*Ioan-David Onel

Photo source: screenshot sputniknews.com

On December 7, 2017, the Russian publication Sputnik news, quoting the Syrian television Al Ekhbarya and the Arab Syrian Media Agency (SANA) was announcing “the complete destruction” of a hospital in the Syrian town of Hajin, after a bombing of the coalition lead by the United State. In reality, the hospital was not affected at that date, the attacks targeting objectives outside the city, according to the reports of the missions performed by the coalition. In addition, on December 9, 2018, the coalition publishes a video material in which the hospital appears intact, submitting in this manner the incontestable proof of the disinformation spread by Sputnik.

The  Sputnik media agency publishes, on December 7, 2018, an article which presented “the complete destruction” of a hospital in the city of Hajin, in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, as a result of an air strike performed by the forces of the “coalition lead by the United States of America”. Also the article mentions the killing of 40 civilians during some attacks that took place on December 8. The data submitted by Sputnik were taken from the website of the Arab Syrian Media Agency (SANA), which on December 7 has launched information regarding the destruction of the Hajin hospital, offering various details regarding a series of damages produced among civilians.

The fake information regarding the destruction of the Hajin hospital is the central one in the article published by Sputnik, as noticed from its title, US-Led Coalition Strikes Hajin, Local Hospital Completely Destroyed – Reports. From the beginning, the title aims to send a message with an emotional impact, by emphasizing the “complete destruction” of a hospital, which is seen as an objective which conventionally offers shelter, being protected from strikes. Also the title supports the information by referring the “reports” which cannot be found in the content of the article. So, with the title, the material published by Sputnik brings in the foreground the main disinformation subject, the destruction of the hospital, aiming to sensitize the readers by assigning an inhuman portrait to the United State of the coalition lead by them.

The actions of the coalition lead by the United States

The article published by Sputnik is launched in the context in which the United States where performing missions within the operations of the coalition Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), in collaboration with the Democratic Syrian Forces (SDF), with the purpose to eliminate the Islamic State terrorist organization in Syria and Levant/Daesh, from the territories of Syria and Irak, at the border of the two states, in the area of the Euphrates valley. In this context, the relevant thing is the manner in which the United States performed the missions, through coordinated sites, performed through air forces or through artillery, SDF being the troops which advanced on the field, gaining ground.  So, the Sputnik article appears in the context in which SDF, supported by the American aviation  advances towards the town of Hajin, recognized as one of the “last resistance points of the Islamic State”. Still, the Sputnik article makes no reference to the objective of the mission.

According to summary of the missions performed between December 2 and 8, 2018, published on December 12, 2018, the attacks performed by the CJTF-OIR forces on December 7 (date of publication of the Sputnik article), but also in the other days of the interval, have targeted only the surroundings of the town of Hajin, neutralizing “tactical units, fighting positions […] supply routes or command and control points”, without mentioning the Hajin hospital, or attacking other objectives inside the town.

Photo source: screenshot centcom.mil

In addition, on December 9, the coalition published  a video material in which the Hajin hospital appears intact and, moreover, a sniper belonging to the Islamic State organization was filmed while shooting from one of the windows of the hospital. So, as the building was used for military purposes, it  „lost the status of protected location” based on the Law of Armed Conflict.

Photo source: screenshot inherentresolve.mil

Through the data published by the coalition, in the form of the summary of the missions, but especially through the video material in which the hospital appears intact, the false nature of the information launched by SANA and, subsequently, spreaded by Sputnik, becomes obvious.

Source of information taken over by Sputnik

The information in the article published by Sputnik, in relation to the Hajin hospital, are taken from the Arab Syrian Media Agency (SANA).

Photo source: screenshot sana.sy

Being signed by Gh. A. Hassoun and by R. Jazaeri, the article launched by SANA on December 7, 2018, besides the presentation of the fake information regarding the destruction of the Hajin hospital also has an important ideological nature against the United State. So, in  the content of the article we can find various ideological terms and expressions, the victims being described as “martyrs”; and the actions of the coalition as an “aggression”, “random bombings”; “new coalition massacre”; “similar to what happened in Raqqa … with the pretence to fight against Daesh terrorists”. The strongly ideological phrases and terms suggest the assignment of a brutalized image to the United States and to the coalition lead by them. Moreover, in order to support the submitted information (destruction of the hospital, of the homes and of the high number of victims), “civilian sources” are quoted, without offering specific details or actual proof regarding their statements.

By writing the article, in relation to the original SANA variant as well as the variant published by Sputnik, in English, the distribution of fake information to a wide public was targeted, aiming especially the Western area.

The complexity of the disinformation techniques

Analysing both articles submitted above, a complex framework of techniques used for disinformation can be identified.

  • The article launched by SANA, as well as the version distributed by Sputnik have as central information the destruction of the Hajin hospital. So, the manipulation of fake information is obvious, both articles presenting fake information, as on December 7 the hospital was intact.
  • Moreover, in order to support this information, both articles summon inaccurate or vague sources, without offering details in relation to their identity: SANA summons “civil sources”, while Sputnik appeals to “reports”.
  • One can also identify differences between the manners in which the two publications distribute the disinformation. In relation to the SANA agency, we can also identify a technique of the type “ours vs. theirs”, trying to create an irreconcilable distance and difference between two parties. In this case, we are talking about the coalition lead by the US, described as “aggressor”, which “randomly bomb” and “massacres civilians” and the Syrian civilians, described as “martyrs”.
  • In addition, in the SANA article there are also exaggerated articles, such as the “destruction of tens of houses” and “the dislocation of hundreds of families”.
  • The article also presents the real purpose of coalition’s operations, fighting Daesh, as a pretext for US and coalition actions, thus reinforcing the suggestion of their intentional aggression against Syrian civilians. All these aspects contribute to creating an inhuman image of the United States.

The dehumanization of a part as a manipulation technique

With regard to the article presented by Sputnik, besides manipulation by forgery, the technique of selective presentation of facts can also be identified, combining real aspects with false information.   Thus, real information is presented in relation to the attacks of the coalition on  “supply routes, vehicles, fighting positions and buildings,” according to the data submitted in the official report of the missions, from December 5, 2018.

Photo source: screenshot

This data appears together with the fake information of hospital destruction, as a result of the bombings which took place Friday, December 7 2018.

Photo source: screenshot sputniknews.com

With this manner of presenting the data, Sputnik tries to question the truthfulness of the information in the US Central Commandment’s press release, suggesting that official sources distort the truth, concealing the alleged collateral damage. Moreover, unlike SANA, which describes the fight against Daesh as a pretext for coalition actions, Sputnik makes no reference to the purpose of the missions, thus suggesting that the aggressions are directed against civilians. So Sputnik attacks the moral grounds of the actions of the United States and contributes to creating a dehumanized image assigned to them.

Adding up the above-mentioned aspects, the fake nature of the information published by SANA and Sputnik is obvious. The purpose of the misinformation promoted by the two media agencies is one characteristic of armed conflicts, aimed at dehumanizing one of the combatants, in this case being the US-led coalition, with the ultimate goal of undermining the moral foundations of the actions undertaken by it.

Sputnik News is a Russian press agency, opened in 2014, controlled and financed by the state. With head office in Moscow, the agency was launched by the media group Rossiya Segodnya, which replaced the agency RIA Novosti and the radio station The Voice of Russia as a result of a presidential decree signed by Vladimir Putin in 2013.

SANA, the Arab Syrian Media Agency was incorporated in 1965 and is in turn controlled by the state, being the official media agency in Syria.


*Ioan-David Onel is a student of the Security and Diplomacy masters, at SNSPA and has attended the LARICS Internship program.