MAMUKA MAMULASHVILI is the founder and commander of the Georgian National Legion fighting the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His first military experience was in Abkhazia, a Kremlin-backed Georgian separatist republic (1992-93). At the age of 14, Mamulashvili joined his father’s battalion in the Georgian army and, after defeat, spent three months in captivity. He then fought against Russia during the First Chechen War (1994-96) and in the Russian aggression against Georgia in August 2008.
Mamulashvili took up arms again against Russia after the outbreak of the Donbas war in 2014 and founded the Georgian National Legion that year with only 6 members. In February 2016, the Georgian Legion was formally integrated into the 25th Mechanized Infantry Battalion of the Ukrainian armed forces and in 2018 fought in eastern Ukraine under the command of the 54th mechanized brigade. The Georgian Legion currently only accepts soldiers with military experience and is a special operations unit with around 1,000 troops. We spoke with Mr. Mamulashvili about his experiences fighting against Russia, especially in the current war in Ukraine.
You have gone to war against Russia four times. Have you embarked on a personal crusade against Russian imperialism?
Yes, my first conflict with the Russians was when I was 14 years old, and since then I have been involved in several wars against Russia, which is really the Soviet Union. Thirty years have passed since the fall of communism, but the politics, the ideology of Russia today is the same as it was then. The difference is that they have gained more financial means and more power to take up again the terrorism of the Soviet era. And, unfortunately, the world has stood by and done nothing to stop it.
The fact is that after condemning the aggression against Georgia in 2008, which took away 20% of its territory, the international community rushed to re-engage with Russia.
Georgia was the first country to be attacked by Russia in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They did it again in 2004 and then again in 2008. Unfortunately, the international community remained silent and preferred to turn a blind eye to what was happening. Today it is different because the war is in the center of Europe, but Georgia was the first warning to European politicians. At the time, many of them, especially German and French, opposed the sanctions because of their interests in Gazprom or their business with Russia, and I also remember how German and French television showed images of Russian planes bombing Georgia and accused the Georgians of attacking their own territory. It was not a mistake; they knew perfectly well what they were doing at the time and decided to support terrorism. Some of them have continued to do so even now.
The Georgian National Legion is the largest of the foreign volunteer units fighting in Ukraine, but Georgian volunteers have not found it easy to leave their country.
No, the current Georgian government is pro-Russian and our economy is 90% dependent on Russia. So, when we prepared a plane of volunteers from Tbilisi to Warsaw, the authorities did not allow it to take off. The volunteers had to look for other routes to join the Legion.
What is the main motivation of these volunteers?
The main motivation of the Legionnaires is to fight for the freedom of Ukraine, which at the same time means fighting for the freedom of Georgia. It is very clear to us that the fate of both nations is intertwined. Our presence here is very important, and we are doing a great job.
The presence of Georgians in the Ukrainian army dates back to 2014. Even one of the founders of Azov is Georgian colonel Giorgi Kufarashvili.
Yes, that’s right. The reason is that Ukraine was the only country that helped us in the 1990s and then in 2008. Many Ukrainian volunteers came to fight alongside us. We had an outstanding debt.
There are not only Georgians, but also volunteers from other countries.
Indeed, there are volunteers from thirty countries in the Legion.
Some media have reported that British and American volunteers are only part of training units, is that correct?
No, in the Legion we have two teams. A training team, made up of instructors who are not involved in combat operations and who train Ukrainian special forces, and a special operations team which includes British, American and other volunteers.
Russia has branded the foreign volunteers as mercenaries and denies them prisoner-of-war status if captured.
We don’t care what Russia says, because their word means nothing to us. They can call us whatever they want, but the volunteers are hired by the Ukrainian army thanks to a law that allows foreigners to join the Ukrainian armed forces. The Georgian Legion was the first unit to be integrated into the Ukrainian army in 2016 and is part of military intelligence. So, Russia can say whatever they want: they make films to discredit us, they bring criminal charges against us in Russia, etc. It’s all part of the war.
If a Georgian legionnaire was captured by the Russians, would he have any support from the Georgian government?
From the Georgian government? The prime minister said he encouraged the Russians to kill any Georgian fighting in Ukraine because we are mercenaries. After that statement the government has lost all its legitimacy in Georgia.
What can you tell me about the Ukrainian offensives in Kherson and Kharkiv?
The Ukrainian operation is very successful and our men are on the front line, attacking the enemy’s positions and command and communication centres. I can only tell you that in the last twelve days, we have done a great job.
The Ukrainian success has come as a great surprise to the propagandists of the “second army of the world”.
It is not the world’s second army, but rather the last one. And I am not being sarcastic, I am telling you this as a professional military man. Those soldiers were not really prepared to fight because they had no experience and no motivation. What is happening now is natural: they are dying by the thousands.
Have you had the opportunity to talk to Russian prisoners?
When I am close to the Russians, most of them are already dead, and those who are taken prisoner are immediately handed over to the military police. So, we don’t communicate with them. That is the task of the intelligence services.
There are many images of really obsolete Russian military equipment. What do you think is the reason for this lack of modern equipment?
It is due to the enormous corruption in the Russian army. Thanks to this corruption, its soldiers are not ready to face a real army. The Russian army is trained to fight civilians and loot, not to fight military. And the case of the troops of the so-called “People’s Republics” is even worse, as their equipment is from the Second World War. There is no professionalism, no motivation, no centralized command; they cannot win.
How do you see the war evolving?
We can finish Russia very soon, but we depend on Western artillery systems. We have a few units on the front line now and we are expecting many more. These weapons are working very well, and you can see the success of the Ukrainian army’s counter-offensive operations. The more HIMARS we get, the sooner we will finish Russia off.
Western support is essential, and I would like to send a message to the Spanish government and people. I am not sure if Spain buys natural resources from Russia, but that money translates into ammunition that kills Ukrainians. Everyone needs to be aware of that and that we are fighting the biggest terrorist state in the world.
Spain is now buying more Russian gas than ever before and at the same time sending weapons to Ukraine. A few days ago, photos were published of Spanish 155 mm howitzers on the front line.
Yes, I have seen that ammunition. Anyway, it is not possible to do something good with one hand and at the same time feed the bastards with the other. In the end, you have to make a clear decision and choose the right path.
When the war is over and you and your legionnaires return to Georgia, how do you think you will be received by your government?
We have the support of the Georgian population, so we are not worried about what twenty pro-Russian liars think. In the end they will have to go home, and their home is in Russia, not in Georgia.
Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published in Spanish, then translated to English and edited for publication.
Álvaro Peñas is a political analyst specializing in Eastern European countries. He writes for El Correo de España and several European digital outlets. He is deputy director of two programs on Decisión Radio and a regular contributor to the television channel 7NN.