Four officers of the Special Forces Directorate of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – Bulat Akhmatyanov, Ruslan Gimadiev, Dmitry Minov and Vsevolod Trofimov – were killed on February 1 not in combat near Aleppo, as reported previously, but on the outskirts of Latakia. It was there that senior leaders of Turkey and Syria were planning to meet, and Russia was assisting with security. Sources told Novaya Gazeta that the attack may have been provocative in nature.
According to the sources, the Russian officers were ambushed, and their assailants were aware of the route they were taking to return to the city. They activated a landmine from a distance, and then gunned down the shell-shocked soldiers.
Latakia is currently fully controlled by pro-government Syrian forces. At present, the region is relatively calm.
The sources said that the officers were undercover, and were not using their real names. Several Syrians were reportedly also aware that the Russians were there on a special mission. One source told Novaya that the Russian soldiers may have been betrayed “in order to escalate the war”.
The newspaper’s sources claim that a meeting of high-ranking Turkish and Syrian leaders was being planned on the Turkish-Syrian border near Kesab. Syria reportedly asked Russia for security assistance during this meeting. Four FSB officers were then sent to Syria for this purpose. They fell into an ambush on their way back from reconnoitering the area.
It was the officers’ second trip to Syria. Previously they had provided protection for Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Damascus.
Following the Russians’ deaths, on the evening of February 2, the Syrian army opened fire on Turkish troops in Idlib, killing six people and injuring another seven. According to Novaya Gazeta, the orders to open fire and to kill the FSB special forces came from Assad’s close circle.
Reports of the deaths of the four Russian officers appeared on the evening of February 2. It was reported that they had been at outposts near Aleppo and were killed when the Syrian army retreated, when the opposition sent vehicles armed with explosives to the outposts, and later opened fire on them.