Vladimir Putin praised a Syrian general who led the way in defeating insurgents during Syria’s civil war. According to the Russian president, cooperation with Russian troops would lead to “great successes in future.”
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Only a few appear to have reached Russia for training before they are deployed on the frontlines. Officials at the Kremlin boasted that there were more than 16,000 Middle East applications to the war, but U.S. activists and officials monitoring Syria claim that there has not been a significant number of fighters from this region joining the conflict in Ukraine.
Analysts believe this could change as Russia prepares to launch a major offensive in eastern Ukraine. According to them, fighters from Syria will be more likely to deploy in the coming weeks after Putin appointed Gen. Alexander Dvornikov was the Russian war commander in Ukraine and commanded the Russian military forces in Syria.
Some question the effectiveness of Syrian fighters in Ukraine. However, they could be brought in to assist with rising casualties or besiege cities. Dvornikov was familiar with multiple paramilitary units in Syria, which were trained by Russia. He also oversaw the strategy for ruthlessly bombarding and besieging opposition-held Syrian cities into submission.
“Russia is preparing to a greater fight” in Ukraine, and Syrian fighters will likely take part, stated Ahmad Hamada (a Syrian Army defector who is now a military analyst in Turkey).
Activists and observers in Syria claim that the Russians are actively recruiting in Syria to fight the Ukraine war. This includes combatants who have been trained by the Russians.
Rami Abdurrahman (head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights), an opposition war monitor reported that about 40,000 people had registered so far — 22,000 with Russia’s military and 18,000 with the Russian private contractor Wagner Group.
Abdurrahman stated that 700 members of al-Hassan’s 25th Special Missions Forces Division (known in Syria as “Tiger Force”) left Syria in the past few weeks to fight alongside Russian forces. These numbers cannot be independently verified.
Over the past two weeks, pro-government activists uploaded videos on social media that showed members of the Tiger Force parachuting from helicopters and performing military drills. Russian officers were seen in one video advising paratroopers from a helicopter, while al-Hassan tapped on the heads of the young men. The videos may not be new, it was unclear at the time.
Abdurrahman stated that there are also volunteers from Russia’s 5th Division, the Baath brigades (which is the armed wing Assad’s ruling Baath party), and the Palestinian Quds Brigade which is made up of Syrian refugees. All of them have fought alongside Russia’s military in Syria’s conflict.
“Russians are seeking experienced fighters. Abdurrahman stated that they don’t want any one who wasn’t trained by the Russians.
Some of the most significant government victories during the 11-year conflict were credited to the Tiger Force. It was part of a Russian-backed campaign to capture the last rebel enclave in northwest Idlib. The campaign ended in March 2020, with government forces taking control of a crucial north-south highway. Rebels still hold the enclave.
Al-Hassan is “one of Russia’s men” and Russia will depend upon him, said Omar Abu Layla (a Europe-based activist) who heads the DeirEzzor 24 war monitoring group.
He said that hundreds of fighters from both the 5th Division (and the Quds Brigade) have registered at Russia’s Hmeimeem, in western Syria. They are awaiting orders.
A Russian-trained force called the “ISIS Hunters” militia posted an advertisement in March asking men between 23 and 49 to apply for screening. The ad stated that those who pass the test will be called later.
According to Rayan Maarouf, Suwayda24’s activist collective that tracks IS activity in the Syrian desert, around 100 men have registered their names so far in the southern province Sweida. He said that they were promised a monthly salary of $600. This is a significant sum considering widespread unemployment and the collapse of the Syrian Pound.
John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, stated earlier this month that there are indications that the U.S. is looking to recruit fighters from the Middle East to fight in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas.
He said that there was no information on the number of recruits. He said, “We are not there yet to see any real demonstrable reinforcement.”
In March, Gen. Frank McKenzie of U.S. Central Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there were only “very few groups” trying to travel from Syria to Ukraine. He called it a “very tiny trickle.”
Naji Malaeb (retired Lebanese general of the army), who closely follows the war in Syria, said that there are no signs so far of Syrian fighters traveling towards Russia. However, this could change as the war drags along.
Malaeb stated that “all depends on what Russia plans to do in the immediate future.”
Officials from Syria and Palestine in Syria denied reports that fighters were heading to Ukraine. The Syrian government is likely to be wary of seeing Syrian fighters flocking to Ukraine, opening up opportunities at the frontlines that its many enemies could exploit.
Russia has dramatically reduced its military presence in Syria, possibly a worrying sign for the government. There are now fewer airstrikes against IS and opposition positions in Idlib, which could be a concern.
According to the ISW report, “Any shift in the position of Russian forces and pro-regime militias creates security holes that anti-regime actors such as Turkey, ISIS, al-Qaida, and Syrian opposition groups, can exploit.”
Muhannad Haj Ali is a former legislator who was a commander in the armed faction of Syria’s ruling Baath party. He said that no Syrians had gone to fight for Ukraine and that he didn’t expect them to.
He stated that he was certain Russia would win in Ukraine, without the need for Syrian assistance.
He stated that “the way the operations are going indicates that Ukraine won’t be another Afghanistan.”