukraine territory for 8 years. And complaints about mercenaries falls flat, given the irregulars they're bringing in from Chechnya and Syria.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 4:57 AM on March 23, 2022 [5 favorites]

If Russia is defeated we need to strongly consider a Marshall Plan for them too. The West's treatment of Germany after WWI resulted in conditions of disgruntlement and grievance that led people to support Hitler and Nazism, but by extending a hand after WWII we gained an ally.

The West’s treatment of Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union - by IMF-imposed economic shock therapy and systematized looting via privatization - resulted in conditions of kleptocracy and grievance that directly led to where we are today. So yeah, in the probably unlikely event that this invasion is the downfall of Russia, it would absolutely be wise to do something different next time around.
posted by eviemath at 5:07 AM on March 23, 2022 [19 favorites]

Svenska Dagbladet, a major oSwedish newspaper, is running a long article today about a 24-year old Swede who’s joined the Ukrainian war effort. According to the article he’s in a unit together with US, British, Georgian nationals, among others. Though he did his national service (which is largely voluntary) at an anti-aircraft training regiment, he’s been assigned a role as a sniper in a light infantry platoon.

The bulk of the article is about a raid he participated in, and the paper points out they haven’t been able to independently confirm any of the claim), which is both a tale of success (knocking out several Russian infantry fighting vehicles) and of poor unit cohesion and training. After pulling back with no casualties from the raid, the platoon goes back since one of the soldiers is missing, and in the process get under fire for 19 hours, taking two casualties (the article says they were “blown up” which I assume mean killed). Returning to their base they find out the missing soldier was already back safely, having left the fight immediately once the they came under fire.

To me (National service in a ranger unit, two tours with UN peace keeping in Lebanon, and one in a military observation mission, but no combat experience comparable to the war in Ukraine) this is is what happens when you put together individually skilled people but don’t train procedures. Not everyone will be capable of carrying out the mission but there should be (at least two) regrouping points, squad leaders should ensure everyone is accounted for, etc.

Which of course makes it even more remarkable that they are effective against the Russian army (and in this case, according to the interview, a spetznas unit).

Article in Swedish
posted by boogieboy at 12:04 PM on March 23, 2022 [13 favorites]

I admit I didn't see this coming: Expelled from the air force after complaints of hazing, Giulia Schiff enlisted in Ukraine:
The young Venetian pilot had in recent months made headlines after being disbarred by the Italian Air Force for having reported several times, in the appropriate offices and also on TV, violent episodes of mobbing and hazing at the Academy of Pozzuoli on the occasion of her " baptism of flight ".
posted by kmt at 1:43 PM on March 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

The problem with poseurs and tourists isn't limited to combat volunteers:

Turf Wars, Thieves, and Disaster Tourists []

At the same time, there were people walking around the Hrebenne border camp in camouflage clothing claiming to have medical experience. Kollek calls them disaster tourists. One man showed up with a duffel bag of medical supplies.

"An odd hodgepodge of stuff in shoeboxes and so on, and then [he] dumped it on the table [and said] 'Can I volunteer? I'm a tactical medic,'" Kollek said. "We've had a lot of people claiming to be tactical medics. One of them told me ... he has good knife skills. It becomes a big problem when they actually get in the way."

posted by porpoise at 7:29 PM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

After years of serving in smoldering occupations, trying to spread democracy in places that had only a tepid interest in it

Spreading democracy was the Bush version of Putin's denazifying Ukraine and we would well do to remember that we did to Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Syria what he's doing to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, all those western volunteers remind me less of the International Brigades and more of how the War on Iraq helped created Isis and how the violence there got exported back to the countries Isis fighters came from.

With the out and out nazi Azov Brigade already being promoted heavily as an elite unit by the Ukrainian government itself, I have no illusions about the kind of people who are voluntering to join the war. It's all going to deliver some spectacular blowback in a few years when all these combat hardened fascists are going to put their skills in service of the latest right wing conspiracy theory.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:39 AM on March 24, 2022 [15 favorites]

It's all going to deliver some spectacular blowback in a few years

_could_ not necessarily will (deliver spectacular blowback). These fighters are coming back to different societies than Isis fighters did. I'm going to err on the side of optimism, and hope things change (frankly I think with no more Putin stirring the pot - just as Trump's 'voice' leaving twitter - things will calm down.) I don't know, none of us do, but I do hope.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:31 AM on March 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

One thing I'm hearing from folks on the ground is there's a lot of default assumptions about how things work from volunteers that are also just not justified - like, people showing up to a refugee zone and expecting to be able to book hotels or places to sleep.
posted by corb at 5:36 AM on March 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

On leftist Reddit and social media, some people are pretty quick to buy into the convenient-for-Russia equation of Ukraine = Azov = Nazi.

There are only about 900 members of Azov. For comparison in the US there are about 6,000 Proud Boys who were openly associated with a former President. Sadly it happens to countries that fascist groups exist, and that there are elements in government that are sympathetic to them.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:42 AM on March 24, 2022 [18 favorites]

Update regarding the American vetaran we talked about who stayed in Ukraine after cruise missiles hit their camp: An Army vet’s realization in Ukraine: ‘So horrible or heartbreaking that you can’t continue’.

I liked this part, which shows how different the war is on the ground vs. what we see from the distance:
He and the other volunteers loaded up anti-tank mines and anti-armor missiles for the 8-kilometer hike to the Georgian soldier’s last fighting position, he wrote on Facebook. On the way, they encountered what appeared to be Russian soldiers. They didn’t want to fight and yelled “Glory to Ukraine,” so the two sides passed each other without incident.
posted by kmt at 7:48 AM on March 24, 2022 [10 favorites]

Article from the Atlantic with ex-combat Marine veteran on his experiences in Kyiv. Since he is a foreign fighter his experience might be relevant to this thread.
posted by jadepearl at 11:34 PM on March 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

how different the war is on the ground vs. what we see from the distance

The mostly excellent Lions Led By Donkeys podcast is in the middle of a multipart series on The Polar Bear Expedition -- in which the WWI Allies invaded Siberia -- that features a lot of this sort of thing (especially at the point that the war was ending on other fronts).

Their previous set of episodes was on the Battle of Kursk in WWII, and got done just as the invasion of Ukraine kicked off. Making them all the more harrowing and wistful to listen to. (Kursk is about 220km north of Kharkiv.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:50 PM on March 28, 2022

Interesting: A Belarusian battalion fights in Ukraine ‘for both countries’ freedom’ (WaPo, archive)

Also, former US Army staff sergeant James Vasquez was reportedly killed in Ukraine, again. He's having fun with being dead on twitter: "I got killed again☹️" and "My wife coming to my rescue because I died again"

FYI, James Vasques might be cool: he tweeted then deleted "When I need to amp myself up for battle, I just think about the most punchable face on the planet … Tucker Carlson." But, fair warning, he also tweeted this obvious antisemetic dogwhistle: "I’m just an old vet who doesn’t like gargamels. (Smurf reference)😂" Anyhow, caveat lector twitter.

Coincidentally, it looks like one of his busted-Russian-tank videos was shot at the exact same location but maybe an hour or two earlier than the Vita Zaverukha video from the other thread which makes for an interesting glimpse into the Ukrainian war-porn social media influencer scene.

posted by peeedro at 4:47 PM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another article from Matt Gallagher, mentioned upthread: Advice to American Veterans (Paywall, NYT, I don't know how to get rid of those).
posted by corb at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Archive link.

Gallagher on The Spear podcast from Modern War Institute (West Point).

Gallagher interview w/Paul Rieckhoff

On the most recent episode of What a Hell of a Way to Die, Adrian Bonenber discusses returning to Ukraine to help get family out after reporting from there for years previously and briefly training civilian resistance while there.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:25 AM on April 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

we would well do to remember that we did to Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Syria what he's doing to Ukraine.

Yeah, I think we can critique US foreign policy without making a bunch of false equivalencies to the Russians. Ukraine isn't and wasn't without problems, but it has a functioning democratic, secular, pluralistic, multiparty government. (And TBH an enviable, if somewhat verbose, Constitution.)

Iraq was a minority-ruled dictatorship run by a guy who could give Idi Amin lessons on brutality and propped up by a secret police that would make the Stasi blush. I'm not sure that the US was the correct party to go in and depose him, but it's real hard to take seriously any argument that he didn't earn the end that he got, along with his miserable offspring.

And the Taliban... I mean, I don't even know where to start there. But it looks like other people have made a fairly thorough list. It's unfortunate that the US/NATO alliance was unable to buy the Afghans more than two decades of secular-if-you-squint-at-it governance, and maybe we'd have been able to do more if we'd kept our eyes on the proverbial ball starting in 2003 and/or if we didn't have a morally bankrupt petrodollar-based relationship with the Gulf States who happily provided food and lodging to the temporarily displaced Taliban leadership while they waited for an opportunity to plan their comeback tour. Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.

As it turns out, knocking over governments—particularly very corrupt ones with little in the way of a popular mandate—isn't actually all that hard. Standing up replacement governments in places whose recent experiences with governments is mostly corruption and repression is hard. C'est la guerre.

But to equate either with Putin's invasion of Ukraine—a neighboring state which did not threaten Russia (or anyone else), except perhaps insofar as it might have shown the Russian people that a viable alternative exists to strongman authoritarianism—and would have been almost certainly followed by the installation of a genocidal, kleptocrat-friendly police state, is so far divorced from reality that I would normally say it's not worth engaging with, except that it's apparently gained some traction among folks on the Left and is being actively exploited by Russian propaganda outlets. So let's maybe not do that?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:55 PM on April 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Let's also not ignore that Russia has been engaged in a proxy war in Ukraine for the last decade or so; annexed Crimea to its own territory (plus Georgia, Transnistria, etc). Russia does all the same shit the US does; but now it also does this.

I'd suggest listening to the most recent episode of It Could Happen Here, in which a Ukrainian leftist makes it plain that Russia is the most fascist and imperial power operating in the present global order, and is pursuing a genocide.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Jake Hanrahan has confirmed that Aiden Aslin surrendered with his unit in Mariupol.

Aiden will become a Prisoner of War of the Russians. His family agrees that this information should be shared far and wide, so please share. He is a friend and fellow East Midlands lad. He previously fought against ISIS in Syria with the YPG.

Aslin has a Ukrainian fiance and has been a member of the Ukrainian Marines for over five years, so this is not an International Legion unit surrendering; but he is a UK citizen and now a Russian POW.

This is suggested to be his last video update (from 3/25).
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

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