Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

The Deir Ezzor Turkey Shoot (5)

Anonymous expert compilation, analysis, and reporting.

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The public debate in Russia continues, and appears to be getting uglier and more bitter by the day. It would appear that only the most obtuse are accepting the official claptrap on what transpired.

The focus of most speculation is on who ordered the suicidal assault on the US position, and who ordered the liaison officer to tell the US HQ that the PMC Wagner BTGs were not Russian. Russian leaks indicate the failed assault was planned and led by Colonel Sergei Kim, formerly of the Russian Naval infantry, ops officer of Wagner, and deputy XO, so the “freelancing” claim propagated by the Muscovites is demonstrably nonsense.

Pastukhov observes: “Deir-ez-Zor potentially could become the Port Arthur of the 21st century”, referring to the catastrophic loss by Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, in which the Japanese destroyed two of Russia’s three naval fleets, and Russia lost the Port Arthur naval base, now Dalian in China. The 1905 Russian Revolution was the result of Russia’s debacle in fighting Japan.

What this whole sorry story does illustrate very starkly is that Russia’s leadership is collectively obsessed with appearances alone, and generally cares not about what collateral damage it inflicts, to others or its own country.

Window on Eurasia — New Series: Russian Command to Blame for Russian Losses in Syria and Russians Will Draw Conclusions, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble Staunton, February 20 – So much energy has been devoted to the issue of just how many Russian mercenaries were killed in Syria on February 7-8 by American forces, Vladimir Pastukhov says, that the far more important question of who is to blame for this loss of Russian lives has not received the attention it deserves. But if one considers all the circumstances including tbe remarkably subdued response of Russian officials and media to this event, the St. Antony’s College historian says, it is clear that the Russian command, military and ultimately political, is completely to blame for these Russian losses ( Moreover, he continues, that is going to be increasingly obvious to ever more Russians who then will be compelled to draw conclusions about their military and their government. “The first thing which strikes the eye is the unprecedented tolerance of the Russian foreign ministry and means of mass propaganda,” Pastukhov says. After the deaths, “it is surprising” given how these have responded to such things in the past that “no one threatened to reduce America to radioactive ruble.” The explanation lies right on the surface, he continues. It involves not the attack of US forces on Russian mercenaries but rather in the fact that this attack occurred only after the US military had communicated to the Russian one that it was planning to attack. The Russian side did not warn the Americans off as it could have and the US “wiped the column from the earth.” The Russian failure to tell the Americans that the forces were Russian prompts the question: “who gave the order which in fact permitted the opening of fire ‘on one’s own’?” Obviously, the decision not to warn the Americans off and thus prevent the loss of Russian lives was “not simply a military but a political-military decision.” It was “from all points of view an act of betrayal.” There are really only two explanations for the behavior of the Russian military command, Pastukhov says. It could either be the product of “a pathological lack of knowledge” of what would happen if it said nothing or alternatively be “a conscious and intentional [interest in] mass murder.” The former is “theoretically possible” but highly unlikely in this case. “Therefore, the more probable version” explaining why the Russian command didn’t try to stop the Americans as that the action reflected a full awareness by its officers that it was “condemning Russian citizens to inevitable death.” There are various reasons why the Russian side might have acted in this way. It may not have wanted to provide confirmation of what it has long denied, that the Russians are still fighting in Syria, or it may have wanted the Americans to do the dirty work of killing the Vagner forces and thus removing them from the scene. The Russian side may have been only too glad to see the Vagner forces, many of whom had been fighting in the Donbass, killed because they are a problem for Russian policy there and potentially in Russia as well, and the more of them who are killed off in Syria, “the calmer will be the life of the regime in Russia.” At the same time, Pastukhov continues, “the behavior of ‘the victor’ looks no less strange than that of the losing side. The Americans didn’t make loud declarations or protest. “Why? Because everything that American wanted to say, it said, not in words but in actions.” And its message was clear: “a hybrid war is a fine thing if you are fighting with Ukraine.” Russia’s hybrid approach worked well in Ukraine in 2014, and it works when “your people kill but you remain [officially] uninvolved.” “But this doesn’t work well against those who are capable of defending themselves. Everything looks not so pleasant when your people are killed in massive numbers.” The Kremlin still hasn’t fully integrated “this principle difference” in its thinking; and it is going to have to because “the catastrophe on the Euphrates is only the start of a very serious set of events which will have far-reaching consequences,” events that are already pushing the whole notion of hybrid war “into a dead end.” The US isn’t frightened by a crowd of poorly armed men and “will kill them by the hundreds if needed and do this without fear of a response.” And that means the “only thing which remains for the Kremlin to do in this situation is to smile and betray people it has sent to their deaths.” “Suddenly, it turns out that hybrid war is not so smart if this is a war with a real opponent,” Pastukhov argues. “We are witnesses of the birth of the Syrian syndrome,” he continues. That is shown by the shift in “the tonality of the commentaries in the press” and the attempt to shift public attention to the question of the number of victims rather than the issue of why there were any in the first place. But that latter effort isn’t going to work, and once people start asking “who is guilty” of this adventure in the first place and “who is guilty” of sending Russians to their deaths when that could have prevented, the situation changes in fundamental ways. “In the near future,” Pastukhov suggests, “the direction of public opinion will begin to shift every further and the incident on the left bank of the Euphrates will begin to be considered not simply as a human tragedy and not only as a political betrayal but as a national humiliation” especially if no investigation occurs and no one is held accountable. “Deir-ez-Zor potentially can become the Port Arthur of the 21st century,” the loss to Japan that ultimately played a key role in triggering the 1905 revolution that shook the Russian imperial state to its foundations. This is no “black swan” as some imagine; it is “an ugly duckling.” And its features are going to come out because too many have come back from Syria. Like the veterans or relatives of the victims of the Vietnam, Afghan or Chechen wars, these people are going to seek “an investigation of the incident precisely as a crime which requires justice and the punishment of the guilty and, if they do not receive the one or the other, will draw the necessary conclusions, including political ones.”

Pavel K. Baev | New ‘Hybrid’ Plots Revealed in Russian Anti-Western Policy – Jamestown

The third development, while shaped by a conventional clash, still falls into the “hybrid” category, because Moscow can hide behind official denials. It was triggered by an attack by the Syrian government forces on a stronghold of the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), where US personnel were present—and Russian field commanders were well aware of that (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, February 13). The urge to capture control of a minor oil plant prevailed over strategic caution, and the results were devastating for the band of Russian mercenaries known as the “Wagner Group” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 16). Rumors in Moscow measured the casualties in the hundreds, and while only a dozen or so are reliably confirmed dead, the most shocking twist in the battle was that the US commanders maintained constant communication with their Russian counterparts over the “de-conflicting channel,” but Moscow opted against giving any warning to its mercenaries (Novaya Gazeta, February 17). Russia’s Defense Ministry had perhaps expected that the episode would remain obscured by the fog of war, but ironically, the social networks that Moscow is so keen to exploit for its propaganda have exposed its duplicity (, February 12). The stunning defeat in the Euphrates valley signifies a further mutation of the multi-party Syrian war, where Russia sought to augment its reduced intervention with expanded “hybrid” engagement. The rout of “deniable” mercenaries coincided with the Turkish offensive into the Afrin enclave controlled by Kurdish forces, and Moscow expressed full support for this operation expecting that it would further strain the damaged alliance between Turkey and the United States (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 12). On another front of the messy war, and just three days after the destruction of the “Wagner Group,” in response to an Iranian drone incursion in its territory, Israel delivered a devastating airstrike on Syrian and Iranian military bases primarily around Damascus, wiping out nearly half of the Syrian air defense system (Kommersant, February 12). Russian air defense assets at the Khmeimim and Tartus bases did not interfere with the Israeli operation, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry merely expressed “grave concern” and called for restraint (, February 10). This feeble message cannot hide the reality of Russia washing its hands over the Kurds in Afrin, letting down the al-Assad regime, turning its back on its Iranian allies, and betraying its own “dogs of war.”

Russian Mercenaries Take The Lead In Attacks On US And Allied Forces In Syria – The Drive

Despite the Kremlin’s denials and the US government downplaying the situation, the two sides appear headed for a serious confrontation.

Zakharova Downplays Armed Clash with Americans in Syria, Kremlin-linked Audio Recordings Contradict Her Story – To Inform is to Influence

I don’t know what is worse, that Russia lied and got caught, or if they’re trying to tell the truth but it looks like a lie.  The numbers of Russian dead vary from 5 to 600.  The reporting mechanism is all screwed up because there might have been 600 dead, Russians intermixed with Syrians, intermixed…

Russia admits ‘several dozen’ of its citizens killed in Syria fighting | World news | The Guardian

Foreign ministry says fighters not Russian servicemen and travelled to Syria ‘of own accord’

‘Dozens’ of Russians injured in US airstrikes in Syria, ministry concedes – CNN

“Several dozen” Russians were wounded in US airstrikes in northern Syria earlier this month, Moscow conceded Tuesday in a significant shift in position.

Russia’s shadowy world of military contractors: independent mercenaries, or working for the Kremlin?

The recent deaths of Russian fighters in Syria have, for the Kremlin, cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the world Russian military contractors that hire out mercenaries.

Wagner’s failed attack on US forces in Syria ‘led by former Russian Marine officer’ | KyivPost

Inform Napalm, an international open-source intelligence community, says it has identified the Russian officer who planned a failed assault on Feb. 7 against U.S. and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, in which scores of mercenaries from Russian private military company Wagner were allegedly killed. As the activists say on their website, the operation was led by a Russian citizen Sergey Kim, a former Marine officer with the military ID number M-0971. “It was he who masterminded the failed operation and coordinated it with his command from Russia’s official military contingent,” the community said on Feb. 19, referring to insider information provided by “Ikhtamnet_m0209”, an open-source intelligence group with sources close to Wagner. Inform Napalm’s claim lines up with an official report by Ukraine’s SBU security service published on Oct. 7, 2017, in which Sergey Kim, born in 1978, was identified as Wagner’s deputy executive officer. Kim’s profile can also be found on the Myrotvorets website, a Ukrainian volunteer database collecting information on persons who, in the opinion of the project’s activists, pose a threat to Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity. As reported earlier, on Feb. 7, a force of approximately 500 troops augmented with artillery and armored vehicles advanced against U.S. and Kurdish forces deployed near the town of Khsham near Deir-az-Zor in the oil-rich eastern part of Syria. Having detected the advancing force, U.S. forces contacted the Russian command in Syria to ascertain if the Russian army were engaged in the assault. According to a Feb. 12 press statement by the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the Russian command denied its troops were in the force. After issuing its warning to the Russian headquarters, U.S. forces unleashed a series of airstrikes on the threatening force, devastating the advancing military convoys. Reuters reported on Feb. 15 that there were up to 300 Russian casualties in the incident, with around 100 men being killed. Many of the wounded are now being treated in military hospitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg, sources told Reuters. According to the reports, the Wagner forces and pro-regime Syrian fighters had been ordered to capture an oil refinery in the region. The Feb. 7 battle in eastern Syria made headlines worldwide, with news agency Bloomberg saying that the incident “may be the deadliest clash between (Russia and the United States) since the Cold War.” The Kremlin, which has been providing military support to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the ongoing civil war in the country since late September 2015, denied any involvement in the deadly battle and has repeatedly dissociated itself from Wagner. However, numerous media investigations indicate Wagner was founded by former Russian special forces colonel Dmitriy Utkin as an unofficial private army for use by the Kremlin in secret and sensitive combat missions. Since its inception, the Wagner force has evolved into a full-fledged mechanized infantry brigade, and it reportedly enjoys broad financial support by persons close to the Kremlin, such as Russian billionaire Yevgeniy Prigozhyn, a restaurateur unofficially nicknamed “Putin’s chef” by the Russian press. According to the SBU, prior to being deployed in Syria, Wagner mercenaries were also engaged in hostilities in eastern Ukraine in 2014-2015 within the ranks of Russian-led foces. The Ukrainian security agencies say Wagner mercenaries were involved in the battles of Debaltseve and Luhansk Airport, and they were behind the shooting down of an Il-76 aircraft with 49 Ukrainian military servicemen on board over Luhansk in June 2014.

The failed operation of the Russian Federation in Hisham was planned by the head of the operational department of the “Wagner” PMC Sergey Kim

The international intelligence community InformNapalm together with the team of the project “Ihtamnet_m0209” established that the failed operation of the Russian Federation in Hisham was planned and coordinated with the Russian command in Syria by the head of the operational department of the “Wagner” PMC Sergey Kim. We begin publishing the data of the leadership of the “Wagner” PMCs, who are responsible for the incident, which resulted in the deaths of dozens to hundreds of Russian mercenaries and servicemen according to various sources. General information Almost 2 weeks of continuing information fuss related to the destruction of a large group of militants from the so-called PMC “Wagner” , which suffered significant losses on February 7 in the Syrian city of Hisham near Deir ez Zor. The Russian side tried to hide the facts of the deaths of Russian citizens, but the media, bloggers and activists continued to search for and publish sensitive information. Evidence of the relatives of the deceased appeared. It was possible to trace the participation of the destroyed militants in the war in the Ukrainian Donbass. The “Wagner” PMC can be called a “private military company”, many experts consider this structure to be closely connected with the GRU and MTR of Russia, and also call it “Putin’s personal army for dirty work” . It has proved itself well within the framework of the concept of a “hybrid war”, which Russia is waging against other countries. And the unsuccessful attempt to seize the oil refinery in Syria, which turned out to be a huge loss of manpower for the Russians, only confirms this assumption. But among those killed in Hisham, it may well be not only mercenaries, but also regular Russian military personnel. Since after the strike by US aviation and artillery, the Russian military command in Syria requested a “silence regime” to take away the wounded and dead. As reported by the agency Bloomberg , the wounded were brought to the military hospitals of the Defense Ministry in St. Petersburg and Moscow. At the same time, the Russian special services have thrown all their efforts to prevent the leakage of information. And even Russian President Vladimir Putin for some reason canceled some of his meetings and disappeared from the information field under the pretext of a sudden illness. From silence to information noise Since the second half of February we have seen a new stage in the information operation of Russian special services. From hushing up and attempting to hide information, they go on to create information noise, throwing rough fakes with unreliable lists. For example, one of these fake lists last week they threw a well-known Russian blogger El Murid and replicated over several telegrams and social networks.

Putin’s Latest Game: ‘Winning’ in Syria – Bloomberg

After declaring victory in Syria (again) there’s a danger he may turn back to Eastern Europe.

“On the ground” — the survivors of the mercenary PMC Wagner told the details of the beating in Syria

Russian Def. Ministry to jam mobile comms at its Syrian bases | UNIAN

Russian Def. Ministry to jam mobile comms at its Syrian bases. View news feed in world news for 20 February from UNIAN Information Agency

The Russian guns for hire dying in Syria – BBC News

A grieving mother sheds some light on Russia’s secret mercenary war in Syria.