A little girl in turquoise t-shirt and pants, a boy and an older man are lying on a vehicle. Their bodies look dead, but at the same time a neat and clean film crew with cameras is surrounding them. What is happening there?
The true sad story behind these images – and the people depicted – is that they were falsely presented on Russian state-controlled TV as “new evidence of a fake chemical attack” on April 7 in Douma, Syria. “The Western politicians and the media are ignoring the obvious evidence that there was no chemical attack in Douma”, the presenter tells when the images are shown on Pervyi Kanal.
In fact, the images were published already in 2016, as independent Russian media The Insider and TV Dozhd, quickly noticed. They tell the behind-the-scenes story of a Syrian-born director, who was shooting a film to attract international attention to the victims of the 2013 sarin gas attack.
Well-prepared disinformation operation
Only a week earlier, Russian state TV got caught out for repeatedly recycling images from another movie, Revolution Man, naturally as a “proof of the White Helmets faking pictures”. The same disinformation was first published by Russian Defence Ministry TV channel Zvezda already in March, a month before the attack.
When reports of the Douma chemical attack first appeared, the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine was well-prepared. It had discredited the volunteer and rescue group White Helmets since 2015, but the attempts accelerated after the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack last year. And it didn’t stop when the UN war crimes investigators concluded that the attack was carried out by the Syrian regime. Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry again falsely referred to White Helmets “manipulation using children in staging an alleged chemical attack in Khan-Sheikhoun”.
Beefing up the flow of disinformation
When the aim is not to inform but to disinform the audience, getting caught lying does not actually harm achieving these goals. The priority is to beef up the disinformation narrative with a flood of new stories. The same purpose was served with a variation of false messages like “Western methods in Syria now are like Nazi propaganda in 1939” or that “the West destabilises Armenia to weaken Russia in Syria”.
A lower-level disinformation activity was reported regarding the civil protests in Armenia. Disinformation outlets repeated the expected false message of a “Maidan scenario: West behind the Armenian protests” But this time the coverage on main Russian TV channels followed carefully the position of Russia’s foreign ministry and rejected these parallels.
In neighbouring Georgia, we saw a new wave of old disinformation spread about biological weapons being developed by the US in the region. The Russian Foreign Ministry drew a link to the Salisbury attack and the disinformation was repeated in the Georgian language.
Another line was that people living close to the so called Lugar laboratory are like “patients of Mengele”: they did not guess the threat but later understood that they were placed in death camps. For facts to clear your mind from years-old disinformation see here.