I wrote a previous post about foreigners fighting for the separatists in East Ukraine. Here’s some information about their opposite numbers on the side of the government.
Most journalists tended to focus on the far-right volunteers who turned up in Kiev and demanded a gun (here’s an article from George Soros’ Eurasianet.org about foreigners in the Azov Battalion) but around 100 Chechens, many Muslims from other nations, and several hundred Russian and Belarussians are also fighting for the Ukrainian government.
The fighting in Ukraine has attracted a lot of people with a ideologies some might think contradictory. They have one thing in common: hatred of Putin’s Russia.
Foreigners are not allowed to join the Ukrainian armed forces. But the government turns a blind eye if they enlist in one of the many independent militias found on the front lines or form their own. Chechens created the Sheikh Mansur Battalion, which has a heavy Islamist flavour. They made an unlikely partnership with the far-righters of the Azov unit and trained alongside them. Other Muslim groups active in the fighting include Crimean Tatars in the Crimea Battalion and the Dzhokhar Dudayev unit, formed by exiles from the Caucasus (like Isa Munayev) who were living in Denmark.
The Russian and Belarussian volunteers were motivated by dislike of Putin. Most joined the paramilitary National Guard, inspired by a Facebook post from Donbass Battalion leader Semen Semenchenko asking them to fight for Ukraine.
“This is not a war of Russia with Ukraine,” he said. “This is a war between freedom and lawlessness.”
Many of them can’t return home. Putin’s security forces would arrest them the moment they crossed the border. But Ukraine is reluctant to grant them citizenship, leaving many in a legal limbo. Kiev trusts them with an AK-47 but not a passport.
The media is more interested in the SS tattoos and celtic crosses of the Azov Battalion. Not all the foreigners in its ranks are neo-nazis. Just enough to make it impossible to ignore.
To finish off, here’s a slice of Azov propaganda. Stern men with guns in ruined villages. A grinding metal soundtrack. Some snow. All the thrill of war with none of the digging latrines and collecting severed limbs.
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