MOSCOW: Russia denied a report in daily newspaper Kommersant that seven Russian planes had been destroyed by opposition shelling at Syria’s Hmeimim air base on Dec. 31, the TASS news agency on Thursday quoted the Defense Ministry as saying.
The business daily reported the military planes had been “practically destroyed” in the attack, citing two military-diplomatic sources, but the ministry said the report was “fake.”
At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website.
In the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched airstrikes in Syria in autumn 2015, more than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack by “radical Islamists,” the report said.
“The Kommersant report on alleged “actual destruction” of seven Russian war planes at Hmeimim air base is fake,” TASS said, citing the ministry. It said the Russian air group in Syria was “combat-ready.”
Russian servicemen killed
Earlier, the ministry said two Russian service personnel were killed on New Year’s eve in a mortar attack on the base by opposition fighters, according to TASS.
“As darkness fell, the Hmeimim air base was subjected to sudden mortar shelling from a mobile group of fighters. As a result of the shelling, two servicemen were killed,” the ministry said in a statement to Russian agencies.
With four fatalities this is one of the deadliest single days for the Russian Army in Syria since it entered the conflict and brings the total number of officially reported losses to 44.
Security around the Hmeimim base was being stepped up after the mortar attack, the ministry said.
“The Russian air force in Syria is combat-ready and continues to fulfill all intended tasks,” the statement added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Syria last month where he ordered the start of a pullout of Russian troops, saying their task in the war-torn country had been largely completed.
Three battalions of military police and officers of the Russian Center for Reconciliation would remain in Syria, as well as two Russian bases, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on a subsequent trip.
Russia became involved in the multi-front conflict in September 2015, when it began an aerial campaign in support of Syrian regime forces.
Moscow acknowledged in recent months that its special forces are also active on the ground in the offensive against Daesh militants.