Sri Lankan Government Blocking Citizens’ Recruitment Into Ukraine’s Mercenary Forces: Kiev’s Manpower Shortages Worsen

The Sri Lankan government has been forced to take significant measures to prevent widespread efforts by Western actors to recruit its citizens into mercenary groups operating in Ukraine, according to a statement by Foreign Minister Ali Sabry published in December 9. The minister elaborated that Sri Lankan security agencies had previously identified agents recruiting prospective mercenaries to join the Ukrainian war effort. This follows a report that three former Sri Lankan soldiers, including a former special forces officer, were killed on December 4th near the city of Bakhmut – which Ukrainian and allied forces have expended considerable efforts to capture since losing it in May after a 10 month long battle. While Western agencies have scoured black markets across the third world for armaments for Ukraine since shortly after conflict in the country escalated in early 2022, many countries with less developed economies have also been fertile ground for recruitment of former military and paramilitary personnel to service in contractor organisations fighting Russian forces. 

South America in particular has reportedly seen particularly wide and successful efforts made to recruit personnel for the war effort, most significantly Brazil and Colombia. The latter has contributed mercenary fighters to multiple war efforts in recent decades on the side of Western interests, with Colombian mercenaries playing a very significant role in the Yemeni Civil War alongside naval and special forces units from France and the United States. Former insurgents from Syria, many residing in Turkey or the Turkish controlled Idlib governate in northern Syria, have according to multiple reports also been recruited in significant numbers. Contractors from across much of the Western world have also played central roles in the war effort from its outset, with personnel numbers from Poland alone estimated at over 10,000 – and according to some sources very significantly more. 

The need for foreign personnel has grown as Ukrainian forces are increasingly widely reported to have taken tremendous casualties particularly since the initiation of a failed months long offensive against Russian forces in June. Life expectancy in the frontlines in the most intensive conflict zones has at times been as low as four hours for Ukrainian personnel, with local officers reporting death rates of 80-90 percent among units sent to the frontlines. Alongside recruitment of foreign fighters, there have also been growing calls among European states to enforce a harsher policy on sending conscription age males back to Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has itself responded to the issue by raising the maximum age for male conscription to include senior citizens, and from September by creating new conscription requirements for females.