Russian civilians in Syria not linked to our military

Reports: Russian Military Contractors Killed in US-Led Attack in Syria

The mercenaries are said to have been hired by private military firms backing Syrian pro-government troops.

The death toll, based on how the USA official has reportedly put it, was around a hundred.

Putin has said at least three times since 2016 that combat operations in Syria were winding down, including once during a surprise visit to a Russian air base in Syria in December.

In footage released by the Department of Defense on Tuesday, the T-72 can be seen sitting stationary and appears to fire a round from its 125mm main gun just before being hit by the US air strike that destroyed the vehicle.

Russian media said Russian private contractors were part of pro-government forces that advanced on oil fields in the eastern Deir el-Zour province and were targeted by the United States. There were US troops present at the base of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) rebels.

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 United States strike near Khusham, where the USA said its counterattack occurred.

The reports of Russian deaths in the incident in Deir al-Zor came amid persistent tension in US-Russian relations, which are strained by disputes over Syria and several other issues. Russian Federation security staff were killed at a weapons depot in the area.

Haley accused Assad's government of becoming "a front for Iran, Hizballah and their allies" to advance their "irresponsible and risky agenda for the Middle East" - and to entrench themselves in Syria.

The two sides have clashed over the past year while trying to drive Islamic State (IS) militants from their last major stronghold in the country.

The U.S. Defense Department has said air strikes launched after as many as 500 pro-government forces attacked a base housing opposition forces and U.S. military advisers killed about 100 of the attackers.

U.S. military officials also said that, during the air assault, they had been in contact with the Russian military, via a special hotline set up by the two sides to avoid hostile incidents between the two.

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More details about those killed in the strikes began to emerge in the following days.

The associates named the dead as Vladimir Loginov, a Cossack from Russia's western Kaliningrad region, and Kirill Ananyev, a radical nationalist from Moscow.

Averin said he believed that casualties among the Russians present amounted to more than "the typical Wagner loss of just a couple of people".

How did the Kremlin react?

In December past year, President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial retreat of Russian troops from Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call Wednesday that while there may have been Russian citizens in Syria involved, "they don't belong to the Russian armed forces". A USA official and three Russians "familiar with the matter" told Bloomberg that the incident may be the deadliest interaction between Russia and the United States since the Cold War. "I advise you to contact the defence ministry". "I think that's still the case but we don't have full clarity on what the regime forces are doing there", Mattis said over the weekend.

In part, Russian motives were bound up with the interests of Russia's ruling oligarchs and Gazprom, the country's largest corporation, which faced the prospect of Qatar gaining access to Syrian territory for a gas pipeline directed toward Western Europe, undermining Russian profit interests.

The Kremlin, which has provided crucial military support to its ally, Mr. Assad, has been equally opaque about what happened.

However, there seems to be little doubt that a significant number of Russians died in the U.S. counter-strike, given the multiplicity of accounts, including on social media.

The pilot survived the initial attack and ejected, but died in a ground fight, detonating his grenade to avoid being captured.

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