US forces 'killed scores of Russian fighters in Syria while defending position'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Italian counterpart in Moscow

Reuters on Monday reported that two Russian fighters, Vladimir Loginov and Kirill Ananyev, had been identified as killed in the fighting, along with "dozens" of other Russians last Wednesday.

As if the complex relationship between the United States and Russia could not become any more complicated, Bloomberg reports USA forces have killed over 200 contract Russian fighters during a massive assault in Syria last week, although (as indicated below, via the New York Times), the true number might reside in the dozens, not the hundreds. The U.S. official put the death toll in the fighting at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured, but was unable to say how many were Russians.

If the US did kill Russian military contractors, it falls short of killing official Russian service members, which could escalate into a larger war. Whether by accident or intention, such clashes risk plunging Washington and Moscow into a situation they studiously avoided even during some of the darkest hours of their relationship: their forces directly warring with each other.

Alexey Zhuravlev, a nationalist member of the lower house of parliament, reacted with outrage: "The tragic day of February 7 can be seen as the beginning of an open war of aggression by the West against the Russian people", he said.

Four Russian nationals, and perhaps dozens more, were killed in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the US -led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, according to Russian and Syrian officials.

In Washington, Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the top U.S. Air Force general in the Middle East, said he would not speculate on the forces.

The U.S. counterattack involved the use of F-15 fighter jets, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and Apache combat helicopters as well as MQ-9 Reaper drones. "The fact is that someone chose to attack us, and the Russians said that it is not about them".

Last week's offensive began about 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the Euphrates River deconfliction line late February 7, when pro-Assad forces fired rounds and advanced in a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars", Colonel Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for the us military, said in a statement. However, the pro-regime forces have recently competed with the Kurdish-led SDF in eastern Syria to seize territory rich in oil and natural gas, the New York Times reported.

Without mentioning the US strike, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that "Americans have taken unsafe unilateral steps".

"One cannot rule out that Russian citizens can be on Syria's soil".

A Cossack organization in Kaliningrad posted on social media that one of its members had also been killed.

Briefing reporters by video at the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, who heads Air Forces Central Command, said that "deconfliction" conversations between the USA and Russian militaries in Syria continued on a daily basis.

Russian media also cited unconfirmed claims that overall casualties could have been as high as 200 and Russians could have accounted for the bulk of them.

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