Russian mercenaries reportedly want revenge after getting whooped by US forces in Syria

  • A Russian paramilitary chief who provides Russian citizens access to mercenary work in Syria said people want revenge after reports that the US handily defeated hundreds of Russian fighters.
  • He also detailed the grim fate that awaits the Russian mercenaries, who often end up as "minced meat" in freezers.
  • The paramilitary chief also said the bodies of killed Russians won't be shipped back home until after Russia's election in March, to avoid bad press for Vladimir Putin.


A Russian paramilitary chief who provides Russian citizens access to mercenary work in Syria gave an anonymous interview to France24 and revealed how his countrymen are taking an embarrassing loss to U.S. forces.

"Each week I receive five or six new requests," said the man. "Some call me by phone, others come to see me."

He said about 100 people in Russia's Yekaterinburg region, where he is based, "are planning to go to Syria."

After U.S. forces crushed an advance of pro-Syrian government fighters that reportedly contained hundreds of Russians, the man said he's seen a change in the volunteers.

"Now, it's more about getting revenge than it is about money," he said.

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Aftermath of a deadly airstrike in Ghouta, Syria
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Aftermath of a deadly airstrike in Ghouta, Syria

A man gets stuck under debris at a damaged site after an airstrike in the Saqba area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 9, 2018.

(REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh/File photo)

Abu Abdallah, 26, who was rescued from under the rubble after an airstrike, is seen at a relative's home in the Saqba area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, January 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

 A man gets stuck under debris at a damaged site after an airstrike in the Saqba area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 9, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

A man carries a wounded child, as he walks on debris of damaged buildings, after an airstrike in the Saqba area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Men stand on the rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike in the Saqba area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A man holds a wounded child, as he stands on debris of damaged buildings, after an airstrike in the Saqba area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Two Syrian sisters run across the rubble to embrace after finding each other alive following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018. Air strikes and artillery fire killed dozens of civilians in the besieged rebel enclave near Damascus targeted by near-daily regime bombardment, a war monitor said. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by ABDULMONAM EASSA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Hamouria] instead of [Saqba]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian man prays following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018. Air strikes and artillery fire killed dozens of civilians in the besieged rebel enclave near Damascus targeted by near-daily regime bombardment, a war monitor said. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by ABDULMONAM EASSA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Hamouria] instead of [Saqba]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A volunteer from the Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) reacts as he sits in the rubble following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018. Air strikes and artillery fire killed over a dozen civilians in a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus targeted by near-daily regime bombardment, a war monitor said. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by ABDULMONAM EASSA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Hamouria] instead of [Saqba]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Two Syrian sisters run across the rubble to embrace after finding each other alive following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018. Air strikes and artillery fire killed dozens of civilians in the besieged rebel enclave near Damascus targeted by near-daily regime bombardment, a war monitor said. / AFP PHOTO / ABDULMONAM EASSA / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by ABDULMONAM EASSA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Hamouria] instead of [Saqba]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
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What it's like to be a Russian mercenary in Syria

For Russian military contractors, the work promises brutal and dangerous conditions, where they can expect to be asked to kill to protect business or political interests. They stand to make a decent wage, but the man said many of them don't live that long.

"If you sign up with a private military company, you have sold yourself to them for money," the man said.

"The company can use you however it wants. What will happen to you after your death? If you've been turned into mincemeat, so what? They put you in a bag, close the coffin and — in the best-case scenario — send you home. In the worst, they bury you there. If you are ready to earn money by killing people and defending the commercial interests of others, then that’s fine," said the man.

One key factor driving the grievous losses suffered by Russian contractors in Syria, which the man placed at 218, is the lack of air cover provided by Russia or Syria's proper military.

In the battle on February 7 that reportedly saw hundreds of Russians killed, their tanks and vehicles did them no favors. US airstrikes, artillery, and Apache helicopters strafed and decimated the forces, who reportedly had no anti-aircraft weaponry. Without air power, or any ability to combat aircraft, it's unclear how Russian military contractors on the ground could do any better against US-aligned forces than they did in the disastrous battle earlier this month.

How is the Kremlin playing the story?

But just because Russia's proper military, which has considerable airpower nearby, didn't protect the Russians, doesn't mean they didn't know about the advance. A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly secured the Kremlin's permission before the advance, the Washington Post reported last week. 

Reuters reports that the advance on American forces was intended to gauge the US's response, which may have been stronger than anticipated. So far, Russia has only admitted that a few of its citizens died, and several dozen were wounded.

One reason Russia uses military contractors, besides plausible deniability, is reportedly to conceal the true combat losses Russia suffers in Syria while it uses its state-run media to tell its people the operation is cheap and effective.

The paramilitary chief told France 24 that one Russian contractor has 150 "minced" men in freezers. According to the man, they won't be returned to their families until after Russia's election in March, if their remains are returned at all.

"We all know why. There's no problem keeping the deaths secret," said the man.

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