Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Statement by representative of the Russian Federation Mr.Sergey Leonidchenko at UNSC Arria-formula meeting "Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict"


Now that we heard yet another compilation of disinformation and false allegations against my country in connection with Ukraine, a question begs itself to the organizers of this event. Is there any point in spending that much time and effort to elaborate such detailed concept notes if thanks to Western member states on the Council who do not hesitate to shift focus of our discussions, our meetings turn in a Russophobic conventicle? 

Let’s try and see what the situation really is with cultural sites in Ukraine.

By UNESCO data, not a single World Heritage site in Ukraine has suffered in the course of the Russian special military operation. Their coordinates were provided to our Armed Forces in advance, which made it possible to adopt precautions when planning combat action.

As for other facilities, it is the Defense Ministry of Ukraine who refuses to provide written guarantees to UNESCO that the objects and adjacent areas would not be used for military purposes. These guarantees are a necessary legal requirement for providing enhanced protection to such sites.

However, such refusal on the Ukrainian part does not come as a surprise if we take into account the practice of Ukrainian military to set military positions inside or in the proximity to religious, educations, research, arts, or history-related facilities in violation of the international humanitarian law.

We submit detailed reports regularly to the UNESCO Secretariat about the attacks of Ukrainian military against the objects of cultural, historical, and religious significance. In the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republics alone Ukrainian forces have either destroyed or damaged 103 such facilities, including theaters, religious sites, convents and monasteries. But at the end of the day, only a tiny portion of this data makes it to UNESCO reports. The Secretariat of UNESCO continues to work selectively, issuing one-sided narratives on the basis of Ukraine-provided information.

Besides, data that comes in from Kiev does not undergo any on the ground checks by the UNESCO Secretariat. Shortly before this meeting, UNESCO made a brief two-day visit to Odessa, Kiev, and Chernigov (like it did in July last year). What were they able to see in such short time? The question is rhetorical, I am afraid. In its essence, this trip was anything but verification. Another question is – why again in Kiev and not in Donetsk or Lugansk? Starting from 2014, a huge number of facilities have been damaged or ruined there, and the list remains open.

One more question to the Head of UNESCO. Your visit, why wasn’t it followed by any reaction to the lawlessness of the Kiev regime as regards the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and one of its key sites, the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra? Right now, it is being raider-captured by the Ukrainian authorities contrary both to Ukraine’s constitution and the country’s international obligations. Leaders of this religious facility are in custody, parishioners are being prosecuted, and temples throughout the country are being usurped.  UNESCO keeps ignoring all that. As we can judge by the website of this Organization, the only result of the April visit of Director-General to Ukraine was the promulgation of another portion of money requests of Zelensky puppet regime. At the same time, UNESCO keeps ignoring the fact that in the framework of this crusade against Orthodox Christianity the Kiev regime authorizes a wipe-out of churches and a crackdown on clergy.

I wonder where UNESCO was all those 8 years when the Russian-speaking population of Donbas was oppressed and systematically annihilated together with their cultural and religious sites. You remained silent all this time while a clique of nationalists that the US and EU had brought to power in 2014 was forcefully ukrainizing the country, depriving people of their fundamental rights and identity. We reported this to UNESCO on a regular basis. We reported the demolition of monuments to Russian writers, poets, musicians, and heroes of World War 2. We also reported cases when streets that had been named after WW2 heroes were renamed to honor Nazi collaborators. We reported cases of confiscation and elimination of school books and manuals on the Russian language and Russian literature. We reported all this and got nothing but silence in response.

No less shameful is the lack of reaction by UNESCO to the barbarous Russophobic campaign in the West, which is aimed at cancelling everything Russian – books, movies, music, and the Russian language itself. Names of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Rachmaninoff are blotted out from posters and playbills, there are bans on theater performances based on the works of Russian classical writers, as well as on shows of Russian performers and musicians. All this elevates to the point of absurdity. In the London National Gallery, the painting of impressionist Edgar Degas “Russian dancers” was renamed “Ukrainian dancers”.

As far as the allegations that we systematically destroy, sack and resell Ukrainian cultural artefacts, those baseless insinuations do not stand up to any scrutiny. They are a blatant lie. As simple as that.

Hypocrisy of the collective West that has long turned into an empire of lies is a separate question.  How can someone with a track record like yours lecture others on such issues as ruining and looting of cultural artefacts?

Great Britain and France are the unexcelled champions of stealing artefacts from developing countries in the era of colonial and neocolonial conquest.

A report that E.Macron’s government ordered in 2018 on the issue of return of cultural valuables concludes that 90-95 % of African cultural legacy is situated outside of the continent, in major museums. In France, the Quai Branly Museum alone houses more than 70,000 items that had been taken from Africa.

In 2022, Germany made a show of returning to Nigeria a couple of dozen Benin Bronzes – brass plates with images from the palace of the ruler of the Benin kingdom, which the British colonialists plundered at the end of 19th century. A couple dozen out of a thousand. A big gesture indeed.

Great Britain, however, does not have even this much to boast of. The British Museum still holds more than 700 exhibits from the Benin kingdom.  Instead of turning in the stolen artefacts, the keepers of the museum only spread nice-sounding rhetoric. On the official website of the Museum, there is a section dedicated to “contested objects”. This is about valuables that were illegally exported from former colonies; only those that the countries of origin are struggling to get back now.

In the course of its history, the United States has not acquired extensive colonies save some “unincorporated” insular areas, such as Puerto-Rico, where people have no electoral rights due to an old precedent in the Supreme Court 1901 case “Downes v. Bidwell”, which ruled that though Puerto-Rico belongs with the United States, it is not a US part in constitutional terms, because Puerto-Rico is "inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation and modes of thought and therefore the administration of government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible". Since the people of Puerto-Rico never obtained electoral rights, it appears that the federal US authorities still honor this decision of the Supreme Court.

The fate of indigenous populations who came in the way of the Americans is not something to be envied too. When building a state, the US systematically annihilated the indigenous population of North America. Now they have a specialized federal institution – US Government Accountability Office. As if nothing were wrong, this Office reports that 116 thousand human remains of American Indians are still located in museums and other collections. One hundred and sixteen thousand human remains. In the 21st century. To say nothing of countless arts and culture artefacts that were stolen from the indigenous population of the continent.

To say that it is a matter of history and that you have become better since then cannot pass as a valid explanation. In the modern time, the United States also stands out for its barbarous treatment of cultural legacy of other peoples.

The unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression of the US-led Western coalition against Iraq has led not only to devastation of infrastructure and terrible casualties among civilians. It also caused a loss by Iraq of a major part of its priceless cultural legacy.

Having barely invaded Iraq, Americans deployed military base Camp Alfa  (with a helicopter landing site and 60-meter-long trenches)  precisely on top of temple ruins of ancient Babylon. Apparently, no better place could be found. When clearing the site, they simply demolished the monuments, parts of them were later taken out of the country.

By official data from the John Malcolm Russell report that was issued in 2010 upon order of the US Department of State, American trenches and dugouts spoiled the area that would have taken the researchers 60 years to explore. As if this was not enough, Americans also built roads and parking lots to cover the total area of 42 soccer pitches.

When expanding the Tallil Air Base by the city of Nasiriyah in 2004-2005, ancient settlement Eridu-13 (2000 BC) was completely destroyed. Americans surpassed even the Mongolian invaders who sacked in 1258 the famous center of science and a library “House of Wisdom”. During the NATO invasion, the House of Wisdom was destroyed completely.  

The Iraqi National Library and Archives were also subjected to an intended devastation rather than just a looting. The priceless volumes were obliterated with white phosphorus and water cannons. In total, 25 % of library and 60 % of archive collections were lost that included rare pieces stemming from the Ottoman and Hashemite eras.

In 2003, against the backdrop of the NATO invasion, the ample collection of the Iraq National Museum was plundered. According to the same John Malcolm Russell, who served as the senior cultural adviser to the occupation administration in 2003-2004, “tens of thousands ancient artefacts from Iraq were openly sold on the American market, and not even once the law enforcement showed any interest in it”. Many of the plundered artefacts then surfaced in museums and private collections not only in the United States, but also in other Western countries.

In 2003-2004, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Iraq, 130,000 cultural and historical valuables were taken out of the country. So far, only a small and least valuable part has been repatriated. So, it was only in 2021 that Iraq received back about 18,000 such items. Most of them came from the US and the UK, as well as from the Netherlands, Italy and Japan. How much more rests in private collections of a select minority, we can only guess.

This repeated in Syria, when the US and allies did the carpet bombing of such cities as Raqqa showing no mercy for cultural and religious facilities.  

We remind that after the aggression of the US-led coalition, a part of Syria has remained under illegal foreign occupation. Taking into account the sad case of Iraq, this circumstance causes reasonable concern for the safety of the local most valuable cultural and historical heritage.

That's what we all need to worry about rather than play along with the baseless allegations and insinuations of the Kiev regime.

Thank you.