Logo of the Syrian Special Forces, used by the 25th Special Mission Forces Division.
“…the main task of the Syrian fighters was providing security and protection for areas managed by Wagner and other military contractors in Luhansk and Donetsk …”
There have been several reports of Syrian fighters being recruited to fight on the Kremlin’s side since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. A March 2022 report claimed that 40,000 Syrians had been recruited to fight in Ukraine, and early in the conflict Russian officials suggested there were 16,000 Middle Eastern “volunteers” ready to fight alongside Russia. However, as of late 2022, reports place the number of Syrians sent to Russia for training and eventual deployment at around only 2,000. Of those, several hundred were reportedly deployed in September, and another few hundred in November, primarily in “non-combat roles,” according to the first accompanying excerpt, from a report published in the English-language news website Middle East Eye. More specifically, the bulk of Syrian fighters in Russia appear to be associated with the Syrian military’s 25th Special Mission Forces Division, formerly known as the “Tiger Forces.”[i]
Several other Syrian regime loyalist militias have also reportedly provided Moscow with recruits, including the Syrian-Palestinian “Liwa al-Quds” (Quds Brigade), the Iran-backed Afghan-majority Shiite “Liwa al-Fatimiyun” (Fatimid Brigade), militias affiliated with operatives in Syria’s ruling Baath Party, former rebels in the Russia-controlled 5th Division, and fighters recruited by Christian militia leaders from Hama Province.[ii] On 6 November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an opposition NGO, reported in the second accompanying excerpt that Liwa al-Quds fighters had joined fighters from the 25th Division in deploying on the Ukrainian battlefield, without providing details.
The third accompanying excerpt, a December 2022 report from an opposition NGO called Syrians for Truth and Justice, claims that recruitment and transfer of Syrians to fight on behalf of Russia continued through the second half of 2022. Among others, the report details three distinct routes taken by flights suspected of ferrying Syrian fighters to Russia for training. The report also identifies a series of Russian sites where Syrian fighters either train or are stationed, as well as several Ukrainian locations to which they are ultimately deployed, including Kherson, Melitopol, and Donetsk. Per the first referenced entry, the Middle East Eye report, Syrian fighters appear to be mostly providing “security and protection for areas managed by Wagner and other military contractors in Luhansk and Donetsk,” though they may be called to the frontlines if need be. The report mentions a Russian military contractor called “Shchit” (“Shield”) and a Wagner subsidiary known as “Task Force Rusich” as the key Russian entities employing the services of Syrian fighters. As Russia appears to gear up for a new offensive, it seems likely that additional Syrian fighters could be deployed, though based on current trends, their impact will likely remain marginal.
“Ukraine war: Russia deploys Syrian fighters to shore up its defences,”Middle East Eye (Qatari-aligned English-language news website), 9 November 2022. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/ukraine-war-russia-deploys-syrian-fighters
Russia has deployed more than 500 Syrian fighters in Ukraine for primarily non-combatant roles, tasking them generally with safeguarding facilities in Luhansk and Donetsk in the past few months, regional intelligence sources told Middle East Eye…
The official said the main task of the Syrian fighters was providing security and protection for areas managed by Wagner and other military contractors in Luhansk and Donetsk, but they could be called to the front for combat if an emergency or pressing need presented itself…
Those sources told MEE that the Syrians might be serving under the Russian military contractor Shchit (“Shield”) and a Wagner subsidiary group called Task Force Rusich, which earned a reputation for its self-declared neo-Nazi ideology during its deployment to eastern Ukraine in 2014…
However, the Syrian government official said the number of Syrian fatalities was much higher than reported, with at least 50 killed in the Ukrainian bombardment so far. “The Syrians aren’t partaking in the actual fighting, they are mainly functioning as logistics near the front lines. However, there is a small number of them that work as part of the artillery,” the official told MEE.
“Nine Syrian mercenaries killed and Liwaa Al-Quds brigade join war alongside Russians,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (opposition Syrian NGO), 6 November 2022. https://www.syriahr.com/en/274960/
Reliable sources have informed SOHR that Liwaa Al-Quds brigade has engaged in fighting alongside the Russians in the Russian war on Ukraine, while the 25th Division has been fighting since mid-September 2022.
“New Testimonies: Russia Continues to Deploy Syrian Mercenaries to Ukraine,” Syrians for Truth and Justice,(opposition Syrian NGO), 20 December 2022. https://stj-sy.org/en/new-testimonies-russia-continues-to-deploy-syrian-mercenaries-to-ukraine/
In this report, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) presents an update on the Syrian mercenary activities in the context of the Ukrainian conflict, revealing new information obtained in December and the second half of November 2022. The information corroborates that Syrian security companies continue to transfer fighters to Ukraine, operating as proxies for the Russian Wagner Group…
[i] For background, see: Lucas Winter, “Suheil al-Hassan and the Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces.” Small Wars Journal, Jul 22.9 (2016). https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/docpreview-s/00-00-00-97-25/20160906-Winter-_2D00_-Suheil-al_2D00_Hassan-and-the-Syrian-Army_2700_s-Tiger.pdf
[ii] For background on Syrian militia recruitment and transfers abroad, see: Lucas Winter, “Oil, Fighters, Mercenaries, and Diplomats: Increasing Flows Between Libya and Syria,” OE Watch, April 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/359091 and Lucas Winter, “Mercenary Recruitment and PMC Growth in Syria,” OE Watch, January 2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/380367; For background on the Quds Brigade, see: Lucas Winter, “The Quds Brigade: Palestinian Militia Emerges as Key Russian Partner in Syria,” OE Watch, November 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/377063; For background on Syria’s pro-Russian Christian militias in Hama Province, see: Lucas Winter, “Russia Strengthens Ties with Loyalist Christian Militias in Syria’s Hama Province,” OE Watch, March 2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/382766
Image: Logo of the Syrian Special Forces, used by the 25th Special Mission Forces Division
Attribution: Jakednb, CC BY-SA 3.0