French Foreign Legion troops desert to join fighting in Ukraine

The French army has prevented 14 Ukrainian members of the Foreign Legion from travelling east with the possible intention of joining the fighting in their homeland, their commander said on Wednesday, but a further 25 Ukrainian-born soldiers have already left.

French Foreign Legion troops desert to join fighting in Ukraine
Illustration photo: Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion march on the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Bastille Day parade. Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

The Legion has reported 25 desertions by Ukrainian-born soldiers, with around a dozen of them believed to be planning to help the fight against the Russian army.

The Legion has “cut them loose”, commander Alain Lardet told AFP. “They are fighting for a cause that it is not my role to judge.”

Nine in the group that were stopped were on leave but not authorised to travel abroad when they were stopped Tuesday in Paris. The others were absent without leave or considered missing, added Lardet. 

They were arrested on a coach headed for Poland neighbouring Ukraine, which has been battling a Russian invasion for the past week.

The Foreign Legion, an elite corps comprising around 9,500 soldiers, is the only French army unit in which foreign nationals can enlist.

READ ALSO What you need to know about the French Foreign Legion

They qualify for French nationality after several years of service, or sooner if they distinguish themselves in battle.

It was not immediately clear whether the 14 were planning to join the fighting in Ukraine, or simply help their families who had fled Ukraine, the military command said. No weapons or other unauthorised equipment was found on them.

But some of the civilian passengers on the bus were carrying gear that led the authorities to believe that they were planning to join the fighting.

The Foreign Legion counts 710 soldiers of Ukrainian origin of whom 210 have been naturalised, and 450 Russian-born troops.

While there has been “no tension between the communities” since Russia invaded its neighbour, Ukrainians in the Foreign Legion have been “very worried for their families”, Lardet said.

They can apply for an exceptional two-week leave to travel to one of Ukraine’s neighbouring countries to assist their families fleeing the war, but are not authorised to cross into Ukraine itself, he said.

On Tuesday, 25 such permits were granted, with several more expected Wednesday, but none of the Ukrainians arrested on Tuesday were in possession of such a document.

The nine who had regular leave for France only are unlikely to be punished because they had not been told properly that there was now a legal way to join their families, the commander said.

But the five others will be ordered into military detention for an unspecified number of days, having committed “a serious violation of the Legion members’ code of honour”, he said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


France ‘strongly condemns’ Russia’s expulsion of its diplomats

France "strongly condemns" the expulsion of 34 of its diplomats by Russia, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, a tit-for-tat move by Moscow after Paris ordered some Russian staff to leave.

France 'strongly condemns' Russia's expulsion of its diplomats

Saying the step had “no legitimate basis”, the ministry said in a statementthat “the work of the diplomats and staff at (France’s) embassy in Russia… takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled the Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

Moscow said Wednesday it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in a tit-for-tat move following the
expulsion of Russian diplomats from France as part of joint European action over Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.

“Thirty four employees of French diplomatic missions in Russia have been declared persona non grata,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that they have two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement

“It has been stressed that this step causes serious damage to Russian-French relations and constructive bilateral cooperation,” the foreign ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially led diplomatic outreach to the Kremlin over Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine but his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin have eventually tapered off and overt French military
support to Ukraine has increased in recent months.