- Russia is sending between 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, a European official said.
- Some are Syrian and Libyan fighters, although the exact division of force is still unclear.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that Russia had launched another offensive in the Donbas region.
The Kremlin has hired between 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries to fight in eastern Ukraine, including infantry fighters from Syria and Libya, a European official said, according to various media reports.
The official, who spoke to reporters in an interview in Washington on condition of anonymity, said it was difficult to break down the number of fighters from each country, but noted that they were all contracted by the private military firm Wagner Group, The Guardian reported on Tuesday. market.
“What I can say is that we’ve seen some transfers from these areas, Syria and Libya, to the eastern Donbas region, and these guys are mostly used as a mass against Ukrainian resistance,” the official said.
“In terms of their capabilities, it’s infantry,” the officer added, according to Agence France-Presse. “They don’t have heavy vehicles and weapons. It’s much more infantry.”
Russia had already deployed Syrian fighters in Ukraine, but in smaller numbers. On March 31, several hundred Syrian mercenaries arrived in the country, including soldiers from an army division that worked with Russian officers who supported the Assad regime, the New York Times reported.
Last month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said about 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East had signed up to fight in Ukraine. Around the same time, Ukrainian intelligence claimed that Russia had struck a deal with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar to recruit mercenaries, according to The Kyiv Independent.
The Wagner Group, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been helping Moscow transport soldiers to Ukraine, according to The Guardian.
The surge in mercenary deployments comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that Moscow had launched a renewed offensive in the Donbass region.
Russian troop morale is also falling as the war continues, the European official said, according to Politico, while Ukrainian soldiers were emboldened by the sinking of the Russian warship “Moskva”.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US intelligence shows Russia is preparing for more aggressive operations in eastern Ukraine and has reinforced its troops in the region with about 10 tactical groups.