Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Rise and Fall of the Slavonic Corps: Russian contractors deploy to Syria

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Additional evidence of Russian contractors operating in Syria has emerged. According to an article published on the news site fontanka.ru, a private military company named Slavonic Corps indeed operated in Syria, but was actually disbanded after a single failed operation. The following story was told to fontanka.ru by former Slavonic Corps contractors which operated in Syria.

By the beginning of October the Slavonic Corps had 267 men in Syria, organized in two companies and based in Lattakia. The plan was to deploy to Deir ez-Zor to 'guard' the oil fields there, which are of viral importance for the survival of Assad, although they were hinted that 'guard duty' may involve actual fighting.

The contractors received 37mm M1939 Anti-Aircraft Guns and 120mm 120-PM-43 mortars, and were supposed to receive four T-72s and several BMPs. However, what they actually got from the Syrian high command were old T-62s and BMP-1s that couldn't even drive on their own power. So when they finally headed for Deir ez-Zor on the 15th of October, it was on guntrucks and technicals, without any armour support.

They made a stop at T4 Airbase for two days, the following photo was taken there.

On 18th October, they were sent to al-Sukhna because Syrian Arab Army and National Defense Force troops were engaged in heavy fighting here. In a brief engagement near al-Sukhna the Slavonic Corps suffered six WIA's (Wounded in Action) and had to retreat. During the retreat, one of the contractors, Aleksei Malyuta, lost his ID. This marked the end of the Russian contractors in Syria, at least for the time being. In the end of October Slavonic Corps was effectively disbanded and their personnel was flown back to Russia in two charter flights.

While fighting near al-Sukhna, they broke the main principle of Slavonic Corps Limited:

''The Company's activities are in strict correspondence to Russian law and to the law of those countries where the Company protects Russian companies' interests. Our principle - we never participate in armed conflicts as mercenaries and never consult entities, groups or individuals having even a slightest relation to terrorist organizations. Further we never take part in events related to overthrow of governments, violating human rights of civilian population and in any other actions violating International Law and Conventions.'' [1]

Slavonic Corps Limited used to consist of veterans which served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Africa, Tajikistan, Northern Caucasus, Serbia and other countries. [1] Many of the contractors are likely to have served in the Second Chechen War, fighting Chechens and other foreign Mujahideen they could also have encountered while fighting near al-Sukhna.

''سورية الأسد'' (Assad's Syria), a widely used regime slogan in Syria.

It is important to note that according to fontanka.ru the Slavonic Corps leadership was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) upon returning to Russia and charged with recruiting mercenaries. Apparently sending Russian contractors to Syria actually is not a policy supported by the Russian Government at the moment.

[1] http://slavcorps.org/en/about