Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday approved a proposal from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to recruit "volunteers" to fight in Russia's "Ukrainian liberation movement." Putin, in a televised Security Council meeting, told Shoigu that "if you see that there are people who want to come voluntarily, especially free of charge, and help people living in the Donbas, you need to meet them halfway and help them move to the war zone."
Shoigu told him Russia had already received more than 16,000 applications, most of them from the Middle East — and largely, according to multiple reports, from Syria. "Needing to recruit Syrians only two weeks after you launched an invasion is a surefire sign that your war is running so smoothly," deadpanned Washington Post foreign relations columnist Daniel Drezner.
At the same time, Putin dismissed the 20,000 "mercenaries" from 52 countries that Ukraine says have volunteered to fight Russian invaders in Ukraine, claiming that the "Western sponsors of Ukraine" are sending over the fighters, "dismissing all norms of international law." The foreigners arriving to fight with Ukraine against Russia are pretty clear they are signing up of their own volition.
Ukraine has encouraged foreign volunteers to sign up for its international legion, but foreign countries have responded differently. The U.S. has discouraged its citizens from fighting for Ukraine, while Britain has warned its would-be legionnaires they could be violating anti-terrorism laws, Reuters reports. Other countries, "such as Canada or Germany, have cleared the way for their citizens to get involved."
There are enough pro-Ukraine legionnaires from Belarus, Russia's partner in the invasion, that they have their own squadron, The Associated Press reports.
Reuters interviewed about 20 foreign volunteers who had arrived for staging in Lviv, and they offered differing motivations for signing up, from fighting for democracy to seeking the camaraderie of other war veterans and putting their battle skills to what they view as a righteous cause. Michael Ferkol, a U.S. Army vet who was studying archaeology in Rome when he decided to heed Zelensky's call, told Reuters he wanted to volunteer as a medic, but "there was a Finnish guy there too, and he was like, 'I just want to kill Russians.'"