Speed Reads

Cheap Mercenaries

Russia is recruiting Syrians to fight in Ukraine, supplementing flailing Russian forces, U.S. officials say

Russia has sent in "nearly 100 percent" of the 127 battalions it had deployed around Ukraine before the invasion, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, and there is no indication Moscow is preparing to send in more Russian forces. But "to make up for the lack of ground movement that they've had," Russian forces are relying more on long-range missiles to hit cities, including civilian areas, the official said. And Moscow is recruiting foreign mercenaries. 

"We know that they're trying to recruit Syrians for the fight," the Pentagon official told The Washington Post. "We find that noteworthy, that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] believes he needs to rely on foreign fighters to supplement what is a very significant commitment of combat power inside Ukraine."

Russia has been recruiting Syrian fighters in recent days in the hopes "their expertise in urban combat can help take Kyiv and deal a devastating blow to the Ukraine government," The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing four U.S. officials. "Syrian fighters have spent nearly a decade fighting urban warfare, while Russia's largely conscripted force lacks this skill set." A publication in Deir Ezzor, Syria, said Russia has been offering volunteers $200-300 to "go to Ukraine and operate as guards" for six-month tours.

Russian forces are bogged down in Ukraine's north but they are making steady inroads in the south, with losses estimated at somewhere between Russia's admission of 500 deaths and Ukraine's estimate of 11,000 slain Russian soldiers, including two generals and several senior officers.

Russia's military — with 900,000 active duty troops, two million reservists, advanced fighter jets, and "a formidable navy and marines" — is expected to "eventually subdue Ukraine's army," one-eighth its size, The New York Times reports. But two weeks into the invasion, "the image of a Russian military as one that other countries should fear, let alone emulate, has been shattered," especially in Europe. 

"Whatever the outcome of this needless war, it's already been an unmitigated disaster for the Russian military," said BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams. "The first real enemy it's come up against and the results have been catastrophic. Getting harder and harder to see what a 'win' looks like."