Russia’s counter-blow: Aleppo convoy attack and the Russian info-war victory
In a surprising turn of events, Russia struck back at the US and the western media disinformation campaign, causing NATO to back off from claiming that Russia or Syria was responsible for the attack on the Red Crescent aid convoy destroyed earlier this week. This became evident after the public statement of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, September 21, in comments to media following an ad-hoc meeting with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov.
Western media outlets previously reported, both through AP and Reuters distributors like the New York Times, LA Times, etc., as well as the UK’s Guardian and BBC, that US officials laid the blame on Russia for the attack on the Red Crescent aid convoy in Syria. The attack destroyed nearly twenty of the thirty-one trucks scheduled to arrive in Uram Al-Kubra.
Reuters apparently broke the US version of events, duplicitously citing two conveniently anonymous military sources, claiming that:
“Two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes were in the skies above an aid convoy in Syria at the precise time it was struck on Monday, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday, citing U.S. intelligence that has led them to conclude Russia was to blame.” – Reuters, September 19th, 2016.
The same article went on to claim in conclusion that: “The strike appeared to deal a fatal blow to Syria’s fragile week-old ceasefire.”
On September 20th, the Guardian ran with the headline “Russian planes dropped bombs that destroyed UN aid convoy, US officials say”.
These indicate an intention on the part of the US to spin this event, placing blame on Russia both for the attack on the aid convoy and also for the collapsed ceasefire, in the first hours and days after the convoy attack, as part of a public disinformation campaign to create that ever-important first impression in the public mind’s eye.
As a matter of record, it was the planned US and ISIS joint attack on the Syrian Arab Army forces at Deir ez-Zor on September 17th, 2016, that led to the Syrian government unilaterally calling off the ceasefire hours before the attack on the Red Crescent convoy. The diplomatic crisis was compounded by the ‘heavy handed’ and ‘unprofessional’ (in the words of Russia’s UN rep, Churkin) approach of the US’s UN representative Samantha Power at an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
Therefore, the western media focus on the aid caravan attack seems to be aimed at deflecting blame on the collapsed ceasefire away from the US, and diverting public attention onto a more recent news story – this is in line with the use of the ‘recency effect‘ in psychology. Human memories are not recording devices, and the public is prone to remember things based on cues and references independent of reality.
Several narratives and events, in the chronological order below, are important to understand as the story unfolded.
1. The Reuters and AP pieces set the Atlanticist media tone and gave all derivative media their talking points with a clear angle to follow. In this version, media reported that US officials ‘knew’ who carried out the attack: Russia. The Guardian was a degree more cautious, both citing the Reuters piece which ‘cited’ the anonymous US military sources but also included their own follow-up with the White House and found that: “The White House and State Department said they could not confirm the allegations, while the Russianforeign ministry rejected them with ‘resentment and indignation’.”
2. The UN’s initial statement that the destruction of the convoy was a result of ‘airstrikes’ seemed to all but confirm that Russian or Syrian air forces were responsible, within the context of the publicly pronounced presumption that there were no US air forces present at the time.
3. The UN then suddenly reversed its official statement, and withdrew its assessment that the destruction was caused by ‘airstrikes’ and deferred the matter to pending investigation. One can only speculate what caused this sudden reversal, but it appears likely this was a diplomatic success on the part of Russia, which at any rate could have only led to great confusion on the part of the US as to what Russia’s coming prepared response was going to be.
“There is no evidence that it was an airstrike of either Russian or Syrian aviation on the humanitarian convoy in Syria.”
“On the contrary, everything points to it being the militants of the terrorist organizations who exploded and set on fire the trucks of the convoy,” he added. “…it was more likely a provocation aimed at capturing the media’s attention in order to accuse Damascus and Moscow of the attack,” he stated.
4. Russia released aerial footage of the aid caravan, also showing an off-road vehicle towing a large caliber mortar. This was an interesting twist, and laid the potential for Russia to deny attacking the convoy while publicly presenting an understandable reason why it would be legitimate to attack it. Aid caravans have long been suspected by all sides as a way to cloak the transport or import of military equipment. Russia has publicly stated that its position is that the Caravan ‘caught fire’, using the passive tense in textual construction, and not indicating necessarily ‘who’, if anyone ‘set’ this fire, or if it was a random accident caused by heat, or even possibly the existence of munitions being smuggled in to aid US-backed enemy combatants.
5. Public analysts and watchdog journalists across the internet, such as 21Wire, noticed that several of the released photographs of the damaged trucks indicated evidence of small weapons fire, and noted a lack of the sort of craters or blast marks that would be consistent with either shelling or an aerial attack. While this sort of ‘remote forensics by photography’ is useful in the public discourse, and even critical in some cases such as MH17, it is not conclusive in cases of a larger area of attack, because photographs in circulation were not taken with the intention of documenting the entire scene from several angles with the aim of seeking out conclusive evidence. Nevertheless, the possibilities raised are still present, and independent journalism surrounding this stands as an important contribution to public awareness.
6. Russia went public with its intel, providing back-up evidence to confirm, that a US predator drone was overhead in the skies at the same time as the attack. At the same time, it says that the cause of the loss of about 2/3rds of the aid caravan (18 of 31 trucks)was the result of ‘fire’.
7. Lavrov met with Stoltenberg, in an ad-hoc meeting at the sidelines of the UN’s 71st General Assembly, the details of which are presently unknown to the public. Based upon the following, it would appear that the exchange of data entailed more than what Russia went public with. We of course can only speculate that there may have been some direct evidence of the predator drone making the attack. Or perhaps there is aerial footage of a shelling from the direction of rebel-held areas. The release of several perhaps conflicting narratives from Russia and the independent media sphere have created the likelihood that any one of these versions may be correct.
8. Stoltenberg, a named source, in his position as the result of what is effectively a US appointment, publicly stated that he will “not speculate on who carried out the attack“, which is a decisively different position than what was expressed through Western media, in an original Reuters story citing unnamed sources from the US military. The meaning of this is tremendous in terms of the public discourse. In an RT story in connection with this, they included the following:
Moscow, however, strongly denied it had played any part in the atrocity, while calling it “another unacceptable provocation.”
On Wednesday, Lavrov confirmed that Russia had provided all data related to the incident for investigation, and pointed out that the timing of the attack coincided with the large militant offensive in the 1070 district of Aleppo.
Lavrov and his American counterpart, John Kerry, are expected to meet face-to-face for the second time since the start of the UN General Assembly session on Wednesday evening, a Russian delegation source told RIA Novosti.
9. Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov has just today said that there was an explosion at the caravan, and that the US’s use of a predator drone is documented, which it is prepared to reveal to the public. But it is critical, very critical, to note here that the spokesman does not exactly connect the dots explicitly, which leaves us some important openings listed below.
10. As a result, a number of possibly contradictory public and official theories have surfaced; all, however, tend to shift blame away from the Russian or Syrian forces. This is a compelling development as both sides seek dominance in the information war.
As a result of this carefully planned and well-timed chain of events, Russia has several moves, and one or some combination of the following will show the public that,
- a. munitions or fuel being transported in and packed in unsafe conditions caught fire,
- b. the caravan was shelled by enemy combatants and then caught fire
- c. small arms fire made the munitions or fuel catch fire
- d. the US predator drone dropped a non-shell based incendiary device
- e. the US predator drone’s cam data was intercepted (hacked) showing what happened
- f. Russian drones caught the whole event, showing what happened
- g. Russia attacked the convoy once it was (or will be) revealed that these carried munitions and weaponry for enemy combatants
Right now Russia is indicating that they are going with the ‘US dropped an incendiary device from a predator drone’, and is going to allow this version to run a certain course until other developments indicate the promotion of an alter or counter narrative. This puts Russia in the position of now having taken control of messaging, while maintaining a high degree of flexibility in any necessary counter-move after the US’s response.
[Yuri Zinin, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Partnership of Civilizations of Moscow State] said, there are thus two possibilities behind this attack: either the opposition forces decided on their own to escalate the situation and attack the convoy, or they might have received an order from the US to do so.
[Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:] “There are many indications that it could have been a rocket or artillery attack. Initially that was how it was reported. Then they started mentioning helicopters and then aircraft. Therefore it is probably necessary to refrain from emotional responses and to not immediately grab the microphone and make comments, but conduct a thorough and professional investigation.”
Meanwhile the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the Middle East and North Africa (ROMENA) told Izvestia that it has launched a full-scale investigation into the attack. “The UN is conducting a large-scale investigation into the incident near Aleppo in order to find out what really happened and who is responsible for the attack (on the convoy),” Regional Public Information Officer Iyad H. Nasr told the newspaper. “At the moment, we can’t say who was behind the attack. However we are in constant contact with the Syrian authorities, opposition and the [US-led] coalition,” he said.
Nasr also noted that the UN so far does not have exact data on the number of victims but confirmed that both civilians and members of the humanitarian mission were among those killed in the attack.
So far, Western media has not paid attention to Stoltenberg’s big statement, as this runs counter to the dissimulation story citing two unnamed sources via Reuters. Reuters has run the story of Russia’s claim of US drones in the sky, but MSM outlets have not yet made any breaking story of this.
Instead the Atlanticist MSM are running their own two counter-factual, but mutually exclusive, narratives side-by-side – that there is a cease-fire still in effect, and that resumption of the (now dead, Russia’s fault) cease-fire talks are ‘ongoing’, which Russia’s increased bombing of Aleppo is ‘endangering’. This is based on Kerry’s apparent media holography attempt that there is still a ‘truce’ that can be ‘salvaged’ if Russia stops bombing US’s Al Nusra or ISIS terrorists in critical parts of Aleppo.
This, again, runs contrary to the fact that the SAA, which leads Russian official military rules of engagement on Syria, has ended the truce and that neither side is acting now (the US side the whole time never abiding, according to the leaked parts of the ‘secret agreement’) as if that truce is in effect, because it is not, neither de facto nor de jure.
All of these developments, as confusing and multifaceted as they are – and indeed because they are such – grant to Russia the strategic advantage at this stage. The US’s media campaign reflects a clearly defensive posture and a position of messaging uncertainty. At this point it can only speak to the ever-shrinking Western audience which relies on the MSM as its sole source of information. It is relying on the Reuters/AP model as stenographers of Western institutional power, which now has fewer total readers among Westerners than the so-called ‘alternative media’, which in fact has a larger combined market-share. What complicates this further is that this demographic is nevertheless war-weary and unwilling to support an increase of military action, ‘kinetic’ or otherwise.
Russia has several media/evidentiary counter-moves ready to deploy that will effectively neutralize the US’s coming claims, regardless of which track the US takes.
Russia’s media counter-offensive surrounding this week’s stunning series of events will no doubt be one of the many case studies for media/military strategy students for a generation to come.