Sputnik, a Russian state-owned, English-language news agency, ran a story today claiming that the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had, in part, blamed protesters and pro-democracy activists for the Syrian civil war.
Steinmeier is regarded in some quarters as being somewhat friendlier to the Kremlin than his French and British counterparts, or his Chancellor, Angela Merkel, but it was nonetheless a surprise to see him openly attacking Syrians for protesting and demanding democracy.
So let’s look at the original interview in Die Zeit.
First of all, this is not a quote from Steinmeier. The line appears to be a reflection by the interviewing journalist, Matthias Naß, sandwiched between direct quotes from the foreign minister.
Now this is a translation of what Naß actually wrote:
“There is going to be a long discussion on the failures and the mistakes of the West as early as ten years ago, on the Arab Spring, on demonstrators and democrats.”
So the presence of the comma after “Syrien gemacht hat” suggests the Arab Spring and the protests for democracy would be subjects for the debate to come alongside the failures and mistakes of the West.
Hence we have a quote that is both distorted in meaning and misattributed to the German foreign minister.
This is not the first time that Steinmeier’s words have been twisted by Russian disinformation.
In February last year I reported on how an article on the Ruposters.ru news portal, disseminated by a widely-read English-language email newsletter, had falsely claimed that Steinmeier had threatened to impose sanctions on the Ukrainian government.
— The Interpreter (@Interpreter_Mag) February 11, 2015
The most flagrant recent example of Russian media fabricating quotations came in May this year, when Rossiya24, a state television channel ran a report from France, in which interviewees were translated (with overdubbing) as saying that they were enraged by immigrants, refugees and the European Union.
The quotes were entirely fabricated, bearing no relation to what was said in French, as Le Petit Journal, a satirical French news program, demonstrated when they found the individuals shown in the Rossiya24 broadcast and asked them what they had said.