The fighting in Ukraine is beginning to resemble the Spanish Civil War with foreign fighters taking part in the battle. Ukraine boasted of its International Legion of foreign fighters. Now the Russian side claims that it has received numerous applications to join the fighting on behalf of Donbass. The idea has received the endorsement of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Russian Ministry of Defense reports that the plan is taking concrete shape. From the tasks envisioned for these volunteers, it is possible to receive some confirmation about the difficulties that Russia is encountering in the fighting.
Not everyone is supportive of the idea. Military historian Yevgeny Norin believes that fighting ISIS is not the same as fighting troops lavishly equipped with modern Western arms. Moreover, he expects that the use of such volunteers would play into the hands of Ukrainian propaganda and its claims that Russian manpower is on the verge of exhaustion necessitating the use of foreigners.
MEMRI's report on the issue of involving foreign volunteers or mercenaries in the Russian battle against Ukraine follows below:
Prospective Syrian volunteers holding Russian and Syrian flags and the Z (Za pobeda) for victory symbol of the Russian forces (Source: topcor.ru)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting with members of the Security Council, supported the idea of sending foreign volunteers to participate in what Russia calls the Special Operation in Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that numerous applications totaling 16,000 people had already been received, most of them from the Middle East.
“We receive a huge number of applications from all sorts of volunteers from different countries who would like to come to the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics in order to participate in what they consider to be a liberation movement."
Putin supported this proposal, especially as "Western sponsors of Ukraine" were already sending mercenaries to the war zone, while openly, "flouting all the norms of international law." “Therefore, if you see that there are people who want on a voluntary basis, especially not for money, to come and lend support to people living in the Donbass, well, you need to meet them halfway and help them move to the war zone” said Putin.
Shoigu pointed to the Middle East, and especially Syria as a promising reservoir of recruits. He noted that specialized Syrian military units, hardened by several years of civil war, and trained and coached by Russian instructors, were now idle. They represented all religious streams in Syria and constituted a very formidable force. They are honed for tactical offensive operations and have vast combat experience.
The Syrians, explained Shoigu, also received top flight ideological training and became highly motivated once it was clearly explained to them the Ukrainian nationalists were ISIS without beards. 
The newspaper VZGLYAD supported the idea and suggested that the volunteers be transported to the battlefield via container ships under a flag of convenience. Assuming that Russia would soon capture Mariupol they could land there without a visa. A second alternative was to convey the volunteers by military transport planes via Turkey. Presumably, the Turks would assent in the expectation that this would at least temporarily reduce the number of Syrian government forces.
These people were needed "The forces of the people's republics are not rubber [that can be stretched interminably]. Forward movement can lose momentum if it is not fed with fresh pieces. Communication is also lengthened... So, there is a need for people, not to mention the need to keep reserves. So, if unnamed Middle Easterners have a keen desire to help Russia, which has recently helped them a lot, then welcome.
A Russian Defense Ministry publication gave a glowing report on the enlistment campaign in Syria:
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"Now, rallies are taking place all over Syria, where thousands of people in camouflage and with weapons in their hands are chanting slogans in support of Russia. Soldiers hold banners with the letter "Z" and the image of Vladimir Putin. And below them are the words in Russian: “Russia is in our hearts!” and “The Great Russian Army! We will defeat the Nazis!"
"Also, the Syrians, who approve of our country's actions in Ukraine, decided to move from words to deeds. Across the Arab Republic they began recruiting volunteers to participate in the Russian special operation. Men arrive at the reception point, fill out questionnaires and sign in. In addition to a machine gun, each volunteer is given a large backpack with equipment and body armor.
"They decided to organize the registration of volunteers after citizens began to massively express their desire to come to Russia's assistance with weapons in their hands. A whole wave of patriots poured into the military enlistment offices and assembly points. Almost all of them have solid combat experience behind them. Many continue to serve, but by agreement between the governments of the two countries, they are allowed to temporarily go to the zone of the special operation.
"The special operation in Ukraine rallied Syrian society. Under the same flag, veterans of the government army, fighters of the Christian militia, and former opposition fighters are ready to volunteer to help Russia and the people of Donbass.
"There is no doubt on the faces of the volunteers. Everyone understands that Russian soldiers at one time shed their blood for the Syrian land and now it is time to help the brotherly people themselves. For obvious reasons, the fighters did not give interviews. But behind the scenes they said that it was their duty to be together with Russia now and fight for her the way she fought for them. Moreover, in Ukraine, Russians are again sacrificing themselves for the sake of others, saving their brotherly people from the Nazis.
"Before departure, brief parting words from the commanders are heard and photos are taken as a keepsake. In the midst of the rally, an amazing thing happens: a flock of storks takes off above the assembled people. Birds, after wintering, are migrating in a northerly direction.
"The volunteers interpreted this as a good omen. Warriors hardened in battles with terrorists stand next to our army and shoulder to shoulder with the military of Russia and Donbass."
Not everyone supported the idea enthusiastically.
The Radiotochka NSN Telegram channel interviewed two experts who disagreed about the effectiveness of volunteers from the Middle East.
Favoring the idea was retired Captain Konstantin Sivkov, a Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences. He identified the places where volunteers or contract soldiers could be recruited.
“I think that first of all we are talking about the Syrians. I do not exclude the possibility that there may be groups of people from Libya. Egyptians or Israelites are unlikely. Surely there will be Iranians, although this is not the Middle East, there may be volunteers from Iraq, especially those who used to be part of Saddam Hussein's army. It is possible that representatives of the Mujahideen from Afghanistan may show some interest. Representatives of the former Soviet Central Asian republics - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan may also go. These people may then expect to serve with us on a contract basis; they may also be interested in naturalization in Russia. I think that national units will be formed up to the size of a battalion, numbering 200-400 people. Legions may even be formed.”
Sivkov then elaborated on how these forces could be utilized.
“Afghans have experience of guerrilla warfare in mountainous conditions, they can act as part of sabotage groups. Afghans and Iraqis in particular can also operate in urban areas. They successfully fought the war against the Americans. The same Iranians fought against the Iraqis in urban areas. They can be part of small sabotage units operating behind enemy lines, as well as part of assault groups in cities. They can also be brought in to guard logistics convoys. In addition, they can be used to maintain order, when they are endowed with police functions."
Konstantin Sivkov (Source: Zvezdaweekly.ru)
Military historian Yevgeny Norin claimed that representatives of Lebanese Hizbullah could be useful but he categorically dismissed the Syrians as effective comrades in arms in Ukraine.
" The fighting qualities of these people are, with very rare exceptions, pitiful. They fought badly in Syria. At the same time, Syria and Ukraine are completely different theaters of hostilities and the specifics of everything, starting with the terrain are different. Kharkov or Kyiv are completely different from Mosul. They have never fought against the Ukrainian army, an enemy so saturated with MANPADS, anti-aircraft systems and everything else. They fought against the pauper and trouser-less ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia), who were fanatical, could launch a martyr mobile, but compared to a Grad missile launch division, this is no big deal. They will have to deal with a threat of a greater order of magnitude. The Arabs will be of no effect. We have to clearly understand that we can rely solely upon our own personnel,” Norin believes.
Norin also feared that importing volunteers from the Middle East would help the Ukrainian propaganda effort: "There can be no effect other than propaganda. Moreover, this effect will be negative. Ukraine can claim that the Russians have run out of men and are throwing Arab mercenaries into battle.”
Yevgeny Norin (Source: Life.ru)
Konstantin Sivkov agreed that one should prepare for a Western outcry about terrorists, but this should be disregarded if the volunteers effectively contributed to the campaign.
"16 thousand people can have a positive impact on the course of the operation. On the other hand, this will undoubtedly arouse shrieks from the West that we are attracting terrorists and the like. At the same time, we are completely disinterested in what a Frenchman, German or Englishman, sitting in his pub, thinks."