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Rumored killing of Russian general in Syria proves media canard

August 09, 2012, 15:54 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The Syrian Opposition’s claims it has killed a Russian general has proved a canard and yet another episode in the media war between the Syrian authorities and the rebels. Its ultimate aim is to discredit Russia in the eyes of the world community. This is the gist of opinions all commentators in Russia have offered with amazing unanimity.

Allegations by the Free Syrian Army to the effect a Russian general, Vladimir Kodzhiyev (also spelled Kuzheyev and Kochyev) was killed in a suburb of Damascus on August 5 have turned out to be utterly false. On Wednesday, the senior military officer rumored dead appeared in front of television cameras himself to dismiss Syrian rebels’ claims.

Representatives of the Free Syrian Army declared the death of a Russian general, Vladimir Kuzheyev, and his interpreter Ahmed Aiq, in a video message last Wednesday. They also showed the Russian officer’s ID in Arabic. The rebels argued they had executed the Russian for working as an adviser to the Syrian Defense Ministry and for helping with the operation in Guta, near Damascus.

In the video message an officer of the rebel forces, seated in front of the Syrian Opposition’s flag, warned punishment for “all henchmen of the bloody regime.” He also slammed Russian supporters of Bashar Assad’s forces as “Russian snakes.” In the same video the rebels’ representatives showed some sheets with stamps, without saying, though, when and where the general was killed.

Sources at the Russian Defense Ministry said that an officer with a similar name had worked in Syria a while ago in the capacity of an adviser to that country’s Defense Ministry for the affairs of military academies. That officer retired from active service long ago.

Several hours after the media published the controversial rumor General Vladimir Kodzhiyev appeared at the Russian Defense Ministry in person to dismiss the claim he was dead. He said he was safe and sound at his home in Moscow. “I have retired from the military service. But as a major-general with a previous record of service at the General Staff I am well aware this is a provocation. It is a provocation not so much against me as against my country,” Kodzhiyev said.

The Defense Ministry’s press and information department has dismissed the affair as a provocation, too. It said that the ultimate purpose of such statements was “not a drive for sensations, but obviously provocative actions against Russian military.” As the press-service said, “over the past few years many such media canards have been invented with the use of the same templates, and orchestrated and spread by the same authors.”

Russian diplomats share the military’s opinion. “Such insinuations are yet another example of the media war being waged by the militants and forces behind them for the sake of attaining aims that are very far from the interests of the people of Syria or other countries of the region,” a source at the Russian Foreign Ministry told Itar-Tass.

Experts agree that this disinformation is part and parcel of the media war against Russia, which extends political support for the Syrian authorities. The chief of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, Igor Korotchenko, has told the radio station Kommersant FM that at least before the beginning of the active phase of the hostilities between government troops and rebels there was a group of Russian officers and generals on a mission in Syria. Their task was to instruct their Syrian counterparts in the operation of sophisticated military hardware.

However, by now all of them have returned to Russia, he said. Besides, the mentioned military equipment is not used in operations against the rebels, because it is designed for protection against foreign air or naval aggression. In the meantime, the Opposition does not have naval or air forces, the analyst said.

“From the practical standpoint nobody can coordinate and conduct combat operations against the rebels than the Syrians themselves, who are well familiar with the local realities better than anybody else,” Korotchenko said. “The allegations about Russian specialists’ involvement in combat operations in Syria is an element of the media war against Syria and Russia.”

“From the very beginning the whole affair looked more like a provocation, and not as a real event,” agrees Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Had the militants really managed to kill a Russian military adviser, they would have surely shown his body in the same video footage. Also, they would have shown the seized maps as a confirmation.” The daily says that in the areas of hostilities any military advisers, let alone those having the rank of a general, never move around on their own in the company of just one interpreter.

The daily speculates that the militants may have laid hands on some old papers, which were used to cook a provocative video footage in which the rebels’ commander acted as the main presenter. “That’s an episode of the psychological war against Russia, which is opposed to foreign intervention in Syrian affairs. A very crude forgery, indeed,” the daily remarks.

On several occasions in the past the insurgents tried to discredit Russia in the eyes of the world community, because Moscow, which blocks all anti-Assad resolutions in the UN Security Council, looks to them as a hostile party to the conflict,” says the daily Kommersant. Demonstrators at the Opposition’s rallies in Syria and in other countries are often seen carrying posters with a photograph of the Russian foreign minister and the caption reading “Ayatollah Lavrov.” In this way the rebels put an equation sign between the Russian foreign minister and the leaders of Iran, who are the main sponsors of the Bashar Assad regime.

Any proof of Russian military advisers’ involvement in the war in Syria on the government’s side would unequivocally strip Russia of the status of an independent actor in efforts to help bring about a settlement of the intra-Syrian conflict, the newspaper says. Should that happen, the opponents of Bashar Assad and his government around the world would get a strong argument in favor of their own settlement plan – without any role reserved for Moscow. And such a plan would surely be enforced not through the UN Security Council, where Russia as the right of veto.

Moscow, August 9