Statement by Mr.Vladimir Safronkov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East
We thank Mr. De Mistura for his briefing. Russia has been following the March round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva very closely and encouraging all the participants to work constructively to arrive at mutually acceptable decisions and compromises regarding a peaceful settlement. In that context, we have been in active contact with the Syrian authorities and with a broad cross-section of the opposition.
We support Mr. De Mistura’s efforts and believe that he will enhance them. The fact that there have been developments in the Geneva process, and that the sides have launched parallel conversations on all four of the agreed-on discussion baskets on the agenda and have begun studying the conceptual proposals of Mr. De Mistura’s mediation can be considered an achievement. We expect the Geneva process to continue steadily. There should be no prolonged pauses. We already went through that negative experience in 2016. I would like to say to Mr. De Mistura that rather than give up, he should continue his painstaking work with the Syrian delegations, actively encouraging them to conduct dialogue and seek common denominators.
However, the statement by Mr. Rycroft of the United Kingdom showed that he is thinking only about how to make Mr. De Mistura’s task more difficult, stop the political process developing and bring confrontation and hostility to the Security Council. But the fact of the matter — and many in the United Nations are already aware of it — is that he is afraid. He has been losing sleep over the possibility that we could be working together with the United States. He is afraid of that. He is doing everything he can to undermine that cooperation. That is why he should look at me. He should not look away. Why is he looking away? This is precisely why he said nothing today about the political process. He did not listen to Mr. De Mistura’s briefing, and that was on purpose. He makes insulting demands of the guarantors of the Astana process, but what have he and his allies done to advance the ceasefire? In London and Paris they are receiving opposition groups — illegal armed groups. They were suddenly afraid that things were moving towards peace and a political settlement. They serve the interests of armed groups, many of which have been murdering Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. They are committing acts of terror in churches on Palm Sunday. That is who they care about. They jabe completely lost his way with their anti-regime notions. What do they think they are doing?
So it turns out that for them, regime change is more important than the positions of the majority of the States Members of the United Nations. Mr. Rycroft was not speaking about the item on our agenda today. He has insulted Syria, Iran, Turkey and other States. I would ask you, Madam President, to ensure that the rules of procedure for this meeting are respected, because that is your job when some members are irresponsibly resorting to insulting slang in the Security Council. He should not dare to insult Russia again.
We are nevertheless very grateful to Mr. De Mistura for his work. In the run-up to the next round, further efforts will be required to ensure that the intra-Syrian dialogue is genuinely broadly representative. Every patriotic Syrian party should be able to take part in the negotiations on an equal footing in order to discuss how to preserve Syria as a unified, secular State in which all historical communities can live in peace, as has always been the case, and take part in rebuilding the country. The opposition should have an inclusive and consolidated delegation whose members have a common position that takes account of the views of the key factions. There is no room for arrogance here. We should be thinking not about pride and arrogance but about the future of Syria. That is the substance of Mr. Rycroft’s concept document. He should think about the future of his own State, not interfere in these people’s affairs. Let them conduct their dialogue calmly. Mr. Rycroft should not interfere with Mr. De Mistura. Look at those mentors!
In seeking a formula for a political solution — and I know that this is Mr. De Mistura’s position — we cannot allow any interruption in the work of State institutions, especially the security institutions, which bear the main burden in combating the terrorist threat. If we look at the other countries of the Middle East, Africa and other regions, it is clear that we cannot create State institutions even on paper — and Mr. Rycroft wants to destroy the ones that remain in Syria, one of the most important countries in the region.
We insist on discussions being held without any preconditions. We know that that is his position. Against the backdrop of the political efforts, it is obviously unacceptable for the opponents of the Government in Damascus to try to gain military advantages. We should recall that before the March round of negotiations began, the opposition tried to advance on various fronts, including in the vicinity of Syria’s capital. We hope that the relevant capitals will cool the hotheads and that such reckless acts will not be repeated.
This is Mr. Rycroft’s responsibility when he professes to support the Astana process. He says one thing in the Security Council but believes another, and then in fact does a third thing. I would like to ask him to do his part of the work. Here are London and Paris working with opposition groups. He and his allies should summon them and tell them to support the Astana process. They should tell them that they should not even think of firing on the Russian Embassy in Damascus.But he will not even agree to put out an ordinary announcement condemning the attack on the Russian Embassy in Damascus, his diplomatic colleagues.
In a situation in which tensions have mounted owing to the missile strike by the United States, the importance of political efforts has only increased. Clearly, provocations such as the incident in Khan Shaykhun will only strengthen the positions of those who favour a military solution. We need to determine the facts and conduct a comprehensive investigation. I was surprised, indeed amazed, to hear that French experts have already reached the conclusion that Damascus is responsible. No one has visited the scene of the crime yet. How do they know?
The fate of the country should be determined by the Syrians themselves, not by someone else. That is final. We, together with the other guarantors, Turkey and Iran — and here I want to also warmly thank the the President of Kazakhstan for his leadership — are ready to continue working on the Astana platform. Russia has been responsible in addressing its obligations regarding the strengthening of the ceasefire. But Mr. Rycroft and his allies should also do their part in working with the opposition groups. Astana cannot serve as a panacea in a situation in which others are working to undermine it.
Significant progress has been achieved in terms of local truces, which have made it possible to ease tensions and normalize people’s lives from a humanitarian point of view. Many have spoken today about access to besieged areas, and that is an issue that should be resolved. But let us be fair. Why is food not supplied to areas that are controlled by the Government? What, are they a different kind of people? Let us be honest. We know the situation. Support is needed from capitals that at the moment are providing only empty criticism. The Astana process has a unique and special value. It is aimed at practical weays of ending the violence and, most important, it represents a form of direct support to the Geneva process that Mr. De Mistura is leading. We know that he and the overwhelming majority of States Members of the United Nations greatly value the Astana process.
We would also like to draw the attention of the international community and the United Nations to the significant contamination of Syrian territory by mines, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices. We regularly inform the Council about the significant activities carried out by Russian experts to deal with this problem. We call for the formation of an international coalition to demine Syria. Blackmail to the effect that demining will begin once there is regime change is unacceptable and hypocritical.
The specialized United Nations service could play an important role in that regard. Of course, the humanitarian component is very important in that respect. People need to feel safe, when they return to their homes and economic activity, that their children will not be blown up and civilians will not suffer. At the same time, mines must be cleared from the World Heritage site in Palmyra. Those are the kinds of issues we must work on. We need to discuss problems related to migration — not regime change but mine clearance and conflict resolution. People will return to their homes by themselves; they do not need to be forced to do anything. These are the kinds of issues that need to be tackled. We need to work together on improving the social conditions in which people live.
Instead, international and regional forums are convened where virtual billions are pledged without even the representatives of Syria being present. How is that related to statements made here in the Security Council that the fate of the Syrian people is in their own hands? Many of us are giving serious thought to the post-conflict future of Syria and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. That would be the most meaningful and important response to the terrorists’ acivities.
But to exclude Damascus and the representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic from this process is unprofessional, unacceptable, unethical and arrogant. A political settlement is the only way to restore peace in Syria and to ease the tensions in the Middle East through Syria and a political improvement in that country. That is the path towards normalizing the situation in many countries of the Middle East. We have an opportunity to make Syria a model of cooperation towards a settlement, but destructive geopolitical projects will not contribute to that. We will not give them a free pass in the Security Council.