Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

The Deir Ezzor Turkey Shoot (3)

Anonymous expert compilation, analysis, and reporting.

Tur·key Shoot


  1. a situation, typically in a war, in which one side has an overwhelming advantage.

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Despite the immense media bandwidth consumed by the Russia indictments, the Turkey Shoot continues strongly, and may persist for some time as the domestic consequences play out – Girkin tossed a political hand grenade into Putin’s fake election campaign. One Russian commentator argued that the Turkey Shoot was the actual cause of Putin’s now protracted public absence, explained away as illness due to a cold.

Kaplan points out what has been obvious for some time now – Russia’s campaign to actively intervene in Syria, as we all know as a public distraction from Ukraine, has been costlier in every respect than the regime might have imagined.

Interesting reports by Felgenhauer, Carroll and others on the domestic blowback.

Lake and Lockie are correct – the notion that the Russian PMC attack on US forces in Syria was an accident, or freelancing, makes no sense given the tight micromanagement of Russian false flag foreign operations. As they have done many times in Ukraine, they tried to test the opposing side to see what they might get away with. The play failed catastrophically.

As much as the foolish might laud Russia’s “strategic gains” in Syria in the Western media, the campaign has failed badly in most ways it could have failed, and has left Russia stuck in a quagmire not unlike Iraq or Afghanistan. As Whitmore pointed out some time ago, Putin now owns politically every failure in Syria, as he does the bleeding sores of Ukraine and the US election campaign.

Fred Kaplan | Vladimir Putin’s grand ambitions for Syria aren’t working out quite as planned. | Slate

A new graveyard of empires?

Pavel Felgenhauer | Death of Military Contractors Illuminates Russia’s War by Proxy in Syria – Jamestown

Officials from the United States and Russia, together with non-governmental sources, all agree on the core narrative: On February 7, 2018, east of the Euphrates River, in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour, a battalion-size armed group loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by armor and artillery, moved to take over a dysfunctional oil refinery occupied by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF); but this invading force was then decimated by US firepower “in self-defense.” The Euphrates River is more or less the so-called “de-confliction line,” agreed on by US and Russian military chiefs to separate Russian-supported pro-al-Assad forces and the US-backed SDF. On February 7, the pro-al-Assad forces were operating on the wrong (eastern) side of the river and threatened SDF fighters and coalition special forces embedded with them. The Russian Ministry of Defense insisted “no Russian servicemen were involved” and explained the incident as a mistaken move by local pro-al-Assad militias pursuing some Islamic State leftovers. The Russian authorities scolded the pro-al-Assad fighters for failing to notify and vet their move with Russian command in advance; but they simultaneously rebuked US forces for “seeking to grab valuable economic assets instead of fighting ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—the former name of the Islamic State group]” (Interfax, February 8). Yet, as more evidence trickled in, the narrative presented in Moscow began to shift. According to Kommersant, a large force of several hundred men—pro-al-Assad militias reinforced by fighters from the notorious private military company (in Russian Chastnye Voennie Company—ChVK) “Vagner”—gathered to attack the refinery and possibly take over nearby oil and natural gas fields. The backbone of the force was made up of up to 600 ChVK Vagner Russian contractors armed with tanks and heavy guns, according to an unnamed military source. The attack was not authorized by the Russian command and was planned as a night raid—the Russian-led force opened fire and attempted to swiftly move in, believing the SDF would offer only token resistance and that US forces would not risk aerial attack as the Russians moved in. But the US promptly deployed overwhelming firepower before all of the ChVK Vagner contractors moved out into battle formation. They suffered heavy losses in both men and equipment. The unnamed Kommersant military source told the paper that about 11 Russians were dead (Kommersant, February 14). Igor Strelkov (Girkin)—the former commander of Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine’s Donbas—was one of the first to post a report, based on information from “reliable sources,” about at least a hundred Russian ChVK Vagner fighters “slaughtered” by the US. Strelkov, like some other radical Russian nationalists, has opposed President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into the Syrian civil war, believing true Russian patriots must fight for Russian interests by defending truly Russian land, like in Donbas. Strelkov called for future potential volunteers “to think twice before enlisting with ChVK Vagner” (, February 9). This is not the first time Strelkov has published reports about heavy Russian casualties in Syria that have quoted former “colleagues from Donbas” who are now with ChVK Vagner (see EDM, October 12, 2017). Different media outlets have reported widely disparate casualty estimates: Pro-Kremlin sources have tended to downplay the losses, declaring about 10 to 20 Russians dead and up to 50 wounded, while others report casualties in the hundreds. Official sources refuse comment, citing a lack of reliable information. But no one seems to refute the fact of an encounter gone badly wrong or that ChVK Vagner mercenaries were hit by US military fire, that many were killed or wounded, and that heavy equipment was destroyed (, February 13). The ChVK Vagner force demonstrated rare incompetence by cavaliering into a night assault against a US-backed force, apparently ignorant of the fact that the US military has, for some time, preferred to fight in the dark to utilize night-vision superiority. The experience of fighting in Donbas or against the Syrian opposition and the Islamic State may have provided them with a false sense of security, underestimating what a full-scale US precision firepower attack could bring. Russian military chiefs, meanwhile, may be somewhat pleased ChVK Vagner receive a licking. The private military company is reportedly financed and sponsored by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman from St. Petersburg known in the Kremlin court as “the cook” because he began his career catering for Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin reportedly has business interests in Syria and is apparently seeking to take over phosphate mining, oil and natural gas deposits. In promoting ChVK Vagner, “the cook” and his private army have reportedly increasingly come into conflict with the Ministry of Defense and Minister Sergei Shoigu (Novaya Gazeta, January 21). The Russian military command almost certainly knew in advance of ChVK Vagner’s planned move east of the Euphrates. And in Moscow, most assume the “traitorous” Americans were also aware of the imminent attack and, thus, prepared a deadly ambush (, February 13). This narrative is supported by the fact that, just hours before the ChVK Vagner force was massacred, a 210-meter bridge over the Euphrates, built last September by Russian sappers (see EDM, September 28, 2017), was washed away by a sudden flash flood. The Russian military accuses the SDF and/or the US of deliberately opening the floodgates at a hydroelectric damn upriver to destroy the bridge. The Pentagon denies this allegation (Interfax, February 9). The collapsing bridge cut off the Vagner-led force on the left bank from supplies, reinforcements and the possibility of an organized retreat. Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the top US Air Force general in the Middle East, told journalists the encounter in Deir el-Zour “was not entirely unexpected”: For a week prior to the incident, the US had observed a slow buildup of hostile forces on the Euphrates bridgehead and reportedly contacted the Russian military. According to Harrigian, to repel the attack, multiple precision-fire munitions were released by ground artillery, F-15E fighter jets, MQ-9 drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters (RBC, February 14). Some of these formidable assets could have been scrambled at short notice, but the B-52s, based presumably at Diego Garcia island, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, must have been in the air, loaded with ordinance, hours before ChVK Vagner made its move. No one seems to be telling the whole truth about an encounter in which the US military seemingly knowingly planned and executed an attack on proxy Russian troops, while the Russian military command deliberately turned a blind eye. This dangerous combination of heavy casualties and muddled narratives could potentially escalate into something much worse than war by proxy.

Oliver Carroll | Hiding in plain sight: Russia’s private mercenaries and the lengths Moscow goes to deny them | The Independent

For a private army without an official name, and in a country where its activity is illegal, we already seem to know a lot about Russia‘s Wagner.

Eli Lake | Russia Attacked U.S. Troops In Syria – Bloomberg

Mattis gave Putin “plausible deniability” for a military assault that went badly awry.

Alex Lockie | Russian military contractors reportedly tried to test the US military in Syria — but they got whooped | Business Insider

More details have emerged from the massive battle in Syria that is said to have killed hundreds of Russian contractors – and it looks as if they tried to test the US. Reports have said that the forces loyal to the Syrian government advanced and fired at a US-held position in Syria and that the counterattack obliterated them. It looks as if the Russian contractors and their Syrian and Iranian allies may be too weak to budge the US without getting the Russian military involved.
“On the ground” — the survivors of the mercenary PMC Wagner told the details of the beating in Syria –

The surviving participant of the battle in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor February 7, stated that the result of the battle killed 200 or 600 Russians. This Russian mercenary PMC Wagner said in a conversation with “Radio Freedom”, but the publication notes that the identity of the military, who in the course of the conversation called himself commander of the Department, has not been confirmed. First, the editors sent a voice mail intended for the military. In it, he argued that the local gave information to the enemy about upcoming operations.

Putin’s Shadow Army Suffers a Setback in Syria | The New Yorker

Joshua Yaffa writes about Russian military intervention in Syria and how the indictment of Evgeny Prigozhin complicates Vladimir Putin’s strategy.

Russian State Media Self-Censor Casualty Reports in Syria | Moscow Times

Russian state-run media outlets have reportedly deleted their overnight coverage of new casualty numbers among private Russian troops in Syria. Up to 300 Russian mercenaries attempting to take over a Syrian oil refinery were killed or injured in U.S. airstrikes on Feb. 7, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday. A Russian military doctor cited by the news agency estimated that around 100 Russian soldiers were killed in total. Several Russia-based journalists reported that the state news website covered the Reuters report early on Friday before later deleting the story. Cached versions of the article show’s report published early Friday being shared on Facebook and Russian social media. On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry admitted for the first time that five Russian citizens “could” have been killed in the clashes. Maria Zakharova, the ministry’s spokeswoman, dismissed reports of higher losses as “classic disinformation.” The Kremlin has maintained that no formal Russian military personnel have been killed in the clashes with U.S.-led forces. The open-source Conflict Intelligence Team investigative group, meanwhile, has named nine Russian Wagner fighters who were killed in the Feb. 7 attack in Syria.

The battle that never happened | Middle East Eye

Russian casualties at the hands of US forces reveal depth of Putin’s war of choice

Kremlin is aloof as wounded return after US Syria battle

Even as the Kremlin denies any official link to them, Russian mercenaries wounded in US strikes in Syria are being treated at Defence Ministry hospitals.

After Syria Deaths, Creeping Anger — And Kremlin Silence — Over Mercenaries

That Russian mercenaries are helping Kremlin war efforts isn’t new. But a mounting death toll in Syria could force Russia’s hand on acknowledging, and regulating, such undertakings.

Families ask Kremlin to admit Russian mercenaries killed in Syria | World news | The Guardian

Up to 200 Russians reportedly working for shadowy military contractor may have been killed in a US airstrikes this month

Russian mercenaries in Syria abandoned by Putin, mother says

The mother of a Russian man who is believed to working as a military contractor in Syria said on Friday the Kremlin had abandoned her son and those fighting alongside him.

Pentagon releases video it says shows airstrike on forces shelling a US-backed position in Syria | Business Insider

Watch that massive battle with Russian mercenaries in Syria | We Are The Mighty

The US military has released footage from a massive battle that took place between Russian military contractors and the US and its Syrian allies.

Russian Soldiers to Lose Smartphone Privileges Over Leaks – To Inform is to Influence

Feb. 16 2018 – 12:02 Dmitry Feoktistov / TASS The Russian military reportedly plans to ban the use of smartphones as early as next month after a series of embarrassing revelations of Russian troop deployments in Ukraine and Syria. Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused foreign intelligence agencies and terrorist groups of using data posted online by Russian…