China Central Television backs Russian version of the Syrian crisis, saying chemical attacks were staged - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:54

Screenshot from the CCTV news report citing Russian media, which claimed that the chemical attacks in Douma were staged

By Oiwan Lam, for Global Voices

Days after the United States, the United Kingdom and France launched airstirkes in Syria in response to the suspected use of chemical weapons near Damascus by the Syrian government, Chinese President Xi Jinping called British Prime Minister Theresa May and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stressing the need to cool down the conflict and investigate the chemical attacks.

But China’s state-owned media outlets echoed Russia’s allegation that the chemical attacks in Douma were staged. Microblogging website Weibo’s top search result showed a China Central Television report about a Russian journalist’s interview with a Syrian child who was featured in a video distributed by various Western media outlets:

Russian reporter revealed the ‘chemical attack’ video was fake: the Syrian boy explained how the video was staged] According to Russian report, the ‘white helmet’ organization workers, supported by Britain and other Western countries, used food to lure Syrian kids into making the fake video that showed the so-called catastrophe of a chemical attack. The 11-year-old boy, Hassan, who received first aid after the purported chemical attacks, said, ‘People grabbed me and poured water all over me when I entered [the first aid station].’

As anticipated, the CCTV news features attracted a number of nationalistic and anti-imperialist comments, like this one:

More than one hundred years ago, the U.S., Britain and France invaded China and burned the Old Summer Palace; today they invaded Syria. The nature of imperialists has never changed.

The Syrian civil war broke out after several months of a violent government crackdown against unarmed protesters in 2011; the armed conflict has led to the death of more than half a million people in the country. Despite the subsequent humanitarian crisis, China has often sided with Russia in vetoing United Nations Security Council resolutions on the crisis, claiming that military invention and economic sanctions would derail the issue of political settlement and undermine regional peace and stability. China has supported five of the seven Russian-led vetoes.

After the US-led airstrikes, China again voted in favor of a resolution drafted by Russia to condemn the military interventions. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, stressed:

As always, we oppose the use of force in international relations and call for respect for other countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Any unilateral military action bypassing the Security Council runs contrary to the purpose and principles of the UN charter and violates the principles of international law and the basic norms governing international relations, and will further complicate the Syrian issue.

At the same time, viral commentary circulated on various social media platforms comparing the current Syrian crisis to China’s situation during the First and Second World Wars, and arguing that weak countries will always be bullied by strong ones — hence, it is essential for China to become strong.

However, many netizens did not buy the Russian version of the story — although, to be accurate, Russia put forward several accounts of the events, first claiming that the chemical attacks were staged, then that they were real but Assad wasn’t responsible, then that they were indeed staged, but by the UK. Russian state TV even used a set from a movie to emphasize that the attacks were fake.

Judging from the CCTV discussion thread on Weibo, though, it was the “fake news” narrative that stuck, many netizens found it implausible:

Who can prove that this video was not staged? Who can prove that this video is for real?

Do not believe Russia.

In contemporary world history, Russia has a role in all evil deeds.

@ComYouthLeague, a political satire social media outlet, mocked China’s propaganda:


— 共青团流亡中央 (@ComYouthLeague) 17 апреля 2018 г.

[Short commentary] Mainland Chinese media outlets spent great effort in spreading rumors concerning the U.S. airstrikes in Syria. This, in a way, reflected that airstrikes had hurt the Chinese government. The Russian daddy once promised that he would protect Assad. Yet, the US launched airstrikes and Russia could not do anything, let alone block the missiles. How would Xi feel about that? Has the Russian daddy given up on his kids? What has happened to the promise of love?

One key component that is missing from the Chinese social media discussion is the misery of the Syrian people — and it begs the ethical question of why China, if it really is a strong country, keeps voting at the UN against international intervention, under the pretext of state sovereignty. If Western countries are the imperialists as Chinese propaganda authorities and nationalists have suggested, what is China in the arena of international politics?

By Oiwan Lam, for Global Voices

Categories: World News

The week in Russian media: threats of annihilation - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:48

By EU vs Disinfo

An odd but not surprising theme appeared in Russian media during this week. Whereas threatening with the possible use of nuclear arms is a recurring theme in Russian state media, and from representatives of the Kremlin, talk about total annihilation is maybe more rare.

On April 16 in one of the main programs on Russian state TV, a Member of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defence Policy stated that ‘had the US included air strikes on Russian air defences in Syria, 500 million Europeans would have been reduced to radioactive ash‘.

Now, for those following Russian state media it probably does ring a bell. In fact, the very same TV channel – Rossiya 1 – aired a show on March 16 2014 where Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov warned that his country could turn the United States into “radioactive ash”.

But that was not the only talk of annihilation we saw from Russian media during the week. For example, Moskovski Komsomolets reported how the mayor of the city Pskov regretted that the Lord forbids Russians to erase Americans from the face of the earth.

Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin nationalist outlet Tsargrad TV presented a video simulating a nuclear explosion outside the White House as a measure taken by the US to morally prepare their population for the threat. 40 other Russian language outlets picked up the topic from Tsargrad, among others Sputnik.

Actually, this video is not an assessment of a perceived threat, but was made as a simulation in order to prepare emergency managers  to improve the response in the event of major disasters.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Anatomy of a Russian chemical weapons lab lie - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:24

If Moscow wants its Syrian allies to skirt the blame for chemical attacks, they’re going to have to come up with some better evidence than a few beakers and boilers in a dingy basement.

Russia and Syria say the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syriawas all a rebel-staged fake— and promise that they’ve got the evidence to prove it. But one of the pieces of evidence they say shows a secret rebel chemical weapons lab shows nothing of the sort, experts say.

At the center of the claim is a building in Al-Shifuniya, in East Ghouta where the Syrian military says it found “a chemical warehouse used to manufacture chemical weapons against the Syrian Army” and a “research lab for experiments” run by the Islamist militant group Jaish al Islam in mid-March. The allegation tracked with an uptick in Russian claims about a rebel chemical weapons “false flag” in the making shortly after the Trump administration was considering military options to respond to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chlorine gas in early 2018—including an alleged February 25 chlorine attack on Al-Shifuniya itself.

Since Syrian state TV ran videos of the facility, Russia’s state-backed media outlet RT has amplified the story, calling the Al-Shifuniya site “a well-equipped chemical laboratory run by Saudi-backed Islamist terrorists” and the left-leaning Salon columnist Patrick Lawrence has cited the piece approvingly.

Source: RT

Russia’s defense ministry even seized on the facility and included it as evidence in a briefing denying Russian complicity in the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal—without directly tying to lab to the attack in Salisbury, England. “After liberating an array of local communities in Eastern Ghouta, Syrian government forces located a clandestine workshop for the production of chemical munitions,” a Russian defense ministry slide with pictures of the facility reads. “[It is clear] that the workshop for chemical munitions is for provocational measures, as with previous impositions of guilt on Syrian government forces for employing chemical weapons.”


Videos of the Al-Shifuniya facility show fliers with the logo of Jaish al-Islam, one of the Islamist militant groups that held control of the the northeast Damascus suburbs.

Source: SANA

The videos also show equipment seemingly from commercial companies, like an air plant marked as the product of Hill-Rom, a medical device maker, a large metal container with a “Flainox” label, the name a fabric dyeing equipment firm, as well as several boiler-like metal containers in the basement.

Source: SANA

Source: SANA

Experts say it’s not clear what the facility in question was used for, but they are convinced that it couldn’t have been used to produce either the chlorine gas or sarin nerve agent that many believe were used in the fatal attack in Douma which prompted the U.S., France, and the U.K. to strike Syria on Friday.

Asked if the equipment in the videos of Al-Shifuniya could be used to produce chlorine gas, Cheryl Rofer, a retired chemist with experience working on chemical weapons and environmental issues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said “no.”

Chlorine is typically produced with electrolysis cells using either large amounts of salt or hydrochloric acid as feedstock and lots of electricity to produce and recover the gas.

“Chlorine is a gas at room temperature and pressure,” explains Clyde Davies, a former research chemist. “Its ‘critical point’, below which it can be liquefied, is about 144 C, but it needs high pressure to do this, which is why it is stored and shipped in gas cylinders. Just like the ones that were dropped on Douma.”

The process can be dangerous and requires special equipment, according to the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. “In the light of its corrosive and toxic nature, expertise and specialized equipment are required for its safe handling. For example, to transfer chlorine from a 1 ton container to smaller containers, a specialized filling station is required.”

And this facility isn’t anywhere near “the scale needed for the attacks that have been observed,” Rofer wrote in an email. “All of the equipment, except for the boilers, is at laboratory scale. But the more fundamental problem is that none of the equipment is what is needed to produce chlorine and compress it into the cylinders that [investigative journalism outlet] Bellingcat has documented” in Douma.

Nor could the facility to be used to produce nerve agents. “For sarin production, all of this would have to be much more contained than it is,” Rofer writes. The ramshackle construction in the facility would’ve put anyone nearby at high risk of exposure, which can cause harm at very low concentrations. “The housekeeping is terrible,” she adds. “When you’re working with chemicals, housekeeping is more than aesthetic; it’s necessary to avoid injuring yourself. If the setup in the [picture of glassware published by RT] was used to manufacture sarin, the operators are dead.”

Source: RT

Syrian military personnel also pointed to presence of allegedly Saudi chemistry textbooks and a poster as evidence of a foreign hand in the purported chemical weapons facility. As a Syrian military officer points out in the video, a poster with a list of chemicals on it bears the title “The reality and horizon of the Saudi Chemical Industry.” It’s unclear where the poster come from or what it depicts, but it shares the name of a report on Saudi Arabia’s chemical industry produced by the Saudi Consulting House.

Source: SANA

The Al-Shifuniya facility also showed some limited evidence of conventional homemade explosives (HME) production. Items listed on a whiteboard in videos of the facility include perchlorate, aluminum powder, nitrocellulose—chemicals normally associated with HME and rocket propellant—as well as “PETN,” an acronym for pentaerythritol tetranitrate, a common HME in militant improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“These are used to prepare explosives,” a Syrian officer explained in the video, claiming the explosives are mixed with chemical weapons.

Aluminum powder, often used in the production of ammonium nitrate and aluminum explosives, and nitrocellulose are frequently traded by would-be bomb-makers in rebel arms markets in Idlib province in northwest Syria.

Still, while the compounds written on a board are often associated with HME, the facility itself doesn’t appear consistent with other IED factories used for churning out large amounts of bombs. “The blue and yellow jugs are traditional IED main charge containers in Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria etc. But I’d expect bulk quantities of fertilizer, sugar, etc if they were making lots of HME, and I don’t see that. No wires, batteries, caps, triggers, etc to make IEDs,” Brian Castner, a former U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer and an Iraq War veteran, wrote in an email.

But perhaps the oddest thing about this Moscow-Damascus push to tie chemical attacks to a particular lab is how unnecessary it all is. Chlorine is a widely-used industrial chemical, after all. And reports by the UN’s Joint Investigative Mission, charged with investigating allegations of chemical weapons use, has noted that chlorine “is available to all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic.” Russia could’ve easily stuck to hiding behind the—admittedly thin—rhetorical shield of chlorine’s availability.

Russia and Syria have tried, time and again, to push a storyline that rebels have carried out false flag chemical attacks with secret stashes of foreign-supplied weapons. It hasn’t helped Damascus wriggle out of responsibility for previous chemical weapons attacks before, as a handful of UN investigations show. If Moscow wants its Syrian allies to skirt the blame for the alleged chemical attack in Douma, they’re going to have to come up with some better evidence than a few beakers and boilers in a dingy Ghouta basement.

By Adam Rawnsley, for Bellingcat

Adam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring. You can follow him on Twitter at @arawnsley.

This story was published in conjunction with The Daily Beast

Categories: World News