Russian Mercenaries on Front Line in Ukraine

Russian Mercenaries on Front Line in Ukraine

According to the United Kingdom’s Defense Minister, the new level of responsibility is a “significant change” from the relationship between the Russian Army and the Wagner Group in years past.

The report speculated that a new level of cooperation is necessary since Russia is having trouble finding enough combat soldiers to fight in the war-torn country. Echoing that sentiment, a Washington think tank opined that “The Kremlin has likely been unable to recruit many Ukrainians to enforce occupation laws and combat resistance efforts in occupied territories.” Private military companies are employed to support “sham annexation plebiscites” and other integration efforts, this report added.

To support this effort, Wagner has transferred fighters from Libya and other parts of the world to Ukraine.

Mercenaries in Foreign Countries

Russia, which hasn’t signed international treaties regulating the practice, is one of the only large nations in the world that uses mercenaries. The most significant such agreement, the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, bars mercenaries from participating in acts of violence that are contrary to the United Nations charter. This agreement keeps member nations from circumventing this organization’s rules and then denying responsibility for their actions.

Additionally, this 1989 pact establishes a judicial framework for bringing mercenaries who violate its provisions, and the nations that hire them, to justice.

However, this agreement only applies if the mercenary “directly participated” in a prohibited act. That’s pretty hard to establish in the fog of war.

A bigger issue is that Russia hasn’t signed this agreement. Technically, the country didn’t exist in 1989, so it had no input into the provisions of the agreement. Of course, that doesn’t prevent Russia from signing the agreement later, as many other nations have done. For the reasons outlined below, the United States hasn’t signed this agreement either.

So, Russia continues to use mercenaries, much like the British used the Hessians back in the colonial days. Simply stated, mercenaries are cheap, flexible, and tough.

Mercenaries, like private military contractors, earn a lot more money than regular servicemembers who do the same job. So, the upfront cost is higher. However, governments make no long-term commitments to mercenaries. When their deployment ends, so does the government’s financial obligation. Long-term benefits, such as retirement plans, cost a lot more than initial compensation.

On a related note, if military operations demand immediate reinforcements, the regular army may not be able to provide them. Back in the day, troop transfers were quite easy. Cowboy from Full Metal Jacket summed up the nature of war back then rather bluntly. Today, however, it’s not that easy. Troops require months of training before redeployment. But one call to a mercenary organization is all it takes.

Finally, mercenaries are usually experienced soldiers. They understand their roles and they’re willing to do what it takes.

Contractors in America

These same costs, flexibility, and toughness qualities apply to American private military contractors. But, there are a couple of big differences. 

Unlike foreign mercenaries, private military contractors cannot engage in offensive operations. Most contractors, especially in places like Afghanistan, gather intelligence from civilians, station checkpoints, escort supply convoys, and otherwise do things that regular servicemembers almost consider punishment. So, contractors improve the morale of servicemembers while, at the same time, making more of them available for combat operations.

Perhaps more importantly, American private military contractors are accountable in U.S. courts. That accountability was front and center following the 2014 Nisour Square incident, in which contractors allegedly fired on unarmed Iraqi civilians. The case wound its way through the American criminal justice system for several years, until then-President Donald Trump pardoned the contractors the jurors had convicted.

So, the U.S. refusal to sign international mercenary agreements isn’t due to stubbornness. Instead, it’s an understandable refusal to accept unnecessary international oversight.

Injuries Sustained

The legal differences between mercenaries and contractors are significant. But the injuries these individuals sustain are much the same.

Hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases among contractors. Between helicopters, heavy ground vehicles, and shooting ranges, most foreign military bases are noisy enough to threaten one’s hearing, but not noisy enough to trigger mandatory hearing protection laws. A new law making hearing aids available over-the-counter might have some unintended consequences in this area. People who are dealing with hearing loss might not know what kind of hearing aid to get, which means the problem gets worse.

Brain injuries are perhaps the most common traumatic injuries. As many as half of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans came home with TBIs. That’s not half the wounded soldiers. That’s half of all the soldiers.

Many of these soldiers, and many private military contractors as well, sustained brain injuries even though they had no other physical wounds. Sudden loud noises, like exploding IEDs, create shock waves that permanently, yet subtly, impair brain functions. In other words, many of these victims were badly hurt, but they didn’t know it.

Injury Compensation Available

Compensation for injured non-servicemembers is different as well. Financially, most injured mercenaries are on their own. Injured American private military contractors can rely on Defense Base Act no-fault benefits.

These benefits usually replace lost wages and pay reasonably necessary medical bills. Although these benefits are no-fault, these claimants face some legal and other hurdles.

As mentioned, many injured contractors are hurt and don’t know it. Strict time deadlines apply to DBA claims. Usually, victims who don’t immediately report their injuries lose their right to obtain compensation

A variation of the delayed discovery rule protects these victims. This rule states that the obligation to file a claim is related to the onset of symptoms, as opposed to the onset of illness.

The Average Weekly Wage, a key component of the wage replacement benefit, is often controversial as well. Insurance adjusters often calculate the AWW based solely on prior, regular cash compensation. However, the AWW also includes per diem and other non-regular compensation. Additionally, the AWW calculation must account for future lost overtime opportunities, lost bonuses, and so on.

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