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.