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Syria: pro-Assad fighters recruited by Russia to fight in Ukraine  

March 7, 2022 at 3:05 pm

Russian military tanks advance in Donetsk, Ukraine on 24 February 2022 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

Russia is recruiting fighters from Syria skilled in urban warfare for operations in Ukraine, US officials are reported by the Wall Street Journal to have claimed. The move suggests that the Russian invasion is poised to enter another dimension within Ukrainian cities and face stiff resistance.

Russian forces have been operating inside Syria since 2015 on the side of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime. In recent days, the Russians are said to have been recruiting pro-regime fighters in the hope that their expertise in urban environments can help take Kyiv and deal a devastating blow to the Ukrainian government.

The US officials provided no details of the number of Syrian fighters deployed in Ukraine, and did not elaborate on the specifics of the operations involved. However, they are said to have been paid between $200 and $300 to go to Ukraine and work as guards for six months at a time.

“The Russian deployment of foreign fighters from Syria into Ukraine internationalises the war, and therefore could link it to broader cross regional dynamics, particularly in the Middle East,” one official is reported saying by the WSJ.

The recruitment of the Syrians is expected to boost Russian capabilities, as Moscow’s troops are said to lack the necessary skills for guerrilla-style urban warfare. Syrian fighters have spent nearly a decade fighting in such an environment, something that is largely unknown to Russia’s mainly conscript forces.

One US official explained that Syrian forces deployed in Ukraine could also be asked to carry out a support role, based on how they worked in Syria with the Wagner Group, a mercenary force that some see as a proxy for the Russian government. A report released last year by the New Lines Magazine exposed “the dark side” upon which the notorious mercenaries have been operating in the Middle East.

READ: EU imposes sanctions on Russia mercenary Wagner Group

In addition to Syrian fighters, Russia has deployed Chechen forces on the front line. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine, part of what he described as an “international legion”. Western leaders have encouraged people to go to fight in Ukraine.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, for example, said that she will support anyone who wants to go to Ukraine to join an international brigade of fighters against Russia. She described such a mission as taking part in a battle “for freedom and democracy”.

Her support for people to join the fight in Ukraine has been slammed as hypocritical. Foreigners travelling to fight against the Assad regime or to defend Palestinians against Israel’s brutal military occupation are likely to face terrorism charges and end up in jail.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognised two breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognised two breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]