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US volunteers' infighting in Ukraine undermining the war effort: Report
Washington: The infighting between the US volunteers who went to Ukraine to fight Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, when President Volodymyr Zelensky called for help, is undermining the war effort.
Justin Scheck, an international investigative reporter, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, the Ukraine correspondent, in an article in The New York Times (NYT) said that after a year of combat, many of these homespun groups of volunteers are fighting with themselves and undermining the war effort. Some have wasted money or stolen valour. Others have cloaked themselves in charity while also trying to profit off the war, records show.
They rushed to Ukraine by the thousands and promised to bring military experience, money or supplies to the battleground of a righteous war. Hometown newspapers hailed their commitment, and donors backed them with millions of dollars, reported NYT.
One retired Marine lieutenant colonel from Virginia is the focus of a US federal investigation into the potentially illegal export of military technology. A former Army soldier arrived in Ukraine only to turn traitor and defect to Russia, said Scheck and Gibbons-Neff.
A Connecticut man who lied about his military service has posted live updates from the battlefield -- including his exact location -- and boasted about his easy access to American weapons. A former construction worker is hatching a plan to use fake passports to smuggle in fighters from Pakistan and Iran, NYT said.
And in one of the more curious entanglements, one of the largest volunteer groups is embroiled in a power struggle involving an Ohio man who falsely claimed to have been both a US Marine and a LongHorn Steakhouse assistant manager, reported NYT.
Such characters have a place in Ukraine's defence because of the United States' arms-length role: The Biden administration sends weapons and money but not professional troops.
That means people who would not be allowed anywhere near the battlefield in a US-led war are active on the Ukrainian front -- often with unchecked access to weapons and military equipment, said Scheck and Gibbons-Neff.
The New York Times reviewed more than 100 pages of documents from inside volunteer groups and interviewed more than 30 volunteers, fighters, fund-raisers, donors and American and Ukrainian officials. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
The interviews and research reveal a series of deceptions, mistakes and squabbles that have hindered the volunteer drive that began after Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Thousands answered Zelensky's call. Some joined military groups like the International Legion, which Ukraine formed for foreign fighters. Others took roles in support or fund-raising.
With Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, under attack, there was little time for vetting arrivals. So people with problematic pasts, including checkered or fabricated military records, became entrenched in the Legion and a constellation of other volunteer groups, said Scheck and Gibbons-Neff.
While ideology likely is one motivation for these soldiers, incentives such as high salaries, bonuses and opportunities for promotion and medals -- as well as pressure from families -- are also believed to play a major role.
An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 such foreign fighters are believed to be active, with most serving in three battalions of the International Legion, according to analysts and academics monitoring them, who stressed that the numbers were rough approximations.
The Ukrainian military did not reply to requests for details about the volunteers, or estimates of their numbers. They also did not address specific issues but did say that it was on guard because Russian agents regularly tried to infiltrate volunteer groups, reported NYT.
Ukrainian officials initially boasted of 20,000 potential Legion volunteers, but far fewer actually enlisted. Currently, there are around 1,500 members in the organization, say people with knowledge of the Legion.
Internal documents show that the Legion is struggling. Recruitment has stagnated. The Washington-based Counter Extremism Project wrote in March that the Legion and affiliated groups "continue to feature individuals widely seen as unfit to perform their duties."
Meanwhile, US volunteers are involved in a messy, distracting power struggle. Moreover, as per Pentagon many of them had no military experience.
Examples of wasted money in the hands of well-intentioned people are common. Mriya Aid, a group led by an active-duty Canadian lieutenant colonel, spent about USD 100,000 from donors on high-tech US-style night-vision devices. They ended up being less-effective Chinese models, internal documents show, reported NYT.
Earlier this year, the Mozart Group, which two former Marines established to help Ukraine, disbanded after one sued the other, alleging theft and harassment. (ANI)