MOSCOW ( — Russia’s Ministry of Defense is facing media criticism over a failure to report an ethnic Armenian servicemen’s death in Syria in late 2018.

Armen Aroustamyan, a junior sergeant who was dispatched to the country on his second mission, was killed on November 2, according to BBC Russian.

Official reports suggest that he died in an anti-tank mine explosion in Ash Shula, Deir ez-Zor.

The Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta was the first to report the incident which, however, was later dismissed as fake by the Federal New Agency. The source downplayed the fatality as an “operation to explode confiscated banned weaponry”.

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Russian military command in Syria refrained from further comments.

The Ministry issued its latest report on casualties in Syria on September 17.

Arustamyan’s death is said to have remained unreported “due to reasons yet to be clarified”.

A death report provided to the family says the serviceman was killed in a special mine-sewn traffic control barrier explosion. His death is thought to have occurred after a failed attempt to lift the barrier which immediately fell, causing four mines’ explosion.

Aroustamyan’s family is said to be suspicious about the official reports.

“An anti-tank mine cannot possibly go off when dropped from an altitude which isn’t quite high. It is a different thing if all that has to do with advertising Russian weaponry.

The Russian rockets, airplanes and tanks which are sent to Syria are new, whereas the arms supplies, projectiles and mines dating from the Soviet period should have been destroyed long ago. A poor-quality mine could have exploded if dropped from such a low altitude,” a relative of Aroustamyan, formerly associated with the Armed Forces, is quoted as saying.

Aroustamyan’s brother who also talked to BBC Russian accounts for the unreported death by the Ministry’s attempt to avoid “panicking volunteers” preparing to join the Syrian military operations.

An estimated 100 Russians soldiers are thought to have died since the launch of the Russian military’s operations in the country in 2015. Reuters’ estimates suggest even a higher toll. President Vladimir Putin is said to have issued a confidential order to underreport their losses in Syria.

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