“Russia is preparing for a greater battle” in Ukraine and Syrian fighters are likely to take part, said Ahmad Hamada, a Syrian army defector who is now a military analyst based in Turkey.

During a visit to Syria in 2017, Vladimir Putin lavished praise on a Syrian general whose division played an instrumental role in defeating insurgents in the country’s long-running civil war. The Russian president told him his cooperation with Russian troops “will lead to great successes in the future,” reports the AP.
Now members of Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan’s division are among hundreds of Russian-trained Syrian fighters who have reportedly signed up to fight alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, including Syrian soldiers, former rebels and experienced fighters who fought for years against the Islamic State group in Syria’s desert.

So far, only a small number appears to have arrived in Russia for military training ahead of deployment on the front lines. Although Kremlin officials boasted early in the war of more than 16,000 applications from the Middle East, U.S. officials and activists monitoring Syria say there have not yet been significant numbers of fighters from the region joining the war in Ukraine.

Analysts, however, say this could change as Russia prepares for the next phase of the battle with a full-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine. They believe fighters from Syria are more likely to be deployed in coming weeks, especially after Putin named Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, who commanded the Russian military in Syria, as the new war commander in Ukraine.

Though some question how effective Syrian fighters would be in Ukraine, they could be brought in if more forces are needed to besiege cities or to make up for rising casualties. Dvornikov is well acquainted with the multiple paramilitary forces in Syria trained by Russia while he oversaw the strategy of ruthlessly besieging and bombarding opposition-held cities in Syria into submission.

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