South Asia and Beyond

Putin Fumes As Colombian Soldiers Help Ukraine Fight Russia

 Putin Fumes As Colombian Soldiers Help Ukraine Fight Russia

President Putin may feel he is winning the Ukraine war but Kiev has been handed a lifeline by Colombian soldiers.

Hardened fighters from South America’s second-largest army are fighting in Ukraine as mercenaries. 

Colombia’s soldiers have major military experience fighting drug-trafficking cartels and rebel groups for decades. It has a military of 250,000 of which 10,000 retire each year. The pay is poor and observers say that an average Colombian soldier can make as much as four times the amount in Ukraine as he does at home.

“Colombia has a large army with highly trained personnel, but the pay isn’t great when you compare it to other militaries,” said Andrés Macías of Bogotá’s Externado University, who studies Colombian work for military contractors around the world.

Corporals in Colombia get a basic salary of around $400 a month, while experienced drill sergeants can earn up to $900. Colombia’s monthly minimum wage is currently $330.

In Ukraine any member of the armed forces, regardless of citizenship, is entitled to a monthly salary of up to $3,300, depending on their rank and type of service. They are also entitled to up to $28,660 if they are injured, depending on the severity of the wounds. If they are killed in action, their families are due $400,000 compensation.

The entry of Colombian fighters into Ukraine has seen the influx of a new wave of soldiers. The first wave came mostly from post-Soviet or English-speaking countries. But last year the Ukrainian military developed an infrastructure of Spanish-speaking recruiters and instructors.

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Ukraine is just the latest outpost for Colombian soldiers to sell their battle skills for money. In the early 2000s, they were hired by US military contractors to guard oil wells and other US infrastructure in Iraq.

Retired Colombian soldiers began to head overseas in the early 2000s to work for U.S. military contractors protecting infrastructure including oil wells in Iraq. Retired members of Colombia’s military have also been hired as trainers in the United Arab Emirates and joined in Yemen’s battle against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

There is a murkier side to using Colombian soldiers as mercenaries.  Two Colombians were killed and 18 were arrested after they were accused of taking part in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

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Ashwin Ahmad

Traveller, bibliophile and wordsmith with a yen for international relations. A journalist and budding author of short fiction, life is a daily struggle to uncover the latest breaking story while attempting to be Hemingway in the self-same time. Focussed especially on Europe and West Asia, discussing Brexit, the Iran crisis and all matters related is a passion that endures to this day. Believes firmly that life without the written word is a life best not lived. That’s me, Ashwin Ahmad.