MOSCOW — After a week of unanswered questions, Russia acknowledged Thursday that five of its citizens may have been killed by a U.S. strike in Syria, the first time Russians have died at U.S. hands on Syria’s battlefield.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova emphasized, however, 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 in Moscow. “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 U.S. officials said they had no information on Russian casualties in the Feb. 7 clash, which occurred when pro-Syrian government forces attacked positions of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters in Syria’s oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour and faced a ferocious U.S. counterattack.
Zakharova wouldn’t describe how the Russians died, saying the circumstances of the clash are still being clarified. Still, her statement amounted to official recognition that the victims were part of the force that advanced on the U.S.-backed fighters.