February 15, 2018 – FRN –
On February 12th, FRN covered the death of Kirill Ananiev in Syria. Ananiev was a former volunteer of the Donbass war, who was fighting in Syria as part of a private military company. His death was independently reported on February 7th, by the political organisation that he belonged to. (US airstrike in Syria kills former defender of Donbass)
On February 14th, Bloomberg ran a headline which stated that over 200 Russian mercenaries were killed in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, in the area of the former oil refinery El Isba.
Reuters reported the deaths of more than 100 “pro-Assad fighters,” including Russians. Neither publication included credible sources or names of the deceased.
FRN followed up, confirming two deaths of Russian mercenaries. (Did the US knowingly strike Russian private military contractors in Syria?)
The Moscow Times went on to claim six casualties, while Pravda reported seven, citing a Russian military source.
Dmitry Peskov, presidential press secretary commented – “We in the Kremlin do not have detailed information that would allow us to draw any conclusions. It cannot be ruled out that citizens of the Russian Federation are in Syria. They are not affiliated with the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” Peskov said, adding that citizens of the Russian Federation “remain citizens of the Russian Federation, whatever it takes.”
“Once again, we urge you not to be guided by erroneous information – deliberately or inadvertently erroneous information – and approach the description of such potentially important episodes seriously, so as not to be misled by distorted data,” Peskov said, as reported by Pravda.
The official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, has now confirmed the deaths of five people. “There are also victims [who were wounded], but all this requires verification” she said.
Zakharova is confident that information about dozens and even hundreds of Russians killed in Syria, is an “information campaign launched by anti-government militants.”
Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner explained that Syrian government forces, involving Russians, attempted to seize an oil refinery that was under the control of the Kurds, who are backed by the Americans. The Pentagon called the strike an act of self-defense – once again demonstrating that the Americans are fighting the legitimate government forces, and not ISIL.
PMCs are not obligated to report their casualties and as such are generally not included as part of the official statistics of various conflicts.