First spread contradictions…

The chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun saw pro-Kremlin outlets employ the same disinformation techniques that they have used in past tragedies such as the shooting down of MH17, or after the murder of Boris Nemtsov and the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Aleppo.

First, we see the spreading of several, often contradictory versions of events, in order to sow confusion and distrust. Thus for example the Russian Ministry of Defence stated that the attack happened five hours later than it had actually occurred; and claimed that the Syrian army had hit stockpiles of terrorists’ chemical weapons. Many official representatives of Russia then repeated this claim, as did many pro-Kremlin outlets in various languages (see e.g. a Slovakian version).

It is a claim widely dismissed by multiple experts, diplomats and witnesses on the ground, since: a) rebels could not have produced or obtained such a high amount of sarin as was needed for an attack of this magnitude; and b) an airstrike on a depot would have destroyed the sarin immediately. See e.g. an explanation in The Guardian or BBC. Moreover, according to CNN the US military and intelligence intercepted communications of Syrian military talking about preparations for the sarin attack.

Nevertheless, these theories were regularly repeated in the course of the last two weeks, see e.g. the major Russian “news” show Vesti nedeli or the Czech Protiproud.

… and then spread conspiracies

Other pro-Kremlin outlets leaning more towards conspiracies started spreading another version: that the whole attack was a “false-flag” operation. Among the first was the American outlet Infowars, quickly followed by GlobalResearch, and translated into other languages (e.g. Czech). See a related story about who brought the #SyriaHoax hashtag to America by DFRLab.

Vremya Pokazhet, one of the major Russian TV debate shows, even claimed, during a single broadcast, that the attack was a provocation by Daesh; then that the images of victims had been faked; and finally, that the attack had been organised by the CIA and the Pentagon. The Slovak pro-Kremlin outlet, hlavnespravy.sk also offered multiple and contradictory explanations: that the gas came from the rebels’ depots; that the attack was committed by terrorists; and that it was a false flag operation by the White Helmets.

Despite the fact that these conspiracies were also quickly debunked, they were further multiplied and repeated even e.g. by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, among others.
One more familiar technique was also used: that of deflecting attention by accusing someone else of a similar crime elsewhere. Thus the official channel of the Russian Ministry of Defence, TV Zvezda, was quick to accuse Ukraine of using chemical weapons. Of course, no evidence was provided.

 

syriahoax2

Diagram by DFRLab of how the “false flag” claim spread after the chemical attack.

 
Demonstrations are fake and demonstrators are terrorists

As usual, demonstrations against the interests of the Kremlin were presented as events orchestrated by the West in pro-Kremlin outlets. Based on the disinformation in one pro-Kremlin outlet that “US and European allies invaded Ukraine with 10,000 NATO soldiers”, the conclusion was drawn that the recent protests in Belarus were organised by Western powers in order to “do the same with Belarus” here and here . Of course, there was no mention of the fact that NATO engagement in Ukraine simply does not entail 10,000 soldiers. NATO has, however, provided support for capability development and capacity building in Ukraine in response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Also the British ambassador to Belarus, in cooperation with the US and EU, was accused of being behind the protests in the country, again with no evidence provided for the claims.

Furthermore, the peaceful protests against corruption in Russia were portrayed by Russian state TV to be linked to the terror attack in the St Petersburg metro, as two steps of the same plan to attack the next presidential election in Russia. The West was directly blamed for the terror attack in St Petersburg. As we have recently pointed out, pro-Kremlin outlets used similar “Fog of Falsehoods” also after a majority of the terror attacks in Europe, variously accusing the Western countries or NGOs of being behind them, claiming them to be “false-flag” operations, or simply denying that such events even took place.

Disinformation cases reported in the previous week


related disinfo cases

14.04.2017
politikus.ru
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14.04.2017
zvedavec.org
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13.04.2017
zvedavec.org
Ukraine
13.04.2017
novarepublika.cz
Ukraine, Middle East
12.04.2017
hacked website of the Baltic News Service
Latvia, US
12.04.2017
TV Zvezda
Ukraine
12.04.2017
hlavnespravy.sk
Europe, EU, US, Middle East
12.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
Hungary, Ukraine, EU
11.04.2017
ac24.cz
Russia, Syria
11.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
Syria
10.04.2017
zvedavec.org
Syria
10.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
US, Syria
10.04.2017
ac24.cz
Syria, Sweden
09.04.2017
"Vesti nedeli"
US, Syria
09.04.2017
"Vesti nedeli"
Syria
09.04.2017
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North Korea, UK, Russia, US, Syria
08.04.2017
tsargrad.tv
Ukraine
08.04.2017
zerohedge.com
Russia, Syria
08.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
Russia, The West
07.04.2017
Russia Insider
Russia, Syria
07.04.2017
hlavnespravy.sk
The West, Syria
07.04.2017
hlavnespravy.sk
US, Syria
07.04.2017
aeronet.cz
US, Syria
07.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (1:02:35)
Iraq, US, Syria
07.04.2017
idemvolit.sk
Slovakia, US
07.04.2017
Necenzurovane.net
Russia, US
07.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
Russia, US, Syria
06.04.2017
TV Zvezda
The West, Ukraine, EU
06.04.2017
Russia Today (RT)
Ukraine, EU
06.04.2017
hlavnespravy.sk
Syria
06.04.2017
cfp.cz
Czech Republic
06.04.2017
eurasia24.cz
Syria
06.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (9:10)
US, Syria
06.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (12:56)
Russia, The West, Syria
06.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (18:52)
Syria
06.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (22:29)
US, Syria
06.04.2017
interfax.com
Russia
06.04.2017
Russian Ministry of Justice @ TASS
Russia
06.04.2017
Russia Today (RT)
Ukraine
06.04.2017
paulcraigroberts.org
US, Syria
05.04.2017
Russia Insider
US, Syria
05.04.2017
Russian Ministry of Defense @ TASS
Russia, Syria
05.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
Russia
05.04.2017
hlavnespravy.sk
Syria
05.04.2017
President of Republic of Moldova Igor Dodon interviewed in Die Welt
Moldova, EU
05.04.2017
miaistok.su
Ukraine
05.04.2017
Infowars.com // Globalresearch.ca
Syria
04.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (1:40:46)
Russia
03.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (1:13:13)
Russia, Ukraine
03.04.2017
"Vremya pokazhet" (3:06)
Russia
02.04.2017
aeronet.cz
Russia, Ukraine, US
01.04.2017
Community Contributor on Buzzfeed
Turkey, Ukraine
01.04.2017
srspol.sk
Slovakia
01.04.2017
srspol.sk
Ukraine
01.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
Europe, The West, Ukraine, Belarus, US
01.04.2017
protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz
UK, EU, Belarus, US
30.03.2017
RIA Novosti
Ukraine
28.03.2017
TASS
Russia, US
27.03.2017
ria.ru
Russia
27.03.2017
macedoniaonline.eu
Europe, The West, Ukraine, Belarus, US
20.03.2017
inosmi.ru
Ukraine
15.03.2017
theindicter.com
Syria, Sweden