Financial TimesFinancial Times

Bellingcat founder: Don’t let Putin’s disinformation distract from his war crimes

By Eliot Higgins

19 Mar 2022 · 3 min read

For those of us who have spent the past decade closely watching the conflict in Syria, the Russian invasion of Ukraine brings with it a dreadful familiarity. Much of what has unfolded over the last three weeks has direct parallels that are hard to miss. Russia’s attempts to frame its military action as targeting “nationalists” while it bombs hospitals and terrorises civilians with cluster munitions is familiar to anyone who watched their actions after they entered the Syrian conflict in 2015. Rather than bombing Isis, the Russian air force targeted opposition-controlled areas, indiscriminately attacking not only military targets, but hospitals and bakeries. As with Syria, Russian officials have played a role in spreading disinformation about these attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and as with Syria, their attempts have been particularly pathetic. When questioned about the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Russia’s ambassador in the Netherlands told a journalist that the two women featured in photos from the incident were the same woman, citing abusive comments from Instagram posts as evidence. The Russian Embassy to the Netherlands promoted this interview on the morning one of the two women died from her injuries, along with her child. 

For those who became familiar with Russian disinformation through the lens of the 2016 US elections, this crass propaganda and the debasement of officials who abandon any sense of self-respect to promote it might seem shocking. But it is nothing new. The only difference is that people are now paying attention to it, unlike the relentless stream of Russian disinformation that came out around the conflict in Syria.

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