Donbas “republics” urge Moscow to openly send mercenaries to Ukraine’s east: Ukrainian MoD

6 April 2017, "one-day mobilization assembly" near occupied Ternove village east of Donetsk. Credit: Youtube 

War in the Donbas

The Russian occupation administrations of the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts “initiated a proposal” to permit the official recruiting of Russian nationals for the contract military service in the formations and units of the so-called 1st (Donetsk) and 2nd (Luhansk) army corps, based in the territories under the control of the administrations, according to a report by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense referring to the Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR).

The two Russian-run self-proclaimed “republics” occupy roughly one-third of Ukraine’s Donbas region. Map: Euromaidan Press

Since the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, Moscow has been pertinacious in its denial of the open secret of the presence of its troops in Ukraine’s east and even the very fact of the Kremlin’s involvement in controlling the occupied areas. With denying the deployment of Russian regular troops in eastern Ukraine, Moscow, however, admits that some individual citizens voluntarily join the “local militia forces” and nothing can be done about it.

If the Ukrainian defense ministry’s report holds water, the occupation administrations in Ukraine’s east are likely aiming to legalize the Russian mercenaries, since they don’t have any official status or enjoy any benefits upon returning to Russia, unlike the regulars.

Moreover, mercenary-related acts are formally illegal under the Russian legislature, and participation in an armed conflict as a mercenary is punishable by up to seven years in jail, although the authorities treat engagement in hostilities in Ukraine with benign neglect – Donbas “volunteers” can’t be called “mercenaries,” according to Putin. What is more, a number of private military companies thrive under the umbrella of the Russian defense ministry, which has been using them in various military operations abroad.

If Russia decides to go ahead with allowing the official recruitment of its citizens in its Donbas-stationed units and grant them the official status of military servicemen, this step would make mercenarism in the Donbas more appealing and may potentially increase the flow of the Russian citizens to Ukraine’s occupied region.

According to the report by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the Russian armed forces command continues its campaigning among Donetsk and Luhansk locals for joining its Donbas-based formations.

On 22 November, according to the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence, large-scale command and staff exercises kicked off among the so-called 1st and 2nd army corps stationed in the occupied parts of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

The drills involve the mobilization reserve, units of so-called “law enforcement agencies,” and occupation administrations. HUR says that a complex commission of the 8th All-Military Army of the Southern Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation controls the exercises. Russia’s 8th army is believed to be in charge of the Luhansk and Donetsk “army corps.”

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