Ukraine inflated International Legion numbers – NYT – RT Russia and the former Soviet Union
The newspaper story is the latest of many stories of corruption and incompetence to surface from the volunteer unit
The actual number of recruits who signed up for the Ukrainian International Legion was several times lower than the figure announced by officials in Kyiv, The New York Times reported on Saturday. Additionally, some of the most prominent mercenaries used their position to lie and profit from the conflict.
Two days after Russian troops entered Ukraine last February, President Vladimir Zelensky appealed for international recruits to bolster the ranks of his army. A week later, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kirill Budanov told CNN that 20,000 recruits had applied to join the new International Legion.
However, “much less effectively enlisted,” reported the New York Times. Quoting “people who know the Legion”, the newspaper said there were currently around 1,500 members in its ranks, and that “internal documents show that the legion is in trouble.”
The Times did not say how many members of the International Legion were killed in action. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed last March to have killed “up to 180” foreign mercenaries in a missile strike on a base near Lviv, and that dozens more were killed in a similar strike on a base near the Belarusian border a week later. By the end of the month, Moscow claimed to have eliminated 600 foreign fighters in Ukraine.
Since the early days of the Russian military operation, the number of mercenary groups operating in Ukraine has increased, as has the profile of some of the mercenaries themselves.
James Vasquez, a Connecticut home improvement contractor, garnered thousands of Twitter followers and solicited donations by posting battlefield updates from Ukraine. Vasquez deleted his social media accounts last week after The Times discovered he lied about serving in the US military.
Vasquez has used his persona online to promote fellow American volunteer, former U.S. Marine Ripley Rawlings, who raised more than $1 million in donations to buy equipment for Ukrainian troops. However, some of these purchases were made without proper authorization from the US State Department, while other shipments of equipment never showed up in Ukraine.
Donors were also misled by Grady Williams, The Times reported. A retired engineer and former meth user, Williams raised around $16,000 in Georgia to buy motorcycles for the Georgian Legion, half of which he spent on himself before being kicked out of the mercenary group.
Andy Milburn was one of Ukraine’s most prolific mercenary leaders, and the Western media gave extensive coverage to his “Mozart Group” (a play about Russian private military company “Wagner Group”) last year. He is now accused in a lawsuit brought by the co-founder of the group of embezzlement, sexual harassment and arms trafficking.
These examples cited by the Times are not new. RT has covered the Milburn legal drama and other stories of fraud and abuse within Ukrainian volunteer units since the conflict began. However, the Times reports apparently sparked conflicts between Vasquez, Ripley, the Legion and some of its former members, who “escalated their feud” And “accused each other of embezzlement and lying about their credentials” after the newspaper contacted them.
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