The Russian MoD rolled out a map that greatly exaggerates the impact its intervention has had on the war — hurting its credibility on everything else
Briefings of the Russian Ministry of Defense on the war in Syria have become a highly anticipated event by Syria watchers. In a conflict where there is tons of contradictory information the Russian MoD has established a reputation for reliability—when they say this or that town or village has been captured you can take that to the bank.
Last month they were among the first to announce that the Syrian army had reached the Syrian-Iraqi border, thereby boxing in the US-rebel forces at al-Tanf. We knew we could trust that information because hey, it's the Russian MoD—they don't get ahead of themselves.
There was something off, however, about its latest briefing yesterday. The Russians presented this map as the current front lines situation in Syria:
This map differs from what most Syrian watchers knew about where the front lines are in three key aspects.
According to the Russian MoD map, a huge desert area in southern Syria to the west of the US base at al-Tanf has been taken over by the Syrian army from FSA rebels. (Technically the Russian MoD marked this area as "low-intensity conflict but generally secure". But then counted it as liberated territory anyway.)
Also, according to the Russian MoD, the Syrian army has already reached the Euphrates river near Raqqa, and has advanced along the Syrian Iraqi border deep into Deir ez-Zor province, and is now just 26 kilometers from al-Bukamal—a key border town in the Euphrates valley once coveted by the US.
Normally each of these would be considered downright explosive information, except for one little detail. At the same briefing the Russian Ministry of Defense also presented this map:
The Russian MoD claims this was the front line situation in Syria on September 30, 2015—the day of its entry into the Syrian war.
The map is grossly inaccurate. It gets the general shape of the government and rebel-held areas at that time right, but enormously enlarges the rebel areas, and makes the government territory far thinner than it actually was.
According to it, the rebels (dark blue) held much more of Syria than the government, which is nowhere near the truth. It makes it out as if the Syrian army was in its last throes before it was heroically rescued by the Russian MoD on September 30th, 2015.
If the Russian briefing is this wrong on the situation in 2015—and seems inclined to greatly exaggerate the impact the Russian military intervention has had on the battlefield so far—it makes it harder to trust it on the details of the situation in 2017.
That's a shame because with a war with so much misinformation, cheerleading and exaggeration floating around from all sides we really need somebody you can rely on to tell it like it is.
See the briefing for yourself:
The supposed current map is seen at 1:56 into the video, and the 2015 map at 5:51.