Confirms Vladimir Putin’s claims about Russia being under foreign attack while raising question about extent of U.S. and UK black intelligence operations in dirty war
This is part one of a three-part series.
Ang Wood took to the airwaves of the British state media BBC to appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her son, Aiden Aslin, had surrendered to Russian military forces days earlier.
“Aiden is a serving member of the Ukrainian armed forces and as such is a prisoner of war and must be treated with humanity,” she pleaded. “I’m in bits. My son will be scared just as we are.”
Aslin, a 28-year-old British national from Nottingham, England, who joined the Ukrainian military, had been fighting in the coastal city of Mariupol. His unit surrendered after it ran out of supplies against a vastly superior Russian military and its Chechen fighter brigades.
Aslin, who also uses the name Johnny Wood, is no newcomer to Ukraine. In 2018, as Ukraine’s war in the Donbass entered its fifth year and then-U.S. President Donald Trump authorized lethal weapons shipments, Aslin left Syria to join the fight. He had been in Ukraine since 2018, having obtained Ukrainian citizenship and becoming engaged to a Ukrainian girlfriend with long-term plans to stay in Ukraine.
When Aslin arrived in Ukraine in 2018 from Syria, he joined the Georgian National Legion. He was picked up at the airport by Alexander Tobiassen and taken to the Georgian National Legion base. According to Tobiassen, they served over the years in combat operations in the Donbas against the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.
Aiden made a post on Instagram on January 21, 2019, regarding his military training in Ukraine saying, “Day 1 of orbital, learning about Nato standards in the British army.” He was decorated with the green beret of the Ukrainian Marines in May 2020.
Aiden along with Shaun Pinner and Alexander Tobiassen, all Ukrainian Marines at this point, took part in Exercise Sea Breeze 21 from June 28 to July 10, 2021, in Odessa, Ukraine. Exercise Sea Breeze is an annual NATO Partnership for Peace (PFP) maritime exercise held in the Black Sea which brings together Black Sea nations and NATO allies and partners.
It is co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy.
The exercise included, according to the U.S. Navy, “multiple warfare areas including amphibious warfare, land maneuver warfare, diving operations, maritime interdiction operations, air defense, special operations integration, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue operations.” Additionally, there were 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operations and dive teams that participated in the exercise.
Exercise Sea Breeze 21 had the largest number of participating nations in the exercise’s history, with 32 countries participating, including: Albania, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Following Exercise Sea Breeze 21, Aiden continued serving with the Ukrainian Marines. Recent media reports stated that Aiden was fighting Russian forces in Mariupol where he stated that he would never surrender. Not only did he surrender but now his mother and others are pleading that he be treated in line with the Geneva Convention.
Appearing before television cameras in Moscow, Aiden was asked if he had killed anyone during the fighting. “No, I didn’t do any fighting,” he responded.
This contradicted the past months of reporting both in the Western media and on Aslin’s social media that he was on the front lines of Mariupol fighting day and night against Russian forces. Prior to the special military operation, he was fighting on the front lines of Donbas and soon thereafter was on the front lines in the city of Mariupol itself.
Aiden (Johnny Wood) on the front lines in a Sky News newsclip. [Source: news.sky.com]
Ukraine was not the first place Aiden had seen combat. In 2015, the native of Newark, Nottinghamshire, left the United Kingdom and traveled to Syria to join the YPG, the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia that, under the banner of the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” has long collaborated with the United States military and its coalition.
In 2016, upon his return, he was detained at the airport and held on bail for months. He was promoted in the media regarding his fighting in Syria, going on Good Morning Britain with his grandmother to speak about his experience.
He eventually was able to leave the UK, returning to Syria to fight with the YPG in the Tactical Medical Unit (TMU), or YBT in Kurdish. In late 2017, Aslin was detained in the UK for traveling to Syria to fight with the YPG, charged with engaging in terrorist acts under the Terrorism Act. After a supposed five-year investigation into his fighting in Syria, the UK dropped the charges and closed the case.
In numerous interviews after his surrender, Aiden spoke of crimes committed by the Azov Battalion in Mariupol. He described how two civilians were captured by Ukrainian forces for allegedly spying for Russian forces. They were hog-tied, blindfolded, and taken into a room in a bunker. Aiden, who was on guard duty at the time, never saw them again.
Aiden was interviewed by Graham Phillips who questioned him on the crimes committed against Russian Prisoners of War (POWs). Aiden admitted to the horrible acts he had seen online, claiming that he did not promote this behavior and that, had he seen these atrocities in person, he would have tried to intervene. He also mentioned how these atrocities were committed by “the Nazi groups like Azov Battalion and Right Sector and lots of Nationalists as well.” Aiden claimed that he never worked with Azov prior to arriving in Mariupol to fight Russian forces. He claimed that it was not until he was in Mariupol that he realized that the Azov Battalion was a Nazi organization.
After surrendering, Aiden, during an interview with Graham Phillips, stated that he was scared to surrender to Russian forces for fear of “being lined up and shot.” He stated that he had been treated well, much better than he had expected. Aiden even asked for access to speak to journalists, and was granted the request by Russian authorities. Overall, his treatment was in line with the Geneva Convention whereas the treatment of Russian POWs has been brutal with Ukrainian forces brutalizing the soldiers and committing heinous crimes.
Aiden Aslin pleaded guilty in court for crimes including “terrorism, committing a crime as part of a criminal group, and forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power.” The court sentenced Aiden Aslin to death on June 9, 2022. He indicated through his lawyer that he would appeal the ruling.
Deep Internationalism Links Ukraine and Syria
Aslin is one of the many foreign fighters who have gone back and forth between both Syria and Ukraine, some of whom have ties to Western militaries, NATO forces and neo-Nazi groups.
The role of internationalists in Ukraine and Syria raises serious concerns about the role of U.S.-EU-NATO forces and intelligence operations on the ground in both countries coupled with their ongoing regime change operations. Aslin is one of many foreign fighters who have fought both in Syria and Ukraine.
While in Syria, he befriended other internationalists, including Shaun Pinner, who would later reunite with him in Ukraine as a member of the Azov Battalion and later fellow Ukrainian Marine.
Three days after the Russian Federation began its special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for international assistance: “Anyone who wants to join the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals.”
The Ukrainian government transformed its diplomatic embassies worldwide into recruiting stations for its legion of international mercenaries. This request for international volunteers was heralded by many in the Western media who started to focus on the stories of those traveling to Ukraine to fight Russia.
The call for international fighters reminded many of other ongoing conflicts around the world that have also relied on the recruitment of foreign fighters to join the ranks of local forces on the ground. Most notably, this has and continues to occur in Syria where international fighters had their pick of groups to join, from the Kurdish People’s Defense Forces YPG to various jihadist groups including most notoriously ISIS. This diversity of groups represented the various ideological tendencies of various groups on the ground, ranging from communist and anarchist to Wahhabi-salafist.
The parallels between internationalists traveling to Ukraine and to Syria is striking. Overnight, units were formed comprising various political tendencies in Ukraine including anarchist units fighting alongside neo-Nazi ones. The anarchist group CrimethInc. re-published an article from anarchists and antifascists in Ukraine which stated:
“Due to the lack of a massive organization, the first anarchist and anti-fascist volunteers went to war individually as single fighters, military medics, and volunteers. They tried to form their own squad, but due to lack of knowledge and resources, this attempt was unsuccessful. Some people even joined the Azov Battalion and the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). The reasons were mundane: They joined the most accessible troops. Consequently, some people converted to right-wing politics.”
The same was true in northeast Syria, known to some as Rojava, where various groups appeared with a variety of political ideologies. Some joined explicitly anarchist, Marxist-Leninist, or Maoist formations including MLKP, TKP/ML, MLSPB, and BÖG. Others joined the YPG under the SDF, fighting alongside people with a variety of political ideologies.
Those with far-right politics gravitated toward explicitly Christian militias or, as in the case in Shengal (Sinjar), created an international formation under the YBS composed of fighters who espoused Falangist politics and a new “crusade” against Islam.
Pablo Garrido Mancebo, aka “Turbito,” is a Valencian neo-Nazi and well-known militant who was imprisoned for a period of time. He has numerous fascist tattoos including a swastika tattoo on his chest. and is seen in various photographs shared on far-right social media with various weapons, including RPGs and AK-47s. In 2021, he left Spain and joined Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. After leaving Iraq, he returned to Spain where he was monitored by the Spanish Security Forces.
While communists from the Marxist–Leninist Party (Communist Reconstruction) who traveled to Syria to join the International Freedom Battalion (IFB) or aided those who did were arrested and imprisoned, Turbito had no legal issues upon his return. Turbito traveled to Ukraine in 2022 to join the war against Russia and was videotaped joking around while reloading his AK-74M.
The following list of people associated with both Ukraine and Syria is not complete but highlights the information that is available to the public along with other corroborating evidence. It is certain that there are others who have fought in Ukraine as well as other fascist groups like the internationalists from Spain who have gone to Iraq and Syria for a “new Crusade” against Muslims.
In an ironic twist, the units of foreign fighters both in northeast Syria as well as in Ukraine have been likened to the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. This historical connection helps provide the necessary justification for people to demand military aid, humanitarian support, and political and economic pressure like sanctions.
This historical parallel is inverted since it is the foreign fighters coming to the aid of Ukrainian neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists supported by the U.S.-EU-NATO. Even Lucas Chapman (Armanc Bawer), one of the anarchists profiled in Rolling Stone who, after working for a Kurdish organization in Washington, D.C., moved back to northeast Syria to work for the PYD, posted on his social media “Silava Ukraine.”
Ukrainian women serving in the armed forces and various paramilitary formations have also been lauded by the Western media in the same way Kurdish women were. In one propaganda piece, Ukrainian women observed International Women’s Day by “vowing to gun down Russian invaders ‘like rabid dogs.’” This mirrors the media’s portrayal of Kurdish women fighting against ISIS which was criticized by some observers. The regime-change playbook feels eerily similar in both conflicts.
This three-part series has been years in the making and has been part of an ongoing research project since 2018. Now with the ongoing Russian military operation in Ukraine, there is a need to expose the connection between U.S.-EU-NATO military operations in Ukraine and Syria. This is only made more prescient given the Ukrainian government’s request for more international volunteers to go to Ukraine.
Numerous individuals have been identified who have fought in both Ukraine and Syria. This was done by speaking with former fighters, using social media and news sources, as well as screenshots, photos, and corroborating evidence from personal blogs, YouTube channels, and other news outlets. This report is in no way a complete compilation of the numerous individuals with links between Ukraine and Syria. Others who are not listed include Josh Wilmeth and Kevin Benton.
I would like to thank Dan Cohen of Behind the Headlines and MintPress News for his comments, resources, and support for this project over the past year. You can follow Dan at @DanCohen3000.
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About the Author
Christopher Helali is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Tongji University and a freelance investigative researcher and journalist.
His work has appeared in the Tehran Times, Valley News, and CGTN and he is a frequent guest on RT and PressTV.
In 2020, Chris discovered and brought to light the second phone “black” book belonging to Jeffrey Epstein which was investigated and reported by Business Insider in 2021.