Russia’s state-run media network, RT, accidentally broadcasted footage of Russian bomber aircrafts armed with cluster bombs — weapons notorious for their controversial and often unreliable nature, and which Russia has repeatedly denied using — in Syria’s Khmeimim Air Base.
Russian airstrikes targeted the U.S.-funded Syrian fighters near the border of Jordan on June 16, prompting the Pentagon’s most hostile response since the country began its air raid on Syria last year.
A news report, aired on June 18 by the government-run channel, showed two highly-telling canisters attached behind a Russian warplane, which bore a cluster munitions code, RBK-500 ZAB 2.5SM, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The rights group also showed the aftermath of the strikes on the airbase at Al-Tanf, a border town near Jordan, Iraq and Syria, that killed at least two people and injured four.
RT redacted the under-the-wing shot of the cluster munitions from subsequent footage but by June 20, the complete clip, with the weapons visible, was restored.
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The Conflict Intelligence Team, a blogging collective which gained widespread attention for its investigation of Malaysia Flight MH370, first documented the edited footage in the RT press release and accused the network of censorship. However, a note attached to the footage on YouTube claimed it was removed by the editor due to “personal safety” concerns.
The highly controversial munitions have been banned by many countries, though the weapons' biggest manufacturers, Russia, China, and yes, even the United States, have refused to do so. The canister, which contains several small, tennis-ball sized bombs, is opened after it is released from a plane, consequently spreading the sub-munitions over a large area. The explosions cause the terrain to become inaccessible, but many times, the smaller bombs fail to explode immediately, killing civilians who come in contact with them as the battle moves on.
Humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have previously accused Russia of using cluster munitions in the Syrian conflict, an accusation Russian military vehemently denied.
The Russian Defense Ministry has not publicly commented on the video as of writing this news.