Russia Ups Ante in Ukrainian War of Words

Russia Ups Ante in Ukrainian War of Words

Officials in Moscow recently charged that American private military contractors are stockpiling chemical weapons near Ukrainian villages in violation of various treaties and laws.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that about 100 contractors near Avdeevka and Krasny Liman had deployed tanks with “unidentified chemical weapons.” Additionally, “for the completion of the provocations,” the American contractors were training Ukrainian soldiers. Recently, Ukraine and NATO opened talks about possible expansion of the alliance. Russia has reacted angrily. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that such a development would be a “red line.”

In response, U.S. President Joe Biden said Russia would face “severe consequences” if it invaded Ukraine. Negotiations are scheduled for early 2022.

The Situation in Ukraine

As it is in many empires, large displays with lots of fanfare were hallmarks of the old Soviet Union. Yet the USSR ended very unceremoniously in December 1991. As the country crumbled, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day. The next day, a high council of Soviet leaders accepted his resignation, and that was that.

Roughly a dozen former Soviet republics in eastern Europe and southwestern Asia. Ukraine is by far the largest one. In fact, Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. It is also one of the world’s leading grain exporters. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes, Ukraine has the third-largest army in Europe.

The country also has a troubled past and present. As late as the Middle Ages, a strong and independent Ukraine, then known as Kievan Rus, dominated the area. Then the Mongols invaded, and everything changed. Since the 1300s, Ukraine has been mostly dominated by foreign powers, most recently the Russians and the Soviets. As a result, Ukraine is a rather beaten-down nation in many ways. It is the poorest country in Europe, alongside neighboring Moldavia. 

Therefore, as far as many Russians are concerned, Ukraine is low-hanging fruit. Relations between the two nations have been chilly since 2014. That year, a Ukrainian independence movement ousted a pro-Russian government. Moscow responded by occupying and annexing parts of Ukraine.

Now, things are worse. In December 2021, Russia reportedly massed about 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Tensions have cooled a bit recently, as the United States and other countries have made vague threats against Russia if the Kremlin does anything rash. The latest allegations from Moscow are probably an attempt to turn the public relations tables. No one wants to be the bad guy.

Chemical Weapons

Not many people know that France was the first country to use chemical weapons during World War I. The French started using tear gas in August 1914, at the very start of the war. But the Germans took chemical weapons to the next level, and the world was horrified. The most recent documented use was in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. Supposedly, Iraqi strongman Saddam Huseein also used these weapons to quell internal rebellions.

In 1925, most of the world’s countries banned the use of chemical weapons, but not their production and stockpiling. Fifty years later, the world’s countries agreed to a more comprehensive ban. However, the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention included no oversight or other such provisions.

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, the current agreement, about 99% of the world’s chemical weapons have been destroyed. Only three UN member countries, North Korea, Egypt, and South Sudan, have not signed the CWC. A few others, like Israel, have signed but not ratified the agreement.

International agreements do not apply to private military contractors. So, PMCs can technically possess chemical weapons. However, unlike Russian mercenaries, American PMCs are subject to U.S. law. Various laws limit the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction, like chemical weapons.

What Contractors Do

Based on these facts, Russian allegations of chemical weapons stockpiling are probably mistakes or fabrications. Training soldiers is different. That is one of a private military contractor’s most important jobs. 

The basic goals of all foreign interventions are to do the job quickly and leave quickly. Training foreign troops directly supports these goals. Once an effective local fighting force is in place, private military contractors, and most everyone else, can go home.

Contractors are usually good teachers. Frequently, private military contractors hire local talent in this area. So, they can overcome the language barrier as well as the cultural barrier. These individuals are usually eligible for Defense Base Act benefits if they are injured. More on that below. Additionally, private military contractors usually have practical law enforcement and anti-insurgency experience. Modern warriors badly need these skills.

Other contractor duties include mobile escort and stationary security responsibilities. The more contractors serve in these positions, the more regular servicemembers are available for other operations.

Injury Compensation Available

When regular servicemembers are injured overseas, the VA disability system often provides medical care and financial compensation. When private military contractors are injured overseas, the DBA replaces lost wages and pays medical expenses. Let’s look at these areas in detail.

The injured contractor can work for any government agency, such as the Department of Defense or the State Department. Non-military contractors, like Peace Corps volunteers, might also be eligible for such benefits. Additionally, some contractors who work for some sympathetic foreign governments are likewise eligible for benefits.

The overseas area must be a war zone. U.S. law defines this phrase very broadly. Any territory with any U.S. military presence, even a single military attache in a consulate, usually qualifies as a war zone.

Finally, the DBA only applies to physical injuries. This injury could be a trauma injury, like a broken bone or PTSD, or an occupational disease, like a toxic exposure illness or a repetitive stress injury.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.