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A badge on a uniform of a foreign fighter from the UK arrived in Lviv, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The promise and peril of foreign fighters in Ukraine

Less than 48 hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to foreign volunteers for their help. He also established a new military unit, the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine, for them to join. Visa restrictions were temporarily lifted, and a slick recruitment website went up. Some compared the foreign volunteers to those who signed up to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War, as captured in Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

But with the war entering its fourth week, the implication of thousands of foreign fighters entering the fray – some from as far away as Florida and as close as Belarus – is less than romantic. What’s more, Russia is now deploying its own foreign recruits, and Vladimir Putin has given the go-ahead to dole out advanced weapons systems to foreigners willing to take up arms for Moscow.

Such an influx of foreign fighters to Ukraine, experts warn, will have both short- and long-term consequences for the war, the region, and beyond.

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