All the world’s media and numerous sources in social networks in recent days have reported a lot of dead Russian citizens fighting in Syria – employees of PMC Wagner and others, as a result of a clash with the forces of the Syrian opposition at the support of the American aviation and artillery.

The Washington Post called this event a deadly clash between Russian and American forces.

Meanwhile, Russian officials have been giving contradictory comments – from denial of what happened to cynical allegations that the state is not responsible for the fate of citizens serving under contract in private military companies. These statements are especially cynical in light of the fact that, according to numerous media reports, that have not been repudiated by officials, the soldiers of the PMC Wagner are trained in the bases of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, they receive military awards in the Kremlin and are virtually special units of the Russian military department. This is despite the fact that mercenarism and private military companies are legally banned in Russia.

The UN states that for the first week of February, up to a thousand people died in Syria, including several hundred civilians [who died] from the strikes of the Russian aviation. The leadership of the country also gave no comments in this respect.

The absence on the part of the Russian leadership of a clear recognition, or an official refutation of the fact of the death of armed Russian citizens fighting in Syria – “fighters of private military companies”, is, in our view, absolutely unacceptable.

Statements about the non-involvement of the state in the activities of private military structures are reminiscent of how the authorities have been absolving themselves of the responsibility for the death of the Russian military sent to the war in Chechnya and Donbass.

I address President of Russia Vladimir Putin with the demand to clarify the situation. I am certain that this event should be discussed publicly and openly. If a mass death of Russian citizens took place, then relevant officials, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, are obliged to announce this to the country and determine who is responsible for this.

I also demand to explain why Russian citizens take part in ground military operations in Syria, in spite of the statements of the President and the Minister of Defense on the withdrawal of Russian armed formations from this country and that the civil war in Syria has ended.

The demand for the cessation of Russian military intervention in the civil war in Syria is supported by millions of Russian citizens, which was very clearly demonstrated by the campaign of the Yabloko party to collect signatures for the immediate end of this war. The authority can be considered legitimate only if it reports on its actions to citizens of the country.

Therefore, in connection with the incoming information, a public report by Vladimir Putin is needed on the actions of the Russian military in Syria at present, the number of dead Russian citizens, regardless of the formal status of their [military] service. I also consider it necessary to publicly report on relations with the US, as the threat of an accidental or deliberate direct military clash between Russia and the United States is growing.

Grigory Yavlinsky,

Candidate for the Presidency of Russia