‘Cover you with kisses, my Angel’: #Romanovs100 intimate love letters

RT’s multi-platform history photo project about the Romanov family is well underway, focusing on the family’s daily affairs and shining light on some of the more intimate moments between Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

A love story lies at the heart of the #Romanovs100 project. Private correspondence between Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, born Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, reveals a relationship that survived extraordinary tumult.

The royal couple spent almost all of their time together and the only reason for such an extensive correspondence was the need for Nicholas II to spend more time in the army HQ during World War I. He would sometimes exchange several telegrams a day with Alexandra in addition to lengthy letters.

They first met in 1884 – Nicholas was 16, Alix was 12. Five years later they met again, but marriage prospects were bleak so their romantic correspondence began in secret. The Russian heir had to wait till 1894 to officially become engaged to the Darmstadt princess, and this was only made possible by the sudden and grave illness of his father, Alexander III.

Nicholas and Alexandra wrote to each other in English, using sweet nicknames for themselves and their children. The Empress would address her husband as “My very own Treasure,” “My own Sweetheart” and “Sunshine,” while he mostly called her “Sunny.” They both called their son, Alexei, “Sunbeam” and “Sun Ray” when they didn’t refer to him as “little one” or “baby.”

#Romanovs100 is a 100-day social media history project carried out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Choose your preferred platform, or follow them all.

READ MORE: #Romanovs100 go live: Here’s how to find the project on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram & Twitter

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‘I’d love to do it on his desk’: Top Tory minister’s secretary caught selling sex online

Housing Minister Dominic Raab has been thrust into the spotlight after a loose-lipped secretary was exposed by an undercover reporter for allegedly selling sex on a ‘sugar-daddy’ website.

The astonishing expose, revealed by the Daily Mirror, alleges that the 20-year-old diary secretary met with an undercover journalist, who was posing as a wealthy businessman. The woman allegedly boasted that she knew Raab’s “every move” and joked about how she’d “love to get sacked” for having sex on her boss’ desk.

Raab’s bold staffer told the undercover reporter that she hoped to earn up to £5,000 ($ 6,950) a month from her rich clients, but promised discretion (yes, you read that right) by insisting that “everything is protected.” She admitted that her civil service bosses would “have an issue” with her extra work, but said that she did not “see too much of a contrast between this and going on multiple Tinder dates.”

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Jasmin sold her virginity for $  1.5m through an escort agency © Cinderella Escorts

She told the Mirror’s journalist that for £750 ($ 1,040) he could have “full undisputed access.” When she was asked what she was prepared to do for that money, she answered: “Whatever you would like to be on offer.” The Mirror says its undercover reporter met with the woman twice, paid her on both occasions, but made excuses and left.

The 20-year old told the undercover reporter: “I know everything about him. I know his every move. I know where he is today.” The revelations of Raab’s rogue secretary are both concerning for the MP, who has been tipped as a future prime minister, and is a major security concern for the Tory party.

Ex-Scotland Yard royal protection chief Dai Davies told the Mail that the (presumably now former) diary secretary’s actions “should cause grave concerns for those responsible for protection of our most senior politicians.”

“This individual knows a great deal of sensitive information, yet she does not even know who she is revealing it to,” Davies said. “If she is being so open with someone she has barely met, then she could be liable to blackmail.”

READ MORE: Sex, drugs & gambling: Students resort to taboo trades to meet living costs

Mr Raab has been MP for Esher and Walton since 2010, and was appointed as housing minister earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) confirmed that the MHCLG is aware of the allegations and is currently investigating. “There is no suggestion that any official information has been disclosed,” the spokeswoman added.

There is no suggestion that Mr Raab was aware of the woman’s actions.

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First fire of 2018: US Air Force tests Minuteman III ICBM in California (VIDEO)

The US Air Force has launched the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in California. The test became the first one this year and was aimed at checking the readiness, effectiveness, and accuracy of the system.

The launch of the unarmed missile took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:26am local time on Wednesday and was successful, according to a statement from the Air Force Global Strike Command.

The video featuring the blast-off and the flight was published on the 30th Space Wing’s official YouTube channel. However, usual photos of the tests and a statement on social networks were not provided.

“A reliable test launch occurs when a test missile launches, completes its flight path within a designated safety corridor, the equipment functions properly, sensor data is collected, and the test reentry vehicle impacts where targeted,” the Air Force Global Strike Command statement said, according to AFP. It added that the re-entry vehicle “reached its intended target.”

It was the first test of its kind to take place this year, after a launch planned for February was postponed. Minuteman missiles are regularly tested from Vandenberg, which is situated on the Pacific coast in Santa Barbara County.

READ MORE: Russia successfully test-fires new anti-ballistic missile (VIDEO)

The test comes ahead of a planned meeting between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who launched a number of missile and nuclear tests last year. Pyongyang previously boasted that its ICBMs are capable of reaching the entire US mainland, but most recently vowed to halt its nuclear tests. 

Manufactured by Boeing, the LGM-30G Minuteman III is the only land-based ICBM in service in the US. The Minuteman system, which first came into service in 1962, is one part of the so-called US nuclear triad, with the other two parts being the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic bombers.

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Germany scraps major music award following anti-Semitic scandal

German music companies have decided to abolish the prestigious Echo Awards after a rapper duo won the award despite being accused of singing anti-Semitic lyrics. The scandal has prompted many musicians to return their awards.

“There will be no more ‘Echo’ [awards],” a statement published on the event’s official website says, adding that the German Federal Association of the Music Industry (BVMI) decided to completely eliminate it, as “the image of the Echo brand has been so severely damaged that the music awards now requires a … fresh start.” It also says that criteria for the awards nomination would be “completely changed.”

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German rappers Kollegah & Farid Bang perform during the 2018 Echo Music Award ceremony in Berlin. ©Axel Schmidt

The music awards should “by no means” be seen as a “platform for anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia or downplaying of violence,” the statement adds.  It also said that the BVMI would hold a “workshop” in June to develop a completely new concept for a music award.

The scandal that prompted the BVMI to take such radical action began when the rappers known as Kollegah and Farid Bang were nominated for the Echo Award in the category ‘best hip-hop/urban album.’ The album in question, “Jung, Brutal, Gutaussehend 3” (“Young, brutal, handsome 3”), was widely criticized for containing tracks with lyrics considered to be anti-Semitic. Some tracks, in particular, had lines such as “my body is more defined than those of the Auschwitz inmates” and “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov.”

These facts, however, did not prevent the rapper duo from winning the award, which, by coincidence, they received on April 12 – Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. This development immediately provoked a wave of indignation from many musicians. Campino, the lead singer of veteran German punk band Die Toten Hosen, lashed out at the rappers’ victory during the Echo Awards ceremony, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

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© Björn Kietzmann / Global Look Press

Conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg and Andreas Reiner, a violinist with the KlangVerwaltung Orchestra, then wrote an open letter to the BVMI, in which they called the latest award ceremony a “shame.” Many prominent figures in the music industry, including musician, producer and designer of artwork for the Beatles, Klaus Voormann, pianist Igor Levit and German rock star Marius Mueller-Westernhagen, returned their Echo awards in protest.

Daniel Barenboim, a Jewish star conductor and the general music director of the Berlin State Opera, who also returned his Echo awards, denounced the BVMI decision. He also lashed out at the lyrics of the rappers by saying that it was an “abuse” of the freedom of expression.

Even some people not directly linked to the music industry criticized the BVMI decision. Airbus CEO Tom Enders said that it “hurts Germany’s international reputation,” while Mathias Doepfner, the CEO of the Axel Springer publishing house that controls the German Bild and Die Welt dailies, criticized it in an opinion piece for Die Welt.

The scandal around the music awards occurred at a time when the issue of anti-Semitism came into focus in Germany once again. On April 16, Adam Armush, an Israeli Arab, and his friend were attacked in Berlin, apparently because Armush was wearing a kippah – a traditional Jewish head garment. In response, both local Jews and non-Jews staged a protest dubbed “Berlin wears a kippah,” which was supported in other cities. On April 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country faces a new form anti-Semitism brought by refugees and people of Arab origin. Since 2015, more than a million migrants from predominantly Muslim countries have entered Germany, thanks to Merkel’s open-door policy, during the Europe-wide refugee crisis. The influx caused a strong backlash and a rise in popularity of right-wing anti-immigration politicians.

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Russia expects to sign S-400 air defense system deal with India this year – official

The long-awaited deal to supply Russian S-400 air defense systems to India will likely be signed this year, as the sides only have to agree on the price now, Russia’s Military-Technical Cooperation Service (FSMTC) said.

“At the moment, all the technical issues are already discussed and agreed upon. It only remains to find common ground regarding the price and conduct the necessary procedures,” FSMTC head Dmitry Shugaev told Interfax. “I think that this year will get to the point of signing the relevant contract papers.”

The $ 5.5 billion agreement to supply S-400 was reached on the state level between Moscow and New Delhi back in 2016, but a specific contract has not been signed yet. Earlier, FSMTC deputy head Vladimir Drozhzhov assured that “there’s no talk of refusing the supplies” by the Indian side.

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An S-400 air defense missile system at the rehearsal of the Victory Day Parade in Vladivostok © Sputnik

“I wouldn’t say that the signing is being delayed. The routine negotiating process is under way… price parameters are being determined,” he said. India wanted to lower the price and the issue was discussed when Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Moscow earlier in April, he added.

Russian S-400 have piqued quite a bit of interest in recent years. Sales to China started earlier this year. Turkey is awaiting the arrival of S-400 systems in 2020 in a $ 2.5-billion deal, despite criticism and threats from its US and NATO allies, while deals with Saudi Arabia and Qatar are currently in the works.

S-400 Triumf, or the SA-21 Growler, according to NATO classification, is Russia’s most advanced air defense hardware, with capabilities unparalleled by any other system in the world. Consisting of a set of radars, missile launchers and command posts, it can bring down tactical and strategic aircraft as well as ballistic and cruise missiles, at ranges up to 400 kilometers (248 miles).

READ MORE: ‘Patriot not alternative to S-400’: Turkey eyes buying air defense missiles from US & Europe

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'Severe democracy flaws:' China releases report on human rights in US

China has published a report listing the woes of American democracy, including human rights, interventions and discrimination, in response to a scathing paper published by the US State Department.

The “Human Rights Record of the United States in 2017” report, released by the Information Office of China’s State Council on Tuesday, is a response to the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The US review, issued on April 20, labeled the governments of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as “morally reprehensible” and “forces of instability” that “violate human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis.”

Now China is pointing to America’s own poor human rights record, both at home and abroad.

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© Bob Riha Jr.

“Looking back on 2017, those with even the slightest sense of justice can see that the United States’ own human rights record is, as usual, notorious for its misdeeds, and continues to worsen,” the report states, noting that Washington is in no position to play the role of a self-professed “human rights judge.”

The report, which draws on official US data, open sources and the US media, accused the US of “serious infringement of citizens’ civilian rights,” “systematic racial discrimination,”“widening rich-poor divide,” as well as “continued violations of human rights in other countries” and “severe flaws” in its democracy.

The last point refers to Syria, where the US-led bombing campaign has inflicted “a large number of civilian casualties,” it states, citing reports that “at least 12 schools, 15 mosques, 15 bridges,” a refugee camp and other civilian infrastructure were shelled by the allies.

The report highlighted a growing disparity between the rich and the poor in the US, where over 40 million are living in poverty, and the issue of racial discrimination that plagues the country’s law enforcement and courts.

Citing the US Sentencing Commission, Beijing pointed out that black male offenders should expect 19.1 percent longer sentences than “similarly situated” white Americans. The report also drew attention to the surging gun violence that US authorities have failed to tackle.

Criticizing the direction in which America is heading with the wealthiest minority grabbing all the power, the report argued that the once exemplary American democracy is “drowning in money.”

“U.S. money politics keeps fermenting, and the rich guide the direction of politics. The weak face increasingly harsh restrictions on voting, and scandals involving politicians are frequent,” it says.

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© AFP

China also took aim at the notorious Guantanamo prison, where detainees can be kept for years without any charges brought against them and can be subjected to torture. While former US President Barack Obama’s pledge to shut down the facility never materialized, the current US leader signed an executive order in January to keep it open.

Besides African-Americans, other groups are frequently discriminated against, the report states, including women, children and the disabled. It cites job statistics that say 163,000 retail jobs for women were slashed from October 2016 to October 2017, while 106,000 new jobs were added for men.

Following the release of the US State Department report, China said that it views such “biased” reports as attempts to interfere in Chinese internal affairs that are “doomed to fail.”

“China has clearly informed the United States that its attempt to interfere in China’s internal affairs and hinder China’s development was in vain in the past, and will not succeed in the future,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday, adding that the Chinese “have the best say” with regards to the human rights in their country.

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Hundreds turn out for kippah-wearing rally in Berlin amid spike in anti-Semitism (PHOTOS)

Over 2,000 people sporting religious Jewish headwear – the kippah or yarmulke – took to the streets of the German capital to support the Jewish community after a video showing an attack on a man wearing the garment went viral.

Thousands of people across Germany joined the so-called ‘kippah marches’ to show solidarity with Jews and people of Jewish descent on Wednesday. In Berlin, some 2,500 people flocked to the Jewish community center to take part in the “Berlin wears a kippah” protest, according to police.

The rally attracted many senior politicians, including Germany’s recently-appointed government commissioner on anti-Semitism, Felix Stein, and Green MP of Turkish origin, Cem Ozdemir, who also donned a kippah while addressing the crowd.

RT’s Peter Oliver, who was on the scene in Berlin, reported that people of all religious backgrounds, as well as atheists, were in attendance.

READ MORE: Germany facing new form of anti-Semitism from refugees & people of ‘Arab origin’ – Merkel

A man who said he was a Christian told Oliver he came to the rally because he was concerned about what appears to be a rising anti-Semitic sentiment in Germany, that has spread beyond the streets and into schools and even nurseries.

“I’m actually a Christian. Jewish people belong to the same group of religions as I do. I’m here to share my support. What’s happening in Germany right now is not good. We see people beaten simply because they’re wearing a kippah, schools have to be protected at all times, kindergartens as well. This is unacceptable,” he said.

According to the fresh data from Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS), the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin, involving either verbal or physical abuse, skyrocketed last year, going up by some 60 percent. A total of 947 of such incident occurred in 2017, which is the highest number since it began tracking data.

RIAS Director Benjamin Steinitz estimated that three to four incidents motivated by hatred of Jews take place in Berlin every day on average.

However, the final straw that sparked the protests was the April 16 attack on two young men wearing kippahs by a 19-year-old Syrian refugee. The video of the disturbing incident that went viral shows the young Arab man swinging his belt and shouting “Jew” in Arabic. It was later revealed that the victim of the assault, Adam Armush, and his friend were themselves of Arab origins and decided to put on kippah to test what it is like to wear the traditional Jewish skullcap in public as they were on their way to meet with a Jewish friend, Deutsche Welle reported.

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Messegelaende exhibition center in Berlin, where the 27th German Echo music awards ceremony was held on April 12, 2018. © Arne Immanuel Baensch

In wake of the attack, Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, courted controversy by advising fellow religious Jews to refrain from wearing kippahs in public in some parts of big cities, particularly in “problem neighborhoods with large Muslim populations.”

Speaking at the rally, he lamented that Jewish parents had to tell their children to cover their kippah with baseball caps and hide any other symbols, such as the Star of David, that they may wear. “It’s enough. There should be no longer ‘business as usual.’ We have made ourselves a bit too comfortable in Germany. A bit of anti-Semitism, a bit of racism, a bit of Islam-hatred – is this all not so bad? No, it is bad,” he said.

The fact that the attacker was a Muslim refugee prompted the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which entered the German parliament in September for the first time, to blame the incident on “imported” anti-Semitism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel later admitted that Germany faces a new wave of anti-Semitism that comes with “people of Arab origin who bring another form of anti-Semitism into the country.”

As the surge in anti-Semitism and response to it are making headlines in Germany, the BVMI music association was forced to pull the plug on the prestigious Echo Awards over controversial lyrics in one of the songs from rap duo Kollegah and Farid Bang, who were set to receive an award. “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov” and “our bodies are more defined than an Auschwitz prisoner” are some of the lines from the song “0815” by the rappers.

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Car hits Russian… conspiracy theorists go into ‘Putin did it’ overdrive

News that a Russian scientist linked to the development of the nerve agent A-234 (‘Novichok’) was hit by a car has sent Western conspiracy theorists into total meltdown mode.

Scientist Vladimir Uglev was hit by a car while crossing the road near his home in the Black Sea resort town of Anapa on Tuesday. This would have gone unnoticed as a local incident, but for the fact that Uglev recently had a controversial interview with the BBC. In it, he claimed to have been involved in the development of the nerve agent that the British government says was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last month.

The story is not as sinister as it may seem, however. The driver of the car that hit the scientist was reportedly a 70-year-old local man, who has offered Uglev compensation and said he was distracted before the accident.

According to reports from Russian news outlets, Uglev is hospitalized with some injuries but he is doing well – and he reportedly does not believe the pensioner hit him on purpose. In fact, he said it was “definitely an accident.”

Seems like all’s well that ends well, right? Nope. Enter the Russia conspiracy theorists.

Although, not everyone is convinced that the accident was some kind of terribly botched assassination attempt. “The Kremlin is not the habit of using elderly assassins to run over whistleblowers at seaside resorts,” tweeted journalist Bryan MacDonald.

Come on people, let’s just put the brakes on this one now.

Danielle Ryan for RT.

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Macron: It doesn't look like Trump will stay in Iran nuclear deal

French President Emmanuel Macron believes US President Donald Trump is leaning towards getting the US out of the Iran nuclear deal. The US leader is not ready to go back on his pre-election promise, Macron told media.

“Just like you do, I listen to what President Trump is saying, and it seems to me that he is not very much eager to defend [the Iran nuclear deal]… I have in mind that it is his campaign commitment that he made a long time ago. So I do not know what the American decision will be, but if you take a rational look at the announcements and the comments made by President Trump, it seems to me that he will not do his utmost to preserve the JCPOA,” Macron said during a press conference at the George Washington University at the end of his three-day trip to the US.

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French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump, April 24, 2018.  © Jonathan Ernst

Macron also reiterated his plan to expand the nuclear deal with Iran to include provisions for restraining Tehran’s influence in the Middle East. He called the JCPOA, under which Iran agreed to abandon its nuclear program and which is set to expire in 2025 if it does not fall apart before that, just one of four “pillars.” The others include forcing Iran to also abandon its ballistic missile development and containing its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. In return, the Western powers will not reintroduce economic sanctions against Tehran.

The fact that he appears to be unable to change Trump’s mind on the deal, which has been hanging in the balance for over a year, does not mean that the trip was a failure, Macron said, noting that his goal was to push for a new, much broader agreement that would include Iran and the US.

“I want to be the honest broker of the situation,” Macron said.

He went on to praise the US president’s deal-making skills, saying what he called the US’ “strategy of increasing tension” with Iran can bear fruit.

“His experience with North Korea is that when you are very tough, you make the other side move and you can try to go to a good deal or a better deal,” Macron said, calling Trump a “dealmaker.”

READ MORE: Iran has no reason to trust any new deal Macron & Trump devise – experts

Analysts are skeptical that Tehran would accept any new deal, especially one which simply makes more demands of it, since it has lost any trust it might have had in the US and its allies.

“This is completely self-illusion to think that you can arrive at a new deal by linking it to non-nuclear issues, regional issues et cetera, because Iran, for its part, can advance its counter-argument that Yemen should be brought in, and the US and the French misbehavior, the rogue unilateral aggression against Syria,” Kaveh Afrasiabi, a former adviser to the Iran nuclear negotiators, told RT.

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‘Syrian strike was risk without benefit for US, as Russia got American weapon samples’

By striking Syria, the US and its allies basically sacrificed their advanced arms to Russia without receiving any actual benefit on the ground, Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former UK army officer, told RT.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s display of fragments of missiles, which were fired at Syrian targets by the Western allies on April 14, would be “a source of great concern to the American, British and French side,” Shoebridge said.

On Wednesday, Moscow also announced that it was in possession of two almost intact Western projectiles from Syria, including a Tomahawk cruise missile and another unnamed one. The Russian military said it plans to study both in order to further improve the Russian air defense capabilities.

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Alleged fragments of missiles fired by the US-led coalition on April 13-14 and shot down by the Syrian air defense forces, as shown by the Russian defense ministry. © Igor Ermachenkov

Shoebridge described the US-led attack as “a great risk for not much tangible benefit on the ground, given that these were civilian or largely empty targets” that were hit, while “the Russians have gained some technical knowledge of the weapon systems that actually were sacrificed by those three powers.”

The Russian Defense Ministry also showed missile fragments, saying they represent evidence disproving claims by US President Donald Trump and various US military officials, who boasted that all of the 105 missiles fired on Syria reached their targets. Russia previously said that there were only 25 successful hits during the attack, while the rest of the missiles were either downed by Syrian air defenses or they malfunctioned.

Shoebridge pointed out that American claims of 100 percent accuracy of the bombardment were likely unrealistic. “With such a large number of weapons being fired and anti-aircraft fire being directed at them, you would expect, at the very least, a small proportion of them not to get through,” he said.

The analyst stopped short of backing either version of the events, saying that, “some figure in between… is perhaps where the truth might lie.”

“Even from a successful strike you will find some fragments from the weapons used, but usually not in the kind of sizes that we’re talking about here,” Shoebridge said. “But certainly the existence of fragments like this could point to the fact that some missiles malfunctioned, were shot down or simply landed in the wrong place.”

When asked about the possible US reaction to Wednesday’s revelations, he said that “it will be handled publically, probably, the way it’s usually handled, which is either be ignored or the think tanks and so-called experts will be tasked to ridicule these Russian reports.”

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French Rafale jet with a Storm-Shadow / SCALP cruise missile © mbda-systems.com

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon has already called the statements by Russia’s Defense Ministry “absurd,” saying that they were “another example of the Russian disinformation campaign.”

The US-led missile strikes were justified by unverified reports of an alleged use of poisonous gas in the town of Douma in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on April 7 and targeted what the West called the Syrian government’s chemical weapons facilities. Syria, which destroyed all of its chemical stockpiles in 2013 and 2014 under international supervision, has denied the claims, while Moscow provided evidence that the Douma attack was actually fabricated.

According to Shoebridge, Wednesday’s statement by the Russian military that no traces of chemical weapons were discovered at the Syrian sites targeted by the coalition was “consistent with what was being reported by media outside the US, UK and France.” He recalled that “even a day after those strikes when those buildings were burning and there was a lot of smoke still around you had large crowds of reporters… on the scene not wearing protective equipment,” which would have been deadly in case of a chemical spill.

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