Statement and remarks by Mr. Petr Iliichev, Chargé d'Affaires, at the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East
We thank Mr. O’Brien for his briefing.
In general, in Syria, the cessation of hostilities that began on 30 December 2016 is holding. At the same time, there have been incidents in which it has been undermined and there have been actions carried out by terrororists and armed groups. Their offensive actions, including those taken in Damascus, which undermined the most recent round of inter-Syrian talks in Geneva, are fresh in our memory. These types of escalations have an adverse impact on the humanitarian situation.
The ongoing criticism of the Syrian Government and the emotional calls to the country’s guarantors, including Russia, do not help matters.
We are carrying out our obligations in good faith. There are other influential players who are unfortunately in no in hurry to meet us halfway. In that regard, the only approach that can have a positive impact is a collective one. And we should not forget the ongoing importance of the task of separating the constructively disposed opposition from the terrorists. The first steps in that direction succeeded only thanks to the joint efforts of the countries that are the guarantors of the Astana process, but much remains to be done.
In many cases, the cessation of hostilities regime has enabled the various humanitarian convoys agreed on with the Syrian Government to proceed successfully, and the progress made in the past few months is evident. Painstaking efforts to establish the parameters for humanitarian access and a medical evacuation in eastern Ghouta are ongoing. Given the delicate nature and operational constraints of that effort, we should not count on getting instant results. Brash public-relations campaigns will not help. To start with, it is not as simple as some would like to imagine, and the problem is not just about facilitation letters, but also because one key reason for the difficulties is the provocative actions of the fighters.
Furthermore, we do not fully share the concerns about the situation in this area. Rural Damascus is an ancient farming region that provides the capital with food. It is no accident that the report of the Secretary-General (S/2017/339) notes that the supply of agricultural products from eastern Ghouta to Damascus has been halted as a result of the worsening situation. We understand that sending humanitarian convoys in a time of conflict is always fraught with risk, and not everything goes according to plan. Our military specialists often accompany caravans, which is why, unlike the humanitarian theoreticians, we know firsthand the cost of those operations. In order to draw up optimal parameters for them, we still need the platform of the humanitarian task force of the International Syria Support Group.
In spite of all this, however, the reconciliation process is under way in a number of Syrian neighbourhoods. Thanks to the activities of the Russian Centre in Hmeimim, at least 1,500 towns have joined the process. Such agreements also take the form of local truces, in which appropriate agreements are signed by representatives of the authorities and militia leaders. For instance, we are close to concluding a local truce in the problematic area of Al-Waer in the city of Homs. While members of the illegal armed groups and their families are leaving for areas of Syria that have not gone along with the cessation of hostilities regime, many of the rebels have decided to return to a peaceful life by accepting the Government’s amnesty. we hope that the problem of the four towns can be addressed when the regional power centres reach a firm agreement.
The treacherous terrorist attack in Al-Rashidin on residents evacuated from Fo’ah and Kefraya rightly aroused outrage across the globe. In that connection, we do not agree with the criticism of the practice of concluding local truces. It may not be ideal, but it is a practical instrument for bringing normalcy to the situation and saving lives on a temporary basis, as experience has shown in eastern Aleppo and other urban areas. Now Syrians need help in restoring decent living conditions in liberated areas so they can return to their homes.
We were surprised by the statements of our United Kingdom and French colleagues regarding local truces, which are the result of agreements between the Government and relevant opposition groups. They represent another option for avoiding the greater numbers of casualties that would occur without such agreements. In that regard, double standards are still at work. When Muslim populations in the Central African Republic were moved from the capital and western areas to the north-east, with the participationof the United Nations and the French operation, it was justified as an attempt to save human lives. We all know what happened. The Muslim population in the capital of Bangui was reduced by 99 per cent and the consequences of the move are still being felt today. The destabilization we are now seeing now in the centre of the country is being provoked specifically from the north-East, where the Muslims were moved. Let us refrain from distinguishing between the dignity of the lives of Syrians and of people in other countries where we have to act from the best motives to try to save lives.
We are seriously concerned about the situation in the north of Syria, where several military operations are breaking out simultaneously. The majority of the participants, including the so-called coalition, were not invited in by the Syrian Government. This is a clear violation of the sovereignty of the country and encroaches on its territorial integrity. Peaceful civilians are being killed in the bombing and vital infrastructure is being destroyed. The strikes on the Kurdish militias who have been fighting the terrorists this entire time are in total contradiction to the international community’s professed determined resistance to this evil.
We must never allow ourselves to ignore the fact that we have no idea of what is going on in the areas that are still controlled by terrorists or how hundreds of thousands of people are living. Neither the United Nations nor most of its partners have access to these areas. We are not talking just about Deir ez-Zor, where at least humanitarian assistance is being provided via air drops. We have to point out here that the humanitarian reports on Syria sometimes retouch facts that support criticism of the fighters of armed groups. Unverified information circulates. The Syrian Government trusts external participants very little, for obvious reasons, since against the backdrop of an anti-Damascus campaign all they see is provocation. Why would we want to aggravate that feeling rather than restore the prospects for cooperation with Damascus?
It is disappointing that there is once again a lack of data about the stocks of medicines used to support terrorist fighters that were discovered in eastern Aleppo after it was liberated. We demanded that the circumstances be investigated and brought to light and for more than a month now have been waiting for results that were supposed to be officially reported to the Security Council. Incidentally, similar stocks of medicines were discovered in Zabadani and Madaya after they were liberated.
We call attention once again to the urgent issue of demining Syria, including its cultural heritage sites. While the Russian and Syrian specialists have worked well together and have demined thousands of hectares of residential areas in Aleppo and done major sapper work in Palmyra, we need a united effort in this area. In that regard, we call for establishing an international demining coalition for Syria from among the interested countries and hope to includ\\ the relevant United Nations agencies in that. We also believe that it would be appropriate to create a fund to finance commercial companies that could participate in the demining.
The United Nations humanitarian bodies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syria Red Crescent have been working furiously for the past two weeks to restore normal life to the people. We should not forget that despite unfair externally imposed sanctions, the Syrian Government has also been making massive efforts — a fact about which the reports are usually silent. Help is also being provided by international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, we should emphasize that we take a critical view of certain NGOs that are obeying the orders of their foreign sponsors and violating Syria’s sovereignty by working exclusively in areas that are not controlled by the Government. The White Helmets, who have been heaped with praise in Western capitals, are a prime example, frequently displaying a lack of conscience in publishing false information and staging film footage designed to blacken the Syrian Government and army’s reputation. There are multiple examples of evidence of their direct ties to terrorists and extremists.
Russia is providing Syrians with humanitarian assistance on an almost daily basis, in some cases with the participation of our foreign partners. Medical assistance is being provided, and more than 12,000 Syrians have received care from qualified personnel.
We underscore our unstinting support for a peaceful solution in Syria, guided by the idea that the country’s fate should be decided by Syrians themselves. Furthermore, Russia in in the front lines of those efforts. We do not see any reason to diverge from agreed-upon parameters for the political process guided by the United Nations. Syrian sides have already taken on board the United Nations-formulated proposal on the basis of the four baskets, including building a constitution and counter-terrorism activities. The processes in Astana and Geneva are vital working forums that complement one another. Progress on all negotiating tracks is the best way to improve the humanitarian situation.
Remarks by Mr. Petr Iliichev, Chargé d'Affaires, at the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East
With regard to your statement, Madam President, allow me to once again call your attention to the fact — stressed by many who took the floor today — that Russia, Turkey and Iran are doing their part to ensure that there is compliance with the cessation of hostilities, which is the best way to bring about an improvement in the humanitarian situation in Syria. Neither you, Madam, or Western colleagues said a single word about what they are doing to improve the situation. How are they bringing pressure to bear on the moderate or non-moderate opposition that they have influence over? Mr. O’Brien, in his briefing, did directly touch upon those areas that are surrounded or controlled by terrorists.