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Kremlin says mercenary torture and beheading of Syrian deserter won't damage Russia's reputation

Source: Meduza

Ekho Moskvy: Have you seen the report that includes a video from Syria taken in 2017 where a group of people — one of whom, as Novaya Gazeta found, is a Russian citizen — brutally kill and then dismember the body of a Syrian servicemember?

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: No, I haven’t seen it. I can’t say anything on that count.

Ekho Moskvy: More broadly, is the Kremlin aware of crimes committed by private military companies that are active there not under the Defense Ministry’s command, but in some other way?

Peskov: No, we do not have that kind of information at our disposal. That’s not our issue; it’s not the presidential administration’s issue.

Agence France-Presse: Novaya Gazeta has called on the Russian government to conduct a thorough investigation of this incident. This video and this killing are completely and absolutely monstrous. Would the Kremlin support an investigation of this incident? Especially given that it appears Russian citizens — people who speak Russian without an accent — took part in this incident?

Peskov: Without knowing what is being discussed, I, unfortunately, cannot answer your question with any degree of certainty. It would be inaccurate to do so.

Ekho Moskvy: Could we count on an answer tomorrow, perhaps? So that you have time to familiarize yourself [with the video].

Peskov: If we have time to familiarize ourselves with it, yes. But on the other hand, we have specialized agencies for this purpose that will do this if they find it necessary. You understand, we are not an investigative body.

Ekho Moskvy: Yes, Mr. Peskov. But without a decision on the part of the president, private companies that commit acts like these could hardly operate in Russia at all.

Peskov: No, that’s an incorrect statement. The president cannot make decisions with regards to companies like these. It’s simply impossible.

Ekho Moskvy: So private military companies that operate in Syria and elsewhere — they’re operating without the president’s approval or awareness? The president doesn’t know anything about this?

Peskov: I can only speak to the operations and activities of the military forces of the Russian Federation and to those of any agencies that operate under the orders of the commander-in-chief.

Meduza: You noted correctly that investigating incidents like these is the purview of investigative agencies. But what about the risks to Russia’s reputation? Right now, a video is circulating everywhere in which, evidently, Russians are torturing and killing another person. Is the Kremlin not concerned that if the necessary investigations are not conducted, probably by Russia’s law enforcement agencies, then that would damage Russia’s reputation and the reputation of Russia’s peacekeeping operations on Syrian territory?

Peskov: First of all, again, I don’t know what we’re talking about. But if I’m not mistaken, there is no definite information established in it. I don’t know what we’re talking about, but judging by the fact that even you are saying “evidently,” “possibly,” and so on… In any case, I’m convinced that this has nothing to do with the Russian state’s operations in Syria. For that reason, in this case, any reputational concerns are absolutely unfounded. This has nothing to do with Russian servicemembers at all regardless of whatever was posted.

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Transcription by Mikhail Zelenskiy

Translation by Hilah Kohen

Cover photo: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

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