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Russia Recruiting Syrian Fighters to Invasion of Ukraine

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. With its war on Ukraine now in its third week, Putin on Friday, March 11, 2022, approved bringing in volunteer fighters from the Middle East into the conflict. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. With its war on Ukraine now in its third week, Putin on Friday, March 11, 2022, approved bringing in volunteer fighters from the Middle East into the conflict. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Russia has invited Syrians with experience in urban combat to join the invasion of Ukraine, according to United States officials. Some of those Syrian fighters are already staging in Russia, according to the officials. 

Syrian website DeirEzzor24 reported that Russia was offering volunteers “salaries ranging between 200 and 300 USD” to be security guards, “in addition to recruiting mercenaries with wide privileges.” 

With the exception of Kherson near Crimea, the Russian army has so far been unsuccessful in capturing major Ukrainian cities using infantry, so Russia has resorted to shelling civilian areas and critical infrastructure. 

Since 2015, Russian military and mercenaries have been heavily active in Syria, supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the ongoing civil war and presumably forging the relationships with urban fighters they now hope to utilize in capturing more Ukrainian cities. 

Russia appears to be recruiting Syrians as individuals, without officially involving the Syrian military, although Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has said “Syria supports Russia completely.” 

Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin have a close working relationship and frequently communicate. One member of the Syrian parliament claimed last week that Putin asked Assad about invading Ukraine in February, prior to launching attacks. 

What is unclear is how large of a role a Syrian deployment would be.  

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of “more than 16,000 applications” already recruited from the Middle East, although the country of origin was not mentioned.  

Members of the Syrian opposition claim that Russia recently began recruiting in Syria for its invasion of Ukraine, but believe those numbers are not too high at this point.  

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