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U.S. soldier who fought with Russian-backed militants has been discharged from the Army

A well-known militant who fought with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and participated in far-right European politics before joining the U.S. Army has been discharged from the military, a spokeswoman for the Army said.

Earlier this month The Washington Post reported that Pfc. Guillaume Cuvelier, 29, had spent time with French ultranationalist groups before helping create an anti-Western militant group in eastern Ukraine in 2014. After leaving Ukraine in 2015 and fighting alongside Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq, Cuvelier shipped to U.S. Army basic training in January.

He fought with Russian-backed militants in Ukraine. Now he’s a U.S. soldier.

Before his discharge last week, Cuvelier — a dual French and U.S. citizen — was serving as a newly minted infantryman in a Hawaii-based unit, according to records provided by the Army.

In a short exchange in April, Cuvelier confirmed his service in the Army and his time in Ukraine.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, an Army spokeswoman, would not give the reason Cuvelier was discharged, saying that it was protected under the Privacy Act.

Cuvelier’s discharge was neither honorable nor dishonorable, Johnson said in an email.

“Soldiers who are in an entry-level status because they have served less than 180 days of continuous active duty are normally discharged with an uncharacterized description of service,” she said.

Cuvelier’s past of espousing extreme right-wing views and his role in an armed group backed by a U.S. adversary was recorded on websites, social media groups and in an online documentary. With Cuvelier’s easily searchable history, his enlistment raises questions about the Army’s recruitment process and whether applicants are thoroughly vetted.

Kelli Bland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Cuvelier.

When it was first reported that Cuvelier was serving in the Army, Bland said that the military had “begun an inquiry to ensure the process used to enlist this individual followed all of the required standards and procedures.”

The Army often forbids those who display “extremist views or actions” from entry, Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, a spokesman for the Army’s Department of Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said in an email in April. Taylor added that “if an Army official determines an applicant has the potential for meeting Army standards, the official may in exceptional cases allow those who have overcome mistakes and past conduct, made earlier in their lives, to serve their country. However, in many cases a history of gang or extremist activity is disqualifying.”

In Cuvelier’s case, it appears his past was either overlooked by a recruiter or he was not forthcoming about it, a move that might have opened him up to fraudulent enlistment charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Cuvelier, when first confronted about his potentially problematic history in April, said that he had changed.

“The Army is my only chance of moving on and cutting with my past,” Cuvelier said in a text message. “I realized I like this country, its way of life and its Constitution enough to defend it.”

“By publishing a story on me, you are jeopardizing my career and rendering a great service to anyone trying to embarrass the Army. My former Russian comrades would love it. … so, I please ask you to reconsider using my name and/or photo.”

As a U.S. citizen, Cuvelier’s time fighting in Ukraine for the Donestk People’s Republic could open him up to federal prosecution as the breakaway state is subject to U.S. government sanctions.

A March 2014 executive order that was applied to the republic that June says that U.S. citizens are prohibited from assisting any of the sanctioned entities with “funds, goods or services.”

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