Four British soldiers including a teenager paid to protect the Queen are feared to have gone AWOL to fight Vladimir Putin’s invading forces in Ukraine.
A 19-year-old member of the Queen’s Guard, whose identity has not been revealed for security reasons, reportedly dropped his ceremonial duties as a Coldstream Guardsman and signed up for Ukraine’s International Legion of foreign volunteer fighters.
The soldier reportedly wrote to his parents before booking a one-way ticket to Poland over the weekend with an intention to then cross the border into Ukraine. He has since posted a photo of his boots on Snapchat, according to the Sun newspaper.
The shock development has sparked panic at the Ministry of Defence, with security chiefs racing to intercept the teenager in case Russia tries to claim that Britain has entered the war if active army soldiers are found fighting on the frontlines.
When Putin launched his brutal war to ‘demilitarise’ and ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine, he warned foreign powers tempted to intervene that they would ‘face consequences greater than any you have faced in history’. Days later, the Russian despot put the Kremlin’s nuclear deterrent forces on ‘alert’, in a dramatic escalation of international tensions that sparked fear across the West.
And in a chilling threat at the weekend, Moscow vowed to punish London for its support for Kyiv, ominously warning: ‘Russia will not forget Britain’s desire to co-operate with ultra-nationalist forces in Ukraine and the supply of British weapons to the Kiev regime’.
Ex-Army chiefs slammed the AWOL soldiers as ‘totally irresponsible’, and warned they could be jailed if they return to Britain.
Until now, only former military personnel from the UK are thought to have signed up for Ukraine’s volunteer army, and serving members of Britain’s armed forces have been banned from joining the war effort.
More than 20,000 people from 52 countries have already volunteered to repel the Russian invaders in Ukraine, where they will serve in a newly created international legion, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said over the weekend.
Roughly 150 British Army veterans who fought in Afghanistan have already signed up to support Ukraine’s troops after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss declared she would ‘absolutely support’ those who wished to sign up to fight as part of the Ukrainian armed forces.
The Government quickly distanced itself from her statements, however, with Downing Street releasing a statement reiterating it strongly advises against travel to Ukraine. And serving members of the British Armed Forces have been banned from accepting the Ukrainian army’s invitations to fight.
A source told The Sun that the squaddie had left his post, written a note to his parents explaining his decision, and hopped on a plane due east.
The friend of the teenager claimed that the rogue soldier was ‘bored’ and had ‘had enough of the ceremonial stuff’. The source told the paper that the teenager had ranted that soldiers don’t join the Army ‘to stand in bear skin hats and march about’.
Retired Army chief General Lord Richard Dannatt warned that it could be disastrous if active, serving British Army personnel were to be captured by Russian forces.
A post on the British Army’s internal messaging service read: ‘There has been some recent media coverage relating to foreigners being welcomed into Ukraine to help fight against Russia.
‘To be clear, as members of the British Army, you are not authorised to travel to Ukraine to support the ongoing conflict against Russia in any form, whether you are on leave or not. Please remain professional and focused on your duty and your team.’
The British Army cannot legally prevent retired personnel from travelling to eastern Europe, but full-time and reserve troops have received a stern warning not to take part in the conflict.
Ukraine’s defiant president Volodymyr Zelensky put out a plea in the days following the invasion, appealing for members of the international armed forces community to fly to Eastern Europe and join the war effort.
Around 20,000 volunteers from around the globe have already signed up to fight, with roughly 16,000 already on the ground in Ukraine, including a small contingent of Brits.
Many of them say their families ‘are worried but supportive’ of their decision. One of them, Ben Grant, who served in Iraq, flew home from the Middle Eastern country to the UK to see his wife and kids and then went straight from there to join the fight in Ukraine.
He said: ‘I hadn’t seen them for a while and basically said I’m going to Ukraine. Big shock. I feel a bit sorry to them to be fair. I know they were pretty upset but people need me here.’
Jax, from northern England, said the ‘sickening’ attacks and Zelensky’s call to people to join Ukraine in the fight motivated him to join up.
British ‘Lads’ Army’ volunteers eager to take on Putin’s forces could be prosecuted under UK terror laws if they go out to fight in Ukraine, Boris Johnson has hinted.
Shortly after the war in Ukraine broke out, groups of men gathered outside the Ukrainian embassy in west London to answer comic-turned-wartime leader Zelensky’s call to arms for foreign fighters to join his country’s defence against Russia.
But lawyers have warned that Britons who fight in Ukraine could be prosecuted under UK terror laws – much like those who took arms for Kurdish militia forces against ISIS in Syria.
The Prime Minister waded into the debate, warning members of the so-called ‘Lads Army’ that they could be breaking British law by going over to Ukraine to fight.
Giving a speech in Estonia, Johnson said: ‘I can understand why people feel as they do but we have laws in our country about international conflicts and how they should be conducted.’
A military source said that 150 of former paratroopers were on their way to Poland. Shane, 34, a former sniper with the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, said Truss’ comments were ‘the green light’.
Several thousand people have volunteered to join the force, apparently including a group of SAS veterans eager to defend Ukraine.
According to The Mirror, the retired UK special forces soldiers volunteered for missions deep inside Ukraine to back up the country’s defence. The veterans, aged between 40 and 60, met to discuss signing up for the dangerous mission, backing up Ukrainians in combat.
Key to their operation is among them there are highly-trained snipers and experts in the use of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
It comes amid claims that Kremlin officials are ‘privately denouncing’ Putin’s ‘clusterf**k’ invasion as US officials warned that the isolated Russian despot could lash out in anger at Ukraine’s fierce resistance by using small nuclear weapons on some of its cities.
Russian journalist Farida Rustamova, who was well-connected in government circles before fleeing the country as the Kremlin launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, has claimed that officials in Moscow never believed that Putin would go to war.
They are now allegedly making ‘apocalyptic’ forecasts about the weeks and months ahead as fighting grinds on and punitive sanctions bite.
The video, which has English subtitles, continues with the women saying that they have already had experiences of war, that they will no longer stay passive and will ‘protect their country from the enemy.’
The women who decided to stay and fight rather than leave added: ‘We will destroy the enemy on every inch of Ukrainian land. In every city, village, forest and field. For every child, woman, old man, damaged houses and streets – we will shoot you like rabid dogs.’
The video ends with the message: ‘Glory to Ukraine – death to enemies.’
When asked how Russian politicians were reacting to the crisis, one source told Rustamova: ‘They’re carefully enunciating the word clusterf**k. No one is rejoicing. Many understand that this is a mistake, but in the course of doing their duty they come up with explanations in order to somehow come to terms with it.’
Kyiv estimates that 12,000 Russians have now died fighting and while that number cannot be verified, casualties are almost certainly higher than Putin bargained for when he gave the order to attack 13 days ago. Captured soldiers have complained of a lack of food, fuel, and overall battle plan – with conditions set to get worse in the coming days.
A pronounced cold snap will see temperatures drop to -10C overnight in the middle of the week around Kyiv and Kharkiv – down to -20C when wind chill is taken into account – with many Russian soldiers stuck outdoors in a 40-mile column of stalled vehicles near the Ukrainian capital.
US intelligence chiefs on Tuesday branded Putin an ‘angry’, isolated leader grappling for global clout, frustrated about how his Ukraine invasion has not gone to plan, and lobbing provocative nuclear threats at the West. Some have even privately expressed concern that, in a worst-case scenario, he might order deployment of mini-nukes on a city.
CIA Director William Burns told US lawmakers that Putin is now likely to ‘double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties’. At a congressional hearing on global threats, he said the despot has been ‘stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years’ and regarded the invasion of Ukraine a matter of ‘deep personal conviction’ for Putin.
‘I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. He’s likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,’ Burns said.
The Russian strongman has encountered a tidal wave of opprobrium for the deadly invasion, leaving him isolated like never before. The US intelligence community warned of the potential for Putin to lash out, especially noting an elevated nuclear threat.
Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, said Russia under Putin has been working overtime to modernize its weaponry, particularly smaller-yield nuclear weapons.
Putin has ‘invested in tactical nuclear weapons,’ Berrier said. ‘I believe that he thinks that gives him an asymmetric advantage.’
Putin took the shock step last month of putting Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said ‘Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling’ has put the West on notice.
‘We assess Putin feels aggrieved the West does not give him proper deference, and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,’ Haines told the panel. ‘But what he might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time.’
Putin’s invasion has produced ‘a shock to the geopolitical order with implications for the future that we are only beginning to understand, but are sure to be consequential’, it was heard.
The CIA’s Burns also warned that with Putin under immense pressure, the ‘system’ the Russian president created of a circle of close advisors is getting ‘narrower and narrower’ – and that in such a system, ‘it’s not proven career enhancing for people to question or challenge his judgment’.
It comes after a US military think tank dramatically warned on Monday night that Russian forces could launch their assault on Kyiv as early as tonight.
The Institute for the Study of War said the Russian military has been bringing reinforcements and supplies to its front lines, as well as carrying out air and artillery strikes on key Ukrainian military targets to weaken their position and to intimidate the city’s defenders ahead of a large assault.
Three civilians died near Kyiv on Tuesday after stepping on a landmine, a six-year-old girl died from dehydration in Mariupol after water was cut off, and hundreds of people were pictured evacuating from the city of Irpin in bitter conditions whilst snow fell.
Irpin has been the scene of some intense clashes as Russian forces try to take it on their mission to surround and besiege Kyiv, with one commander reporting hand-to-hand fighting as Putin’s men battle street-to-street.
Vitaliy Shichko, resident of nearby Bucha, said Russian forces have been attacking the town since last week – initially throwing in men ‘they weren’t afraid of losing’ but increasingly moving in better armed and equipped troops to capture and hold ground.
Others said that Russians had cleared residents out of their homes so they could set up sniper positions, with some alleging that civilians had been fired at as they tried to flee. Ukrainian artillery is now being brought to bare on Russian forces as they set up the next phase of their attack, commanders said.
Ukraine’s commanders have claimed that Putin’s invasion has ‘slowed significantly’ in recent days, with American intelligence saying he has now committed all of the forces he built up along the border to the fight.
Kyiv’s military, giving an overview of combat as the war entered its 13th day, said defensive operations continue in the north, east and south of Ukraine, with all major cities other than Kherson in Ukrainian hands. Russian troops are ‘demoralised and increasingly tend to looting and violations of international humanitarian law’, commanders added.
It has also emerged that another Russian commander – Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, first deputy commander of Russia’s 41st army – was killed in Kharkiv on Monday, just the latest in an increasingly long line of senior military figures to lose their lives in Ukraine.