Since the start of the war in Ukraine, reports of foreign fighters participating on both sides of the conflict has been one of the key elements of media narrative.
Militarily speaking, foreign fighters are unlikely to dramatically alter the course of the war, primarily because their numbers on both sides are quite small.
Participation of foreign fighters primarily carries psychological weight.
Ukrainians showed they are motivated and capable fighters and shortage of manpower is not an issue for them, a reality acknowledged even by Russian military experts.
On the Russian side, the foreign fighters’ aspect is also insignificant, as Russia has the required manpower to add to its forces if Moscow choses to do so.
Foreign fighters were first introduced into the theater of war by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s order to form an international legion within the Ukrainian armed forces.
While some NATO countries like Latvia and Denmark expressed direct support for Zelensky’s order, most gave a timid political backing.
This reaction sent a strong message to Russia signalling that potentially the Russian army could be fighting NATO-trained soldiers and officers who would go to Ukraine in private capacity.
This could be open to a wider interpretation.
If at some point NATO countries decide to open the gates of “in private capacity” Russia could face a significantly better trained adversary in larger numbers.
Realizing the political significance of NATO countries not actively preventing their citizens from going to Ukraine to fight Russia, Moscow pulled out its own card of foreign fighters.
As soon as Russia did that, western corporate media immediately published screaming headlines about Syrians being recruited to join Russian forces in Ukraine.
It is difficult to determine the truth in this due to massive information manipulation on both sides.
It should be noted that if true, Russia would be recruiting from among the pro-government Syrian forces.
Syria already faces manpower shortage in comparison to the western proxies in the war-ravaged country.
Between 2011 and 2015, NATO regimes facilitated the participation of foreign fighters from around the world to fight the Syrian army, thus significantly increasing the potential manpower pool of fighters for the so-called opposition.
The Syrian government would put itself at significant disadvantage if it were to commit its forces to assist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Even if we take into consideration Russia’s much poorer than expected military performance in Ukraine, it is a country with almost 150 million people, whose army reserves have yet to be deployed in Ukraine.
Thus, Russia’s announcement that it will bring fighters from Syria is more of a psychological pressure on western regimes who fear Syria 2.0 at their doorsteps.
On the Ukrainian side, the focus on foreign fighters relates to the participation of Chechens.
After the end of the second Chechen war, a significant number of pro-independence Chechens were forced to settle in Europe, among them some prominent Chechen commanders and community leaders.
Kiev is banking on the fact that Chechens’ historical grievances against Russia will resurface in the Caucasus and destabilize Russia’s southern borders.
While it is too early to determine the prospects of this development, participation of Chechens and Georgians on the Ukrainian side is a potential geopolitical time bomb for Russia.
Due to the infiltration of the Wahhabi trend within the pro-independence movement in Chechnya at the end of the 1990s, the pro-independence segment of Chechens is associated with takfiri groups.
Of course, the involvement of many Chechens and other North Caucasian citizens of Russia in Syria on the side of various takfiri militias reenforces this understanding.
How the historical socio-political factor of Chechen participation in the Ukrainian war plays out long term is yet to be seen.
However, its short-term military and political impact is unlikely to be significant, unless the takfiri elements within the Chechen political scene once again emerge as dominant.
If this happens, it will benefit Russia since it will create the blowback factor on NATO’s frontiers.
Overall, NATO’s cheerleading approach of encouraging foreigners to fight Russia in Ukraine will at some point come back to bite them as it sets a very clear political and legal precedent.
Next time apartheid Israel bombs Gaza, or a western country invades another Muslim country, guess what issue will come up?