The Russian president Vladmir Putin and his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, recently announced that up to 16,000 combatants from the Middle East will join the war effort against Ukraine. As Ben Evansky and Benjamin Weinthal report, the Russian recruitment operation is primarily based in the Syrian Arab Republic. This may signal not only an increase in Russia’s numbers, but a change in their tactics, with the potential for heightened urban warfare and greater civilian casualties.
Brigadier General Ahmad Rahal, who resigned in protest from the Syrian military in 2012 over the policies of President Bashar Assad and joined the opposition Free Syrian Army, told Fox News Digital that the Russians will use Syrian and other mercenaries to carry out the “dirty tasks” of fighting in the cities, which will lead to more civilian deaths and will help them avoid being blamed for the war crimes.
He added, “As a military observer, it is clear that the Russian army had to change its military plans. At first the Russians wanted a classic war, a war of armies, and the task assigned to the Russian army was a lightning and quick operation that President Putin called a ‘special operation’ through which the Ukrainian army would be crushed and then the leadership would collapse in the capital Kyiv, but this did not happen.”
Richard Kemp, who commanded British troops in Afghanistan, told Fox News Digital, “It’s not clear how many Syrians or other fighters from the Middle East are likely to answer Russia’s call. They will have to be paid significant amounts to volunteer to do so. There is no doubt that among them will be Islamic State jihadists who might be looking to stay in Russia or even travel on from there to Western Europe. They are likely to be disappointed if that is their aim, unless Putin is looking to help some of them infiltrate westwards.”
Kemp noted that “Middle Eastern fighters will be used to a completely different form of conflict than they will find in Ukraine. They are unlikely to be a match for well-armed and organized Ukrainian forces, but Putin will be happy to throw them away as cannon fodder.”