Vladimir Putin has said that Russia must welcome volunteers who want to fight against Ukrainian forces. At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council this morning, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East had already signed up to join the Russian invasion force. He said that the volunteers will be swiftly deployed into combat with Russian-backed forces in the breakaway Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
The move could be a sign that President Putin is scrambling for reinforcements in the face of fierce Ukraine resistance.
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.”
He also announced that Western-made Javelin and Stinger missiles captured by the Russian army in Ukraine will be handed over to the Donbas forces.
The Russian leader said: “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.”
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In the broadcast meeting, President Putin tells Mr Shoigu: “Please do this.”
When Sky News’ Niall Paterson broke the news to former British defence secretary Liam Fox, he cast doubt on the claims.
Dr Fox said: “Russia has been giving us non-stop propaganda. I would doubt anything they say is true.
“They denied they were using conscripts on the frontline, and we now know they were.
Last week, US intelligence reported that Russia was offering fighters in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East $400 a week to join the war.
A senior US Defense Department official said the Russian leader was trying to build back his military forces after its invasion ran into stiff resistance from Ukrainians.
The American assessment also suggested that the recruited Syrians were particularly “skilled in urban combat” as Russia moves deeper into cities.
On the opposite side, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine.
He said the fighters pouring into the country to fight for Kyiv were part of an “international legion”.