Remarks to the press by Ambassador V.Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the Security Council consultations on Syria
V.Churkin: We heard once again in consultations of the Council a briefing by Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria, after what we believe was a very important meeting in Lausanne co-chaired by Secretary Kerry and Sergey Lavrov with the participation of a number of foreign ministers of countries of immediate proximity to Syria both geographically and politically. We discussed the results of that meeting.
As the President of the Security Council it is impossible for me to sum up the discussion. We haven’t even tried to come up with a joint vision of the members of the Security Council of the results of those discussions, but I think definitely it was a much more pragmatic discussion than some of you have witnessed in the past few weeks, a discussion which was oriented towards trying to pick up the momentum of Lausanne and moving it forward, both in terms of trying to reestablish cessation of hostilities (CoH), trying to intensify the humanitarian work in Syria and particularly around Aleppo and trying to move the political process forward.
As far as we are concerned we share of our understanding of the results of Lausanne. In our view the most important understanding of that meeting was that the importance of distancing of so-called “moderate opposition” from Nusra fighters in Eastern Aleppo continues to be extremely important. Nusra and those who are associated with Nusra need to figure out what they want to do. Now in fact we did provide information about the way things work militarily, about all those armed groups in Eastern Aleppo – they all coordinate their activities through Nusra headquarters and nothing is done there unless those military activities are cleared by Nusra headquarters. It was emphasized once again - and some countries who participated in Lausanne meeting undertook the obligation - that they will make sure that the groups they are supporting are going to distance themselves from Nusra. If they do, then we will have two options for Nusra: either they leave the city and Staffan de Mistura as you know made a proposal to that effect some time ago which has not been accepted by Nusra so far or they will have to be defeated. In fact if those groups really wanted to make sure that there is no further fighting in Eastern Aleppo they could make sure Nusra is going to leave the city.
You may have heard that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday said that there are ten to eleven thousand fighters in the Eastern Aleppo. According to Staffan de Mistura there are just nine hundred Nusra fighters in the city. If those figures are accurate, then the ratio is 10 or even 12 to 1. At the ratio of 12:1 definitely it is possible by the so-called moderate opposition to make sure that Nusra leaves the city and if they do, then the understanding of Lausanne is that then the moderate opposition and the Syrian government will enter into CoH regime which will make it possible to prevent further bloodshed, particularly to prevent the loss of lives and suffering of the civilian population. Speaking about Eastern Aleppo, I also have to refer to Western Aleppo because it is a continued tragic fact of life there that the fighters from Eastern Aleppo continue to shell Western Aleppo at the rate of about 20 civilian deaths a week. This is a situation, of course, which is intolerable for any government, including the Syrian government. This is one of the reasons why when you talk about Eastern Aleppo, it is impossible to understand the situation there without also taking into account what is happening to the population of Western Aleppo because of the continued and daily shelling from Eastern Aleppo including the use of all sorts of very destructive weapons which the terrorists have.
Q: Mr.Ambassador, you said that this session of the Security Council is more pragmatic than we have seen. Could you elaborate exactly what you mean by that? Is the other side shifting positions?
V.Churkin: No, I didn’t really mean any shifting of positions but the previous sessions unfortunately from some members of the Council heard quite a bit of name-calling and shouting and things like that. Now it was much more pragmatic than in some previous situations and I think it may reflect the fact that people are beginning to treat the situation around Aleppo in a more comprehensive way.
Q: Can Russia guarantee that the Syrian army and the militias with it will not enter into Eastern Aleppo in case if Nusra Front agrees to leave the city?
V.Churkin: If you have the cessation of hostilities, I suppose this is going to be the consequence of that, if Nusra is not there any longer and if the moderate groups have cessation of hostilities arrangements with the government then there will be no military moves. This is my understanding.
Q: French Ambassador before coming into the Security Council spoke about pressure to be put on Syria and its allies. If you compare the situation of what is happening in Mosul and what is happening in Aleppo, do you think that the same recipes for Aleppo are applicable in Mosul with regard to civilians, with regard to evacuation of the militants? Did they (France) mention that in consultations?
V.Churkin: First of all, the military people need to look at that. Mosul, Aleppo - definitely there are some differences but at the same time there are some similarities in the situations because the point which we have been repeatedly making including in the course of these consultations that terrorists must be fought. That it is as simple as that. It is not what we just want to do, it is what the Security Council’s resolution want all of us to do. We cannot leave them alone in Mosul, we cannot declare Nusra people honorable citizens of Eastern Aleppo and honorable citizens of Aleppo. Something needs to be done about them. One way to deal with them is for the moderate fighters to tell them to go because they outnumber Nusra quite considerably. Another way for them is to leave the city with arrangements which were proposed by Staffan de Mistura, or a way must be found to defeat them. They cannot simply be allowed to stay there making the lives of civilians miserable as they have been doing for such a long time.
Q: You talked about this agreement or trying to get an agreement to separate the moderate opposition from Nusra in Lausanne. Is there any timetable when this might happen? Is there going to be another meeting or some kind of follow up to see whether this is happening or working?
V.Churkin: Russian and American military were supposed to get down to it today and possibly to be joined by Saudi Arabian, Turkey and Qatar military. Those countries did express their intention to work hard with those moderate opposition groups in order for them to be separated from Nusra. This work was supposed to have started earlier today.
Q: Ten days ago Iraq requested a meeting about Turkish presence in this country. Will that meeting happen any time soon?
V.Churkin: They did not specifically request a meeting. They brought the situation to the attention of the Security Council. A formal request for the meeting did not come.
Q: You mentioned that it is one country, which offered it’s readiness to make the separation between the opposition forces and Nusra, but now you just mentioned three countries. So what did they get in return?
V.Churkin: Three countries. Of course in addition to the United States, because the US has been saying for the past eight months, that this is their goal - to separate the moderates from al-Nusra.
Q: What did they get in return? We know, that they have a position vis-a-vis and the eventual departure of President Bashar al-Assad. They offered you to help with the separation, what did you promise in return?
V.Churkin: It was not like this. At least they said that they realize that this is a key priority. And that is what they said in Lausanne. If they really want the plight of civilians in Eastern and Western Aleppo to be alleviated, they need to deal with this problem.
Q: Ambassador, regarding your offer of a ceasefire - can you say anything more about that? Why not a 48-hour ceasefire, that the United Nations have consistently called for?
V.Churkin: If there is a broader arrangement, of the nature I have described, when Nusra is taken out of the picture, it could be an indefinite ceasefire. Cessation of hostilities was supposed to be an indefinite regime. But we saw a situation where Nusra was immediately taking advantage of any cessation of hostilities in order to regroup, receive more weapons and to pick up fighting elsewhere. If you look at Aleppo, you need to understand that this city itself is surrounded. Particularly to the South of the city you have Idlib – a sort of the headquarters of Nusra. This terrorist group is not just in Eastern Aleppo, they are all over the place in that part of the country. Nusra is interacting with each other and other militants who are working or fighting together with them. It is not such an easy proposition to declare blanket cessation of hostilities.
Q: Just to clarify, why not a 48-hour cessation of hostilities, which is what the UN has said it needs to get aid in?
V.Churkin: We have declared 8 hours unilaterally. I suppose, that longer (48, 72 hours) will require some kind of mutual arrangements.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about proposal by Staffan de Mistura that Russia accepted and you reminded us that Nusra did not respond to. Did they make a counter proposal?
V.Churkin: Actually, Nusra rejected it and I am not aware about any counterproposals.
Q: Ambassador, New Zealand has circulated some elements for another draft resolution which you mentioned during the meeting last Saturday. What is Russian view to that resolution?
V.Churkin: I think it is an interesting effort, we could definitely look at it. I hope they persevere in their effort.
Q: What about plan for Syria meeting in General Assembly on Thursday? What does Russia think about that?
V.Churkin: We will be there.
Q: Did you see the UK draft on Yemen? What do you think about it?
V.Churkin: I haven’t seen it (the UK draft). I mentioned to the Security Council members, that I would be curious to see if the UK draft includes a no-fly zone requirement over Sana'a, because since they have embraced a concept of no-fly zone over Aleppo, after all those massacres we have seen in Sana'a, including the latest one, if they are proponents of this kind of approach, it would make sense for them to include a no-fly zone requirement over Sana'a. It remains to be seen if they do that, but I haven’t seen anything yet.
V.Churkin: No we did not, but they were the ones who advocated that. So if they are such great proponents of no-fly zones, as a way to limit civilian causalities, we have seen repeated bombings of civilians in Sana'a, and UNESCO sites being bombed. We know that those efforts of the coalition are heavily supported by the UK and the US selling them high precision very pricy weapons to the tune of billions of dollars. They say they are sharing intelligence with them, helping them with targeting, so definitely they are part of the operation. It is not the first time that thing happen. Now we have this particularly gruesome situation where they finally said, that they did it but thought that top politicians would be there. Bombing of funeral procession if there are top politicians there sounds to be good enough. Whatever and whoever accepted the responsibility, if things continue as they are - Sana'a is going to be bombed again. So if they are great proponents of this idea, if they are not hypocritical, as they have been in so many cases in the past, I would expect them to include no-fly zone requirement for Sana'a.
Q: Just a clarification, Ambassador. Are you saying that if they accepted the no-fly zone over Sana'a Russia will accept a no-fly zone over Aleppo?
V.Churkin: Not necessarily, but I expect them from time to time to show some integrity, no double standards. If they embrace humanitarian consideration and make proposals in one case why don’t they embrace same kind of humanitarian approach, make similar proposals in similar cases?
You would see if they are hypocritical or not. But if they change the tune depending on the situation then one starts wondering about their integrity.
Q: What do you think about the New Zealand proposal calling for an end of airstrikes over Aleppo?
V.Churkin: It is more just than that. I think that it is an interesting draft which they have proposed. They had their draft ready before we went for this strange vote on two resolutions doomed to failure. But they were discouraged by some other members of the Council who were looking for fireworks instead of serious product from the Security Council. I think their draft can be worked on. I am not saying I am prepared to subscribe to every line in the draft the way it stands. But it does seem to be a serious effort.