The Kremlin appears determined not to wade deeper into what could be an explosive international controversy over its countrymen who were killed by the American-led coalition forces in Syria earlier this month.
"We have no new information," Russian Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters today when the topic came up, according to Russia's TASS news agency. "We have already said all we can say on the matter." Thursday, Peskov refuted reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered information about the incident be classified and withheld from the public.
Earlier this month the U.S.-led coalition in Syria launched an aerial barrage at what were initially described as "pro-regime forces" in response to what the coalition said was an "unprovoked attack" against rebel facilities that also housed coalition advisers.
Things got more complicated when it was reported that at least some of the casualties of the U.S.-led counter-attack were Russian citizens, members of a private military contracting firm. The number of Russians reported killed or wounded is all over the place -- from five killed, according to Russia's Foreign Ministry, to "about 300" killed and wounded, according to sources cited by Reuters.
Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, said the larger numbers were "a classic case of misinformation" spread by the U.S.
"Notably, this information attack is coming from the United States, which has been accusing Russia for months on end of interfering in its internal affairs, in particular, the presidential election campaign, including in rather amusing ways, such as in social media," she told reporters Thursday. "Mind your own business instead of spreading disinformation about Russia."
Regardless, Zakharova emphasized "the issue is not about Russian servicemen" but private citizens.
In Senate testimony Tuesday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo declined to answer questions about the incident in such a public setting, but said that generally speaking, his agency has seen "in multiple instances foreign forces using mercenaries in battles that will begin to approach the United States."
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) then asked if "massing and manuevering forces against a location where U.S. personnel are present in Syria [was] a good way to get yourself killed."
After some light chuckling from Pompeo, who declined to respond, Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley said, "So that does make you more susceptible. I would leave that also to the operational commander, but you are at greater risk when you start to mass in that situation."
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