Terrain, incompetence, mental health issues: Many of the volunteers who rallied to take part in the Ukrainian conflict are really difficult to manage and coordinate.
They are Europeans, Africans or Americans, hegemonic, radical Islamists or adventurers. Foreign fighters and mercenaries of all lines to fight on one side or the other in Ukraine pose more problems than they can solve.
A propaganda tool
Are they thousands or tens of thousands? The numbers vary greatly, but none are reliable. On the other hand, both camps continue to express their presence. “Foreign fighters are an important propaganda tool,” says James Rands, an analyst at the British intelligence agency Jane. “For the Ukrainians, the presence of foreign volunteers sends a signal that their troops and civilians are gaining international support. For the Russians, the Chechens and (mercenaries) Wagner group are the units that come with the experience of previous conflicts,” he said.
In early March, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that about 20,000 foreign fighters, mostly from European countries, had volunteered. Moscow, for its part, is mobilizing mercenaries from the private company Wagner and declaring itself in favor of sending Syrians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) initially announced that the Syrian army and Allied militants were ready to deploy 40,000 fighters. He says today that dozens of officers have spent a few days in Ukraine and have now returned to Syria where they trained under Russian supervision.
Illusions and incompetence
However, according to Western experts, the constituencies had nothing to do with the approximately 40,000 militants who actually went to Syria in 2010. Recruitment at this stage seems personal, spontaneous, explicit and inefficient. “Despite numerous incidents, there is no conclusive evidence that foreign fighters are making a difference in the front line,” says James Rands.
Because they often come with their problems, delusions and incompetence. They demand weapons, do not speak the language, and do not know the terrain or culture of the camp they wish to serve. There are also those who suffer from psychological weaknesses. Drug addicts, habitual offenders, and violent perpetrators driven by ideologies that have nothing to do with the conflict in which they engage. It is very difficult to integrate into units under a coherent command with discipline, respect for accepted tactics and engagement.
“Tic Tac Toe Special Forces”
Dr. Vera Mironova of Harvard University, who met some of them in person, notes that “some have already been expelled for mental health problems.” “Many of them will never approach the front,” he says, adding that some will be allowed to fight, even if they are willing to bribe the military.
Daniel Bayman, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., notes that many volunteers are “fundamentally unfit for war zone” compared to other recent theaters. They do not resist basic things like lack of hot food or the need to sleep outside. “A lot of people have less skills and will go home,” the American said.
James Rands, for his part, triggers a video of Chechens praying, which is seen as threatening their opponents. The latter came to ambush them instead of using geolocation. Their leader and several soldiers were killed. “Ukrainians call them ‘Diktak Special Forces’ and they only recommend how to make good videos.”
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