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Putin and Tehran Court Arabic Speakers in Satellite Media

March 7, 2022
Ahmad Salloum
5 min read
Putin and Tehran Court Arabic Speakers in Satellite Media

Russia relies on official Arabic-speaking media to help justify the war on Ukraine by airing and disseminating disinformation to audiences across the Middle East. Kremlin-controlled media outlets are backed in the endeavour by a cluster of Arabic-language channels, notably those controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The main Russian state-controlled outlets promoting Kremlin propaganda are Sputnik Arabic and RT Arabic. They are currently tasked with defining the invasion of Ukraine as a limited “special military operation”, aimed at "protecting" the invaded population of Ukraine from what they define as “Nazis”. In recent days, such outlets have sought to falsely blame Ukrainian troops for the worst atrocities committed against civilians and public institutions in Ukraine.

One article recently published by RT Arabic was entitled “Biden: Victim of The Russian Special Operation”. In it, the writer said that Moscow had warned the West 15 years ago that it would not allow the deployment of NATO forces on its borders. They further claimed that 60 percent of Americans believe Putin invaded Ukraine due to the “weakness” of US President Joe Biden.

Elsewhere, in its coverage of the invasion, Sputnik Arabic has accused the Ukrainian army of using “human shields”, and the Ukrainian intelligence services of fabricating the videos it publishes online about incidents on the ground. One report targeted at Arabic-speaking users was headlined "Ukrainian Nationalists Intend To Kill Nine Iraqi Students Detained In A University Dormitory", and made the bizarre claim that Kyiv had threatened to attack students on its turf if Russia used military force.


Syrian State Media Backs the Kremlin

The Assad regime in Syria has received significant military support and weapons from Vladimir Putin’s government for use in the civil war since 2015. The Kremlin has also reportedly armed proxy forces and Shia militia groups in the country. Reflecting this dependence, since February 24 Syrian state media have repeatedly highlighted the fact that Russia is a “superpower” with the right to protect itself against a perceived national security threat from Ukraine. Russia, the line goes, does not want war but has been forced into it to protect its national security.

In line with Russian state-run media, Syrian outlets have tried to promote the idea that Russian forces are not killing civilians and only targeting military sites. One article even described the invading power as “the tender hand that does not kill the innocent”, working to secure passages for civilians to leave Ukraine “into its territory or other safe places”.

Other lies promoted by Sputnik have also been recycled by the official Syrian news agency, SANA. In one instance, SANA quoted an unnamed Russian military source as having said: "Elements of the security apparatus of the Ukrainian regime and officers of the Turkish intelligence are working to recruit terrorists in northern Syria to fight in the ranks of the Ukrainian forces."

Another report by SANA stated: “Russian foreign intelligence has confirmed that the Al-Tanf base, which is under the control of the American occupation forces in Syria, is now being used for training terrorists affiliated with ISIS to transfer them to fight for Ukraine.”

SANA has also zeroed in on the claim that Ukraine was trying to build a nuclear bomb, which it said was a “legitimate” reason for an invasion. In one report entitled “Moscow: Ukrainian Authorities Made the Chernobyl Plant a Center For Manufacturing a Dirty Bomb”, SANA quoted Sputnik directly as the source, stating: “agency as saying that “Ukraine destroyed the bulk of documents related to manufacturing nuclear weapons in the capital, Kyiv, and the city of Kharkiv, and transferred some of them to Lviv.” Kyiv and Kharkhiv are among the major Ukrainian cities to have experienced heavy shelling in civilian areas over the past 10 days.

Separetely, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Bashar al-Jaafari has also publicly claimed that “the West” supports “neo-Nazis in Ukraine” together with “terrorist groups in Syria” to enforce its global “hegemony”. In an interview for Chinese media, Al-Jaafari claimed NATO might be poised to variously transfer fighters from ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s official front in Syria), Uyghur Muslims, and other Syrian opposition groups to Ukraine. He also reiterated an old, Kremlin-backed conspiracy theory that Syrian humanitarian organization the White Helmets were controlled by NATO.


Tehran’s Messaging to Arabic Speakers

Some news outlets ideologically aligned with the Iranian regime, such as Al-Mayadeen TV, have sought to shift the focus to American interventionism in Ukraine and whether or not Ukraine contains Nazis. A recent article talked about the willingness of a reported 3,000 Americans to join the fight on Ukraine’s side.

Other articles have drawn the conversation back to Israel, with one headline positing: “How is ‘Israel’ taking advantage of the Ukraine crisis?”. Another drew attention to the fact that Putin had not welcomed Naftali Bennett’s offer to mediate, stating “The Kremlin informed the Israeli side that it does not need mediation in the Ukrainian crisis, which indicates Russia’s discontent with the Israeli position.”

The word “crisis” has also been used extensively in Iranian official media, instead of “invasion”. Many of Tehran’s Arabic-language outlets have tried to position the invasion as a quasi-proxy war between the US and Russia, for which the US and Nato are to blame. Al-Alam, the Arabic TV and news arm of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, published an article online that declared: “Ukraine between Western Agitation and Russian Siege”. It claimed that many European states felt “failed” by Washington and had expected greater assistance.

Lebanese Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV has promoted a similar narrative, highlighting Putin’s supposed openness to negotiate with Ukraine – on the condition that “Kyiv stops hostilities and meets the requirements of Russia”. Another report by Al-Manar was headlined: “Blinken: Washington  Working Hard To Reach An Agreement With Poland To Provide Ukraine With Fighters”, suggesting the US was behind the war instigated by Putin.


Related coverage:

In Iran, Sputnik Persian, the British Embassy and Ahmadinejad Clash Over Ukraine

Kremlin Coverage of Ukraine in Arabic: We've Been Here Before

Friday Imams Use Sermons to Launder Khamenei's Line on Ukraine

Iranians Trapped in Ukraine: "The Embassy Asked Us What to Do"

Khamenei Backs Putin in First Public Reaction to Ukraine Invasion

Khamenei Acolytes Skew the Facts Over Putin's Invasion of Ukraine

For Iranians, Putin's Invasion of Ukraine Revives a Historic Fear

Russian Embassy Censures IRGC Media Over Ukraine Invasion Reports

Faezeh Hashemi on Russia: "We Have Auctioned Off Our National Interests to the East"

Ex-MP: Iranian State Media "Acting Like a Russian Colony"

As Putin Invades Ukraine, Iran is Silent

Tehran is Vacillating Over the Russia-Ukraine Crisis. Here's Why



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