In March of this year, retired U.S. colonel Andrew Milburn founded the Mozart Group, a private military company that trains Ukrainian soldiers and distributes humanitarian aid to civilians. The name is a reference to the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company that also operates in Ukraine.
Milburn, therefore, can scarcely be accused of having ‘pro-Russian’ sympathies. In a CBS documentary earlier this year, he was asked, “Are you concerned about weapons getting into the wrong hands?” And his response was: “I don’t care at all whether that happens … my biggest concern right now is that the guys who need to kill Russians with those weapons get those weapons.”
Which makes his recent comments on a podcast rather surprising.
According to Milburn, the Ukrainians are “violating the law of armed conflict” due to “a number of things they’re doing with POWs”, such as “killing Russian prisoners”.
“For the most part, they don’t commit atrocities,” he said. But “you shouldn’t kill dudes who’ve surrendered, and there was plenty of that … There’s all kinds of atrocities to go around.”
Milburn admitted, “I’m no big fan of Ukraine,” although “I care deeply about its people. I care deeply about the Ukrainian soldiers.” The retired colonel claimed that “it’s a corrupt, fucked-up society”, and there are “plenty of fucked-up people running Ukraine”.
As to why he got involved, Milburn explained that “it’s about global norms, it’s about Putin, [not] allowing dudes in the twenty first century like Putin to do what they want to do”. When asked if it was a “just fight”, he nodded in agreement.
As someone who’s been on the ground in Ukraine, Milburn actually has skin in the game (he put his own life at risk by entering the war zone). And having founded a company that’s supporting Ukraine’s war effort, he has no incentive to lie about what he saw (unlike pro-Russian war reporters). His testimony therefore cannot be dismissed.
It should be noted that the Russians have also committed atrocities, with the UN estimating that at least 6,600 civilians have been killed since February. There’s also the small matter of the invasion itself being illegal and unjustified.
Yet Western leaders have presented a cartoonish view of the conflict as a “great battle for freedom” and a “war on our values”, when the reality is much more complicated. (How exactly does the Azov Regiment – which carried out war crimes in the Donbas, as documented by the UN, the OSCE and Human Rights Watch – represent “our values”?)
Given everything that’s happened up to this point, I don’t think Western countries should abandon Ukraine (and there’s no danger of that happening anyway). But I do think their populations deserve an accurate picture of what’s going on, and that includes Andrew Milburn’s recent testimony.