- Russia is deploying between 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, a European official said.
- Some are Syrian and Libyan fighters, though the exact breakdown of the force is still unclear.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that Russia has launched another offensive in the Donbas region.
The Kremlin has hired between 10,000 to 20,000 mercenaries to fight in eastern Ukraine, including infantry fighters from Syria and Libya, a European official said, according to multiple media reports.
The official, who spoke to reporters at a briefing in Washington on condition of anonymity, said it is difficult to break down the number of fighters from each country but noted that they were all hired by the private military company Wagner Group, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
“What I can tell you is that we did see some transfer from these areas, Syria and Libya, to the eastern Donbas region, and these guys are mainly used as a mass against the Ukrainian resistance,” the official said.
“Regarding their capabilities, it’s infantry,” the official added, per Agence France-Presse. “They don’t have any heavy vehicles and weapons. It’s much more infantry.”
Russia has previously 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 supporting the Assad regime, The New York Times reported.
Last month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that around 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, per The Kyiv Independent.
The Wagner Group, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been assisting Moscow in transporting the soldiers to Ukraine, per The Guardian.
The surge in mercenary deployments comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that Moscow has launched a renewed offensive on the Donbas region.
Russian troop morale has also been failing as the war continues, the European official said, per Politico, while Ukrainian soldiers have been encouraged by the sinking of the Russian warship “Moskva.”
On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said US intelligence shows that Russia is preparing for further aggressive operations in eastern Ukraine, and had bolstered its troops in the region by around 10 tactical groups.