If it is male, traveling alone or in a small group of men, and their destination is Krakow, Gdansk, Warsaw, Wroclaw (in Poland) or international airports in Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania, the name of that traveler will be evaluated by the intelligence of the State Security Forces. Agents from the Information sections of all the Spanish police, including the regional ones, are carrying out “control” tasks on possible departures of Spanish volunteer combatants to Ukraine, police sources inform this newspaper.

No one is prevented from traveling, but it is about “knowing to anticipate and protect”, as one of the sources consulted explains. In other words, to have in the future a list of men who made a journey to the outskirts of the country attacked by Russia without a definite date of return. And that information is convenient, indicates a source close to these tasks, for when this war ends and a movement of return Of Fighters, people back from a war, with full knowledge of the use of weapons and in possible contact with radical groups of different stripes.

It is about applying the experience gained, also based on errors, with the phenomenon of jihadist “foreign fighters”radical Muslim men and women who went to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Daesh terrorist organization or help its warriors between April 2013 and December 2017.

Although this is not the same case, explains a front-line police expert in the fight against organized violence. The “foreign fighters” who left Europe to support Daesh -mostly from France, the United Kingdom and Belgium, and from Ceuta and Andalusia in the Spanish case- committed a crime of integration into a terrorist organization. In the case of the war in Ukraine, the ILDU (International Legion of Defense of Ukraine) called up by the kyiv government is not considered a terrorist group in any European country.

Inapplicable Penal Code

“It would be necessary to assess legally whether a volunteer Spaniard enlisted in Ukraine would be committing another type of crimethat of attacking the neutrality of Spain in international conflicts”, indicates the same expert.

It refers to the criminal figure that promoted in February 2015 the Police Operation Danko and the Prosecutor’s Office of the National High Court, by which eight Spaniards who had gone to fight on the pro-Russian side of the Donbas war were arrested. Article 591 of the Penal Code punishes with between four and 15 years in prison any official or civilian who “during a war in which Spain does not intervene, executes any act that compromises the neutrality of the State or violates the provisions published by the Government to maintain it”.

In the current circumstances, the enlistments in favor of Ukraine for a war in which Spain is not a belligerent, but neither is it neutral, seem easily prosecuted. In fact, the calls of the Ukrainian Government to enlist in its International Legion through the embassies are not proscribed in Spain or in the EU.

However, the “control” of outputs is carried out “to acquire intelligence“mainly in the airport field and “by each competent police in each territory”emphasizes one of the sources consulted, which ensures that the information obtained is shared through “a new reading” of the European network of alerts on travelers SIS (Schengen Information System).

Surveillance is complex. From Bilbao there are four daily flights -Lufthansa and Royal Dutch- to Warsaw, but from Madrid and Barcelona there are many more combinations by air. And there are even more possibilities for Spanish combatants or foreigners residing in Spain to cross the border by land and enlist while already in a neighboring country.

The information collected -in a similar way to the violent lists for high-risk parties- may be used in the future needs of the Intelligence Center against Terrorism and Organized Crime, CITCOwhich since 2020 has been directed by the Brigadier General of the Civil Guard Manuel Navarretewho before that position directed the Counterterrorism and Financial Intelligence areas of Europol.

five profiles

The agents in charge of controlling the departure of combatants work on five predetermined profiles of suspects, according to the sources consulted: the “amateur guerrilla” -a frustrated military man or a frequenter of battle simulation and airsoft clubs-, the ex-military man -mainly trained in special bodies such as the Legion-, the recurring patient of mental illness -who may have claimed his family-, the individual with personal or family ties in Ukraine and the extremist, well of the extreme right -candidate to enlist in the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion– or extreme left.

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Civil Guard experts estimate that there are very few, “a few dozen”, the Spaniards who have so far headed towards the invaded country. The official website of the UKR Foreign Legion (Ukrainian Foreign Legion), supported by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, reports that the international volunteer force has fighters from the United Kingdom, Canada, Croatia, the Netherlands, Israel, Denmark, Poland and Latvia.

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However, on social networks, accounts related to the Ukrainian army have publicized appearances of Balkan, Indian, Mexican, Brazilian fighters… and even a Spaniard, who says his name is Miguel and is from Tarragona, and who has been interviewed in a war zone by the Basque television EITB. Wearing a Territorial Defense uniform, with a helmet and a combat rifle, Miguel told Euskal Telebista: “I have come from far away, and I am not afraid, at least here.” His words have been viralized on social networks by the Ukrainian side

His figure brings back memories of the war between kyiv and pro-Russian separatist factions that served as a prologue to the current Ukrainian drama. Some of the troops involved in this intelligence work have already followed the trail of Catalan, Navarrese and Madrid volunteers, in this case from the extreme left, who went to Donbas in 2014 following the call from eastern Ukraine by the Communist Party of Novorossiya to join an alien force, but equally pro-Russian: the 404th Battalion of Donetsk, implicated in infiltrations and ambushes in the rear of Ukrainian regular forces.

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