A Hello To Arms — Mercenaries Flock to Fight in Ukraine

People around the globe watch in concern and horror as the war in Ukraine continues. Some fear it will become a World War. But, in actuality, the world is already involved in the conflict. Various countries are sending arms, financial aid, and/or humanitarian relief. And, mercy, a stream of volunteers is traveling to the hot spot to join in the fray one one side or the other. Who’s willfully heading TO a war zone? Can you say “mercenaries?”

Most have a general idea of what a “mercenary” is. But the definition of the term depends on the resource. Since my go to resource for word meanings is the dictionary, I started there. It defines a mercenary as someone hired for service in a foreign country’s military. Mercenaries are also commonly known as soldiers of fortune or hired guns. The key here is the military service is offered for pay, i.e., I’ll shoot bullets for you if you shoot compensation to me.

Think mercenaries are a new concept devised by our modern world? Think again. They’ve been around pretty much as long as wars have been fought. If you paid attention in your world history class, you’d have learned mercenaries were used in B.C. times. For example, King Xerxes I, a Persian king, hired mercenaries to assist with his invasion of Greece in 484 B.C. Only back then, bullets weren’t shot and electronic pay deposits weren’t available.

What has changed in the modern world is how mercenaries are viewed and treated. For one, they are seen more negatively and with less concern. The Geneva Conventions (that’s conventions with an “s” on the end) have embraced the idea that mercenaries aren’t entitled to protection by the rules of war in the way non-mercenaries are. Of course, that requires differentiating between the two categories. So, Protocol Additional Geneva Conventions 1977 (PPGC77) expressly defines a mercenary in Article 47.

Those deemed mercenaries per the GC (using the acronym for Geneva Conventions since the military is obsessed with acronyms), aren’t recognized as legitimate combatants and don’t have to be granted the same legal protections as captured military members of a regular army. Yes, and prisoners of war (POW, yet another acronym!) are always treated so humanely–not!

With the recent invasion of Ukraine, mercenaries are high profile and in demand. Both Russia and Ukraine are utilizing them.

When they aren’t figuring out how to get gas to their tanks whose tanks are on empty in Ukraine, the Russians are hiring Middle Eastern mercenaries. In particular, Putin has launched a recruiting operation in Syria. The Russian Defense Minister, recently announced that as many as 16,000 recruits will enter the war in Ukraine on Russia’s side. Each “recruit” will be paid around $3,000/month. So, let’s just call the “recruits” what they are–MERCENARIES.

Concerned about unemployment in Syria (NOTE: Sarcasm font in use), Russia reportedly has opened fourteen “recruitment centers” in Syria in areas controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The men targeted for hire have plenty of experience from fighting in their own country’s lengthy civil war. These “recruits” are trained and then provided transportation to Russia for deployment to Ukraine. According to military experts (of which I am certainly not one), Russian intends to use mercenaries there to do the dirty work of storming the cities which the Russian Army has surrounded.

While Putin has no issue with using mercenaries for his purposes, he’s trying to discourage Ukraine from doing likewise. (The old “do as I say and not as I do” situation.) The Russian Defense Ministry has stated mercenaries fighting on Ukraine’s behalf will not be treated as POW’s and will be prosecuted as criminals. And we all know from the movies how well those in Russian jails are treated. (Anyone heard from Brittney Griner there lately? But I digress.) Further, the Russian military has stated its intention to target attacks on mercenaries who will not be shown “pity” or “forgiveness.”

So, what is Ukrainian President Zelensky doing to supplement his fighting forces? Things are a tad different than what the Russians are doing. Those wanting to join the war effort to defend Ukraine have to sign a contract BUT THEY ARE NOT PAID. The eager volunteers must find their own way to Poland and provide their own gear with the exception of a weapon which is issued to them upon arrival at a specified point.

While Ukraine has not opened designated “recruitment centers,” it’s utilized its embassy in Washington, D.C., a townhouse in the Georgetown area, to process offers from Americans wanting to join the fight. Thousands of offers have poured in for those desiring to fight for Ukraine because they feel the war is unfair and unprovoked. Their aim is NOT to be paid for their services but to fight against aggression. So, are they really properly classified as mercenaries?

Since February 24th when the invasion began, over 6,000 offers to volunteer have been received by the Ukrainian Embassy in the U.S.. A desire to serve alone isn’t enough to be allowed to do so though. A vetting process is undertaken; volunteers may be rejected for lack of military service, for a history of criminal behavior, or for lack of being a suitable age. Half of the volunteers were rejected prior to the interview stage, including a 16 year old and a 73 year old. Of the 100+ Americans who’ve been approved so far, most are veterans with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The disturbing events in Ukraine show how connected the world is today. No country is an island, and conflicts between two countries are bound to come to involve citizens of other countries and perhaps other nations as well. How the Ukrainian situation will end, I have no idea. But I’m praying for world peace rather than another world war–a world where there is no need to employ mercenaries.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Does the term “mercenary” have a negative connotation to you? Is someone who volunteers to fight based on principles and not for money a “mercenary?” Will other countries join in the war in addition to the mercenaries/recruits/volunteers who have stepped up?

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