MOSCOW (Reuters) – About 300 males working for a Kremlin-linked Russian non-public navy agency had been both killed or injured in Syria final week, in keeping with three sources aware of the matter.
A Russian navy physician stated round 100 had been killed, and a supply who is aware of a number of of the fighters stated the demise toll was in extra of 80 males.
The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on Feb. 7 close to the Syrian metropolis of Deir al-Zor the place, in keeping with U.S. officers and associates of the fighters concerned, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian officers stated 5 residents might have been killed however that they had no relation to Russia’s armed forces.
The clashes present Moscow is extra deeply concerned in Syria militarily than it has stated, and dangers being drawn into direct confrontation with the United States in Syria.
The casualties are the very best that Russia has suffered in a single battle since fierce clashes in Ukraine in 2014 claimed greater than 100 fighters’ lives. Moscow denies sending troopers and volunteers to Ukraine and has by no means confirmed that determine.
The wounded, who’ve been medically evacuated from Syria in the previous few days, have been despatched to 4 Russian navy hospitals, in keeping with 5 sources aware of the matter.
The navy physician, who works in a Moscow navy hospital and was straight concerned in the remedy of wounded males evacuated from Syria, stated that as of Saturday night there have been greater than 50 such sufferers in his hospital, of which round 30 % had been severely wounded.
The physician, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of he isn’t allowed to reveal details about casualties, stated not less than three planeloads of injured fighters had been flown to Moscow between final Friday and Monday morning.
He stated they had been flown again on specifically geared up navy cargo planes which might every accommodate two or three intensive care instances and a number of dozen much less severely wounded sufferers.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian international ministry, stated preliminary info was that 5 Russian residents in the realm of the battle might have been killed, however they weren’t Russian troops. She stated stories of tens or tons of of Russian casualties had been disinformation impressed by Russia’s opponents.
The Russian protection ministry didn’t reply to Reuters questions on casualties in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman, requested about Russian casualties on Thursday, stated he had nothing so as to add to earlier statements. The Kremlin stated earlier this week it had no info on any casualties.
Reuters was unable to make direct contact with the contractors’ employers, the Wagner group, whose fallen fighters have in the previous obtained medals from the Kremlin.
The navy physician stated fellow physician who flew to Syria on one of many current medevac flights advised him that round 100 individuals in the Russian pressure had been killed as of the top of final week, and 200 injured.
The physician who spoke to Reuters stated many of the casualties had been Russian non-public navy contractors.
Yevgeny Shabayev, chief of an area chapter of a paramilitary Cossack group who has ties to Russian navy contractors, stated he had visited acquaintances injured in Syria on the protection ministry’s Central Hospital in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on Wednesday.
He stated the wounded males had advised him that the 2 models of Russian contractors concerned in the battle close to Deir al-Zor numbered 550 males. Of these, there are actually about 200 who usually are not both lifeless or wounded, the wounded males had advised him.
Shabayev stated the ward he visited contained eight sufferers, all evacuated from Syria in the previous few days, and there have been extra in different wards in the hospital.
“If you understand anything about military action and combat injuries then you can imagine what’s going on there. That’s to say, constant screams, shouts,” Shabayev advised Reuters. “It’s a tough scene.”
A supply with ties to the Wagner group, and who has spoken to individuals who took half in the Feb. 7 clashes, advised Reuters his contacts advised him greater than 80 Russian contractors had been killed.
The supply, who spoke on situation of anonymity, stated the full of about 300 killed or injured was broadly right.
He stated most of the injured had shrapnel in their our bodies that was not exhibiting up on X-rays, making remedy troublesome. “The prognosis for most of the wounded is dismal,” he stated.
Other navy hospitals treating the contractors are the Third Vishnevskiy hospital in Krasnogorsk, close to Moscow, the Burdenko hospital close to Moscow metropolis heart, and the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, in keeping with the physician, Shabayev, and three different individuals who know lifeless or wounded fighters.
When Reuters contacted these hospitals by cellphone on Thursday, employees both declined to remark or denied having any sufferers evacuated from Syria.
A Reuters reporter visited the Burdenko hospital on Wednesday and spoke briefly to sufferers who stated they knew nothing about anybody evacuated from Syria. Reporters additionally visited the hospital in Krasnogorsk, and a fifth navy hospital, at Balashikha close to Moscow, however had been denied entry.
Russia launched a navy operation in Syria in September 2015 which has turned the tide of the battle in favor of Assad.
Russian officers deny they deploy non-public navy contractors in Syria, saying Moscow’s solely navy presence is a marketing campaign of air strikes, a naval base, navy instructors coaching Syrian forces, and restricted numbers of particular forces troops.
But in keeping with individuals aware of the deployment, Russia is utilizing massive numbers of the contractors in Syria as a result of that enables Moscow to place extra boots on the bottom with out risking common troopers whose deaths must be accounted for.
The contractors, principally ex-military, perform missions assigned to them by the Russian navy, the individuals aware of the deployment stated. Most are Russian residents, although some have Ukrainian and Serbian passports.
The United States and Russia, whereas backing reverse sides in the Syria battle, have taken pains to guarantee that their forces don’t unintentionally collide. But the presence of the Russian contractors provides a component of unpredictability.
A U.S. official, talking on situation of anonymity, stated final week pressure aligned with Assad, backed with artillery, tanks, rockets and mortars, had on Feb. 7 attacked fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces close to Deir al-Zor.
U.S. particular forces had been accompanying the SDF forces that got here beneath assault, officers in Washington stated.
The U.S.-led coalition in Syria retaliated, killing about 100 of the pro-Assad forces, in keeping with the official.
Since the battle, associates of Russian navy contractors have stated Russians had been a part of the pro-Assad pressure concerned in the battle, and among the many casualties.
Shabayev, the Cossack chief, stated casualties had been so excessive as a result of the pressure had no air cowl, and as a result of they had been attacked not by poorly geared up rebels, their typical adversaries, however by a well-armed pressure that might launch air strikes.
“First of all the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches (U.S.-made attack helicopters),” Shabayev stated, citing the wounded males he visited in hospital.
The supply with ties to Wagner stated they advised him the pressure struck by the U.S.-led coalition was made up primarily of Russian contractors, with a number of Syrians and Iranians in help roles.
He stated that on Feb. 7 the pressure had superior towards the settlement of Khusham, in Deir al-Zor province, right into a zone designated as impartial beneath a deal between the Russian navy and the U.S.-led coalition.
The goal was to check if the U.S.-led coalition would react. The pressure superior to inside lower than 5 km (three miles) of the SDF and American positions, he stated.
He stated that the U.S.-led forces, in line with process agreed with the Russians, warned Russian common forces that they had been getting ready to strike. He doesn’t know if the warning was handed on to the contractors.
“The warning was 20 minutes beforehand, in that time it was not feasible to turn the column around,” stated the supply.
He stated as soon as the strikes started, the contractors didn’t return fireplace as a result of they believed that might provoke much more strikes from the U.S.-led coalition.
Additional reporting by Anton Zverev in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood