Remarks to the press by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the UN Security Council consultations on Syria talksFebruary 5, 2016
Statement and Q and A session by Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin at the stakeout following the Security Council closed consultations on Syria talks.
V.Churkin: I’m a little bit surprised, I must confess, that my French colleague chose to rush to the podium without caring to listen to the end of this discussion, to what Staffan de Mistura had to say, to what members of the Security Council had to say. But you do what you have to do.
I think we had a good discussion and I think we are encouraged that Staffan de Mistura believes that the talks can be resumed, that even maybe they can be resumed before February 25th - the date which he said is the possible date for the resumption of the talks. We were of course upset that the talks after just starting did not continue. We believe that the Ryadh delegation, if I may call it this way, the group which presented itself as the main participant from the opposition did not really come to negotiate, they came to look for a pretext to walk out of negotiations. We are disappointed that the opposition was not as representative as it is supposed to be in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué of 2012 and resolution 2254. We think that the talks have been weakened by the fact that Turkey went out of its way to block the participation of Syrian Kurds in those discussion. They are a part of the country, they must be there as well. We are disappointed that what we call the Cairo-Moscow platform group of the opposition was not properly represented in Geneva. They came in with a status which was not fully official. So we do believe that additional work needs to be done when the talks resume to present the opposition in a more formidable way and in a way which would be more conducive to productive discussions with the Syrian government. Syrian government was there and was prepared to enter into discussion with the opposition.
There was also a discussion on the environment surrounding the talks. And we heard again that some things need to happen on the ground for the talks to continue. And some colleagues did criticize Russia for continuing this bombing campaign with the help of which the Syrian government has been able to reconquer some ground which had been taken from their control by terrorists and other opposition groups. I’d like to point out that in the area of Aleppo some sieges were lifted which have been there for a couple years. So in the process of this offensive in a way some humanitarian objectives have also been achieved. However, of course fighting is fighting and it creates additional difficulties on the ground. The point I was making in the consultations in response to that criticism is that all those things needed to be addressed during those talks. Those people who have encouraged the opposition to essentially walk out of the talks have been rejecting our continued offers for them to arrange really practical cooperation between us and them in the situation of Syria. They do not really have much of a ground to criticize us, moral or formal ground to criticize us. We cannot stop this unilaterally: what about the terrorist and opposition groups, are they going to stop too? What about this American-led coalition – are they going to stop too? My point was that all things need to be discussed and we were sorry that that discussion did not start in Geneva along with the problems in the humanitarian situation and humanitarian supplies. They were on the table in Geneva and the opposition delegation walked out. Unfortunately it seems to be encouraged by some of our Western colleagues. But we are used to things in and around Syria being extremely complicated. We are not resting with our efforts to continue to do things in the proper direction in Syria. As you know another meeting of International Syria Support Group (ISSG) is planned for Munich, February 11. We are going to bring some new ideas to the table and we hope that other colleagues, other members of the International Syria Support Group are going also to show their responsibility.
Q: There is an idea that Kurdish groups should participate on February 25 – as you were saying – the Kurdish groups should be involved.
V.Churkin: The Kurds represent a large percentage of the population, for them to be excluded is a rather strange position of Turkey, because if they want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria (and the efforts of the ISSG are based on the premise of the territorial integrity of Syria) they need to be in favour of involving them into the Syrian discussions. Because if they are alienated then they may have certain thoughts about their future. So this is a very strange position. Another element of a very aggressive Turkish policy with regard to the Syrian conflict.
Q: Can you specify, which groups are you targeting in your air strikes in the Aleppo area and respond to the criticism that the air strikes have led to the humanitarian siege of Aleppo?
V.Churkin: Our Ministry of Defense and our General Staff are working with high degree of transparency in contrast, incidentally, to the US-led Coalition, because I haven’t heard much from them about their bombing campaign. We do daily briefings and explain what the targets are, what the intentions are. So I encourage your colleagues in Moscow to follow those briefings closely and, more importantly, to report those briefings fairly. That has been missing.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, do you mean that Geneva talks started prematurely?
V.Churkin: They did not start prematurely. Actually they started a little later than we were hoping for. You remember, the target date was January 1. Well, of course, in diplomacy things sometimes shift, so we didn’t mind Staffan de Mistura taking additional time and calling in the parties to the talks in late January but we were really hoping that with all the support of the international community and with SC resolution 2254 behind him and with international community being tired of this conflict, to say nothing of the fact of the tragedy of the Syrian people, that they should stay there and they should start talking. And there is nothing in resolution 2254 about preconditions. Yes it talks about humanitarian situation, it talks about the need for ceasefire, but those are interrelated aspects. And now to turn back to the idea of certain preconditions – I think this is something which is complicating the situation. But now we need to look forward to discussion which will take place Munich on February 11, 2016.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, French PR just said that Staffan de Mistura has specifically said that military campaign by the government forces that were backed by Russian airforces was the reason for the hold of the talks. Is that true?
V.Churkin: He did not say that. My good friend François Delattre should have stayed through the meeting rather than put words into Mr. Staffan de Mistura’s mouth. Staffan de Mistura was at his diplomatic best. I don’t want to speak on his behalf. He was expressing the hope for better environment for the talks, but anyway I’m not going to repeat what Mr. Staffan de Mistura had to say, but there was no reference from him to Russian airstrikes or Syrian offensive.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, what do you think of the possibility of success on February 25th?
V.Churkin: I like to be optimistic. We cannot afford being pessimistic. We need to start pushing. Some countries unfortunately are pushing in a different direction even members of the International Syria Support Group. I think very highly of the cooperation between my Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry and I have no doubt that they are going to do their utmost in order to reenergize once again the ISSG and make sure that the meeting will be important and useful and the talks will be resumed.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, thank you. You said that Mr. Staffan de Mistura was encouraged. Can you give us some details why he seemed encouraged? What is he planning to do between now and February 25th?
V.Churkin: I didn’t say that he was encouraged, I said I was encouraged. He thought that talks could start even before February 25th. Again, I don’t want to speak on behalf of Staffan de Mistura. He was hoping of course as he always does for greater support from the international community. We will see in what form and shape this greater support may come. To me one of the elements of this greater support is to make sure that nobody is going to pose problems for forming a more representative delegation of the Syrian opposition, that they would not allow those people from the Riyadh group (who came to Geneva but didn’t even come to the negotiating table) to try to monopolize the talks on behalf of the opposition. You remember, one of the reasons Geneva-2 failed was that the National Coalition came in and did not really represent many important elements of the opposition. In fact the same thing happened during Geneva-1 as well. So we should not allow that negative experience to be repeated here. We keep talking about the humanitarian assistance. In fact I had another good meeting even after our previous discussion on the humanitarian situation in Syria with people of the World Food Program and they said they might be interested in our airdrops to Deir ez-Zor, which we have been doing for the past few weeks and with which have delivered hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies. We are discussing cooperation with the Americans in delivering humanitarian supplies in Syria to hard-to-reach areas. We are doing all those things, but they are not easy. Very often the Syrian government sees things in a reciprocal manner. For example, one of the things I heard today is “wouldn’t it be wonderful for those besieged areas, those sieges to be lifted” and among other places Deir ez-Zor was mentioned. I would love to see those sieges lifted, but ISIL if I’m not mistaken is besieging Deir ez-Zor. What is the guarantee that they are going to do the right thing? I think it is very hard to expect that. We need to work those things through, but if we keep saying that for the talks to start we need to see those things done then we are delaying the talks. And those talks ultimately is the best place for those discussions to continue. We cannot discuss those things on behalf of the Syrians. We cannot do that, sometimes we are trying to do that but ultimately they themselves need to decide what they can do in order to elevate the humanitarian situation in their country.
Q: Saudi Arabia announced that they are going to send ground troops to Syria…
V.Churkin: I hope it was not an announcement, I hope it was just one of those press reports which as we all know very often are not true. I think that would be a very dangerous development. I think they have enough on their hands in Yemen, so they shouldn’t be really venturing to other dangerous places.
Q: Do you equally blame the US for the failure? Their hesitation, half-hearted involvement…
V.Churkin: When I heard some criticism from the US delegation, I did say a number of things about US policy but I don’t want go into it now because this is not the right thing to do now. The worst thing is to start recrimination among members of ISSG, especially key members of the Support Group. We need to have even stronger concerted efforts in order to overcome the problems we are facing with Syria. This public recrimination is wrong.
Q: Are you willing to stop airstrikes and when?
V.Churkin: I just mentioned that we started our airstrikes after airstrikes had been conducted by the US-led coalition for months. In contrast to the US-led airstrikes in Syria ours are fully legitimate because we got invitation of the Syrian government. Our airstrikes are just part of the fighting context in Syria which includes military moves by terrorist groups, various groups which some consider as moderate opposition and of course the Syrian government. Do you expect just us to say: that’s it - we are stopping - but the rest of the things continue? I think what we need to look at is the overall situation and the ceasefire which is also an important element in resolution 2254. For example I think it’s very hard to talk about Syrian ceasefire if the border between Turkey and Syria is being crossed all the time by terrorists and weapons are being brought to Syria from Turkey, which feed into the fighting forces of the terrorist groups and opposition. It’s not for nothing that President Hollande of Fran