Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that an "international legion" of 16,000 volunteers had offered to come to his nation to help fight off invading Russian forces. Now, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Shoigu is claiming that an equal number of volunteers from the Middle East are stepping up to fight for the Vladimir Putin-led side, reports the Wall Street Journal. "We should support them and help them enter the zone of military operations," Putin said Friday in a televised meeting with Shoigu, per Russian state media.
The Russian president said that bringing in these volunteer forces was simply a reaction to the ones Zelensky is recruiting to assist Ukraine, which Putin deemed "mercenaries," per the Times of Israel. At the presser, Shoigu noted many of those who'd sent in "applications" to Russia were individuals who'd fought with Russia previously against the Islamic State, per the AP. Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov confirmed that among those volunteering were a contingent of fighters from Syria, whose civil war Russia stepped into in 2015 to assist President Bashar al-Assad.
US officials told the Journal last week that Russia is specifically looking to pull in Syrian fighters trained in urban combat, a worrying sign that Russia is looking to start an even harsher assault against Ukrainian cities, especially the capital of Kyiv. The officials didn't offer further info on how many of these fighters there might be, or other details on that effort, though a Syrian media outlet notes that Russia is offering between $200 and $300 to those who offer to go to Russia as "guards" for six-month stretches. (Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)