The Russians are not the only belligerent party trying to shore up its war effort with foreign mercenaries. The Ukranians have sent the call online to Algeria and Senegal.
Both nations immediately asked the Ukraninans to take down the relevant Facebook posts. The Algerians said the call to arms violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Between States. The Senegalese said the post was “illegal.”
Ukrainian officials said that 16,000 “volunteers” had enlisted since the Russian invasion began in February of 2022. No one knows how many of these individuals are paid foreign military contractors. Volunteers in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion receive about $3,500 per month, which is the base pay for an enlisted soldier. Private military contractor firms operating in Ukraine pay up to $2,000 per day.
Understanding Russia vs. Ukraine
From about 980 A.D. to 1132 A.D., Kievan Rus’, a country which covered most of modern Ukraine and Belarus, as well as parts of modern Russia, was the largest and most influential state in Eastern Europe. But when its last great king, Mstislav I Vladimirovich Monomakh, a/k/a Mstislav the Great, died, Keivan Rus’, like most other European nations at the time, became a patchwork of independent postage-stamp countries. Shortly thereafter, the Mongols invaded. They destroyed what little was left.
Until 1991, that was the last time Ukraine was independent. In between, a series of foreign powers dominated the nation. The Russians moved in during the 1770s, under the rule of Catherine the Great.
Ukrainians had a very strong independent streak, which the Russians disliked, and the Soviets who replaced them disliked even more. The Holodomor, or “terror famine” of the early 1930s largely ended the independence movements growing in Ukraine. To this day, scholars debate whether Soviet dictator Josef Stalin planned the famine or simply allowed it to happen. Roughly four million Ukrainians starved to death during the Holodomor.
Initially, the new Ukrainian government was strongly pro-Russian. But then in 2004, prime minister Viktor Yanukovych won a Presidential election which, according to the country’s Supreme Court, was rigged. That event swept opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko into power. During the election, Yushchenko was poisoned by dioxin and nearly died. Yushchenko blamed the Russians, but his allegations remained unproven.
The closer Ukraine moved to the West, the madder Russia became. The two sides fought a brief war in 2014 over Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine. Supposedly, 97% of Crimeans voted to join Russia, but no one outside the Kremlin really believed that.
Tensions between the two countries remained high, especially when Ukraine took another step towards NATO membership. In February 2022, Putin ordered Russian troops across the border. Their mission was ostensibly a “peacekeeping mission” to support two breakaway Ukrainian provinces. Two days later, the Russians launched a full-scale invasion to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine.
Understanding Contractors vs. Mercenaries
Ukraine is not just a breakaway Soviet republic that the Russians are trying to recapture so they can relive the glory days. Somewhat similarly, “mercenary” is not another name for “contractor.” Some very big differences exist between organizations like the Wagner Group and organizations like KBR.
Russian mercenaries fought alongside Russian servicemembers in their drive through Ukraine. Traditionally, that’s what mercenaries do. They participate in heavy combat operations and sell their services to the highest bidder.
American contractors also serve alongside regular servicemembers. But private military contractors have much more limited responsibilities. Under U.S. law, they cannot participate in offensive operations. Service and support are their only duties. Like anyone else, these highly-trained contractors can also fight to defend themselves.
Mercenaries operate in the shadows. No one is sure who runs the Wagner Group. We do know that the group’s name comes from Richard Wagner, a marginal 19th century German composer who was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorites.
Contractors are transparent. You can look up KBR online right now and learn its corporate structure in mind-numbing detail.
That point leads to a final and perhaps most important point. The normal rules don’t apply to mercenaries, but American contractors are subject to American law. Russia and the United States are the two largest countries that haven’t signed the 1989 United Nations Mercenary Convention. Russia hasn’t signed because it doesn’t want the Wagner Group subject to international oversight. The United States hasn’t signed because private military contractors are already subject to U.S. law, so the UNMC is unnecessary.
This area is different as well. When foreign mercenaries are injured overseas, they are generally on their own, from a financial standpoint. When American private military contractors are injured overseas, the Defense Base Act pays important benefits, such as lost wage replacement.
A lot of money could be at stake. For example, Ukraine pays regular servicemembers about $120 a day. It offered foreign mercenaries $2,000 per day. Contractors don’t earn as much as mercenaries since, as mentioned above, contractor duties are more limited. However, contractors definitely earn a lot more than regular servicemembers.
The Defense Base Act’s wage replacement benefit is based, in part, on the extent of the victim’s disability, as follows:
- Permanent Total Disability: After extreme occupational diseases or trauma injuries, many contractors are never able to work again, based on their medical and educational backgrounds. In these situations, the Defense Base Act insurance company usually pays a settlement to offset future lost wages.
- Permanent Partial Disability: PPD is a step down from PTD. Frequently, these victims can work again, but they cannot fully recover from their illnesses or injuries. Therefore, the DBA compensates these victims for their partial loss of function, such as lost range of motion in an injured shoulder.
- Temporary Partial Disability: Frequently, as they recover, victims can return to work. But, they must limit their hours because of their physical conditions and/or their need to see the doctor. So, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between the victim’s old and new Average Weekly Wage.
- Temporary Total Disability: Almost all injured contractors are YYD victims. They cannot work until the doctor of their choice clears them. In the meantime, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s AWW.
Basically, the Average Weekly Wage is a complex calculation that’s partially based on prior wages and partially based on probable future wages.
For more information about other DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.