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16,000 foreign volunteers want to fight for Russia in Ukraine – Moscow

Putin has agreed to a Defense Ministry proposal that Russia should allow foreign fighters to join the offensive

More than 16,000 foreign fighters, many of them from the Middle East and experienced in fighting against jihadists, want to go to Ukraine and join the forces of the Russia-backed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, Russia’s defense minister claimed on Friday. During a meeting of the National Security Council, he suggested giving them the green light.

“We believe it would be right to positively respond to those requests, especially since they are doing it not for money, but because that is their wish. We know many of those people – they helped us fight against ISIL [the terrorist group Islamic State] at the most difficult time in the past 10 years,” Sergey Shoigu recalled.

President Vladimir Putin said he supported the idea, pointing out that Russia’s opponents in Ukraine were similarly recruiting foreign volunteers.

“The Western sponsors of Ukraine, of the Ukrainian regime, don’t hide it, do it in the open, in violation of international law,” Putin said, after labeling foreign fighters traveling to fight for Ukraine “mercenaries.”

Kiev has allowed foreign volunteers to come to Ukraine and fight against Russian troops there. Some Western nations warned their active-duty military service members against responding to the call. Nonetheless, Kiev claims some 20,000 foreign citizens from 52 nations have agreed to help its cause.

During the meeting in Moscow, Shoigu also suggested arming with more advanced weapons the forces of Ukraine’s breakaway regions, which Moscow has recognized as sovereign states. He said Russian troops had captured plenty of military hardware from Ukraine, including West-supplied anti-aircraft and anti-tank portable missiles, which, he said, the rebels could put to good use.

The Russian president also approved this proposal, saying he would sign the relevant orders if needed.

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The minister also raised the issue of NATO buildup in Eastern Europe, which has been done amid the hostilities in Ukraine. The Russian military has plans on how to counter it, Shoigu reported. Putin said this issue required further deliberation.

Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.

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