On February 24, 2022, Europe and the world entered a new stage as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. The Russian army entered Ukraine from the Belorussian border and from the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, which formed the major front with Ukrainian forces in the past few years. The move shocked the world as an attack on mainland Ukraine was not expected and was not taken seriously even though news surfaced that it will occur a few weeks before it took place. Since the end of February, the Russian army has took Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Kherson in eastern Ukraine giving it a fortified front, allowing it to bring the sea of Azov under its full control. what is also shocking is Russia’s Syrian Mercenaries being used in this battle.
The invasion came at a heavy cost as the Russian army had an estimate 18,900 deaths amongst its forces since the beginning of the operation after meeting fierce resistance from the Ukrainian army and civilians. The situation quickly escalated following the invasion, prompting NATO to start supplying Ukraine with weapons and humanitarian aid to give it a fighting chance. On the third day of the invasion Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky announced the initiation of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion which invited volunteers with combat experience from all across the world to fight along with the Ukrainian resistance.
Russia resorts to the Syrian government and Wagner group
After this announcement, President Putin started planning a similar move to counter the flow of fighters into Ukraine. In two weeks during a meeting for the Russian Security Council, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East are ready to fight alongside Russian-backed forces in the breakaway region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine. On the same day videos circulated on the media of Syrian regime soldiers rallying in support of Russia and presenting their readiness to fight along with Russia while holding banners that included the famous “Z” symbol and pictures of Vladimir Putin.
In order to coordinate the arrival of mercenaries from Syria the Russian government to relied on the Wagner group and the Syrian government through its militias to coordinate the arrival of volunteers from the Middle East to Ukraine in to assist the Russian army in maintaining their positions. The choice was to get mercenaries from Syria, a country that has become a prominent market for mercenaries due to the high number of experienced fighters given the deteriorating economic situation in the last two years. Syrian mercenaries were preferred as they are able to do the dirty work, at low cost, experienced in street combat, and would not require guarantees and benefits like Russian mercenaries. The number of Syrian mercenaries that have been sent off or are ready to go to Russia is not exact but according to estimates a supply of 16,000 fighters can be provided. The mercenaries mostly come from Russian-sponsored militias in Syria such as the National Defence Forces. These armed factions have already been in coordination with the Russian army in Syria and have worked closely with them in various operations. The Syrian mercenaries are promised a salary between $1000 to $1800 which is a high amount in Syria as it would provide for their family’s needs and allow them to save. However, the fighters are obliged to stay on the battlefront for 7 months and are not given guarantees and assurances such as compensation for their families after their death. All of these factors have made them more preferable to local Russian mercenaries.
Syrian Christian militias involvement in recruiting fighters
As reports of mercenaries from Syria coming to fight with the Russian army in Ukraine surfaced over media outlets, one of Russia’s main partners in Syria Nabel Al Abdallah came into the spotlight. Nabel Al Abdalla is the head of the National Defense Force (NDF) militia branch in the Christian majority city of As-Suqaylabiyah in, Hama Syria. Nabel has been in close contact with the Hmeimein Russian military base and has even visited Russia as he was invited to the Seventh International Religion and Peace Forum in Moscow which was organized by the Christian Peace Union. Reports indicated that Nabel Al Abdallah has set up offices in his town and surrounding areas which aimed to recruit mercenaries from Hama, Homs, Lattakia, and Deir Ezzor. As the pay is relatively good many flocked to these offices with the aim of being recruited. Christian and Alawite fighters are being given the preference to be sent as Sunni fighters have to have a referral or undergo a thorough background check before being sent to the frontlines. As media reports started covering this Nabel Al Abdallah posted a video on his Facebook account stating that all his fighters are still in Syria and that he is awaiting orders to fight with Russia to defeat the “Neo-nazis” according to his terms. Nabel has also organized various protests and rallies in support of Russia since the invasion started.
The exact role of the Syrian mercenaries in the battle front in the media is unknown as reports on the issue has not been able to gather solid evidence on their role as the Russian government is aiming to maintain ultimate secrecy in the usage of mercenaries in its operations. Wagner company tags with Syrian telephone numbers have been found on the battle on the front by Ukranian fighters which is one of the signs of their involvement in combat. However, the number of fighters that are sent according to reports might be exaggerated as the Syrian fighters do not have experience to fight at the geographical terrains and climate in Eastern Europe but are rather more experienced to fight in areas similar to Iraq and Libya. Therefore their involvement will be limited to certain tasks and duties. As the war will go on more signs of mercenary involvement will appear.
Michael Maalouf is a writer, academic and also writes for LIBERTATIO on SUBSTACK HERE
Michael Maalouf is an economics graduate from the Lebanese American University where he got involved in libertarian activism. An alumnus of Students For Liberty, he formed a libertarian discussion group. Michael has worked in economic research for an NGO, created content for Tech and Startup events, and has published articles on various topics ranging from economics, politics, culture, and business.