Statement of the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin at the informal meeting of the UN General Assembly on Syria
The Russian Federation is actively working toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria. We were at the origin of the basic documents that define the modalities of political settlement. Together with the United States, Russia is the Co-Chair of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) within which concrete steps have been undertaken on the main tracks of the Syrian agenda.
Thanks to the activity of the Russian Center for Reconciling the Warring Parties, already more than 800 settlements in Syria joined the Cessation of Hostilities having received all the advantages of the normal life. We provide extensive humanitarian assistance, in a number of cases in partnership with our friends from the CIS and other countries.
On more than one occasion the bilateral contacts with the US side provided good results when constructive moods prevailed in volatile Washington. The 9 September agreements became a tangible achievement which if implemented faithfully would have allowed to prevent escalation of tensions in Aleppo and radically improve the situation in the humanitarian area. However, this has not happened as a result of sabotage and blatant provocations.
The situation in Aleppo is of concern for us all. The cause of its deterioration is the activity of insurgents led by the terrorists from “Jabhat al-Nusra” who continue to reign with impunity in the eastern part of the city. It is precisely the Nusra fighters who control the group encircled in Aleppo by coordinating all the movements of its forces and assets through the united staff structure “Gurfa Amaliat Mushtaraka”.
Regular shelling of the western part of the city that terrorizes innocent civilian population is continuing from Eastern Aleppo. About 20 people are killed every week. What government would tolerate such a situation?
The militants in Eastern Aleppo undermine all attempts to provide humanitarian supplies and ensure the evacuation of the sick, wounded and simply innocent civilians that have got tired of living side by side with the cutthroats. The “regimes of silence” have been announced several times, the Syrian authorities have pulled back their troops, introduced simplified check procedures for trucks and provided security guarantees. In response there were threats to continue to destroy the humanitarian convoys and reprisals against ordinary people. The pauses were used by the insurgents to regroup and reinforce their units.
There are contradictory assessments of the strength of the armed opposition and Nusra units in Eastern Aleppo, but it will not be an exaggeration to say that the Nusra forces are at least ten times smaller. Nevertheless, the opposition did not even think about turning the arms against the terrorists and squeezing them out of the city because this is a mutually beneficial symbiosis.
The key task of separating the “moderate” armed opposition groups from terrorists was put forward early this year. Our US colleagues made that commitment but were not able to fulfill it. In this connection we even had thoughts that someone intentionally wanted to preserve Nusra as the most capable combating unit in the armed struggle against the government of Syria.
Yesterday an expert meeting was held in Geneva at the Russia-US Ceasefire Monitoring Center as a follow-up to the Lausanne arrangements in order to elaborate a practical scheme of separating the “moderate” opposition from the terrorists entrenched in the eastern part of Aleppo. A useful and substantial discussion took place which, as we expect, can move us closer to achieving that goal.
The Ministry of Defense of Russia announced a humanitarian pause starting today, 20 October. To this end the operation of the Syrian Air Forces and the Russian Aerospace Forces which provide the counter-terrorist support to the Syrian government was halted from 10am local time on 18 October. We have taken these steps in order to address urgent humanitarian needs and to provide an opportunity for people to leave Eastern Aleppo if they wish so and for the militants to make a choice: either to stay in the ranks of terrorists and be destroyed or disassociate from them.
We are ready to take into account the recommendations of the UN humanitarian agencies on the modalities of humanitarian assistance, including the duration of pauses but we will continue to be guided also by the priority of suppressing the terrorist hotbed in Aleppo. Without this there will be no meaningful improvement of the humanitarian situation.
We noted with interest Mr. Staffan de Mistura’s initiative to de-escalate the situation in Eastern Aleppo and expressed our readiness to discuss its details. But some members of the Security Council have demonstrated cold indifference towards the Special Envoy’s idea. Now we are wondering about the reason behind that: is it a desire to maintain status quo and continue to sling mud at Russia. We are convinced that Nusra fighters can be thrown out of the city of Aleppo but are not sure if there is any need to care much about their “dignity”.
Those who do not cooperate with terrorists must sign the agreement on Cessation of Hostilities as was stipulated by the Russia-US agreements confirmed in the Security Council resolution 2268. We expect that those countries that have influence on the armed groups in Eastern Aleppo will be able to guide their fosterlings in the right way. As you can see, there are options for solution. In case the insurgents do not commit to the truce or do not leave the city and continue fighting and terrorizing the civilian population they will become a legal target for counter-terrorist strikes.
Some of our foreign partners, while covering their own fatal mistakes in regional policies as well as hidden agendas, throw the blame for all the problems on the Syrian government turning now the main blast towards Russia. They do not hesitate to use outright provocations like the doomed Franco-Spanish initiative in the Security Council. This is not an honest position.
Propaganda shows by the so-called "friends of Syria" in the UN bodies testify that the policy of regime change, that proved to be catastrophic for the Middle East, is still on the agenda. Advocates of a forced regime change in Damascus are interested in keeping Aleppo a Syria's bleeding wound. We urge them to give up this flawed paradigm and let us collectively normalize the situation in this city.
We are not avoiding discussions on the issues that worry all of us, including in the General Assembly of the United Nations, but the real improvement of the situation lies in the hands of those who have direct engagement in Syria. And if we take it seriously and professionally everybody understands that this refers not only to Russia which has been invited to Syria by its government unlike the majority of others.
There is much to be done in engaging the opposition, radical elements of which have obstinately refused to participate in negotiations in a constructive way and continue to set forth conditions. It is necessary to urge them to dialogue with the Syrian government and to ensure the earliest resumption of talks in Geneva. We expect that Mr. Staffan de Mistura will take initiative in this matter in line with what the Security Council resolutions demand. It should be noted that the representation of the opponents to official Damascus shall be as broad as possible. And this is also something that United Nations Security Council resolutions stipulate.
We expect that the settlement of the conflict in Syria will be carried out through concerted efforts on the basis of international law along with respect for the Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity and without unscrupulous politicization.