The Russian government is claiming 19-year-old Vadim Kostenko, a contract serviceman, committed suicide in Syria on Saturday over problems with a woman. His family is adamantly rejecting this version of events.
“I will never believe this version (suicide),” his mother Svetlana told Reuters. “We spoke every day by phone for half an hour. (On Saturday) he was cheerful, happy, and he laughed.”
The military said the 19-year-old hanged himself.
“We were told he had hanged himself because of a girl,” said his father Alexander. “He would never have done it. I know my son really well.”
His 14-year-old sister explained to Reuters that Vadim’s body “appeared undamaged and it was unclear if he was strangled or had hanged himself.”
“A contract serviceman stationed at the Hmeimim airbase [in Latakia] as a technician committed suicide while he was resting after duty,” stated a source in the Russian defense ministry. “According to preliminary information, in particular the analysis of text messages in his phone, the reason for the death of the contract serviceman is problems in his personal relationship with a girl.”
The Russian airstrike in Syria began in late September. Vadim landed in Syria on September 14, almost three months after he signed a contract to join the air force’s support staff. He did not tell his family he was in Syria until he landed.
Reuters attempted to reach out to his girlfriend Tatiana, but she did not respond.
Vadim’s aunt, Anna Musienko, also does not believe he committed suicide and claims he wanted to marry Tatiana:
Musienko painted a picture of her nephew as someone who was enthused by serving in the military, saying Vadim had nursed ambitions to train as a pilot. Vadim had told his relatives he and his friends could not refuse the order to go to Syria when it came, she said.
The Conflict Intelligence Team, a team of bloggers who provide information about Russian troops in Ukraine and Syria, first reported his death. They also wrote that the “SU-25 fighter jets currently active in Syria are from” Kostenko’s 960th Close Air Support regiment.
The Kremlin has been under fire for allegedly sending Russian soldiers to Ukraine. As The Guardian points out, the “disastrous Soviet campaign in Afghanistan” remains “in the back of people’s minds.” The government keeps funerals of all servicemen a secret. Reports of dead Russians in Ukraine forced President Vladimir Putin to declare that “deaths of Russian soldiers during special operations in peacetime should be classified as a state secret.”
A survey found that 72% of Russians agree with the airstrikes in Syria since state television reports showing the dangers the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) could pose to Russia in the future. In June, the Russian Interior Ministry reported that over 400 Chechens have traveled to Syria to join radical Islamic groups, mainly ISIS, since the civil war broke out in 2011.
“A total of 405 people, according to our data, have left Chechnya to join the fighting in Syria on the side of the Islamic State since the beginning of the war in that region,” said the spokesman. “Among those, 104 have been killed and 44 came back, while the fate of the rest is unknown.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov recently announced that studies found that nearly 2,200 Russians are currently fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) terrorist group. The jihadists are spread out in Syria and Iraq.
“The figures start getting really alarming,” he stated, adding:
At the time being, around 2,200 people from Russia are engaged in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. Among them, about 500 came from Europe, where they had earlier obtained citizenship, residence permit or refugee status. We are thoroughly analyzing belligerent statements of IS leaders on transition of the “jihad” to Northern Caucasus and in Central Asia.
Outside the Middle East, Russia is the largest contributor of jihadists to ISIS.
Chechens in Syria threatened President Vladimir Putin for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in a video released in September 2014, vowed to “liberate” Chechnya and Russia’s North Caucasus from Moscow.