As details continue to emerge of last week's USA attacks on pro-Syrian forces, it appears that dozens, or by some accounts scores, of the slain were actually Russian military contractors working for the Syrian government.
According to US Central Command, American and Kurdish forces came under fire from a tank, prompting three hours of intensive air strikes against an estimated 300 to 500 fighters loyal to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
The Interfax news agency reported that a Cossack group in the westernmost Kalningrad region said a member named Vladimir Loginov was killed in combat in the Deir el-Zour province. Russian nationals killed in the US -led counter-strike include Vladimir Loginov, Kirill Ananyev, Alexei Ladygin, Stanislav Matveyev and Igor Kosoturov, some of whom had earlier fought in Donbass, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team.
The Kremlin and the Pentagon do not have any information on the alleged deaths of Russians during a USA attack in Syria, respective officials have told journalists.
The US military said it destroyed the tank after it moved within firing range of the US-backed forces while being supported by artillery fire.
Russian Federation has not confirmed the deaths that were first reported by U.S. media, saying such reports should not be treated as "primary sources".
Vitaly Naumkin, perhaps Russia's most prominent Syria expert, also urged restraint in a news conference at the Valdai Discussion Club.
In footage released by the Department of Defense on Tuesday, the T-72 can be seen sitting stationary and appears to fire a round from its 125mm main gun just before being hit by the USA air strike that destroyed the vehicle.
Putin has emphasized that no uniformed Russian soldiers were killed in the strike.
The attack on pro-Damascus forces wasn't the first one carried out by the US-led coalition.
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Mercenaries, who've been active in the conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Syria, allow Russian Federation to deny official involvement in operations when things go wrong.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment, saying on Tuesday that the reports needed to be verified.
The US military has confirmed that it has attacked pro-government forces in eastern Syria.
"This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute global crisis", said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who's now an independent political analyst.
Mattis, speaking to reporters Tuesday while traveling in Europe, was adamant he knew of no Russian contractors killed in the fighting, which he attributed to a surprising assault in light of obvious us advantages, including overwhelming air power. "It doesn't make sense, and I think that's probably why the Russians, too, at least appear to be perplexed by it".
What about the Russian mercenaries?.
Russian media say an unknown number of private Russian military contractors have been killed by a United States strike on a government base in Syria. "We don't have data about other Russians who could be in Syria". It said it was in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack and that Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not strike coalition forces.
Wagner, which is under U.S. sanctions for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, has several hundred contractors in Syria, according to analysts. I can't give you anything on that.
Moscow launched a military operation in Syria in support of President Assad on 30 September 2015.
An unknown number of private military contractors have also died.