Russia to regulate private military contractors

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a forum of independent regional and local mass media in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The decision comes after reports that an unknown number of Russian military contractors were killed in a US strike in Syria.

The Russian parliament is working on a bill to regulate private military companies, a senior lawmaker said on Wednesday after reports that an unknown number of Russian military contractors were killed in a US strike in Syria.

Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defence committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, said the government needs to oversee private military contractors.

“The state must be directly involved in issues related to the life and health of our citizens,” he said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

Media reports said Russian private contractors were part of pro-Syrian regime forces that attacked US-backed fighters in the Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria on February 7 and faced a ferocious US counterattack. At least four Russian citizens have been killed, according to their associates, and reports of more casualties have been trickling in.

Along with the Russian military, which has waged a military campaign in Syria backing the regime since 2015, thousands of Russians have also reportedly fought there as private contractors. The private fighters allowed the Kremlin to keep the official death toll from its campaign in Syria low, helping to avoid negative publicity about Russia’s involvement in Syria as President Vladimir Putin runs for re-election in the country’s March 18 presidential vote.

TRT World spoke with Dan Ashby in Moscow for the latest.

Both Russian and US officials said they had no information on Russian losses in Syria on February 7. The Russian deaths in Syria at the hands of the US military would be highly embarrassing for both Moscow and Washington and could further damage Russia-US relations.

If officially confirmed, they would represent the first direct clash between Russian and US  forces in the chaotic Syrian battlefield — the long-feared scenario that Moscow and Washington have anxiously sought to avoid.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other US officials said they had no information on Russian casualties in the February 7 clash, and the Kremlin did not confirm any Russian deaths.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which insisted that its troops weren’t involved in the incident, said 25 Syrian volunteers were wounded in the US strike.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reaffirmed on Wednesday that the Kremlin has no information about the Russian losses in the clash. He warned against relying on “distorted information” in media reports, some of which cited unconfirmed claims that overall casualties could have been as high as 200 and Russians could have accounted for the bulk of them

Source: AP