MOSCOW - Two men shown on videos disseminated by Islamic State jihadists have been identified as Russian by their respective paramilitary associations Wednesday, though it was unclear why they were in Syria.
Two handcuffed men were shown in a video distributed by IS's Amaq news agency on Tuesday sitting in grey robes against a wall. One appeared to have bruises on his face.
A veteran's organisation and a Cossack group on Wednesday identified the men as Grigory Tsurkanu and Roman Zabolotny, although neither admitted the men were fighting in Syria.
The Russian defence ministry on Tuesday denied any of its enlisted servicemen have been captured. However, the participation of Russian mercenaries in the Syrian conflict has been widely reported.
"This is our active Cossack Roman Zabolotny. We don't know how he ended up in Syria," Lyudmila Bondar, spokeswoman for the Don Cossack Host organisation, said.
Cossacks are a conservative paramilitary association dating back to pre-Soviet times, when they fought for the Russian tsar.
Bondar said Zabolotny is a chef from southern Russia who has worked across the country.
The second man, Tsurkanu, is from the Moscow region, according to Military Brotherhood, a veteran organisation.
"It pains us to have learnt that Grigory Tsurkanu is in the hands of terrorists in Syria," the organisation said on its website.
- The mercenary system -
Asked about the two men Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reports about them were not to be treated as official information, but that reports they were Russian citizens would be "checked".
"The Kremlin does not have the possibility of concerning itself with their fates," he added.
A series of reports by Russian news website Fontanka has laid out a system for sending willing mercenaries -- most former servicemen -- from Russia to the Syrian conflict through a shadowy outfit known as the Wagner private military group.
Business FM news website on Wednesday cited Roman Tsurkanu as saying his kidnapped brother, who has two children, was a former paratrooper who has been on several missions to Syria with Wagner, most recently in May.
"These contracts are not official," he was quoted as saying.
"They simply turn their backs on people. He will be simply executed now."
Russia stepped into the Syrian conflict in September 2015, backing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes and tipping the balance of the conflict in his favour.
Recently the military said Russian special forces were participating on the ground in the offensive against IS.