On Sunday, the leading US newspaper came up with a heartbreaking story of a housing complex for families displaced by the Syrian conflict being bombed in what the Times called a Russian airstrike in August. The journalists then stated that they were able to trace the air raid back to the Russian Air Force using “eyewitness photos and videos,” and claimed to have a trove of flight logs and cockpit tapes.
The Times said that its journalists “spent months translating and deciphering their code words” but said nothing about how they got their hands on the data supposedly belonging to the Russian military in the first place. Responding to the accusations on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry has highlighted flaws in the report – perhaps the most glaring of which is that Russian pilots neither receive commands, nor report on their mission mid-flight, Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov argued.
“As frustrating as it can be for the masterminds behind this fake, but we have to say it once again: passing of coordinates to Russian bomber pilots and reports on task execution are not made by voice openly on air”
In fact, it is not the first time the Russian military has refuted claims that appeared in America’s newspaper of record. The Defense Ministry issued a similar correction following another damning piece by the same outlet in October. That story accused Russia of bombing UN-protected hospitals, some of which turned out to be militant hideouts tucked away in caves in the Idlib province. Konashenkov also questioned other evidence presented in the Times’ latest report, calling it “primitive and ill-defined” and adding that “In Russia, it is called a shot in the dark.”
The NYT scoop is based on a “video from an unidentified source featuring rogues from the White Helmets running against the background of some structures supposedly belonging to a ‘refugee camp’ as well as photos of a blue skyline purporting to show a Russian plane and fragments of Russian phrases allegedly belonging to the pilots,” Konashenkov continued.
An almost seven-minute-long video clip purports to show the aftermath of two Russian sorties in the Idlib province. The video shows, in no particular order, alleged bombing sites with partially collapsed buildings and people running around to help the injured, as well as images of a blue sky with a blurred dot loosely resembling a military aircraft.
While blaming Russia for the death of civilians, the Times failed to mention that the Idlib Governorate, where the alleged raid took place, is still controlled by brutal jihadist factions, including Al Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot, Al Nusra.
The paper cites the Macro Media Center – a self-described “group of media activists and citizen journalists” working in Syria – as the source of at least some of its visual evidence. Konashenkov, however, pointed out that the release of the bombshell report coincided with the announcement of cooperation between the NYT and the infamous Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Last week, the SOHR announced that it had struck a deal to work with the paper in October, during the same timeframe its journalists were apparently meticulously “verifying” the “evidence” for the alleged strikes on Idlib The UK-based SOHR, which has received hefty sums from the British government, has previously been accused by some of one-sided support for Syria’s opposition and for acting as a tool of Western propaganda.
The White Helmets – also known as the ‘Syria Civil Defence’ – who are featured in the video, also have a questionable reputation. Regularly praised in western media, the group operates exclusively in territory held by various militant factions, including radical jihadists, and has been accused of having links to some of the same radicals – and even helping to stage ‘false flag’ chemical weapons attacks.
Speaking of the Times’ continuous cooperation with such dubious sources, Konashenkov said that the paper deliberately uses their information to push an agenda.
“Following the previous publication of fake news by NYT in October, we expressed our regret that a quality paper was duped by terrorists and their henchmen from the White Helmets. This time it would be inappropriate,” he said. “All these things happened upon mutual agreement.”