Russia has refuted the authenticity of a “proof of life” Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) video purportedly showing two wounded soldiers from the Kremlin whom the jihadist group claims it kidnapped in Syria.
Moscow has joined Tehran in providing support to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, allowing the leader to turn the tide of the war in Syria in his favor.
On Tuesday, ISIS released the footage of the allegedly kidnapped Russian soldiers via its Amaq News Agency arm and through various forms of social media, including accounts linked to the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
In the 42-second video, released on the group’s AMAQ news agency, two men appeared briefly in a room wearing gray tunics. One, with a beard, appeared to be in handcuffs. The other seemed to have bruises on his face.
Reuters could not immediately verify the video.
The bearded man spoke in Russian, the other remained silent, with Arabic subtitles in the video. It was dated Oct. 3, though there was no other evidence when the video was made.
The two ISIS hostages identify themselves in the video.
“I am Zabolotny Roman. I was born [in] 1979 in Rustav Oblast in Aksaysk District in the village of Rassvet. During a counterattack conducted by the Islamic State, I was taken prisoner,” claimed the man in Russian.
“Captured with me was Tsurkanov Gregory. He was born [in] 1978 in the Domodedovo area,” he added, allegedly identifying the other hostage.
On Thursday, ISIS claimed that it took the two Russians captive while clashing with Moscow and Tehran-backed Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor.
However, a spokesman for Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in western Syria has repeatedly denied that the jihadist group had kidnapped any soldiers from the Kremlin.
“All servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces staying in the Syrian Arab Republic are safe and in a good condition and are performing the designated tasks,” declared the spokesperson, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
“There were no reports of incidents connected with capture or losses among servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces in the Deir Ezzor Governorate and other Syrian areas,” he added, echoing a statement released by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The Associated Press (AP) learned from Russia’s Defense Ministry that the Kremlin killed more than 300 ISIS fighters and wounded more than 200 others with airstrikes this week against targets outside Deir Ezzor city, the capital of the governorate of the same name.
Moscow has dismissed as false previous ISIS allegations that it captured Russian servicemembers.
In May, ISIS jihadists in Syria published a video purporting to show the decapitation of a captured Russian colonel, reported the SITE intelligence group that monitors jihadi activity online.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied the authenticity of that video.
Although ISIS has claimed responsibility for some attacks in Russia and has threatened to carry out more terrorist acts within the country, the Kremlin often downplays the Islamic terror threat it is facing.
Citing the Russian military, The Foreign Desk reported in May that jihadists had killed about 30 soldiers from the Kremlin since its operation started in Syria in September 2015.
The U.S.-led coalition has focused on fighting jihadist groups in Syria, not the Assad regime and its allies.
American troops have been supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Arab fighters and People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls large swathes of northern Syria.
In recent weeks, the U.S. and its SDF allies, as well as the Iranian and Russian-backed Assad troops, have been fighting to push ISIS out of Syria.