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On March 17 2016, Vladimir Putin addressed soldiers from the Syria task force and their relatives and awarded several distinguished servicemen. By doing so, he has revealed several details of the Syria operation, thus confirming several investigations done by our team.

As Putin spoke of Russian losses in Syria, he mentioned another name previously unreported by Russian officials:

That price is high, and I am not talking about money now. Here in this hall are Yelena Peshkova, Valentina Cheremisina, Irina Pozynich and Yulia Zhuravleva — widows of our comrade officers who died fighting terrorists. I know that for their families and friends, the loss of Oleg, Ivan, Alexander and Fedor is irreparable.

Thus, Putin confirmed the death of Fyodor Zhuravlev, reported by our team in November 2015. Our investigation revealed that Fedor Zhuravlev most likely served in the Special Operations center "Senezh" in Solnechnogorsk (part of Russia’s Special Operations Forces) and was killed on Novermber 19, 2015.

Пост о гибели Федора Журавлева в группе поселка Пальцо Брянской области

Post about Zhuravlev’s death in a group dedicated to the town of Paltso, Bryansk region, on a Russian Facebook analogue vk.com, with comments saying he was killed in Syria

Могила Фёдора Журавлёва на кладбище поселка Пальцо, фото Conflict Intelligence Team

Fedor Zhuravlev’s grave in a local cemetery in Paltso, photo by Conflict Intelligence Team

Putin also awarded several servicemen. TASS news agency presented a list giving details on the units of each of them. Together with Russian Aerospace Force airmen, awards were also given to ground troops officers, in particular tanksmen and artillerymen.

Medal "For Courage"

  • Deputy howitzer battalion commander of the 120th artillery brigae of the 41st mixed arms army Captain Andrey Podolskiy.

Earlier the Russian MoD apparently inadvertently revealed the presence of the 120th brigade in Syria: 6 howitzers of that brigade were marked on a map shown on the briefing room screen.

Карта Минобороны РФ с выделенной красным отметкой о шести гаубицах 120-й абр

Russian MoD map, marking indicating 6 howitzers of the 120th brigade marked in red

Msta-B howitzers have popped up many times in Syria, most often accompanied or operated by Russian soldiers. Our team has documented their presence near the town of Latakia, in Northern Hama governorate, Eastern Homs governorate, in the mountains of Northern Latakia (where they were operated by Russian-speaking soldiers in Russian military uniform) and near Ithria, eastern Hama, on the road to IS’s "capital" Raqqa.

Военные в российской форме и гаубицы «Мста-Б» на севере Латакии

Soldiers in Russian uniforms operating Msta-B howitzers in Northern Latakia

St. George Order IVth grade

  • Chief of staff, first deputy commander of the 1st Tank Army of the Western military district major general Yuriy Yarovitskiy.

According to Russia’s MoD, the recently created 1st Tank army includes, among other units, Kantemirovskaya Tank Division and Tamanskaya Motorized Rifle Division. The latter has T-90A tanks which were spotted in February in Eastern Syria in a likely Russian military group.

Танк Т-90А в районе населенного пункта Итрия на востоке Сирии

T-90A tank near Ithria in Eastern Syria

The Kremlin event proves that the Russian operation in Syria had (and possibly still has) a groun element consisting of, at least, tanks, artillery and special forces. Thus, Kremlin has admitted to its ground operation in Syria, despite repeated statements to the contrary.

"Awards for training?"

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the Guardian’s Alec Luhn that the soldiers were awared not for a ground operation in Syria but for their work as advisors teaching Syrian crews to operate unfamilliar equipment and vehicles.

According to the statute of the medal "For Courage", it is awarded for courage exhibited during:

— fighting to defend the Fatherland and Russia’s state interests;
— performing special tasks to ensure Russia’s national security;
— defending Russia’s border;
— doing military, state or civic duty, defending citizens’ constitutional rights and in other circumstances charactrerized by risk to one’s life.

Source

According to St. George order status, it can be awarded to:

…officers of senior and highest ranks for combat operations in defense of the Fatherland during an external attack resulting in the enemy’s complete defeat, as well as for combat and other operations in other states to uphold or restre international peace and security, serving as an example of the art of war, whose feats have served as an example of courage and who have been awarded Russia’s state awards for distinction on the battlefield.

St. George order IVth grade may also be awarded to junior officers who have exhibited personal courage while defending the Fartherland and high military prowess, ensuring victory in combat.

Source

One could (theoretically) think of a situation when a medal "For Courage" would be awarded for an "accident" during training, such as throwing away a live grenade and saving the lives of other soldiers by risking yours. However, the St. George order may only be awarded for combat, not providing training to other soldiers. Thus, the statuses of the awards refute igor Konashenkov’s claims they were given for training Syrian government troops.