Syria reportedly signed a contract with Evgeny Prigozhin, weeks before his mercenaries attacked a U.S.-held oilfield

According to the newsletter The Bell, the Syrian government signed a deal with several Russian companies to help “liberate, protect, and develop” Syrian oil fields currently occupied by hostiles.

The agreement allegedly involves “Evro Polis,” which is rumored to belong to Evgeny Prigozhin, the man behind Russia’s “troll factory” and the “Wagner” private military company.

Over the past nine months, Western and Russian journalists reported that these parties reached a memorandum in late 2016. The Bell says there’s now a legally binding contract in place. The agreement was reportedly finalized in January 2018, weeks before dozens of mercenaries from the Wagner PMC were allegedly killed when advancing on an oilfield held by U.S. and Kurdish forces in Deir ez-Zor.

What’s the big deal?

The American counterattack on February 7 was a U.S. airstrike against armed Russian citizens. Moscow has been eager to play down the story, initially denying any knowledge about the deaths of Russian citizens. The Foreign Ministry later acknowledged that five Russians may have been killed in the battle and “a few dozen” were injured.

On February 23, The Washington Post reported that a U.S. intelligence agency intercepted Russian communications showing that Prigozhin had been in contact with top Syrian and Kremlin officials ahead of the Wagner group’s assault on the oilfield in Deir ez-Zor. If Prigozhin discussed the attack with Anton Vaino, Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, it would seem to indicate that Moscow was willing to risk a direct confrontation with the United States military in Syria.