MOSCOW -- Rights groups in Moscow urged Russians to take responsibility for abuses in Syria as they released a damning report Friday (April 2) on the country's role in the decade-old conflict.
Published to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the onset of the Syrian war, the report is the first into the conflict by Russian campaigners and seeks to shed light on the victims of the country's military actions in Syria.
"For most Russians, state media is the primary source of news on Syria, and these outlets have focused on civilian suffering at the hands of terrorists and anti-government armed opposition groups while remaining silent about the Syrian government's flagrant and systematic human rights violations and war crimes," the report says.
"For obvious reasons, Russian state media does not report on the victims of bombardments, nor the forced displacement of civilians resulting in part from Russia's military actions in Syria," it adds.
"As a result, the Russian public does not have sufficient knowledge to judge whom and what we are supporting in Syria, how much this war costs us, and how much suffering the war has inflicted upon civilians—people who have never taken up arms."
The report's findings are in stark contrast to Moscow's official narrative and President Vladimir Putin's praise of the Russian military for intervening in 2015 to root out "terrorists" and support Bashar al-Assad's government.
Prepared by Memorial, Russia's most prominent rights group, and several other organisations, the 200-page report features interviews with more than 150 witnesses to events in Syria.
"The overwhelming majority of our interviewees do not see Russia as a saviour, but as a destructive foreign force whose military and political intervention helped bolster the war criminal heading their country," the rights organisations said.
"Some of the people we interviewed revealed that they or their loved ones had been victims of Russian bombings."
The report accuses Russia of abuses in Syria including by bombing civilians indiscriminately and by backing Syria's regime, which has been accused of widespread atrocities including targeting civilians, using chemical weapons and starving people to death in besieged cities.
Emboldening a dangerous regime
The report urges Moscow to conduct independent investigations into the Russian army's bombardments in Syria and to pay compensation to victims.
The authors, who worked on the study for two years, were unable to enter Syria and interviewed Syrians who had fled the war in Lebanon, Turkey, Germany, Russia and elsewhere.
Russia's intervention emboldened Syria's regime, a woman from the Homs city neighbourhood of Waer, which was under siege between 2013 and 2016, told the authors.
"In the six months since the start of Russian bombing, there were more victims than there were over two years of Syrian bombing," said the woman, who at one point weighed just 33kg.
The campaigners said they wanted as many Russians as possible to read their study and "understand their responsibility for what is happening in their name in Syria".
"We felt both bitter and ashamed for how our Syrian interviewees view Russians," they said.