Former Czech intelligence chief "wouldn't be surprised" at Ukraine mercenary claim

Pro-Russian rebels operating in the far east of Ukraine have announced the capture of dozens of foreign mercenaries fighting on behalf of the government, including several Czechs and Poles. While Czech authorities insist they have no knowledge of such claims, a former top Czech military intelligence official says the idea should not be dismissed so easily. DJ reports:

Slovyansk, Ukraine, June 6, 2014, photo: CTKSlovyansk, Ukraine, June 6, 2014, photo: CTK Miroslav Rudenko is a top self-appointed separatist leader in the so-called “People’s Republic of Donetsk”. He recently told Interfax news agency that countless mercenaries, including Africans, Czechs and Poles had been captured while fighting against Russian separatists in the city of Sloviansk. He later clarified his claims to Czech Television:

“I personally have not seen any Czechs. The information comes from our soldiers who are battling in Sloviansk. They have radio surveillance abilities, and overheard these conversations...according to our sources, both Czech and Polish mercenaries were fighting there.”

According to Serhiy Taruta, governor of Donetsk Oblast, as many as 200 foreign fighters have been captured, with negotiations now underway for their eventual release. The city of Sloviansk has witnessed heavy fighting in recent weeks as the Ukrainian government struggles to battle separatists it accuses of being supported by Moscow.

However, the Czech authorities have denied any knowledge of Czech mercenaries fighting in the region. The Foreign Ministry said it had no information on these claims, while similar dismissals came from both the Czech embassy in Kiev and the BIS Czech intelligence service.

Andor Šándor, photo: Czech TelevisionAndor Šándor, photo: Czech Television Andor Šándor, is a former Czech Chief of Military Intelligence. I asked him for his take on the claims:

“I have no information about Czech mercenaries on Ukrainian territory. But in general, I can imagine it – because it would not be for the first time that mercenaries from various parts of Europe and the world would be fighting in various conflicts. We had Czech mercenaries fighting in Iraq and some of them died there. In general, I can’t exclude the idea, and if someone produced such evidence I wouldn’t be surprised.”

What exactly is a Czech mercenary? Where do they come from and how does one go about hiring them?

“It would mostly be people who were part of the special forces; people who have served in the army. They are ideal targets to be hired for conflicts like Ukraine. And there are various companies – we can name Blackwater and others – who hire such people to fight in places of regional conflict, civilian wars and so on.”

Could the Ukraine crisis escalate into a Vietnam-type situation where external powers are fighting on the territory of a third country?

Slovyansk, Ukraine, June 8, 2014, photo: CTKSlovyansk, Ukraine, June 8, 2014, photo: CTK “It all depends on how the crisis will develop and on whether [new president Petro] Poroshenko will be able to move forward a plan that will please both sides of the conflict. Whether it will go as far as the Vietnam scenario you mentioned, I’m not quite sure. I still believe that if all the sides in the conflict see some guarantees then the fighting will tend to stop. But it won’t be in a matter of one week’s time, I don’t believe that.”