A St Petersburg-based internet site has claimed that Russian mercenaries are fighting for the Assad regime in Syria under the name of "the Slavic Brigade". If true, this would place them alongside thousands of other foreign fighters in the pay of the Syrian government.
According to Fontanca, the Russians were recruited through internet advertisements. The fee is believed to be around $5,000 per mercenary. Applicants were, it is claimed, interviewed by a former colonel in the Russian intelligence service. Successful recruits include a number of ex-Russian soldiers with experience of fighting in the north Caucasus and Tajikistan.
Reports on Al-Arabiya.net allege that the first group of the Slavic Brigade travelled to Beirut and from there moved to Damascus by land before being flown to Latakia military base.
Some mercenaries have spoken of the fighting in Syria. They say that they were sent to support the regime's forces to repel an attack by opposition forces in Sokhna near Homs but failed in the attempt and withdrew. Many said that they were lucky to be "rescued" by a sandstorm that covered the withdrawal.