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 thank Mr. De Mistura and Mr. Ging for their briefings.
Throughout most of Syria, which is under the control of its legitimate Government, civilian life continues to be restored, including with Russia’s active assistance. The Syrian authorities are giving major attention to the liberated areas around Damascus and in northern Homs province, where residents are returning.
The streets in eastern Ghouta are being cleared of rubble and residential buildings are being rebuilt. Funds have been allocated for repairing medical facilities in Nashabiyah, Harasta, Douma and Maliha. In Rastan and Talbiseh work has been completed on high-voltage electricity transmission lines and transformer sub-stations.
It has been announced that rail freight links have been restored between Tartus and Homs provinces. Nothing like that is happening in the areas of Syria that have been occupied, in violation of its sovereignty, by the so-called coalition, which is making up excuses to remain on Syrian soil a little longer. Months have elapsed since Raqqa was liberated from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but nothing has changed for the better.
The so-called liberators, after reducing the city to rubble — medical facilities, bakeries, everything — are doing nothing to improve things and today have been trying to lecture us about morality. A difficult situation has developed in the Rukban camp, which is near the coalition’s Al-Tanf military base, an area closed to outsiders, and no progress is contemplated with humanitarian deliveries.
On top of that, there are reports of a corrupt scheme there whereby armed groups are charging people who want to leave the camp a steep fee of as much as $500 per family. It appears that there are delays in getting international assistance to Syria with mine clearance, including through the United Nations Mine Action Service.
Meanwhile, a unit from the Russian Armed Forces’ International Mine Action Centre has conducted four operations in record time that are unique in both scale and complexity, two in Palmyra’s historic architectural complex and in the residential part of the city, and two in Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, enabling tens of thousands of Syrians to return to their homes. Many priceless world heritage objects have been rescued.
I will not read out the statistics about the quantity of explosive ordnance that our sappers have defused, but they are significant. There is no justification for the hysterics about the so-called Law Number 10, whose aim, contrary to what some have tried to suggest, is not to expropriate property but to protect property rights violated during the war. The Syrians are not avoiding contact with United Nations experts on the issue but are clarifying details and heeding advice. The pressing issue is restoring areas damaged in the hostilities, and that requires major help from the entire international community with the active participation of the United Nations.
Helping Syria rebuild cannot be conditional on any political demands. One way to get started would be to start restoring Syria’s healthcare sector and local pharmaceutical industry by guaranteeing the possibility of buying medicines and medical equipment from abroad. The quality of the Secretary-General’s report (S/2018/617) on the review of cross-border humanitarian operations is disappointing. There is a gross error on the very first page, where it claims that cross-border humanitarian operations are provided for the areas not controlled by the Syrian Government. Where did that come from? Resolution 2165 (2014), which established the mechanism, indicates that cross-border humanitarian deliveries are to be delivered to residents throughout the country in need of help. In abstaining in the voting on resolution 2393 (2017), we sent the clear message that we think it is essential to work to end the mechanism.
In a constructive approach, we decided to give the United Nations and the other interested parties time to prepare for the closure of cross-border operations and to lay the ground for a dialogue with the authorities in Damascus about new ways to deliver aid to the entire Syrian population. However, the United Nations has not made use of that opportunity. The report fails to take into account the military and political aspects of the situation on the ground and does not address the core principles of providing humanitarian assistance, including respect for State sovereignty. It is strange that the authors of the report found not a single flaw in the cross-border operations. And yet they exist, as we well know. I would once again like to urge the Secretariat to come up with ways to provide a gradual and agreed-on withdrawal from cross-border operations in the near future.
In the past few days a great deal has been said about escalating tensions in south-western Syria. Incidentally, I want to note that we, like others, are not indifferent to Jordan and Israel’s security issues. We should point out that Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters frequently organize attacks on Syrian military personnel and obstruct the achievement of local ceasefires with armed groups that want to lay down their weapons and return to normal life. As we know, the authorities are offering those opportunities within the framework of Government amnesty. The cities of Dar’a and Suwayda, as well as villages that have opted for reconciliation, have been under fire from jihadists’ rocket and artillery shelling.
There are other sources of instability. The situation around Fo’ah and Kafraya, which according to United Nations classification is the only blocked area in Syria, remains very tense, and terrorists have intensified their shelling of residential areas of Aleppo. Rather than using their influence to help achieve reconciliation, some outside stakeholders, on the contrary, are encouraging their clients to take offensive action, which can hardly be seen as evidence of being disposed to cooperate on de-escalation. We should point out that none of the agreements on a cessation of hostilities provides for pauses in the fight against terrorists.
In Syria the elimination of remnants of terrorist groups continues. On the night of 17 and 18 June, massive air strikes were launched simultaneously on positions of the Syrian army and its allies near the village of Al-Hari, to the south-east of the town of Abu Kamal in Deir ez-Zor province. Dozens of people at the forefront of the fight against terrorism were killed as a result. This is not the first incident of this kind. What good does it do? Who wants to give extremists a chance to to hold their heads high and try to recover their lost positions?
I want Mr. De Mistura to know that Russia is working for definitive progress towards a political settlement on an agreed international basis under the auspices of the United Nations. Mr. De Mistura recently took part in the high-level consultations with representatives of the Astana process guarantor countries, so he is well aware of our firm commitment to an intra-Syrian dialogue. We have been working consistently with the Syrian parties to encourage them to implement joint efforts.
At this stage, that is primarily about implementing the recommendations on establishing a constitutional committee that were formulated at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. The Syrian Government has submitted its list of delegates. As we understand it, the opposition camp, whose unity is still doubtful, is in the process of considering this.
Ultimately, of course, it is the Syrians themselves who will have to agree on all the necessary details, with the assistance of the United Nations. In a broader context, the first order of business is to restore normality to the relations between Syria and other States in the region that have been undermined during the conflict, which would significantly improve the situation in the Middle East.