Mystery Surrounds First Russian Casualty in Syria

Teen's parents don't believe he killed himself
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2015 5:49 AM CDT
Mystery Surrounds First Russian Casualty in Syria
A Russian Su-24M jet fighter armed with laser-guided bombs takes off from a runaway at the Hmeimim airbase in Syria.   (Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)

The only confirmed death so far in Russia's military involvement in Syria is turning out to be as controversial as the campaign itself. The body of 19-year-old Vadim Kostenko was returned to his parents in southern Russia on Tuesday, and they tell Reuters they don't believe Moscow's claim that the young soldier, who was serving as support crew for the country's air force, hanged himself at an air base because he was having problems in his love life. His mother says Kostenko spoke to her on Saturday, the day the military says he died, and "he was cheerful, happy, and he laughed." Other relatives say they don't believe Kostenko and his girlfriend were having difficulties.

There are rumors that Kostenko was really killed by Syrian rebels, who are believed to have shelled the air base where he was stationed the day before the military says it found his body, according to Vocativ. The teen will be buried today, and Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta quotes his uncle as saying he had injuries that included a broken nose and a smashed skull, according to Reuters. Military deaths are treated as a state secret in Russia, and Kostenko's only came to attention after an activist group searched social media for indications of soldier deaths, reports the Wall Street Journal, which notes that there have been several other unconfirmed reports of Russian deaths. (The US is worried that Russian subs might deliberately take down the Internet.)

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