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Russian troops in Deir ez-Zor, September 15, 2017

A U.S. airstrike on Assad’s supporters in Syria killed an unknown number of Russian ‘volunteers.’ Who were they?

Source: Meduza
Russian troops in Deir ez-Zor, September 15, 2017
Russian troops in Deir ez-Zor, September 15, 2017
AP / Scanpix / LETA

On February 7, the U.S.-led international coalition delivered a strike against supporters of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's Deir ez-Zor Province. According to the Americans, around 100 people died in the attack. Moscow denies that the victims included Russian citizens, but relatives and friends have confirmed the death of at least five Russian-passport holders. These men were not regular soldiers. Open-source researchers at the Conflict Intelligence Team say they were working for the infamous “Wagner” private military company. Meduza examines who some of the people were.

Vladimir Loginov, 51

Loginov was born in Khabarovsk. He was a combat engineer in the army, fought in and survived both Chechen wars, and later worked for security enterprises. On social media, a Russian Baltic Cossack organization mourned Loginov’s death in Syria, saying he participated in combat in 1996-1997, 2000-2001, 2003-2006, and 2014-2015 to “defend the Russian constitutional system and peaceful citizens.” Loginov joined this Cossack group in 2014, and afterwards fought in eastern Ukraine until 2015. Since the fall of 2017, he’d been clearing mines in Syria and training local specialists. Maksim Buga, hetman of the Baltic Cossack district, stated that there are around 10 volunteers from the region in Syria. Loginov leaves behind a wife and young daughters.

Hetman Maksim Buga has confirmed Loginov's death, stating, “Captain Vladimir perished on February 7, 2018, in an unequal battle near Deir ez-Zor in Syria.”

Kirill Ananiev, 33

Until 2009, Ananiev was a member of the National Bolshevik Party, which is banned in Russia as an extremist organization. In 2006, Ananyev was convicted of vandalism after he splashed his own blood around inside the Tverskoi police station in Moscow in a protest against police brutality. In 2014, he left to fight with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine (adopting the call sign “Moskva”), and he rose to the rank of artillery division commander (senior lieutenant). According to his friends, Ananiev died near Khusham on the banks of the Euphrates. This city bore the brunt of the U.S. airstrike on February 7.

Aleksandr Averin, who co-chairs “The Other Russia” party (the successor to the National Bolshevik Party), confirmed Ananiev's death on February 12.

Stanislav Matveyev, 38

Born in Asbest, in the Sverdlovsk region, Matveyev spent his childhood in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, but later returned to Russia. In 2014, he joined the separatists in eastern Ukraine, adopting the call sign “Matvei.” He had never before served in the armed forces. Matveyev leaves behind a wife and two sons.

Matveyev's cousin, Igor Patsko, confirmed his death. "The date of his death coincides with the date of the U.S. airstrike," he noted.

Igor Kosoturov, 45

Like Matveyev, Kosoturov was born in Asbest, and Matveyev was godfather to his daughter. Kosoturov fought "on contract" in eastern Ukraine at least as early as 2017, according to his friend, Lyubava Kocheva. The anti-separatist website Mirotvorets says that Kosoturov used the call sign “Kosotur” and fought in the same battalion as the writer Zakhar Prilepin. Kosoturov went to Syria with Matveyev. According to the website Novyi Den, Kosoturov's brother also died in Syria (though his name has not been released).

Lyubava Kocheva confirmed Kosoturov's death, claiming he died with Matveyev. Novyi Den's sources in Asbest who know the men's families also confirmed this information.

Alexey Ladygin, 26

Alexey Ladygin's Vkontakte page

Ladygin was born in Russia’s Ryazan region. According to Mirotvorets, he served in one of the Airborne Troops subunits that landed in Crimea in 2014 and later fought in eastern Ukraine using the call sign "Khmuryi” (“Gloomy”).

Ladygin's death has only been reported on social media, and there is still no independent confirmation from his friends or relatives that he was killed in Syria.

Moscow denies the deaths of any Russian servicemen

Russia’s Defense Ministry has stated that none of the military officially serving in Syria was caught in the U.S. strike on February 7, reporting that no Russian soldiers were in the Deir ez-Zor area at the time. Moscow also claims that the U.S. attack killed no one and merely injured 25 “Syrian volunteer militia.” Defense officials have not offered any information about Russian civilians fighting in Syria.

Ruslan Leviev, who heads the Conflict Intelligence Team, says information about other Russians killed in the February 7 airstrikes could emerge in the near future, as friends and relatives learn of their deaths.

Reports of a much higher death toll

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta says it has confirmed the deaths of 13 Russian citizens in the February 7 U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria's Deir ez-Zor Province, and the newspaper says it's also verified another 15 Russians who were injured in the attack. Unnamed sources told Bloomberg, meanwhile, that more than 200 contract soldiers, “mostly Russians” fighting for the Assad regime,” died in a failed attack on a base in Deir ez-Zor held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces. According to The New York Times, a Russian businessman named Alexander Ionov, who works in Syria offering defense services, says more than 200 Russians may have been killed on February 7. Cossack Hetman Oleg Surnin, who knew Igor Kosoturov and Stanislav Matveyev, cited similar figures, telling the website that the death toll from the U.S. airstrikes has reached 217 people.

Text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Peter Marshall