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If the USA (or another western country) wants to help Ukraine without sending troops, one thing it can do is to convince Russian soldiers in Ukraine to desert the Russian army, for example, by promising a green card to any soldier who abandons his post. As many Russian soldiers are poor, and do not entirely support Putin, this deal might be attractive to them. Clearly, only few soldiers will be able to get out, but even if one or two soldiers escapes, this might affect the morale of remaining soldiers. Instead of thinking how to beat the Ukrainians, they might think how to escape.

Question: does it break any international law or treaty, to pay soldiers of another country to abandon their duty? Are there any other repercussions to this idea?

BTW, It is interesting to note that, in the present war in Ukraine, both sides have directly called on soldiers of the other side to defect:

  • Putin calls Ukrainian soldiers to defect: in his address from 24/2: "I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces... I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families."
  • Ukraine calls Russian pilots to defect: taken from this answer: "RUSSIAN PILOT, SURRENDER TO THE UKRAINIAN MILITARY! the only way to save your life and honor! According to the decision of the General Director Yuri Gusev, the State Concern "Ukroboronprom" is ready to pay bonuses for stolen combat aircraft of the occupiers! $ 1,000,000 for a stolen or trophy combat-ready aircraft. 500,000 US dollars - for a captured military helicopter in working order."
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    There are 20000 Russian soldiers in the area. Say everyone was offered one million dollars for changing sides, so up to 200 billion in total. That would still be a bargain and could be paid with the frozen assets. I guess the issues with it not happening that often are not of a legal nature but more a logistical problem. If your plans of giving up the fight are uncovered prematurely you'll be a traitor. Not sure what happens then. Mar 3, 2022 at 20:22
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    Your title refers to defection (which is usually defined as transferring one's loyalty to a state other than one's own), but the body of your question seems to imply reference to desertion (the usual term for the abandonment of one's duty). Which are you interested in?
    – origimbo
    Mar 4, 2022 at 0:14
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    @Trilarion Re: "could be paid with the frozen assets" - that's not how asset freezing works. What you are thinking of would be asset confiscation. Mar 4, 2022 at 1:51
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    @DanilaSmirnov: Furthermore, many of the frozen assets are government bonds issued by the US and various European countries. Confiscating such bonds looks extremely similar to defaulting on them, from an accounting perspective.
    – Kevin
    Mar 4, 2022 at 5:08
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    Just a though: what is the advantage of being poor in the US instead of Russia ? Mar 4, 2022 at 7:23

5 Answers 5

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It has been done all the time: e.g., via dropping propaganda leaflets behind the enemy lines, as was done during both world wars.

In modern days (e.g., in Israel confrontation with Palestinians) it is done not only via leaflets, but also by making telephone calls, media broadcasting and publisizing the good deeds of defectors, such as the Son of Hamas. Althoigh in this case we are not dealing with soldiers of another state, strictly speaking.

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    That's what I was thinking of, but did any of those promise rewards for deserting, rather than just attacking morale?
    – divibisan
    Mar 3, 2022 at 20:27
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    High profile defectors are certainly offered something. Regular soldiers - I don't think so. But I noticed that there is a tendency to overestimate how poor Russians are or how much they suffer under Putin - in fact life in Russia is not worse than in Eastern European EU member. Moscow and Petersbourg are among the world's most expensive cities for a reason.
    – Roger V.
    Mar 3, 2022 at 21:01
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    @LawnmowerMan military service is obligatory in Russia - people join it not to earn money. On the other hand, professional militarymen are well paid (not sure how many of those in Ukraine are conscripts). My point is that people overestimate the attractiveness of the American citizenship to Russians. Indeed, in 1990s working at an unqualified job in the US was better than being a professor or engineer in Russia - hence the huge immigration wave. But those times a long gone - the level of life has significantly grown since 2000, and western sanctions are unlikely to push Russia 20 years back.
    – Roger V.
    Mar 4, 2022 at 9:56
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    In WW2 Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally did exactly that (and more) via radio Mar 4, 2022 at 22:04
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    I always wondered if a soldier accepted the offer from a leaflet, the gov would keep its word and pay him. After all, the soldier would only have a piece of paper in his hand after deserting. Mar 6, 2022 at 0:12
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Most countries take the position that it is a crime for their own soldiers to defect and that they will not punish soldiers from another country's military. There is no international tribunal that punishes soldiers for defecting, and it isn't a war crime to attempt to cause the enemy's soldiers to defect.

Attempts to get soldiers of a country to defect will typically give rise to a strong negative reaction from the country whose soldiers are poached, that the "victim" country may treat as an act of war or an act of provocation if it wishes to do so.

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    If this is done when you're already in a state of war (or effectively so, as in the Ukraine invasion) with the target country, the second paragraph seems moot.
    – Barmar
    Mar 4, 2022 at 10:45
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    @Barmar Not really. Russia is at war with Ukraine. The OP's scenario is that a country other than Ukraine (e.g. the USA) attempts to cause soldier defections.
    – JBentley
    Mar 4, 2022 at 12:02
  • Good point, I forgot that detail of the question.
    – Barmar
    Mar 4, 2022 at 12:03
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    "not punish soldiers from another country's military." That depends on whether the other country is an enemy versus an ally.
    – DrSheldon
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:50
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    "that the 'victim' country may treat as an act of war". Any country can teat anything as an act of war, if hey so choose. Russia has already demonstrated that they will completely ignore international law, if they want to attack someone else, they don't need a reason (or just invent another one).
    – Polygnome
    Mar 6, 2022 at 16:11
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Russia actually did exactly that during its takeover of Crimea: it incentivized soldiers of Ukraine stationed there to desert (change allegiance) on the premise of continuing being enlisted, now with Russian Army and on Russian citizenship.

Which they mostly did.

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    Extraordinary claims need strong evidence. Can you provide some ?
    – Evargalo
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:02
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    @Evargalo See Annexation of Crimea by Russian Federation: "9,268 military servicemen and 7,050 civilian employees defected"
    – Roger V.
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:18
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    It is worth noting that these were special circumstances: defection likely meant being able to keep one's job and the way of life - otherwise they would have to pack their families and belongings and move to elsewhere in Ukraine. Also, as Russian speakers they might have felt unwelcome in Ukraine.
    – Roger V.
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:38
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    for the question "Is it politically acceptable to..." this answer should really note other countries reaction or lack thereof to this practice. Russia doesn't noticeably worry too much about whether it's actions are politically acceptable in general.
    – Clumsy cat
    Mar 4, 2022 at 15:03
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It depends on who you are asking. If you ask people in the US or countries who are opposed to the conflict they would be more likely to say yes. This is because this action could help reduce the casualties in the conflict.

However if you ask Russia or countries that support the invasion you are likely to hear no due to the negative impacts that it will have on their operations.

Overall it being acceptable or unacceptable will depend on who you ask and I am unaware of any law that prevents people from trying to get soldiers to defect. In the end even if they do defect there is still a question of them being trusted in the new country or if they are being ordered to defect to cause problems.

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  • Comments deleted. If you would like to debate the war in Ukraine, please do that in the chatroom.
    – Philipp
    Mar 5, 2022 at 15:59
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Your question aks about interference by third parties. (I think anything Ukraine is doing as a party in a military conflict is legal as long as it is not a war crime or similar, which this clearly isn't: Better pay them than kill them, right?)

Interestingly, your title asks whether it is politically acceptable; the actual question text, by contrast, asks whether it breaks the law or treaties. These are two very different questions.

Legally, the offered rewards could be considered a third-party intervention in a military conflict, even though the intervention itself is not military. No law forbids to help an attacked country in an armed conflict, with weapons or without; certainly not if the intervention is made upon request by that country.

Politically, Russia could and probably would regard such an offer as a hostile act for which "inappropriate" could be used as a euphemism. Russia could consider that country, and potentially the political or military organizations it belongs to, an enemy in this conflict, and react accordingly — that is, attack it.

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  • Following this logic Russia can actually take any even totally indirect involvement as a hostile act and react in one way or another. Or they may not need a reason at all. For the sake of the argument Ukraine could be given money and then they could give it to Russian soldiers. Mar 7, 2022 at 23:34
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    @Trilarion All you say is true. But there will be thresholds regarding the intensity of an interference that will trigger reactions of increasing severity when crossed. Where these exactly are is anybody's guess and probably not constant over time and space. Mar 7, 2022 at 23:36

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