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Syrian conflict

Russian state media used this video game footage to depict war in Syria

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 1:46pm

In a stirring tribute to his country’s troops and veterans, Russian President Vladimir Putin honoured the dead in Syria.

“If a man is ready to go to the end to sacrifice himself in the interest of his people, then indeed this is the highest form of courage,” Putin said in a speech Friday to mark the Day of Defenders of the Fatherland, the country’s version of Veterans Day. He was speaking of men like Senior Lieutenant Alexander Prokhorenko, who in March 2016 was in the ancient city of Palmyra calling air strikes on Islamic State targets for Russian jets overhead.

We’re always aiming for a very realistic simulation game
Bohemia Interactive spokesman Ota Vrátko

State propaganda arm Channel 1, in a broadcast Sunday, described his acts. Suddenly surrounded by the enemy, Prokhorenko made a decision that would earn him the rare title of Hero of the Russian Federation. He called his own grid coordinates and ordered friendly jets to bomb his position, in effect calling for his own death to deny the Islamic State a propaganda victory of a captured Russian soldier.

Channel 1 broadcast the tribute spliced with combat footage of air strikes to emphasise the moment, including roaring Su-25 ground support aircraft and one quick glimpse through a sniper’s scope of military vehicles blowing up.

That scene is from a battlefield where countless lives have been lost, but only in the digital world – it’s footage from the popular combat simulator Arma made by Prague-based Bohemia Interactive.

And it’s not even the first time the Russian government has inserted video game footage to purportedly show combat in Syria.

Bohemia Interactive confirmed the split-second footage was taken from an Arma game, company spokesman Ota Vrátko said, though it appears too quickly and in too low resolution to be sure which of the three games in the series is shown.

“We didn’t provide any authorisation for using footage from our game in this way,” Vrátko said. The game is a combat simulator where opposing teams battle with customised weapons in a giant “sandbox” environment.

The episode comes three months after Russia’s foreign minister said they have “irrefutable evidence” that US troops were giving Islamic State fighters safe passage after a key Russian operation against the militants. As evidence, Russia provided images of drone footage – but it was lifted from a smartphone game where players attack nondescript convoys from the controls of a US gunship.

The Pentagon called the allegation and purported evidence a recurring pattern of “defamation, distortion and distraction.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the fallout that “mistakes happen” and that the person involved was punished.

It is unclear why Russian state media passed off a combat simulator as genuine footage. The Arma series has sold 12 million copies since 2006, Vrátko said, making it a prominent and therefore easily identified game throughout the world. The Russian foreign ministry and Department of State did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the popularity and granular detail of Arma may be why that game was specifically chosen.

“We’re always aiming for a very realistic simulation game,” Vrátko said.