Russian open-source bloggers say they have documented more evidence that Russia is using cluster bombs in its air campaign supporting Syria’s embattled regime.
The findings by Ruslan Leviev and the Conflict Intelligence Team, which has uncovered other secretive Russian military activity both in Syria and Ukraine in the past, adds to reports by international human rights group that accuse Moscow of putting civilians at risk with indiscriminate use of cluster bombs.
Russia is not party to the 2008 treaty that bans the use of cluster munitions, which after exploding scatter tiny bomblets across a wide area. The weaponry has been condemned for its indiscriminate nature and the danger of civilians accidentally detonating the bomblets.
Russia has denied using such munitions, most recently last month after Human Rights Watch published a detailed report documenting at least 20 instances of their alleged use since Moscow launched its air campaign on September 30 to support its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his war against both extremist and more moderate rebel groups.
In their report published January 7, Leviev and his team of bloggers scoured Russian news photographs and video footage to document several types of cluster munitions being stored or attached to aircraft at the Hemeimeem air base, in western Syria.
Though no markings can be seen, the bloggers say the underwing bombs are identical in form to a commonly used Russian cluster bomb known as the RBK-500. They also identify the jets as Su-24 and Su-25 bombers, which are based at the Shagol air base in Russia. They also point to imagery from early last year showing RBK-500 munitions on identically marked jets at the base.
“After the [Russian Air Force] operation in Syria started, more and more evidence began to emerge of cluster munitions being used on civilian targets in rebel-controlled areas,” the group said. “Some of those munitions...previously hadn’t been used in the conflict.”
Other photographs gathered from Syrian social media show unexploded bomblets on the ground in Syria.
In its report, Human Right Watch said it had documented instances of other Russian-manufactured, rocket-launched cluster munitions being used in Syria.
Syria has long been a major recipient of Soviet and Russian weaponry.
Last year, prior to the start of Russia’s air campaign, Leviev’s team documented the deployment of Russian marine infantry to Syria, contrary to Moscow’s denials of such troop movements.
They also located the graves of Russian soldiers who appeared to have been killed fighting in eastern Ukraine. Russia has long denied any of its military personnel have fought there in an official capacity.