Russia has been trying to recruit Syrians to fight in Ukraine to bolster Moscow’s flagging invasion, according to the Pentagon.
A senior US defense official said it is unclear how many Syrians Vladimir Putin is seeking to recruit, but said “we find it noteworthy that he believes he needs to rely on foreign fighters”.
The official added there was no evidence of Syrian fighters actually arriving in Ukraine so far.
The Russian recruitment effort was first reported by a Syrian news website, DeirEzzor24, which said Moscow was seeking volunteers to act as guards on six-month contracts, for between $ 200 and $ 300 a month. The same report said the Russian mercenary firm Wagner had been equipping its Syrian operatives, who had served in the Libyan war on the side of the general, Khalifa Haftar, to transfer to Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal reported that some Syrian mercenaries were already in Russia and prepared to enter the fight in Syria.
Russia has also deployed Chechen forces in Ukraine, according to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin.
Last week, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, alleged that a unit of Chechen special forces had been sent to kill the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Danilov said Ukraine had received a tipoff from within Russia’s FSB intelligence agency and had intercepted and killed the Chechen hit squad on the outskirts of Kyiv.
There has been so sign yet of any Belarus troops taking part in the Russian invasion of Ukraine or even preparing to take part, according to the Pentagon, despite reports that they may be sent to the front.
The reports of recruitment of foreign fighters have come as the Russian offensive directed at Kyiv continued to stall, even after Putin has committed nearly 100% of the substantial invasion force he had mustered on Ukraine’s borders, comprising 127 battalion tactical groups, according to the Pentagon .
“We’re not seeing a lot of progress,” a senior defense official said, attributing it to a combination of stiff Ukrainian resistance and “internal challenges” within the Russian forces.
The US also deems Ukraine airspace to be still contested, as the Kyiv government forces still have most of their fixed-wing aircraft available and flying, and its air defenses are still working.
But the official cautioned that Russian troops are making more headway in the south, and Vladimir Putin still has a lot more combat power available to him, particularly his air force which has stayed on the sidelines of the war so far.
As the ground offensive has stalled, the Pentagon said the Russians are relying more on rocket and missile attacks from a distance. As a result, more civilian areas are being hit, but the Pentagon cannot determine yet whether this is unintentional or deliberate targeting, which would be a war crime.
Ukraine has set up its own “international legion” for foreign volunteers to come to its defense. The foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, claimed that over 20,000 people from 52 countries had said they were willing to come to the country to serve alongside the Ukrainian armed forces. Kuleba did not say how many foreign fighters had arrived in Ukraine and did not name the nationality of the volunteers, saying some of their home countries outlawed fighting in foreign wars.