On April 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a joint press conference with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, addressing hostilities in Ukraine. In particular, Putin drew parallels between Bucha events in the Kiev region and allegations that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against civilians in Syria. Putin called them fabricated and provocative campaigns by the Western community against Moscow and Damascus.
In this context, the Russian President also referred to the killings of hundreds of civilians in the Syrian city of Raqqa and in Afghanistan by the US-led coalition.
The Fact Investigation Platform has studied Putin’s statements one by one.
Are Bucha events “fake”?
Answering a question about the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, Vladimir Putin said that allegations about the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were false, a provocation staged by the West.
“It turned out to be fake news, just like Bucha is fake,” Putin said.
On April 2, after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kiev region, the Ukrainian authorities announced about the mass killings carried out by the Russian military in the city of Bucha, northwest of the capital. Later, the international press published shocking photos and videos in which dozens of bodies of civilians were seen on the streets of the city.
On the same day, the Russian Defense Ministry denied the allegations, calling the testimony of the civilians “false” and “yet another provocation by Kiev”. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, “at the time when Bucha was under the control of the Russian armed forces, no local resident was injured.”
The Russian Defense Ministry also said that Russian units left the city on March 30, while videos and other evidence of mass killings appeared on the fourth day after the troops left the city.
In response, the American New York Times published an article on April 4, presenting evidence that in fact refuted the statements of the Russian Ministry of Defense, and later also the claims of the Russian President. Analyzing satellite photos and videos provided by the private company Maxar Technologies, the NYT showed that the bodies of the residents of Bucha were on the streets in mid-March, that is, before the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city.
One of the videos was made on April 2․ It shows numerous bodies lying in one of the streets of the city. At the same time, satellite photos show that at least 11 of these bodies had been on the street since March 11, the day when the Russian side, according to its own information, occupied the city.
Later, the Russian-language Meduza also published a series of videos taken from a drone on March 23-30, which show the bodies of people in the exact places where they were recorded by the Kiev authorities and the international media after the withdrawal of Russian troops.
In fact, official Moscow’s claims that the bodies appeared on the streets of Bucha after their retreat are refuted by satellite and drone footage. This evidence, as well as the testimonies of the residents of Bucha, make Putin’s claims that the mass murders are false and staged problematic, to say the least.
Allegations of Assad using chemical weapons have not been refuted
At the press conference, claiming that the Bucha events were fabricated, Putin tried to link them with international community’s accusations of the Assad regime using chemical weapons in Syria. According to Putin, they are as false as the allegations about Bucha.
The Fact Investigation Platform has previously referred to the use of chemical weapons in various conflicts․ According to the United Nations and international human rights organizations, such weapons were used during the civil war in Syria both by the “Islamic State” terrorist organization and other groups, and by Syrian government forces.
Putin has previously questioned Assad’s use of chemical weapons, calling the relevant allegations absurd in 2013․ And in an interview with the French Le Figaro in 2017, he said there was no evidence to support the allegations.
“We are deeply convinced that it is just a provocation. Assad did not use such weapons,” Putin said, without elaborating on his statement.
Thus, Putin’s claim that the accusations of the Assad regime using chemical weapons are false are not substantiated.
The parallels between the events in Raqqa, Afghanistan and Bucha are manipulative
Speaking about the Bucha events, Putin accused the international community of turning a deaf ear to the killings of civilians in the past.
“I often talk to my Western counterparts, and when they tell me about Bucha, I ask them whether they have ever been to Raqqa, whether they have seen that city leveled to the ground by US-led coalition airstrikes. And there the bodies really remained in the rubble for months and decayed, no one even noticed it. No one remembers the hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan who were killed in a single airstrike during a wedding ceremony,” Putin said.
Amnesty International’s investigation confirms that more than 1,600 civilians were killed in airstrikes by the US-led coalition in the Syrian city of Raqqa in June-October 2017.
“Thousands of civilians were killed or wounded as a result of the US-led coalition’s operation to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State. Its snipers and grenade launchers had turned the city into a death trap. Many of the airstrikes were inaccurate and tens of thousands of artillery shells were irregular, so it is not surprising that they killed and injured hundreds of civilians,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International.
The international press also wrote about inaccurate US air strikes in Afghanistan, as a result of which about 50 civilians participating in a wedding ceremony were killed, including the bride.
Thus, Putin’s claims about the thousands of civilians killed as a result of military operations by Western powers in different areas of the conflict are true, but the parallels with the events in Bucha are irrelevant and manipulative. In Raqqa and Afghanistan civilians were killed as a result of inaccurate strikes by the armed forces of the USA and its coalition partners, while evidence on events in Bucha points to targeted shootings of civilians by the Russian military.