Russia claims Syria aid convoy attack was a 'hoax'

Russia claims Syria aid convoy attack was a 'hoax'
Despite mounting evidence that Moscow played a hand in the killing of aid staff and the destruction of lorries filled with life-saving aid, Russian media claims the attack was "staged".
5 min read
06 October, 2016
Russia says it played no role in the 19 September attack in Urum al-Kubra [Getty]

A UN report concluding that a Syrian aid convoy was destroyed by airstrikes last month was "a well prepared hoax", according to Russian media.

On Wednesday the UN concluded that satellite images of the 19 September attack on a joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy in the Aleppo suburb of Urum al-Kubra almost certainly showed evidence that airstrikes had taken place.

Russia has denied that its planes hit the convoy. Shortly after the attack Russian defence minister Igor Konashenkov claimed instead that videos recorded at the scene showed no evidence of "munitions hitting the convoy," instead attributing the destruction to "a fire".

But evidence is mounting that Moscow could have played a hand in the killing of aid staff and the destruction of lorries filled with life-saving cargo intended for trapped Aleppo residents.

Speaking on Wednesday Lars Bromley, a research advisor at UNOSAT – a UN affiliated organisation specialising in satellite imagery analysis – said that the organisation’s analysis had “determined it was an airstrike and I think multiple other sources have said that as well.”

Speaking to The New Arab in late September Bellingcat, an independent military watchdog that relies on open-source investigation tools for its research, also pointed to the alleged discovery of Russian munitions at the scene of the attack.

However reports in semi-state media RIA Novostoi - distributed through other pro-Moscow news outlets – have made the sensational claim that no airstrike took place.

Claims of an elaborate "hoax"

Instead RIA Novostoi claims its reporters spoke to military experts affiliated with the International Syria Support Group - made up of 20 states including the US, UK, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia - who determined that the attack was in fact "staged".

Photographs taken in the aftermath of the Urum al-Kubra attack appear to show extensive material damage both to vehicles that made up the 31 vehicle aid convoy and to surrounding buildings.

Media activists who witnessed the attack have also claimed it consisted of both airstrikes from aircraft and barrel bomb attacks from helicopters.

US officials have said that two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes were in the sky above Urum al-Kubra at the precise time the aid convoy was struck.

However, according to the mysterious, unnamed report cited by RIA Novostoi, damage sustained by vehicles in the Red Crescent-UN aid convoy, and the road it was travelling along, show "insufficient levels of destruction" for an air raid.

Instead the report, which was also referenced in Sputnik, claimed that a "blast in a confined space would at least have overturned the trucks with cargo while explosions would have left shards in the walls of nearby buildings".

Russia’s propaganda machine

Speaking to The New Arab, Nagham Ghadri, a member of the presidential committee of the opposition Syrian National Council, noted that Russia had consistently lied about who its airstrikes had targeted since beginning military operations in the country in September 2015.

“People were there, on the ground in Urum Al-Kubra. They witnessed airstrikes take place. Everyone knows this but the conclusive evidence needs to be put on the table,” said Ghadri.

“From the very start of Russia’s intervention in Syria they (Moscow) have lied. They said their reason for joining the conflict was to target the Islamic State but their first military involvement was targeting FSA brigades in Maarat al-Nu’man.”

Events in Urum al-Kubra all but signalled the end of a US-Russian brokered ceasefire for Syria, and since this date an intensive aerial bombardment campaign, carried out by Syrian and Russian warplanes over rebel-held East Aleppo, has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and global condemnation.

However, as Ghadri noted, Russia maintains that its airstrikes in Syria have not targeted civilians despite the claims of one monitoring groups that they have resulted in over 3,800 civilian deaths.

Russian propaganda meets the siege of Aleppo

Notably, when warplanes bombed two hospitals in East Aleppo on September 28, Russian media initially did not even cover the event.

Instead RIA Novostoi ran the headline “The Syrian air force conducted massive strikes on militants near Aleppo”. Other Russian media outlets, noted The Guardian, ran stories claiming that successful aid distributions had been carried out benefiting “refugees from districts of Aleppo controlled by terrorists”.

It was not the first time Russian had become caught up in its own propaganda.

In mid-September, before tragic events in Urum al-Kubra took place, Moscow faced ridicule over a number of seemingly fabricated news reports depicting Russian TV presenters coming under fire from rebel groups outside Aleppo.

However understandably Ghadri did not see the funny side.

“Unfortunately Aleppo is still under siege and people there who are in desperate need of food and medical attention are trapped, unable to leave. Others do not want to leave because it is their city, and the city of their parents, and grandparents,” said Ghadri.

Current airstrikes on East Aleppo have forced the Obama administration to reconsider the prospect of military intervention in Syria, leading to concerns over a direct US-Russian military confrontation in the war-torn country.

But Ghadri appeared sceptical that Moscow and Washington would resolve their differences imminently, or that aid would be guaranteed to reach the estimated 275,000 population of rebel-held Aleppo without further escalations of violence.

“Russia and the United States are playing games with each other. We have seen it before in other countries, at other times, in different contexts. Unfortunately the Syrian people are the victims.

“But one thing is clear, evidence from Urum al-Kubra points to airstrikes.”