Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, after submitting final report of group of experts to investigate allegations of chemical weapons Use in Syria.
Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, after submitting final report of group of experts to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.
The information contained in the two reports submitted by the Sellstrom Mission to the Security Council (of September 16 and December 12, 2013) confirms that chemical weapons were used in several cases during the Syrian conflict. Most alarming are the two major cases of sarin use - near Aleppo on March 19 and in Ghouta on August 21.
Who is responsible for this is a question of utmost importance. There are two possible versions: the chemical weapons were used either by the Syrian government or by the opposition. If we are to assume that they were used by the Government, then the story is full of contradictions.
If the government forces used sarin on March 19 near Aleppo, how come that the Syrian military personnel and the civilians in the close proximity to them were hit? Why did the Syrian government immediately request an international investigation of that incident? Why did those who accused the Syrian government of this act did their utmost to derail or at least delay such investigation?
Let me remind you that first the UN Secretary-General positively responded to the request by the Syrian government to conduct an immediate investigation. But then the United Kingdom and France all of a sudden recalled a Homs case, that had not bothered them for 3 preceding months, while the US started insisting on the need to investigate "all incidents". As a result the UN Secretariat, unfortunately, yielded to this pressure and proposed to the Syrian government a document with terms of reference for investigation that mandated creation of a permanent UN inspection mission in Syria. Such mission would have lasted as long as its head would have liked and it would have had full access to the entire territory of the country. In brief, we saw the replication of the same old story as the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However, the difference was that Baghdad unlike Damascus was under to Chapter VII of the UN Charter. No surprise that the Syrian government did not accept these conditions.
Then the Syrian government asked Russia to conduct an investigation by Russian experts. They arrived on the spot, gathered samples and examined them in Russia, in an OPCW-certified laboratory. A comprehensive report was prepared and submitted to the UN SG and our P-5 Security Council colleagues. Sellstrom got acquainted with this report and even traveled to Moscow to discuss it with Russian experts. In his report of December 12 Sellstrom does not refute our conclusions which are the following: on March 19 "home-made" sarin was used near Aleppo, the projectile that was used for sarin delivery was also a cottage industry product. We even named an opposition group that could have committed this act.
Only later the UN Secretariat and the Syrian government resumed negotiations and managed to reach an agreement on the modalities of the mission of experts. And the Syrians agreed that, along with the Aleppo incident, UN experts could study a certain number of other incidents of their choosing. So the Syrian government put no prohibitive restrictions.
But the tragic events in Ghouta on August 21 interfered . It is deeply regrettable that the Aleppo incident in March was not investigated in a timely manner. If it had been, the Ghouta tragedy may have been prevented.
The US, followed by some other states, blamed the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta. To substantiate this accusation the US released a four-page document containing only hints and assertions but no real evidence. A classified version of this document was sent to the US Congress. Some legislators later complained to the media that they could not understand anything from this report. Our requests for additional information which could prove the Syrian government involvement in the use of chemical weapons were ignored by Washington.
The lack of any proof was particularly strange since, as the public learnt from media reports based on Edward Snowden's materials, the US had powerful intelligence assets in Syria: sensors capable to provide in real time information on any mixing of precursors by the Syrian troops for sarin production (sarin does not "live" - it has to be produced a few days before its intended use). That kind of information was obtained by the US in December 2012 when the Syrians mixed chemical agents during a drill. Having received such information president Obama publicly warned the Syrian government against chemical weapons use, duplicating this warning through diplomatic channels as well.
On September 10, in his statement blaming Assad's government for using chemical weapons in Ghouta, President Obama said that the US knew that the Syrians for a few days in advance of August 21 were preparing for a chemical attack. A legitimate question suggested itself (it was asked both by us and by the Syrian opposition): if they knew why did they fail to act like they did in December 2012? No intelligible answer was received. You will find the mystery resolved in an article by the American journalist Seymour Hersh, which was published on December 9. He explains that the US administration simply extrapolated to the situation of August 21 their understanding of how the Syrian military were supposed to act in preparation for the use of chemical weapons. Indeed one needs to read carefully President Obama's statement of September 10. He says: "in the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas". That is, "we know" as of September 10, not in the days that preceded August 21. Also there is no allegation that the chemical agents were actually being mixed to produce sarin. It is about some abstract preparations. So in the days before August 21 the US had no information at all. It is clear why: the sensors stayed silent because no chemical agents were mixed to produce sarin. But if sarin was not being produced then the Syrian government troops did not have it for use on August 21. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that on August 22 and 23 American officials stated repeatedly that the US government kept investigating the situation.
But one can ask: is'nt there physical evidence that chemical weapons on August 21 were used by the Syrian government? For example, an artillery projectile that "indicatively matches" what the Syrians have in their inventory. However, Professor Postol of technology and national security at MIT, having studied the issue, came to the conclusion that this projectile was an "improvised" one and could be manufactured in a machine-shop, while the range of the rocket could not exceed 2 km. It means that it was launched from the territory controlled by opposition. Besides, as our experts concluded, sarin used on August 21 was of approximately the same type as the one used on March 19, though of a slightly better quallity. It means that over a few months opposition chemists somewhat improved the quality of their product.
But all that would mean that the chemical attack of August 21 was carried out by the opposition. Still, the US Permanent Representative to the UN stated on September 16: "it's very important to note that... we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin". This statement was - to say the least - an attempt to mislead the public opinion. As S.Hersh shows in the abovementioned article, for several months before the events in August the American intelligence services repeatedly reported to their superiors evidence that the opposition had learnt how to produce sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity late. In late August there were media reports that the US Administration had been refusing to supply chemical protection gear to the opposition. Why? Did the US want to maximize the losses of the opposition in case of chemical weapons attack from the government forces? That explanation would bee too cynical. It is more logical to assume that the US administration feared that the opposition groups would resort to the use of the chemical weapons once they got the protective gear. It is not accidental after all that in the UNSC resolution 2118 on the chemical weapons destruction in Syria a number of provisions were included, with the active cooperation of the US delegation, that aimed at making sure that non-state actors do not produce or use chemical weapons and other WMD.
Why would the Syrian government use chemical weapons on August 21 ? To cross the "red line" drawn by Washington and invite missile strike upon itself? Why would the opposition use chemical weapons? Exactly because of the "red line" - to provoke foreign military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
It is absolutely obvious that on August 21 a large-scale provocation was staged. This is exactly the explanation for a number of incongruities that analysts point to. Why and how were the dead bodies of children so quickly brought together in one place? Where were their parents? Why were there no women among personnel (women are usually numerous at Syrian hospitals)? Why does the medical staff wear no protective masks? And so on and so forth.
All these events resemble what we have already seen in history. World War II began with a provocation. A provocation triggered the American war in Vietnam and NATO's bombardments of Serbia started with a provocation. Sophisticated filtration of information and manipulation of public opinion preceded the invasion in Iraq.
Luckily, this time we managed to avoid an international escalation of the Syrian conflict.