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Ukraine war: 40,000 Syrians could be deployed to fight on Russian side

UK-based activist group says Syrians promised a salary of $1,100 by Russia to fight in Ukraine
Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portraits of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia (AFP)

Russia has drawn up a list of 40,000 Syrians to deploy in Ukraine to aid its invasion of the country, a UK-based activist group reported on Tuesday.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which monitors the war in Syria, the Syrian government has set up registration centres to recruit fighters to join in the conflict.

"More than 40,000 Syrians have registered to fight alongside Russia in Ukraine so far," said SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman who has a network of sources in Syria.

Russian officers deployed as part of the force Moscow sent to Syria in 2015 to support Damascus had approved 22,000 of the volunteers so far, Abdel Rahman said.

Those fighters are either combatants drawn from units of the regular army, or from pro-government militia groups who have experience in street warfare and received Russian training.

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In a country where soldiers earn between $15 and $35 per month, Russia has promised them a salary of $1,100 to fight in Ukraine, the Observatory reported.

They are also entitled to $7,700 in compensation for injuries, and their families to $16,500 if they are killed in combat.

Another 18,000 men have registered with the Syrian government's ruling Baath party and will be screened by the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor with links to the Kremlin, the war monitor said.

A 'foreign mission'

The Observatory said it had no confirmed reports yet of any Syrian recruits leaving for Ukraine.

A Syrian government representative denied the recruitment drive detailed by the Observatory.

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"Until now no names have been written down, no soldiers registered in any centres nor has anyone travelled to Russia to fight in Ukraine," Omar Rahmoun of the National Reconciliation Committee told AFP.

However, at least one advert in Syria, shared in Arabic on Facebook, has publicised "combat roles existing for Syrian fighters with experience" in a "foreign mission".    

Potential fighters were offered a substantial salary of around "$3,000, depending on the specific skills and expertise each person has". It was not made clear whether that would be a lump sum or a monthly payment.

"Deployment for Ukraine," said the advert.

It was posted onto a private group for soldiers of the Fourth Armoured Division, one of the largest in the Syrian army, and signals the first genuine foreign recruitment attempt. Eager soldiers commented on the post, asking for a number to contact.

The $3,000 equates to around 7.5 million Syrian pounds, a hefty amount in a country where economic devastation has been rife through a nightmare winter of economic cuts and western sanctions.

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