DAMASCUS, Syria — Just outside Damascus, foreign reporters on a press tour gathered around a handful of generals from not just the Syrian Arab Army but also the Russian military.
The infamous Syrian-Russian special alliance on full display for the cameras was a bizarre scene to witness. But it’s nearly impossible for international journalists to get access to the part of Syria controlled by President Bashar Assad. The only way in is through one of these regime-sanctioned press tours orchestrated by Russian Ministry of Information — and reporters are agreeing to them in order to see what’s happening in the country.
And it’s also a window into Russian propaganda on Syria.
Moscow has been the regime’s fiercest ally, providing the jets to bomb rebel strongholds, sending its troops to back the Syrian Arab Army on the ground, and protecting Assad from sanctions by the United Nations.
Before the Russian Air Force lent its air power to the Syrian regime in 2015, Assad was on the verge of losing it all. But since the Russians’ involvement, he’s gained back most of the country, killing thousands of civilians in the process. All that’s left is one province, Idlib, that is under the control of HTS, an al-Qaeda offshoot. But there are also about 3 million civilians trapped in that area.
The Russian and Syrian minders spent much of the disinformation tour justifying the current air campaign on Idlib. One Syrian army general told the group of journalists on the junket, “There is no white terrorism and black terrorism,” in response to a question about the safety of civilians in the province.
Just two weeks ago, a displacement camp and a maternity hospital were hit by a ground-to-ground missile launched by the Syrian regime, killing 16 people, including seven children and three women, according to the Syrian American Medical Society that supports several medical facilities there.
Cover: A pro-Assad rally in recently re-taken Idlib.