Putin says Russia to send Middle East fighters to Ukraine
(Tribune News Service) — Russia plans to send thousands of local fighters from the Middle East, along with weapons, to join its forces in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
“We need to help them get to the conflict zone,” Putin told Russia’s Security Council on Friday on a video call. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told the meeting Russia had received more than 16,000 applications from people in Middle East countries to help fight in two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.
Putin also endorsed a proposal to send more weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems, to forces in Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Russia recognized as independent last month. Russia has got hold of Stinger and Javelin shoulder-fired missiles — weapons supplied to Ukraine by the U.S. — that it can dispatch to Ukraine, Shoigu said.
The decision to call in Middle East mercenaries “is a demonstrative signal that Russia isn’t planning to step back,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a political consultant and founder of R. Politik. “Putin wants to show that he isn’t going to reverse course.”
Putin sent Russian forces in 2015 to intervene in Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. With the help of heavy Russian air bombardment, Syrian pro-government forces waged a brutal campaign to recapture rebel-held territory, including the country’s commercial capital Aleppo.
The move comes as talks Thursday between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in Turkey ended without any visible progress. While Putin on Friday cited “positive movement” in the negotiations, Ukrainian officials have rejected ceding any territory and are pressing for security guarantees from the U.S. and its allies.
Ukraine has succeeded in slowing the Russian military advance more than two weeks since Putin ordered the Feb. 24 invasion. It put out a call for foreign volunteers to join in Ukraine’s defense and said tens of thousands of people had applied to take part.
The U.S. and its allies have massively stepped up weapons deliveries to the Ukrainian military, which has killed several thousand Russian soldiers during the fighting, according to U.S. assessments.
While reiterating that Russia’s campaign is going “according to plan” in Ukraine, Shoigu also appealed to Putin to deploy more weapons along Russia’s western border to counter what he said was a military buildup by the U.S. and its NATO allies. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization sent additional troops and weapons to bolster defenses in the region after Russia began its invasion.
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