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 Mr. Ging for his briefing.
The situation has stabilized in many areas in Syria. The authorities are creating the conditions for a dignified and safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons. The Syrian Government has called on its citizens to come home and participate in rebuilding the country after the devastating conflict. It has provided security and safety guarantees. Law Number 10, as Damascus has continued to explain, is not aimed at undermining property rights. A series of measures was developed to streamline passport and customs control, social and medical care, training and employment assistance, and preferential lending.
At the same time, with the support of Russian experts, there are efforts under way to demine, clear rubble and repair infrastructure. A total of 93 medical and 226 educational institutions have been restored; 318 kilometres of roads have been repaired; 242 kilometres of electrical transmission lines have been laid; 88 electricity substations have been made operational; and 72 water supply facilities, two oil wells and two fuel and energy complexes were commissioned. In 118 towns in the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, Deir ez-Zor, Latakia, Hama and Homs, work is under way to restore 82 schools, 56 preschools, 58 bakeries, 59 pumping stations, 54 electricity substations, 50 medical facilities and more than 500 houses.
Russia has established a centre in Syria for receiving, processing and housing refugees in the country, which provides information about towns that are ready to receive people. The process of the return of Syrians to their homes is gaining momentum. In total, since September 2015, more than 238,000 refugees have returned to Syria from abroad, as well as more than 1.2 million internally displaced persons. Starting in July this year, more than 9,000 refugees, first and foremost from Lebanon and Jordan, have returned. Reception centres have been established in 412 towns in order to place almost 1.5 million individuals.
It is clear that efforts to support Syrians in restoring damaged infrastructure must be stepped up. Making artificial demands that will only complicate that process is unacceptable. It is high time to heed United Nations assessments about the detrimental impact of unilateral sanctions on the lives of ordinary Syrians and to refrain from such inhumane measures. The United Nations, especially the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, should play an important role in the process of the return of Syrians to their homes.
So far that Office has adopted a fairly passive position, possibly because of an internal United Nations directive that was developed at the end of last year by the Department of Political Affairs without consulting with Member States. That directive does indeed exist, despite clumsy attempts to refute that fact. It impedes the involvement of United Nations agencies in efforts to rebuild Syria until political changes are in effect in that country. What does that remind us of? It is, word for word, the well-known politicized position of the key Western countries, which the Secretariat has, for some reason, adopted as the final word.
This irresponsible approach, which runs counter to the neutral posture of the United Nations, must be immediately reviewed. At the same time, we were surprised by the extent to which the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expeditiously provided assistance to the White Helmet activists in Jordan who had been evacuated from Syrian territory by their sponsors. It would seem that ordinary Syrians who want to return home do not deserve assistance, whereas those who abet extremists by pretending to be humanitarian actors are welcomed with open arms. Such double standards undermine the credibility of our international Organization.
We agree that the situation in Idlib deserves close attention. The priority task continues to be separating the moderate opposition from the terrorists. In Idlib, we see concentrated forces of Jabhat al-Nusra that are attempting to lead and direct other groups, including those that are interested in national reconciliation. The terrorists have detained more than 2,000 “unreliable” individuals, who are suspected of wishing to reach an agreement with Syrian authorities. We are seeing constant provocations against the Syrian Army and innocent civilians in areas abutting de-escalation zones. In August alone, the positions of the Government forces were shelled 383 times by mortars, anti-aircraft batteries and heavy-calibre machine guns.
Twenty-one soldiers and 10 civilians were killed. The residential neighbourhoods of Aleppo have also been shelled. We have shot down 45 drones launched at the Khmeimim air base. Such drones are not limited to reconnaissance; they sometimes carry an explosive payload. Those practices will be countered. We call on the commanders of illegal armed groups to refrain from provocations and to embark on the path of peaceful settlement. That option is still available. However, the current status quo is unacceptable. In violation of Syrian sovereignty, the United States has illegally set up the Al-Tanf military air base in the south of the country in the security zone where the Rukban refugee camp is located. There, hundreds of terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra feel quite safe and they carry out raids against liberated areas. Delivery of humanitarian aid to that camp has not yet been set up.
We hope that this situation will be resolved. Unfortunately, in the report of Secretary General (S/2018/777), the situation in the area around Rukban is not given adequate consideration. Furthermore, the essentially neocolonial policy to divide the country has continued, while in north-eastern Syria, with the support of the coalition, quasi-State structures that have pledged allegiance to the coalition have been established. We are seeing increasing numbers of military sites of the occupying Powers that are part of the coalition.
There is clear evidence of a consolidated terrorist presence in the country that is attempting to secure control over the country’s resources. That runs counter to statements that the only goal of the military presence is to combat ISIL. The July meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria (see S/PV.8320 ) focused on the protection of children. Some delegations said all the right words about the priority tasks, including the psychological rehabilitation of children and ensuring normal conditions for their return to school. That was encouraging and we began to ask colleagues what steps they intended to take in order to help Syrian children. To our surprise, it seemed that they had no such plans.
In other words, the goal was simply to draw attention to the issue. Making noise and making a show of appearing humane to the audience is not necessary. The Syrians understand their problems better than anyone else. What is necessary is concrete assistance. Before the start of the meeting, you made the following statement to the press, Madam President. I will quote it in part. “We all remember the risk of possible chemical attacks. All of these issues will be discussed during the Security Council meeting. The Russian Ministry of Defence has made a statement on this subject.
I believe that this is an incredibly fake story, even by the standards of Russian propaganda. Those statements by the Ministry of Defence are absurd and comical. We are not preparing any chemical attacks. We think it would be best if the Russian Ministry of Defence and the Russian Government were to use their influence to convince Al-Assad not to use chemical weapons and not to attack his own population.” The Russian Ministry of Defence is not in the habit of issuing fake, absurd and comical statements. Maybe other countries’ Ministries of Defence are wont to do that, but certainly not the Russian one. If our Ministry of Defence makes a statement, it does so based on concrete facts. Let me tell the Council a bit about that statement and leave it to members to decide whether or not it is comical. In Syria, another provocation is being prepared with the use of chemical weapons.
Terrorists associated with Jabhat al-Nusra who have occupied Idlib province are interested in stopping the Government army and are counting on further actions of intimidation by the United States and its allies against Damascus. It is hard to consider it a mere coincidence that the most loathsome leaders of the terrorists — Al-Baghdadi and Al-Julani — have recently made appearances in the news. According to reliable information, two large-capacity trucks arrived in the area of Saraqib from the village of Afs, accompanied by eight employees of the White Helmets. At the point of arrival, they were met by two high-ranking Ahrar al-Sham commanders.
The White Helmets delivered a large volume of toxic substances to a warehouse for weapons and combustible lubricating materials located in Saraqib. Later, some of the chemicals, contained in unmarked plastic barrels, were transferred to small vehicles and transported to another militant base in the southern part of Idlib province. Eight containers of chlorine were delivered to the Idlib town of Jisr al-Shughur. After the cargo was transferred to fighters affiliated with Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani, they were transported to the village of Halluz, where they were met by a special group that was supposed to stage a delivery of first aid to victims of chemical weapons.
The Syrian side has informed the members of the Security Council and the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1540 (2004) about this issue. The group underwent training in the handling of chemical weapons, under the leadership of the specialists of the British private security company Olive. With the active participation of Western intelligence agencies, the provocation is meant to serve as a pretext for the Western troika to conduct missile and air strikes against the military infrastructure of Syria, as it has done in the past. We have all heard statements at the highest political level in Washington, D.C., London and Paris about the readiness to respond forcefully to chemical weapons. They are also threatening even broader actions, probably forgetting that following the April aggression, they stated that the alleged chemical potential of the regime at the time had been completely destroyed.
It is not by chance that the destroyer USS The Sullivans arrived in the Persian Gulf, armed with 56 cruise missiles, or that a United States Air Force bomber, armed with 24 airto-surface cruise missiles, arrived at the Al-Udeid air base in Qatar. In other words, we are being warned. At the same time, Arab news networks have aired reports that cases of terrorist child abduction from villages in Idlib province have increased. These children will probably be used for the staged episodes directed by the White Helmets and funded by their Western sponsors. The Syrian armed forces have no chemical weapon and have no plans to use such weapons. There is no military need to do so. We have stated that repeatedly. People in their right minds would not use means that are useless from a military point of view, as that would trigger reprisals from three major Powers.
However, publicizing those plans and awaiting the provocation of militants could unleash such strikes. I am grateful for the warning about these developments. We in turn wish to warn that we are fully aware of those unsavoury plans and we strongly suggest that they be scrapped. Carrying out such plans will deliver a further blow against a peaceful resolution in Syria, but the guerrillas who are being protected will not help.
We see how certain Western countries are more openly supporting Jabhat Al-Nusra and shielding the terrorists. The issue of chemicals is being crudely manipulated to pressure Damascus and its allies, and the sabre-rattling is intended to resolve internal domestic measures instead of reserving that energy to achieve a political settlement, fight terrorists and promote postwar reconstruction.