Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for foreign volunteers to be brought in to join his war in Ukraine.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East who were ready to come to fight with Russian-backed forces in the separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk areas of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
He also suggested Western-made Javelin and Stinger missiles captured by Russian troops in Ukraine should be handed over to Donbas forces.
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Speaking at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, President Putin said: “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.”
“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 his defence minister – giving him the green light to move the seized weapons.
It follows reports Russia has been recruiting Syrians to bolster its forces in Ukraine.
Syrian news website DeirEzzor24 reported volunteers were being sought for a period of six months to work as guards for between $200 and $300 a month, while a report in the Wall Street Journal cited US officials as saying some mercenaries were already in Russia and ready to go.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February soon after the Russian leader announced his recognition of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent territories, which drew immediate international condemnation as an illegal move.
Russia says its “special military operation” in Ukraine is a forced response to what it calls genocide by Ukraine against Russian-speakers in the east of the country – a pretext rejected by Kyiv and the West as baseless war propaganda.