Syrian fighters load an artillery near Idlib
Syrian fighters load an artillery near IdlibReuters

Moscow is recruiting Syrians skilled in urban combat to fight in Ukraine as Russia’s invasion is poised to expand deeper into cities, US officials told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

An American assessment indicates that Russia, which has been operating inside Syria since 2015, has in recent days been recruiting fighters from there, hoping their expertise in urban combat can help take Kyiv and deal a devastating blow to the Ukraine government, said four American officials quoted in the report.

The move points to a potential escalation of fighting in Ukraine, experts told the Wall Street Journal.

It is unclear how many fighters have been identified, but some are already in Russia preparing to enter the conflict, according to one official.

Officials declined to elaborate on what else is known about the deployment of Syrian fighters to Ukraine, the status or precise scale of the effort.

According to a publication based in Deir Ezzor, Syria, Russia has offered volunteers from the country between $200 and $300 “to go to Ukraine and operate as guards” for six months at a time.

Moscow entered the Syrian civil war in late 2015, providing, among other things, air support for the army of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

While Russia claimed its air strikes were targeting only the jihadist Islamic State (ISIS) group, Western officials said the strikes also targeted Western-backed "moderate" rebel groups which Assad views as “terrorists”.

Russia also provided Syria with the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system, which fires missiles from trucks and is designed to shoot down military aircraft and short and medium-range ballistic missiles.