Putin sells Syria story and some media buy it

It has been a banner week for the Kremlin propaganda machine. At home, and across the border in parts of Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists, Russian military equipment was in exhibition for the May 9 Victory Day parade marking the defeat of the Nazis in World War II.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biggest propaganda victory may not have been broadcast by his state propaganda outlets like RT, but by Western news outlets that accepted Russia’s offer to report. exactly what the Kremlin wanted them to do in Syria.

Earlier this year, the Russian military and Russian private mercenaries played a key role in helping the Syrian government retake the central Syrian city of Palmyra, a legendary and ancient city known for its historic ruins, from the hands of extremists in the Islamic State (IS).

During the first days of May, the Russian military escorted teams of international journalists through the war zone to attend a concert in the ancient amphitheater in Palmyra. Journalists were treated to a magnificent performance by famous musicians led by Valery Gergiev, the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and a staunch supporter of Putin.

Andrew Roth of the Washington Post detailed the whole trip, highlighting the steps taken by the Russian government to ensure that journalists who took part in this guided tour write only positively and on the subject their Russian assistants want. Other news agencies seemed more than happy to follow the Russian line.

Brilliant reports

CNN event article almost shines, highlighting the large military operation needed to bring reporters to a concert near the frontlines of the battle against IS fighters. He notes that last July, IS militants filmed themselves executing 25 prisoners in the same theater. There is only one line in the article that even sounds like a review – that famous cellist Sergei Roldugin, “who was recently named in the Panama Papers as having transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to offshore companies. , a claim he denies, “performed in the concert.

Euronews posted a similar story, although the French media noted a warning: its media installation in Syria is “provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense and our reporting is not subject to any military control”. This article contained a quote from the director of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg who told the public that the UNESCO heritage site could have been saved.

Without naming names, he appeared to criticize the US-led coalition.

“Look at its location. The Battle of Palmyra lasted so long and many parts could have been smuggled out. [The militants] Palmyra’s approach could have been bombarded in an instant, but it was not. Well, our guys weren’t there at the time! ”Said Mikhail Piotrovsky, museum director.

Oddly enough, this quote was posted without noting that Palmyra’s “location” is at the center of the country on a key route between the Syrian government capital, Damascus, and Iraq – far from the campaigns of the state-led coalition. -United against ISIS strongholds in the northeast. Syria and western Iraq.

Neither CNN nor Euronews note that, according to new documents obtained by Sky News, Russia’s offensive to retake Palmyra resulted in an agreement between the Syrian government and IS forces who allowed the terrorists to withdraw their heavy weapons in exchange for taking over the city.

Neither report notes that the primary target Russian and Syrian airstrikes are groups that fought ISIS, not ISIS itself. And neither of the articles mentions the fact that, according to the detailed database maintained by the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, at least 100 civilians were killed by the Assad regime in Palmyra before the arrival of ISIS, most of whom were killed in custody.

No wider context

Instead, both articles read exactly how the Russian government would like them to read – Russia helped Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad liberate this ancient city from the most brutal terrorists.

Worse yet, the broader context of events in Syria is completely absent from CNN and Euronews reporting. While the Russian the cellos were playing mournful tunes Among those killed by Islamic State terrorists, at least 30 refugees were killed when bombs raged through an internally displaced persons camp near the border with Turkey. Activists said the airstrikes – possibly Russian – were to blame. Euronews, however, published a special report on how Russian soldiers clear the ruins. This report does not ask the question that Reuters asks – if ISIS planted the mines to explode when Syrian and Russian soldiers captured the city, why did none of them explode?

CNN also reported that the Russian mission in Syria is much larger than what the media had previously suggested. The CNN correspondent noted that he was impressed by “the professionalism of the troops and the impeccable condition of the equipment they used”, and concluded that “if the exact scale of Russia’s military presence in Syria is still not clear, the things we have seen while integrated with them indicate that it is bigger and more sophisticated than most believe. ”

that the Russian government is shamelessly showing off his strengths in Syria should come as no surprise. An independent analysis by our team at The Interpreter, a partner of RFE / RL, made the argument months ago that when Putin claimed he was withdrawing from Syria, a large number of Russian forces remained behind. combat.

When Putin announced his withdrawal from Syria, he wanted the world to think he was serious. He wasn’t. Putin now wants to send a different message: he’s not going anywhere. And the non-critical reports from the front lines only help to underline that message.

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