What Russia’s own videos and maps reveal about who they are bombing in Syria

Bellingcat reports: The Russian Federation launched an air campaign on 30 September 2015, allegedly targeting Islamic State (or ISIS) positions in Syria. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been releasing selected videos on its YouTube channel ever since. Bellingcat began geolocating and independently verifying videos published by the Russian MoD after initial reports from the ground indicated that Russian airstrikes have instead destroyed positions held by the Free Syrian Army and other groups rather than ISIS.

Bellingcat has geolocated, verified, and visualised each airstrike published by the Russian MoD on its official YouTube channel as of 25 October. The outcome of our work is unequivocal: the overwhelming majority of Russian airstrikes have targeted positions held by non-ISIS rebel groups posing a more immediate threat to the Syrian regime and its head, Bashar al-Assad. In contrast, ISIS strongholds have rarely been attacked. The methodology and results of the investigation are laid out below.

We noticed that, for many videos, the Russian MoD adds a description in Russian before the video of the strike itself begins. A longer, more in-depth description is also appended to each upload, along with the title of the video. For the verification process, each video was uploaded to Bellingcat’s Checkdesk verification project. We Google-translated the description and pasted the original one in Russian alongside to keep track of the information in an independently managed online space. [Continue reading…]

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