Russian President Vladimir Putin says he wants to permit foreigners to serve in his country’s military as it becomes more involved in overseas operations. Putin said he is moving to legalize the policy via a decree that was published on Monday but yet to be ratified by the Russian Parliament.

If approved and implemented, the new policy would allow nationals to serve in what the law calls “counterterrorism and peacekeeping missions,” including in Syria, where increasing numbers of Russian service members are currently stationed.

“The timing of the change is quite telling,” said Alexey Khlebnikov, an analyst with the Russian International Affairs Council. “Russia’s only military operation abroad is in Syria, and only contractors [volunteers as opposed to conscripts] are serving there. This amendment provides regulation for the foreign nationals who participate in Russia’s Syria campaign.”

Other analysts see the use of foreign troops as a way for the Kremlin to shield battlefield deaths from the Russian public, thus allowing Moscow to remain engaged in other countries’ like Syria and Ukraine for longer periods.

“If you look at forces in Ukraine and Syria, it’s professional soldiers who volunteered for service doing the fighting. They haven’t sent conscripts at all,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It makes the issue of public support for these operations less salient. If you’re not conscripting people into a war to be killed, there’s less of a public foundation for opposition.

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