U.S. airstrikes kill Russian military contractors in Syria

Russian army servicemen at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria

The U.S. -led coalition said it thwarted an "unprovoked attack" by pro-government fighters on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters in Deir Ezzor province after midnight Wednesday.

Last week the United States unleashed an air and artillery barrage on Syrian government-backed troops after some 300 attackers launched what appeared to be a coordinated assault on Syrian opposition forces accompanied by USA advisers in the province of Deir el-Zour.

In its statement about the attack, Russia's Defense Ministry seemed to refer to the refinery, accusing the US of using its "illegal presence" in Syria as an excuse to "seize economic assets" instead of fighting terrorists.

At least two Russian fighters were killed in USA air strikes in north-eastern Syria last week, their associates have told the BBC.

A Cossack organization in Kaliningrad posted on social media that one of its members had also been killed, and the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, citing unnamed sources, reported that 13 Russians were killed and another 15 wounded. Alexander Averin, a spokesman for the nationalist party he was linked to, told Reuters Ananiev had been killed in shelling in the same fighting on Feb 7.

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The Kremlin and the Pentagon do not have any information on the alleged deaths of Russians during a United States attack in Syria, respective officials have told journalists. It also quoted Alexander Averin, the leader of extreme leftist group Another Russia, saying that one of its activists, Kirill Ananyev, was killed by the US strike near Khusham, where the USA said its counterattack occurred.

He also said Putin didn't speak about anything related to Syria in a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday. Yet there are hundreds if not thousands of contract soldiers in Syria whom the Russian government has never acknowledged.

Both Russian and US officials said they had no information on Russian losses in Syria on February 7.

Last month, Russian Federation signed an energy agreement with Syria pledging to rebuild the country's electricity infrastructure.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on reports of Russian casualties, saying the Kremlin only tracks data on the country's armed forces.

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"This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute worldwide crisis", said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who's now an independent political analyst.

What about the Russian mercenaries?

.

But beyond Russia's official military engagement in Syria backing the regime, an unknown number of Russian mercenaries are fighting as part of Assad's army. I can't give you anything on that.

If the US did kill Russian military contractors, it falls short of killing official Russian service members, which could escalate into a larger war.

He also suggested that contractors or employees of Russian private military companies have Hassama was not. "We don't have data about other Russians who could be in Syria". Stratfor, an American geopolitical intelligence firm, recently reported that Wagner mercenaries had served in Ukraine, Syria, and parts of Africa.

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Moscow launched a military operation in Syria in support of President Assad on 30 September 2015. He noted that the Russian military could have been unaware of the contractors' involvement in the attacking force because coordination between them has been very poor.

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