Russia has been recruiting and training Syrians for urban combat in Ukraine, according to US officials. The Kremlin is using the conflict as a venue to build up its military presence in Syria, where Russian forces are fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Russia is recruiting Syrians to fight in the Ukrainian conflict, U.S. officials said Wednesday. Russia has been sending troops and weapons into Ukraine since 2014, but this is the first time it has recruited Syrians for urban combat.
WASHINGTON— According to US authorities, Moscow is recruiting Syrians proficient in urban fighting to fight in Ukraine as Russia’s incursion moves further into cities.
According to four American officials, Russia, which has been operating inside Syria since 2015, has been recruiting militants from there in recent days, believing that their skill in urban battle might help seize Kyiv and inflict a catastrophic blow to the Ukrainian government. Experts believe the action signals a possible escalation of violence in Ukraine.
It’s unknown how many fighters have been identified, but one official claims that some have already arrived in Russia and are prepared to engage the combat.
Officials refused to comment on what more is known about the Syrian rebels’ deployment to Ukraine, its condition, or the actual extent of the operation.
Russia has offered volunteers from Syria between $200 and $300 “to travel to Ukraine and act as guards” for six months at a time, according to a magazine headquartered in Deir Ezzor, Syria.
Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov.
Yelena Afonina/Zuma Press/Yelena Afonina/Zuma Press/Yelena Afon
According to a Reuters story quoting Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen Republic’s leader and a close supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chechen military have also been sent to Ukraine.
In addition, fighters are streaming into the nation to support the Kyiv-based administration. Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that 16,000 foreigners had volunteered to fight for Ukraine as part of a “international legion,” as he put it.
According to Jennifer Cafarella, a national security fellow at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., the crisis in Ukraine might create a new center of gravity for foreign fighters as volunteers from other nations flood into the country.
“Russia’s deployment of foreign fighters from Syria into Ukraine internationalizes the conflict in Ukraine, potentially linking it to wider cross-regional dynamics, notably in the Middle East,” she added.
In front of the Kremlin, a Russian serviceman stands watch.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Kirill Kudryavtsev
Thousands of Russian soldiers are stationed within Ukraine, and mortar, rocket, and other strikes are carried out on a regular basis in the country’s northern, eastern, and southern areas. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have evacuated the cities, which housed nearly two-thirds of the country’s population before the invasion started on February 24.
Mr. Zelensky’s administration still controls Ukraine, and the two major cities, Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, in the east, are still under government control. Russia has gained control of Kherson, Ukraine’s port city, and the country’s other towns are also under Russian attack.
Syrian soldiers have been waging urban combat for over a decade, but Russia’s primarily recruited military lacks this experience. Based on how Syrian soldiers operated in Syria alongside the Wagner Group, a mercenary organization that some regard as a proxy for the Russian government, Ms. Cafarella believes Syrian forces sent to Ukraine may be requested to act in a support capacity.
The Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister, a Syria specialist in Washington, D.C., questioned how valuable Middle Eastern recruits might be in Ukraine. Mr. Lister said that while some Russian-trained Syrians were involved in hunting down Islamic State members who might be in Ukraine, Moscow didn’t think Syrian fighters were particularly adept at urban warfare.
“It’s like sending Martians to fight on the moon,” Mr. Lister said of bringing Syrians into Ukraine. “They don’t know the language and live in a completely different environment.”
Since entering the fight, Russia has been a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, mostly via bombings and Russian military troops. The Wagner Group, which arrived in Syria immediately after Russia intervened on behalf of the Assad regime, has carried out support operations such as protecting oil and gas fields and other government facilities such as airports.
Russia, which stationed roughly 200,000 soldiers around the Ukrainian border in the weeks leading up to the invasion, said on Wednesday that 498 of its men were killed and 1,597 were wounded on the battlefield, in a rare public admission of war casualties. Others have placed the estimates significantly higher, like the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces, which told Reuters that the estimate for Russian soldier casualties was closer to 11,000 people.
—This article was co-written by Michael R. Gordon.
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The “syria russia border map” is a map that shows the current situation in Syria. It also displays where Russia has been recruiting Syrians to fight in Ukraine.
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