Con­trac­tors killed

Rus­sian mil­i­tary con­trac­tors caught in U.S. strike in Syria launched in self-de­fence


MOSCOW — Sev­eral pri­vate Rus­sian mil­i­tary con­trac­tors were killed by a U.S. strike in Syria, Rus­sian me­dia re­ported Tues­day in a de­vel­op­ment that could fur­ther in­flame Rus­sia-U.S. ten­sions if of­fi­cially con­firmed.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov re­frained from com­ment­ing on the re­ports about the deaths last week, say­ing Tues­day they need to be ver­i­fied.

Asked dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with re­porters if Putin raised the episode dur­ing Mon­day’s phone con­ver­sa­tion with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Peskov said the sit­u­a­tion in Syria wasn’t dis­cussed dur­ing the call.

Rus­sian me­dia said the Rus­sian pri­vate con­trac­tors were part of pro-gov­ern­ment forces that ad­vanced on oil fields in the east­ern Deir el-Zour prov­ince and were tar­geted by the U.S. The re­ports cited ac­tivists who con­firmed that at least four Rus­sian cit­i­zens were killed in Syria last Wed­nes­day.

The U.S. mil­i­tary said last week it launched air and ar­tillery strikes on Syr­ian gov­ern­ment-backed troops af­ter some 300 at­tack­ers launched what ap­peared to be a co-or­di­nated as­sault on Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces ac­com­pa­nied by U.S. ad­vis­ers in the prov­ince of Deir el-Zour. It said it was in reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Rus­sian coun­ter­parts be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the at­tack, and Rus­sian of­fi­cials as­sured coali­tion of­fi­cials they would not strike coali­tion forces.

It said the U.S. strikes, which re­port­edly killed about 100 of the at­tack­ers, were in self-de­fence.

The Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry said 25 Syr­ian vol­un­teers were wounded in the U.S. strike and in­sisted that its troops weren’t in­volved in Wed­nes­day’s in­ci­dent. It said that pro-gov­ern­ment forces that ad­vanced to­ward the area un­der con­trol of the U.S.sup­ported forces had failed to co-or­di­nate their ac­tion with the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in Syria.

U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis on Thurs­day dis­missed any sug­ges­tion that Rus­sia had any con­trol over the at­tack­ing force, whose na­tion­al­i­ties, mo­tives and makeup he could not iden­tify.

The U.S. strike came as U.S.backed Kur­dish-led forces were vy­ing for con­trol of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour prov­ince with Rus­sian­backed Syr­ian troops that are re­in­forced by Ira­nian-sup­ported mili­tias.

The Rus­sian and the U.S. mil­i­taries have main­tained reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tions to avoid col­li­sions on the chaotic bat­tle­field.

With­out men­tion­ing the U.S. strike, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov noted Tues­day that “Amer­i­cans have taken dan­ger­ous uni­lat­eral steps.

“Those steps look in­creas­ingly as part of ef­forts to cre­ate a qua­sis­tate on a large part of Syr­ian ter­ri­tory — from the east­ern bank of the Euphrates River all the way to the bor­der with Iraq,” he said.

The state Tass news agency on Tues­day cited Natalya Krylova, a mu­nic­i­pal law­maker in the town of As­bestos in Rus­sia’s Urals, as say­ing lo­cal res­i­dents Igor Koso­turov and Stanislav Matveyev were killed in Syria last Wed­nes­day.

The In­ter­fax news agency said that the Cos­sack group in the west­ern­most Kal­ningrad re­gion said a mem­ber named Vladimir Logi­nov was killed in com­bat in Deir elZour. It also quoted Alexan­der Averin, leader of ex­treme left­ist group An­other Rus­sia, as say­ing that one of its ac­tivists, Kir­ill Ananyev, was killed by the U.S. strike near Khusham.

Rus­sia has waged a mil­i­tary cam­paign in Syria since Septem­ber 2015, help­ing Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment seize large chunks of ter­ri­tory and turn the tide of war into its favour.


A man passes a shop sell­ing red teddy bears in Da­m­as­cus, Syria, on Tues­day. Sev­eral Rus­sian mil­i­tary con­trac­tors were killed last Wed­nes­day af­ter the U.S. mil­i­tary launched air and ar­tillery strikes af­ter com­ing un­der at­tack.

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