MOSCOW: Russian government-funded channel RT accidentally revealed the Russian army’s use of incendiary cluster bombs on Syrian civilians last week, and later tried to edit the footage out of video of its larger broadcast of the Russian Defense Minister’s visit to the country’s Syrian airbase.
According to reports, Russian state channel RT accidentally broadcast footage of Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber aircraft mounted with incendiary bombs at the Russian airbase in Syria’s western Latakia province.
The English-language news station, which is funded by Moscow, broadcast footage of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting Hmeymim airbase last Saturday. The footage from Syria ostensibly shows Russian warplanes using incendiary bombs over Aleppo, in addition to a pilot standing next to a plane being loaded with munitions marked with identifying numbers.
— CIT (en) (@CITeam_en) June 20, 2016
The Kremlin has previously denied that its warplanes were carrying these bombs, which are restricted by an international convention.
According to experts from Human Rights Watch, and Conflict Intelligence Team, an open-source intelligence gatherer, the footage showed incendiary weapons mounted on a Su-34 ground attack aircraft – specifically RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM bombs, according to the Telegraph.
They said that they believed the weapons contained a metal powder fuel known as thermite, the hottest burning man made substance in the world, which ignites while falling. Many witnesses of attacks have accordingly described the bombs as “fireballs.”
Because of the flammable content, incendiary weapons cause excruciatingly painful burns and start fires that are hard to extinguish.
The Geneva Convention, which bans the use of incendiary weapons, defines them as “primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.” Human rights groups also discourage the use of such weapons in war, especially in civilian areas.
The use of thermite has also been reported in civilian areas of Aleppo in northern Syria, where Russia has been conducting regular air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad in anticipation of a ground assault to retake the city from rebel groups.
A number of other videos, posted online by activists inside Syria, show similar attacks in the last month.
The use of air-dropped incendiary bombs on civilian populations would be a violation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, of which Russia is a signatory.
Syria’s government meanwhile has ignored calls to join the protocol and has used incendiary weapons on multiple occasions since 2012.
The five-second segment in RT’s report showing the weapons was removed after the analysts published their findings.
Anton Vorontsev, a spokesman for Russia Today, confirmed that a certain part of the video had been cut, but said it had been done because it had shown a Russian fighter pilot, who, it was feared, could be exposed to security risks as a result.
“There was never any intention to censor the video,” he said. The full unedited version was later reinstated on the website.
CIT however accused Russia Today of “covering up war crimes”.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also condemned Russian airstrikes in Syria in a statement it released on Wednesday, claiming that the Russians are attacking civilians like the regime does.
“It is unacceptable for the sake of humanity that the Russian Federation, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, uses all kinds of weapons and ammunition against civilians just like the regime,” read the statement.