Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting on the situation in Raqqa and the Rukban camp
We thank Mr. Lowcock for his briefing.
Various delegations have been constantly calling on us to report to the Council on the implementation of resolution 2401 (2018).
Let me oblige. In the context of the implementation of resolution 2401 (2018), Russia, in coordination with the Government of Syria, has undertaken unprecedented efforts to improve the situation in eastern Ghouta, where illegal armed groups, with external support, have held the civilian population hostage for several years.
After lengthy and intensive negotiations, those militants who are unreconciled have been evacuated from the area and bloodshed has been prevented. The process of returning the evacuated population is under way, and some 60,000 people have already returned.
On the whole, the situation in eastern Ghouta is stable. In order to maintain law and order, prevent provocations, protect civilians and provide them with humanitarian and medical aid, joint efforts have been organized between Russian military-police units and Syrian law-enforcement bodies. Issues related to the restoration of infrastructure in the towns of eastern Ghouta are being discussed. Rubble is being cleared in Douma with the help of construction equipment provided by Russia. Water and electricity supplies are being re-established.
Daily bread deliveries have started. Rebuilding eastern Ghouta will require focused cooperation on the part of the international community, including through the United Nations and its specialized agencies. We call on our colleagues to join these efforts. However, the situation in Raqqa is disastrous. The coalition expelled the terrorists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant more than six months ago and has occupied the territory since then, practically speaking. It has done nothing to restore the city, which was destroyed by aerial bombing.
People are returning at their own peril and risk and are frequently being blown up by mines and improvised explosive devices. Nobody really knew what was going on in Raqqa. Until very recently, no efforts had been made even to have the United Nations assess the population’s humanitarian needs. Only recently, thanks to our persistent pressure, has one such mission, albeit a very short one, taken place.
Even in the space of a few hours, however, the specialists were able to see with their own eyes that Raqqa lies in ruins. There is literally not a single whole building standing. There are still piles of bodies under the rubble. People are being blown up by mines every day. There is no electricity, water or basic social services. Not a single school or hospital is functioning. The so-called local council, contrary to the coalition’s assurances, began work only this month, and it has become clear, and not just to us, that they are totally incompetent. Where did they get these impostors? Whom do they represent? How can they be entrusted with people’s lives and safety? As we understand it, there have already been several protests against the American occupation, which has done the residents no good.
The only effective way out of the situation in Raqqa will be to restore the functioning of Government structures there. Another grey area is the Rukban displaced persons camp, which is near the United States military base at Al-Tanf. It is important to say once again that the mere fact of its existence is a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty. It is a continuing cause of concern for Syria’s neighbours in Jordan. The coalition forces blocked access to the area for a long period of time, and it took a great deal of effort to get them to issue an official permit with security guarantees.
The Syrian authorities gave the green light immediately after that, but so far we have seen no practical steps to provide humanitarian assistance. The situation in Raqqa and Rukban should be constantly monitored by United Nations humanitarian personnel. It is vital that sustainable access be provided to them.
Now we have a question for the coalition countries. What are they doing to implement resolution 2401 (2018)? What are they doing to ease the situation in Raqqa, Rukban and besieged Fo’ah and Kafraya? And they need not bother taking the discussion to a socalled broader format. They should have the courage to answer our questions and not try to change the subject.
However, I do now have a few words to say in a broader context. We have been quite startled by the hypocritical behaviour of the United States, Britain and France in the past few days. Less than a day after the missile attacks, their organizers started coming up with peculiar political initiatives, despite the fact that every element in their proposals was already present in the existing relevant resolutions, which simply had to be implemented. Through their act of aggression, the troika of the United States, Britain and France and those who supported or welcomed their actions declared their solidarity with one party to the conflict.
An aggressor does not have the moral right to create international legal documents regarding the victim of that aggression. Russia is working with every side in the Syrian conflict. Our position has always been based on the importance of implementing resolution 2254 (2015) and returning to the Geneva talks, without preconditions, and above all without making them conditional on so-called regime change. Before the missile attacks, we could see that the Syrian Government was ready to hold talks in Geneva. Now those efforts have suffered a major setback. It is hard to imagine that after all that has happened, the Syrian authorities are enthusiastic about talking about a political settlement in their country on the Western troika’s orders.
If the aim is to bomb the President of Syria into sitting down at the negotiating table, present that as a victory over him — because according to them he understands only force — and through those negotiations to remove him and put him on trial as a so-called war criminal — as Washington, London and Paris have directly threatened — then the aim is unachievable. They should have no illusions. First they have to repair the damage that they themselves have done to the prospects for a political settlement. However, the Western capitals are encouraging bellicose pronouncements by the radical opposition, which has set up Al-Assad’s departure as a precondition for its participation in the Geneva consultations, and now, inspired by the 14 April missile strikes, is demanding that the coalition start a war with Damascus in direct repudiation of the principles of resolution 2254 (2015).
What is needed is for the so-called Riyadh opposition to abandon its destructive position and begin to implement the Security Council resolution, which it has already drifted far away from. And their sponsors should also drop their belligerent rhetoric about the lawfully elected President of Syria, since they themselves insist on the importance of rejecting preconditions. The idea of creating a mechanism to establish who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons no longer makes any sense when Washington and its allies have already identified the perpetrators and, essentially, appointed themselves their executioners.
Apparently the impression has been created that — encouraged by the Western troika’s oh-soencouraging air strikes and the new lot of sanctions that Washington has promised us — Russia will have to change its position. It is time that the West understood that this logic has never worked in the past with regard to Russia and will not work in the future either. The British and French delegations hastened to set up plans for Syria a few days ago.
We too have a plan. We do not claim it to be exhaustive, but permit me to acquaint the Council with it. First, there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict.
We are all familiar with the political basis for a settlement. We must work together to implement resolution 2254 (2015), which the negotiations in the framework of the Astana process and the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi are designed to assist. We urge the United States and its allies to end their aggressive actions and threats to use force against the sovereign State of Syria, in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. They serve only to make the prospects for peace more distant.
Secondly, we urge them to halt all efforts to create new realities in Syria, undermining its sovereignty and territorial integrity, working to maintain the foreign occupation of parts of Syria and its further division, plundering natural resources and inciting hostility between various sectors of the country’s population.
Thirdly, we urge all States and Syrian opposition groups to cease their aggressive and hateful rhetoric directed at Syria’s legitimate authorities and at Russia, and to stop taking steps intended to bring about a violent overthrow of power.
Fourthly, we call on States that wield corresponding influence to work to finally and irrevocably separate the armed groups from terrorists and to embark on genuine international cooperation in combating terrorism, without double standards.
Fifthly, we urge the international community to join the efforts to bring Syria humanitarian assistance without delay and to reject any manipulation of the issue for political purposes.
Lastly, we call on opposition entities to immediately abandon any incitements to external aggression through provocations using chemical weapons, and on their Western sponsors not to exploit such provocations.