Saturday 17 March 2018

Moscow quiet as Russian soldier killed in Syria

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

Roland Oliphant in Moscow

At least one Russian soldier has died in Syria, in what could be the first casualty suffered by Russian forces since President Vladimir Putin launched air strikes in the country at the beginning of the month.

Vadim Kostenko, a 19-year-old contract soldier with Russia's air contingent in Latakia, died in unclear circumstances on Saturday afternoon, Conflict Intelligence Team said in a report which was released yesterday.

The Russian ministry of defence has not commented on the reports.

A relative confirmed to 'RBK', a Russian newspaper, that Mr Kostenko was sent to Syria on September 14, and that the family was informed of his death on Sunday.

Conflict Intelligence Team, an activist group founded by Ruslan Leviev, a Moscow-based blogger, specialises in using social media posts and interviews with relatives to monitor Russian military activity in Ukraine and Syria.

In a report released yesterday, the group said its monitors first came across posts mourning Mr Kostenko on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, on Sunday.

Mr Kostenko appears to have been serving with the 960th close air support regiment, based in Russia's Krasnodar region, the Moscow-based activist group said.

The contingent of SU-25 ground attack aircraft deployed to Syria are also from the 960th, the report claimed.

According to posts on his Vkontakte page, he only recently joined the regiment after signing a professional contract following the end of his national service.

A female friend of Mr Kostenko, whose identity was not revealed, told the group that she had heard his body was found along with "nine others." The group was unable to confirm the rumour of additional casualties. The friend told Mr Leviev in an online conversation that officers had informed the family that Mr Kostenko's body would be flown back from Syria, but had offered conflicting accounts of how he died.

"First they said he hung himself, then he hung himself and was shot, and then simply that he was found dead," the friend said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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