Russian Recruitment of Syrian Foreign Fighters Poses Increased Challenges to Ukraine and Abroad

(New York, N.Y.) — Recent U.S. intelligence indicates that Russia is currently working to recruit Syrian fighters to support their military campaign in seizing control of Kyiv and Kharkiv in Ukraine. According to media reports, Russia has offered to pay Syrian fighters—many of whom possess expertise in urban combat—between $200 and $300 a month to serve in roles such as guards and recruit mercenaries for a six-month period. The introduction of Syrian foreign fighters could potentially further escalate violence in Ukraine and heighten the global threat of violence-oriented extremists with combat experience.

As Russia internationalizes its recruitment efforts, individuals, such as violence-oriented extremists, could also be prompted to join Russia’s offensive. According to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s latest policy brief, Foreign Fighters in the 2022 Russia-Ukraine War: An Initial Assessment of Extremist Volunteers, foreign fighters’ ability to plan and successfully carry out attacks in accordance with their ideology increases massively with the benefit of combat experience. Attempts to send fighters, including Syrians, to strengthen the Russian offensive in Ukraine should be closely monitored.

CEP’s policy brief explains that while violence-oriented foreign extremists represent the smallest fraction of those traveling to take part in the conflict, they pose a clear security risk. For instance, Russia receives support from extremists including the Slovak Conscripts, Hungarian National Front, and Nordic Resistance Movement. If individuals from those groups obtain combat experience in the conflict zone, they will potentially have a greater impact in promoting violent extremist agendas in their home countries upon their return.

For more information on the developing situation regarding extremist foreign fighters in Ukraine as well as CEP’s complete policy recommendations, the brief Foreign Fighters in the 2022 Russia-Ukraine War: An Initial Assessment of Extremist Volunteers is available here.

To read CEP’s report Career Break or a New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine, please click here.

To read CEP’s report Looks Can Be Deceiving: Extremism Meets Paramilitarism In Central and Eastern Europe, please click here. To watch the webinar on this topic, please click here.

To read CEP’s resource Russia: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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