UPDATED: Putin says Russia to use Middle East volunteer fighters against Ukraine

Reading Time: 5 minutes

LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the green light on Friday for up to 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East to be deployed alongside Russian-backed rebels to fight in Ukraine, doubling down an invasion that the West says has been losing momentum.

The move, just over two weeks since Putin ordered the invasion, allows Russia to deploy battle-hardened mercenaries from conflicts such as Syria without risking additional Russian military casualties.

At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East who were ready to come to fight alongside Russian-backed forces in the breakaway Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

“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 Donbass, then we need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone,” Putin said from the Kremlin.

Shoigu also proposed that Western-made Javelin and Stinger missiles that were captured by the Russian army in Ukraine should be handed over to Donbass forces, along other weaponry such as man-portable air-defense systems, known as MANPADS, and anti-tank rocket complexes.

“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 Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics,” Putin said.

“Please do this,” he told Shoigu. The exchange was shown on Russian state television.

Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is essential to ensure Russia’s security after the United States expanded NATO up to its borders and supported pro-Western leaders in Kyiv.

Ukraine says it is fighting for its existence while the United States, and its European and Asian allies have condemned the Russian invasion. China has called for calm.

Shoigu said the operation was all going to plan before requesting Putin’s approal for the use of fighters from the Middle East.

U.S. intelligence chiefs told lawmakers on Thursday that Russia had been surprised by the strength of Ukrainian resistance, which had deprived the Kremlin of a quick victory it thought would have prevented the United States and NATO from providing meaningful military aid.

That was causing concern in Beijing, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said.

“I do believe that the Chinese leadership, President Xi (Jinping) in particular, is unsettled,” Burns said. “By what he’s seen, partly because his own intelligence doesn’t appear to have told him what was going to happen.”

Shoigu said Western arms were flowing into Ukraine in an “absolutely uncontrolled” way and that the Russian military planned to strengthen its Western border after what he said was a build up of Western military units on Russia’s border.

“The general staff is working on, and has almost finished, a plan to strengthen our Western borders, including, naturally, with new modern complexes,” Shoigu said.

Putin said the question of how to react to moves by NATO countries need a separate discussion.

  •  Russian forces invading Ukraine have killed more Ukrainian civilians than soldiers, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday.

“I want this to be heard not only in Kyiv but all over the world,” Reznikov said.

Russian troops have launched a high-precision, long-range attack on two military airfields in the Ukrainian cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk and taken them out of action, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying on Friday.

He also said that Russian forces had destroyed 3,213 Ukrainian military installations since the launch of what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

  • As fresh attacks are reported across Ukraine, there are now reports that Russia-backed separatists have captured the strategically important city of Volnovakha, to the north of the besieged port of Mariupol, RIA news agency quotes Russia’s defence ministry as saying.

Three air strikes early on Friday in Ukraine’s central city of Dnipro killed at least one person, state emergency services said, adding that the strikes were close to a kindergarten and an apartment building.

The strikes came amid preparations by the United States, together with the Group of Seven nations and the European Union, to revoke Russia’s “most favored nation” status over its invasion of Ukraine. 

On Sunday, Ukraine had warned that Russia was mustering forces to encircle Dnipro, home to about one million people before the invasion started.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy  said he is ‘really worried’ about Russian chemical attack allegations

The Ukrainian president said: “They accuse us, again us! 

“That we are allegedly developing biological weapons. 

“Allegedly, we are preparing a chemical attack. This makes me really worried, because we’ve been repeatedly convinced: if you want to know Russia’s plans, look at what Russia accuses others of. 

“Spreading such accusations in the Russian media shows that it is they who are capable of this – the Russian military, the Russian special services.”

Zelenskiy  added: “It shows that they want it. They have already done such things in other countries.  

“They themselves announced, they themselves organized, they themselves complained. 

“And they will do so again – again and again, if they are not stopped.”

Ukraine’s president, said Russia was a “terrorist state” in his latest video address. “The world must know it. The world must acknowledge it,” he said, and also accused Russian forces of attacking a convoy of humanitarian aid for the besieged city of Mariupol.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian authorities managed to evacuate almost 40,000 people on Thursday from five other cities.

The Russian defence ministry said that it would open up humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv and Mariupol. It also accused Ukraine of using security service personnel to drive aid trucks and spy on Russian military positions.

A photo issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense of Russian POWs in Sumy

Once you're here...

%d bloggers like this: