Statement by Chargé d'Affaires of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC meeting on the situation in northeastern Syria
It is with great concern that we follow the developments in the south of the Syrian city of Hasakeh, where on 20 January, the militants from ISIL captured prison “al-Sinaa” – the biggest penitentiary facility in the Syrian territory out of the governmental control, where approximately 5 thousand jihadists were held.
According to the latest reports, it was a carefully planned attack that used two explosive-laden vehicles, driven by suicide-bombers. As a result, about 100 people from ISIL burst into the prison, where riots had started shortly before that. The terrorists were able to set free and arm at least 800 inmates, part of which immediately sided with them. ISIL gained a foothold within the penitentiary facility and also spread to the adjacent residential quarters.
As we know, starting from 21 January, Syrian militarized formations supported by the US Air Force have been engaged in counter-action. There is heavy fighting. i.a. in densely-populated areas, where fugitive terrorists took shelter. Intense air strikes ruined buildings of the technical college and economic department of the local university, destroyed a fuel warehouse, disrupted energy supply to Hasakeh. At this point, the precise death toll among civilians is hard to calculate. We are very much concerned over the possible indiscriminate strikes of the American aviation, because wherever they are involved, there are often mass casualties among civilians.
When speaking at UNSC open debate on protection of civilians on 25 January, the Permanent Representative of the United States referred to very valid concepts: absolute imperative of observing the IHL norms by sides to an armed conflict, growing importance of protection of civilians during urban warfare. She also reminded how easily explosive ordnance can kill big groups of civilians.
Yet what we see in reality is that the US narrative again runs counter to their action. Thus, when clearing al-Sinaa prison and its surroundings of terrorists – urban warfare as it is – they used aviation and armored vehicles. One may easily guess that such heavy equipment uses explosive ammunition. Massive outflow of peaceful population from the combat zone (more than 45 thousand people as reported by OCHA) clearly indicates that measures for protection of civilians have been ignored there. All UNSC members, and the humanitarian penholders in the first place, should demand the United States to provide a detailed account of casualties among civilians, all cases of violation of IHL, and punishment for those guilty of it.
Another vivid example is Afghanistan. If we look back, what comes to mind is the bombings of Raqqa, Hajin, Baghouz. As reported by the UN, no medical facility in Raqqa remained intact after the hostilities. When Baghouz was bombed back in 2019, at least 80 people died, the majority of them were women and children. Yet no one was held accountable, despite the fact that Washington admitted its guilt. This is what regards the high standards of accountability that our Western colleagues often refer to.
We cannot but be concerned over the fact that as reported by UNICEF there are 850 children in al-Sanaa prison, to whom there is no access.
As reported by humanitarian organizations, the number of IDPs is growing rapidly due to the recent events. As I said, by the UN estimates, there are 45 thousand of internally displaced. People hastily leave their homes in search of shelter. Residents of Hasakeh’s southern quarters flee to the governmental territory through the checkpoints that the Syrian military opened for them. In this context, we commend Damascus that keeps helping those in need despite the difficult circumstances, created by anti-Syrian Western sanctions.
We also appreciate the efforts of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and all humanitarian NGOs that help with evacuation. About 9000 families have been accommodated in temporary facilities, and this number might grow further on. All those who lost their homes need urgent help, including psychological assistance. We call on humanitarians to respond to this and provide relevant assistance, and we call on the local authorities to ensure humanitarian access to the districts of Hasakeh that are under their control.
We must say that what happened at the US-occupied territory of Syria is the result of our colleagues making overtures to the terrorist elements in the Syrian Arab Republic. You learn nothing from history. Nor do you learn from your past mistakes. We warned repeatedly what this sort of indulgence to terrorist elements may lead to. This is why Syrian armed forced supported by the Russian military keep searching for and eradicating ISIL terrorists in Syria. This work will continue. We have offered to join our efforts many times, but as we could see, you prioritize political considerations over the goal of eradicating terrorism in Syria. Now both north-eastern Syria and Idlib suffer from these double standards.
We ask the United Nations to keep an eye on the situation in Hasakeh and report promptly on any progress of humanitarians in order to prevent another humanitarian disaster.
We would like to avail of this meeting to focus again on the perilous situation that is evolving in Syria’s north-east that remains illegally occupied by our American colleagues. The areas that Americans have been robbing of oil suffer from a true environmental disaster. However the United Nations does not give any assessment to this situation. Nor does it initiate any action. We must say that cross-Euphrates area is another “grey spot” on the Syrian map, same as the al-Tanf area, where militants from "Mahavir as-Saura", indulged by the United States, enjoy total impunity and permissiveness.
The illegal presence of US military in Syria created a “lawless zone” in the north-east, where foreign terrorists and militants, as well as various criminals feel perfectly at ease. There is anarchy and violence, whereby terrorists are divided into “the good and the bad”, they may be indulged, start “another life”, and radicalize the local population. This is how we can characterize any location where the US military has been stationed – both during their presence and upon withdrawal. The most recent example was Afghanistan, which the US left to deal with the overwhelming burden of problems that has been accumulated over the years of American occupation.
ISIL was struck heavily in Syria. Terrorists were defeated and had to flee from the government-controlled territory. The problems remain where the Americans created legal vacuum and where Syria’s sovereign territory remains occupied by foreign troops. We demand that all foreign forces that are illegally present in Syria withdraw immediately. The United States clearly fails fight against terrorism even on a local scale to say nothing of the global dimension. ISIL’s attack on a prison in Hasakeh clearly demonstrates this.
Right of reply by Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Chumakov in response to the representative of the United States:
I have to hake the floor to comment on the words of my distinguished colleague Richard Mills.
Freedom of media and the opposition is definitely an interesting topic, both for Russia and for any other state. By all means, there is a lot that we can say on that, yet it is not the topic of our today’s meeting. As for the questions that we actually raised, we heard no substantive comment on that. We hope that the issues we outlined will remain under Security Council’s closest scrutiny.