While the Russians claim to have no control over the Russian military contractors that have been fighting in Syria, including the ones that attacked a U.S. base, once their tours of duty are finished, their return to Russia goes straight to a military base.
Reuters followed groups for Russian contractors as they left Syria and once arriving in Russia, boarded buses and drove 220 miles to the Russian military base that is home to the Russian 10th Special Forces Brigade in Molkino.
The destination of the Russians arriving from Syria provides rare evidence of a covert Russian mission in Syria beyond the air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops acknowledged by Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Feb. 14 Russians may be in Syria but “they are not part of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”. He referred Reuters to the defense ministry when asked why civilians fighting in Syria return to a military base. The ministry did not immediately respond.
A duty officer at the 10th special forces brigade, asked why non-military people were entering the military base, said: “Nobody enters it, as far as I am aware … You’ve seen them, okay. But you should not believe everything … You can maybe. But how can we comment on what other organizations do?”
More than 2,000 Russian contractors are fighting to help Syrian forces recapture land from their opponents, several sources, including one contractor, have said.
Reuters reporters saw a Syrian Cham Wings charter flight from Damascus land at the civilian airport in Rostov-on-Don on April 17 and watched groups of men leave the terminal through an exit separate from the one used by ordinary passengers.
They boarded three buses, which took them to an area mainly used by airport staff. A luggage carrier brought numerous oversized bags and the men, dressed in civilian clothes, got off the buses, loaded the bags and got back on.
All three reached the village of Molkino, 350 km (220 miles) south, shortly before midnight.
In the village, each bus paused for a minute or two at a checkpoint manned by at least two servicemen, before driving on. About 15-20 minutes later the buses drove back through the checkpoint empty. Publicly available satellite maps show the road leads to the military facility.
Families of contractors have confirmed that the contractors have been using the military base prior to deploying to Syria and their immediate return to a Russian military base is another sign that the government controls them far more than they admit to.
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