Syria — At least 100 Russians were killed last week when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-Assad fighters in eastern Syria, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing a U.S. official and three Russian sources.
From the article:
“More than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base and refinery held by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, two of the Russians said. The U.S. official put the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.”
The third Russian source, an unnamed mercenary commander, told Bloomberg the still-rising death toll from the incident is already about five times higher than Russia’s official losses since entering the conflict in 2015. He said dozens of his wounded men are still being treated in military hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
On Monday night, hours before the Bloomberg article was published, Reuters ran a similar report with sources revealing the identities of two of the Russian mercenaries killed in the February 7 clash. Reuters was unable to independently confirm those deaths.
The U.S.-led coalition claims the deaths resulted from an “unprovoked attack” by pro-Assad forces who were trying to seize lucrative oil fields controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the U.S. supports.
Russia declared the coalition attack an “act of aggression” that showed the real purpose of U.S. presence in Syria is not to combat terrorism but to take over and control economic assets that belong to the Syrian Arab Republic.
Russia’s Defense Ministry initially stated that Moscow had no knowledge of Russian mercenaries operating in the region and that it only tracks data on the country’s armed forces. It doubled down on that claim following the reports of dead Russians.
“We don’t have information about other Russians who might be in Syria,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat who is now an independent political analyst, told Bloomberg that given the potential of the incident for deepening military engagement between the U.S. and Russia, this is exactly what the Defense Ministry would say.
“This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis,” Frolov said. “But Russia will pretend nothing happened.”