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20 Jun, 2022 17:45

Austria confirms citizens are fighting in Ukraine

The revelation came after the Russian military published a list of Kiev’s foreign mercenaries
Austria confirms citizens are fighting in Ukraine

Austria has confirmed that a “low single-digit” number of its citizens have travelled to fight in Ukraine. Monday's revelation comes three days after the Russian military published a list of foreign mercenaries fighting on Kiev’s side.

The list, which features almost 7,000 fighters, mentions five Austrian citizens. Two of them are said to have been killed, one has returned home, and two remain in Ukraine.

The Austrian Interior Ministry, responding to a request from the APA news agency, confirmed that the country’s government was aware of a “low single-digit number of people who have traveled to the war zone and who are likely to actively participate in the war.

According to the ministry spokesman’s statement, officials are “monitoring the situation very closely since the outbreak of the Russian war of aggression” but cannot confirm any details about the citizens in question, “especially since disinformation is often deliberately spread in the context of armed conflicts in order to weaken or question the competence of state institutions.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry’s data, a total of 6,956 foreign citizens from 64 countries arrived in Ukraine to become pro-Kiev combatants between February 24 and June 17. Some 1,956 of those have been killed, while 1,779 have left the country, the ministry said.

According to Russian figures, the largest number of fighters came from Poland, with 1,831 of its citizens joining the Ukrainian ranks. 

Earlier this month, Russian military spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said that hundreds of foreign mercenaries in Ukraine had been destroyed by Russian long-range precision weapons “shortly after their arrival at the places where they were undergoing additional training and where the tactical units were coordinated.” However, most of the mercenaries, according to the spokesman, were killed “due to the low level of training and the lack of real combat experience.” Konashenkov also claimed that attempts by Ukrainian officials to provide the foreign fighters with legal protection by adding them to the lists of the Armed Forces or giving them Ukrainian passports would not save them from liability. 

Indeed, on June 9, two British citizens, Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, as well as Moroccan citizen Saadun Ibrahim, were sentenced to death by a court in Donetsk after they were found guilty of acting as mercenaries and attempting to seize power by force in the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Kiev denies hiring mercenaries and says its foreign fighters are volunteers who want to defend Ukraine from Russian ‘aggression’. Ukrainian officials claimed they received 20,000 applications to join its so-called “foreign legion” in the first weeks of recruitment.

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.