Russia is recruiting Syrians skilled in urban combat to fight in Ukraine, US officials say

Some Syrian fighters are already reportedly in Russia readying themselves to fight Kyiv’s forces

Arpan Rai
Monday 07 March 2022 14:38
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Related: Airstrike hits family homes in Ukrainian village

Russia is reportedly hiring Syrians adept in urban combat to fight in Ukraine, as the invasion ordered by Moscow focuses on key cities and major urban centres including the capital Kyiv.

Moscow has been recruiting fighters who were operating from inside Syria since 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported citing four US officials. Though it is unclear how many fighters will be recruited, some were said to already be in Russia readying themselves to participate in the ongoing invasion.

Details on the deployment of these Syrian fighters to Ukraine, their status and “precise scale of the effort” is also not yet clear, according to the WSJ report.

The Syrian forces could be asked to work in a support role, said Jennifer Cafarella, national security fellow at the Institute of the Study of War. They could help Russia with the urban warfare front, on which they have spent nearly a decade, she said, adding that the stand-off could soon become a new centre of gravity for foreign fighters.

Experts have said this could lead to a potential escalation in the violence brewing in Ukraine, which has for 12 days now been subject to a deadly invasion, in which key cities, buildings and power plants have come under attack.

Russia is paying the Middle-Eastern country’s volunteers between $200 and $300 (£151 and £227) “to go to Ukraine and operate as guards” for six months at a time, according to a report from the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor.

Chechen forces have also been deployed to Ukraine, said Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic, a Russian ally.

Meanwhile, at least 16,000 foreigners have signed up as volunteers to fight for Ukraine after president Volodymyr Zelensky opened the country’s roads for an “international legion”.

Ukraine remains in a quagmire of war, with attacks being launched from air and on ground by Russian troops, aided by ally Belarus in some pockets as Vladimir Putin tries to thwart the existing Ukrainian administration and include a collapsed country into the Russian fold.

Continuous bombing, shelling and missile strikes have forced 1.5 million people to flee Ukraine since the invasion – the biggest conflict Europe has seen since the Second World War – began. More than 350 people have died and 759 have been wounded, according to the United Nations.

However, Russian troops have encountered unanticipated difficulties while trying to invade Ukraine, including the stuttering progress of a miles-long military convoy.

Western nations have increased pressure on Russia with economic sanctions, while several organisations, financial platforms and major brands have also exited Moscow seeking an end to the invasion.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered.

To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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