Russia Might Be More Deeply Involved in the Syrian Gas Attack Than We'd Imagined


As we’re sort of counting down until the US launches a military strike on Syria in retaliation for a gas attack on a Syrian city last weekend, evidence is emerging that Russia may have been more complicit in the whole episode than people, like me, for instance, would have thought possible.

The use of a chemical attack doesn’t seem to make sense. Trump announced on a couple of occasions that he was interested in stopping US military involvement in that country–I have to admit to being sympathetic to that view because I really don’t know what we’re doing there (ISIS is much more of Iran’s problem than ours) or what a “win” would even look like. The smart play seemed to be not to commit any atrocities, wait for US military assets to leave the region, and then Katie-bar-the-door. The other part of the equation is that we really don’t know how much control Assad has over the Syrian military. Local commanders act like independent warlords. The supplies of chlorine gas don’t seem to be tightly controlled. This all means that the attack could easily be explained by a local commander settling a personal score. The least likely scenario was the Russians being involved in the planning and execution. Until now.

The Daily Beast has an interesting story. Since the attack Twitter, in particular, has been overrun with the usual cretins claiming this was a “false flag” attack. Who was behind it? Well, the people who own the media and the banking system and basically rule the world. But a curious thing, known Russian affiliated accounts were prepping the false flag story before the attack.

Weeks before the world saw the bodies of men, women, and children dead from an apparent Syrian military chemical attack in Douma, Syria, the Russian military was already spreading bizarre conspiracy theories about an impending “false flag” chemical attack carried out by rebels.

“What’s perhaps interesting in this one is the way that Russian officialdom started building the narrative on a false flag a month ago,” Ben Nimmo, a researcher at Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who studies disinformation campaigns, told The Daily Beast. “There’s a measure of foresight and forethought there which is quite interesting.”

Beginning in early March, Russia’s ministry of defense began to claim that it had picked up intelligence about “provocations” planned by Islamist militant groups outside Damascus designed “to accuse government troops of using chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta against civilians.” Defense ministry officials later elaborated that the conspiracy to mount false-flag chemical attacks involved a whole cast of characters ranging from U.S. special operations forces operating in the Syrian desert to Free Syrian Army members in the south of the country to al Qaeda members in Idlib Province.

In the wake of the attack, pro-Russian, pro-Assad and general conspiracy enthusiast social media trolls have joined the fray to make Moscow’s case—with a little help from Russian state media. “[Trump] said let’s pull out of Syria, as a deflection, So that a week later he can declare war,” cried the famously pro-Assad troll Partisangirl. “He knew a chemical false flag was planned.”

Outlets like Sputnik have amplified spy-novel stories about several British commandos captured near the scene of the attack in Douma supposedly operating on behalf of an international Super Friends alliance of the U.S., Israel, Jordan, and the U.K. aiming to thwart the recapture of rebel-held territory.

“Therefore, the US has ordered Jaysh al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and other terrorist groups to allow the evacuation of civilians from Eastern Ghouta to army-held regions in a bid to provide the ground for these foreign agents to also leave Ghouta in disguise and enable the Turkish intelligence service to send them to specified regions in At-Tanf and northern Syria,” according to the intricate claim.

Social-media trolls have also spun their own artisanal disinformation since the Douma incident, taking footage of a 2013 children’s play about chemical weapons put on for kids in East Ghouta and editing the video to claim that civilians in rebel-held areas are teaching children to fake chemical weapons attacks. The play, put on by volunteers shortly after the 2013 sarin attack in East Ghouta, had local children lying on the ground acting out the part of poisoning victims as assembled kids watched and applauded. Twitter trolls grabbed the footage from YouTube, edited it down and circulated it blaring “LET’S PLAY FAKE SYRIAN CHEMICAL ATTACK children’s party!”

It still doesn’t answer the macro question of “why?” One possibility is that this is a reprise of the attack by Russian mercenaries, that went terribly awry, on American proxies with the seeming objective of making the US look weak and feckless. Perhaps since this was at least the fourth chlorine attack this year, the thought was it would be enough to tweak the US’s nose but not enough to get a reaction.

If The Daily Beast is right, then they’ve scored an “own goal” with this. There is no discussion by the US over who is responsible.

And Russian aircraft were being moved from Syrian airfields and Russians ships had sortied from their naval enclave at Tartus in anticipation of the coming whirlwind.