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Putin backs plans to bring ‘volunteer’ fighters from Middle East to Ukraine

Russian defense minister says he knows of ‘more than 16,000 applications’ from fighters who fought alongside Russian troops in Syria

A woman passes a billboard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 7, 2022. The Arabic reads, "The victory for Russia." (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
A woman passes a billboard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 7, 2022. The Arabic reads, "The victory for Russia." (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday backed plans to allow volunteers, including thousands from the Middle East, to fight in Ukraine, where his invasion is now entering a third week.

“If you see that there are people who want on a voluntary basis, then you need to meet them halfway and help them move to combat zones,” Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during a televised security council meeting.

Shoigu said Russia knew of “more than 16,000 applications” from countries in the Middle East, many of them from people who he said helped Russia against the Islamic State group, according to a Kremlin transcript.

They want “to take part in what they consider a liberation movement,” Shoigu said, on the side of Russia-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Since 2015, Russian forces have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad against various groups opposed to his rule, including the Islamic State.

Putin contrasted the “volunteers” with what he called foreign “mercenaries” fighting for Ukraine.

“As for the supply of arms, especially Western-made, which ended up in the hands of the Russian army, of course, I support the possibility of transferring them to the military units of DNR and LNR,” Putin said referring to the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in Ukraine’s east.

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

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