Syrian regime blamed for death of four Russian officers
The independent Russian news website Novaya Gazeta has accused elements in the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad of being responsible for the killing of four high-ranking Russian intelligence officers on 1 February.
The officers, identified as Major Bulat Akhmatyanov, 33, Major Ruslan Gimadiev, 42, Captain Dmitry Minov, 35, and Lieutenant Vsevolod Trofimov, 36, were originally reported by Syrian and Arab media sources to have been killed in an opposition attack west of Aleppo.
However, Novaya Gazeta said that it had information that elements within the Assad regime might have killed the four Russian intelligence officers and that the attack had happened in Latakia rather than Aleppo.
Novaya Gazeta said that the Russian officers had a crucially important role in Syria and this was their second trip to the conflict-ravaged country. On their first trip to Syria, they had organised security for Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Damascus last month.
The Russian news website said that it doubted the previously reported version of events for two reasons.
Firstly, Russian officers of such high rank would not be supporting regime forces engaged in local battles against the opposition (western Aleppo is on the front line between the regime and opposition forces).
Secondly, Novaya Gazeta said, the Russian "reconciliation centre" in Syria had reported no opposition attacks against regime forces in Aleppo.
Latakia is relatively calm area, the news website added, and completely under regime control. It quoted sources as saying that the four officers were killed when their car was hit by a bomb which could have been planted by someone who knew their route.
Novaya Gazeta said that the regime elements believed to be behind the attack were the "party of war" and wanted to keep the regime's deadly offensive against rebel-held Idlib province going. Only a few Syrian regime officials knew about the assassinated Russian officers' mission, it reported.
The officers were said to be in Syria to provide security for a meeting between Turkish and Syrian regime intelligence officers.
This was due to take place in Kassab, north of Latakia, after the regime asked for Russia’s assistance in this regard.
Last month, the heads of Turkish and Syrian regime intelligence met in Moscow.
By killing the officers, Novaya Gazeta said, regime hardliners would ensure that there would be no accommodation between the Syrian regime, and Turkey - which has backed the anti-Assad opposition.
The recent attack by Syrian regime forces on Turkish troops in Idlib province showed that the regime hardliners could have achieved their goal, Novaya Gazeta added.
Novaya Gazeta has won awards for its reporting before and six of its journalists, including Anna Polikovskaya, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Anastasia Baburova have been murdered, it is believed due to their investigations.
In 2018, a note saying "traitor", accompanied by a sheep's head and a bouquet of funeral flowers, was sent to the newspaper after it carried out another investigation into Russia’s war in Syria.