Elite special forces from the UK and the US have been present in Ukraine since the beginning of hostilities with Russia in late February, says a report in the newspaper Le Figaro last week, citing French intelligence.
The French newspaper’s senior international correspondent Georges Malbrunot filed the report on 9 April, the day when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his surprise visit to Kyiv. The British politician was reportedly surrounded by guards from the elite SAS force, though this claim was not officially confirmed.
SAS units “have been present in Ukraine since the beginning of the war, as did [sic] the American Deltas,” Malbrunot tweeted citing a French intelligence source. He cited a source as saying that Russia was well aware of the “secret war” waged against its troops by foreign commandos. Le Figaro included the report in their updates on Ukraine.
The UK and the US have been among the most active military supporters of Ukraine. According to the French newspaper report, Johnson urged his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy to keep on fighting against Russia and not settle for peace until better terms are offered.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell confirmed last week there was a consensus for war in the West. He said on 9 April that the “war will be won on the battlefield” as he was visiting Kyiv too.
British media had earlier reported that dozens of “retired” SAS soldiers had gone or planned to go to Ukraine to contribute with their expertise in reconnaissance and anti-tank warfare to Kyiv’s ’cause’. “A country in Europe, still to be named, via a private military company” paid for their services allegedly. British tabloid Daily Mirror said the UK government did not pay for it.
The Russian military reported action against what it described as “mercenaries” fighting for Ukraine on several occasions. One of the recent instances was on 9 April when Johnson and Borell were in Kyiv.
The Russian defence ministry said Kyiv had attempted to use a civilian ship in its latest failed attempt to evacuate high-value personnel from the port city of Mariupol, which saw some of the most intensive battles during the conflict. Kyiv had reportedly identified leaders of the ultranationalist Azov battalion and foreign mercenaries for evacuation.
There are unconfirmed reports that hundreds of foreign nationals could be blocked in Mariupol along with several thousand Azov troops.
The US and the UK have publicly stated that they had no plans to involve their troops in the fighting in Ukraine. Both are major suppliers of arms to Kyiv and were training soldiers in Ukraine before the Russian offensive. The experts pulled out of the country in the run-up to the hostilities, sources said.
Britain’s defence ministry, meanwhile, prohibited active service members from travelling to Ukraine in early March, threatening them with prosecution in the event of a violation of the rule. Kyiv called on volunteers abroad to join the ranks of its newly-created “foreign legion” after the Russian attack.
Russia launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbas republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French-brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led Nato military bloc. Kyiv insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two rebel regions by force.