Syria: how involved are Russian mercenaries?
An unspecified number of Russian mercenaries fighting in units loyal to President Assad are said to have been killed by US airstrikes in the governorate of Deir ez-Zor last week. The incident marks the first fatalities in direct confrontations between US and Russian forces in Syria. Russian media seize the opportunity to examine the Russian mercenary army system.
No fuss over fallen mercenaries
The Moscow Times explains why Moscow prefers to ignore the Russian fatalities:
“The reason even the exact number of the dead will never be officially confirmed is that the Russians were mercenaries, not regular troops, and their mission likely had nothing to do with Russia's geopolitical goals in Syria. ... . In a statement on the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry called them 'Syrian militia members' ... That makes it likely that they were on a purely commercial mission for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who needs access to the oil so he can rebuild the territories he controls - probably in exchange for a share of the oil business.”
Mercenaries die while Moscow celebrates
Vedomosti counters that the abuse of mercenary armies is part and parcel of the Russian system:
“Moscow used to deny any involvement of its soldiers in the Donbass conflict (as well as their deaths or capture) by calling them 'tourists'. Now it is also denying the presence of Russian private armies in Syria. The Syria conflict has encouraged participation by such 'soldiers of fortune'. But in reality this results in the exploitation of people who lack a defined status in the interest of our country. That helps to give Moscow a free hand and preserves the impression that following the announcement of victory in Syria active combat operations in the country have come to an end.”