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Meszár Tárik
Eurasia Center of John von Neumann University; MCC PhD Program

Arab mercenaries in the Russian-Ukrainian war

Image source: Shutterstock
Image source: Shutterstock

Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously decreed that he would grant Russian citizenship to foreigners who volunteer to fight in the ranks of the Russian army against Ukraine. The foreign mercenaries fighting on the Ukrainian fronts (in addition to the member states of the former Soviet Union) currently come from several countries around the world, for example Syria, Egypt and Niger. In the analysis, we examine why Syrian citizens want to support the Russian troops en masse, how they organize their departure and how much money they receive for their service.

Image source: Shutterstock

Syrian mercenaries

Although the exact number of Syrian mercenaries fighting alongside Moscow is unknown, according to Arabic-language sources, more than 40,000 Syrian citizens declared their intention to join Russia in the war against Ukraine last summer. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has announced that those who wish to fight alongside Moscow can apply directly to the Russian side. However, some of the Syrians cannot be deployed to the Ukrainian fronts as they lack training and combat experience. In this context, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated that Russia does not need the masses of Syrian volunteers, whose presence in many cases hinders combat operations. According to the organization, the Syrians can only take on the simplest tasks, such as guarding facilities or cleaning work. This is contradicted by the fact that Arab fighters are constantly arriving in Russia. After the necessary training, the 25th Special Mission Forces Division transports the soldiers via the Hmeimim military airfield in Syria to Russia and then to Ukraine to take part in the fighting.

Image source: Shutterstock

According to security sources, thousands of Syrian citizens from Homs, Hama and Suwayda are making their way to the Ukrainian front, who have agreed to take part in the conflict for financial reasons to support Russia after their economic conditions at home have deteriorated significantly. Military experts pointed out that “many of the Syrian soldiers fighting alongside Russia in the war against Ukraine are fluent in Russian, having attended military courses in Russia about a year before the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war.” The aforementioned 25th Special Mission Forces Division is directly supported by Russia and is considered one of Moscow’s military divisions in the ranks of the Syrian government forces.

Salaries

It is clear that ideological reasons do not play the decisive role in the Syrians’ decision to support Russia in the bloody fighting since February 24, 2022. According to a Syrian organization dealing with human rights issues, Syrians receive 1,400 dollars per month (800 dollars go to their families remaining in Syria and 600 dollars they receive). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, they receive slightly less, namely around 1,000 euros per month. Russian security companies authorized by the Syrian government take on the task of recruiting Syrian fighters for Russia. These companies began their work around two years ago and guarantee that the families of the fighters will receive financial compensation if their loved ones die or are injured during their participation in the Russian-Ukrainian war. If a Syrian mercenary dies in Ukraine, his family is entitled to 15,000 euros in compensation. According to Syrian information, this is 7,000 euros in the event of serious injury.

Image source: Shutterstock

Given the current situation and economic conditions in the Arab country, the involvement of its young inhabitants in the Russian-Ukrainian war is by no means surprising. In the future, problems such as hyperinflation, the high cost of living and extreme poverty will only increase their willingness to serve as mercenaries for foreign powers.

About the Author
Since September 2020, I have been a PhD student of the Arabic Studies program of the Doctoral School of Linguistics at Eötvös Loránd University. From March 2021 I am a researcher at the Eurasia Center of John von Neumann University, and from September 2021 I am a participant in the Mathias Corvinus Collegium PhD Program and a researcher at the Migration Research Institute, where I study the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East, mainly Iraq and Egypt. I also deal with the Arabic language and its dialects, as well as the international relations of the Arab world and its role in the world economy.
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