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Will Russia have its Chilcot moment for Syria?

As Russian journalists blast the role Blair played in destroying Iraq, no one dares to ask what has Moscow done to innocent Syrians

Following the release of the Chilcot report, the Russian propaganda machine suggested that former British prime minister Tony Blair should be punished for his crimes against Iraq. The same pundits, however, did not contemplate the actions of Russian forces in Syria.

The Russian media reacted to the Chilcot report enthusiastically, stressing the message that the unscrupulous West destroyed Iraq: they promised democracy and brought slaughter instead. But these propagandists seemed to have missed the irony that with Russian bombing of Syria - amid intentional silence – the murder and maiming of Syrian civilians makes such righteousness hypocritical.  

One example was Dmitry Kiselyov, the notorious pro-government TV anchor who worked at a number of leading official media outlets, and who once warned that Russia can turn America to "radioactive ash". His recent commentary on the Chilcot report was accompanied by a photo of Blair in the background with the question "Will he be hanged?" typed next to it. Kiselyov must have forgotten the warm relations that Blair enjoyed with Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s.

The theoretical reasons for hanging Blair with an allusion to the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein are discussed publicly on the main official Russian channel Rossiya 1. Even the Soviet propaganda of the post-Stalin era wasn’t that bold.

During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), the media had mainly concealed what was happening. No TV presenters suggested using nuclear weapons against the USA for Ronald Reagan’s coinage "Evil Empire" or called for the hanging of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after he called the USSR the "Lesser Satan".

Aside from official television, pro-Kremlin social media accounts began sharing a 2010 data blog by The Guardian, showing the Iraq war casualties from 2004 to 2009. The data shows 109,000 killed people in total. Among them there are 66,000 civilians, 24,000 insurgents and 15,000 Iraqi security forces. The findings of the investigation conducted by The Lancet magazine were terrifying - 655,000 victims. Ten years later in 2013 the magazine changed the number significantly - 117,000.

In response to The Lancet’s investigation at the end of 2006 the Iraq Body Count website was launched with headquarters first in the USA and then in Britain. According to it, 13 years of war resulted in 160,000-179,000 casualties. With combatants it makes 251,000.

An interest in Iraqi civilian casualties has risen after the Chilcot report. No such concern appears to be given to Syrian civilians. In 2006, the Russian media remained surprisingly indifferent to the death of 655,000 people - at that time ideological struggle against the West and the Middle East was needless for the Kremlin. The Russian authorities tried to persuade the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government to share the territory with Russian oil companies.

During five years of the Syrian war, Bashar al-Assad's government has been using all possible weapons at its disposal against the civilians and insurgents.

In September, 2015 Russia joined Assad in this conflict. According to the UN, 255,000 people were killed during this period (since 2011). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, between 282,000-400,000. According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research - 470,000. So Syria has many more casualties than Iraq does.

But Russian media outlets have concealed the casualties among civilians from the very beginning. The propaganda claims the information about civilians being killed, bombing of hospitals, schools, bakeries, mosques and whole districts are simply false.

Instead there are reports on thousands of demolished "Islamic State headquarters" – in suburbs of Damascus, in Palestinian refugee camps, in Aleppo, in the desert, in schools and hospitals.

Russian journalists, citizens and organisations have no real ability to criticise the actions of the government. Those who dared have either being considered as "foreign agents" or fled.

In March, Russia declared a "partial withdrawal" from Syria. Since then Russian sources are silent about "victories over the Islamic State". A newly adopted array of laws threatens people with prosecution for reposts of materials connected with war crimes.

This June the Russian minister of defence visited Syria. The video report of Russia Today, the official news channel, was edited with all the shots of the forbidden cluster bombs being removed.

Russian journalists are still blamestorming the Chechen War, but the louder Kiselyov suggests hanging Blair for his actions against Iraq, the more persistently the question arises: "Who will be responsible for Syria?"

-Nadezhda Kevorkova is a Russian journalist who reported from a number of countries in the Middle East. She covered the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’ in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2015 when she was captured by Israeli forces and spent a week in jail. She is the winner of Gallup Global Journalism (2007) and Palestine International Forum for Media (2016) awards. She is author of "Palestine. Resistance".

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A poster bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen in the ancient theatre of Syria's ravaged Palmyra on 6 May, 2016 (AFP).

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