The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) recently reported that Russia is responsible for at least 18,000 deaths in Syria, since its military intervention in September 2015 began. 1,904 children, 1,187 women, and 4,837 men are among the 8,000 or so civilians killed by Russian shelling, according to the report. In addition, 5,201 members of the Islamic State (ISIS), and 4,868 fighters from various other factions, were reportedly killed by Russia over the course of nearly 36 months. A similar report issued by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) last month states “that 6,239 civilians have been killed at the hands of Russian forces, including 1,804 children, between the start of their military intervention in Syria and September 30, 2018.”
As The Independent reported on October 1, 2018, Russia is disputing these figures and claiming it has “killed significantly more” than 18,000 individuals in the three years since it intervened on behalf of President Bashar Al-Assad. Colonel General Viktor Nikolaevich Bondarev has reportedly said that Russian forces in Syria killed approximately 85,000 individuals, though he claims they were all “terrorists” and not a single civilian was deliberately targeted or even killed by Russian forces.
While the number of Syrian casualties has declined in recent months—with September reportedly involving the lowest number of deaths since the start of the conflict in 2011—monitoring groups continue to report that Russia is responsible for newly documented deaths. More recently, for example, SNHR reported that “no less than 192 civilians were killed in September by the parties to the conflict in Syria, including 95 at the hands of Syrian-Russian alliance forces.”
These recent reports, as well as the long history of reporting, seriously complicates Russian claims that it is responsible for “zero” civilian casualties. For Bondarev’s own allegations to be considered accurate, one of two possibilities must be true. It must either be that every single documented case of civilian casualties at Russian hands is false, or that Russian standards for “terrorism” are so expansive that non-combatant civilians are part of the definition.
Or, perhaps, a simpler, more practical answer explains Bondarev’s recent claims: In the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts” who is to really say what is (or isn’t) true? As far as Russia is concerned, it is responsible for “zero” civilian casualties since its role in Syria is to help eradicate tens of thousands of “terrorists.” That, from the Russian perspective, may be the only “fact” that matters.