After a joint ballistic missile offensive mounted by the United States, United Kingdom and France destroyed three facilities allegedly integral to Syria’s chemical weapon infrastructure, the Russian military quickly claimed that the Soviet era missile defense systems employed by Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime had successfully intercepted 71 of 105 inbound missiles, effectively neutering the attack before it could do any actual damage. The Pentagon, as well as third party commercial satellite imagery, both countered those claims with evidence that the offensive was a success — but now one Russian general has upped the ante on their claims.
On Wednesday, Russian General Sergei Rudskoi claimed that the original figure of 71 downed missiles was indeed incorrect, saying instead that Syrian defenses successfully intercepted 83 inbound missiles, with two more failing to reach the target on their own. According to the general, those two failed missiles were captured and transported back to Moscow where defense experts will use them to bolster Russian missile technology.
Some of the missiles failed to reach the designated targets apparently due to technical failures, which created the risk of destroying civilian facilities and causing civilian casualties,” Rudskoi said. “Two of them, a cruise missile Tomahawk and a high-accuracy air-launched missile, have been brought to Moscow. The results of this work will be used to improve Russian weapon systems.”
While Tomahawk missiles have been upgraded regularly throughout more than three decades of service, it’s likely that Russia could glean much more from a failed JASSM deployed by a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, or the Storm Shadow air-to-surface cruise missile fired by RAF Tornado GR4s… of course, that’s assuming you take the general at his word. Considering concerted disinformation campaign regarding the air strike and its inciting chemical weapon attack on Syrian civilians in the weeks prior, it’s difficult to know when the propaganda ends and the legitimate claims begin. It seems possible that some of the 105 missiles fired could have failed, although U.S. Defense officials have claimed that none did. Further, they’ve pointed out that, despite Russia’s bold statements, they have yet to provide any evidence to support their claims.
This is another example of the Russian disinformation campaign to distract attention from their moral complicity to the Assad Regime’s atrocities and the civilian carnage in western Syria,” Eric Pahon, Pentagon spokesman, told CNBC. On the Tomahawk, we have seen no proof, other than statements made to Russian state-owned media, that their claims are true. This is likely another smoke screen of propaganda to distract from the real issue at hand — the murder of innocent civilians by a murderous regime propped up by Russian backing.”
According to the Defense Department, Syria fired two interceptors during the offensive, neither of which hit anything, followed by 40 more after their attack was over. Even if all 42 interceptors were actually fired during the missile strikes, nearly all of them would need to have somehow intercepted two missiles each to match the numbers touted by Rudskoi.
Taking a departure from formal statements made by both Russian and American militaries, claims that Syria, and as a result, Russia captured two failed inbound missiles seems like the most plausible of Russia’s announcements thus far. Two missiles would have made little difference in terms of impact on target, and out of 105 missiles, they would represent a less than 2% failure rate across multiple platforms launched from various air and sea assets. More importantly, however, Russia’s decision not to provide any evidence of the missiles capture could be an intentional part of a still developing disinformation campaign.
The following is conjecture, not fact, but its reasonable for Russia’s Ministry of Defense to surmise that the American Defense Department would counter Russia’s claims that they captured two missiles, especially when coupled with increasingly unrealistic figures regarding Syrian intercepts of other inbound missiles. By issuing the statement without any evidence, Russia has invited the United States to call them out on these claims publicly.
If Russia does have possession of a Tomahawk and another as-yet unidentified missile, they will likely soon offer up evidence to show that they weren’t lying about the two failures — and they’ll present that evidence in a manner that is meant to suggest that the rest of their claims regarding the offensive were also accurate. In effect, they could be laying a public relations trap: by inviting the United States to counter their claims about captured equipment, they are creating an opportunity to discredit the entirety of the American narrative relating to the air strikes in the eyes of casual observers. Using one small truth to bolster a dozen lies has long been a part of the Russian perception management tool box.
Only time will tell if that’s the case – but in the mean time, keep an eye out for suddenly available images of Russia’s newly captured bounty. They may be all Russia needs to plant the seed of doubt in the minds of many around the world.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press