Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has unsurprisingly emerged as one of the most zealous supporters of the Kremlin, to which he largely owes his survival. This solidarity shown by Damascus goes well beyond simple declarations or votes against resolutions condemning Russia at the UN: the regime has been organizing for several days the recruitment of Syrian fighters to swell the Russian military ranks in Ukraine.
→ ANALYSIS. War in Ukraine: Syria, strategic laboratory of the Russian army
The Pentagon confirmed this on Monday March 7. “We believe that the reports that they (Russians) recruiting Syrian fighters to bolster their forces in Ukraine are trueDefense Department spokesman John Kirby said. It is interesting that Mr Putin finds himself using foreign fighters. » According to the Pentagon, Moscow has committed more than 150,000 of its men to Ukraine, almost all of its combat forces massed in recent months on the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Priority to those who fought under Russian command
Some Syrian fighters, particularly experienced in urban guerrilla warfare, are already in Russia where they were preparing to join the fighting in Ukraine, an American official told AFP.wall street journal. Their recruitment actually began in the early days of the offensive, as testimonies collected by the NGO Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) show. “After being demobilized, I couldn’t find work, and the situation is extremely difficult. There is no electricity, heating or gas. And by chance, I heard that there was a recruitment of people who volunteered to go and fight in Ukraine,” tells STJ of a Syrian who recently completed his service in the Syrian army.
→ EXPLANATION. War in Ukraine: Who are Russia’s supporters?
The young man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he completed his formalities on February 27, three days after the start of the invasion. He was then put in touch with a member of the Syrian air force, who was himself serving as a coordinator with a Russian security company – without it being known whether it was Wagner. “He told me that only fighters with good military experience were registered and that they gave priority to those who had already fought under Russian command, or who were in the ranks of the 25and division of the Syrian army, he adds. The 25and division, formerly known as the Tiger Forces, is an elite force of the Syrian army, known for its barbaric methods.
“The Russians call on experienced fighters, unlike Libya, for example, where young Syrians guarded the oil wells, explains Bassam Alahmad, co-founder of STJ, which estimates at several thousand the number of men who could be recruited in this way. Russians and Turks have already been accused of having used Syrians in the Libyan theater (more than 10,000 men, including minors, according to the STJ), alongside Wagner’s paramilitaries, as well as in Nagorno-Karabakh ( about 2,400). “They are cheap mercenaries for Russia, which needs them. Some have more than ten years of fighting behind them. And if they are killed, Russia loses nothing,” adds the activist.
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According to testimonies collected by SJT, the amount of remuneration is not mentioned during recruitment. The question is however central for the Syrians sent to Ukraine. “They don’t know how much they will be paid in Ukraine, but given the economic crisis, any amount seems good for these young men”, says Bassam Alahmad. And to add: “The irony in all this is that members of the Syrian opposition are simultaneously signing up to join the volunteers on the Ukrainian side. »