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Russia Ramps Up Chemical Weapon Disinformation Leading-Up to Idlib Offensive

August 30, 2018

By Noor Nahas

Translations: Русский

As a potential offensive into the remaining Syrian rebel strongholds in Idlib from the Assad government becomes more likely, Russian propaganda outlets like RT (formerly known as Russia Today), their various embassies, and their network of friendly media outlets have started pushing stories of potential chemical attacks in Idlib and Hama.

Various stories spread by Russia, particularly its Ministry of Defense, claim that phone calls were made to the Russian Reconciliation Center supposedly warning a number of nefarious activities. These claims from Russian government bodies and outlets connected to Russia’s media network have accused a range of groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), of readying false flag operations to blame Russia or Syria. However, while there is no evidence of any actual preparations for “false flag attacks”, on the 26th of August, RT’s Ruptly video service uploaded footage of a government Volcano missile launcher being deployed to Idlib. This comes five years after chemical weapons variants of this launcher were used in the 2013 Ghouta attack.

Sputnik, another Russian state-funded media outlet, has also pushed a story by the Russian Ministry of Defense claiming that specialist groups trained by the British Olive group were preparing to conduct a possible attack. The Olive group ceased to exist in 2015 following a merger with Constellis group. 

These claims continue a narrative pushed by Russia and the Assad government that British special forces are somehow involved in Syria. A similarly bizarre, and unverifiable, claim was made earlier that British troops were captured in Ghouta by pro-government forces.

Russia’s official government bodies and media outlets also continue to promote images from a pro-government movie funded by the Syrian government. The plot of the movie, Revolution Man, portrays an international journalist who fakes a chemical weapons incident with the help of terrorists.

The images, sometimes claimed to be from a White Helmets film set, are often posted in conjunction with stories or tweets “predicting” upcoming chemical attacks. The same images and claims were used in Russian media when questioning government responsibility for the Douma chemical weapon attack.

Such claims are not always connected to or in anticipation of any specific attacks by pro-government forces. Rather these claims seem to come at times when Russia needs to muddle the conversation regarding attacks, or going into preemptive damage control for an ally it struggles to control.

Coinciding with these claims, the United States, United Kingdom, and France have stated they will act in the event of a government chemical weapons attack in Idlib. However, there is little reason to expect actual action if a chemical attack were to occur. 

With over 200 documented chemical weapons incidents in Syria, most of which have been committed by the Assad government, the actual response by countries who have threatened action in the past has been largely symbolic and limited.  

Following the first major use of Sarin on Ghouta in 2013 by pro-government forces, the United States backed down from the now-infamous “red line” against chemical weapons usage. Instead, chemical weapons stockpiles were allegedly destroyed with the help of international bodies. Pro-government forces continued to use chlorine and Sarin following the Ghouta attack, with the vast majority of chlorine attacks having gone largely unnoticed or ignored by the countries threatening military action. Though some military actions have taken place following flagrant chemical attacks carried out by pro-government forces, most of these strikes were relatively limited and Russian forces were warned in advance of incoming strikes.

Accusations against rebels, the White Helmets, and various other bogeymen created by government supporters and propaganda have generally pushed the narrative that because the pro-government forces are winning, there is no need for them to use chemical weapons that draw heavy international scrutiny. The most likely reasoning for these attacks, according to this logic, is the desire of the rebels, whom they believe are fully funded and backed by foreign enemies of Assad, to draw in outside intervention. Seven years into the Syrian Civil War and with no sign of serious military intervention after hundreds of chemical attacks, this logic seems weaker than ever.

Whether or not the government plans to use chemical weapons during an offensive in Idlib has yet to be seen. Chemical weapons were successfully used by the Syrian Army in Douma to advance the government’s demands over Russia’s plans and agreements with groups like Faylaq al-Rahman, thus making this route more attractive for Assad to use again.

However, the presence of Turkish soldiers along the borders of Idlib impedes the government’s use of chemical weapons in Idlib. Despite a relatively tame response to previous attacks, new U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton could see Assad’s use of chemical weapons in a highly-scrutinized battle as an opportunity to strike government forces in order to project what the administration may see as strength.

While the potential response of the U.S. and Europe is unclear in the event of a chemical attack in Idlib, it is clear that Russia and its allies are intent on muddling the media landscape in the event that Assad yet again uses chemical weapons during a future Idlib offensive.

Noor Nahas

Independent researcher following the Syrian Civil War using open source research.

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41 Comments

  1. DrakePendraig

    Russia deserves a Credibility Rating of F.
    Bellingcat should create and publish such a database of Nations (and some individuals).

    Reply
    • Andrei Moutchkine

      Please, does anybody here know how to use their brains. There is two ways to cut this cake.

      1) Nobody ends up using gas in Idllib. No harm done. Russians maybe look stupid, but maybe it is all in good faith, better safe than sorry.
      2) Somebody does use gas in Idlib. You can take what Russians are doing now as a disclaimer, that this time around, yet again, it is not them, not Assad and nobody else who is with them.

      Do try to explain how some kind of Option 3) is not to interpret as “who will believe the Russians anyway”? A lot of people will notice, trust me.

      Last time in Douma Russians said there will be a false flag and there was one that was faker than most, with not even any chemicals involved. How is that an F? Its an A+ in my book.

      Reply
  2. TBone

    I think increasing numbers of the public in the West are coming to the conclusion where the real fake news actually comes from? Assad is no fool, and attacking women and children with chemical weapons, knowing full well there would be the pathetic response by the agents of Israel…..US,UK And France, was and is highly unlikely. What IS likely, is their use by the very groups RT and Sputnik state. As a wise man once said…’…but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time!’ Nice try, though, Bellingcat.

    Reply
  3. Persse

    1. Your claim that there has been prior chemical attacks by the Syrian government is completely false.
    2. Douma has comprehensively exposed the white helmets as a propaganda unit. It has no legitimacy and is suspected of atrocities against civilians in pursuit of staging filming for its puposes.
    3. Chlorine as a chemical weapon doesnt pass the laugh test. It is completely ineffective on the battlefield unless in huge quantities. The idea that it equates somehow to airstrikes and artillery bombardment is nonsense.
    4. No Sarin has been discovered outside the terrorist chain of custody.
    5.The claim that the punitive strikes with missiles against Syria were not of a serious nature is simply nonsense, as is the claim that they were not pre-engineered on the pretext of a faked chemical weapons attack.

    Why you people spew out this tiresome drivel is beyond me. Does it make you feel important? That somehow you are a player in big affairs? As a substitute for something worthwhile and intelligent to say that is beyond your capabilities?
    The Syrian governments victory is solely based on its legitimacy amongst the bulk of Syrian population. Without that legitimacy it would have crumbled years ago. It is an astonishing achievement against heavy odds.

    Reply
    • DDTea

      “Your claim that there has been prior chemical attacks by the Syrian government is completely false.”

      -No it is not false. Completely true, and substantiated by physical evidence, biological samples, eyewitness testimony. Investigations have been undertaken by multiple parties including the UN-OPCW JIM and Human Rights Watch.

      “Douma has comprehensively exposed the white helmets as a propaganda unit. It has no legitimacy and is suspected of atrocities against civilians in pursuit of staging filming for its puposes.”

      –Correction: It was exposed as air-dropped chlorine cylinders that may have additionally contained nerve agent.

      “Chlorine as a chemical weapon doesnt pass the laugh test. It is completely ineffective on the battlefield unless in huge quantities. The idea that it equates somehow to airstrikes and artillery bombardment is nonsense.”
      –Yet it was unambiguously used in Douma and numerous other places throughout the war. In Douma, chlorinated compounds were discovered in the soil and surroundings. Videos of chlorine attacks, including drops of the munitions from helicopters and videos showing gas dispersal, are available online. Chlorine is an effective chemical weapon if the goal is to render an area (temporarily) uninhabitable. Chemical weapons are not made or intended solely to kill.

      “No Sarin has been discovered outside the terrorist chain of custody.”
      –Correction: no Sarin has ever been discovered in the possession of anybody besides the Syrian Regime forces.

      Reply
      • Andrei Moutchkine

        As you ought to know, the evidence against Assad on old counts is very much contested. None of this matters much at the moment, as is this one about an upcoming attack, regardless of whether it is a false flag or a real attack.

        Consider Russian willingness to be made fools out of for crying wolf a pretty strong disclaimer, that they really are not planning to use any chemicals or let Assad’s troops to use any, same for whoever else is considered to be affiliated with them.

        If somebody does use chemicals now, you’ve been warned. It is also conceivable that they are irritated by some 70 Western warships capable of launching about 380 cruise missiles hanging in range of Syria. Will probably know soon enough, as regional-specialty missile strikes tend to happen on Fridays.

        Reply
    • Black Star

      ” No Sarin has been discovered outside the terrorist chain of custody.”

      Maybe because Syrian government does not let international observers see their chemical weapon storages? As in “we are in a doing a massive war crime, so we do not want anybody to get any evidence about that”.

      Reply
      • Andrei Moutchkine

        Where do you get this stuff? All of the Syrian government’s stash was confiscated back in 2013 and OPCW even got a Nobel Peace price for the project.

        Their Douma report, which essentially confirmed there were no interesting chemicals in sight there, came with a mysterious blurb that OPCW accounted for 96,something% of the stash, without offering any explanation as to what and where the leftovers may be.

        Reply
    • Anonymous

      The UN is a joke it’s funny how a majority of you believe this nonsense that Syria is behind these chemicals attack. All this has been planned out many years ago how the milirary complex wanted to topple and take Syria out. Go and see the video on Wesley Clark on how they told him the people they wanted to topple and you will see for yourself how fake these wars are. https://youtu.be/9RC1Mepk_Sw

      Reply
      • Nate

        Wesley was speaking of a past plan.
        If he was speaking in future tense, it took more than a few years.

        Reply
  4. Mad Dog

    Bwa ha ha, the Syrian government is legitimate? Since when. As far as I know, the old man was installed after a coup and the son just took over, the Syrian people, especially non-Alawhites having nothing to do with it. As for this so-called astonishing achievement, please clarify. As far as we can tell, the Syrian Armed Forces were on their last legs until the Russians came in with their brutal bombing practices, helped by the Iranians and their minions Hezbollah. As the whole thing started against unarmed civilian demonstrating against injustices committed by this ‘legitimate’ government, I find nothing astonishing in the thuggery that has brought us to the present. The Russians just want a proxy in the ME and care nothing about the Syrian people, just like Assad doesn’t really give a damn.

    Reply
    • miran

      It is important that the King of Saudi Arabia is legitimate. But that fact does not bother the western hypocrites since it matches their goals.

      Reply
    • Andrei Moutchkine

      It is the Assad’s government that has a representative with UN, suggesting it is recognized by other member states at least to some degree. I am terribly sorry they forgot to consult you on this. Truly appalling,

      I suspect the only alternative for the time being are those fellows that dug in around Idlib? I am not sure what kind of statement they are trying to make by not leaving elsewhere, but I take it also they are interested in becoming the government of their own or what? Is anything preventing anybody from running away and laying low?

      Reply
  5. Lucky13

    Hopefully they clean up the last of these rebels, expel the Turks and their proxy ISIS, give the Kurds their own state and then take back the millions of migrants that have poured into Europe. Democracy be damned, it is failing world wide anyway.

    Reply
    • Andrei Moutchkine

      I think the Turks (as well as Iran) are in on it. There are two areas, lower and upper Idlib. The upper has presentable sort of Turkish proxies and even elected an alternative secular Syrian government of their own, the lower collects undesirables and a fortified border between the two. There are also guard towers supposedly manned by all three countries watching over that border and the whole thing implements something agreed upon at some Astana conference, where there was nobody Western.

      Reply
  6. Rob Heusdens

    So, RT/russia is the one that propagates “disinfo”???
    Based on what exactly? The last time they warned for “false flag” attack (Douma), there was one and no chemicals were found. This time a transport of chemicals has been signalled, leading to the rumour of an attempt to pull of such a “false flag” chemical attack.
    Bellingcat is – as usual in the case of Syia chemical attack – the one providing the disinfo….

    Reply
  7. Rob Heusdens

    Esp. the accusation that Ghouta/2013 large scale chemical attack was done by the government is ridiuculous.

    One should know that this attack happened just days after a UN chemical weapons investigation team arrived in Damascus, just miles from the scene were the attack happened. And guess which side had invited the UN team in? Yes, the Syrian government.
    The UN team there came to Syria to investigate a previous chemical weapon attack, which happened in march 2013 in Khan al-Assal, where some 16 Syrian govt soldiers and 10 citizins died. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khan_al-Assal_chemical_attack

    Are we really supposed to believe the Syrian govt. invited the UN team in to investigate that previous case, and then just days after they arrived commits a chemical attack in Ghouta, literally under the nose of the UN team?

    The UN team has never attributed this attack to the Syrian govt.

    Another piece of complete disinfo, this Bellingcat article.

    Reply
    • Nate

      “I’ll cry fake news when it doesn’t fit my world view”.

      Oh yeah, Snopes is “muh fake news”.

      Reply
  8. Dan

    It’s high time for the West to start shuting down branches of russian misinformation outlets like Sputnik. To turn a blind eye to russian aggression is no option while Russia is all over the place hacking us.

    Reply

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