The Kremlin has said volunteers from the "Middle East and Syria" can be sent to fight for Russia in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, claiming that over 16,000 applications have been received from abroad.
At a televised meeting of Russia's Security Council on Friday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that his ministry has received "a huge number of applications" from volunteers in various countries to "participate in what they consider to be a liberation movement."
Putin supported Shoigu’s suggestion of helping to transfer volunteers willing to fight in the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, the separatist-held territories in eastern Ukraine.
“If you see that there are people who want on a voluntary basis, especially not for money, to come and help people living in Donbas, well, we need to welcome them and help them move to the war zone,” Putin said.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said later on Friday that there were no plans to send Russian volunteers to fight, and that Shoigu "mainly spoke about volunteers and applicants from the Middle East and Syria."
The United States has not seen the “actual arrival” of foreign fighters from the Middle East to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday.
The US believes Russia is moving in the direction of recruiting and using foreign fighters, and Russia has publicly acknowledged they want to do this, but the US has not seen evidence of foreign fighters coming to fight alongside Russian forces at this point, the official said.
CNN's Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting to this post.