Scores of Russian mercenaries were reportedly killed when U.S. forces carried out air strikes against a pro-regime force in eastern Syria last week, according to U.S. and Russian reports. Bloomberg reports, along with confirmations from the USA military, that United States troops engaged and killed around 100 Russian soldiers, injuring 200 to 300 hundred.
For more than three hours, American F-15E attack jets, B-52 strategic bombers, AC-130 gunships, Apache attack helicopters and Reaper drones fired on the attacking force, destroying an unspecified number of personnel, artillery guns and battle tanks, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of USA air forces in the Middle East, said Tuesday.
If the numbers are accurate, the strike marks the deadliest exchange between Americans and Russians since the Cold War.
"Let's be frank: There are rather large numbers of our Russian countrymen in many countries of the world, and it is very hard in this case to possess detailed information", Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday in response to a question about the Russian deaths.
He said the US moves are eroding Syria's territorial integrity by sponsoring the creation of power structures independent from Damascus.
The Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry have refused to comment on media reports on Russian private contractors in Syria.
They are believed to have been employed by a private Russian company called Wagner.
The U.S. -led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery", according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson.
On Wednesday, U.S. forces struck pro-Assad forces after they started what the U.S. military described as an "unprovoked" attack on the U.S. -backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Russian news, as well as agency Bloomberg, reports that an "unknown number" of Russian military contractors had been killed in the ferocious American attack last week.
Vitaly Naumkin, perhaps Russia's most prominent Syria expert, also urged restraint in a news conference at the Valdai Discussion Club.
Russian forces are supporting the Syrian government in its war with opposition groups, some of which are backed by the United States.
The US says it killed more than 100 fighters in the strikes last week.
What about the Russian mercenaries?.
Private contractors - why are they in Syria?
Four Russian nationals - and potentially dozens more - were killed in that assault, according to the New York Times, which cited Russian and Syrian officials.
When pressed on why the USA considered the communication a success when it did not prevent the pro-government force attack, Mattis told reporters on Thursday, "You can't ask Russian Federation to deconflict something they don't control".
If confirmed, the news from Tuesday could further inflame tensions between Russian Federation and the US.
What are Russia's casualties in the Syrian conflict?
It has stressed repeatedly since February 7 that no members of the Russian armed forces were killed and that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrians were mercenaries. Russian nationals killed in the US -led counter-strike include Vladimir Loginov, Kirill Ananyev, Alexei Ladygin, Stanislav Matveyev and Igor Kosoturov, some of whom had earlier fought in Donbass, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team.