According to a senior US military official, US intelligence authorities believe that Russia is recruiting Syrian combatants to fight in the Ukraine conflict.
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In a phone call with reporters, the official said it was unclear how many people had been recruited or if they had been sent to Ukraine as of Monday.
In response to a question concerning reports that Syrian fighters are being recruited, the official stated that, “We don’t know how many and how good they are and we couldn’t speak to the quality of each individual that they that they’re going to try to recruit or where they would get them from or how they would prepare them if they would even prepare them.”
“We think it’s noteworthy that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] indicated a willingness to rely on foreign fighters to fight the war in Ukraine,” added the official.
The Wall Street Journal and other sites reported over the weekend that Moscow is recruiting Syrians who are proficient in urban combat, citing anonymous US officials. Since 2015, Russia has been active in Syria, and the Russian government has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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There have also been allegations of Russia’s military using Chechen soldiers since the conflict began on February 24. In recent days, Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechen Republic, was seen in social media videos addressing hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers in the capital city of Grozny.
According to a video uploaded online on Feb. 26, Kadyrov stated that his men have been dispatched to Ukraine. Several pro-Kyiv news organizations have also shared footage on social media purporting to show captured or dead Chechen POWs.
Kadyrov said at the time that, “The president (Putin) took the right decision and we will carry out his orders under any circumstances.”
Meanwhile, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, fighters from Western countries have arrived to fight in favor of Kyiv’s government. In a news conference last week, Zelensky said that 16,000 foreign nationals had signed up to fight Russia, however the figure could not be independently verified.
Last week, Putin alleged through state-run media that Ukrainian forces were employing human shields and “foreign mercenaries” from the Middle East on the ground.
“The fact that we are fighting specifically against neo-Nazis is shown by the very course of hostilities. Nationalist and neo-Nazi formations, and among them there are foreign mercenaries, including those from the Middle East, are hiding behind civilians as a human shield,” Putin said. He didn’t go into detail or give any examples.
More than 1.7 million Ukrainians have fled into Central Europe as a result of Russia’s assault, according to the UN’s refugee agency, while thousands more continue to pour across the border.
Since the crisis began, Poland, which has the largest Ukrainian population in Central Europe, has received more than 1 million Ukrainian refugees, with the 1 million mark being reached late Sunday.
“This is a million human tragedies, a million people banished from their homes by the war,” the Polish border guard service tweeted late Sunday on Twitter.