Americans and Russians in deadly clash in Syria

Update 3/5/2018:  According to this article in Der Spiegel, Russians didn’t participate in the attack and few of them were killed.   If that’s so, how did the other version of events originate?  Fog of war, or something more sinister?  At this point, I don’t know what to believe. 

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never engaged in direct combat.   But early last month, Russian mercenaries attacked a U.S. position in Syria, and an estimated 100 to 300 Russians were killed.

The Russian troops reportedly were employed by a private company funded by a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also funded the company accused of illegally meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. troops and an allied militia called Syrian Democratic Forces were protecting an oil refinery at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.   The SDF position was attacked by Syrian government forces along with by Russian troops employed by the Wagner PMC (private military company).

U.S. forces counter-attacked with artillery, air strikes and drone strikes, smashed the attacking force and didn’t suffer any casualties themselves.

The Russian government said no Russian government troops were involved.  All the Russians in the battle were private individuals who were in Syria for their own reasons, the government said.

The U.S. government also had no official comment, but since then journalists have written a good bit based on off the record comments by U.S. intelligence and Treasury officials.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known at “Putin’s chef,” got his start as a hot dog vendor, then the owner of a chain of restaurants, a caterer to the Kremlin and then a caterer to the Russian armed forces.   He owns two companies, Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering.

Both he and his companies were indicted on charges related to interfering in the 2016 election, and he and his companies are on the U.S. sanctions list.

He reportedly is an investor in Wagner PMC, which was founded by Dmitry Utkin, also on the U.S. sanctions list.  Wagner PMC reportedly employed the “green men,” troops without insignia who engineered the Russian takeover of Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin allegedly owns or controls Evro Polis, a Russian company that has been promised a 25 percent share of oil and gas revenues in territories recaptured by the Syrian government from the Islamic State (ISIS).  Evidently Wagner PMC’s mission is to help secure these territories, and that was the reason for the attack.

I can see why Vladimir Putin might work with a private individual such as Yevgeny Prigozshin.   I don’t think Russians are any more willing than Americans to see their sons drafted to fight wars in distant countries for obscure purposes.  Hiring mercenaries solves this political problem, and also provides a way to deny responsibility if thing go wrong.

But what if it is the other way around?  What if this whole operation is to serve the business strategy of a Russian oligarch?  This is a dangerous situation, because both the Russian and U.S. governments could be sucked in a conflict they didn’t intend or expect.


All the “reportedly” and “allegedly” language is to note that little of these reports are based on public information—just what various publications and broadcasters are being told by their sources in government.  It all seems believable, but I have no way of knowing whether I have the whole story.

I do think the Russian and U.S. governments were wise to downplay the conflict instead of escalating it.

My question is what purpose is served by the U.S. presence in Syria to begin with.   Prior to U.S. intervention, Assad had tried to stay on good terms with the United States.  Syria was a destination for refugees, not a source of refugees.   Assad was ruthless toward opponents, but he didn’t persecute Christians or other religious minorities.

We Americans do have some moral obligation to the Kurds and other peoples our government encouraged to rebel.  But I suspect the real reason for remaining is to create problems for Russia and to appease Saudi Arabia and Israel.  This is a policy with high potential risks and low potential gains.


You would have thought armed conflict with Russia would be a bigger story by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution.

U.S. Strikes Killed Scores of Russian Fighters in Syria by Stephan Kravchenko, Henry Meyer and Margaret Takev for Bloomberg News.

Syria war: Who are Russia’s shadowy Wagner mercenaries? by Laurence Peter for BBC News.

Putin ally said to be in touch with Kremlin, Assad before his mercenaries attacked U.S. troops by Ellen Nakashima, Karen De Young and Liz Sly for the Washington Post.

U.S., Russia and Syria: Implications Are Serious by David French for National Review.

Syria: The Truth About Russian Deaths in U.S. Airstrikes by Christoph Reuter for Der Spiegel.  [Added 3/5/2018]

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One Response to “Americans and Russians in deadly clash in Syria”

  1. Edward Says:

    The explanations that I have encountered are that 1) Israel wants to wreck any Arab country as described in the Yinon plan and other Zionist documents and 2) the U.S. wants to keep Russia in its place as a “gas station” and prevent it from being a global power; a Russian success in Syria would undermine U.S. soft power and cement Russian status as a global power.

    I would not take any claims in the U.S. press about Syria at face value. This blog provides an alternative perspective:


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