Amid a flood of reports of Russian interference in US democracy and around the world, the investigative site Bellingcat issued a report Tuesday detailing the Kremlin's disinformation campaign about the White Helmets, a rescue group operating in Syria.
The White Helmets risked their lives throughout the Syrian conflict to rescue civilians from regime and Russian bombardment. They've also recorded conflict in opposition-held areas, beaming out regime atrocities to the world.
According to a Bellingcat report titled "Chemical Weapons and Absurdity: The Disinformation Campaign Against the White Helmets" Russian and Syrian government sources repeatedly tried to link the Syrian Civil Defence (SCD), as the White Helmets are officially called, to chemical attacks.
"During mid-2018 this disinformation campaign appears to have focused on attempting to associate the SCD with chemical attacks in Idlib," the reports authors note.
"From August to November of this year, the Russian and Syrian governments and state-controlled media continually repeated narratives involving the SCD and movement, or use of, chemical weapons around rebel-held areas of north-western Syria, primarily Idlib."
The site finds the claims to be false, or at least that there's no compelling evidence the White Helmets aided in chemical gas attacks.
Meanwhile, multiple international bodies have found the Assad regime to have used chemical weapons, in a breach of international law.
"Despite continual claims that chemical attacks were imminent or had already taken place, no chemical attacks were accurately predicted. Considering the Syrian government’s continual use of chemical weapons throughout the conflict, as well as the obfuscation of this issue by the Syrian and Russian governments, this is unsurprising," Bellingcat continued.
8 of the 22 accusations came from Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria (RCROSS). The remaining accusations came from "Russian government controlled sources, such as Sputnik, the Russian Ministry of Defense, or representatives of the Russian government."
In conclusion Bellingcat found that, "The extraordinarily low level of evidence supporting these accusations, the absurdity of some of the claims and the continual failure to predict a chemical attack exposes these accusations for what they are: a continuation of a deliberate and planned disinformation campaign against a humanitarian organisation operating in the most difficult of circumstances."
As the Washington Post reports, the propaganda campaign has a real impact on the ground.
“This isn’t just buzz on the Internet,” a former White Helmet, who was arrested and tortured by Syrian forces earlier this year, told the Washington Post. “It has real-life consequences. We’re dying for this.”