Remarks to the press by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the Security Council consultations on Syria
Q: What do you think about the French proposals for these international monitors?
V.Churkin: I have a number of things to say. First of all, we have not seen the proposal yet. We heard about the proposal, it was described to us, maybe in some details. But we need to see the proposal.
Secondly, I reminded our colleagues in the Security Council during our discussions that two international monitoring missions had been deployed in Syria in the course of the conflict. First, it was an Arab League monitoring mission. But then they came to report to the Security Council and gave a rather objective picture of what was going on. Those who were running Arab League at that time were radically anti-Damascus. The monitoring mission described the situation with the terrorists fighting against the government, etc. So the Arab League decided to withdraw that monitoring mission.
Then the Security Council deployed the UN monitoring mission on the insistence of the Russian Federation. Only after one extension of its mandate the US delegation demanded that this monitoring mission should be withdrawn. My own understanding of their policy then was that they took a definitive decision to go for a military solution of the crisis in Syria, no matter what humanitarian or geopolitical consequences, the consequences for the Syrian people and the state of Syria could be. They went for a military solution and we see the consequences of that now. In my mind, what we need to do now is to explore cessation of hostilities (CoH) regime and try to establish CoH regime throughout the country and to answer the call of Staffan de Mistura who just a few days ago here said that after Aleppo what needs to be done is an effort to reconvene serious political discussions between the government and the opposition. I heard Secretary Kerry say the other day that allegedly the opposition is prepared for those talks and I hear the Syrian Government repeatedly reiterate their readiness to come back to the talks. Those are the two main challenges. Yes, we need to involve UN humanitarian agencies.
As the Syrian troops were moving into various quarters of eastern Aleppo our officers from the Center for Reconciliation were there and ICRC people were there. So the ICRC people could see that many of those reports about horrors happening there were not accurate.
Anyway we would be prepared to work with UN people, UN humanitarians to make sure that the situation in eastern Aleppo is back to normalcy and no excesses happen on the ground, as the situation is coming back to normalcy after this horror of serious fighting within a city.
Q: Would you support French initiative?
V.Churkin: I haven’t seen it yet. It was only described to us. Some elements of what was said might be questionable, but something which would have a great involvement of UN humanitarian agencies is something which we have been advocating all along.
In fact, the way it sounded was that Russia has been doing all the things on the ground and now France comes in and says that they are actually on top of it all, showing the right way to do things on the ground.
However, I don’t want to be sort of jealous of anybody’s initiative. If it is a sensible one and we see it on paper why not entertain it.
Q: What is Russia doing to get this evacuation restarted?
V.Churkin: The situation is very volatile, I don’t keep track of every small detail. Definitely, there are conflicting reports. For instance, there was a report that one humanitarian convoy with combatants, fighters and their families was stopped and returned back. Our military insist that all the fifteen convoys of that sort reached their destination. So we need to continue that. Then a large part, a hundred thousand civilians have been taken out of the city. Now we need to make sure that we work with the civilians, with those who are on the ground. We would need to give assistance to those civilians who chose to leave the city and then work together with the international community to rebuild the city and to rebuild the normal life with the civilians in eastern Aleppo.
Q: What parts did you have questions about?
V.Churkin: I was just listening to what my French colleague had to say. There were some elements which I thought were questionable. But we need to have a look at the text. If they have a text, we’ll have a look at it.
Q: What about the deployment of observers on the ground?
V.Churkin: Deployment of observers, it takes weeks to deploy observers. I expressed regret once again in the course of those discussions that the United States insisted three years ago that UN monitors should be taken out of the city. We had 300 UN monitors and it took several weeks to deploy those monitors. They need to be trained people who know what they are doing, what they are monitoring, how those things need to be monitored. To imagine that you can do it within two or three days is really unrealistic. We have ICRC people on the ground. We hope that there will be a greater opportunity now to work with UN humanitarian agencies including OCHA in order to deliver humanitarian supplies to eastern Aleppo. Other then that, we need to simply look at the practicality of this thing – do we want to spend two months to reconstitute some UN monitoring mission? Maybe it would make sense to do that, particularly, if we are able to reconstitute more full-fledged CoH in the country. There are a number of questions which need to be addressed pragmatically in order to see what can be usefully done in order to improve the situation.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, what about the possibility of the special session of the UN General Assembly?
V.Churkin: We continue working in the Security Council. I don’t see what useful purpose it could serve. We just had a session of General Assembly. Before that we had another informal session of General Assembly. The draft document which I saw does not add much to anything. I think we need really to take this opportunity. Staffan de Mistura spoke about this opportunity. He made it clear, I think, to you as well, as well to the members of the Security Council that it might be a very good opportunity to restart political negotiations. So there are two main venues – we need to come back to 2254 comprehensive CoH and serious political negotiations.
Q: Mr. Ambassador you said a CoH is the next step. How do you make that happen?
V.Churkin: We need to discuss the situation I suppose with all parties most intimately involved in this drama. We do still have ISSG. We do have UN presence in Damascus. So, I think that an effort should be undertaken in that direction.