On March 21, the “news” broke that Russian troops in Syria had captured the most secret and latest U.S. cruise missile, the Tomahawk Block IV.
The story was carried by Russia's Pravda and regional outlet Vecherny Kurier, along with other news sites, with headlines proclaiming the development a breakthrough for Russian missile defense and doomsday for the Americans’ missile program.
A few thousand-odd anonymous accounts also shared the news on Twitter, and while others spread it on Russian social platforms.
“The Pentagon reported the theft of the latest Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile by Russian soldiers,” the Kadara.ru news site reported on March 22. The story made it to the top of Russia’s most popular internet search engine, Yandex.ru.
The trouble is, the “news” is fake. The Pentagon made no such announcement; “Block IV” is not the newest Tomahawk missile; and the story originated from a false interpretation of a two-year-old media report.
Here is what actually happened.
Media reports in Russia cited Avia.pro, a website with ties to the Russian Air Force, as the source of the information about an unexploded intact Tomahawk Block IV.
Avia.pro reported on March 21: “The U.S. announced that Russian troops captured the American army’s main cruise missile.”
But that story cited as a source a U.S. international affairs magazine The National Interest.
The National Interest “stated that the American military is facing very serious problems,” Avia.pro reported, and that the capture of the cruise missile was “Moscow’s grand achievement,” allowing Russia “to study the U.S. most modern military technologies.”
But none of that is in The National Interest article. Moreover, The National Interest story questions whether a dud missile was captured at all and assesses the risks of learning U.S. military secrets as minimal.
The Tomahawk IV “is still a Cold War subsonic cruise missile that seems a bit of a dinosaur when compared to the supersonic and hypersonic weapons that are being developed today. If Russia, which fields an impressive array of tactical missiles, needs to learn from the Tomahawk, then Moscow has problems,” The National Interest story reads.
As it turns out, The National Interest piece is a republication of an article that was first posted on December 12, 2019. In addition, the alleged capture of an unexploded Tomahawk Block IV in Syria was first reported by the Russian Defense Ministry on April 25, 2018.
Earlier that month, the United States, United Kingdom and France conducted missile strikes in Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces against the civilian population in Douma.
Initially, Russia claimed its systems had downed 71 American Tomahawk cruise missiles in a single strike. Polygraph.info debunked that claim.