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
V.Churkin: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you. Well, as you know, yesterday, December 29, important documents were issued after a lengthy process of talks, which took place in Ankara with the help of the Turkish authorities. And the Russian representatives negotiated a deal with opposition representatives. And of course we were talking to the Syrian government about establishing a ceasefire regime in Syria, and also restarting the political negotiations, about both government and opposition groups forming their two delegations and coming to Astana to start negotiating directly to each other. Last night we circulated together with the Turkish delegation those documents among the members of the Security Council as official documents of the Security Council. We also circulated a brief draft resolution of the Security Council hoping that the Security Council will endorse those arrangements. Today we had, I think, a very useful and constructive discussion in consultation where we explained the deal and answered some questions of our colleagues in the Security Council. They made some recommendations to improve the text of the draft. I’m going to be in touch with my Turkish colleague right away. I think those recommendations can be easily absorbed into the draft. So our intention is to make those additions to the text and then to put the text in blue and to go for a vote tomorrow morning.
Q: Does this ceasefire agreement cover all of Syria? Everyone is fighting in Syria except ISIS. Does it cover Jabhat al-Nusra, especially around Damascus?
V.Churkin: Of course, Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIL are not covered by this cessation-of-hostilities deal. The fight against them must continue. You know, the whole arrangement is recorded on the maps. This is, I think, a very serious distinction from what we had before. You might recall that the entire year we spent with the United States discussing the possibility of separating the moderate opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL, but the United States, the US representatives were always extremely elusive about the actual location of the so-called moderate opposition. Our suspicion was that they were not able to separate Nusra from the so-called moderate opposition groups they had been supporting. But now it has been accomplished. Now our military have a clear understanding who’s who and who’s where. And, as you know, as part of this package of documents a special arrangement has been created for the two guarantors, Russia and Turkey, to observe the cessation of hostilities. So this is where it stands.
Q: It is reported that Ahrar al-Sham have some reservations about the deal. Are Jaysh al-Islam also are part of the deal?
V.Churkin: The counting of the groups is very complicated, as you know. Our understanding is that 7 major groups have joined in this arrangement. Staffan de Mistura, as you know, counted as many as 98 different groups fighting in Syria. The relationship between those groups is sometimes very complicated, but the thing is that in those documents there are 13 armed groups who delegated two gentlemen who are named in the annex to the documents, who are delegated the authority to sign the agreement on their behalf, which they did. The agreement about forming the delegation of the opposition. So, by our account, those groups represent 60 000 fighters and they control a large chunk of the territory of Syria.
Q: Ambassador, could you tell us how is the meeting in Astana scheduled in late January between the Syrian government and the opposition? Is it going to play into the talks that Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy, has called for February 8? Is this going to be an overlap, is there going be some kind of a competition?
V.Churkin: There’s no competition. As you know, Staffan de Mistura has been in touch with us. He indicated his eagerness to help organize the Astana meetings. He talked to our Foreign Minister the other day. So we expect the United Nations to be fully involved in the preparations of the meetings in Astana. And if they are successful they could move on to Geneva, as far as I’m concerned. So we don’t see any competition there or overlapping of the two processes. As you know, Staffan de Mistura had trouble reconvening the talks. So Russia and Turkey obviously decided to give the United Nations a hand in pushing things forward. And this is what we see happening.
Q: For how long do you expect the peace process in Geneva start afterwards? Is there a timeline?
V.Churkin: Of course, I can make no predictions. There’s no timeline. The only thing we know is that late January there’s going to be a meeting in Astana. And then February 8 Staffan de Mistura would like to reconvene talks in Geneva.
Q: What is Russia’s assessment of the status of the ceasefire holding? Are you encouraged?
V.Churkin: I think the initial indications are that it is holding adequately.
Q: Is there a possibility that the incoming Trump Administration would be present in Astana?
V.Churkin: We hope so. Russia clearly stated that. First of all, we believe it is not just a Russia-Turkey bilateral effort. Definitely, Iran is going to participate actively in the preparation of the Astana meetings. You will recall that there was a very important trilateral meeting in Moscow on December 20, Foreign Ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran. We hope others will join in. In our mind, Egypt is a country which can join the process of preparations of the meeting in Asana right now. There are others important players: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, maybe others. All of them are welcome. We do expect the Trump Administration, after it comes into the White House on January 20, will be an important participant.
Q: Could you comment on the expulsion of diplomats?
V.Churkin: The only thing I can say is that it is quite scandalous that they chose to go after our kids, they know full well that those two facilities which they mentioned in their notes are vacation facilities for our kids. This is Christmas and vacation time for our schools from 1 to 10 of January. This is the time when kids go to those two facilities. So, to block our access to them just while the holidays were starting, to me, was rather cynical. Here go their family values.
Q: Was your Mission in New York affected by this decision?
V.Churkin: No, only to the extend that they are blocking the access to that one facility on Long Island.