Moscow won't acknowledge the deaths of Russian mercenaries in U.S. airstrikes on Syrian targets, but the evidence is mounting

Meduza

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 (CIT) say they were working for the infamous “Wagner” private military company. On Tuesday, Meduza reviewed five of the combatants identified by CIT. On Wednesday, CIT named another three Russians killed in the airstrikes.

Reports about the number of people killed in the February 7 attack vary widely, putting the death toll anywhere between a few dozen and as many as 217 casualties.

What were these mercenaries doing in Deir ez-Zor?

According to a report by the newspaper Kommersant, the pro-Assad forces came under U.S.-led airstrikes while attacking an oil refinery in Deir ez-Zor. An anonymous source told the newspaper that Moscow did not sanction the offensive, considering it “a dangerous independent action.” The attack on the oil refinery allegedly included roughly 600 mercenaries working withthe “Wagner” private military company, comprising mostly Russian speakers. According to Kommersant’s source, the airstrikes killed 11 Russians.

The Kremlin mourns not

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov deflected more questions on Wednesday about the alleged deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria on February 7, telling journalists that he has no idea why Moscow would consider declaring a day of mourning in response. He urged reporters not to be “swept up by distorted data,” implying that claims about dead Russian fighters are “deliberately or inadvertently erroneous.”

The Russian Defense Ministry has denied that any Russian citizens were caught in the February 7 airstrikes by U.S. warplanes, stating that the attack merely injured 25 Syrian militia.