Russia will deploy violent soccer fans, known as “hooligans” or “ultras,” to Ukraine in an effort to bolster troop numbers as the conflict enters its 11th month.
“What is very clear is that Putin will not end this war any time soon,” Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former DIA intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital. “He will use hooligans, prisoners, and any sort of thug to continue flowing fighters into Ukraine, to keep it from becoming part of NATO. The mission is this important.”
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his regime view the outcome of this war as existential for Russia and for themselves personally,” she added.
News broke last month that Putin had looked to recruit extremist Russian football fans to fight in Ukraine as part of the 106th Airborne Division and the Vostok battalion, The Daily Mail reported.
The unit, known as “Espanola,” includes recruits from club supporter groups including CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, Spartak Moscow and Lokomotiv Moscow, according to the Daily Mirror.
Stanislav “Spaniard” Orlov, a commanding officer of the hooligans, said that the death of one of their members in combat has already spurred the others to “stay and fight,” declaring, “Our comrade died here, and now this is our place.”
“The combat part of the detachment are people who have military experience or have served in the army,” Orlov explained to Russian news outlet Vechernyaya Moskva. “After a short training course, they directly fight in the zone of the special operation. Russian fans form small infantry reconnaissance and assault groups or send them to sapper and engineering works.”
“On the basis of the Vostok detachment, newcomers train to shoot automatic and large-caliber weapons, train in sapper work, conduct reconnaissance and combat drone flights, and hone tactical training from morning to evening,” he added, stressing that there are “not jokes” among the group and that “hundreds” want to join the operation.
At the outset of the war, Putin drew on support from Chechen mercenaries, later trying – and failing – to recruit Syrian mercenaries and even prisoners to help bolster his forces as the war dragged on for months longer than Russian command had anticipated.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital that while the department was “not in a position to confirm these reports,” it was “another indication that Putin is scraping for additional personnel to throw into this fight – troops who will just be cannon fodder for his needless, brutal, and failing war of aggression. Rather than withdraw his troops and stop this needless loss of life, Putin has chosen time and again to escalate.”
In 2018, Putin said he would ban the hooligans in his country from attending games as the world watched Russia stage the 2018 World Cup. Now, he appears to have let the fans back into the fold to help boost his military’s numbers.
The Russian fans famously attacked England supporters during the 2016 European Cup matches, with two men jailed after the hooligans allegedly “mounted an urban guerilla offensive, like paramilitaries,” the BBC reported.
Koffler explained that hooligans started leaving Russia for Ukraine when the government first started cracking down on violence at stadiums, but those fans turned up for Russia when Putin announced the partial mobilization in September.
“When Russia announced partial mobilization, founder of the All-Russian Association of Fans Andrey Malosolov announced in an interview with the radio station ‘Moscow Speaks’ that 500 of these football ultras formed a volunteer subdivision to go fight in Donbas,” Koffler explained.
“Putin, who originally was looking to ban this movement when they were creating chaos at sports events, realized that he could put them to use as heavy attrition of Russian soldiers started setting in after months of grueling fighting,” she said.
“The authorities directed these fighters to put aside their differences and varying allegiances and fight as a unified team for Mother Russia. This unit of what the Russians call ‘near-footballers’ come from different clubs … they have varying levels of experience with some having never being in combat,” Koffler continued.
“The common feature is that these are vicious characters, and they have no regard for human life: Fighting is what they do. It’s a way of life, and now they actually have a mission given to them by the Russian government to apply their brutal tactics on the actual battlefield.”