Damascus (February 14, 2018): Several Russians who had been hired as paramilitary contractors were among more than 100 men killed in US airstrikes in northern Syria last week, according to their friends and families.
The men were working for a private Russian company called Wagner, which has sent hundreds of private contractors to Syria to help both the Russian military and pro-regime forces, according to people who knew them.One of the dead was 51-year-old Vladimir Loginov. Like many contractors who have gone to Syria, he was a member of a Cossack group of ultranationalists who have also fought in eastern Ukraine.
The Baltic Cossack District said in a statement that Loginov was a Russian citizen who was killed in an “unequal battle” while “heroically defending our Fatherland in its far reaches from crazy barbarians” when he died on February 7.
“Vladimir died for the Fatherland, the Cossacks and the Orthodox faith!” the group said. According to US officials, a force of some 500 crossed the Euphrates River near Deir Ezzor, along with tanks, missile launchers and artillery.Their target was a base of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which came under artillery fire. A US detachment was at the base. The US responded with airstrikes that killed about 100 of the attackers, according to the coalition, with the rest retreating.
One of the Russians killed was Kirill Ananyev, according to his friend Aleksandr Averin. He said Ananyev had been in Syria “a little over a year” and that he had been killed when “American artillery smashed the Wagner unit.”Averin said he believed that casualties among the Russians present amounted to more than “the typical Wagner loss of just a couple of people.”
Most of the casualties, according to local sources, appear to have been members of a pro-regime Christian militia from the town of al Suqaylabiyah. Earlier this week, there was a mass funeral for about 30 members of the militia — which often describes itself as the “ISIS hunters” — in the town.
Two sons of a prominent tribal leader were also killed, according to social-media posts from Syria.
Wagner, which is under US sanctions for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, has several hundred contractors in Syria, according to analysts. In December, Nikolay Tikhonivch from Tomsk was killed “in the area of the Hama-Idlib highway,” according to a social-media post from the “Rus” patriotic group to which he belonged.
Two Wagner contractors who were captured by ISIS in November have not been heard from since appearing in a video soon after being seized. They are believed to be dead, according to Russian officials.