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FAKE NEWS: reports of ‘scores of Russians’ killed in Syria false

Russia denies reports of ‘scores’ or ‘hundreds’ of Russians killed in US air raid east of Euphrates

Alexander Mercouris

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Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, has vigorously denied widespread Western media reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of deaths of Russian mercenaries supposedly killed in the recent US air strike in Syria against pro-Syrian government tribal fighters east of the Euphrates river.

These reports have appeared in Bloomberg, The New York Times, and The Guardian.  They have been followed up by a further report by Agence France-Presse and in The Guardian, sourced to the pro-Jihadi British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that another fifteen Russian mercenaries were recently killed as a result of an explosion at their base in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province.

Zakharova’s denial does not touch on the explosion at the base, but does respond in detail to the claims of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of deaths of Russian mercenaries as a result of the earlier US air strike

Reports about the death of dozens and even hundreds of Russian nationals are a classic example of disinformation. There were not 400, 200, 100 or even ten (who died), according to preliminary information, in a clash the cause of which is being investigated. Five people, who allegedly were Russian citizens, may have been killed. Several people suffered wounds but it requires verification, particularly as to whether all of them are Russian nationals.

Zakharova went on to say that the Russians who were killed in the US air strike were private civilian contractors (ie. mercenaries) who had no connection to the Russian military and whose movements in Syria were not coordinated with the Russian military and were not therefore fully known to the Russian authorities

I would like to stress that they are not military servicemen.  The Russian presidential administration and Defence Ministry have promptly clarified that there were no Russian military servicemen in the area targeted by the US-led coalition…..

There is a large number of people from all over the globe in conflict zones, including from Russia and CIS member states.  They have various reasons to be there, including participating in military activities. They do not turn to state agencies when they head off to conflict zones, and use illegal routes. It is difficult to figure out who is doing what there but the Russian Foreign Ministry together with other state agencies has been looking into every such case because one of our goals is to protect Russian nationals abroad

As to who was responsible for spreading the story of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in the US air strike, Zakharova pointed the finger at ‘Syrian militants’ (ie. Al-Qaeda or ISIS) whilst also blaming the US authorities and the Western media for spreading the stories.

Syrian militants fighting against the government [had been the first to start] spreading this disinformation through their channels.  God knows why they used a picture of the Martian landscape, adding a photo of destroyed military hardware, which could be Ukrainian (a probe is underway) that dates back to June 2014.  We can understand the reason why international terrorists spread such rumours, as well as why US media outlets do that. This information campaign was stoked by Washington, which has been accusing Moscow of interfering in the US presidential election.

The report of the fifteen Russian mercenaries killed in the explosion in Deir Ezzor unquestionably originates from Jihadi sources, as shown by the fact that it is sourced to the pro Jihadi Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fact that the reports both of the air strike and of the explosion at the base concern events in eastern Syria, an area where Al-Qaeda has no significant presence, suggests that the people who are behind these reports are from ISIS, which is known to operate a sophisticated propaganda and disinformation operation, and whose heartland area eastern Syria is.

As I have previously pointed out, a false report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights of the death of the ISIS leader Ibrahim Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi confirms that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has contacts with ISIS, though this does not seem to worry the Western media outlets which republish its reports

This tends to corroborate Zakharova’s claim that what we are looking at is a Jihadi orchestrated disinformation campaign about Russian casualties in eastern Syria, with the likelihood being that is being carried out by ISIS.

Sadly there is no doubt that members of Russia’s ‘non-system’ liberal opposition have also played a role in spreading and giving credence to this story.  Bloomberg’s report of the story unfortunately makes that all too clear.

The reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of dead Russians in Syria – both as a result of the US air strike and because of the explosion in Deir Ezzor – in fact have all the obvious hallmarks of a disinformation operation.

Firstly, though there is no doubt that there are many Russian mercenaries in Syria, it is scarcely credible that ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of them would be gathered together in one place.

Beyond that, for a single air strike to kill ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of people – especially soldiers dispersed over a wide area and taking cover – would be unusual.

Syrian reports in fact said that the total number of fighters  – Syrian and Russian – killed by the US air strike was 25, and this still seems to be the most plausible and reliable figure.

South Front, whose analysis and reporting of the Syrian conflict is both reliable and outstanding, identified the reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in the air strike as an obvious case of a disinformation operation and said so even before Zakharova made her denial

On February 7 and on February 8, the English-speaking mainstream media, like Politico, Reuters, CNN, were spreading reports that over 100 pro-Assad fighters were killed in the US strikes. All the reports were based on anonymous sources and were mixed with statements from the Pentagon and the defense secretary to look more reliable. According to these reports, a group of 300-500 government fighters, backed up by battle tanks and artillery, were involved in the alleged attack on the SDF.

On February 8, some infamous figures and media outlets of the Russian media sphere started spreading reports that Russian PMCs had suffered mass casualties in the February 7 incident. The conflicting reports, also based on anonymous sources, included estimates such as “two truckloads of dead bodies”, 10-20 killed, 100, 200, 300, 600.

On February 10, the Russian telegram channel WarGonzo posted 5 audio recordings of an alleged conversation among 3 PMCs. One of the voices provides the number of 177 killed. These audio recordings had also been received by a number of Russian journalists since February 7 and were most likely a forgery.

By February 14, reports had settled at a general number of 10-600 dead PMCs.

Meanwhile, the analysis of open info, including reports from relatives and friends of the PMCs involved in the operation, allowed all the concerned sides to find out that 5 Russians reportedly died in the aforementioned period. However, no details are available.

Independent journalists also noted that no aircraft, which could have been involved in the transfer of the killed and injured PMCs, had been spotted at Khmeimim Air Base since February 7. SouthFront correspondents and sources in Damascus and Deir Ezzor can also not confirm information regarding the hundreds of killed PMCs.

SouthFront’s military experts aware of the situation say that the possible number of the casualties could be higher than 5, but not more than 15-20.

The entire story about mass casualties of Russian PMCs is based on unconfirmed and fake data, that includes a few real facts like the US strikes, some PMCs casualties and the participation of the ISIS Hunters in the incident. The rest is an orchestrated campaign in keeping with the best traditions of propaganda.

The goals of which would be that:

  • the US is able to fight back against the Russians in Syria;
  • Russia is not able to defend its interests;
  • the Kremlin is not concerned over killed Russian citizens or is not able to carry out any pay back

To which I would only add that in my opinion the primary motive of the Western media and of the members of the Russian ‘non-system’ liberal opposition giving credence to this disinformation is the third of the three cited by South Front: “the Kremlin is not concerned over killed Russian citizens or is not able to carry out any pay back”.

The first round of Russia’s Presidential elections is due to take place on 18th March 2018.  Spreading and giving credence to what looks to have been originally an ISIS disinformation campaign about ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in eastern Syria looks like an obvious attempt to create controversy within Russia about Russia’s intervention in Syria on the eve of the election.

Just consider for example what Bloomberg reports Vladimir Frolov – a columnist of the staunchly pro-liberal opposition Moscow Times – as saying about the story

This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis.  But Russia will pretend nothing happened.

Clearly a number of Russian mercenaries – or possibly volunteers – got caught up in the US air strike which took place east of the Euphrates, and a number of them were killed.

The number may be higher than the five reported by Zakharova.  She admitted that this number is based on early reports, and that the final total may be higher.

However it beggars belief that it comes anywhere close to the fantastic numbers which have been reported in the Western media.

That ISIS – or whichever Jihadi group is responsible for this disinformation – has greatly exaggerated the number of Russians killed in the air strike is not surprising.

It is hardly unusual in war for one side to exaggerate the number of casualties suffered by the other.  In the Syrian conflict that happens all the time.  All sides – including the US and Russian militaries – are guilty of it.

What is concerning is that this unverified and wildly implausible story of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russians killed in Syria has spread like wild fire through the Western media as if it were true.

One more example of how when it comes to news about Russia for the Western media anything goes.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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Saudi Arabia trying to squirm free of Khashoggi murder (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 2.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Saudi Arabia’s possible admission to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi…accidentally, while they were torturing the man inside the consulate in Istanbul.

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Via Zerohedge

Even before the publication of last night’s Saudi trial balloon hinting that the kingdom would soon acknowledge that the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi – the insider-turned dissident journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week and never walked back out – was the result of a “botched” kidnapping attempt carried out by “rogue killers” (despite reports that the US intelligence community knew that Khashoggi was being “targeted”), two realities had become increasingly clear. One: That the Saudis would avoid responsibility for the killing by pinning it on some unfortunate underling, and two: that there would be few, if any, lasting diplomatic repercussions.

And as more media organizations confirmed reports about Saudi’s plans to spin Khashoggi’s murder as a botched interrogation (we can only imagine what was said in that room to justify the use of such extreme violence), CNN calculated the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for approximately 15 minutes early Tuesday, following his 12-hour-plus flight to the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia lasted no more than 15 minutes, CNN estimates based on the time the top US diplomat’s motorcade arrived at the royal court and departed.

The motorcade arrived at the royal court at 11:42 a.m. (4:42 a.m. ET) and left 26 minutes later. There is a fair distance to walk from where the motorcade dropped Pompeo off to where he met the king.

While Trump said on Monday that Pompeo would travel to Turkey “if necessary”, the Saudi’s decision to “come clean” about Khashoggi’s death pretty much rendered Pompeo’s fact-finding mission unnecessary.More important are developments in Turkey, where the joint Saudi-Turkish “investigation” is turning its attention toward the home of the Saudi consul, where a black diplomatic van that departed the Saudi consulate just under two hours after Khashoggi entered was captured on camera disappearing into a garage. Some speculate that this is where the killers finished disposing of Khashoggi’s body. This comes after a “nine-hour” search of the Saudi consulate building that, according to leaks published in Al-Jazeera, turned up “evidence of tampering” by the Saudis. On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister clarified that Saudi had yet to admit its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable death.

Turkish investigators will carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General’s residence on Tuesday as the probe into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

CCTV footage released to the media from the day the Washington Post writer vanished show movement of vehicles from the consulate building to the Consul General’s residence nearby.

As speculation mounts that the incident could unseat the increasingly authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (who has already marginalized or incapacitated nearly every threat to his rule), it’s looking more likely that neither the US nor the rest of the Western world will do much to punish the world’s most important oil exporter, which can “weaponize” the oil market seemingly on a whim.

Any punishment for this flagrant violation of human rights will need to come, therefore, from the private sector, which, according to Bloomberg, could sabotage MbS’s grand Vision 2030 plan, which aims to remake the Saudi economy via a flood of foreign direct investment:

The economic strategy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, is to make investment the main engine of economic growth instead of government spending, but the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could frustrate these ambitions. Foreign direct investment, a key part of the plan to reinvent Saudi Arabia’s economy, declined sharply in 2017 and is unlikely to return to previous levels, leaving the government’s target for 2020 beyond reach, according to analysis by Bloomberg Economics. Increased policy uncertainty and, after the Khashoggi incident, the risk of reputational damage to foreign companies working in Saudi Arabia won’t help.

 

 

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Defeat in Bavaria delivers knockout punch to Merkel’s tenure as Chancellor (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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The stunning CSU defeat in Bavaria means that the coalition partner in Angela Merkel’s government has lost an absolute majority in their worst election results in Bavaria since 1950.

In a preview analysis before the election, Deutsche Welle noted that a CSU collapse could lead to Seehofer’s resignation from Merkel’s government, and conceivably Söder’s exit from the Bavarian state premiership, which would remove two of the chancellor’s most outspoken critics from power, and give her room to govern in the calmer, crisis-free manner she is accustomed to.

On the other hand, a heavy loss and big resignations in the CSU might well push a desperate party in a more volatile, abrasive direction at the national level. That would further antagonize the SPD, the center-left junior partners in Merkel’s coalition, themselves desperate for a new direction and already impatient with Seehofer’s destabilizing antics, and precipitate a break-up of the age-old CDU/CSU alliance, and therefore a break-up of Merkel’s grand coalition. In short: Anything could happen after Sunday, up to and including Merkel’s fall.

The Financial Times reports that the campaign was dominated by the divisive issue of immigration, in a sign of how the shockwaves from Merkel’s disastrous decision to let in more than a million refugees in 2015-16 are continuing to reverberate through German politics and to reshape the party landscape.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the stunning Bavarian election defeat of the CSU party, and the message voters sent to Angela Merkel, the last of the Obama ‘rat pack’ neo-liberal, globalist leaders whose tenure as German Chancellor appears to be coming to an end.

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Via Zerohedge

Voters in Germany’s economically dominant southern state of Bavaria delivered a stunning rebuke to the ruling Christian Social Union, in an election that delivered another crushing blow for the parties in Angela Merkel’s grand coalition in Berlin.

With all eyes on Sunday’s Bavaria election, moments ago the first exit polls showed a historic collapse for the ruling CSU party, which has ruled Bavaria continuously since 1957, and which saw its share of the vote collapse from 47.7% in the 2013 election to just 35.5%, losing its absolute majority and suffering its worst result since 1950, as voters defected in their droves to the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany.

German newspaper Welt called the election “the most painful election defeat of the past 50 years for the CSU”. As predicted in the polls, the CSU experienced a “historic debacle” in the Bavarian state elections, according to Welt. The CSU was followed by the Greens which soared in the election, more than doubling to 18.5% from 8.6% in 2013, the Free Voters also rose to 11% from 9.0%, in 2013.

Meanwhile, the nationalist AfD are expecting to enter Bavaria’s parliament for the first time ever with 11% of the vote, and as such are setting up for their post-election party. Party leader Alice Weidel already is having the first beer in the small community of Mamming in Lower Bavaria.

Establishment party, left-of-center SPD also saw its support collapse from 20.6% in 2013 to just 10% today.

The full initial results from an ARD exit poll are as follows (via Zerohedge):

  • CSU: 35.5 %
  • Grüne: 18.5 %
  • FW: 11.5 %
  • AfD: 11.0 %
  • SPD: 10.0 %
  • FDP: 5.0 %
  • Linke: 3.5 %
  • Sonstige: 5.0 %

The breakdown by gender did not show any marked variations when it comes to CSU support, although more women voted for the Greens, while far more men supported the AfD:

There was a greater variation by educational level, with highly educated voters tending more towards the green GRÜNE (G/EFA) and liberal FDP (ALDE) then the average, while low/middle educated voters tended more towards CSU (EPP) and AfD (EFDD).

This was the worst result for the CSU since 1950.

Zerohedge further reports that alarmed by the rise of the anti-immigration, populist AfD, the CSU tried to outflank them by talking tough on immigration and picking fights with Ms Merkel over asylum policy.

But the strategy appeared to have backfired spectacularly by alienating tens of thousands of moderate CSU voters and driving them into the arms of the Greens.

Meanwhile, as support the CSU and SPD collapsed, the result confirmed the Greens’ status as the rising force in German politics. Running on a platform of open borders, liberal social values and the fight against climate change the party saw its support surge to 18.5%, from 8.4% in 2013. Meanwhile the AfD won 11%, and for the first time entered the Bavarian regional assembly.

“This is an earthquake for Bavaria,” said Jürgen Falter, a political scientist at the University of Mainz.

The CSU had governed the state with an absolute majority for most of the last 60 years. “It was Bavaria and Bavaria was the CSU. That is now no longer the case.”

The latest collapse of Germany’s establishment parties highlights the shaky ground the grand coalition in Berlin is now resting on as all three parties in the alliance, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the CSU and the SPD, are haemorrhaging support. Some are now questioning whether the coalition, already frayed by personal rivalries and near constant bickering over policy, can survive a full term in office.

“This outcome throws ever more doubt on the future of the grand coalition,” said Heinrich Oberreuter, head of the Passau Journalism Institute and an expert on the CSU. “Based on current polls, if an election were held now, the CDU, CSU and SPD would not even command a majority in the Bundestag.”

The CSU will now be be forced to form a coalition government — a humiliating outcome for a party that has run Bavaria single-handedly for 49 of the last 54 years. Its preference is probably for a three-party coalition with the Free Voters, a small party that is mainly focused on local politics. It could also team up with the Greens, though it would be highly reluctant to do so: the two parties are deeply divided over immigration, transport and environmental policy.

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