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Evidence emerges of Russian mercenaries fighting for Assad in Syria Open in fullscreen

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Evidence emerges of Russian mercenaries fighting for Assad in Syria

Russian special forces train at the Molkino miltary base [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2018

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Russian men have been observed arriving from Damascus and being taken to a military base known to train special forces, adding impetus to claims Russian mercenaries are fighting in Syria.
Evidence that Russia is conducting secret missions involving thousands of contractors in Syria, separate from its airstrike and training campaigns, has been unearthed by Reuters reporters, the news organisation revealed on Wednesday.

Reporters claimed that on three occasions they have witnessed groups of Russian men arriving by plane from Damascus and being taken directly to a Russian special forces military base in Molkino, southwest Russia.

They claim this serves as proof that Russian special forces are fighting on the ground in Syria to help regime forces recapture land from their opponents, an allegation that surfaced in February after it was reported that some 200 Russian mercenary soldiers belonging to a paramilitary group were killed in a clash with US forces.

Read more: Are there really 'no good guys' in Syria?

Moscow has vehemently denied such reports, only acknowleding that five of its citizens died in that incident, and insisting that any civilians fighting in Russia are doing so unattached to the Russian army.

Molkino is where the Russian 10th Special Forces Brigade is based, and known to be a military training site for counter terrorist operations, tank battles and sniper shooting.

As many as 2,000 Russian contractors have been deployed in Syria, and are transported by the Syrian airline Cham Wings, a number of sources told Reuters.

Family and friends of fighters also told the news organisation that Russian private contractors have been training at a camp in Molkino since they fought in eastern Ukraine alongside pro-Russian separatists.

Reporters witnessed a Cham Wings flight from Damascus arrive at the civilian airport in Rostov-on-Don, after which groups of men left the terminal through a special exit separate from ordinary passengers, and boarded buses bound for the Molkino army base.

Read more: Russian soldiers' deaths shed light on Moscow's mercenary empire

The men, dressed in civilian clothes, loaded "numerous oversized bags" onto the buses, the report adds. The same series of events reportedly occured on three separate occasions in April.

The bus company in question declined to name who it rents its buses to, but said the Molkino trip could have been an "excursion", said Reuters.

Critics say Moscow uses mercenaries from a shadowy private military firm called the Wagner Group, in order to keep official military losses in Syria low and to avoid domestic anger at home over its military intervention.

Earlier this month, a Russian investigative journalist Maksim Borodin, who had written about the Wagner Group's activities in Syria, was found dead in suspicious circumstances, prompting speculation he had been assasinated by Russian authorities.

Russia, who have a chilling record of attacking journalists, has refuted the need for an investigation into Borodin's death.

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