Russian “volunteers” fighting in Ukraine might travel to Syria to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the military announced to Russian media. However, the Kremlin insists the government has no plans to deploy ground troops.
“It is likely that groups of Russian volunteers will appear in the ranks of the Syrian army as combat participants,” Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, told Russian media.
The claim that Russian ground troops are not present in Syria is a matter of debate for many observers. In early September, Syrian television claimed to show Russian troops and vehicles working alongside Syrian troops. Russian officials denied sending ground troops to Syria, but an anonymous source told The London Times they “have been there a long time.”
“What attracts volunteers apart from ideas? Of course money most likely,” continued Komoyedov.
Interfax reported these volunteers earn around $50 a day.
Komoyedov also stated that the Black Sea Fleet might “be used to blockade parts of Syria’s coastline if necessary or to shell Islamist groups on Syrian territory.”
He spoke to the committee after Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest allies. Last Friday, he told Kremlin propaganda outlet LifeNews his troops are ready to help Russian troops in Syria.
“I’m convinced that not only airborne should be used there, but also infantry, because the faster we finish off ISIS, the more peacefully we’ll live across the territory of global community,” he said. “We Chechens as yet, unfortunately, have no opportunity to participate in the fight against these evil spirits.”
In July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov announced that over 2,200 Russians are currently fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“The figures start getting really alarming,” he stated, adding:
At the time being, around 2,200 people from Russia are engaged in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. Among them, about 500 came from Europe, where they had earlier obtained citizenship, residence permit or refugee status. We are thoroughly analyzing belligerent statements of IS leaders on transition of the “jihad” to Northern Caucasus and in Central Asia.
In mid-June, the Interior Ministry reported over 400 Chechens have joined terrorist groups, mainly ISIS, since the Syrian Civil War broke out.
“A total of 405 people, according to our data, have left Chechnya to join the fighting in Syria on the side of the Islamic State since the beginning of the war in that region,” said the spokesman. “Among those, 104 have been killed and 44 came back, while the fate of the rest is unknown.”
Outside of the Middle East, Russia is the largest contributor of jihadists to ISIS. While leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rarely appears in public, the terrorist group has used military leader Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen, in its propaganda often. ISIS featured him in a video last August from one of its children training centers, with children displaying their military skills for al-Shishani.