Russia admits ‘several dozen’ of its citizens were mercenaries killed in assault on US-held Syrian base
The Russian foreign ministry has admitted that “several dozen” citizens of Russia and other former Soviet states were killed or wounded during a recent battle in Syria.
The announcement came soon after reports that scores of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside pro-Syrian regime forces were killed by a US-led coalition air strike in Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria, on 7 February. Moscow dismissed those reports last week as “classic disinformation”.
The Russian foreign ministry stressed on Tuesday that the combatants were not Russian servicemen and that no Russian military equipment was involved in the fighting.
It gave no date or location for the clash, but said the wounded Russian citizens had received help to return home and were receiving medical treatment.
The ministry said the fighters had travelled to Syria “of their own accord and for a variety of reasons”. It did not identify any of the dead or wounded by name.
“It is not the place of the foreign ministry to assess the legality and legitimacy of their decisions,” it added.
The air strike marked the first time Russians have died at the hands of the US in Syria since the Kremlin entered the conflict on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015.
Reuters reported last week that as many as 300 men working for the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military contractor, had been killed or injured during the clash with US-led forces.
Critics allege that Russia uses mercenaries in Syria to keep official military losses low. Russian law forbids the hiring of mercenaries.
Moscow’s admission comes after the families of the mercenaries believed to have died in the air strike appealed to the Kremlin to acknowledge their deaths.