Tried to join the French Foreign Legion and didn’t make the cut? Don’t fret — the Russian military has created its own force of foreign citizens to fight Moscow’s wars.
The Russian Defense Ministry last month announced that foreigners could enlist in the Russian military, a move ostensibly aimed at legalizing the status of citizens of former Soviet republics already serving, but its ranks are open to all foreigners — provided they speak good Russian and have clean criminal records.
President Vladimir Putin signed the new policy into force on Jan. 2, five years after the proposal had originally been made.
Now “foreign servicemen can participate in operations during martial law, as well as in armed conflicts, in accordance with [the] generally accepted principles of international law, international agreements and Russian legislation,” said the order, published on the Kremlin website.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defense think tank, explained to The Moscow Times that the change was finally implemented to provide legal status to locals already serving on Russian bases in Armenia and Tajikistan.
By allowing foreign citizens to join its ranks, the Russian military has moved beyond most other modern militaries. Typically, foreigners are allowed to join another nation’s military only after establishing residency, or by special agreements between their governments.
In the U.S., for example, foreigners can only join the military if they are permanent residents with a green card. While service in the U.S. military does not in itself entitle a foreigner to U.S. citizenship, foreign contractors will be eligible for Russian citizenship after their five-year contract is concluded.
In this way, the Russian military is taking a page from the French Foreign Legion, which since the 1800s has existed as a largely foreign-staffed military force. Legionnaires, who historically have served on the front lines of France’s wars, can apply for citizenship after three years of service with the French Foreign Legion, or immediately if wounded in action.