Moscow says that four Russian military advisors were killed by a radio controlled bomb in Syria on Thursday. But there's more to this story that isn't being reported.
We were saddened and angered to learn that "four Russian servicemen were killed in Syria on February 16, when a radio controlled bomb targeting a Syrian military convoy exploded."
Two other Russian soldiers were wounded in the blast. Here's what RT reports:
The vehicle had been part of a Syrian Army convoy traveling to the city of Homs from the Tiyas airfield in central Syria’s Homs Province.
Russian military advisers were in the car when it blew up, according to the ministry’s statement.
When the vehicle was some four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the airfield, a radio-controlled improvised explosive device (RCIED) went off under the vehicle, the ministry said.
We don't think we're getting the full story, though.
This incident took place (allegedly) on Thursday, February 16. That's four days ago. Why did it take so long to report these casualties? And did any terrorist group claim responsibility? As far as we can tell: No.
And yet, ISIS was more than happy to claim responsibility for a bombing that happened on the same day in Baghdad:
Sunni terrorists dream of killing Russian special forces or military advisers. Why would any militia or terrorist group in Syria execute a successful operation like this, and then not immediately claim responsibility? And again, as far as we know, we're still waiting for someone — anyone — to say they were responsible for the attack.
Please correct us if you think we're being unreasonable, but doesn't this seem odd to you? The Russians might consider the deaths of these soldiers a state secret — but we're positive ISIS wouldn't.
Our second point is a bit more nuanced. But we still think it's an interesting coincidence: February 16 was the same day that Sergei Lavrov met with Rex Tillerson for the first time in Germany.
Protocol dictates the two would shake hands, exchange platitudes in front of the clicking cameras, and perhaps take an impromptu question before retiring for a private chat. Russia’s Sergei Lavrov began: “Mr. Secretary of State, I thank you for this opportunity to have the first contact after you have assumed the office and I would like to congratulate you once again for that.”As Tillerson began to speak, journalists got a swift signal to exit the room. The episode irked Lavrov, who openly wondered why U.S. aides pushed out Russian and American reporters without allowing them to listen to the rest of the opening remarks.
“Why did you shush them out?” Lavrov said.
Here's the thing: We are not arguing that Tillerson was acting awkward because he had some sort of prior knowledge about a bomb attack against Russian soldiers in Syria. He's new to the job and doesn't know how to act like a diplomat.
But isn't it interesting that Lavrov seemed almost frustrated that Tillerson wasn't being more cordial? Lavrov has previously slammed the U.S. for "coincidental" coordination with ISIS. If Lavrov knew about this bomb attack before going into the meeting, we don't think he would have been in such good spirits. We imagine he would have immediately "shushed" out the press, and given Tillerson an ear-full.
The problem is that we don't know exactly at what time this bomb attack happened. So it's also perfectly possible that the attacked occurred after Tillerson and Lavrov had finished their meeting in Bonn.
And of course, we suppose it's possible that Lavrov wasn't informed about the attack until much later.
Our third point is about the location of the attack: Tiyas airfield is west of Palmyra. Is it possible that Russian special forces, who are helping to lead the fresh offensive on the ancient city, are being specifically targeted? And if so, again, why did no one take responsibility for such a well-executed attack? And who benefits, aside from ISIS, if Russian special forces are killed while coordinating an attack on Palmyra?
The whole thing smells fishy.
1. Why did it take four days for the Russian MoD to tell us that four Russian military advisors had died in Syria?
2. Why did no one claim responsibility for the attack?
3. Can we deduce anything from the meeting between Lavrov and Tillerson? (We admit this is our least compelling question. But still.)
4. What does the location (and timing) of the attack tell us?
We will of course patiently wait for more information as it becomes available. But for now, we think there's a lot more to this story than we're being told.
Four Russians killed in a perfectly timed, well-executed attack just a few kilometers from a Syrian airbase, but no one takes responsibility? Was this a terrorist attack — or a message? Cui bono?
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