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‘Complete nonsense’: How Russian media covered the air strikes in Syria

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Russian news channels were quick on the trigger when reports came in that US missiles were being fired into Syria.

Images of missiles streaking across the night sky were broadcast across the main news channels. MPs woke from their slumbers and lashed out at the West in live interviews.

Watching back-to-back hours of state TV through the day, it was easy to get the feeling that Russia was itself at war.

News programs do tend to follow the official line quite closely, but in this case there was no daylight between the Government and the media.

Official Russian reaction to the strikes centres on the claim by authorities that the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma was staged by a volunteer emergency services group called the White Helmets.

They, in turn, were pressured to fake the attack by the UK, the Russian Defence Ministry alleges.

The theory had a certain resonance on the state-controlled First Channel.

"Theresa May, who was clearly nervous and constantly sipping from her glass, tried to explain why a fake from the White Helmets is a reason to bomb a sovereign government," said a reporter, over images of the British PM lifting a glass to her lips at a press conference.

"But it didn't really work out. Most Britons are against the strikes."

The US and its allies say Damascus carried out the reported chemical attack, with France pointing to open source images and intelligence gathering.

First Channel showed images of Theresa May drinking water.

Time and time again, however, the alleged chemical attacks are referred to on Russian state media as "fake" or "staged".

There is, quite simply, no room for doubt.

At a press conference in the Defence Ministry's sprawling building on the Moscow river, a spokesman explained on Friday how a group of people with video cameras charged into the local hospital in Douma, yelling and causing panic.

He said they then started dousing patients with water.

Russian TV shows a list of countries who supported the strike.

In the Defence Ministry interviews, the two men introduced as medical staff at the hospital point themselves out in the footage, saying they witnessed the fake display take place.

"This is grotesque, it is a blatant lie," Britain's Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce said later.

"It is the worst piece of fake news we've seen yet from the propaganda machine."

Yet, it's very much a mainstream viewpoint, and one held by experts too.

Night vision shows the launch of anti-air missiles from Damascus after US-led strikes.

"For a Russian observer it's pretty clear [the alleged attack] was pretty much staged by the opposition, and the way the Western powers reacted just shows that they're very vulnerable to provocation," foreign policy analyst Andrei Sushentsov said.

"It could have led to a direct military clash with Russia which is a pretty irresponsible move in my view."

TV in Russia has real influence, particularly in the provinces, where people have little access to independent media.

"It's nonsense, complete nonsense. It is completely made up," Oleg Berezin, 40, said of the reported chemical attacks.

"And [the strikes] are just another pretence for the Americans to show off."

Russian authorities appear convinced an information war is underway, and they are determined to give as good as, they feel, they get.

On a nearly two-hour special program of the political talk-show 60 Minutes, regular guest and spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova gave a stinging interview.

"We have long maintained that the information published in the Western press should be a little closer to reality," she said.

"The mass media is just a gang organised by Western political forces and their propaganda machine."

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