Soldiers going AWOL to fight in Ukraine could face jail, legal expert warns

The Army and Ministry of Defense say they are aware of a “small number” of soldiers believed to have gone to combat

More than 20,000 fighters from around the world have joined the battle for Ukraine, the government in the war-torn country says

A legal expert warned that British troops going to AWOL to fight in Ukraine could face jail time on their return – while the consequences of being captured by Russian forces would be dire.

The Army and Defense Department said they were aware of a “small number” of soldiers believed to have gone to combat.

But since Britain is not at war with Russia, it could end up in a legal quagmire, Dr David Turns, an international law expert from Cranfield University, told The Mirror.

And an 1870 law that hasn’t been used in more than 120 years could theoretically punish civilians who engage in combat, he said.

Unless foreign fighters are integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces, they have little protection under international law if they are captured by Vladimir Putin’s army.

This means they could face prosecution as vandals or be at high risk of being shot, Dr Turns warned.

Dr David Turns said: “Foreign troops will receive more legal protection if they are integrated into the Ukrainian army.”


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Meanwhile, the government could enforce a law dating back to 1870 against civilians going to war, he said – even though it was last used more than 120 years ago.

Dr Turns said: “The Armed Forces Act 2006 covers going AWOL, which is an offense and it carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

“They could be held liable for prosecution for absenteeism or desertion, although I think that’s less of an issue in these cases.”

If troops go to Ukraine on leave, he said, they could still face action under the Enlistment Act of 1870 – the same law that could theoretically be used against civilians.

“It was never repealed, so it remains in the statute books,” Dr. Turns said. “But it hasn’t been used successfully since 1896. As far as I know. It is a criminal offense for British citizens to engage in any act of hostility or combat against a friendly country. with British citizens.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked worldwide outrage, with thousands going to fight


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“A legally friendly country is one that is not at war with the UK and in fact the UK is not at war with Russia.

“I know from statements from people with legal backgrounds who have said that there is a real risk that people could be prosecuted. That will be a decision for legal officials in the government. .”

Britons who fought but were not formally inducted into the Ukrainian armed forces would not receive the same protection under international law if they were arrested.

Although the death penalty for prisoners of war is illegal, Dr Turns acknowledges that foreign fighters could be at high risk and that the UK government would not be able to help much.

“If they get caught, they could be at risk of prosecution and that could open up the possibility that they could be shot as vandals,” he said.

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“The big risk is that they won’t be considered members of the armed forces, they can be pressed against a wall and shot or they can be brought before a Russian court.

“They are quite lenient with the authorities who arrest them, they can be put on trial as war criminals.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, earlier said more than 20,000 volunteers from more than 50 countries took part in the fighting.

On Wednesday, a British Army spokesman said: “We are aware of a small number of soldiers disobeying orders and unexcused absences, and may have traveled to Ukraine on an individual basis. We are actively and encouraging them to return to the UK”.

The MOD said in a statement: “All Service Personnel are prohibited from traveling to Ukraine until further notice.

“This applies whether or not the Service Employee is on leave. Employees traveling to Ukraine will face disciplinary and administrative consequences.”

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