It’s some five weeks since I questioned how many British soldiers were, and are, trapped in the underground network of Azovstal steel production plant. Over the weekend it has emerged that there are at least three. In a Daily Express article, which by all appearances carries the stamp of intelligence services’ approval, bearing the byline of the Diplomatic Editor, Marco Giannangeli, whoever he really is – perhaps the latest manifestation of Pablo Miller, aka Antonio Alvarez de Hidalgo.
The British in Azovstal
To put out an article admitting that there are British military personnel in Azovstal after all this time must have a purpose. The Russians have been saying it for well over a month. So what is it?
Firstly, when the Azovstal catacombs throw up the living and the dead, this will be common knowledge and to know about it beforehand will at least soften the shock. But the main purpose, I suspect, is to let the British public know that these men are not soldiers, but former-soldiers now acting as mercenaries risking their lives to help the Ukrainians.
The story might be true. Who knows? Remember though, when the Canadians realised that Lieutenant General Trevor Cadieu could not be got out of Azovstal, reports swamped the Canadian press claiming he had resigned his position as a very high-ranking serving officer to help out the neo-Nazi Ukrainian battalions. It is the same claim that British soldiers and military advisors are no longer on active duty – even though it is known that British military personnel were sent to help Ukraine nearly twelve months ago.
The Express article says:
“Of those, at least three are former British soldiers with previous combat experience in Afghanistan. Two are former infantry corporals while the third is said to be a former combat medic.”
It also says:
“The former soldiers were among the thousand or so British veterans who volunteered to help Ukrainian forces following the February 24 invasion by Russian forces.”
In this short piece the word “former” is used six times – which even from the spooks reeks of overkill. If you need to bang a message home why use a pistol if you’ve got a machine-gun?
US Lieutenant General, Roger Cloutier, if he has been captured by the Russians, has not been so lucky in that the fact-checkers at the beginning of April said he was serving in Izmir, Turkey, and had not been to Ukraine since July 2021. This gives no opportunity to use the Canadian escape mechanism of resignation or retirement.
The problem of course is that if any of these NATO military personnel are on official duty in Ukraine they have broken international law. For Cloutier, if captured and acting on behalf of the US, his actions would be in contravention of the US Constitution, Article I, Section 10, paragraph 3:
“No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”
That of course is the theory. The US has an abysmal record of complying with international law.
A final indicator from the Express article that there may be more, non-military British in the Azovstal warrens comes from the curious statement:
Both Ukraine and Russia had agreed that all civilians were evacuated, and not merely “said to have been evacuated”. Where that information comes from no indication is given, but it has a heady whiff of insider knowledge. Of course, wives of some of the neo-Nazis could be among them. It would be surprising if they were not. The likely groundwork the Express is engaged in is probably a provision to cover the likelihood of biolab chemists and other such “civilians” being inside?
Ukraine and Turkey have been talking with Russia about evacuation of those remaining. Nevertheless, it is suspected that by the time any agreement is reached the siege will be over. Only this morning nine neo-Nazis laid down their arms. With the majority of exits blocked it is likely that those remaining will take a similar action.
Indeed, as I write according to the Russian ministry of defence, as a result of talks, the DNR allied forces have ceased fire and opened a humanitarian corridor to take the wounded to hospital in Novoazovsk, near the eastern Russian border.
Snake Island – any British involvement there?
Getting at the truth is not easy but allegedly on the evenings of 7, 8 and morning of 9 May Ukrainian forces tried to retake Snake Island, just off Romania and south of Odessa. The special forces of Ukraine incurred heavy losses including the lives of some 60 combatants some of whose bodies, reports say, are scattered on the beach. From these attempts a number of helicopters, planes and boats were destroyed by Russian forces. The Russian ministry of defence spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said losses amounted to five dozen Ukrainian fighters and militants from elite Ukrainian army units, the loss of four aircraft, ten helicopters, three boats and 30 drones.
Strategically the island is significant but it is thought that on the earliest attempt to retake the island a British Major and a US Lieutenant Colonel went missing prompting the costly subsequent attempts to rescue them or recover their bodies. A cynical Russian report calls the attempts mindless and further observes that with the hundreds of Ukrainian officers lost or missing no such attempts are made to rescue them – only the foreign gentlemen.
The cover image is of Snake Island