Dispute rises over death of first Russian solider in Syria

Russian Defence Ministry affirms one of its soldiers deployed in Syria committed suicide at airbase near Latakia city, family denies claims

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Poster of Syria's regime leader Bashar al Assad and a photo of Russian President Vladimir

Updated Oct 28, 2015

A Russian serviceman, who was working as a technical specialist, had committed suicide at the Hemaimim Airbase near the city of Latakia, Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, leaving family in doubt.

Following a probe on the young solider's phone messages, they concluded that the reason for the suicide was a break-up with his girlfriend, the Defence Ministry stated, however this is a preliminary report as the investigation continues.

The solider has been identified by bloggers as Vadim Kostenko, around 19-years-old, from the southern city of Krasnodar - but is yet to be confirmed.

According to Russian media, Kostenko’s relatives said that they were notified of his death on October 25.

The preliminary information said that he had hung himself, but the official note which his family had received did not mention the reason of the death, the relatives said.

The serviceman’s parents, Aleksandr and Svetlana Kostenko, speaking to Reuters said that they do believe that their son had committed suicide because he called them on Saturday and he was happy.  

"We spoke every day by phone for half an hour. [On Saturday] he was cheerful, happy and he laughed," his mother said.

”He would ever have committed suicide because of a girl,” his father added.

He was reportedly sent to Syria on Sep 14, in a service contract as Russia had launched an air campaign in Syria on Sept, 30 targeting Syrian regime opponents.

Russia, a key ally of Assad during the country’s four-year crisis, stated that it has sent only military experts to Syria. However, the Syrian regime denied any military advances by Russian troops on Syrian land.

Last month, Sergei Krivenko of the Russian Human Rights Council said that he had received worried messages from Russian soldiers and their relatives, expressing their fear of possibly being sent to Syria.

One of the Russian soldiers who was sent to Syria from the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk told  the Russian news daily Gazeta.ru last month that "nearly all [soldiers] are unhappy and not prepared to go to Syria," he said.

Nonetheless, Russia is adamant on making sure that opposition forces do not reach the Syrian coast, where the Assad regime is not only protecting its main power base, but is also safeguarding Russian interests in the eastern Mediterranean. 

According to US officials, 28 Russian fighter jets were spotted deployed at the Bassel al Assad Airport in Latakia, while Russian media has confirmed that around 1,700 Russian military specialists have been deployed in Tartus, where Russia is expanding its only naval repair base in the Mediterranean, which is essential for Russia to maintain any kind of substantial naval presence in region.

TRTWorld and agencies