Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria
I thank Under-Secretary-General Lowcock for his briefing.
Our successes in eliminating terrorist nerve centres and taking de-escalation measures in the framework of the Astana process have enabled us to significantly improve the situation in Syria.
What we also need is progress on the political front, increased international humanitarian aid, and assistance in restoring the infrastructure of the liberated areas and in mine clearance. However, the inadmissibility of attempts to establish preconditions, a principle that we traditionally apply to the Syrian parties involved in the political process, is also true for humanitarian assistance from our international partners.
We would like to draw attention to the fact that the 11 November statement of the Presidents of Russia and the United States included a call to the States Members of the United Nations to increase their contributions to meeting the Syrian people’s humanitarian needs in the next few months.
The same subject was included in a joint statement on 22 November by the Presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey that emphasized assistance with humanitarian mine clearance, preserving historical heritage and restoring basic residential infrastructure, including socioeconomic facilities. Russia has consistently advocated for expanding humanitarian assistance to Syria and does not divide its inhabitants into “us” and “them”.
We have been helping Syrians on a daily basis and have kept the Security Council regularly informed about that. On the other hand, we have been seeing unilateral sanctions that do not allow Damascus to buy medicines or acquire and repair medical equipment. That is eloquent testimony to various international stakeholders’ real attitude to Syrians.
We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian catastrophe in Raqqa, primarily caused by the indiscriminate violence of the coalition. Now the United States and its major allies are taking steps, including in the information space, to hide the serious consequences of their military operation. The United Nations is still unable to get into Raqqa in order to conduct an assessment.
The official version — that it is too dangerous — is frivolous fudging aimed at people with short memories. A year ago, when the terrorists were withdrawing from their last refuge in eastern Aleppo, a few members of the Security Council literally tried to drag representatives of the United Nations and its partners there by force, including by adopting a resolution. Then everything was organized, both the evacuation and the monitoring, and received high praise from the humanitarian workers.
We have been assured that Raqqa has long ago been liberated from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) without any controlled evacuation or signs of monitoring, but what is going on there is the mystery of the seventh seal. The banal reason is that the coalition has something to hide from the international community — significant numbers of civilian victims and huge destruction.
An unattractive picture is emerging from communications concerning a deal that, as we understand it, was cut when Raqqa was liberated between ISIL and the paramilitary groups allied with the coalition. We are concerned about the situation of the people fleeing Raqqa, who are held in inhumane conditions in camps for displaced persons, in a zone that is de facto controlled by armed groups protected by the coalition.
There have been reports that various local authorities have been established in districts liberated from ISIL, with the direct participation of the coalition, and that economic recovery measures are being negotiated with them. They are not discussing such issues with the Syrian authorities. We have listened to people voicing unfounded fears that establishing de-escalation areas could affect Syria’s territorial integrity.
We have consistently refuted such insinuations. What the coalition is doing, however, is taking real steps to pull the country apart. Basically, the foreign presence is in Syria illegally, however hard individual officials in the United States try to find legal grounds for it, because there are none. Moreover, we are seeing the occupying forces attempt to gain a foothold in Syria an indefinite period that has nothing to do with the counter-terrorism efforts that we are assured are the coalition’s only goal.
We recognize the importance of providing assistance to the people of Raqqa and its environs, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have been forced to leave the city. However, that assistance cannot be supplied at the expense of other parts of the country, including those liberated by the Syrian army. In order for the coalition to gloss over its actions in Raqqa as a distraction, it needs an alternative tragedy of the month. That job has recently fallen to eastern Ghouta, where terrorists remain and clashes between various armed groups continue. \
We have been cultivating intensive contacts in eastern Ghouta, including with armed groups, in order to help to resolve emerging humanitarian access issues, and we are discussing the parameters of medical evacuation. Those are all very delicate issues requiring work on the ground. A tripartite mechanism with the participation of Russia, Syria and the United Nations has great potential, and cooperation of that kind is essential to finding solutions to complex issues. I should point out, by the way, that the Syrian authorities have just announced a truce in eastern Ghouta.
We have already said that the Security Council will have to have a serious discussion about crossborder operations in the absence of proper monitoring. It is non-governmental organizations that are the concertmasters in this area, with the United Nations playing second fiddle. The requirement of resolution 2165 (2014) — that the assistance being dispatched through the border crossings it designates must go to every area of Syria — is not being met.
We have no way of knowing where it actually ends up. There is an understanding that in this way only the areas held by armed groups are supplied. We have heard Mr. Lowcock’s information about the cross-border deliveries, but it is not enough, and we want to know more. We want a briefing on cross-border deliveries at the beginning of next week under the heading of “Any other business”.
This mechanism cannot be maintained in its current form. It usurps Syria’s sovereignty and is contrary to the principles of emergency humanitarian assistance endorsed by the General Assembly. It is an unprecedented and extreme measure that must now be reassessed.
Positive changes in the situation on the ground, thanks to the Astana process, help to increase the volume of convoys through the line of contact. We are encouraging the Syrian authorities to engage constructively. At the same time, there needs to be order in the distribution of humanitarian aid so as to ensure that it does not to fall into the hands of terrorists to then be resold to the Syrian people at higher prices.
We are troubled by the humanitarian situation in the Al-Rukban camp, at the border with Jordan. As the Syrian Government has no access there, we cannot ask it to do the impossible. This is an area under the control of the American military, which arbitrarily established the camp around the Al-Tanf military base. In that time, the area has become a black hole through which terrorists freely flow. We trust that our United States partners will assist the United Nations in normalizing the situation in that area.
In conclusion, we note that the assessments pointing to a reduction in the volume of humanitarian assistance to besieged and hard-to-reach regions need to be continuously verified so as to ensure that they align with reality. Assistance is reaching those areas except when, for objective reasons, it cannot do so due to ongoing hostilities.