News Brief

Russia Steps Up Disinformation Attacks on Syria’s White Helmets

The Russian and Syrian governments have stepped up their “brutal” disinformation onslaught against the so-called “White Helmets” rescue volunteers over the past year, according to a report from the online investigation site Bellingcat, with at least 22 attempts to link the group to chemical weapons attacks.

Known officially as Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), the Western-funded group claims to have saved at least 110,000 lives and its white-helmeted first responders have become one of the defining images of the seven-year-old civil war as they recover dust-coated survivors from the remains of bomb-shattered buildings.

Their success in publicizing the scale of the bloodshed in rebel-held areas has made them a prime target for what Bellingcat called a “brutal and unrelenting” Russian-led campaign painting them as “terrorists,” with the ultimate goal of making them appear to be “legitimate targets.”

The report was released just before President Trump announced he was withdrawing all remaining US troops in Syria, a move praised by Russia but which his critics say is in effect handing Moscow a strategic victory.

In most of these 22 cases, the White Helmets were accused of fabricating chemical weapons incidents in rebel areas, in so-called “false flag” operations aimed at shifting responsibility onto Syrian President Bashar al Assad in the hope of provoking Western intervention.

The online investigation platform said there was no evidence that the White Helmets were involved in any of the cases: “No reputable body has ever found that SCD was involved in any chemical incidents in Syria in any capacity other than as first responders to attacks,” the Bellingcat report said.

But it added that “the Syrian government has been identified as the perpetrator in 23 Chlorine and Sarin attacks and has likely been involved in many more.”

Bellingcat said it had been difficult to debunk each Russian or Syrian accusation individually, as many did not even offer any evidence to disprove in the first place.

The constant information attacks on the White Helmets have had direct consequences, the group says, with some being arrested and tortured by Syrian government agents, who have accused them of being terrorists.