By Kit Roberts
AS VLADIMIR Putin’s ill-thought invasion of Ukraine moves into its second month, unsettling themes have been resurfacing which mirror Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
Putin has already shown himself to be willing to manipulate the truth around both military operations.
As the latest allegations of war atrocities committed by Russian forces emerge, mirroring those documented in Syria in their tragedy, the audacity of the denial which Putin has exhibited is astonishing.
Ukraine has wrongly been dubbed the first war to be documented in detail on social media. This dubious accolade in fact belongs to the Syrian Civil War, which has seen a tsunami of information pouring out of the country.
Tens of thousands of hours of video, written accounts, and pictures have given a nauseating testimony to the crimes committed against Syrian civilians.
It is difficult to see how such a mountain of evidence could possibly be contradicted, it points so overwhelmingly towards the atrocities committed by the forces of Putin and Bashar Al-Assad. Nonetheless, the truth around Syria has only become increasingly opaque.
[READ MORE: How the story of the Syrian Civil War got so muddied]
The main challenge facing anyone trying to understand what has happened in Syria is that it is far easier to contradict an evidence-based narrative with unsubstantiated claims than it is to assemble that evidence. Evidence-based analysis takes a long time to create, there is a reason that studying history is an ongoing process. Lies on the other hand can easily be mass-produced.
Whilst members of humanitarian group the White Helmets risked their lives to provide a rescue service in Syria, Russian-backed media outlets smeared them on the world stage, labelling them terrorists and jihadists. Meanwhile, victims of Russian airstrikes and government barrel bombs were dismissed as ‘crisis actors’, with the whole operation being labelled a sinister plot to create a pretext for Western military intervention and regime change.
The same thing is already happening in Ukraine. In one of the most infamous episodes of the sorry affair so far, a strike by the Russian airforce hit a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9.
Claims were posted online, including by the Russian Embassy in London, that a young woman killed in the attack was in fact an instagram model who had been hired to pose for pictures taken by press photographers.
More recently, @RussianEmbassy has asserted that Ukrainian “neo-nazi” groups are not allowing civilians to leave combat zones. It said: “Ukrainian neo-Nazis’ treatment of civilians remains terrifying. People are taken hostage, used as a human shield, and are not allowed to leave combat zones.”
The tweet has come as accusations mount that Russian forces have allegedly been ignoring corridors opened up to help civilians escape from dangerous areas.
There are valuable platforms set up to debunk such baseless claims, but simply keeping up with the rate of misdirection and bogus claims requires a gargantuan effort.
Nonetheless, Ukraine may fare better than Syria in pushing its own narrative. Ukrainian opposition to Russian military and media is state-backed, giving it a far more solid platform from which to counter Russian misinformation. Syrian opposition groups did not have the luxury of such an institution.
It may also prove more difficult for Putin as there are not the other factions in play in Ukraine that were in Syria. It was much easier to prick at people’s doubts when Daesh were making incursions into Syrian territory. Both Putin and Al-Assad used that to claim they were fighting Islamist extremists and not opposition.
Whilst Putin has used ‘denazification’ as a pretext, it may not stick as well given that Ukraine has a Jewish president. The biggest fascism problem in Ukraine is Putin’s army.
The results of Putin’s relentless campaign of lies and misdirection can already be seen in Syria, and cannot be allowed to continue in Ukraine. Whilst the strategies are still effective, there could be some cause for optimism in Ukraine’s ability to show up the lies.
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