Russia is planning to recruit Syrian mercenaries to deploy to Belarus to protect dictator Alexandr Lukashenko, a Syrian news outlet has reported.
According to a source with knowledge of the case who informed Syrian opposition newspaper Zaman Al-Wasl, Russia is to train and send fighters from Syria to Belarus through the Russian military contractor and mercenary Wagner Group.
The source reportedly did not give details of the exact numbers of fighters being recruited or their potential salaries, but revealed that Russia is focusing particularly on their capabilities in urban warfare by studying their criminal records throughout the ongoing nine-year-long Syrian conflict.
Zaman Al-Wasl did, however, say that Russia is aiming to recruit over 10,000 Syrians from areas under the control of President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, with the majority being from areas such as Sweida, Homs, Hama, Deir Ez-Zor and coastal areas.
Russia has previously recruited and deployed Syrian fighters to other conflict zones such as in Libya in support of renegade General Khalifa Haftar's campaign against the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), along with mercenaries from the Wagner Group itself.
It also comes at a time when Syrian fighters recruited by Turkey to assist the government in Libya – and allegedly currently being used in Nagorno-Karabakh in support of Azerbaijan against Armenia – has been a point of controversy.
In August, protests erupted in Belarus after a reportedly fraudulent election granted victory to long-time leader Lukashenko who also arrested and drove out opposition figures and cracked down on dissent. As the protests continued to spread throughout the country, Lukashenko attained the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin who guaranteed him that Russian forces would intervene "if necessary".
Belarus is also no stranger to mercenaries from Russia being within its borders, with Belarussian forces having arrested dozens of alleged Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group who were operating within the country in July before handing them over to Russia.