Russia Today has been accused of censoring footage of Russian jets in Syria to cover up the use of incendiary “cluster bombs”.
Footage broadcast from Khmeimim airbase on Saturday appeared to show a plane loaded with munitions of a similar type that were dropped on US-backed rebels last week.
The four-second clip, included in a package on Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu meeting Bashar al-Assad, shows bombs marked RBK-500 ZAB 2.5SM on a Su-34 jet.
Analysts from the Conflict Intelligence Team swiftly identified them as “cluster bombs”, which the Russian defence ministry has repeatedly denied using in the face of mounting evidence, and accused Russia Today’ (RT) of “covering up war crimes”.
The metal shell contains incendiary submunitions, which ignite while falling but are not defined as cluster bombs under international law as they do not contain explosives.
After the findings were published online, the relevant clip was cut from footage on YouTube, but was later restored following news reports and discussion on social media.
An editorial note below the video made no mention of the weapon, saying the frame had been removed over “concern for personnel safety” because of the pilot’s close-up, although he had his back to the camera.
“Upon re-evaluation it was deemed that the frame did not pose any risks; it had since been restored and the video is up in its original cut,” the RT statement said.
Evidence has previously been found of RBK-500 bombs – which can carry either explosive or incendiary submunitions – being dropped by Russian forces in the rebel-held town of Maaret-al-Nouman, in Binin and elsewhere in the country’s civil war.
The use of cluster munitions has been banned by more than 100 countries because of the widespread and indiscriminate damage they cause, dropping “bomblets” over wide areas that can fail to explode and become a long-term threat to civilians.