Statement by Chargé d'Affaires of the Russian Federation Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC briefing on the Syrian chemical file
USG Nakamitsu presented another, 105th report of OPCW Director-General on the implementation of UNSC resolution 2118.
Unfortunately, both this report and all the preceding ones are based on the same pattern and pursue only one goal – create an impression about Syria’s alleged unconstructive and non-collaborative position. But in reality, Damascus upholds all its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and keeps cooperating with the OPCW. I believe our Syrian colleagues will provide a more detailed account of the completed work today so the Council can conceive an objective image of the situation. Director-General’s reports do not let us do it. In them, any progress of OPCW-Damascus interaction, for example the decision to prolong the Tripartite Agreement concluded between the OPCW, UNOPS, and Syria until the end of this year is either barely mentioned or completely omitted. At previous UNSC meetings on the Syrian chemical file, we said repeatedly that this is a flawed approach. Yet nothing has changed. In order to be able to state this again, it is more than enough to convene an open UNSC meeting once every three months.
We expected to see OPCW Director-General F.Arias among the briefers at this meeting. We still have a considerable list of questions that we would very much like to ask him. We thank the Brazilian Presidency for having invited him. Of course, it is a holiday season in Europe now. Yet we expect the Director-General of the OPCW to find an opportunity to brief the Council at the next meeting on this topic.
So far, the number of questions to him and the Organization under his lead does not get fewer. Most of them are related to blatant manipulations in the report of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission on the incident in Douma and persecutions of those who are not afraid to speak out the truth in this regard. There are more surprising things though. We repeatedly noted that Mr. Arias found no time to visit Syria personally throughout his entire tenure as Director-General. By the way, he eagerly pays visits to other countries – he has been to the US recently. His attitude to Syria is completely different, though we cannot say that this country is out of OPCW focus. DG Arias dedicated almost one fourth of his circumstantial address to the 100th session of the OPCW Executive Council on 5 July 2022 to the Syrian agenda.
By the way, DG Arias afforded a rather strange phrase in that statement. He said, “as Director-General, I cannot justify travelling to a State Party that has been deprived of certain rights by the Conference of the States Parties”. We are curious what exactly he is guided by when saying such things in his capacity as OPCW Director-General. It would be logical for him now to take every effort, i.a. pay regular visits to Damascus in order to have this shameful page of OPCW history turned over as soon as possible. Under this shameful page, I mean the situation when at the behest of Western states, a country that faithfully upheld its obligations under the CWC, was incapacitated at the OPCW in violation of the principle of consensus and provisions of the Convention. Maybe, USG Nakamitsu will be able to explain what exact norms of the CWC prevent DG Arias from going to Syria.
There is another episode that the report always presents as a proof of Syria’s alleged non-collaborative stance. I am speaking about a more than 12-month delay of the 25th round of consultations of the Declaration Assessment Team. Clearly, the OPCW Technical Secretariat proceeds from the “presumption of Syria’s guilt”, which ensues from the claim that resolution of this issue depends on Syria’s “change of attitude”.
The facts, however, tell the opposite, let me list them briefly. The Syrian side has not and has never had principled objections to convening such consultations. In June last year, DG Arias said at a Security Council meeting that he was not ready to send the DAT to Syria in summer because of “extremely hot weather”. As a result, a serious delay occurred. Later, Syria claimed ready to have the consultations run in the Hague, but the Technical Secretariat refused to cover travel expenses of Syrian experts. Then the entire situation was presented as if bilateral interaction of the Technical Secretariat with the Syrians depended on a single OPCW expert, without whom no consultations allegedly could be held. When it came down to convening the 25th round of the consultations in Beirut, the same expert was included in the mission, and the Syrian side is fully entitled to insist on his cancellation. But Damascus again demonstrated good will and agreed to keep interacting with the DAT in the form of document exchange as a provisional measure.
It is obvious that the problem does not come from Damascus, which has every right to deny participation of this or that particular expert in discussing confidential aspects. The problem comes from the DAT, which has turned this issue in a matter of principle.
At the same time, we must not forget that interaction with the DAT is part of voluntary bilateral obligations that Syria has assumed. The mandate of the DAT does not envisage any “investigative” activities. The task of the Team is to assist Syria in matters of its initial declaration. However, for more than a year by now we have been reading reports that follow a different kind of logic and give more and more reasons why allegedly the Technical Secretariat cannot do this.
Damascus remains unprecedentedly open in these circumstances. I remind that Syria joined the CWC amidst extremely complicated military and political instability, and a terrorist threat that was supported from the outside. Nevertheless, Syria complied faithfully with all its relevant obligations. Secretary-General of the United Nations attested to it back in June 2014. Later, in 2016, the OPCW Executive Council and Conference of States-Parties confirmed the fact of ultimate eradication of Syria's military chemical potential. The Technical Secretariat has no right to apply to Damascus enhanced verification requirements. Still, it can be seen with a naked eye that the Technical Secretariat has completely different approaches to Syria and other countries that ever encountered similar problems.
Bias towards Damascus has been there for a long time, and quite often it is more than just bias. Suffice it to recall the notorious FFM Douma report regarding the 2018 incident. I already said that its final version was largely doctored as compared to the initial one, the fact of which was confirmed by several sources, including former inspectors of the OPCW, who had taken part in that investigation.
The activity of the illegitimate Investigation and Identification Team runs in the same vein, whereas the IIT itself was created once a corresponding decision was pushed through the OPCW Executive Council in violation of the principle of consensus and Article XV of the CWC. We reject all existing and any prospective reports of the IIT as illegitimate products of an illegitimate mechanism. Those reports do not seek to find out what really happened. They rather create narrative that meets the conclusions about the guilt of Damascus.
Flawed methods of both the IIT and the FFM directly violate the Chemical Weapons Convention in what regards principles of investigations, first of all collection of evidence and maintaining the chain of custody. We cannot seriously consider documents that proceed from data that has been collected remotely and backdated, including data from unreliable sources like the “White Helmets”, who were directly involved in staged chemical provocations in Douma and Khan-Sheykhoun.
Against this backdrop, other pressing and real problems that however do not fit into the narrative of the “guilt” of the Syrian authorities, turn out greatly downplayed. Among them is the risk of chemical weapons usage by terrorists in Syria or its neighboring states. There is evidence that terrorist groups in the Middle East have access to chemical warfare agents. Conclusions of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability Against Da’esh/ISIL Crimes (UNITAD) indicate that ISIL has a full-fledged military chemical program. Yet nothing is said about elaboration of measures to counter this threat.
We pointed out repeatedly that politicizing of the OPCW work by Western states erodes the regime of the prohibition of chemical weapons and undermines the ability of the OPCW to respond to the real challenges in the area of chemical disarmament and non-proliferation that the global community is faced with.
Let me remind that on 29 April, Security Council adopted a President’s Statement on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of entry into force of the CWC. In it, we reiterated that OPCW should ensure unprejudiced, independent, and professional implementation of all provisions of the Convention. I call on all Western colleagues to move from words to actions and abandon their vicious desire to use the OPCW as a blind tool for punishing the unwanted states.
In conclusion, I will stress that OPCW leadership still has every opportunity to deliver on its obligations in good faith and ensure (as the CWC requires) transparent and objective investigations that should distinguish between staged incidents and phantom threats on the one side and real cases of CW usage on the other. In order to do this, the OPCW needs to correct its past mistakes and recover the spirit of consensus-based depoliticized professional cooperation that it used to have. We do hope that soon enough DG Arias himself will brief the Security Council regarding his plans on that matter.