Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting on Syria
We thank Under-Secretary-General Lowcock and Under-Secretary-General Feltman for their briefings.
By the way, at the outset I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to ask Mr. Lowcock where the United Nations is getting its evidence and data on deaths in Damascus, for instance. According to the Syrian authorities’ information, for example, just since 22 January, 12 people have died in Damascus, while the United Nations figure is 11 for the whole month. Where is he getting his information from? The White Helmets, maybe?
Today, as has been usual recently, the United States delegation devoted its statement to Russia. It told us that it knew what we were going to say today, which it does not. And I am pleased about that, because it means that it did not see our statement before the meeting began.
On 24 January, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2401 (2018), in an important decision aimed at improving the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in areas where the danger of military clashes remains or there are obstacles of one kind or another to the civilian population’s access to essential assistance.
Today many questions have been asked — emphatic questions, rhetorical questions, questions aimed directly at us. We answered the questions asked of us during our discussion at the adoption of resolution 2401 (2018). There are a lot of people here who like to pick citations from the resolution that they like and forget the ones that do not suit them. If I may, I will quote two extracts from it, from paragraph 1 and paragraph 10.
(spoke in English)
“Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and … medical evacuations”. “[U]nderscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquillity, localized ceasefires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria”.
(spoke in Russian)
Has everyone read the resolution? We have said, and we will say it again, that any sustained pause must be preceded by an agreement between the parties on de-escalation. The demands that military activity end overnight are either the result of a misunderstanding of the realities or a deliberate exploitation of this human tragedy.
The statement by the United States delegation simply rewrote resolution 2401 (2018). What sort of joint effort, such as the Permanent Representative of France called for today, can we talk about in these circumstances after what we heard today in the United States delegation’s statement?
Russia has announced the establishment in eastern Ghouta of daily five-hour humanitarian pauses. Everything possible is being done to ensure that they function successfully. Specifically, medical and temporary accommodation posts have been equipped, ambulance teams organized, motor transport provided. We call on the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other recognized humanitarian organizations to join these efforts.
However, on the very first day, the militias took advantage of the announcement of the pause to go on the offensive. The same thing happened on the second day. The mortar shelling continued, including in the humanitarian operations corridors. Not a single person was able to leave the danger area. We took note of the relevant letters submitted on behalf of the illegal armed groups.
We were told previously that the most convenient way of informing Council members about them was being sought. It has been found and it is indeed highly original — directly through the work e-mail addresses of all the political coordinators, meaning that someone deliberately sent the relevant contact information to dubious individuals from the ranks of the radical Syrian opposition. It is very similar to the situation that occurred when information about the closed negotiations on humanitarian resolutions became available to Western media agencies.
However, we hope that the opposition leaders are serious and that their deeds will match their words. We are expecting clear guarantees in that regard from the militias’ foreign sponsors, many of whom are seated around this table. The first thing that is needed is a definitive repudiation of the terrorist organizations. It has to be understood that terrorists continue to be a legitimate target of military operations, and we will not stand on ceremony with them.
Overall, we have to decide on the most effective way to neutralize Jabhat Al-Nusra in eastern Ghouta. Why can’t some members show a willingness to cooperate on that issue? Or do they not want to? The information background to this issue is overheated to the point of no return. If we had not adopted resolution 2401 (2018), it is difficult even to imagine what the Western media outlets would have made of it or how they would have portrayed Russia.
But even now, when the resolution has been adopted, our Western partners act as if everything in it pertains solely to Damascus and Russia, and that its successful implementation depends almost entirely on the will of our two countries, while they, the self-styled champions of humanity, somehow imagine that they have an exclusive right to lecture us on the subject. In various media outlets, especially American ones, there have been false allegations that we mock the tragedy of this war and the situation in eastern Ghouta, and that we say that the campaign is exaggerated and fake.
I will ask these humanistic gentlemen once again: Where were they when American aircraft blew Raqqa off the face of the Earth? Where were the cries and the hand-wringing? Months have passed since the terrorists were banished from that city and yet it is still uninhabitable. On top of that, there are new reports of 24 civilian casualties from Coalition air strikes in Deir ez-Zor province. Who are they — second-class citizens? Or when innocent people die from democratic bombs, is that somehow immaterial — perhaps even honourable?
We urge the United Nations — in fact, we insist — to send an assessment mission to Raqqa as soon as possible, and that the Coalition, which is in de facto control of the area, give it all necessary support. We also expect that instead of establishing quasi- administrations in areas liberated from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the Coalition leadership will come up with a plan to turn them over to the central authorities, in consideration of the Security Council’s repeated affirmations of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
That would be a great deal more constructive than the relentless quest to find what is a non-existent basis in international law for maintaining its presence on Syrian territory. If Council members have interesting ideas on how to raise the profile of local Government and find effective ways to rebuild the ethnic and religious balance that existed before the war, they should present them to the Syrians in the negotiations in Geneva and let them decide the issues for themselves through the mediation of the United Nations. We also demand that the Coalition open humanitarian access to the territory it is occupying around the Al-Tanf military base in order to bring aid to the residents of the Rukban camp as soon as possible.
By the way, that is also a provision of resolution 2401 (2018). It is not for nothing that we keep saying that what is going on is painfully reminiscent of the situation in eastern Aleppo when the West unleashed a wave of monstrous anti-Russian hysteria. We are the only country being asked to implement resolution 2401 (2018).
We are being criticized for instituting humanitarian pauses. Some claim that there are not enough of them. Demands, demands, demands. For some reason, someone is always bossily demanding something of Russia. Britain’s Foreign Secretary has altogether decided that he is the prosecutor who is threatening to punish our country. Apparently, he called for today’s meeting to be convened. He said so himself. The Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in the Syrian Arab Republic is making daily and hourly efforts to achieve a cessation of hostilities, establish humanitarian pauses and ease the suffering of civilians.
May I ask what other members have done to implement resolution 2401 (2018)? Has even one of their countries lifted a finger? Have they brought their influence to bear on those whom they consider the moderate opposition? Have they persuaded them to lay down their weapons and stop taking hostages?
The hugely complex issue that the Syrian conflict represents is being used for unscrupulous purposes. The rivers of tears roll down only when the next stronghold where militias and terrorists mingle is threatened, at which point an unheard-of level of action kicks in. The real aim is the regime, as some members like to refer to the lawful Syrian authorities. Any hint of its success in fighting terrorism on its own territory is a thorn in their side. They are ready to use any means to stop it. This is a warning.
We know about the chemical evidence being fabricated in order to blame Damascus. We know about the meetings on the subject, where they are being held and who is taking part in them. Today we once again heard unsubstantiated allegations about the Syrian Government’s use of chemical weapons. I am tired of asking if members understand the futility of Damascus using chemical weapons from both a military and a political point of view, and the completely believable probability of militias using chemical provocations.
I think they do understand it perfectly, but they persist in seeking an excuse for military intervention. United States officials, and the head of the Foreign Office and others, have already talked about military strikes against Syria, and it is obvious where that intellectual activity is heading. We urge everyone to stop the dirty tricks and join the concerted efforts to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Syria by implementing the resolution we have just adopted.
We hope that the United Nations generally and Mr. Lowcock personally, as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will rise to the occasion. We have circulated a draft presidential statement on the resolution’s implementation. We have placed it under the silence procedure until 1 p.m., and we call on the Council to adopt it. We hope that there will be no objections before one o’clock. I will take the liberty of reading it out.
(spoke in English)
The Security Council, with reference to its resolution 2401 (2018), urges all parties to implement it and, to this end, further urges all armed groups and all Member States with influence on them to ensure the safety of the announced humanitarian corridors for evacuation from eastern Ghouta. The Security Council calls for the establishment of similar humanitarian corridors in Al-Tanf and Rukban. The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to expeditiously send a mission to Raqqa to assess humanitarian needs there.
(spoke in Russian)
And by the way, we, like the other members of the Security Council, believe that there can only be a political solution to the Syrian conflict. We are doing everything we can to achieve that, and certainly somewhat more than those who have been spreading fire and fury today. We propose, as we have always proposed, that they join in these efforts, rather than throw up road blocks in an attempt to serve their own geopolitical agendas.