Russia is disputing a report by the Reuters news agency that shows higher Russian casualties in Syria than has been officially reported.
While the Russian Defense Ministry claims 10 Russian servicemen have been killed in Syria since January 1, Reuters reports that an investigation by its correspondents, which was made public on August 2, shows at least 40 Russian troops and contract soldiers have lost their lives in Syria in 2017.
Reuters said it based its count on testimony from families and friends of the dead and local officials in Russia, many of whom said they were told by Russian authorities not to talk about those killed in Syria.
But the Defense Ministry in Moscow rejected the Reuters report.
"This is not the first time that Reuters is attempting to discredit, by any means, Russia's operation aiming to destroy Islamic State terrorists and the return of peace to Syria," ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in an August 2 statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia has nothing to do with Russian volunteers fighting in Syria.
"If there are Russian citizens in Syria as volunteers and so on, they have nothing to do with the state," Peskov said
Russia's involvement in the conflict on the side of the Syrian government is being praised in Russia as part of President Vladimir Putin's "successful foreign policy" ahead of next March's presidential election that many expect him to win.
Russian military losses that occur during special operations in peacetime are classified, according to a decree signed by Putin in 2015, just four months before Russia launched its operations in Syria fighting with Syrian troops against opposition forces and Islamist fighters.
Discrepancies in the data may be explained partially by the fact that Russia does not acknowledge that private contractors fight alongside the army.
Reuters says that, of the 40 allegedly killed, 21 were private contractors and 17 were soldiers. The status of the remaining two people is unclear.
Peskov defended the Defense Ministry's data on Russian losses in Syria.
"The information comes from the Defense Ministry, it is official and one to base [reports] upon," he said, mentioning as well that there might be "volunteers" from Russia in Syria.
"If there are some Russian citizens in Syria acting as volunteers or something like that then they are not under the state's auspices and therefore the Defense Ministry has nothing to do with them," Peskov said.
Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS