Russia’s (Dis)information Warfare and Assad’s Chemical Attacks

BBC Newsnight summarizes Russia’s propaganda and disinformation tactics, including over the Assad regime’s chemical attacks near Syria’s capital Damascus and March’s nerve agent assassination attempt in southern England.

The 10-minute review summarizes how the approach of the Russian State pursues tactics from “false flag” accusations to “whataboutism” and makes maximum use of “true believers” — such as Ian Shilling, the conspiracy theorist who earned social media fame when he was identified as a “Russian bot” — and anti-imperialists such as the academics of the ironically-named Working Group on Syria, Propaganda, and Media.

See our evolving series of articles on journalism, disinformation, and Syria:

Russia’s Interview with Syria’s “No Chemical Attack” Boy Was Secretly Filmed at Assad Regime Military Facility
“Crazy Club”: Inside the UK Delegation Propping Up Assad’s Propaganda
How an Obscure UK Blogger Became Russia’s Top Disinfo Warrior Over Syria’s White Helmets
Are Academics at UK Universities Pushing Pro-Assad Propaganda and Disinformation?
The Viral Disinformation that Douma’s Chemical Attack Victims Were Killed by “Dust”
Fog of Trolls: Pro-Assad Misinformation Over Douma Chemical Attacks
Syria’s Disinformation Activists
UK Journalist Given Access to Douma to Deny Chemical Attacks
Russia’s Helpers — Disinformation and Conspiracy Trolling After Assad’s Latest Chemical Attacks

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. Scott, I was against the Syrian Proxy War from day 1. Russia wasn’t even involved at that time. I chatted with amb. Robert Ford about it. I told him at the very beginning that this was something big. From the propaganda I saw, I told him the Rubicon had been crossed. It was obvious the goal was to topple Assad. There was no turning back. This is not, and never was, a “civil war”.

    • The starting point should be that Syria’s uprising was not a “Proxy War” on Day 1, Day 2, or many days after that….

      • The starting point was with US plans over a decade ago. In Egypt, El Sisi massacred 800 protesters in one day. No war ensued. Why? Because Saudi Arabia and the US were not waiting in the wings to funnel arms and fighters into Cairo to take advantage of the event and escalate it. On the contrary, Kerry praised El Sisi for defending democracy

        • What are you on about? The Egypt case — where Sisi regime’s mowing-down of protesters should have been challenged — is not relevant to Syria in 2011. And you’re talking rubbish about “US plans over a decade ago”.

          If you have no knowledge of what happened in places like Daraa, Damascus, Homs, and Hama, just say so. Then we can put your whataboutism and misinformation in its rightful place.

          • The Sisi case it totally relevant and it goes to show that the proxy war was only made possible because it was backed by the US and Saudi Arabia.

            Not only do we have the famous expose by Wesley Clarke about regine chwnging 7 countries in 5 years – one of which was Syria – but in 2005, Christian Amanpour rebelled in her interview with Assad that Washington was looking to overthrow him.

              • Ah, you couldn’t even bother to read the article putting the Clark interview in context.

                “The story, recounted several times by retired US general Wesley Clark, is that he visited a former colleague in the Defense Department a couple of weeks after 9/11 and was told a decision had been made to go to war with Iraq. On a second visit several weeks later the ex-colleague told him of a single-page memo which went much further, proposing to “take out seven countries in five years”. Iraq, as expected, was on the list but Syria and Iran were there too. The other four countries were Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan according to some versions of the story..

                Clark says he didn’t read the memo himself but was told it had originated in the office of the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. It seems to have been one example of the extreme militaristic talk circulating in Washington at the time and Clark said later it wasn’t necessarily a plan – “Maybe it was a think piece … a sort of notional concept.”

                In any case, it didn’t happen. The five-year time span expired years ago and Rumsfeld is long gone too but that hasn’t stopped the story from popping up time after time on the internet as evidence of American intentions towards Syria.”

              • Ah, yes, the Wesley Clark myth, based on a distortion of what he said many years ago.

                Your link doesn’t say anything about it being a myth. It only makes the argument that it didn’t happen as planned but the fact remains that the US is bombing or has bombed all those countries except Lebanon. As for Lebanon, there is ample evidence to suggest the US were expecting Israel to make light work of Hezbollah in the 2006 war, but that didn’t go according to plan.

              • Well, exact phrase is “an anecdote much loved by conspiracy theorists”.

                You’re a bright spark seeking understanding. So here is your test:

                1. Point to any piece of information indicating implementation of Rumsfeld’s one-page memo from 2001 to 2011 for regime change (apart, of course, from Iraq).
                2. What was the context for Clark’s statement in 2007 — in other words, why did he offer this anecdote at this point in a TV interview?

            • You do realize you make no sense as usuall Andre? Completely out of context. You put the US inside every stupid reply of yours. A toddler ffs would have a more constructive approach. Let alone the deep state bullshit we have to read about from Norma troll.

      • Ian schilling earned face by winning the floor with the talking heads st Sky after he was slandered by the British government for daring to question state propaganda.

        He showed fragile government lies and propaganda are when challenged.

        Shilling revelation about May’s conflict of interest was eye opening and goes to show that she’s no better than the war profiteers who lied the world into the Iraq war

        • Ian Shilling is a crank who believes the Holocaust is a false flag created by the US and Britain.

          But any whack-job in a disinformation storm, I guess.

      • “chatted”…………. had an exchange with Ford at the Syrian Embassy Facebook page. He would actually reply.

    • “Russia wasn’t even involved at that time”. Ah, yes they were. They were selling billions in arms to Syria in the years before 2011. You can find the data on the SIPRI site. Syria was and remains a major client state for Russia.

      • They were selling billions in arms to Syria in the years before 2011. You can find the data on the SIPRI site. Syria was and remains a major client state for Russia.

        The US were sending captives to Syria to be tortured since 911. I suppose that makes Syria a client state of the US

        • Another huge bull crap from Andre. Syria was never in the countries were “special interrogations” took place. You are really a one man bullshit compilation.

    • That’s the myth to sweep away the fundamentals of what happened in Syria in 2011 — and to create the anti-imperialist narrative which erases Syrians.

    • You really should read some history of Syria, the Syrian people, the Assad regime in the years advancing to its present state. Your mind might be open, but it also seems to be empty.

      Some background about Syrian society and politics leading up to 2011 should fill part of the void.

  2. I consider myself to be open-minded. Give me some names and links. I’d like to read what you say is misinformation.

    • Open minded?? You? Hahah. No you are open minded only towards what you want to hear and read. You are on your agenda. And you prove this in every comment of yours. Open minds and propaganda are 2 opposites. You fall in the latter. Give us a break.

  3. There are several individuals saying that the chemical attack was staged. I’m in that camp. Are we Russian bots? What basket are we in?

    • The quick answer is that a number of loud social media accounts, claiming expertise they don’t have, are pushing disinformation. Russian State outlets amplify that disinfo and pursue their own loud disinfo campaigns. A network of social media “amplifiers”, including bots, spread the disinformation.

      You are a commenter who believes in that disinformation.

    • The latter you say. And for you information regarding the syrian civil war. Yes it is a civil war. You may wanna refresh your small brain going back to february 1982. Hama.

  4. OPCW reach second suspected site in Douma

    “Today, the FFM (fact-finding members) team carried out a visit to a second location in Douma. It also collected samples at this site. These samples will be brought back, together with other samples, to the OPCW laboratory in Rijswik. They will be split and dispatched for analysis by the OPCW designated labs. The FFM will continue to carry out its independent and impartial mission based on interviews with relevant people, its findings from the site visits, analysis of the sample results, as well as any other information and materials collected.”

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