Russia deploys up to 20,000 mercenaries from Syria, Libya and elsewhere in Donbas
Russia has deployed up to 20,000 mercenaries from Syria, Libya and elsewhere in Ukraine’s Donbas region, sent into battle with no heavy equipment or armoured vehicles, according to a European official.
The official said the estimates of mercenary involvement on the ground in eastern Ukraine range from 10,000 to 20,000 and that it was hard to break down that figure between Syrians, Libyans and other fighters recruited by the Russian mercenary company, the Wagner Group.
“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 told reporters. “It’s infantry. They don’t have any heavy equipment or vehicles.”
The mercenaries are being thrown into the Russian effort to capture as much as possible of eastern Ukraine, in what western defence officials have described as a rush to have some sort of victory that Vladimir Putin can announce at the 9 May military parade in Moscow commemorating the second world war.
The Kremlin is seen as having four objectives in this second phase of its war in Ukraine, the European official said:
- Capturing the Donbas.
- Securing a land bridge to Crimea, in which the besieged city of Mariupol is key.
- Seizing Kherson Oblast to secure the supply of fresh water to Crimea.
- Capturing additional territory that could be used as a buffer or a bargaining chip in negotiations.
After spending four hours in a queue, Viktor Fyodorovich showed off his shiny new purchase. “I’m 63 years old. I’ve never felt so much pride before in our nation. It’s a symbol of our courage and steadfastness,” he said.
Fyodorovich was the proud owner of two sheets of stamps, 16 in total. Available from Kyiv’s central post office, the stamps show a Ukrainian soldier giving the finger to the flagship Russian cruiser Moskva. On the sheet’s perforated margin is the phrase that has become a rallying slogan for Ukrainians in their underdog battle against Moscow: “Russian warship, go …!” The “fuck yourself” is tactfully omitted.
The words were spoken by Roman Hrybov when the warship’s crew asked him and his fellow border guards on Snake Island, south of the port of Odesa, to surrender in the early hours of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The phrase has since gone global. Last week the national postal service, Ukrposhta, released the design as a special commemorative stamp.
“People are in love with it. It reflects the mood around the world towards Russia,” said Igor Smelyansky, Ukrposhta’s director general. Scuffles broke out when one desperate woman tried to force her way into the high-ceilinged neo-classical postal building in Kyiv’s independence square.
Smelyansky came up with the idea of a stamp in the early days of the war. He asked the public for suggestions. A shortlist of 50 designs were put to a vote, with the warship the triumphant winner. “It was democratic, just like Ukraine,” he said. “Even when air raid sirens sound, people refuse to leave their place in the line.”
The chair of the UK’s Commons international development committee, Sarah Champion, has said she is “shocked and disappointed” after the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, admitted the UK was nowhere near delivering the full £220m in humanitarian aid it has promised Ukraine.
Truss said that, as of the end of March, the government was “on track” to have disbursed only £60m. Champion said:
I am shocked and disappointed that less than £60m of the UK’s promised £220m humanitarian aid package for Ukraine has been delivered so far. On 9 March, I urged the prime minister to make sure the UK’s pledges for Ukraine are disbursed quickly.
Today, more than a month later, it is shameful that I have to repeat that urgent appeal. More than 12 million people in Ukraine are in need of humanitarian support, as well as 4 million people who have fled the country. These people need our help now – not at some vague future date.
At a briefing on Tuesday, a UK official said he expected the delivery of aid to accelerate soon, saying about £120m had been allocated, but that officials had only been able to get about half of that “out the door so far … but we’d expect that to speed up now”.
He added that a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office guarantee, enabling $450m (£346m) of additional World Bank financing to the government of Ukraine, would go through either in April or by early May.