by Nikola Bryce
“Guys I’m gutted,” announced The Mozart Group’s (TMG) Andy Milburn to a small group of his assembled members in Kyiv, “the Mozart group is dead.”
On 31 January Andew Milburn Tweeted: “…The Mozart Group ended today. The name and entity – had become the subject of litigation and a distraction from our core mission: training Ukrainian soldiers and rescuing civilians. But, the mission and the people continue.” What wasn’t apparent from the Tweet was that TMG’s co-founder filed the lawsuit.
In March ‘22 retired Marine Colonels Anthony Milburn and Andy Bain co-founded TMG. Milburn arrived in the same month. After 31 years of service in the Marine Corps, he is reported as saying Ukraine represented the morally just war that had eluded him his entire career.
Bain arrived in Ukraine a few years earlier. Now a businessman, he set up the Ukrainian Freedom Fund (UFF) in 2014, an NGO collecting donations from around the world that: “will be used to buy humanitarian, non-lethal and protective equipment for the Army, National Guard and security services of Ukraine.” Jeffrey Carr in his Substack article ‘Examining Andrew Bain’s Ukrainian Freedom Fund’, found amongst other things: “The Ukrainian Freedom Fund registered as ‘Ukraine Freedom Fund’ in the State of Wyoming… changed its name to the ‘Ukrainian Freedom Fund’ one month later… That’s two separate companies with two separate sets of books, operating with the same name, on the same website, and never once sharing that information with donors.”
TMG does not claim to be a private military company (PMC). However not all PMCs engage in military combat. Acknowledged for their military prowess by President Putin, the PMC Wagner Group is currently playing a strategic and offensive role in the battle for Bakhmut, whereas the Mozart Group, their name, a middle finger response to Wagner, claims they do not carry weapons or engage in fighting. Their purpose “purely humanitarian,” concentrating instead on extraction of civilians on the front line and delivering humanitarian aid.
TMG did not have a contract with the Ukrainian government, they received no funding and relied purely on donations. They were the first outside organisation in Ukraine to provide military training and as Milburn stated, following the Battle of Kiev: “hopefully we contribute to Russian deaths.”
PMCs have been around for centuries. The Swiss Guard, which exclusively serves the Vatican, was once the most powerful mediaeval PMC in Europe. Since the illegal war in Iraq and Afghanistan there has been a proliferation of PMCs cashing in on the billions of dollars to be made on the war machine gravy train. Academi, formally known as Blackwater, is probably the most notable, coming to world attention following the Nisour Square massacre of 2007, where Blackwater contractors opened fire on a crowd in Baghdad killing 17 unarmed civilians and several Iraqi police officers.
PMCs are considered legal under international law whilst mercenaries are not. Like TMG their military personnel for the most part are highly trained veterans. However as The New York Times (NYT) reported: “…the people Mozart hired were not the easiest to manage. Many were grizzled combat vets who admitted to struggling with PTSD and heavy drinking. When they weren’t working, they gravitated to Kyiv’s strip clubs, bars and online dating.”
PMC contracts range from combat to logistics, security, military training and maintaining weapons systems. However as Amnesty International points out: “contracted companies have also served in more sensitive roles, such as interrogation and translating during questioning of alleged terrorist suspects.” Abu Ghraib, an infamous example, where Iraqi prisoners were tortured by U.S. soldiers and PMCs.
Andrew Milburn came to the attention of nearly a million Western viewers when Max Blumenthal of the Grayzone posted a video of him online in an interview with Team House, a podcast for veterans, and as Max Blumenthal describes them, “military groupies”. Whilst being plied with drinks by his two hosts Milburn unwittingly announced to the world in vino veritas: Ukraine is a corrupt, f***ed -up society, run by f***ed-up people.” And Ukrainian soldiers “kill dudes who surrendered,” commit “atrocities” admitting he was “not a big fan” of the country.” In the podcast Milburn also stated Ukraine was “in violation of the Hague Convention. . . Filming interrogations is one of them.”
Following Max Blumenthal’s scoop, media from around the world, including the NYT picked up on it. Andrew Milburn reacted angrily accusing Mr Blumenthal of Russian disinformation and claiming the video was deep fake, as if, Mr Blumental commented, he had used AI technology to completely manipulate his appearance, making him say things he didn’t actually say. This was despite the fact a link to the full interview had also been posted along with the video. Milburn proceeded to post on Twitter, in Ukraine and in Ukrainian that Mr Blumenthal was a Russian asset. On February 1st NYT reported on the Andrew Milburn clip, writing: “”Of course I shouldn’t have said that,” Mr. Milburn acknowledged.”
In a double whammy the flack hit the fan again for Milburn. In January, Bain filed a lawsuit in Wyoming accusing Milburn and ten others, of amongst other things: going after paid military contracts in Armenia; misleading journalists into believing TMG was a charity when it was a limited liability company; and financial impropriety including hiring a woman he met on a social media dating app as his PA and paying her $90,000 per year, four times the going rate in Ukraine and much more.
Meanwhile Milburn responded with counter allegations, contending Bain attempted to sell Mozart to the Taliban as well as sexual and financial misconduct. This unfolding tale of, as the NYT describes: “Hard Drinking and Murky Finances…” Or the Intercept report of “accusations of fraud and sexual misconduct…” had ironically begun to take on overtones of Mozart’s dissolute operatic character Don Giovanni, however whilst Don Giovanni was dragged down to hell for his misdeeds, Milburn is to be dragged through the modern day equivalent of court litigation and media scrutiny.
However as Zelensky flies ever closer to the NATO sun with his “wings for freedom,” prolonging this avoidable war even further, there’s still a lot more juice to squeeze out of Ukraine for the likes of Milburn and Bain.