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Russia-Ukraine war: Putin says 16,000 volunteers in Middle East ready to fight

Russian president gives the green light to recruit fighters from the region to help his invasion
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian government via teleconference in Moscow on 10 March (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given the green light to bring in 16,000 volunteer fighters from the Middle East to help in the conflict with Ukraine.

During a Security Council meeting on Friday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that there were thousands of fighters in the Middle East who were ready to pick up arms and fight with Russian forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

It was not clear where these alleged volunteers would come from, or why they would fight for Russia. The US Pentagon said earlier this week that Russia was recruiting people in Syria to fight in its ranks, though little evidence of that claim has been forthcoming.

Russia is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's closest allies, and has fought in Syria against rebel groups since 2015. Russian mercenaries hired hundreds of Syrians, both pro-Assad militiamen and ex-rebels, to fight in the 2019-2020 Libyan war.

Shoigu also proposed that western-made Javelin and Stinger missiles captured by the Russian army in Ukraine should be handed over to Donbas forces. 

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Putin said of the volunteer fighters during the televised Security Council meeting: “If you see that there are these people who want to be there of their own accord, not for money, to come to help the people living in Donbas, then we need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone.”

He added: “As to the delivery of arms, especially western-made ones which have fallen into the hands of the Russian army - of course I support the possibility of giving these to the military units of the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics.”

“Please do this,” he told Shoigu. 

Putin also ordered Shoigu to prepare a separate report on strengthening Russia’s western borders “in connection to the actions that Nato countries are taking in this direction.” 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February after Putin formally recognised the breakaway Ukrainian territories as independent states.

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