Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday Russia was hiring “murderers” from Syria to fight in Ukraine after Moscow said fighters from the war-torn nation would be allowed to join its forces.
“It’s a war with a very stubborn enemy… who has decided to hire mercenaries against our citizens. Murderers from Syria, a country where everything has been destroyed… like they are doing here to us,” Zelensky said in a video statement on Telegram.
The Kremlin said Friday that fighters from Syria and the Middle East would be allowed to fight for Russia in Ukraine, after Russian President Vladimir Putin backed a plan to send “volunteers” to battle there.
“If you see that there are these people who want 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,” Putin said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “if the West is so enthusiastic about the arrival of mercenaries, then we also have volunteers who want to participate.”
Russia has been a key partner to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. Moscow rallied to his side in 2015 and its airpower helped to turn the tide of the conflict in the Damascus regime’s favor. The country has been mired in a conflict marked by punishing aerial bombardments by Russian and Syrian planes and deadly urban combat for more than a decade.
According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, more than 16,000 volunteers — mostly from the Middle East — have applied to join the offensive in Ukraine.
In addition, British newspaper The Times reported Friday that a group of fighters in the Central African Republic have released a video in which they said they were also preparing to join Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The newspaper said a group of heavily-armed men in the video said they would join their “Russian brothers” to bring “peace and order.” According to the report, Russian state media has broadcast similar videos from soldiers in other African nations.
The Times reported last month that Putin has brought in hundreds of Russian mercenaries from the shadowy Wagner Group private militia.
Some 400 mercenaries were flown from Africa to Ukraine with instructions to kill Zelensky, the report said. The Russian private military contractor with links to the Kremlin has faced accusations of involvement in turmoil in the Central African Republic, as well as Libya and Sudan.
Zelensky also said Friday the European Union “should do more” for his embattled country, a day after EU leaders doused its hopes of quick accession to the bloc.
“The European Union should do more. It must do more for us, for Ukraine,” he said.
“The decisions of politicians must coincide with the mood of their people,” he added.
EU leaders have been meeting in France’s Versailles since Thursday to urgently address the fallout of the Russian invasion.
On Friday, they sought to double financing for military aid to Ukraine by an extra 500 million euros (around $550 million).
They also described Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as a wake-up call for the 27-nation bloc to take a more muscular approach in ensuring its security.