Polygraph.info, a website produced by U.S. government-funded Voice of America News and Radio Free Europe, has published leaked audio recordings it claims to be of Russian mercenaries complaining about their humiliating defeat at the hands of American forces in Syria.
Polygraph.info is styled as a “fact-checking” website, so it provided the audio to refute claims by the Russian Foreign Ministry that only five people who may or may not have been Russian were killed in battle near Deir el-Zour in Syria on February 7.
About a week after the battle, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed the cause of the armed confrontation was a mystery that merited further investigation, and the five non-Arabs counted among the dead might only have looked Russian but might, in fact, be citizens of unnamed “other countries.”
The U.S. government said American troops helped their Syrian allies repel an unprovoked attack on their position from forces loyal to the Assad regime equipped with Russian weapons, who turned out to include a sizable number of Russian troops. The Russians have been described as mercenaries working for President Bashar Assad of Syria. Both international media and Russian opposition leaders believe the number of Russians killed in the conflict was far higher than the Foreign Minister is willing to admit.
Polygraph.info obtained three audio recordings from “a source close to the Kremlin” that appears to capture several military contractors discussing the battle in Syria. They discuss working for a private military company called CHVK Wagner and indicate their personnel was involved in the clash near Deir el-Zour.
“Although private military groups are illegal in Russia, multiple intelligence reports and experts say CHVK Wagner is a Russian government shadow paramilitary group that is used in conflicts around the world, including Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria,” Polygraph.info explains.
Those in the leaked audio clip are not happy about how the battle went, or how the Russian government conducted itself in the aftermath. They use a good deal of colorful language to express themselves.
“To make it short, we’ve had our asses f*** kicked,” one of them says, alluding to hundreds of casualties.
“First they blasted the f*** out of us by artillery, and then they took four helicopters up and pushed us in a f*** merry-go-round with heavy caliber machine guns,” his account of the battle continues. “They were all shelling the holy f** out of it and our guys didn’t have anything besides the assault rifles.”
“They tore us to pieces for sure, put us through hell,” one of the men on the tape declares. “The Yankees knew for sure that the Russians were coming, that it was us, f*** Russians … Our guys were going to commandeer an oil refinery and the Yankees were holding it … we got our f*** asses beat rough.”
“They beat our asses like we were little pieces of sh**, but our government will go in reverse now and nobody will respond or anything and nobody will punish anyone for this,” the speaker laments.
In the other two audio clips, the speakers talk about losing nearly all of their tanks and armored recon vehicles immediately after the battle began and say they suffered about 215 casualties, some of them “f**ked so bad” their bodies cannot be identified.
The Washington Post reported last week that Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, sent an email to a Syrian official indicating that the Kremlin had granted permission for a “fast and strong” raid in Syria. Prigozhin is believed to be the paymaster for mercenaries employed in Syria to give plausible deniability to the Russian government and conceal the true cost of intervention in the Syrian civil war from the Russian people.
That facade may be crumbling, as Polygraph.info reports on an open letter from Putin presidential opponent Grigory Yavlinsky to the Kremlin and military leadership demanding an explanation for “why Russian citizens are taking part in ground military operations in Syria, despite the statements made by the president and the defense minister about the withdrawal of Russian military forces from that country, and that the civil war in Syria was over.”
Russian opposition leader and persistent Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has been barred from running in the March presidential election, accused the Foreign Ministry of lying about the battle and falsely claiming it could not identify Russians among the dead and wounded.
It might be a stretch to predict that Putin’s chances of re-election will be significantly harmed by the debacle in Deir el-Zour, but it could more plausibly lower turnout in the election to embarrassing levels, which seems to be the outcome Navalny and other critics are hoping for.
The official U.S. government position on the battle is that it seems suspect, but a direct link to the Kremlin has not been conclusively established.
“I still cannot give you any more information on why they would do this. They took direction from someone, with some local direction. Was it from external sources? Don’t ask me, I don’t know,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said on February 17.
“But I doubt that 250-300 people all just decided on their individual own selves to suddenly cross the river into enemy territory and start shelling the location and maneuvering tanks against it. So whatever happened, we’ll try to figure it out. We’ll work with, obviously, anyone who can answer that question,” Mattis added.