Three years on the Russian intervention.. Field study

The White Helmets of Syria Civil Defence are the main provider of emergency services to millions of Syrians. Since the beginning of Russian intervention on 30 September 2015, the White Helmets have regularly had to rescue civilians from the aftermath of Russian airstrikes. Based on analysis of three years of reports from White Helmets teams responding to
attacks, Russia has:

• Indiscriminately attacked civilian spaces, causing countless deaths and injuries, and massive infrastructural damage by bombing markets, bakeries, residential areas, IDP camps, schools, and hospitals
• Consistently carried out more sorties on moderate opposition-held territories than IS-controlled areas despite claims to have intervened in Syria to fight terrorism
• Flaunted its disregard for agreements over safe zones, no -conflict zones, cessations of hostilities, and de-escalation zones by continuing with airstrikes on civilian spaces
• Singled out the White Helmets (WH), a humanitarian service organization, as the target of an offline and online war, killing volunteers and destroying facilities through raids and bombings while conducting a massive disinformation campaign to denigrate the group’s legitimacy and ruin its reputation.

During the three years it has been involved in the Syrian war, the Russian Air Force has regularly targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. When it has attacked military targets, it has consistently done so with little attention to discrimination and proportionality, resulting in massive harm to civilians, especially in urban areas.
As can be seen from the timeline above, Russian attacks continued despite numerous agreements for ceasefires, cessations of hostilities, safe zones, and de-escalation zones. In cases where Russia did not actively veto the passing of a UN Security Council Resolution, it had the «presence of violent extremist organization» caveat included to ensure unimpeded and continued airstrikes.

Since entering the conflict, Russia has invested in state-backed disinformation efforts aimed at
misleading the public on Syria and covering up war crimes committed by the Syrian government and Russia.
Research has shown that bots and trolls linked to Russia and pushing counter narratives have
reached an estimated tens of millions of people at key moments. While these counter narratives are varied, all aim to confuse and distort the debate with American and Western European audiences.
Russian backing of “alternative” news sites and synthetic actors, rooted in fiction more than fact, are on occasion more influential in these critical online discussions than reputable news sites. This has profound implications for how democratic states can debate and respond to the need to protect civilians in Syria.

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