On 31 January, a Russian contract soldier was killed “while carrying out a combat assignment” in Syria. The 24 year-old, Maxim Pletnev, was a resident of town of Tikhoretsk in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai, Radio Liberty reports.
The fact that he died in the Near East was confirmed by Sergey Zakharov, deputy head of the Tikhoretsk region. Journalists discovered that Pletnev had also served on the Russian-Ukrainian border at the height of the conflict in the Donbas.
Pletnev’s death was reported by local newspapers on 5 February, but the articles did not mention Syria as the place of death. The journalist Oleg Ryzhenko, who first published the information, said that it had been confirmed by the Tikhoretsk military commissioner, who expressed bewilderment at the fact that Pletnev’s death had not yet been reported officially by the Defense Ministry.
Ryzhenko also reported that Maxim Pletnev’s funeral had recently been held in Tikhoretsk. According to a Russian website that publishes photographs of Russians killed in military conflicts, Pletnev was buried on 4 February at the Tikhoretsk cemetery. A local newspaper reported that the funeral was attended by the commander of the brigade in which Pletnev had served and other fellow soldiers.
The deputy head of the Tikhoretsk region told Kommersant that Pletnev had died in Syria “as a hero”.
BBC journalists discovered that Pletnev had served on the Russian-Ukrainian border at the height of the conflict in the Donbas. In 2015, Pletnev made a post on the Russian social network VKontakte, describing the highlight of his military service: “It was when we shot at a drone that had flown in from Ukraine, and when it flew towards Ukraine, they started shooting at it.”
The Russian Defense Ministry claims that little more than 40 Russian soldiers have been killed in conflict in Syria since the start of the operation there on 30 September 2015. Another 50 people are considered non-combat losses, including Russians who were killed as a result of several airplane and helicopter crashes. Despite the fact that the independent media has reported multiple deaths of Russian mercenaries, for example members of the PMC Wagner, their numbers are not included in the official Russian death toll. If the death of Maxim Pletnev is acknowledged by the Defense Ministry, he will be the first Russian soldier on the official list of casualties in Syria for 2019.
On several occasions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that the main group of Russian soldiers is being withdrawn from Syria. The most recent such statement was made in June 2018, when Putin said that more than a thousand Russian soldiers, 12 military airplanes and 14 helicopters had “recently” left Syria.