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About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last week, according to three sources familiar with the matter. A Russian military doctor said around 100 had been killed, and a source who knows several of the fighters said the death toll was in excess of 80 men.The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on Feb. 7 near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor where, according to U.S. officials and associates of the fighters involved, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.The casualties are the highest that Russia has suffered in a single battle since fierce clashes in Ukraine in 2014 claimed more than 100 fighters' lives.The military doctor, who works in a Moscow military hospital and was directly involved in the treatment of wounded men evacuated from Syria, said that as of last Saturday evening there were more than 50 such patients in his hospital, of which around 30 percent were seriously wounded.Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said initial information was that five Russian citizens in the area of the battle may have been killed, but they were not Russian troops. She said reports of tens or hundreds of Russian casualties were disinformation inspired by Russia's opponents.Since the battle, associates of Russian military contractors have said Russians were part of the pro-Assad force involved in the battle, and among the casualties.
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