March 23, 2016 / 9:18 AM / a year ago

Bloggers say sixth Russian serviceman died in Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A sixth Russian serviceman was killed in his country's military operation in Syria in February, but his death was not officially reported, a collective of Russian bloggers who monitor the conflict said on Wednesday.

Sergei Chupov, a 51-year-old major of Russia's Interior Ministry troops, was killed in Syria on Feb. 8 and is buried in the Balashikha district of the Moscow region, the bloggers, who operate under the name Conflict Intelligence Team, said on their site (www.citeam.org).

It is unclear what Chupov's mission in Syria was, the bloggers said. They cited social media postings by acquaintances of Chupov talking about his death, and said they had tracked down his grave.

Russia's defense ministry and interior ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

One of the sources quoted in the report confirmed Chupov's death to Reuters.

"I know Chupov was a negotiator in Syria and was killed by a direct hit from a mortar shell," Radik Belov, who said he served under Chupov's command in a reconnaissance platoon in the 1990s, told Reuters.

Russia has so far officially acknowledged the death of five members of its security forces in its Syria operation. President Vladimir Putin last week ordered the withdrawal of the bulk of the force in Syria, saying they had achieved most of their objectives.

Officials say Russia's military role in Syria was limited to air strikes, training and advising Syrian government troops, search and rescue operations to recover downed air crews, and protecting Russian bases.

Syrian opposition groups have said though that Russian forces have been involved in Syrian government offensives, including in combat roles.

Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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