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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
September 20, 2016

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Major Holes In Russia's Narrative On Airstrike Against UN Convoy; Witnesses Describe The Carnage

As we have been reporting, the Russian narrative about last night's airstrike against a UN aid convoy in southwestern Aleppo province has several problems. First, the Kremlin's narrative has changed. Initially they claimed that there was no sign of an airstrike, and that the vehicles had spontaneously combusted (see updates below).

Since then, the Russian Ministry of Defense has released a video which reportedly shows a truck towing an artillery piece near the aid convoy. 

We have now geolocated the new video to this location, and we can prove that this vehicle was miles away from the location that the UN convoy was bombed. Furthermore, eyewitnesses and the Russian military's own video evidence suggest that the Russian drone followed the UN convoy for hours before helicopters repeatedly struck the convoy.

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2016-09-20 21:49:26
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2016-09-20 21:49:26
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2016-09-20 21:49:25
As you can see, the trucks in this vehicle are about 7 kilometers west of where a different video, analyzed by The Interpreter yesterday, shows the UN convoy unloading some of its cargo. Since the vehicles in this first convoy are pointed west, we might extrapolate that this new video was taken some time before yesterday's video was taken.
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2016-09-20 21:49:24
However, shadows are clearly visible in this video. This means that they were taken sometime before sunset. Using Suncalc.net, we can see that the video must have been taken late in the day, perhaps around 3:30-4 PM.
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2016-09-20 22:07:28
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The time on the SunCalc interface is for British Summer Time (two hours behind Syria)
2016-09-27 21:18:37

Meanwhile, we can tell from the start time of the RT live stream of the other video, showing the convoy on the edge of Urem al-Kubra, that the drone from which the footage was being broadcast was over the area until almost 16:30.

SunCalc analysis of this video provides a roughly similar time, although it is hard to determine with shadows alone since they are zoomed out and minute differences of angles matter. 


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2016-09-20 22:30:01
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2016-09-27 21:39:17

According to the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, the first attack on the UN convoy was made at 7:12 PM -- perhaps three and a half hours after the first video was taken and two and a half hours after the second was taken. That vehicle could have been anywhere by then, but it is a safe bet that it was very far away from the UN aid convoy. 

Is Russia now trying to say that they conducted an airstrike that killed 20 aid workers and damaged dozens of trucks just to destroy a single piece of artillery?

Beyond this, a new video has surfaced which reportedly shows the second part of a helicopter attack on the convoy. According to witnesses, the convoy was hit by a "double tap," two rounds of attacks where the second is designed to kill rescue workers -- a staple of Russian and Syrian airstrikes. In this video, which we have not yet been able to confirm, a helicopter can clearly be heard both flying and shooting at a target on the ground: 

All of this matches precisely with a timeline presented by witnesses on the ground. The Associated Press reports:

Local paramedic and media activist Mohammad Rasoul, who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said over 100 tons of food, medicine, and baby formula had gone up in flames. He said 18 of the convoy's 31 trucks were completely destroyed.

The attack "erased the convoy from the face of the earth," Rasoul said.

"I've never seen anything like this attack," he said. "If this had been a military position, it wouldn't have been targeted with such intensity."

He said the attack began around 20 minutes after sunset on Monday and continued for two hours.

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Syria cease-fire falters amid deadly strikes on aid convoy

BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's cease-fire has faltered further after an aid convoy was hit by airstrikes, with activists saying at least 12 people were killed in the attack, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The strikes late on Monday came just hours after the Syrian military declared the week-long U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire had failed.

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Sep 21, 2016 02:22 (GMT)

Another aid worker, Mahmoud Abu Zaid, told Newsnight on BBC2 that the drone watched the convoy for hours before the strike:

“What happened was almost two hours before the bombing we heard and saw a drone, as soon as the regime announced the end of the ceasefire, I had concerns that it would start bombing, because it flew over us for a long time. After two hours the helicopter came and dropped the first barrel bomb. After half a minute it dropped two barrel bombs together, afterwards there were six air strikes by the military jets. Then the jets with guns launched an attack. Afterwards the helicopters came back dropping barrel bombs, and then the jet with guns came back and started firing.”


-- James Miller, Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Changes Story To Insinuate UN Aid Convoy Was Destroyed Because Of Proximity To "Terrorists"
The Russian government is changing its story about yesterday's destruction of the UN aid convoy in southwestern Aleppo province. As we reported, earlier the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that there was no evidence the convoy had been hit by an airstrike, and that after ensuring the safety of the convoy, the Russians stopped their surveillance of the vehicles. However, the metadata on the Ministry of Defense's own drone surveillance proves that they were indeed watching the convoy:

Now Russia is changing its tune. Russian state-run propaganda outlets are running a new video, along with a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, which claims that armed militants were moving in the area of the convoy, using it as "cover." Sputnik carries the following statement from the spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry:

"The examination of the video footage made via drones of the movement of the humanitarian convoy in areas controlled by militants in the province of Aleppo has revealed new details. The video clearly shows how terrorists are redeploying a pickup with a large-caliber mortar on it using the convoy as a cover," Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

Sputnik adds:

[Konashenkov] said that "it is unclear yet who accompanies whom: the [pickup with a] mortar accompanies the convoy with "White Helmets" volunteers or vise versa. And most importantly, where did the mortar disappear near the destination point of the convoy and what was the target of its fire during the convoy's stop and unloading?"

This video appears to show a vehicle, towing an artillery piece, driving near a convoy of parked trucks.

There are several problems with the Russian MOD's claim (not the least of which is that they are changing their story).

First, we have reviewed the footage the Russian MOD released yesterday, and this footage was NOT part of that video. Furthermore, we have been unable to confirm that these videos even show the same general location.

Bellow is a screenshot from the new video. Note the median strip to the left of the truck towing the artillery piece:

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2016-09-20 20:34:15
Yesterday's video, analyzed here, shows many of the trucks unloading, but does not show a median strip like that. Note that in the image below, the trucks on the left are parked and the trucks on the right appear to be unloading. Traffic appears to move in both directions:
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2016-09-20 20:36:10

We have not been able to find any video of a median strip such as the one shown in the video above anywhere near the area where the aid convoy was destroyed. 

The new video also looks very different than the video released yesterday. It is tightly zoomed, making it harder to identify the location of the vehicles shown. It is also very short, just 36 seconds long. The video stops, then zooms in on the suspected artillery piece, which gives the impression that the vehicle itself stopped driving, but this cannot be confirmed from watching the video itself because it is cut off so abruptly.

In other words, yesterday's video, clocking in at two hours and 25 minutes long, may have been a little too honest, but this one is carefully framed and edited.

But as we can see from watching yesterday's video, traffic comes and goes as the UN aid convoy unloads. If this truck did drive by the convoy, it would have been one of dozens that did so.

In other words, it now appears that the Russian military is trying to use this one truck, which may or may not have been near this particular aid convoy, to excuse an airstrike that they claimed earlier never happened.

Meanwhile, the United States has reached a "preliminary conclusion" that Russian warplanes are the ones that attacked the convoy, according to CNN: 


UN aid convoy hit by warplanes in Syria

Twelve people involved in the aid delivery were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organzation that monitors the conflict in Syria. At least 32 people in total were killed in strikes that hit Aleppo and its western suburbs, SOHR said.

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Sep 21, 2016 00:45 (GMT)
-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Denies Air Strikes On Aid Convoy Even Took Place, Claims Trucks Were Not Monitored

As we have reported, a convoy of trucks unloading humanitarian aid in Urem al-Kubra, west of Aleppo, was bombed last night.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) reported this morning that around 20 civilians and a SARC sub-branch director, Omar Barakat, were killed in the attack.

Syrian Civil Defense (known as the White Helmets) report that Syrian regime helicopters dropped bombs on the convoy as it was being unloaded at a SARC warehouse. According to the report, Russian aircraft subsequently attacked the site with cluster bombs, impeding rescue attempts.

Photos from the scene today make the extent of the devastation clear: 

Incredibly, the Russian Ministry of Defense not only denies any involvement in the strikes, but denies that the convoy was attacked at all.

Interfax reported this afternoon that General-Major Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the MOD, said:

"We have carefully studied the so-called 'activists'' videos from the scene and have found no sign whatsoever of any kind of munitions striking the convoy. There are no corresponding craters, the vehicles have no damage to their bodies or structural fractures from the blast wave of air-launched munitions."

No structural damage to the vehicles?

Instead, Konashenkov claimed that the damage was all the result of the cargo catching fire, adding the insinuation that Syrian rebel fighters may have been responsible.

The MOD spokesman also claimed that the only party to have been aware of the convoys location were the rebels.

"At around 13:40 the entire humanitarian cargo was safely delivered to the end point, after which the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of the Warring Sides In Syria stopped monitoring the convoy. Further movement of the convoy was not monitored by the Russian side. All information on the location of the convoy was known only to the militants controlling these areas."

This is demonstrably false.

Yesterday afternoon RT ran a live stream on Facebook from the Russian MOD, relaying footage from a Russian drone.

The stream began at 15:17 local time (12:17 GMT). It is worth noting that due to daylight saving time in Syria, Moscow and Damascus are currently on the same time zone. Around an hour into the video, around 16:17 local, the drone is flying the road between Urem al-Kubra and Kafr Naha, just to the east.

As we reported last night, at around an hour into the video (16:17 local time), the video clearly shows a convoy of trucks, resembling that which was bombed, moving through the eastern edge of Urem al-Kubra, not far from the site of the attack.


Meanwhile the UN humanitarian aid agency has announced that it has suspended all aid delivery operations "pending further assessment of the security situation."

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U.N. suspends aid after convoy attack as Syria ceasefire collapses

GENEVA/BEIRUT The United Nations suspended all aid shipments into Syria on Tuesday after a deadly attack on a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies, as a week-old U.S.-Russian sponsored ceasefire collapsed in renewed violence. Washington said it was "outraged" by the apparent air strike that hit a 31-truck aid convoy late on Monday.

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Sep 20, 2016 14:15 (GMT)

-- Pierre Vaux
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