- Russia is relying heavily on private military contractors in Ukraine and Syria
- Such groups can be hard to control and often resort to brutal measures
- Moscow accepts these risks because it expects to use its military abroad more
Does Russia have troops on the ground in Syria, operating outside of its Latakia air base and Tartus naval base? The question has generated significant controversy. The Kremlin claims that its role is limited to the air campaign and that the resulting loss of life has been minor. The official death toll so far is only 31. However, there is ample evidence that these claims are false. Russian ground troops working for private military contractors have played an important role, spearheading attacks ahead of Syrian government forces. They have sustained considerable losses that are kept from the public eye.