The last time the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria conducted air and artillery strikes against pro-regime forces in Syria, in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, was on Feb. 7, when hundreds of pro-regime fighters were killed, the largest number of "pro-regime" casualties inflicted by the US-led coalition in one attack. The coalition described its action as carried out in "self defense", while the Syrian state news agency SANA described the action as an "aggression" by the coalition against "popular forces" who were fighting ISIS and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
In a bombshell update one week later, it was revealed that among the casualties were hundreds of Russian mercenaries working on behalf of the Assad regime, and hired by the Wagner PMC (Private Military Group) - a shadowy organization often referred to as Russia’s answer to Blackwater. Adding to the mystery, is that the Wagner Group is believed to be funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rich businessman close to President Vladimir Putin and also known as "Putin's Chef." Prigozhin was recently sanctioned by the US due to his links to the eastern Ukraine separatists.
Unnamed US intelligence sources quoted by the Washington Post said Prigozhin was in close contact with the Kremlin in the run-up to the Feb 7 assault on the Syrian Democratic Forces base in Deir Ezzor region.
According to the unconfirmed report, intercepted communications showed that Prigozhin was also involved in the operational planning with Syrian officials, ahead of the attack.
Meanwhile, amid unconfirmed reports that more than 100 Russians had been killed, the Kremlin denied that any regular Russian military forces had been involved. It admitted only that there had been "several dozen" Russian casualties, but gave no further details.
Of course, Prigozhin's name became a fixture in the media in the past two weeks, following the February 16 federal indictment of 13 Russian trolls, including Prigozhin, accusing them of "fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes." The indictment said Prigozhin "spent significant funds" on the group and on the Internet Research Agency, a St Petersburg body that has been nicknamed the "Russian troll factory".
Prigozhin shrugged off the US charges, saying "Americans are very impressionable people". "If they want to see the devil, let them see him," he quipped.
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We reminds readers of this extensive back story because moments ago, Al Jazeera reported that less than three weeks after the Feb. 7 US-coalition attack on Syrian pro-regime forces, among them an dozens of Russian mercenaries, the US-led coalition warplanes struck a Syrian regime unit, once again in the northern Deir Ezzor province.
So far there has been no further information on the number of casualties or any details of the attack. The question, of course, will be whether any more Russian mercenaries were killed in this latest (targeted) attack by the US-coalition, what prompted the US attack, and how the Syrian military acted in response.
Needless to say, if more Russians were killed - whether mercenaries or otherwise - relations between the US and Russia are about to hit a fresh rock bottom.