Russian oligarch indicted by Mueller reportedly told Putin before mercenaries in Syria attacked US forces

Russian oligarch indicted by Mueller reportedly told Putin before mercenaries in Syria attacked US forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a toast during an award ceremony in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, for Russian Armed Forces service personnel who took part in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool Photo via AP

  • Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who was indicted by Robert Mueller for his alleged role in information warfare against the US, reportedly told Kremlin and Syrian officials Russian mercenaries were going to attack US forces.
  • Russian mercenaries did attack the US in a massive battle where as many as 300 of them were killed.
  • A Reuters report said the purpose of the attack was to test the US’s response, which was immediate and overwhelming.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who special counsel Robert Mueller indicted in mid-February, reportedly spoke to Kremlin and Syiran officials before a group of Russian mercenaries he’s thought to control attacked US forces.

In intercepted communications reported by the Washington Post, Prigozhin told a senior Syrian official he had “secured permission” from a Russian minister to carry out a “fast and strong” initiative in early February.

Then, on February 7, a column of some 500 pro-Syrian government forces which the Kremlin admits had at least some number of Russian nationals, advanced on a well-known headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the US trains, equips, and stations within Syria.

How the battle went down

Joe Stephens/YouTube Screengrab

The purpose of the attack, which saw 122mm howitzers, tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems get close to the US-backed position in Syria, was to test the US’s response, Reuters reported.

Operating Russian-made T-55 and T-72 tanks, the group fired 20 to 30 tank rounds within 500 feet of the SDF base, which held some US troops, Dana White, the Pentagon press secretary, said.

The US-led coalition responded with “AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships, and Marine Corps artillery,” according to Lucas Tomlinson, a Fox News reporter. CNN also reported that Himars and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.

The US reported more than 100 dead, but a later report from Bloomberg placed that figure as high as 300. The Pentagon said only one SDF fighter was injured in the battle.

Prigozhin’s role in all of this

In this Monday, Sept. 20, 2010 file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, second left, around his factory which produces school means, outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was one of 13 Russians indicted by Mueller for his alleged role in conducting “information warfare” against the US during the 2016 election.

A US intelligence source told the Post that Prigozhin is “almost certainly” in control of the Russian mercenaries thought to have led the advance against US forces.

The clash between US and Russian-controlled forces has met with less fanfare than one might expect for a major battle involving nuclear-armed Cold War foes. “It’s striking how the Russians themselves have been quick to distance themselves,” an intelligence source told the Post.

“I think [the Russians] realize just how damaging it could be to any further cooperation,” the official continued.

But Russia may have its own reasons to conceal the fighting, which could explain why Russia uses private military contractors and not their proper military in the first place. By using military contractors, as it has in Ukraine, Russia can hide the true body count of its Syrian campaign and continue to sell the conflict as a low-cost engagement to the Russian public.

Russia’s military stood by as the US stomped the mercenaries

The Russian-made tank in the crosshairs of a US drone.

Senior Airman Patrick Wyatt

Immediately after the battle, Russia denied any involvement in the clash. Later it claimed five Russians had died.

On Tuesday, the Post reported that Russia’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged that “several dozen” Russians were killed or wounded in the battle, and some had been “provided assistance to return to Russia . . . where they are undergoing medical treatment at a number of hospitals.”

The Pentagon told Business Insider it warned the Russian military before launching a counter-attack on the pro-Syrian government forces. Russia’s official military, which has considerable airpower nearby, did nothing during the fighting.

The evacuation of Russian fighters back to the homeland matches with a Reuters report on the battle that said Russian-led forces launched the attack to test the US’s response.

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