Russian President Vladmir Putin wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who recently won a civil war with the assistance provided to them by Russia, to repay them for their help — and the price is very high. It is very clear why Russia wants payback: Putin would prefer Syrian soldiers sacrifice themselves for Russia than face the public scrutiny at home that could result from Russian troops being killed fighting in Ukraine.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has stated that 40,000 Syrian soldiers are expected to join the Russian army in Ukraine. It seems that some of the most famous units of the Syrian army, many of which have made their mark in the fight against ISIS, are ready to immediately join the Russians in Ukraine.
The Moscow trained 5th Division; the loyal 4th Division; and the Tiger Forces, which played a leading role in the civil war, are part of Putin’s efforts to enlist Syrians to help him win the war in Ukraine. Together, they will be the biggest mercenary force in Syria.
Ukrainian officials said that the mercenary army would fly from the Hmeimim base with routine military transport flights. The militia forces who fought alongside them will also be joining the recruitment campaign. This recruitment drive will also see the participation of Palestinians, National Defense Front forces, the Ba’ath Party and even a few members of the Shia militias who fought in Syria.
Since late 2015, the pro-regime militias have been supported and trained by Russian units. At the time, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani convinced Vladimir Putin that the Syrian President Assad was just a few weeks shy from losing the Alawite heartland in western Syria to opposition groups who destroyed his armored units using guided missiles smuggled in by the CIA across the Turkish border.
The Ukrainian military’s attack and evasion tactics are destroying small Russian units. It’s one of the reasons why Russia is suffering high casualties, and also a big reason why Putin is desperate for Syrians to join the conflict. The Syrians may or may not have a large impact on the fight. But their arrival will definitely indicate that Putin will not leave Ukraine anytime soon.