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First Russian soldier dies in Syria military operations

First Russian soldier dies in Syria military operationsA 19-year-old Russian soldier died in Syria on Saturday, the first confirmed casualty among the estimated 2,000 Russian military personnel who have been conducting and supporting air strikes on Syrian rebels and terrorist groups since September 30.

Vadim Kostenko was killed in service and is due to be buried in his home village of Grechanaya Balka “soon”, said Conflict Intelligence Team, a group linked to Russian blogger Ruslan Leviev who has been following Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine and Syria.

The man’s death is bound to test how Moscow explains losses to the public. Russian soldiers who died fighting in eastern Ukraine were buried in secret and their relatives pressured to keep silent as the government continued to deny its involvement there.

Moscow has handled its air strikes in Syria very differently, giving them huge coverage on state television and portraying them as a heroic fight against evil. But Russian leaders have said the campaign will take only a few months, and have ruled out the possibility of involving Russian soldiers in ground combat.

Kostenko signed up as a contract soldier in June immediately after finishing his draft service and was sent to Syria with the 906th Close Air Support Regiment, which is based at Primorsko-Akhtarsk, a base on the Azov Sea not far from his home village, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team’s investigation.

Several people identified as friends or relatives of the mourned his death in posts on VKontakte and other social networks. “I will not forget my bro . . . Vadik Kostenko . . . we remember . . . we love him . . . we mourn …”, Grigory Donskikh, a company executive who did part of his military service at the same air force training centre as Kostenko, wrote in a post on Sunday.

In a conversation on VKontakte, a woman who identified herself as a close friend of Kostenko told Mr Leviev that representatives of the military had twice changed their version of what happened when they informed his parents of his death, and that nine other soldiers had died as well.

Conflict Intelligence Team said it believed Kostenko was not a pilot but had serviced aircraft at the Russian base in Syria. “There are many versions as to how Vadim could have been killed,” it said. “In any other situation, we would consider this information not enough to publish it yet. But we do know that soon Vadim’s funeral is to take place in Grechanaya Balka […]”.

A person from Grechanaya Balka and a friend who served together with Kostenko told the Financial Times that officials from the Primorsko-Akhtarsk base had informed Kostenko’s parents of his death.

“They came to their house at the weekend,” the person in Grechanaya Balka said. The friend said that he had disagreed with Kostenko’s decision to sign up as a contract soldier in the summer.

Both people refused to give any more details and asked that their names not be published. Under Russian law, it is a criminal offence to speak, write or broadcast about Russian military casualties.

Russia’s ministry of defence said it could neither confirm nor deny Kostenko’s death. A spokesperson said it was unclear how long the ministry would need to check the information.

Source: Financial Times
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