Syrians, Ossetians and Central Asians: the mercenaries helping Putin in Ukraine | International
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In the “defense of the Russian world” in Ukraine – one of the Kremlin’s pretexts to justify its offensive in that country – not only citizens of the Russian Federation participate. Arabs, Central Asians, Caucasians and military veterans from every corner of the world willing to be paid to serve Moscow are also fighting on the front lines. The British intelligence service assured this week that a thousand mercenaries will soon arrive in Ukraine. They will be joined by other reinforcements from territories not recognized internationally, such as South Ossetia. As the war drags on, these auxiliary troops rise to the fore to replace the fallen Russians.
Foreigners do not usually have much weight in the national armed forces. In Spain, their number does not exceed by law 9% of the total staff. The Russian Ministry of Defense, which does not disclose its figures, says according to the newspaper Izvestia with “a few thousand” among its 900,000 active members. In addition, most are located in bases deployed in strategic points such as Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where they hire local citizens.
Citizens of other countries have been able to serve in the Russian Armed Forces since 1998, although it was not until 2015, the second year of the war in eastern Ukraine, that the Kremlin signed a law allowing them to fight outside its borders. However, unlike the French Foreign Legion, Russia prefers not to integrate them into its forces, but instead hires them as auxiliary armies for limited operations around the world, from Venezuela to the Central African Republic to Syria.
Interestingly, the activity of these companies is supposedly punishable in Russia with between four and eight years in prison. However, the Russian Foreign Minister himself, Sergey Lavrov, has openly admitted its use. Last year, during the UN General Assembly, Lavrov said that the Malian government “had to resort to a Russian private military company because France reduced its contingent against the terrorists who arrived in the Kidal area.”
Notable Russian mercenary companies include Wagner PMC — owned by President Putin’s cook Evgeny Prigozhin — Moran Security Group and Tiger Top Rent Security. But foreigners with military experience can also get jobs in the many paid “volunteer” positions for Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk provinces across the country. Eight years ago there were records of Uzbeks, Ossetians and other foreigners in the separatist militias.
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Syrians with “we will defeat the Nazis” signs
After the war, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, announced on March 11 that his forces could be reinforced with some 16,000 “volunteers” from the Middle East. The armed forces propaganda channel also released a video in which dozens of Syrian fighters, armed to the teeth and carrying posters of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, shouted “we will defeat the Nazis” while queuing to sign at a table. “For obvious reasons, the fighters did not give interviews, but behind the scenes they said that it was their duty to fight for Russia as she fought for them,” said the announcer for Zvezdá, the official television of the Russian Defense Ministry.
Numerous Syrians have fought for the Russians and the Turks in the wars in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh in recent years. The Kremlin has a network of 14 recruitment points in the country, and the Ukrainian intelligence services have echoed some advertisements offering between 275 and 550 euros per month to enlist. However, the role of these mercenaries has been overstated by both sides for pure propaganda.
“They were signing a manifesto of support for Russia, not an actual contract for its deployment,” stresses Gregory P. Waters, an analyst at The Middle East Institute, a major thinktank specialized in the region. In an essay on the possible sending of Arabs to Ukraine, Waters sees it as difficult for Moscow to post the Syrian units it has trained there because “they will be essential to stop any future rebel offensive against Idlib or to put pressure on the Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeast, backed by USA”.
“Deploying a significant number of these fighters to Ukraine, who would not stand a chance against a modern army, would weaken pro-Russian forces in Syria and fuel anti-Russian sentiment when they realize they have been sent to the slaughterhouse,” adds Waters. .
The militiamen in the video were not the elite trained by Russia, but members of the Syrian National Defense Force, a network of platoons of fifty volunteers created from town to town. Other pro-Russian groups are the Christian-Syrian formations, but they would not fit into this phase of the war either. According to US espionage sources cited by TheWall Street Journal, For now, the Kremlin is looking for a profile of a more professional combatant trained in urban combat.
The Praetorian Guard of the Chechen President
The Russian republics of Dagestan and Chechnya have drawn attention during the offensive. Especially the Chechen one, with the Praetorian Guard of its president, Ramzán Kadírov, known as the “kadirovtsi”. However, the Ukraine campaign also involves troops drawn from nearby non-internationally recognized territories, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, regions claimed by Georgia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The president of South Ossetia, Anatoli Bibílov, acknowledged these facts on March 21. “They say we are sending our men to their deaths. No! They are being commanded to victory! The warrior is sent to battle to win, and now we are going to Donbas, Mariupol and Melitopol,” the head of that territory wrote in Beef, an official newspaper of the region.
Fighters of the former Soviet republics
Another of the main sources of foreign fighters for the Russian Armed Forces and its private companies are the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, countries of great migration to Russia and with experience in conflicts since the fall of the USSR. On December 29, and with a view to war, Putin proposed a bill to the State Duma that, among other novelties, reduces the period for reviewing applications for nationality for immigrants who have served Russia to three months. for a lustrum.
A well-known defender of the rights of foreigners, Valentina Chupik, warned at the beginning of the war of the risks of enlisting. “There are many scammers who say that it is worth signing a contract with the Russian Army because in three months they will grant you citizenship. This is a lie,” wrote the Uzbek activist on the Facebook channel “We are immigrants.”
On the second day of the offensive, a video of an Uzbek driver driving a Russian military truck in the Lugansk region went viral. The American media Radio Free Europe managed to locate him. The man, who was promised that he would get Russian citizenship quickly and 50,000 rubles a month (450 euros), had found the job offer on one of the job portals that Chupik put as an example of deception. “Several immigrants have believed this lie and have been recruited as cannon fodder for Ukraine,” said the activist, who lives in exile in Armenia after the Russian authorities revoked her asylum last year. Chupik also recalled that this law has not yet been approved and that some countries like Uzbekistan punish enlisting in other countries with between three and 20 years in prison.
One of the countries most closely linked to Russia is Tajikistan, a nation where it has deployed an important base for acting as a barrier with Afghanistan and Islamic fundamentalism. According to local media, at least four Tajiks have lost their lives in this war.
Pressure on Belarus to get involved in the war
The Belarusian regime of Aleksander Lukashenko played a key role in preparing for war: his country served as a platform for tens of thousands of Russian troops to open the kyiv front by the shortest route, the Chernobyl region. In the weeks since hostilities broke out, he has served as a supply depot and hospital for the countless number of Russians who have been wounded.
Minsk has resisted sending its forces to the front in the first month of the war. The reason, the enormous unpopularity of an action that could further destabilize a regime that Putin saved from the 2020 protests. According to a survey by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (the British Chatham House), barely 3% of Belarusians support military action against a country they considered a brother.
Reports compiled by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggest that Minsk is receiving a lot of pressure from the Kremlin to get involved in the campaign. In mid-March, Lukashenko denounced the alleged impact of several bombs and a ballistic missile on his territory, and the Ukrainian Army accused Russia of having orchestrated a false flag attack.
Some media such as CNN have published in the last week that NATO and the US do not rule out Belarus openly entering the war soon. The official version is another for now. When asked on March 21 about the movement of the Minsk forces on the border with Ukraine, a representative of the US Department of Defense ruled out his intervention for the time being. “We have not seen any indications that the Belarusians are preparing to enter Ukraine or have agreed to that,” he stressed.
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