AMMAN (Reuters) - A Syrian rebel group said on Wednesday it had killed a Russian general working as an adviser to Syria’s ministry of defense in an operation in the western Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.
A video statement from a group calling itself the “Hawks Special Operations Battalion ... a division of the Military Leadership of Damascus City and Province” gave the name of the general as Vladimir Petrovich Kochyev. The video, sent to Reuters, showed what the rebels said was a copy of his ID issued by the Syrian military.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian authorities.
“With the help of God, the Russian adviser for the minister of defense for military scientific affairs, General Vladimir Petrovich Kochyev, has been eliminated with his personal translator, Ahmad a-Ayyouq,” Lieutenant Majid Sayyed Ahmad of the Hawks battalion said in the video.
“A number of Syrian army documents have been also seized, together with reports about the opposition and the Free Syrian Army, adding to the achievements on the road to the liberation of Syria from the Assad gang,” said Ahmad, who gave his title as “commander of operations and special assignments”.
The statement did not say when Kochyev was assassinated, but a senior opposition figure in contact with the group, who did not want to be named, said he was killed about two weeks ago.
He described Hawks battalion as a professional unit led by officers who had defected from the Syrian army.
The same group claimed responsibility for the assassination of four of President Bashar al-Assad’s top lieutenants in Damascus last month.
Among the documents the video showed was a letter by the Syrian chief of staff, Fahed al-Freij, who is also the defense minister, asking the head of the Russian military advisers in Syria to extend Kochyev’s term as adviser.
The video also showed a photo of Kochyev and another Russian officer in military uniforms posing with Freij. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.
Russia, which has an estimated several hundred military personnel in Syria, is one of the few countries still backing Assad diplomatically since a popular uprising against his rule erupted 17 months ago.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Patrick Graham and Roger Atwood