Russia's Ministry of Defence released startling visual proof last night that the United States military is assisting ISIS. The only problem with Russia's claims? The photographic "evidence" actually came from a video game.
Russia's MoD posted the claims on Facebook and Twitter, saying that the images showed the US had "categorically refused to carry out airstrikes against Daesh [ISIS] terrorists, claiming that the militants were 'voluntarily surrendering' and now fell under the provisions of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War".
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) November 14, 2017
But the still images sent out by Russia actually came from a game called AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. You can watch a clip from the video game on YouTube:
A story about the photos on the Kremlin-controlled news outlet Sputnik has since been "corrected" multiple times, with the version as of writing bearing a statement from Russia's Ministry of Defence:
The Russian Defence Ministry said it is examining why a civilian employee attached the wrong photographs to the statement about the collusion between the US-led coalition and the Daesh terrorist group in the area of Abu Kamal town in Syria's Deir ez-Zor province.
The Russian government seems to be throwing some "civilian employee" under the bus for this, despite the fact that it seems like a difficult error to make. If you have highly sensitive intelligence, it would be pretty difficult to mix that up with some video game footage found online.
And it wasn't just for American consumption. Russian TV ran with the images as well:
Russian state TV regurgitated the Defense Ministry’s videogame-based “evidence” that America is working with ISIS. pic.twitter.com/99JeuKfpVS
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) November 14, 2017
Russia's Ministry of Defence has since updated their claims online to not include the video game images:
#RusMoD shows irrefutable evidence that US are actually covering ISIS combat units to recover their combat capabilities, redeploy, and use them to promote the American interests in the Middle East https://t.co/jcb7G4MAfZ pic.twitter.com/VIMjfFGJEg
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) November 14, 2017
This isn't the first time that Russia have used footage of their fight against ISIS that wasn't exactly what they claimed it was, either. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently showed American filmmaker Oliver Stone some footage on a phone that he claimed was Russians fighting ISIS in Syria. In reality, the footage showed Americans fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009.
Vladimir Putin shows Oliver Stone footage he says displays Russian forces attacking ISIS in Syria (left) but the footage is actually American helicopters attacking Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009 (right)
There is without a doubt an intense disinformation war going on between Russia and the US, as Russia seems determined to weaken America with any tactic at their disposal. But it's much easier to debunk false information these days, thanks to the internet. Even if people like Oliver Stone and President Trump would prefer to take Putin's word at every turn.
"Why would he fake it?" Stone asked incredulously when asked about the fake footage that appeared in his glowing documentary about Putin.
Yes, why indeed.