U.S. Veterans in Ukraine Are Combating Every Different in Courtroom

A month after Russia invaded Ukraine final February, a non-public American group with an uncommon title — the Mozart Group — was created to coach Ukrainian troopers who have been scrambling to the entrance strains with little preparation. Initially composed of a handful of retired Marines, the Mozart Group attracted intensive media protection as a noble effort by American volunteers to switch their fight abilities to the embattled Ukrainians.

Mozart’s title was an attention-getting retort to the Wagner Group, the infamous Russian paramilitary firm accused of struggle crimes in Ukraine and elsewhere. In distinction, Mozart was described by the American veterans who fashioned it as a donor-funded initiative to supply humanitarian help in addition to army coaching; its members don’t have interaction in fight and say they don’t even carry weapons. By August, Mozart deployed three groups of former troopers — two groups for army coaching, one for extracting civilians from the entrance strains — with every one costing as much as $100,000 a month in bills, in keeping with a fundraising e mail from the group’s public chief, former Marine officer Andy Milburn.

However struggle is a messy enterprise, and final week a landmine exploded below the Mozart Group.

Andy Bain, a businessman in Kyiv because the 2000s and a former Marine, filed a lawsuit in Wyoming, the place Mozart is registered as a restricted legal responsibility firm, accusing Milburn of monetary fraud, sexual misconduct, housebreaking, tried bribery, avoidance of U.S. weapons-transfer rules, and even threatening a retired American common. The lawsuit asks the courtroom to take away Milburn from the corporate and order him to pay damages of greater than $50,000. Based on the go well with from Bain — who says he is almost all shareholder of Mozart — Milburn presided over the group “in a way which has triggered senior Ukrainian army officers to comment ‘can’t he go house and cease saving our nation.’”

Milburn, reached for remark by The Intercept, described the go well with’s allegations as “utterly ridiculous.” He added that he had “positioned this matter within the fingers of authorized specialists.”

The previous couple of a long time of world warfare have seen a profusion of personal army firms working with little scrutiny and interesting in widespread abuses. Probably the most infamous after 9/11 was Blackwater, led by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, whose extremely paid mercenaries — principally retired U.S. service members — ran amok in Iraq and have been implicated in struggle crimes there, although Prince was not personally charged. Wagner’s troops have been accused of atrocities in just about each struggle zone the place they combat.

Mozart casts itself in a distinct mould, because it claims its members are unarmed and assist civilians along with troopers; Milburn reacted with public anger when an American journal described him as a “international fighter.” Nonetheless, Mozart has discovered a novel means of marching into controversy.

A day after Bain’s lawsuit was filed, Milburn responded with a barrage of counter-accusations in posts on Fb, LinkedIn, and Twitter. He described Bain as Mozart’s disgruntled former chief monetary officer and mentioned that Bain had been accused of monetary and sexual misconduct. He additionally mentioned Bain was “closely invested in Russia,” which in wartime Ukraine shouldn’t be a trivial accusation. And in a very stunning twist, Milburn even alleged that Bain had tried to promote Mozart to the Taliban. Milburn subsequently deleted these posts, although he informed The Intercept he nonetheless stands by them.

“I apologize for permitting this particular person to be affiliated with the Mozart Group,” Milburn wrote on Twitter. “We’re reevaluating our vetting course of and won’t enable this to occur once more.”

Bain, requested to answer Milburn’s accusations, informed The Intercept, “I’m not going to touch upon pending litigation, however latest posts and feedback guarantee defamation might be a a lot bigger a part of the proceedings than initially envisioned.”

The complete story of what’s taking place inside Mozart shouldn’t be but recognized. Whereas it’s commonplace for a startup’s founding companions to have a falling out, it doesn’t are likely to occur in an energetic struggle zone. And an intriguing subplot might contain an alleged effort to monetize Mozart’s high-profile work in Ukraine by turning it into a non-public army firm with international aspirations.

Whereas Milburn persistently presents Mozart as surviving off donations and being singularly dedicated to saving Ukraine, the lawsuit accuses him of searching for army contracts in Armenia. That accusation doesn’t appear unfounded: a latest article in Intelligence On-line reported that Mozart “is now planning to develop into a traditional for-profit non-public army contractor (PMC) and develop into different war-torn areas.” The article mentioned Mozart’s chief working officer, former Marine officer Martin Wetterauer, confirmed it was “searching for new shoppers in different areas on the planet.”

No matter its end result, the lawsuit calls into query the steadiness and credibility of what the New York Instances described a couple of months in the past as “one of many greatest non-public army firms in Ukraine.” It appears sure to lend power to Russia’s vivid criticisms of not simply Mozart but in addition the general U.S. effort to help Ukraine, as Mozart has been one in all America’s most seen citizen-led initiatives.

Ukrainians practice throughout programs with the Mozart Group, within the Donetsk area on Sept. 22, 2022.

Picture: Juan Barreto/AFP by way of Getty Pictures

From Iraq to Ukraine

From its delivery, Mozart has been intricately related to Milburn, who describes himself because the group’s founder.

A British-born American, Milburn retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel in 2019 after greater than three a long time of service that included deployments in Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan, most just lately as deputy commander of U.S. Particular Operations Command Central, which plans particular operations within the Center East and Central Asia. He has written a memoir about his profession, “When the Tempest Gathers,” and has contributed military-themed articles to publications together with The Atlantic, USA At present, The Hill, and Job & Objective.

He traveled to Kyiv as a contract journalist inside weeks of the Russian invasion in February, submitting 5 tales for Job & Objective, a army web site. His final story, revealed on April 2, was a few former Marine accused of rape in Ukraine, however that story was subsequently withdrawn and now carries an editor’s observe that claims it’s “present process editorial evaluation for requirements and practices and might be unavailable till the evaluation is full.” Editors at Job & Objective didn’t reply to messages from The Intercept concerning the editorial evaluation; Milburn informed The Intercept he stands by the story.

A day after that article was revealed, Milburn made what seems to be his first public point out of Mozart Group in an April 3 tweet that mentioned it “includes former US SOF [special operations forces] personnel who ship critically required capabilities to entrance line items in Ukraine. The Group’s actions primarily include advising, coaching and equipping Ukraine SOF and Resistance items.” A day after that, his first fundraising effort on PayPal raised the utmost allowed, $20,000, “inside hours,” he tweeted; half of the full, $10,000, got here from a army contractor, Obsidian Options Group. Two weeks later, Milburn defined in an article for Newsweek that his work for Job & Objective appeared “frivolous” with a struggle raging round him, so he determined to arrange army coaching after folks “who I knew from earlier visits, who are actually within the Ukrainian army, requested me for assist.”

With U.S. army personnel largely staying overseas and U.S. diplomats departing within the early days of Russia’s invasion, Milburn attracted a substantial quantity of media consideration: He was one of many few Individuals on the bottom with fight expertise who was working with the Ukrainian army and prepared to speak with journalists. He has been interviewed regularly on cable and broadcast TV, particularly CNN and ABC, whereas main newspapers within the U.S., U.Okay., and France have revealed articles about him. A New York Instances profile bore the headline, “An American in Ukraine Finds the Battle He’s Been Looking For.”

None of those tales hinted on the accusations Bain has now lodged in opposition to Milburn.

“Loopy American”

Bain introduced his 12-page lawsuit in a LinkedIn put up final week that challenged Milburn’s self-portrayal as Mozart’s founder. “On the outset of the struggle,” Bain wrote, “having lived in Kyiv close to on 30 years and recognizing Ukraine’s dire want for primary army coaching, I contacted a retired U.S. Marine common buddy asking if he knew anybody who might come develop coaching. He put me in touch with Andy Milburn, who got here to Ukraine a couple of weeks later.” Based on Bain’s put up, “I registered, named and organized financing to launch the Mozart Group with a aim of offering coaching and help as wanted for the struggle.”

Bain’s LinkedIn put up states that he owns 51 % of the shares in Mozart Group, whereas Milburn owns 49 %. In response to a request from The Intercept for documentation, Bain offered three pages from a 35-page “Working Settlement” for Mozart. One of many pages exhibits a chart that attributes 51 % of the corporate’s “items” to Bain and 49 % to Milburn.

Whereas Bain has not beforehand publicized his possession of Mozart — it’s not disclosed on the group’s web site and has not been talked about by Milburn — there’s a public file of the 2 males collaborating. On April 10, they began a YouTube channel referred to as “Two Marines in Kyiv,” which now hosts seven movies, most of which function discussions between them. The channel’s “About” web page describes Milburn as CEO of the Mozart Group and Bain as president of Ukrainian Freedom Fund, which in keeping with its web site is a nongovernmental group that has raised greater than $3 million since February for army and humanitarian assist.

Bain’s most critical allegations revolve round Milburn’s dealing with of donated cash — what the go well with describes as efforts to “facilitate the diversion of funds away from Mozart Group LLC.” The lawsuit alleges that Milburn was “insisting on private compensation funds exceeding $35,000 per 30 days from firm accounts … and never accounting to the corporate for donated funds acquired which have been acquired in private or different accounts managed by him.” No less than a few of Milburn’s private fundraising was not hidden from donors: His social media solicitations for donations have included clear hyperlinks to his Venmo and PayPal accounts, which he mentioned was vital as a result of Mozart’s donation platform was not working on the time, presumably resulting from Russian interference. However till Bain’s go well with, he had not been accused of misusing funds deposited into these or different accounts he managed.

That wasn’t all, nevertheless. Based on the go well with, Milburn employed as his private assistant a lady he met on a social media relationship website and had a relationship with, paying her an annual wage of $90,000, which in keeping with the go well with was “no less than 4 occasions extra” than the going charge. The go well with additional alleges that Milburn made “undesirable sexual advances and propositions to a feminine workplace supervisor.”

The lawsuit even accuses Milburn of “orchestrating and taking part” within the housebreaking of a warehouse leased by Bain’s Ukrainian Freedom Fund. As well as, it claims Milburn was intoxicated and broke Kyiv’s curfew, resulting in his non permanent detention by Ukrainian authorities on a couple of event. And in keeping with the go well with, Milburn despatched “hostile and caustic messages” to a retired commanding common of U.S. Particular Operations Command Europe after the overall declined to affix Mozart (the retired common was not named). Milburn’s conduct, the go well with added, exasperated senior Ukrainians.

“Defendant Milburn is now generally referred to by Ukrainian army management because the ‘Loopy American,’” it alleges.

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