Russia is recruiting Syrians skilled in urban combat to fight in Ukraine as Moscow’s invasion expands deeper into Ukrainian cities, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.
“Russia, which has been operating inside Syria since 2015, has in recent days been recruiting fighters from there, hoping their expertise in urban combat can help take Kyiv and deal a devastating blow to the Ukraine government,” the WSJ cited four US officials as saying.
One official said that Syrian fighters are already in Russia preparing to enter Ukraine.
A Syrian outlet based in Deir Ezzor says Russia has offered volunteers between $200 and $300 “to go to Ukraine and operate as guards” for six months at a time.
The WSJ report comes three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that Ukrainian forces were using human shields, and that “foreign mercenaries” from the Middle East were fighting Russian troops 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.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters the 12th day, international government official and intelligence reports say that Moscow’s military operations are behind schedule having faced unexpected resistance from Kyiv’s forces.
Ukraine’s authorities have early on opened its doors for any international volunteers who are willing to fight in the country.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN on Sunday that there are some 20,000 foreign fighters joining Ukraine’s efforts to repel the Russian invasion, mostly from Europe.
So far, the conflict has led to dozens of civilian casualties. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Monday that it recorded 406 killed and 801 injured, estimating that the real figures are “considerably higher.”
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the OHCHR added.