Russia says five of its citizens killed by US strike in Syria
MOSCOW: After a week of swirling controversy, Russia acknowledged on Thursday that five of its citizens may have been killed by a US strike in Syria, the first time Russians have died at US hands in Syria. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova emphasised that the five victims weren’t Russian servicemen. “According to preliminary information, five people, presumably Russian citizens, may have been killed in combat, the circumstances of which are being clarified,” Zakharova said in a briefing. “Some others have been injured, and it’s still necessary to check whether they are citizens of Russia or other nations.” Until Thursday, both Russian and US officials said they had no information on Russian casualties in the Feb 7 clash, which came when pro-Syrian government forces attacked positions of the US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour and faced a ferocious US counterattack. Zakharova wouldn’t describe how the Russians died, saying the circumstances of the clash are still being clarified, but her statement amounted to official recognition that the victims were part of the force that advanced on positions of the US-backed fighters. It marks the first time Russian and US combatants have become directly engaged in combat in Syria a scenario Moscow and Washington have anxiously sought to avoid.