Interview of Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Vassily Nebenzia to Kommersant Publishing House
Q: Does Russia have a draft resolution on cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria? On what conditions is Russia ready to keep the mechanism and in what areas? In particular, will cross-border assistance remain in Idlib and other Turkey-controlled areas?
A: It is the essence rather than the author that matters. Our delegation always has some ideas and blueprints. The most important thing for us is to form a consensus, which is only possible once all the interested sides, in the first place the affected ones, are involved and everybody listens to them with attention and respect. It is even more so, when the country in question is a state with effective functioning authorities.
As for the mechanism itself, in our preparations for the UNSC discussion, we proceed from the very basics: the mechanism was designed in 2014 as an extraordinary and provisional measure. All Council members agreed to it back then. When discussing the parameters of the mechanism, we will proceed from concrete humanitarian needs of the population and reality on the ground that has largely changed since 2014.
Q: Why do you think the West so vehemently insists on extending the resolution on cross-border mechanism and re-opening the crossing points that were closed? Has the decrease in the number of corridors negatively impacted deliveries of humanitarian assistance to the population?
A: The West insists on the mechanism’s renewal because it wants to keep the status quo. It suits them for a number of reasons. Some Syrian territories are held by terrorists, others are occupied by the United States, others are governed by the administration that is not accountable to the Syrian authorities. It only takes will to deliver aid to all who need it via ordinary rather than extraordinary channels. The desire to keep the mechanism at whatever cost raises quite a few questions with us. Heads of the Interdepartmental Coordination Headquarters of Russia and Syria addressed it in detail on 13 May.
Q: Why is Russia so principal about providing humanitarian assistance through Damascus only? Is it so important that Moscow is ready to endure being blamed for hunger and illness-induced deaths of civilians?
A: Because this is an issue of the real situation and the fundamental principle of humanitarian assistance that is enshrined in UNSC and UNGA resolutions and that envisages the need for coordination with the legitimate authorities of the host-country. After all, some humanitarian organizations, among them the authoritative WHO, UNICEF, ICRC, UNFPA and a number of Western NGOs cooperate with authorities and work at the territory of Syria. The major part of humanitarian assistance for Syria is provided through dialogue with the Syrian authorities.
However we understood that winter conditions were rather harsh in Idlib, and that some people would risk not surviving the season without that cross-border assistance. Guided by humanitarian considerations, we agreed to extend the mechanism in the North-West in January this year. That is why there is nothing to blame Russia for. We will have an objective look at the situation. By the way, with regard to objectiveness. Our partners prefer to ignore that the sanctions they imposed on Damascus prevent Syrian authorities from purchasing the needed medical equipment, and NGOs cannot employ their full potential out of fear to be sanctioned either.
Q: Russia is being accused of killing civilians in Idlib. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic directly accused Russia of committing military crimes. Moscow denies everything. Is there an opportunity to provide evidence on every case held against Russia?
A: We have refuted those accusations many times through our Foreign and Defense Ministries. First of all – because all evidence of such accusations is often based on unknown sources. In reality those sources are well-established: masters of fabrications “White Helmets” and the like. We are not afraid to talk frankly and always give to our partners detailed explanations of how carefully our counter-terrorist efforts pick targets. We even convened a thematic press-conference at the United Nations, where we shared all refuting photo- and video-materials. However some things, like allegedly intercepted communications of pilots of Russian ASF, are so absurd that it is ridiculous even to comment on them.
We are accused of many things. Not only with regard to Syria. Unfortunately, it is a part of war. Information war.