Up to 40,000 Syrian troops — almost the entire Syrian army — are set to join Russian soldiers in Ukraine, according to the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Putin is demanding payback for the invaluable assistance the Russians gave the Syrians during their recently won civil war, and the price isn’t cheap.

It’s fairly obvious why Russia is demanding payback now. Putin would much rather have Syrian troops giving their lives for Russia rather than Russian boys giving their lives for their own country.

The deployment of Syrians is just the latest indication that Putin is in Ukraine for the long haul and has no intention of leaving anytime soon.

The Guardian:

In the economic wasteland of post-war Syria, the best – and maybe only – state-backed job on offer is one that those who sign on for might not come home from. The vast majority of newly enlisted Syrian mercenaries are trading in salaries of $15 a month for monthly deals worth between $600 and $3,000. Rank and experience in the gruelling decade of insurrection attracts the higher dollars, but even the basic salary is luring recruits who have few ways out of overwhelming poverty.

Syrians have shown a readiness to sign up at least 14 recruitment centres across the country, in Aleppo, Damascus, Deir Azzour, Homs and Hama, as well as Raqqa, which less than five years ago was at the centre of the war against Islamic State.

Some of the Syrian army’s most celebrated units — many of whom won their reputation fighting ISIS — appear ready to join the Russians in Ukraine immediately. The Fifth Division, trained by Moscow, the Fourth Division, which is loyal to Assad’s brother, and the Tiger Forces, which played prominent roles in the war, are all part of the effort to recruit Syrians to fight for Putin.

Together, they will form the largest mercenary army in Syria.

Ukrainian officials say the mercenary force will fly from the Khmeimim base on daily military transport flights. Militia groups that had fought alongside them are also joining the recruitment drive, with Palestinians, National Defence Front troops, the Ba’ath party and even some members of Shia militia groups that fought in Syria under Iran’s auspices joining in.

Pro-regime militia groups have been trained and backed by Russian units since late 2015, when Putin formally intervened to save Assad. At that point, the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani had convinced Putin that Assad was only weeks away from losing the Alawite heartland of western Syria to opposition groups who had decimated his armoured units with precision-guided missiles smuggled across the Turkish border by the CIA.

The problem with mercenaries is that money is usually their only motivation. This could lead to an epidemic of desertions if things get sticky for the Syrian troops. There have already been mass desertions among Russia’s disinterested and poorly trained conscript army.

The Ukrainian army’s hit-and-run tactics have concentrated on surrounding and annihilating small units of Russians. It’s one reason Russian casualties are so high and a big reason why Putin desperately needs cannon fodder for the front.

The Syrians are not likely to be game-changers. But they will give Putin some breathing room as he seeks to extricate himself from the mess he created.

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