Moscow on Tuesday said dozens of Russian citizens were injured this month in Syria but denied any responsibility for their activities, amid mounting reports of casualties among Russian mercenaries. The US coalition on February 7 struck a formation attacking a position of the Syrian Democratic Force east of the Euphrates river in eastern Syria, killing about 100 people.
Many Russian mercenaries were reported killed in the strike, according to their relatives and paramilitary groups, as well as political organizations that published information about the casualties. The Russian foreign ministry, which previously said that five Russian citizens were likely killed, on Tuesday released a statement that “there are also several dozen of injured” in the attack.
It said “there are Russian citizens in Syria who went there with various goals” and “it is not up to the foreign ministry to evaluate the legality of their decisions.” The ministry said it had helped the injured Russians return home where they were “receiving medical care in various medical institutions.” It denied that the incident involved any Russian military.
Russian officials refuse to admit Russian mercenaries are in Syria despite mounting reported evidence that they are active fighting in the interests of the Syrian government. On Sunday, the official website of the Orthodox Church in the central region of Ryazan said Cossack Alexei Mitin was injured in combat while on military duty and died in hospital Friday.
The statement was later altered to say simply that Mitin had died. A local Cossack leader Andrei Datsenko, who posted on Facebook that Mitin received his injuries in Syria, also later deleted his message. The Russian government is reviewing a bill that would make private military companies legal, in order to clarify the currently murky status of mercenaries engaged in conflicts overseas.