Remarks to the press by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the Security Council meeting on Syria
V.Churkin: It was an ill-advised participation in the meeting of the Security Council because Secretary-General speaking in that formal meeting of UNSC should not be relying on untested and unchecked information. The Secretariat should be more careful in not being an instrument to spread fake news and stuff like that.
Q: Ambassador, can we just get a clarification – you said a counterterrorist operation will be complete in a few hours and then you said it was already over?
V.Churkin: My understanding of this sequence of events – first of all a few hours ago they reached an arrangement under which the fighters were prepared to leave, they were allowed to leave with their families with injured people and they started leaving. During that process the military operations stopped. There is no need for military operation because they are leaving. The bottom line – if everything is ok, that means that the fighting around eastern Aleppo is over.
Q: Ambassador, you said people can return to their homes. Have you seen videos – there are no homes they can return to.
V.Churkin: I have. It is a horrible situation. That was our point all along that those who want to leave should be allowed to leave. Unfortunately and tragically terrorists and fighters were not allowing them to leave but now peace, hopefully, has been reestablished, people can make their choice and those who want to come back I suppose can exercise that right.
Q: You think there is a chance to endorse the arrangements you talked about in the Council?
V.Churkin: I don’t think there is a need for that. The important thing is that the UN humanitarians should join our efforts to provide all the necessary humanitarian assistance to the people in eastern Aleppo.
Q: Is there any mechanism to monitor the situation on the ground?
V.Churkin: There are some humanitarians in western Aleppo, some ICRC people, some other humanitarians are on the ground. Now, that eastern Aleppo has been freed from the terrorists, I suppose they can enter eastern Aleppo and help in our humanitarian effort.
Q: Ambassador, do you really believe that there have been no atrocities committed, you said “fake news”? Do you really believe children and women and innocents haven’t been killed?
V.Churkin: I saw and I’m sure you did as well how some of those fake news are being fabricated and young kids are been covered with dust in order to be presented as victims of bombings. Those are horrific reports but they need to be reconfirmed. In my practice even in more innocent days for instance of 1990s there were all sorts of disinformations circulated in order to create a certain physiological climate and we have seen that happening in Syria so many times. So for people to say we have a reliable report – the fact that this is a horrific report does not necessarily mean that this is true.
Q: Ambassador, can you give us more details about this agreement with opposition groups?
V.Churkin: I cannot give you any details but quite simply they agreed that they will be able to leave and this is what happening now.
Q: Do you think that fighters should be treated the same way in Idlib as in any other place in Syria?
V.Churkin: Not just in Syria, there is certain procedure, I think this is something that is happening in Mosul for instance. Those suspiciously looking men, cleanly shaven men who are leaving the city there is certain screening process, but definitely we hope that everybody is treated humanly and there are no violations of international law.
Q: Ambassador, who is allowed to leave Aleppo according to this agreement?
Q: Including the al-Nusra fighters?
V.Churkin: All the fighters are leaving the city. My understanding is that most of them are going to Idlib.
We are making every effort to make sure that people are safe. I described some of this activity in my statement. The thing is, that we are trying to double check every complaint. Samantha Power on a number of occasions gave me requests to double check things and we are trying to do that every time. In my statement I also quoted the response of our military to Egeland who raised the issue of possible violation of international humanitarian law.
Q: This is obviously a turning point. What is the next stage?
V.Churkin: Staffan de Mistura when he spoke to us a few days ago, suggested when the whole city of Aleppo is taken back by the Syrian Government it would be a good point to try to restart the political process and negotiations. I hope he is going to act on that statement and reconvene the talks. To my mind it is a good opportunity to work for general cessation of hostilities and genuine negotiations. Those two things might go hand in hand.
Q: Will you bring a resolution at the Council for CoH, a proper one which the UNSC can endorse?
V.Churkin: There was one a while ago. Things need to happen on the ground. We do have resolution on CoH. It was passed in February, I think. But it didn’t work. We need to make sure that there are agreed arrangements for CoH to work.
Q: Will Russia lead on the rebuilding of Aleppo?
V.Churkin: We will definitely participate.
Q: The Syrian Government is talking about military solution, do you think they are ready now to sit and negotiate with the opposition?
V.Churkin: This is what they tell us. They say that they are prepared for the talks.