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On February 15, several hospitals were attacked in Syrian-rebel controlled territory.

On February 16, at a briefing on Hmeimim airbase, Russia’s Ministry of Defense spokesman denied allegations Russia bombed hospitals in Syria the day before Last time when they were denying allegations of airstrikes on hospitals, the Russian MoD presented wrongly dated aerial photos taken before the airstrike. This time Russian MoD presented no «objective control data», but did make many claims which proved to be untrue.

In particular, the MoD:

  • Wrongfully presented the words of Turkish PM Davutoglu and nitpicked on a technicality in his accusations towards Russia;
  • Wrongfully presented the attacks’ coverage in international media;
  • Wrongfully presented the coverage of the attacks by «Doctors Without Borders» themselves;
  • Presented unsubstantiated allegations of «Doctors without borders» cooperating with Turkish authorities.

Below is a statement-by-statement analysis of the Russian MoD’s allegations. The quotes are provided verbatim from the MoD’s official transcript of the briefing.

Yesterday, during his visit to Ukraine, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu even came to the point of speaking about alleged strike performed by Russia from the Caspian Sea with the BALLISTIC MISILLE against a hospital in the Idlib province.

Actually, Davutoglu claimed a ballistic missile struck the town of Azaz, not Idlib province, as evidenced by, for example, this Reuters message. You can see the moment Davutoglu says those words at a press-conference in Kyiv below:

A map of Syrian governorates clearly shows that Azaz is not in Idlib province but in Aleppo province:

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It is to be stressed that the Caspian Flotilla has no warship capable of performing such launches of ballistic missiles.

Indeed, Russian sea-based ballisic missiles are launched from submarines, of which in the Caspian Flotilia there are none. However, the Caspian Flotilia ships are capable of launching Kalibr cruise missiles. Russian MoD has reported of their launches and hitting targets in Idlib province:

Davutoglu, a PhD in political science, could have mixed up cruise and ballistic missiles. The Russian MoD chose to nitpick on this, while failing to mention that the Caspian Flotilia is capable of launching missiles (though cruise, not ballistic) at targets in Syria.

Neverhtless, Davutoglu’s claim is most likely false, since the targets in Azaz were most likely hit by Russian-supplied land-based «Tochka» ballistic missiles:

The hospital in Idlib was most likely destroyed with an airstrike, as Doctors Without Borders claim. A video published on February 15 on Maaret-al-Nouman town’s YouTube channel showed a jet in flight and explosions on the ground:

Moreover, in the course of the previous day, the number of messages of the Western media concerning allegedly engaged non-military objects and victims of the Russian aviation in Syria was growing as a snowball. From one hospital in Idlib in the morning to 5 hospitals and even several schools by the end of the day.

Not only in Idlib, but in Azaz (Aleppo province) too.

The Russian MoD wrongly presents the timeline of Western media reporting on the hospital strikes. For example, the message of a hospital and school hit in Azaz appeared not «by the end of the day», but at 1:13 PM Moscow time:

The media that reported 5 hospitals and two schools being hit cited a representative of UN’s Secretary General. It is unclear whether the Russian MoD indeed suspects Ban Ki Moon’s spokesman of being a part of an anti-Russian plot.

To achieve significant public response, all the engaged hospitals were reported as being «supported» by representatives of the «Doctors Without Borders» organization.

This is not true. For instance, the aforementioned tweet and article by Reuters do not claim the hospital hit in Azaz was related to the MSF:

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Then, to achieve the maximum likeness with the incident of destruction of a hospital in Kunduz (Afghanistan) by the American aviation, right on cue, the word «supported» was forgotten. By the evening live television broadcasts, the bombed objects transformed in «hospitals of «Doctors Without Borders».

This claim is also not true. For example, US TV channels CNN and Fox News told about an MSF-«supported» or «backed» hospital, referring only to the one in Idlib, not Azaz:

Скриншот с сайта CNN

Screenshot from CNN’s website

Скриншот с сайта Fox News

Screenshot from Fox News website

First of all, it is to be claimed that only Turkish authorities new about the fact that there had been hospitals of the «Doctors Without Borders» organization in Idlib and Azaz by the previous day. There is no information concerning these establishments anywhere including the website of the «Doctors Without Borders».

We remind that no one but Russia’s MoD claimed the Azaz hospital was MSF-supported. The Azaz hospital is run by a French charity NGO Syria Charity which reported an attack on «our hospital» in the morning of February 15:

The video of the Azaz hospital attack aftermath shows a Syria Charity logo on the building:

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Логотип Syria Charity с официального сайта организации

Syria Charity logo taken from the NGO’s website

We are not sure how the Russian MoD didn’t manage to find information on Doctors without borders’ activities in Idlib on their website. Searching for «Idlib» yeilds several articles, including a report on MSF activities in Syria dated October 22, 2015. The report’s PDF file has information of an MSF burn treatment center in Idlib and on 150 MSF-supported medical facilities around Syria, including Idlib province.

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Apparently the hospital destroyed near Maaret-al-Nouman indeed was on those 150 facilities, which is confirmed by its photo before the bombing, posted by a Lebanese journalist:

The building’s features suggest it is the same building that was geolocated by Institute for United Conflict Analysts resrarchers, while the sign above the doors shows a part of the Doctors without borders logo:

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Moreover, messages concerning the allegedly destroyed hospitals and schools in Azaz dated February 10 can be simply found on the website.

In other words, this fabrication had been prepared but not realized the day before the meeting of the heads of foreign ministries of Russia and the USA in Munich, the results of which, as the Russian Defence Ministry assumes, are so opposed by Turkey.

Searching for «Azaz» at the MSF website indeed yields an article dated February 10. However, it tells not of hospital bombings but of a health system collapse in Azaz district, caused by the influx of refugees due to a pro-Assad offensive in North Aleppo supported by Russian airstrikes:

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In the message dated February 15 concerning the allegedly destroyed hospital in Idlib, there is no photo or video of this building: neither undamaged nor destroyed. By the way, «Doctors Without Borders» document their activities very thoroughly with photos and videos in all countries.

As of the writing of this analysis, the article on the Idlib hospital bombing at the MSF website did feature the hospital’s photo, provided by the MSF itself:

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We do not know whether this photo was present in the article at the moment it was published. However, it was posted by the MSF’s Twitter account on February 15, several hours after the tragedy and almost 24 hours before the MoD’s briefing:

A detailed MSF insvetigation of the Kunduz hospital bombing was published on November 5, almost a month after the airstrike. A «thorough documenting» of information requires significant time, unlike Russian MoD’s denials.

Both messages concerning the allegedly destroyed hospitals and schools in Azaz dated February 10 and Idlib dated February 15 have the same origin – «Gaziantep. Turkey».

The information concerning the place where these fabrications had been made has been published, apparently due to negligence of authors or editors of the website. It is to be emphasized one more time: neither Syria, nor Idlib or Aleppo; it was the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the border with Syria.

It is unclear why Russia’s MoD thinks this is «negligence». Western media traditionally start articles with the name of the location from where the reporter sent the article to the editor’s office. For example, one Washington Post article on the Syrian war starts with «MOSCOW», while another — with «GAZIANTEP»:

Скриншоты с сайта Washington Post

Screenshots from Washington Post website

According to Russian MoD logic, the first WP article is truthful, while the second is a Turkish fabrication.

By the way, that was the city where, by a strange coincidence, the largest training camps had been organized under the aegis of the Turkish secret services for militants arriving into the country from other countries including CIS who were then sent to Syria to fight within terrorist groupings.

Actually, Gaziantep is where an MSF office is located, as evidenced by this placemark on 4square:

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The UN job website lists at least 3 MSF vacancies for work in Gaziantep: a gynaecologist-obstetrician, a humanitarian affairs officer and an assistant head of mission.

Скриншоты с сайта вакансий ООН

Screenshots from the UN job website

Afterword

On February 15, according to Rusia’s «RIA Novosti» state news agency, Doctors without borders asked Russia to tell about RuAF targets in Northern Syria on the day the MSF hospial was hit. Instead of information, the Russian MoD spokesman unleashed an avalanche of unsubstantiated and plainly wrong allegations against MSF.

The Syria hospital bombing will inevitably be compared to the airstrike in Kunduz. The Pentagon announced the Kunduz tragedy investigation on October 3, the day of the bombing. If Russia’s Ministry of Defence indeed backed a thorough investigation of an incident in the area where Russian Air Force routinely conducts airstrikes, it would start a similar investigation and share Russian jet target data with the MSF. Unfortunately, just like with MH17, we are in for a long line of made-up allegations, obfuscations and attempt to shift the blame to Russia’s «foreign enemies».

As the Russian military officials remain unaccountable before the Russian nation and the international community, our team believes it is our duty to present objective information on the situation in Syria and Russian military activities in the country.