A Russian colonel has been killed in northwest Syria, prompting Moscow’s retaliatory airstrikes on opposition territory.

Colonel Oleg Pechevisty (pictured) of GRU military intelligence was slain on May 25 by a direct strike by a “sabotage group” on his command post, Russian officials said.

Pechivisty had been deployed in the Latakia region in western Syria since December to carry out “special tasks”. Since 2020, he was head of the department for the use of special forces units at the Ryazan Guards Higher Airborne Command School, southeast of Moscow in central Russia.

Soon after the killing, Russia began bombing opposition areas in neighboring Idlib Province, hitting the homes of civilians.

Anti-Assad groups have held most of northwest Syria since 2015, despite Russia and Iran enabling the Assad regime to regain part of the country.

A Russian-enabled offensive between April 2019 and March 2020 seized northern Hama Province and part of neighboring Idlib, killing thousands of civilians and displacing almost a million. It was finally paused by a Russian-Turkish agreement, but Moscow has continued periodic airstrikes in the region.