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Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv invites Algerian fighters to Ukraine to 'protect world security'

Kyiv and Moscow are both seeking to attract foreign fighters, with some commanding high salaries
Ukrainian servicemen assist people to cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, during heavy shelling and bombing on 5 March 2022 (AFP)

The Algerian foreign ministry has ordered the Ukrainian embassy to delete a post on its Facebook page inviting Algerians to go to Ukraine to join the fight against the Russian invasion.

The embassy post, which was published on 3 March, said that Ukraine was seeking "foreign nationals" to "join the resistance to the Russian occupiers and protect world security". 

"Anyone who wants to join the defence of security in Europe and in the world can come and stand alongside the Ukrainians against the invaders of the 21st century," it read.

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"According to the regulations on military service in the armed forces by foreigners and stateless persons... foreigners have the right to enlist in the armed forces on a voluntary basis, including in the territorial defence of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

"[To all foreigners] who wish to join the resistance to the Russian occupiers and protect world security to come to our country and join the ranks of the Territorial Defence Forces. A separate unit of foreigners is formed - the International Territorial Defence Legion of Ukraine."

The post invited "interested persons" to fill out a form.

The message was removed after Algeria's foreign ministry said the post "violated the provisions of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations between states," a source told the Algerian news website TSA.

The call to arms was also replayed on Facebook by Ukraine's embassy in the West African country of Senegal, with the ambassador in Dakar saying that 36 volunteers had come forward.

As in Algeria, the Senegalese authorities requested that the Ukrainians "immediately withdraw" the invitation and cease "without delay any procedure for enlisting people of Senegalese or foreign nationality".

The Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the recruitment of volunteers, mercenaries, or foreign fighters on the territory of the country was "illegal and liable to the penalties provided for by law".

Foreign fighters

The attempt by Ukraine to attract foreign volunteer fighters from countries such as Algeria and Senegal is the latest twist in the Russia-Ukraine war which, according to Ukraine's emergency services, had killed, as of Wednesday, more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians since the Russian offensive began on 24 February.

Last week, Kyiv announced that it would accept international volunteers to help battle Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky establishing an "International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine" and lifting visas for volunteers.

Ukrainian officials said that 16,000 people had so far volunteered to join the fight.

Screenshot from the Ukrainian embassy in Algeria's Facebook account seeking volunteers to fight in Ukraine against the Russian invasion (Screenshot)

However, sources have told Middle East Eye that there were private military contractors with significant war experience among the volunteers. In addition to that, some private contractors had arrived in the country for extraction, evacuation, and defence purposes having been hired by the private companies.

"Employer is a US-based corporation. Both male and female agents are welcome to apply," one job advertisement said.

"Only highly experienced candidates who possess at least 5+ years of military experience in this region of Europe will be considered for this role."

The ad said the payment would be $1,000-$2,000 per day and a bonus would be available after the completion of the operation.

Two private military contractors of Turkish origin with European citizenship have told MEE that there were other companies hiring people for similar jobs with a daily payment as high as 2,000-3,000 euros ($2,185-$3,278).

'Fake news'

"Volunteers are going, that's true, but professional soldiers are also going," said the first private contractor, adding that, as of 2 March, the number of "professionals" going to Ukraine exceeded 1,000 people. About 100 of them were from the French Foreign Legion, he said.  

"The French Legion told them that they shouldn't take any identification with them, and, if they are caught, they didn't have the permission to go," the contractor said.

"I decided not to go, but people with significant military experience who also speak the local language from Slovakia, Poland, and Latvia have gone to Ukraine."

The French foreign ministry told MEE that permission was not granted, describing it as "fake news". On Wednesday, the French Foreign Legion said it had prevented 14 of its soldiers from travelling to Ukraine, and 25 Ukrainian-born troops had deserted.

'Allowing the world to show solidarity'

A Ukrainian official said that the government wasn't hiring any private military contractors but only accepts volunteers to its own foreign legion.

"They will be treated as a fellow Ukrainian military member and have the same rights," the official told MEE. "A regular Ukrainian army member makes $3,500 per month. So, they will make the same money."

The official emphasised that the Ukrainian military had enough soldiers in its ranks, but it wants to showcase to the world that Ukraine is defending democracy and international values.

"We would like to make a point by accepting these volunteers, allowing the world to show solidarity with us,' the official said.  

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The contractors said that some Turkish people who live in Europe were also intending to go to Ukraine, but their departure has not been sorted yet.

"Those in private companies or legions mostly prefer to go in small groups," said the first military contractor, who has worked for various companies in different parts of the world.

The contractor said "professional private contractors from the industry" and general volunteers have been using similar routes to Ukraine to fight the Russians.

"If you are in Europe, it is enough to travel to Poland or Romania and contact the Ukrainian embassies," he said. "Those who travelled to Ukraine gathered in Lviv in the west of Ukraine and were assigned somewhere else."

The contactors added that there has been a sharp increase in Ukraine-related private military job postings.

"Many private companies based in the US and Europe run job advertisements for Ukraine with at least $1,000-$2,000 daily payments and extra earnings," the second contractor said.

The Ukrainian government said that any volunteer could make an application to a defence attache with their passports and documents that show they have military service and combat experience.

Then the volunteers go through a vetting process for extremism and terrorist links. The government said that, once the volunteers enter Ukrainian territory under the direction of the Kyiv government, they will sign a contract to join the foreign legion.

Some Chechen and Georgian volunteers had filmed themselves offering to fight for the Ukrainian military even before Zelensky said he would be accepting foreign volunteers.

Wagner Group and Chechens 'deployed'

Meanwhile, Russia already has battle-hardened Chechen forces in its ranks who have been deployed to Ukraine.

The private contractors told MEE that they had heard that Russia had also deployed Russian state-linked private Wagner forces, who are known for their far-right views, to the Ukrainian front. 

The contractors said it was smart for Ukraine to accept foreigners with military experience, especially ex-special forces.

Syrian opposition sources have said that Russia is also preparing to recruit "mercenaries" from Syria to support its forces in their invasion of Ukraine, according to the Arabi21 website.

"Russia started to spread news, through its delegates, regarding granting the chance to those wishing to fight in Ukraine," Syrian journalist Ahmad Obeid is quoted as saying.

Obeid said that the Russian delegates, who previously worked to recruit Syrians to fight in Libya, were talking about monthly salaries equal to the salaries soldiers in Libya received ($2,000).

Abdul Aziz al-Khatib, another Syrian journalist, told Arabi21: "In fact, hundreds of Syrian fighters have joined the Russian 'Wagner Group' militia, which makes this news very likely to be true."

Revenge on Russia

Several Syrian fighters in northern Syria and Turkey told MEE they were trying to travel and take up arms against Russia.

Since 2015, Moscow has been waging war in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, and while Russian warplanes stage occasional air strikes, the front between opposition-held and Damascus-controlled territory has cooled in recent years.

The opportunity to take revenge on Russia elsewhere has been too good to miss for some rebels, particularly, some say, as foreign-brokered ceasefire agreements have restricted them from launching attacks on Russian forces in Syria.

So far, the most prominent rebel to announce his intention to fight for Ukraine is Suheil Hammoud, a man commonly known by his honorific nickname Abu TOW, a nod to his prolific record using anti-tank missiles.

'We have innocent civilians, including children, who were killed by the attacks of Russian forces, so Russia must be fought anywhere in the world'

- Alaa Qatarmez, former Syrian army sergeant

Hammoud has reportedly destroyed 145 targets using TOW missiles, including modern Russian tanks. But his biggest successes were two Russian MiG-23 fighter jets, which he says he hit at Aleppo military airport.

"I am in touch with several sides to get out of Syria and reach Ukraine, to confront Russian forces along with my Ukrainian brothers," Hammoud told MEE from Syria's northwestern opposition enclave of Idlib.

Alaa Qatarmez was a sergeant in the Syrian army until 2012, when he defected to the opposition. He told MEE that he too plans to go to Ukraine.

"I left the rebels two years ago and now work as a vendor in Idlib because of the lack of battles," said Qatarmez, using a pseudonym for security reasons.

"We have innocent civilians, including children, who were killed by the attacks of Russian forces, so Russia must be fought anywhere in the world."

Like many other rebels and former fighters, Qatarmez has sought help travelling to Ukraine on Facebook groups.

"I'm trying to get in touch with a Ukrainian embassy to go, or at least fighters there. I'd like to give them some of the experience we got during the war," he said.

"We have old vengeance against Russia, which history cannot erase. I eagerly await the day when Russia will collapse."