“Killed in action as a real warrior” – such words were said at the funeral of Russian Lieutenant General Valery Asapov. If Russia’s official reports are anything to go by, it is the first time when a top military officer has been killed in Syria. Kremlin losses continue to grow rapidly, as well as its efforts to hide the real death toll and Moscow’s unfeigned goals in Syria.
Lieutenant General Valery Asapov was killed in the vicinity of the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, which had been sieged by Daesh for three years. On September 5, al-Assad forces supported by Russian military launched an offensive on the city.
“There was a very difficult combat situation, even a defense minister could have been killed there. According to some reports, they [Russians] were ambushed and suffered losses, including Asapov,” says military expert Alyaksei Arestovich.
Asapov is reported to have died on 23 September, but according to unofficial sources it happened a week earlier. Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the fact of his death only after numerous press accounts.
Interestingly, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov put down the death with ‘Washington’s two-faced policy in Syria’. “The tragedy that we witnessed, the death of a Russian commander, is the price paid in blood for this double-dealing in the US’ policy [in the war on terror],” the diplomat said.
Against the backdrop of heavy fighting near Deir ez-Zor, Russia’s slamming the USA is no coincidence. The region which is rich in oil and gas, is strategically important not only for the Assad regime, but also for the Kremlin.
“We signed contracts with Russia, China and Iran,” said Bassam Darwish, a representative of the Syrian Ministry of Energy.
As it appears from the information by news agency RBC, this summer Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin’s company has got the sanction of the Government of Syria to take control oil and gas fields and protect them. In exchange for its services, the company will get contracts for extraction of 25% of the crude materials on the site. Prigozhin, whose nickname ‘Putin’s Chef’ also has a hand in the activity of private military company Wagner – a grouping of Russian mercenaries in Syria, which is led by Commander Dmitry Utkin.
“There is not much information about him. The only thing we know is that he has direct access to Putin – there is photographic evidence of the fact. The grouping is made up of former employees of the Russian special services,” says Dzyanis Ivashyn, a contributor to OSINT community InformNapalm.
Mercenaries participate in the most deliberate special operations; their number and losses are highly classified. A few days ago, Russian bloggers revealed information about the death of two Russians in Syria.
“The body count has significantly increased. Only deaths of high level military personnel are reported; but many ordinary contractors and members of private military companies are killed, and such information is withheld. There might be hundreds of dead,” stresses Ivashyn.
According to experts, such secrecy is caused by the Kremlin’s fear of public reaction and possible protests.
“The Russian troops are fighting for the interests of Gazprom and Rosneft, not the Russian Federation. It is very difficult to explain why they should die for the sake of gas and oil, that is why Putin signed a decree on non-disclosure of losses. The data are covered up; the Ministry of Defense report the losses when it is impossible to sweep them under the carpet,” Arestovich notes.
As is the case with the late Lieutenant General Valery Asapov. Officially, the Ministry of Defense confirmed the death of only ten Russian military in Syria while Reuters reported there were 40 killed.