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 humanitarian situation in SyriaFebruary 10, 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 humanitarian situation Syria.
V.Churkin: We had another lengthy discussion of the humanitarian situation in Syria and also the situation in the political process in Syria which we believe is very relevant and appropriate in the context of the situation there, very grave situation. Another meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) is to take place tomorrow in Munich. We believe that you can cross the line between looking and working seriously on humanitarian issues and then crossing into political exploitation of those humanitarian issues. We believe that some members of the Security Council have crossed that line and they rather crudely used humanitarian matters in order to play a destructive role as far as political process is concerned. You will recall that when the Vienna process was taking place (2 meetings of the Vienna Group: on October 30th, November 14th, 2015) Russia was arguing for discussing ceasefire on the ground. Then some members of the Group supporting the opposition said that was not possible, that ceasefire must be only considered in the context of progress in the political settlement. Of course in order to have that progress in the political settlement you need to have political talks. But as soon as the “Riyadh opposition group” came to Geneva they started raising various preconditions, humanitarian and otherwise, in order to avoid seating at the same table with Staffan de Mistura let alone the Syrian government. We have seen it before, every time there was a serious political effort, there was a huge outcry about one particular area or one particular issue — was it Holms or something else — on the eve of major meetings Geneva-1, Geneva-2, we always saw that. We cannot but regard it as politically destructive tactics.
As to the actions of the Syrian forces supported by the Russian air force. Our western colleagues on the eve of Geneva-2 used to say that some balance on the ground must be restored, so if there is some change in balance on the ground then that should be taken as a logical development in any armed conflict. We are not about being apologetic for what we are doing. We are acting in a very transparent manner, daily briefings are being conducted by our Ministry of Defense. We are present there legally at the invitation of the Syrian government in contrast to what the so-called “US-led coalition” is doing in Syria where they are acting outside of international law and incidentally never telling anybody what exactly they are doing in Syria or Iraq — what their targets are, what the results of their campaign are.
Incidentally now that we see this heightened interest of the Security Council in humanitarian matters we are prepared to take that up. The Spanish representative said that they are going to convene the sixth, the seventh meetings of the Council on humanitarian situation in Syria. We responded that we are going to propose weekly meetings on humanitarian situation in Yemen till the political settlement is reached there and, given this heightened interest of the Security Council to humanitarian matters, we need to revisit the humanitarian situation in Libya. You will recall that in late 2011 we raised the issue of civilian victims of NATO bombings in Libya only to be rudely rebuffed by our western colleagues who said basically “what are you talking about, the mission has been accomplished, the regime has been changed, Kaddafi has been killed… what civilian causalities are you talking about?” despite the fact that High Commissioner for Human Rights (Ms.Pillay at that time) did say in an open session of the Security Council that the issue of civilian casualties must be looked into, apology and compensation should be offered to the families of the victims of those bombings. The Libyan file was transferred to ICC, we are not aware of any action which has been taken by ICC in order to investigate that, so we proposed to hold a meeting on humanitarian situation in Libya inviting Mr. O’Brien, High Commissioner for Human Rights and a representative of ICC in order to compare situation in 2010 and 2016.
I also told my colleagues in the Security Council that this propagandistic use of the Syrian humanitarian file is not going to deter Russia from doing the humanitarian work we are doing with the Syrian government. We are discussing possible cooperation with World Food Program. Their initial reaction to our airdrops in Deir ez-Zor was skeptical, not to say negative, but then we were approached by them telling us they think that there is room for practical cooperation between us on those matters and also we are discussing various possibilities of humanitarian cooperation with the US. We will continue to do the actual humanitarian work and we will continue to push for a political solution, speedy resumption of the talks – we are going to do that tomorrow in Munich and in our work in the Security Council.
Q: Thank you, Mr.Ambassador. New Zealand and Spanish ambassadors said they called for a humanitarian pause during the closed consultations that were just held. Is this something that Russia supports?
V.Churkin: We would be prepared to contemplate all reasonable proposals, but for those things talks are required. Humanitarian pauses were announced in Yemen and they collapsed before they started. You have to have a context for that to be realistic. Simply to announce a humanitarian pause in a situation when there is a lot of fighting including by terrorist organizations and various other radical organizations, I’m afraid, is unrealistic, but to discuss that – of course. Something leading to a long-term ceasefire – we welcome this discussion.
Q: What do you think of the continued airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition in Yemen?
V.Churkin: The military campaign is continuing and this is not just Saudi Arabia, there is a coalition in which the US and the UK take a very active part, targeting (according to numerous reports) a lot of civilians targets including the capital and UNESCO-protected areas. If the SC members are interested in moving the Council into humanitarian discussion, we can do that. We’re looking forward to weekly discussions of the dramatic, disastrous humanitarian situation in Yemen in the Security Council.
Q: There are reports that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are sending troops to Syria – your comment on that. And have you discussed with de Mistura the participation of PYD – the Kurds in the talks?
V.Churkin: The most important position is that of the Syrian government which has declared that a military move by Turkey and Saudi Arabia into the Syrian territory would be regarded as an act of aggression. Clearly that would be a serious military escalation. Certainly I don’t see how it can help the prospects of a political settlement.
Second question – yes, we do believe that while preparing for the resumption of the talks, additional work needs to be done on making the opposition more representative. Not just the “Riyadh people” which didn’t exhibit sufficient dedication to the talks, having basically tried to walk out of the talks, but also the Cairo-Moscow platform and the Syrian Kurds must be represented. Discussing the situation in Syria and the territorial integrity of Syria without Syrian Kurds, controlling a large part of territory, large population, doesn’t make sense at all. We hope by the time the talks reconvene all those matters would be settled.
Q: What do you think of chances for the talks to resume? Especially while the opposition stopped its engagement because of the military operation on the ground?
V.Churkin: Definitely there is a chance. And definitely this is an intention of the responsible members of the ISSG. It is the intention of the UN Secretary-Genera
Q: The news said that Russia has presented a new peace proposal to the American side. Can you share with us?
V.Churkin: No, I can’t. We have a number of discussions with the US, including the possibility of a cease-fire and also some humanitarian discussions.
Q: I realize that Russian has a permission from the Syrian government for its actions in Aleppo but are you implying that the opposition to Damascus in the Aleppo area are all terrorists?
V.Churkin: We are implying that they are holding large segments of the territory and they are using their positions for a number of other things. Turkey has been using that position as a lifeline for terrorists and weapons to come from their territory to the region of Aleppo. Hopefully, when the situation is corrected there will be more optimism for a political settlement.
Q: The Shamiya front which is an umbrella organization involving most of the armed groups in Syria, some of them considered moderate, has allied with Nusra and Daesh. How would that affect the negotiations with the so-called moderates?
V.Churkin: That, of course, would affect everything very negatively. This is one of the things they are going to discuss tomorrow in Munich, because the idea in the course of Vienna process was to come up with a joint understanding of who the terrorists are. Everybody agrees that ISIL, An-Nusra and some other groups are terrorists, but there are some other groups in the “gray area”, we may regard them as terrorists, others refuse to regard them this way, so that is something that is going to be discussed tomorrow. Because when we talk about a cease-fire, there can be no cease-fire with ISIL and this is, I believe, a clear understanding among ISSG.