Chris Blattman

Why Ukraine is really interested in foreign fighters

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After reaching Lviv, I visited the Georgian legion’s new base in nearby Dubliani to meet with Commander Mamuka Mamulashvili. His legion also accepted many other foreign fighters, among them a good number of Americans. I walked through a checkpoint of soldiers strapped with AKs alongside a Georgian fighter. I asked him how it felt to be going to the front on behalf of another country. “It’s like sacrificing yourself for something, but splitting your heart 50/50,” he told me.

Mamulashvili’s Georgian legion first formed in 2014 to fight in Donbas; unlike the international legion, it did not demand that volunteers hand over their passports. “I’m a foreigner myself in this country,” Mamulashvili said. He carried two phones and a pistol, and wore a black jacket that read “Brave Dream, US Army,” a gift from some American recruits. He had fought in the Abkhaz–Georgian conflict, the first Chechen war, and the Russo-Georgian War and had been held prisoner by Abkhaz forces for months. He showed me photos of himself and his father after they were freed from captivity. “Georgians have a lot of experience facing Russian aggression,” he said.

I asked what he thought of the new international legion. “It’s going to be very chaotic,” he said. “Really, I don’t know how they’re going to do it. Generally, they all come to me, and I keep the ones with proper training. As long as they don’t have extreme views.

“The nonprofessionals go to the international legion,” he went on. “Unfortunately, it’s very unorganized—they will just receive hundreds of people and have no plans.” He had recently come from the front outside of Kiev. “The Ukrainian military will train them,” but, he said, “they will be the team of amateurs.”

“Is it what Ukraine needs?” I asked.

“Ukraine needs the sky to be closed,” Mamulashvili replied.

Cannon fodder that raise the chances of a Western no-fly zone? (If only a little.) Great piece from Antonia Hitchens in the NYRB.

Of course, not all are amateurs so easily expended:

His legion has, for eight years, been doing a version of what the international legion hopes to do now. Mamulashvili groups the mostly professional soldiers who come to him into small squads and dispatches them to fight at the front. The legion currently comprises about half Georgian and half international volunteers. Mamulashvili told me that the American soldiers generally blend in well with his Georgians because most of them have participated in missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. “So they’re very similarly experienced. They already know how to work together…. We get effective military units that do a good job on the front lines now. They’re ideologically the same, they just have different nationalities.”

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