Statement by the Permanent Representative of Russia to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin at an Arria-formula meeting of UNSC member states "Implementation of UNSCR 2118: OPCW FFM Report on Douma"
Distinguished Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our meeting is dedicated to the final report of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission in Syria (FFM) regarding the incident in Douma, on April 7, 2018.
This matter is being discussed by the UN Security Council members due to the fact that the relevant events directly affect issues of peace and international security, and, therefore, fall within the competence of the Security Council.
Many of those present in this room probably remember the disturbing ambiance early April 2018. The United States was preparing to launch its, as they claimed, "smart missiles" against Syria, and the Russian military warned that they were ready to destroy not only these missiles, but also their launchers if the Russian troops invited by the legitimate Syrian authorities were under threat. Older people unintentionally recalled in this regard the charged atmosphere of the Cuban Missile crisis.
It is a direct duty of responsible states, in particular, of the UN Security Council members, to understand what happened in Douma, to draw conclusions to prevent similar situations in the future that might lead to unpredictable consequences.
Unfortunately, we have strong reasons to believe that the investigation of the incident conducted by the relevant international organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons (OPCW) by means of its specially created Fact Finding Mission in Syria (FEM) leaves much to be desired.
To gain a better understanding of the situation, let me briefly remind you of the events that followed the reports in Western media about the so-called chemical attack in Douma.
The whole story started with another video of the White Helmets about provision of first aid to victims of chemical attack in Douma. It was continuously broadcasted by major Western TV channels, agitating people all around the world by bone-chilling stories about a new crime of the Syrian "regime" (in Western terminology).
The United States, as well as France and the Great Britain, seized with righteous anger, unleashed their missiles against Syria on the night of April 13-14, without waiting for the proper OPCW investigation, as an act of retaliation.
But the seamless scenario performed after the Khan Shaykhun incident in April 2017 when the blame was automatically put on Damascus suddenly failed. Syrian government troops and the Russian military ended up in Douma within a few days after the so-called chemical attack. In hot pursuit they managed to find the Syrians captured on the notorious video of the White Helmets as victims of exposure to toxic substances. It turned out that they were not poisoned, but rather they became involuntary extras of another provocation set up by the White Helmets. These 13 people, including the boy Hassan Diab, told the press about it during a special briefing at the OPCW headquarters on April 26, 2018. Afterwards, the ill-fated video footage of the White Helmets suddenly disappeared, and the Western media abstained from airing it. I would like to emphasize that the same happened with the memorable photos of allegedly poisoned children from Khan Shaykhun. There were photos, then they disappeared. It looks like one and the same algorithm of action.
Meanwhile, the OPCW FFM finally reached Syria and proceeded with investigation – with the full assistance of the Syrian authorities, that provided the necessary working conditions, and of the Russian military police ensuring physical security of the OPCW experts.
The investigation lasted for a long time. And a lot of issues looked strange.
For example, the Head of the FFM did not appear in Douma at all. Moreover, after only a few hours in Damascus, he departed to a neighboring country (in OPCW terminology), where he settled for the rest of the time, working, as we understand, with the Syrian armed opposition.
The samples collected in Douma lay as a dead weight in the central laboratory of the OPCW in Rijswijk, as if they were not necessary. Despite the established rules, these materials were not shared with the Syrian official authorities for a long time under the pretext of the laboratory assistants' workload and due to other difficulties.
At least, the report finally appeared on March l, 2019 - almost one year after the incident. The testimony of the witnesses at the briefing in the OPCW headquarters – I mentioned them, the boy named Khasan and other witnesses – was completely ignored. Instead, the FFM relying on three 'independent" analyses has come to the conclusion confirming use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. According to the report, chlorine cylinders were allegedly dropped from air. It is evident that such a conclusion immediately casted suspicion on the Syrian government forces, since on April 7 Douma was under control of the armed opposition. This conclusion differed from the observations of the Russian experts, who were convinced that the chlorine gas cylinders were brought into the premises by militants manually - for provocation. After making my statement, with permission of the President, I would like to show you several slides that illustrate this situation. Shortly before the start of the March session of the OPCW Executive Council (2019), it became known that the conclusion of the report contradicts the conclusions of the FFM members responsible for the engineering part of the investigation. Russia came out with a logical proposal to arrange a briefing with the participation of all the experts who took part in the investigation right during the Executive Council. Our proposal was declined: first, for formal procedural reasons, and then as a result of a vote provoked by the Americans. The thing is, the United States and its allies, as the American representatives explained, did not want to allow the revival of, and here I quote what the American representatives said at the Executive Council, "Stalin's processes with intimidation and cross-examination" in the Hague. Running a little ahead, let me say that this is the only argument that we receive from our opponents, who do not wish to clarify the issue. Either they talk about disinformation and conspiracy theory, but in fact they can say nothing.
The Russian side kept trying to induce the OPCW Technical Secretariat to have a professional dialogue regarding what happened in Douma. During the visit of the Director General Fernando Arias to Moscow in April 2019, the Russian military handed him the collected profile with conclusions that at least differed from the report published last March by the FFM. He was asked to carefully study the document. The Russian Federation then distributed its comments in the OPCW regarding the contents of the FM report on Douma. A similar analysis was done and transferred to the Technical Secretariat by Syrian Arab Republic. Neither us nor Syrians received any meaningful response – mere formal replies.
The quality of the FFM's work on the high-profile case in Douma concerned' recognized experts and reputable scientists from several states. Some of them, known as members of the Professor P.Robinson's group, sent a number of requests to the Technical Secretariat. But they were also arrogantly recommended to re-read the FFM report, and their questions related to substance issues were left unanswered.
From our part, Russia invited the Technical Secretariat to publish the results of the ballistic and other examinations of three "independent" experts, that predetermined the conclusion on aerial bombing with chlorine cylinders. We were turned down once again: the OPCW claimed to ensure the personal security of those three specialists. Then we explained in another request that we were not interested in the personal data of these people, but rather in the way of their thinking and reasoning. After a long time, we received another negative answer with the same clichés about confidentiality. In the light of such a position of the Technical Secretariat, we, and other delegations, had a suspicion that, apparently, no examinations were conducted at all, and they were referred to just to pretend that the issue was studied comprehensively before the conclusion on aerial bombardment was made.
Against this background, Mr. Maxim Grigoriev, Head of the Russian "Foundation for the Study of Democracy", brought the results of his own investigation to the light. However he will put forward his findings himself, as he is present here in this room.
In the face of the escalating situation, the Technical Secretariat had to acknowledge that while preparing the Douma report, some dissenting opinions (one or two) were actually expressed. But it is claimed that at the end of the day the decisions were made collectively by the majority of the FFM members on the grounds of the collected information (apparently it was received not only at the scene of the incident, as the OPCW rules and the provisions of the CWC require, but rather in the camps of the armed Syrian opposition).
This version started falling apart when certain media (e.g. the British "Dailymail" on November 24, 2019, the Fox News on November 25, 2019, "The Courage Foundation", etc.) published materials on new fraud revelations concerning the preparation of the aforementioned report.
It followed from the leaked internal correspondence, that the FFM interim report was recast in its full, and it was not clear who did it. The conclusions became opposite to the original ones. In short, the drafters of the report did not recognize their brainchild. Moreover, almost all the FFM experts who worked in Douma were suspended from drafting of the final report, i.e. an explicit forgery was carried out.
In such circumstances, a group of prominent scientists, public figures, experts, including the first Director General of the OPCW, Brazilian Jose Bustani, who got together as organization “The Courage Foundation” sent a collective letter to all the signatories to the CWC with a proposal to understand the situation challenging the authority of the OPCW.
During the Conference of the States Parties (principal organ of the OPCW) in November 2019, Russia and other countries called on the Technical Secretariat to listen to the voice of the international community and to organize a briefing of all the experts involved in the Douma investigation.
The silent Technical Secretariat was rescued by a group of Western states led by the United States. They renewed their boundless trust in the organ, in its dedicated professionals. But it is exactly the matter of trust that raises more and more questions. A new portion of documents published on the Wikileaks portal in late 2019 read that there were apparently many people among the FFM members who did not agree with the official conclusions of the report, not just one or two, as it was said by the OPCW, whereas we were told that those had been just a couple of different opinions against the vast majority of others who almost unanimously supported the findings of the FFM.
It is already evident that the FFM methods have to be brought into compliance with the requirements of the CWC: the experts should visit the places of alleged use of chemical weapons, take samples and other material evidence on their own, strictly observe the "chain of custody", ensure fair geographical representation in the FFM, excluding predominance of Washington allies.
But the problem is that these same considerations are being rejected by the group of Western countries under the leadership of the United States. Situation reaches the point of absurdity: any comments on the work of the FFM are considered a libel and wrongful accusation of the dedicated professionals from the FFM and of the Director General Fernando Arias personally. On the same pretext, any suggestions made by a number of states to improve the working methods of the FFM are being rejected. In 2017, the Western group obstructed the Russian-Iranian initiative in this regard, that consisted in the adoption of an appropriate decision by the OPCW Executive Council.
In a word, we find ourselves in an impasse. The Technical Secretariat, inspired by the unequivocal support of the United States and its followers, is not going to do anything. There is apparently a hope that everything will be resolved by itself. But no, it will not. The so-called Investigation and Identification Team (IlT) that was created by the Technical Secretariat in breach of the CWC and in violation of the exclusive prerogatives of the UN Security Council was vested with attribution functions and is about to publish its reports. No matter what the Technical Secretariat might claim about taking into account dissenting opinions of
"one or two employees of the FFM", the official conclusion on the Douma incident (with accusations against official Damascus) will still outweigh and will be considered decisive. Other dubious reports of the FFM will be also used by the IlT. For example, the report prepared by the FFM with flagrant violations of the "chain of custody" regarding the incidents in Al-Ltamenah (March 24, 25 and 30, 2017), Sarakib (February 4, 2018), etc. All investigations there were conducted remotely based on the opinion of the opposition and questionable NGOs sponsored by the West. Meanwhile, previously extremely categorical judgments of the FFM regarding the accusations of Damascus become vague and unreasonable when it comes to the actions of militants about which inform the Syrian authorities (episode in the quarter 1070 in Aleppo in November 2016), etc.
The current situation with the disputable official report of the OPCW looks like an abscess. We cannot move forward until we eliminate it. How can we talk about trust to the Technical Secretariat and between the States Parties? In this regard, we propose to resolve the conflict by holding a briefing at the OPCW (with possible assistance of the States Parties) with the participation of all the FFM members who worked on the Douma report in order to come to a consensus regarding the incident in the Syrian town. It has to be done imperatively. An error committed regarding Douma and other incidents can have serious consequences for the stability and security in the world. Where, if not in the UN, the heart of the entire system of international relations, can we agree on possible joint actions, bearing in mind the UN Charter and the CWC?
One might think that Russia and other states focus their attention on the "oddities" of the FFM work (that are, frankly speaking, pure falsifications in favor of certain states) and therefore provoke the incessant confrontation in the OPCW. But actually it is the US and their allies that apply an array of confrontation tools. I was not surprised at all at the publication of the press office of the Permanent Mission of the UK to the UN. Again, we are accused of disinformation, of spreading lies, conspiracy theories, invectives against the OPCW. However, unlike our American and British colleagues who operate such confrontational terms, and unlike an American representative who at the conference of member states compared the Technical Secretariat to a granite cliff breaking waves of Russian storm, we are inclined to consider this administrative organ of the OPCW our common house, where, States Parties should feel comfortable, calm and address urgent issues in respectful manner with a view to reaching consensus. This is what the Director General of the Organization Fernando Arias constantly calls us for.
We hope that today's informal meeting of the UN Security Council will make the responsible states understand the need to help the OPCW to overcome the difficulties, to stop the over-scale politicization, to tackle the tasks stipulated in the Convention, primarily related to the destruction of the stockpile of chemical weapons, as well as to the struggle with chemical terrorism.
From its part, Russia will do anything to achieve these goals, to revive a cohesive organization - to match its status as a recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate. To help achieve them, we will pass an address by activists and scientists from “The Courage Foundation” to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, this address containing an appeal to contribute to restoration of trust and normalization the situation in the OPCW.
Now I would like to show you those inconsistencies in the FFM report that are evident.
As you know, experts from the Russian Defense Ministry visited the site of the alleged chemical incident in just a few days. They recorded following evidence and facts that are of interest. For clarity, I will show you some slides.
The first and important moment is a computer simulation of the fall of chlorine cylinders. As we can see, the report shows that all the calculations were made for the cylinder impacting the barrier at a speed of 30 to 60 m/s, which relates to a drop height of 45 to 180 metres. This figure displays the graphs for the residual velocity of cylinders falling from 150 metres.
At the same time, however, we can confidently say that the Syrian Air Forces do not fly at altitudes of less than 2000 metres when cruising over towns, for security reasons. When flying at 200 metres over an active combat zone there is a direct threat to be fired at and shot down.
In the event that the cylinder was dropped from the height used by Syrian aircraft, it would have developed a vertical speed of about 200 m/s at the point of impact, and would have definitely not only destroyed the 20 cm thick roof, but would have caused more serious damage and would have been significantly damaged itself.
The shape and dimensions of the resulting aperture at Location 2 are more consistent with the penetration of a solid body through the reinforced concrete barrier at an angle of 80 to 90 degrees to the surface. The same is applied to the deformation of the barrier rebar.
The state of the observed cylinder is not consistent with the deformation that a cylinder filled with liquid chlorine could undergo under the abovementioned conditions of penetration. In such a situation the front end of the cylinder should have been subject to a much more considerable deformation.
When impacting the rooftop, the cylinder was to alter its trajectory and its angle of approach to the barrier, which was not the case judging by the description of the crater in the roof.
The detailed study of the crater in the reinforced concrete barrier (the roof of the building), as well as the presence of smoke-black traces and the destruction of the barrier rebar inside the aperture, are more consistent with an explosion of a mortar or an artillery projectile that approached the barrier along the arching trajectory.
This is also evidenced by the traces left by blast fragmentations on the walls of the balcony. The probability of the crater being formed by a mortar/artillery projectile or a similar munition is also supported by the presence of multiple apertures that are very much alike in the concrete plates on the rooftops of surrounding buildings
The relative dimensions of the crater at Location 4 are not consistent with the relative dimensions of the cylinder found on the bed inside the apartment. The lateral dimensions of the crater supersede the diameter of the cylinder more than twofold, making them contradictory to the estimate and factual results of the piercing effect of solid bodies to the reinforced concrete barrier.
The presence of sticking out rebar elements consisting of soft and loose wires inside the crater is more likely indicative of a crater being widened mechanically from the outside rather than with a crater resulting from a solid body penetration.
The state of the observed cylinder is not consistent with the deformation that a cylinder filled with a liquid (chlorine) could undergo in case of flat penetration. Otherwise a cylinder should have been more flat in its shape, and the stabilizer fins, front-end valve and other add-on devices should have been subject to a considerable deformation, or absent altogether. On the slide we clearly see that all those details were not damaged. How is that possible if the cylinder allegedly broke through a reinforced concrete barrier?
The conditions under which the cylinder pierced through the roof terrace into the apartment did not allow for its shifting away from the piercing trajectory without causing collateral damage to furniture, the floor, walls, or window glazing, the testimony of which was not observed. Samples from the site of the incident (this is stated in the FFM report) have traces of explosives (TNT), which indicates that the crater was formed from explosive deformation (a shell or a mine), and not as a result of a cylinder falling.
Just think of what we are supposed to believe in: a cylinder filled with chlorine falls from a large altitude and, breaking through the 30-cm-thick concrete roof, ends up in a room, where it gracefully bounces off the floor, and then, contrary to any rule of physics, floats to the bed, and smoothly gets down on it without even damaging any furniture. This must be accompanied by lots of noise and rattle, however, judging by the photos, even plates on the shelf were left untouched. All of this raises huge questions that we, unfortunately, receive no answers to. Or rather this is only a small part of questions that our specialists have. There are also questions from other areas of knowledge – chemistry, toxicology, testimonies by eyewitnesses, etc. Can our eagerness to receive answers to those questions be called disinformation? How can this be said after we have demonstrated these slides? So this is nothing like disinformation. This is an invitation to have a serious conversation at the expert level.