Is Russia losing control over Russian mercenaries in Syria?

A very interesting – and potentially disturbing – development in Syria deserves attention.

U.S. forces killed scores of Russian contract soldiers in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to a U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.

More than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base and refinery held by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, two of the Russians said. The U.S. official put the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.

The Russian assault may have been a rogue operation, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that started as a domestic crackdown only to morph into a proxy war involving Islamic extremists, stateless Kurds and regional powers Iran, Turkey and now Israel. Russia’s military said it had nothing to do with the attack and the U.S. military accepted the claim. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the whole thing “perplexing,” but provided no further details.

“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” U.S. Colonel Thomas F. Veale, a military spokesman, said in a statement. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

. . .

It’s not clear who was paying the soldiers of fortune, whether it was Russia directly, its allies in the war, Syria and Iran, or a third party.

There’s more at the link.

This raises a number of perplexing questions and issues, including (but not limited to) the following.

  • No Russian “mercenary” would dare to serve in Syria without Russian government permission – not if he wants to go back to Russia, that is.  Therefore, those who attacked the US position were almost certainly in Syria with Russian knowledge and approval – so why did they (apparently) act without that approval in this case?
  • Russia would not want open conflict with the US.  To a certain extent, neither would Syria.  However, Iran – the “power behind the throne” in Syria, and the source of most of that nation’s funding to continue the war – most certainly would want to embarrass the USA by defeating its forces or its proxies in open conflict.  Was Iran therefore paying the Russian mercenaries, openly or covertly?  Were they doing what Iran wanted on the basis that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”?  That’s probably got Russia even more worried than the USA, right now.
  • This wasn’t a minor, bush-league attack.  According to the article, the mercenaries attacked in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars”.  That’s a formal military assault, not a guerrilla-type ambush or sabotage attack.  Where did all that equipment come from, and who trained the attackers to use it?  The Russians have supplied almost all Syria’s weapons, but probably under strict conditions.  I doubt very much whether those conditions included allowing them to be used to attack US forces!  Again, was Iran behind this, and did Iran supply the heavy weapons that were used?
  • To make matters even more complicated, Islamic extremists from former Soviet republics such as Chechnya, Dagestan and others have been active in the ranks of ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq.  Were the Russian “mercenaries” involved in this attack drawn from among their ranks?  Was this, in fact, an Islamist fundamentalist assault on US forces, rather than a Syrian- or Iranian-sponsored operation?  The Syrian government has denounced the retaliatory strikes that killed so many of the mercenaries, so it doesn’t sound like it;  but there are wheels within wheels all over the Middle East, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is more than just a proverb there.  If one or more groups of extremist terrorists decided to support the Syrian government against other terrorists they deemed less extreme, or less dedicated, or less Islamic, almost anything might be possible.

It’s a tangled web over there, and I’m glad I’m not the one having to make sense of it all . . .



  1. I do not trust our own government when it comes to Syria. There aren't any 'moderate' rebel forces either- these are people we may well end up having to fight later because we refuse to learn any lessons.

    We should be cooperating with the Russian and the Chinese on the Islamic problem and stop playing Empire.

    And I do wish they'd stop talking about Assad using chemical weapons. When there was an investigation the first time, it turned out it wasn't him. The Middle East has a long history of atrocity stories (the Jews tell Jesus one in the Bible). Various Muslim factions have faked stuff to incite popular opinion against Israel- and I am pretty sure what made Trump bomb Syria was a similar ruse.

    The Russians on the ground are probably just getting pissed off. They don't want to start anything with us on any scale, but in Syria our forces are thwarting the objective. And not just the Russian objective, but what any sane human being ought to want- and end to the terrorist rebels. Let Assad rule. Let all the Syrian immigrants go home.

  2. The U.S. needs to either get out of Syria and give the Russians and the Syrian government a free hand to restore the territorial integrity and internal security of their country. We shouldn't have been there in the first place nor should we have been giving taxpayer money and weapons to the various Islamic terrorist groups there. Our actions in the middle east have been counterproductive to U.S. security and interests for…decades. They were bungled badly leading up to the 91 gulf war and they went totally off the rails after 9/11 which led to probably the worst series of foreign policy debacles since our entry into WW1. Bushes at the root of both of those. Strange that…

    Interesting "What Ifs" to ponder. Had the U.S. not interfered or entered WW1 there likely would have been no WW2 or Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany, possibly no Russian revolution in 1917, spread of Communism or Cold War. Had the U.S. not fought the 91 gulf war you'd have more likely than not have never had a radicalized Bin Laden, 9/11 or our disastrous multi-trillion dollar global war on terror, the invasion of Afghanistan or the monumentally stupid invasion of Iraq.

  3. Per Zerohedge the Russian mercenaries have a sweet deal where they get a percentage of the oil profits.

    The Russian Government lies, and are willing to test where the US's red line is. With what was described here as a battalion with artillery support, it was pretty official. Just like the Little Green Men in the Ukraine. I am surprised the US pushed back.

    On the US being in Syria, it's a mess. Before the US was there and ISIS was running wild. With the US involvement, ISIS is pretty well gone.

    Somehow I would like the US out of Syria, the safety of the Kurds with some level of autonomy, ISIS kept down, the Iranian presence at a minimum, and the Sunni refugees returned from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. With the Turkish attacks against the Kurds, I am not sure what can be done. Not to mention how Iran is testing both the US and Israel. And Syria has no interest in having a bunch of Sunni's return to Syria.

    My gut feeling is Syria will fall apart into 3 countries eventually. With the external support the Assad's are getting, they are surviving, but don't have enough might to unify the country yet. And without the US there, it would be back to the huge power vacuum that created ISIS.

  4. Hey, another "red line" whereby the USA must intervene to aid the side that's loosing because the last false flag gas attack didn't work any better than any of the others.

  5. Russia is in Syria at the request of the legitimate recognised government of Syria.

    The US is now definitively known to have forces in Syria. Acting on it's own initiative. It has no reason to be there.

  6. Ray: "Before the US was there and ISIS was running wild. With the US involvement, ISIS is pretty well gone."


    No, US fostered ISIS.
    Russia was hammering ISIS, they destroyed the oil convoys that was generating ISIS funds to buy arms. The US could have interdicted ISIS oil convoys a couple of years before the Russians did, but they didn't.

    QED. ISIS and the Moslem brotherhood were instruments of Obama foreign policy – with the leach Clinton driving her fangs in to suck out any free funds.

    Its probably the case that the Moslem brotherhood via Huma Abedin or the Moslem brotherhood via the Awan brothers were the channel the Clinton State department used to deal with ISIS.

    With the Awan brothers acting under the noses of the DNC inside Congress … did ISIS even need any contacts anywhere else?

  7. US only fostered ISIS by leaving Iraq.

    Turkey had a lot more to do with ISIS. They determined who got the weapons. The US were only useful idiots.

    And Obama’s rules of engagement helped ISIS, but by accident. The focus was no civilian casualties. And micromanaging the war. Trump stopped that stupidity and ISIS rapidly collapsed.

    Russia focused on the forces that were the greatest danger to Assad, the so called moderates. Brilliant strategy that left the US with basically the choice of Assad or ISIS.

  8. "US only fostered ISIS by leaving Iraq."

    No. We left because we could not get a status of force agreement that was acceptable to the US. That came about because the government put in place by overturning the social structure of the society as a result of the war told us to leave.

    "Trump stopped that stupidity and ISIS rapidly collapsed."

    Well he did stop most of the stupdity but the collapse was due to the fighting of the Syrians and their allies.

  9. Fred, those Syrians had the backing of the US in that fight. Without it, they were spinning their wheels and losing.

    Putin has been relying more on mercenaries over the last couple of years. The Donbas is crawling with Wagner Group mercenaries, and a large group from the same organization is in Syria as well. Putin is able to keep the cargo 200 at a minimum that way, and allows him to foster the lie that he isn't involved in Ukraine.

  10. Quartermaster,

    Just which Syrians were they? Ukraine? Why the hell sould be care about them since they are on Russia's border not ours?

  11. Fred: "Russia focused on the forces that were the greatest danger to Assad, the so called moderates."

    Russia focused on the legitimately constituted and UN recognised government of Syria.

    The US chose to, and is choosing to subvert the legally constituted government of Syria.

    Let's not forget Libya, after the utter SNAFU in Iraq, the US goes ahead and destroys the Libyan regime without a thought to what might replace it.

    Result? Massive migration out of Africa into Europe, and actual real live Islamic instigated slave markets in Libya.

    Talk about a rogue state!

  12. No, Peter, you're not the one having to make sense of it all.

    Yet your questions are on point, every single one of them. It's the mainstream media with their far-flung network of reporters and analysts who should be asking them. Instead of which, they are bombarding us with Kardashians and #metoo.

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