News Brief

Russia Accused of New Disinformation Offensive As It Predicts Rebel “Chemical Attack”

Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Syrian rebels of planning a chemical attack on their own people in Idlib province — their last remaining stronghold — as part of a “false flag” operation aimed at framing the Syrian government and provoking Western intervention.

After being published as a press release late last month, the claim was picked up and re-tweeted by Russian diplomatic missions and then spread by pro-Kremlin and pro-Assad outlets worldwide, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

It is being seen as a new disinformation offensive by Moscow, the newspaper reports — either to scare people in rebel held areas into surrendering, or to influence opinion ahead of an assault by Syrian troops and their Russian allies aimed at ending the seven year-old rebellion.

The plan, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, is for the aftermath of the attack to be filmed by members of the White Helmets rescue team, which works in rebel-held areas.

The volunteer rescuers receive funding from Western governments and have been a regular target of Russian and Syrian propaganda attacks, decrying the group as being linked to “terrorists” or helping rebels by faking casualties.

On August 30, Kremlin-funded Sputnik ran a story accusing the White Helmets of kidnapping 44 children to use as actors in the fake chemical attack on Idlib.

The Russian government has stepped up its information operations in Syria since intervening on Assad’s behalf in 2015, with a concerted effort by the Kremlin-funded RT network to influence opinion in the country and the wider Arab world.

The Russian and Syrian governments claimed a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta in April was a “false flag operation” designed to prompt Western intervention — rejecting widespread evidence of Syrian government involvement.

But the attack had an immediate effect. Rebels in the area surrendered the next day.