Ukraine's foreign legion rocked by allegations of corruption and weapons disappearing

There were also claims of senior figures harassing and making physical threats against volunteers

Ukrainian servicemen accompanied by members of the foreign legion fire mortars at Russian positions in the eastern region of Kharkiv. AP
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Claims that weapons donated by western countries are disappearing from a legion of foreign fighters in Ukraine have fuelled fears of systemic corruption among its ranks.

A dozen members of the International Legion of Territorial Defence have accused their commanders of misappropriation of light weapons, small arms and military equipment.

There were also claims of senior figures harassing and making physical threats against volunteers and stealing their kit.

The allegations form part of an investigation by the Kyiv Independent newspaper, which compiled evidence from more than 30 sources including former and current legionnaires as well as Ukrainian officials.

The legion was founded in the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February to allow foreigners to join the resistance against invading troops. By late summer, more than 200,000 people from 52 countries had registered to become part of the unit.

Reports of the disappearance of light weapons are likely to alarm western nations, which have sent vast amounts of ammunition to Ukraine and trained troops to help them effectively defend their country.

A Ukrainian border guard carrying an NLAW. AFP

'My spirit was broken'

One member of the foreign legion said he had seen the problem first-hand when participating in an inventory of weapons at a battalion’s armoury room in a city in the north-east of the country in May.

He said a newly appointed leader of the unit “started panicking” upon receiving the news that ammunition had disappeared.

Among the items that allegedly went missing were 54 American-made M4 carbines, several anti-tank weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapons (NLAWs) and a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Grenades and a couple of pistols also went missing, he said.

Britain has in recent months donated up to 7,000 NLAWs to Ukraine.

One man who had fought with the legion said he became “suspicious” on two occasions when NLAWs went missing.

“There were two times when NLAWs would come in at night and get unloaded, and they wouldn't be there in the armoury the next morning, which is the only place they would be,” he said. “That was very suspicious.”

Another legionnaire said his commander had told him that “rifles have a habit of going missing” in a certain city that had been under attack.

A different source who had served in the intelligence-run wing of the legion said an armoury room was left almost bare in April as troops prepared for a battle in a southern city.

“I saw nothing so I walked out. I was a little in shock,” the soldier said, adding that he and several comrades decided to quit shortly after.

“After all the lies and the supplies going missing when we needed them, I had had enough,” he said. “My spirit was broken. I felt we were just being sent to die with little to no supplies, food, ammunition, you name it, we didn't have it.”

Several men who had joined the foreign legion said a commander, who they named, had stolen personal equipment which they had bought for themselves. Items including drones, flashlights and protective gear were said to have been snapped up by the man, whom they claimed slept in a room “full of alcohol”. The man is wanted by Polish authorities investigating allegations of fraud, the Kyiv Independent reported.

Zelenskyy on Russia's 'kill list'

Meanwhile, as many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia's invasion in February, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

“We have official estimates from the General Staff … And they range from 10,000 to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine's Channel 24 on Thursday.

Mr Zelenskyy would make the official data public “when the right moment comes”, he added.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.

Both sides are suspected of minimising their losses to avoid damaging the morale of their troops.

Moscow had plotted to take control of Ukraine within 10 days and kill Mr Zelenskyy, according to a leaked document apparently signed off by President Vladimir Putin. The paper, made public by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (Rusi), show that Russia had drawn up a “kill list”.

The plan was to have troops capture Ukrainian airfields and water supplies as well as the country's central bank and parliament. Ukrainian officials had been expected to flee the country or be captured “as a result of the speed of the invasion”.

As the war continues in its 10th month, Russia's shortage of munitions is hampering its efforts on the battlefield, the British Army has said.

In an intelligence updated issued on Friday, the UK's Ministry of Defence said the withdrawal of Russian forces from the west bank of the Dnipro River in November “provided the Ukrainian Armed Forces with opportunities to strike additional Russian logistics nodes and lines of communication”.

“This threat has highly likely prompted Russian logisticians to relocate supply nodes, including rail transfer points, further south and east,” it added.

“Russian logistics units will need to conduct extra labour-intensive loading and unloading from rail to road transport. Road moves will subsequently still be vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery as they move on to supply Russian forward defensive positions.

“Russia’s shortage of munitions [exacerbated by these logistics challenges] is likely one of the main factors currently limiting Russia’s potential to restart effective, large scale offensive ground operations.”

The Kremlin on Friday slapped down US President Joe Biden's terms for peace talks on Ukraine.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman, told reporters that Moscow was “certainly” not ready to accept the American leader's conditions.

During a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr Biden said on Thursday he would be willing to speak to Mr Putin if the Russian leader truly wants to end the fighting.

“I'm prepared to speak with Mr Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he's looking for a way to end the war,” he said.

Mr Peskov poured cold water on his attempt to thaw relations.

“What did President Biden say in fact? He said that negotiations are possible only after Mr Putin leaves Ukraine,” he said. “The special military operation is continuing,” he added, using the Kremlin term for the assault on Ukraine.

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Updated: December 02, 2022, 12:23 PM
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