Russian Says Soldier Killed Himself in First Loss of Syria Campaign


Russia's military on Tuesday said that a soldier had killed himself while on duty in Syria, the first confirmed death of a serviceman in the war-torn country since Moscow launched its bombing campaign last month. 

The defense ministry in Moscow did not identify the soldier who it said committed suicide but said the serviceman appeared to have taken his life due to problems with his girlfriend.

The announcement came after two people, including a person close to the family of a young soldier serving in Syria, told AFP he had died from unknown causes while on duty in the country, with one of the sources casting doubt on the idea that he might have killed himself.

AFP could not immediately verify if that serviceman, identified as 19-year-old Vadim Kostenko, a career soldier from the southern Krasnodar region, was the same as the one whose death was confirmed by the defense ministry. 

The government's quick confirmation of a death of a serviceman is hugely unusual and comes as world attention is focused on Russia's bombing campaign in its Soviet-era ally Syria.

"A contract soldier who served as a technical specialist at the Hmeimim airbase committed suicide while resting after his shift," a defense ministry spokesperson said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

The spokesperson said that text messages found on his phone suggested he took his own life because of relationship problems.

-'Not someone to take his life' -

A person close to Kostenko's family, who spoke to AFP by phone from Krasnodar, said that the cause of his death was unclear, adding that he had learned of Kostenko's demise on Saturday.

Grigory Donskikh, who served with Kostenko in Russia, went further, saying he did not believe he had committed suicide.

"He is not someone who would take his own life," he told AFP.

Kostenko is expected to be buried in the Krasnodar region on Wednesday.

Relatives and friends mourned his death in posts on VKontakte, Russia's most popular social network.

"We remember, we love, we grieve," a young woman identified as Katya Kostenko, Vadim's sister, wrote on her page, alongside a photo of a uniformed soldier clutching a Kalashnikov.

Deaths from mishandling of weapons, hazing and suicides are not uncommon in militaries worldwide, and have been a persistent issue in the Russian army.

But experts say that the Russian defense ministry may also cite a suicide to conceal the true reason of a soldier's death.

"We have repeatedly seen a situation where a family of a dead soldier is told that their son committed suicide ostensibly because of relationship problems," Anna Kashirtseva, spokeswoman for the Mother's Right group, told AFP.

Genuine suicides are rare, with servicemen instead coming under "physical and psychological pressure" in most of the cases, she said. 

The defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

On September 30, Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria, saying it needed to target Islamic State militants.

Russian warplanes have carried out sorties from the Hmeimim airbase and Russian servicemen are based there to help service the aircraft, among other tasks.

Russia insists that its ground troops are not taking part in combat operations in Syria and there have been no official reports of any servicemen dying in combat in the war-torn country.

- 'Either illness or trauma' -

A member of the Kremlin's rights council, who advocates for the rights of soldiers and works with the defense ministry, said he was not aware of Kostenko's death. 

But the activist, Sergei Krivenko, said that his defence ministry sources told him "about 10 days ago" that a Russian soldier had died "at the base" in Syria. 

"It was either an illness or trauma," Krivenko, the head of the Citizen and the Army group, told AFP.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that one Russian soldier had died in Syria "due to careless handling of weaponry."

Officials have previously denied accusations from Kiev and the West that it sent regular troops to eastern Ukraine to prop up pro-Kremlin insurgents. 

The state enforced a virtual blackout on reports of Russian soldier deaths in Ukraine despite reports to the contrary including funerals of soldiers.

Earlier this year, the Kremlin signed off on a law making all military deaths a state secret.

Russia's entry into the multi-front conflict in Syria is Moscow's first major military involvement outside the former Soviet Union since the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.

Comments 11
Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 13:47

Whatever the cause of death, he died while serving a noble cause against the CIA-backed, s3oodi-purchased beheading animals, may he rest in peace.

Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 15:07

there's no peace deal on the table, and it's not "mine" to take anyway.
but as far as my opinion is concerned, any "deal" involving the surrender of syria to s3oodiya or the US is out of the question. we saw what they did in afghanista, iraq and libya, any person with half a brain can easily predict the kind of chaos and eternal lawlessness we would have on our borders (and soon after within our own borders) if Assad was ever to fall. luckily it seems like he's going to outlast obomba, king salmon and erdogasm.

Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 15:13

"Cut your losses
Let go of Assad."

that might be your mentality, the one of s3oodis, americans and israelis, who have no allies but rather assets that they keep or expend based on their fluctuating interests. just like they used the LF and dropped them like dirty diapers, or saddam, or the SLA, or clowns like assir, or the kurds, or or or ... but that mentality is not ours, nobody is using assad or serving him, each is doing what he believes is right, and it's not based on a cost/benefit calculation.

Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 15:14

but i dont expect you to understand any of that, you just dont have what it takes.

Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 15:37

okay, i will thanks. and you enjoy you life, judging from your rants it seems wonderful lol

Missing mohammad_ca 27 October 2015, 15:45

The safawites are excused for their retarded comments this week...the self flagellation got a bit out of hand this past weekend it seems.

Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 15:52

as i said anonyme, if that's the kind of things you find "wonderful" and live in expectation of, your life must be really sh.. lol

mohammad: yawn.

Missing mohammad_ca 27 October 2015, 15:42

retired at 19? Do you even think before you post?

Missing mohammad_ca 27 October 2015, 15:45

I think the self flagellation got a bit out of hand this past weekend it seems didn't it ya Southern? Did you hit your head too hard?

Missing mohammad_ca 27 October 2015, 16:07

According to Southern he was retired at 19, please tell your vilayet e faqih to get their spin story straight and send it directly to their media outlets so that you guys don't contradict each other.

Thumb _mowaten_ 27 October 2015, 17:25

look up what takfiri means, you dont seem to have grasped the concept.

(and btw, every army in the world says that about their soldiers, it's not a "takfiri" invention)