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    OPINION: Ambiguity of ‘Mercenary’ Label Is Politically Expedient

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    Defining someone as a “mercenary” has become a tool of political will and expediency, as the definition is ambiguous, Matt Potter, a British journalist told RIA Novosti.

    MOSCOW, April 10 (RIA Novosti), Daria Chernyshova – Defining someone as a “mercenary” has become a tool of political will and expediency, as the definition is ambiguous, Matt Potter, a British journalist told RIA Novosti.

    “Because 'mercenary' is so loose and therefore easily manipulated, defining people as 'mercenaries' has become as much an act of political will and expediency as calling someone a ‘traitor’,” Potter said.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier voiced concerns over the buildup of Ukrainian forces in the southeastern part of the country, including some 150 US mercenaries from the Barbados-registered Greystone company dressed in uniforms of the country’s elite Sokol police unit.

    The US dismissed the claims, with US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland saying there was no truth to them.

    Labeling someone a mercenary, as opposed to the media-friendly ‘private security contractor,’ has become a means to shame, Potter believes. “The pathology around the word 'mercenary' makes it an easy thing to accuse someone of, but a very difficult thing to define, much less prove,” Potter told RIA Novosti.

    In 1989, the UN adopted the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.

    The agreement defines a mercenary as a person who is “recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict” and is not a member of an army, but is motivated by material compensation to participate “in a concerted act of violence” aimed at overthrowing a government or undermining the territorial integrity of a state.

    “However, their [UN] definition of a mercenary is quite full of loopholes,” Potter said, adding that “there’s often a huge blurry area where terms like security guard, courier, technician and mercenary tend to edge into each other.”

    Potter elaborated on the role such personnel would perform.

    “If there were any paid personnel – and there's no credible evidence at this stage that this is the case – their goals would probably be the usual: protect key people, assets and potentially places and resources,” he said.

    “Any private military company who pro-actively deploys to engage with an enemy is no longer deniable: it would be breaking the UN Convention in a very clear way,” Potter added.

    “Mercenaries don't really look like mercenaries,” Potter said. “For the same reason, you don't get a badge and uniform when you join the Mafia!” he said.

    At the same time the ambiguity of the term benefits the mercenaries themselves. “Sometimes private military contractors take full advantage of that looseness too, as did Blackwater in Iraq.”

    Elzbieta Karska, a member of the UN working group on the use of mercenaries, refrained from commenting on the presence of mercenaries in Ukraine due to “contradictory information.”

    “What can I say if I have no tools to compare the Russian statement and the White House's?” she told RIA Novosti.

    “If we as a working group could have a country visit to Ukraine, then we would submit an official report containing our comments,” Karska said.

    According to the UN, “the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries should be considered as offences of grave concern to all States and … any person committing any of these offences should either be prosecuted or extradited.”

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