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Slovak fighters in Ukraine prompt legal change

TWO days after news website Aktuality.sk published an interview with a Slovak fighting for rebels in Ukraine the government announced on June 10 that it will introduce a new law making it illegal to do so. 

Illustrative stock photo(Source: AP/SITA)

“Those people go there to kill other people, they don’t go there to protect local citizens as they present themselves,” political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “The government’s decision is adequate reaction on doubts whether those Slovaks violated the law or not.”

The service in a foreign army is banned but not clearly defined in the current law, as it is not clear whether it concerns service in the regular army of a foreign, internationally recognised country or the service in any armed organisation or grouping operating in the territory of a foreign country.

The separate troop of Czech and Slovak volunteers has been formed inside of an international brigade of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic separatists in eastern Ukraine, Aktuality.sk reported. Altogether, there are 34 Slovaks fighting in Ukraine, according to Mesežnikov.

Aktuality.sk published an interview with some in the unit, without revealing their identity. When asked how many Slovaks are in the troop, the interviewee said there are four of them. The only person who had a leading post was First Lieutenant Martin Keprta, who is currently recovering from injuries. Other Czechs and Slovaks have only ordinal ranks or serve as consultants.

Recruiting in social networks

On June 4 Slovak version of International Brigade 15 Facebook page announced that new independent Czech and Slovak unit was being created. The current number of people there is high enough for creating 10-member unit with its own insignia. The ideal requirements for new soldiers are knowledge of Russian language, good physical health, conducted basic military service, and age under 40, according to the Facebook page.

The unit is part of Republican guard which has two companies. It is focused on diversion and intelligence service in rear of Ukrainian army but still respects the Minsk Protocol implementing an immediate ceasefire. People there receive pays amounting 8,000 Ukrainian hryvnias (€340) per month, according to Slovak fighter interviewed by Aktuality.sk.

The unit was operating in Debaltseve city in the Donetsk region from February to April collecting trophy ammunition, repairing trophy mechanics and so on. Since May it operates together with rest of rebels in town of Marjinka were fighting has escalated. Soldiers however have never been enjoying peaceful periods, according to interviewed soldier.

“The have never been peaceful period here and it won’t be until peace is established,” he told Aktuality.sk. “There are gun fights and wounded every day.”

The source also describes the weapons they use saying they are same ones that Soviet-era soldiers were using. When asked how long the fights may last, the source could not predict it.

“The truth is that Ukraine as a country starts collapsing, people stop believing propaganda and start sympathising with us,” the source told Aktuality.sk, adding there are various locals who send them information about where the Ukrainian soldiers are and how many of them are there. “The fights will end only with the intervention of the third side; either NATO or Russia.”

Dealing with aggressiveness 

In response on the interview the Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm the existence of such unit.

“Although we cannot confirm the information about the involvement of Slovak citizens in the conflict in Ukraine as volunteers of separatist armed forces or other armed units,  we do not approve of this behaviour in any way,” head of the Foreign Affairs Ministry press department Peter Susko said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

These adventurers are acting on their own accord and contribute to further destabilisation of the situation, undermine diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute and thereby harm Slovak foreign policy interests, Susko added.

Contrary to the ministry, Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) has noted  departures of Slovak citizens to the problematic regions.

“Our intelligence service have information that several people left Slovakia in last year and there is suspicion that they could join radical efforts in those regions,” SIS spokesman Branislav Zvara told the Pravda daily.

The presence of Slovak citizens in rebel army’s ranks is result of existence of various extremist groups affecting behaviour of some groups of people rather than pro-Russian propaganda. They often use anti-fascist rhetoric but at the same time join events celebrating Nazi-allied Slovak state organised by contemporary fascists, according to Mesežnikov.

The motivation of those people is first of all money and ideals follow. Moreover those people have problem with their aggressiveness and they need to ventilate it, according to Defence Ministry regional security analyst Ivo Samson.

“They don’t care whether they fight on Russian or Ukrainian side,”  Samson told Pravda. “What really matters is that they can get rid of this tension. Such people can make it to the environment where they can kill, shoot and [then] serve their ideals.”

Serving in a foreign army

In response on the interview independent MP Martin Fedor said he will work on the amendment to the Criminal Code which should specify the definition of the crime of serving in the foreign army.

“The media information about the creation of something like a ‘Czech-Slovak troop’ in separatists territories in Ukraine definitely persuaded me about the need of such legislative change,” Fedor said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “These people, citizens of the Slovak Republic, contribute to the destabilisation in the area and harm the interests of Slovakia abroad. It is even more dangerous that after they return home they are a security risk.”

It is a paradox that the service in the foreign, internationally recognised country, in many cases our ally, without permission is a crime, while the service in rebel groups which fight against such countries is not clearly punitive, Fedor added, as quoted by SITA.

On the same day, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák and Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák said that the government is preparing such legislation.

However, even without such amendment to the legislation Slovaks fighting for rebels in Ukraine could be prosecuted for example for terrorism. Ukrainian intelligence service probably has already information about them and after their return to Slovakia the Ukrainian state will want to prosecute them, according to Mesežnikov.     

“I cannot imagine that Ukrainian investigators collect testimonies about their crimes and Slovak side will ignore that,” Mesežnikov said.

Kaliňák said that Slovakia is currently identifying its citizens fighting in Ukraine.

“I think that we have good knowledge about them,” Kaliňák told SITA. “When they will be available to our judiciary system the relevant process will start for sure.” 

Topic: Ukraine


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