Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting on 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 the Middle East (Syria)
We are grateful to you, Mr. President, for the prompt response to our delegation’s proposal to convene a special meeting on the situation in eastern Ghouta, in Syria.
That certainly does not mean that other problematic areas require any less attention. In particular, not long ago, at our initiative, the Security Council discussed the dire situation in Raqqa in detail. And in general, over the past month we have revisited Syria’s humanitarian issues more than once. I would like to ask Council members to listen carefully to what I have to say.
It is past time to discuss frankly what is going on in this Damascus suburb. The mass psychosis in global media outlets of the past few days, working in coordination to circulate all the same rumours, is certainly not contributing to an understanding of the situation. When eastern Aleppo was in the news, propagandistic disaster scenarios were put forward for it — a city where, after it was liberated from the terrorists, warehouses full of medicines and medical equipment were discovered.
At the time we demanded that the Secretariat conduct an investigation, but the report presented to the Security Council was blatantly superficial. We are constantly seeing images of the activities of the White Helmets, who pass themselves off as rescuers. They were long ago shown to be supported by generous foreign assistance, and they work closely with terrorist groups.
As a general rule, they serve as the original sources of well-rewarded disinformation. We are given the impression that the whole of eastern Ghouta consists of nothing but hospitals and that it is the hospitals that the Syrian army is attacking. That is a well-known tactic in information warfare.
It is a very well-known fact, however, that the militants everywhere make a habit of locating their military facilities in medical and educational institutions, but for some reason that inconvenient truth is not advertised. It would be a good idea to begin with the fact that there are still several thousand defiant militants in eastern Ghouta, including some affiliated with terrorist organizations, mainly Jabhat Al-Nusra.
Some time ago, they breached the agreement on a cessation of hostilities with an attack on an armoured tank unit of the Syrian armed forces in Harasta. They are shelling Damascus, and the intensity of the attacks increases daily. Dozens of missiles are launched every day, and not a single area of the capital has been spared.
For some reason, those statistics are not being taken into account by United Nations representatives, although the Permanent Mission of Syria distributes them regularly. We have pointed out that in a 20 February statement, an official representative of the Secretary-General described factual information as “reported” (see S/PV.8183). And today the Under-Secretary-General talked about reported shelling.
But those reports could easily have been verified by United Nations staff if they had inspected the areas of destruction and visited the victims. The Russian Embassy facilities have been repeatedly shelled, and each time the same delegations in the Security Council have made up excuses to lay off the blame for these terrorist acts.
One is compelled to conclude that someone is purposely helping the criminals avoid accountability. Incidentally, we are disturbed by the fact that not so long ago, representatives of some delegations who view themselves as leaders in the protection of human rights and international humanitarian law quite seriously said that the damage resulting from the shelling in Damascus did not reach a level deserving of the attention given to eastern Ghouta.
Our immediate response was to ask how many people have to die to attain, as it were, the gold standard of sympathy? There has been no answer. Is it appropriate to pass over the tragedies in Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul and Raqqa in silence while drumming up hysteria about Madaya, Daraya, eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta, encouraging militants to to further humiliate civilians?
Incidentally, the coalition forces’ methodical destruction of Raqqa is extremely recent. The memory of it is hardly likely to have faded so quickly. For some reason, when the Coalition bombing flattened Raqqa, no one sounded the alarm, demanded compliance with international humanitarian law or proposed an immediate ceasefire. Yes, the Coalition smoked the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) out of Raqqa. We know that. But with that done, the United States has forgotten about the city. No one is clearing any mines there. Who is aware of the fact that as many as 50 returning civilians are blown up by mines in Raqqa every day? Nor do we see much enthusiasm from these famous activists about the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, which happens to be unfolding against the backdrop of the armed conflict in Yemen. The militants have turned the people who are left in eastern Ghouta into hostages who are not allowed to leave the area under rebel control through the Al-Wafideen checkpoint.
The Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides has urged the illegal groups to lay down their arms and resolve their status, but they broke off negotiations yesterday, on 21 February. It is quite obvious that they do not care about the life and safety of the residents of eastern Ghouta, whom they use as human shields to hide behind. Their aim consists of continuing to negotiate tactical and logistical advantages for themselves.
That does not seem to particularly worry these groups’ foreign sponsors, who might be able to exert crucial influence on them. But no, they would rather maintain the status quo and organize loud campaigns blackening Syria and Russia. Energy is also being wasted on fragmenting the international efforts regarding a settlement in Syria. Instead of giving due backing to the Astana de-escalation process and the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which have become an important support to the inter-Syrian negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva, we see ongoing backroom efforts designed to openly undermine the work being done through those platforms.
On top of that, exclusive clubs are being created, one striking example of which is the so-called International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, which undermines the established frameworks for international cooperation on non-proliferation. We know that preparations are being made for an unofficial presentation of that initiative in Geneva.
We would like to reaffirm our position in that regard, which is that in view of the neutral status of respected international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, representatives of their secretariats should not be associated with narrow initiatives such as these, which do not enjoy universal support. Many are now asking the logical question of how de-escalation in eastern Ghouta and other problematic areas of Syria can be achieved as soon as possible. The delegations of Sweden and Kuwait have come up with their recipe for this, in their role as informal monitors of the humanitarian dimension of the Syrian conflict in the Security Council.
Their draft resolution — which has now been officially prepared for a vote, despite the fact that the authors know perfectly well that there is no agreement on it — proposes an apparently simple idea, which is the establishment of a ceasefire throughout Syria for not less than 30 days. We would very much like to know how such a truce will be guaranteed, but we have had no intelligible answers.
The important thing, they say, is adopting the decision, and we can come up with the details later. An issue as complex as the Syrian conflict does not respond to such logic. We have been through this before, including, once again, in the case of eastern Aleppo. In principle, a ceasefire would be extremely significant, and not just for ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid. The challenge is in how to achieve it.
What we need here is not resolutions for the sake of resolutions, but measures that correspond to the realities on the ground. We are constantly talking about ensuring that the Security Council agrees on feasible decisions that are not divorced from reality or that cater to populist demands. This is about the credibility of the principal organ of the United Nations, responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the Charter, whose purposes and principles we were discussing only yesterday.
If we could stop the violence in crisis zones with resolutions, we would already be living in a completely different world. It will take long and hard work with the sides to the conflict to stabilize the situation so that the parties can sit down at the negotiating table and come up with the parameters for a ceasefire. There is no other way. It will also be impossible to ensure on paper that in 48 hours, or any other amount of time, humanitarian convoys can get going and mass medical evacuations begin. By the way, specific parameters for normalizing a number of complex issues are currently being formulated in Geneva, including by using the potential of the specialist International Syria Support Group.
They include the Rukban camp for displaced persons — where, we understand, the United States military presence occupying the area has finally given the United Nations written guarantees — the Yarmouk camp, where the ISIL terrorists still have a presence, and the Fua and Kefraya enclaves.
In that connection, I would like to know if the authors of today’s initiative genuinely do not understand its utopian nature or if there is some other purpose at work here that has nothing to do with a desire to help struggling Syrians. Unfortunately, the story of eastern Aleppo in 2016 suggests that the second is true, and that the aim is to start a fight so as to strengthen international pressure on the Syrian authorities and slander Russia.
Besides that, it shifts the focus from the importance of reviving the Geneva process as quickly as possible on the basis of the agreements that the Syrians arrived at in Sochi to indiscriminate accusations against the Syrian Government. Will that improve Geneva’s chances of success? I will say it again to make sure that everyone hears it one more time.
Russia will continue to do everything possible to achieve peace in Syria and restore stability to the Middle East. We call on our partners to do the same in a spirit of constructive cooperation and in cooperation with the United Nations, rather than continuing to sow confusion, ramp up support for jihadists and tear the region apart. For this draft resolution to be meaningful and realistic, the Russian delegation has prepared some amendments to it that we will now circulated to Council members.