Press-conference by Ambassador V.Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and President of the UN Security Council for the month of October 2016
V.Churkin: I think we had one of the most effective meetings of the Security Council, consultations of the Security Council in the history of this institution because the meeting lasted seven minutes, and we successfully dealt with two issues: we adopted the program of work and also there was another very important issue which I am going to describe to you later.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Russian Presidency in the Security Council has started. And today the Members of the Security Council have approved their Program of work for the month of October.
We intend to hold at least 20 meetings of the Security Council, including 2 open debates on the Middle East and Women, Peace and Security and 2 debates on Haiti and on Cooperation between the UN and regional organizations.
The second debate, on October 28, will be our "central piece" in the program. We plan to focus on Cooperation between the UN and Collective Security Treaty Organization, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Commonwealth of Independent States in maintaining international peace and security. We will invite Heads of those organizations to brief the Council. We assume members of those organizations will take part in the debate.
The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council members at this debate, as well as at the meeting on Women, Peace and Security.
At this point we plan to adopt 2 resolutions. The first one, on October 6, on the extension of the authorization for Member States to inspect and seize vessels believed to be involved in illegal human trafficking and smuggling in the Mediterranean. On October 13 we plan to extend the mandate of MINUSTAH.
The first part of the month the Council will be mostly engaged with African issues.
On October 4 the Council will discuss the situation in Darfur.
On October 6 – a meeting on Mali is scheduled.
On October 10 – Central African Republic is on the agenda.
On October 11 – Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On October 17 we will discuss the report of the Secretary-General on South Sudan, which should contain information on the state of affairs with the Regional Protection Force deployment.
It is also likely that we have consultations on Burundi in October.
The Council will also deal with Haiti. This week we will meet with troop contributing countries to MINUSTAH. As you may have heard the hurricane hit the island. This means we can have some logistical issues with organizing the briefings by the SRSG. After resolving them we will announce the exact date. At this point we plan to hold a traditional debate on Haiti on October 11 in the afternoon.
The second half of the month will be more focused on the Middle East.
On Syria. The third week of October (17th) will start with the briefing by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura. The meeting on the humanitarian situation in that country will be on October 26.
On October 27, Ms. Gamba, Head of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, will present her 4th report on the use of chemicals in Syria. She will be accompanied by High Representative Kim Won-soo.
Regular consultations on Western Sahara, which traditionally include briefings both by Head of MINURSO and Personal Envoy Christopher Ross, are scheduled on October 18.
The quarterly open debate on the Middle East is on October 19. Next day we will hear from Special Envoy Ismail Olud Cheikh Ahmed on Yemen. Consultations on Lebanon are scheduled for October 27.
On October 26 traditional briefing by President Judge of the International Court of Justice to the Security Council will take place.
Another important issue is a possible Security Council meeting on ISIS/Daesh strategic report pursuant to SC resolution 2253, which was issued September 30. We will see if there is a need to schedule such a discussion.
Now one item which is outside of the program of work is in Arria-formula meeting but I think you will be interested to know about those plans as well. Five delegations: Angola, Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela are planning to convene on October 14 an Arria-formula meeting on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, that is why October 14 is not occupied by official Security Council business.
Now, that other very important subject which we discussed today was our presentation of the draft SC resolution which was announced. The intention to introduce that draft was announced by Minister Lavrov in his statement during the political debate of the General Assembly on September 23. This is the draft resolution aimed at countering terrorist and extremist ideology.
We believe that resolute action by the Security Council is needed to stop the worldwide spread of propaganda of terrorism and its distorted narratives. The ongoing growth of radicalism has been bolstered by modern technologies. They are effectively used by terrorist groups - ISIL, Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra and their affiliates – to recruit new members on line through popular social networks. The most vulnerable audience is youth. Despite some claims that the ISIL propaganda looses its effectiveness in Syria or Iraq we are convinced that there is, unfortunately, a growing demand for it throughout the globe, including the most developed countries.
The time has come, in our view, to accumulate the resources and expertise of the international community to create a robust counter-campaign against this trend.
Back in 2005 the Council adopted resolution 1624 aimed at criminalizing incitement to terrorism - one of the Council's basic counterterrorism decisions. Many of its provisionsremain as relevant as they were 11 years ago. Nevertheless the nature of the threat has changed dramatically. We need to update the decisions adopted at an earlier stage.
Our draft resolution is primarily focused on prohibiting and countering terrorist propaganda, including acts of public justification of terrorism intended to incite to further terrorist activities. The emphasis is on the use of the Internet or social networks for these purposes.
We also intend to develop a UN-centered approach to implement this provision. It includes some adjustments to the relevant SC mechanisms. Those who incite to terrorism have to be sanctioned like other supporters of terrorism. We suggest to include issues of countering terrorist propaganda in the ongoing dialogue of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate with Member States. Moreover, the draft has a set of measures on international cooperation, including exchange of information, assistance and coordination.
We believe that the threat of terrorist propaganda is common to everybody. We count on the support of our initiative in the Council and among wider UN membership.
The final topic I would like to address in my remarks is of course that of the process of selection of the next UN Secretary-General. As you know we agreed previously that on Wednesday October 5 we will conduct our sixth straw-poll, for the first time we will go into different colors, that means that people will see how Permanent Members of the SC vote and there is a possibility of a veto or not with regard to various candidates. And this morning we had a preliminary discussion and I have a feeling that members of the Council are leaning towards moving to a formal vote. We agreed to discuss that additionally immediately after the straw-poll on October 5. But there is a good chance that a few days after that we will go to a formal vote and things will become clear as to, do we have a candidate we are prepared to recommend to the GA, are we close to having a candidate whom we might be prepared to propose to the GA, or do we need to start from scratch. So, those are the issues of considerable importance and we will have to navigate through those waters within the next few days. We will see. I sincerely hope we do because I think you know everybody was so enthusiastic about this process. But it has been a time-consuming process with all the hearings and with the straw-polls. So I do sense this feeling of constructive fatigue among Members of the SC which hopefully will turn into a recommendation of a good person for the GA to appoint as the Secretary-General.
Q: On behalf of the Press Association I would like to thank you for coming here. I have a small question. One is on the resolution on Syria and I wonder if the other Member States agreed to reevaluate the monitoring mechanism that you don’t like? And if Russia is willing to support resolution and the second one is - are you still convinced that under you mandate you’ll be able propose a woman as the next Secretary-General?
V.Churkin: On the later one our gender balance has been restored but what the result of the process is going to be I can’t predict. On this resolution, of course, I assume you are referring to the French draft which had been so much in the media I will refrain from discussing it and it’s a little bit difficult, awkward for me to speak about it at the initial stage of discussion. The new draft was circulated late last night and this afternoon we had discussion among experts so it would be interesting to see how other countries respond to it but you know my first initial reaction, the day after initial reaction is twofold.
First of all the idea of draft resolution is to move us toward cessation of hostilities regime. Then the resolution would not even work. Just a resolution would not even work. In my view what might work if we were able to agree on stronger concerted action against terrorists because cessation of hostilities first of all is not supposed to apply to terrorist groups as you know. From the outset the regime of cessation of hostilities was established by the Russian Federation and the United States it was supposed not to apply to “Nusra” or ISIL. Secondly they are the spoilers, you may adopt a dozen resolutions but they will keep violating the cessation of hostilities.
Unfortunately, especially with “Nusra”, as we discussed many times before and as Minister Lavrov was speaking in great detail from this very platform a few days ago they are working with some other groups. They are regarded by the United States as moderate groups but even the United States does not deny that they are in contact and cooperation with “Nusra”. So you may adopt one resolution after another and as long as they keep fighting is it really realistic to expect the cessation of hostilities. So, in my mind the best opportunity to have a realistic chance for the cessation of hostilities was to put in effect those Russian-American understandings which were reached by Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry on September 9th which really were supposed to tighten the screws on the terrorist organization.,
My understanding is that, unfortunately, we are not there yet at terms in implementing those understanding and the other element of the French resolution is some kind of a monitoring mechanism. There we are a little bit baffled because there is a monitoring mechanism in Geneva. As you know on the working level the International Syria Support Group has split into two subgroups – one on the humanitarian situation and humanitarian issue in Syria and the other on the cessation of hostilities. They are meeting regularly in Geneva. And the only countries which were supplying any kind of information about violations of cessation of hostilities were Russia and the United States. With all due respect to France they have never given information about any violations or alleged violations of cessation of hostilities. So what kind of recommendations do we expect from the Secretary-General and that mechanism was chaired by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura. So to us it’s a little backward about what the intention is. If we want to see a stronger mechanism we need to be engaged more in this and you know various countries whom everybody knows support various groups fighting in Syria. They could be sharing some information with us – the group on the cessation of hostilities. So we will see. Once again this discussion has only started I don’t know what the plans of the French delegation are but I do hope that we will get involved in a serious conversation rather than you know pushing things through which may be not very useful and may make not much of a sense practically.
Q: One of the provisions was on the grounding of the aircraft particularly around Aleppo. I wonder what your reaction to that was and whether you know there are any new talks on the horizon between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov? And you raised an issue in your own resolution that you proposed which is radicalism, extremism, terrorist groups. Are you concerned that you are going to end up in the same difficulty of trying to define who is the terrorist, what are the terrorist organizations that your proposed resolution which we haven’t seen actually is trying to deal with?
V.Churkin: Well, not in a general sense like trying to define terrorism and there’s been a long-long process over the years, but we still believe that we have been dealing with the problems of terrorism here in the Security Council of the United Nations well enough even in the absence of generic definition of terrorism. As far as the most burning issues are concerned – Syria, Iraq, the Middle East, you all know what we are talking about. On Syria and Iraq we have defined in the Security Council “Nusra” and ISIL as terrorist organizations. “Al-Qaeda” is a universally recognized terrorist organization. There are some difficult issues we need to tackle in our draft so we do not expect it to be worked out and adopted within days, but we hope we can engage in a very serious discussion with our colleagues in the Security Council. I’m not aware of any plans between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry even worse for me sitting here I’m not quite sure what was the result and the nature of the discussions which are taking place between us and the United States in the past few hours. So I’m not exactly up-to-date on how the things are moving on and it is too easy to loose track.
Q: What about differentiate between the terrorists and non-terrorists?
V.Churkin: This is again something that Sergey Lavrov spoke very clearly about here before you a few days ago. We cannot accept unilateral steps. Our position is very simple – if we see where the terrorists are we are prepared to sit down with Americans and discuss where the terrorists are. They have been telling us for months now that they can differentiate between the terrorists and non-terrorists. If our help is needed in this conversation by experts we are prepared to do that. There have been some other elements to that discussion for instance sometimes we heard from the United States that one of the problems was that their targeting methods were much more sophisticated then of others. So they were alleging that they were in a better position to avoid civilian casualties. We were saying fine in that case this is another incentive for us to get together to make sure that our actions do not cause any civilian casualties. But I heard some negative reports out of Geneva but again it’s difficult for me to talk about that because I do not know exactly what has happened there.
Q: You, as the longest serving ambassador on the Security Council, more than 10 years in your post, you know better than anyone its main purpose to uphold international peace and security. How you would then explain the fact that your country is carrying out the indiscriminate bombardment along with your Syrian allies killing civilians women and children in Eastern Aleppo in defiance of international humanitarian law?
V.Churkin: First of all of course I can not subscribe to less than elegant phrasing of your question. I understand where you are coming from. Had it not been for our involvement in Syria it might well be that the black flags would be flying over Damascus. It could well be. This is the reality of the situation. This is the reality of the situation that “Nusra” moved to Eastern Aleppo and the UN people, Staffan de Mistura in the open chamber of the Security Council said like half of the fighters and may be slightly half of the fighters are “al-Nusra”. They are keeping the civilian population hostage. What we wanted to do is to have very close cooperation with the United States to fight Nusra as together as we possibly can given all the political circumstances. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out from the prospective of the United States. In the process of the past few weeks after September 9th arrangements we have seen numerous violations by Nusra and others who cooperated with Nusra on the cessation of hostilities regime. We have seen them launching a major offensive to the south of Aleppo where they were threatening to encircle around 1,5 million people in that area. So we see in extremely-extremely dramatic situation we must make sure that the Nusra influence is not going to continue to spread at least to the eastern parts of the country and that they have been trying to go on the offensive in some areas like Hama area between Damascus and Aleppo. So unfortunately those things have allowed to degenerate to a level where you can see dramatic TV-pictures. I have no doubt that our military are trying to do their best in order to avoid the civilian casualties…
Q: I know you are a loyal servant to your country but do you not feel at all uncomfortable defending this bombardment going on right now?
V.Churkin: I feel very uncomfortable to see this situation. I do but I would prefer to see Syria quite a peaceful country. I visited Syria some years ago when it was the model of moderation and tolerance in the Middle East. But then thins were blown up the way they were blown up. And it was one of the most prosperous countries in the Middle East as well. I would prefer to see Syria I saw some years ago but it was not our fault, it was pushed into the direction that it was pushed into.
Q: Since talks seem to have been stopped at least on the US Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov side do you think something can come about here with the secession of hostilities between you and Ambassador Power and others in the Security Council?
V.Churkin: At this point I do not see any immediate prospect but you know we keep trying. This is the nature of our business we keep trying if there is an opening and again I need to know more about what happened actually in our discussions in the past few hours with the United States and if there is a possibility of doing something productive in the immediate future.
Q: Just as a follow up do you think those kind of talks could happen here rather than at capital?
V.Churkin: I would not rule that out. There have been situations where we were able to sort of kick in and produce something positive. I would not rule it out. I would love to try. But it is not just us getting together and outsmarting everybody else who tried and was not successful we need to have some realistic reason to believe that we might come to some mutual understanding. But if there is a possibility we will definitely try very hard.
Q: Thanks for the briefing. Hoping for the stakeouts after the consultations. I want to ask you about Yemen. It is only on the agenda as you said, it is a regular briefing. Over the weekend there was a sinking of the UAE ship that some people were saying has the potential either to set things off if anyone raised it in the Council. People say it is a military ship and I wanted to know. Also I wanted to ask you about Western Sahara. This is a regular briefing too. Is it a checking up on the redeployment when peace keepers were rejected because today they said only 25 of 83 are back. I wonder if that the Council intends to get to the bottom of things.
V.Churkin: First of all, I did not want to turn this press conference into the global overview as the agenda proceeds we have a chance at the stakeouts to talk about various issues. We are aware of the situation of the reports from the sinking of the ship in Yemen. There is a draft press statement which is out there but we need to double check on the circumstances but of course the situation in Yemen and around it is a disaster and there is no, I think, a clear sight of what it might lead in terms of the political outcome but we are following matters very closely. So hopefully finally something ..a glimpse of hope might emerge from the current situation even though again let me say it does look very gloomy. On Western Sahara it would be a regular briefing. Please.
Q: I am going to shift the question to Palestine rather than Syria. Mr Ambassador, Palestine has been on the agenda since the inception of the United Nations. The last resolution was adopted on the 9th of January 2009. The Security Council has been prevented from seriously tackling the issue of the settlement although there are open debates, there are sometimes statements. The only time it was debated in 2011 there was a veto by the US. Are you prepared to do something more concrete not only an open debate not only statements but to stop this illegal practice of Israel by building more and more settlement?
V.Churkin: Well you know the political circumstances as well as anybody in this room. There is an ongoing activity on this matter. There is going to be a Arria-formula meeting on the 14th organized by some members of the Security Council. Russia has been trying very hard to move the process forward. We are in a unique position I think that we have good contacts with all the actors. Maybe the United States has better contacts with some of the actors, but we have very good contacts with all the actors. So we try to energize the Quartet, we help create those recommendations. They were not very well received by some but if they were to be implemented we believe that the situation would be better for creating some prospect for moving towards the political solution. As you know we offered Moscow, Russia as a place where President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu could meet, so the offer is still there. And the most important thing I think is that we are trying to work as a genuine member of collective effort, to move things forward. That particular issue of settlements. We did vote for that resolution which was vetoed as you pointed out correctly by the United States in 2011.
Q: I noticed in your footnote that you have non-proliferation. Were there any discussions today amongst the members informally about the proceeding with the possible resolution regarding North Korea?
V.Churkin: There are some discussions.
Q: Trying to go back again to put some light on choosing of the new Secretary General. Are you still with that statement that you gave some time ago that you are actually in favor of choosing a new Secretary-General, a woman Secretary General and will you try to enforce your previous statement I mean positions that the candidate should come, the successor of Ban-Ki Moon, form Eastern Europe? Are you expecting to finish that process during your Presidency as well?
V.Churkin: I said that probably WE were not here yet. I hope we will. I think that there are realistic chances that we might or we have to go doing it from scratch. I think from my conversations with all the candidates they really appreciate the fact that Russia’s position has been straightforward and very clear. We have been saying that we do believe that it is the turn of Eastern Europe to provide the next Secretary-General. We would very much like to see a woman but we are less PR-oriented than some other countries who have been loudly proclaiming preference for the woman only to stop voting for men and against women. We do not do that. But basically we need to have the best candidate and somebody who could be supported by the Security Council and be popular throughout the system of the United Nations.
Q: As you know recent weeks the tensions between India and Pakistan have gone…
V.Churkin: I do not want to go there.
V.Churkin: Because I am The President of the Security Council. The Security Council has not been discussing it. Sorry, sir. No comment.
Q: Back to the election of the new Secretary-General. Many of the journalists heard that you showed interest in some high position in the Secretariat Cabinet like the Head of the Political Department in the Secretariat. Can you confirm that and what is your position on rotation in general? When it comes to these high positions?
V. Churkin: Well we support the idea of rotation that is for sure that we have stated in our discussions in various formats in the General Assembly. We think that rotation is very important and yes we do believe that Russia should be properly represented in the Secretariat. Is it one particular post or another – is something else. We are not the only ones who are expressing the interest in various positions.
Q: I do not understand how Damascus can justify bombing hospitals like in Hama? recently or bombing areas where aid convoys have arrived right after that. It seems to me all justification as if anyone who opposes the Government since 2011 is considered a terrorist.
V. Churkin: If somebody has bombed bona fide hospitals, it is unjustifiable. And as to the humanitarian convoys, it is something which needs to be investigated. You may know that after we were accused publicly in the SC meeting by the Secretary Kerry of having bombed that convoy. A couple of days later senior American officials were telling us: "Well, actually, those were not your planes that bombed the convoy, so now we really need to investigate what happened.”
Q: The Secretary-General question. You said that you think that it should be Eastern Europe. Obviously, you are not going to veto anyone, a woman or a man. But are you willing to veto anybody who is not from Eastern Europe?
V. Churkin: If we cannot veto any woman or a man, you do not give us much room for a veto. But we will find our way.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, Mr. President, Russian diplomacy is under extraordinary moral condemnation at the moment. Can I ask you a simple question: What is your message as a diplomat here in the comfort of the UN to innocent civilians trapped in Eastern Aleppo? Are you at all concerned about their fate? Are you using all leverage in Damascus or don't you care?
V. Churkin: We are very much concerned about their fate. The terrorists need to be thrown out of Syria and Iraq. That is what needs to be done. The only way, the primary goal of Russian in that part of the world, in Syria and Iraq, is to throw out the terrorists. As long as the terrorists are there, there will be no be peace and quite for the civilians in Eastern Aleppo, or anywhere else.
Q: But there are hundreds of civilians frightened there tonight. What is your message?
V. Churkin: I am sure many more. I am sure since 2003 hundreds of thousands of civilians have been frightened in Iraq, Syria, in Libya. I can keep going about frightened civilians. So, this is the situation which needs to be reversed. And it will take a lot of diplomatic effort and Russia has been in the forefront of that diplomatic effort.
Q: Do you have a message for them tonight, Sir?
Q: I have a question about 1325. There are women who, international women , who went from North Korea and South Korea, and met with women from both countries. And they have sent a letter to Ban Ki-Moon asking him for a process towards a peace treaty and also between the two Koreas, and also to involve women in the process. And here we have the situation with North Korea which SC has not made progress on. And they are saying we need women involved in doing this. And women are working for peace. Is there any way to somehow have 1325 actually be implemented so that to get help towards a peace development?
V. Churkin: What we believe is this is an extremely difficult situation and sort of cycle of action and counteraction which we have in the past few years, actually since 2005, when this deal of September 19 fell through. It is not working. So we do believe we need to try some creative thinking. We do not have specific immediate proposals but certainly the DPRK testing and then US and others conducting some higher level military maneuvers. They are lifting up their military presence. That does not help at all. So in that creative thinking you know it may well be that the greater moment women could be one of the elements that might move the situation forward.
Q: If a citizen of the world would be watching alarming statements from both Moscow and Washington, practically it seems some sort of breakdown in any sort of cooperation and various battlefields and diplomatic deadlocks around the world stretching here you would appear a new Secretary-General might need a psychiatrist here on duty, what are people supposed to think going forward: a new cold war, something that an aggressive approach by both governments, you can have a new President in the White House. It may be not just people of Aleppo. What should other people around the world know about these two major powers going forward? Agree or disagree? Or something more serious?
V. Churkin: Of course, I hope that there is not going to be a new cold war. Actually, I think you sort of over-dramatized the nature of our difference with the US globally after a long period when we have been trying to work as closely as possible with the US in Syria. Apparently, there is a hitch. I hope this cooperation can be resumed under some other circumstances. But I would like to speak closer to my area of responsibility in the UN, in the SC also. And I think there are still plenty of areas where we can work together with the US. So, that is something which encourages me to think that the prospects for the next Secretary-General will not be as grim as you have described.
Q: Could you please give us more detail about the meeting on Burundi?
V. Churkin: The meeting has been requested by the French delegation. As you know we passed a resolution on Burundi where we authorized the UN to carry out certain police deployments, sort of observer police deployments in Burundi. And we are discussing with the Government of Burundi what is going to be acceptable for the Government of Burundi. The Government of Burundi has had some doubts about the usefulness of those deployments in their country. So, this is where it stands.
Q: In your national capacity, what is your view of the situation?
V. Churkin: In my national capacity I think the situation should not be allowed to turn something dramatic and I think this is the idea of that resolution that the international community and the African Union and then the SC, the UN may help to make sure that the situation does not get wrong, does not deteriorate in Burundi.
Q: My question is about Yemen. The situation in Yemen is very grave. When it comes to targeting civilians. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, both accused the allies of giving targets to the Saudis, and they are targeting civilian targets. If they are that bad in targeting Yemen, how can it be better in Syria? Why is the SC so timid about Yemen? Ismail Ahmed does not seem to have given any proposals for 18 months now. He has not been very proactive on that. Yemen is at least accusing of that. Also, if we compare Staffan de Mistura with Ahmed, there is big difference with relation to opinion what is going on the ground. Timidity is one of the things that can be said about that.
V. Churkin: I do not want to make any comparison but of course it is a very dramatic situation but the thing is that in the SC we have 2 out of 5 Permanent Members who have actually voted for this campaign on the side of the coalition. We all know that. The UK and the US. And there is a dramatic difference talking about civilians. The UK would always demand some independent investigation whatever. In Yemen they blocked independent investigation. It is Human Rights Council. Why? Because they sold six billion dollars of weapons in the past couple of years. And they are of course participating in the targeting in the whole sane, civilian targets are hit there, their eyes do not even blink. When you hear this kind of statements, civilians and the whole thing here in the UN, you must also accept this is also an extremely cynical place. In one area they will weep it up, in another area they will rather hush it up.
Q: You regret supporting 2216 resolution about Yemen?
V. Churkin: We did not support it. We were smart enough to..
Q: You abstained, you let it go.
V. Churkin: It was necessary to have this resolution pass because it was hard to justify what they did. An we never justified what they did. They did something quite extraordinary. But also we realize that that resolution could be abused by the Coalition because they might be pushing their demands to a point when they might not show any prospect of a real political deal.
Q: Today Taliban intervened in the city of Kunduz. Is there going to be any action on the SC on this?
V. Churkin: It is not envisaged if I remember my program of work correctly, it is not envisaged for the month of October. This is another problem we have had on Afghanistan. The US prefers to be as quiet about Afghanistan as possible. All those suggestions that may be we should do a mission of the SC to Afghanistan. They die away very quickly because they do not want to expose the things which are there and the fact that they are not being able to do what they were supposed to do over the past 10 years in the course of the US military presence there and NATO military presence.
Q: Follow-up on Aleppo. Doest it mean that the Russian planes will continue bombing in Aleppo no matter how many civilian lives lost and destruction caused even if it is the human catastrophe?
V. Churkin: We do not want to see a human catastrophe. And as I said our military are trying to choose their targets very carefully. Eastern Aleppo has been taken hostage by “al-Nusra” and some others who are working for “al-Nusra”. Please, give us a recipe how to deal about it. We start it out. You will recall. By saying that we are creating 7 corridors for the civilians to come out, those who want to. Armed fighters can come out along one of those corridors even bearing the arms and the whole thing. They did not want to hear anything about it. And they kept abusing civilians, executing civilians. Please read on the website of our Mission the statement I made in the Council on September 25. Unfortunately, it was very poorly translated I am told but we did our own translation, so you look at it very carefully. Listen, if you think that civilian casualties are something insignificant to us, you are dead wrong. But this is a situation when terrorist groups keep fighting and they are disregarding civilian casualties, sometimes they are trying to create as many civilian casualties as possible. So this is where it starts. The situation has been allowed to degenerate into this awful mess and we are trying to find a way out of it, and trying to make sure that black flags are not going to fly over Damascus.
Q: I want to ask about the resolution that the French have drafted. First of all, when do you think it will be up for a vote in a Council meeting? And will Russia veto if the grounding of aircraft is included in that resolution?
V.Churkin: First of all, it is not my resolution, it is the French resolution. The French will decide whether and when to put it to vote. They told us from the outset they want to have a resolution around which SC Members can unite and they do not want to see the Russian veto. That is what they told us. If they were sincere in their assurances, we can have a resolution I suppose which would be more balanced. But also I sort of expressed our attitude. I am not even sure. Many other SC Members would like to see a resolution on cessation of hostilities which has no chance of working. If you pass a resolution you suppose, you expect something to happen. But if the only effect of that resolution is that the Secretary-General will start thinking of some monitoring mechanism which is not going to work in the first place, then there is no much sense in having this resolution. Maybe two more questions.
Q: Just to clarify on that point, will you veto that resolution if it specifically calls for the grounding of warplanes? And number two, just a second question on the Joint Investigation Mechanism (the JIM): is Russian now prepared to consider some sort of a mechanism to hold accountable those who have used chemical weapons?
V.Churkin: On the first issue, I tried to avoid using the word veto before. I have the instructions and before the final product is there. Clearly, we believe that singling out aviation where terrorists would be allowed to do whatever they want would not be a very attractive proposition, would not be a proper way to approach this resolution. Now the second question was about the JIM. We are going to see what the fourth report contains. The third report, they put a lot of highly professional work in it. But in our view, and we had a very detailed analysis of that report as they put it before, maybe I can sort of repeat this phrase: it does contain a smoking-gun but there are no fingerprints on the smoking-gun. Apparently in some cases chlorine may have been used but from what they say in that report it is impossible to prove that in fact it was the Syrian Government or the Syrian air-force which used that. The fourth report is more persuasive about pointing in the direction of the use of chlorine then we will evaluate the situation. But let me tell you I hope you understand. I think it would be stupid for the Syrian air-force to use chlorine bombs. It’s a very ineffective weapon. The same canister you can deliver much more bang than with chlorine, which can possibly hurt just a few people. I will just give you one example of the situation, with all due respect to the JIM, extremely professional work, but one of the cases which has been ascribed to the Syrian Government. And they should be blamed for it. This barrel bomb with chlorine was supposed to drop through some kind of a chimney and explode within the building. Can you imagine if you drop a barrel from a helicopter, it starts rolling, if it enters the chimney and it is about the size of the barrel we are told, it will ruin half of the house because this barrel keeps rolling within the chimney. In my unprofessional assessment, the much more plausible scenario is somebody was trying to build this chlorine bomb within the house then it went off. We had this conversation with Ms Gamba. I said what were the chances. One in a million, she said. Yes, one in a million. But then I looked in this rolling thing we talked about in the military, not even one in a million chance that it would have been dropped from a helicopter and went through this chimney without ruining the whole house. We have to deal with the situations like this. I actually would be relieved if there was an iron-dad case. Saying well this is exactly what happened and you can look at it and say: “Really we need to punish those people”. But, unfortunately, in terms of our desire to punish somebody who may have been involved in that, we do not see that. Just let me say, they were given an impossible task, they were supposed to investigate something which happened two years before without in many cases the possibility of visiting the places, extremely highly professional work. But they only produced what they produced.
Q: You mentioned that more than a half of the fighters in Eastern Aleppo are “al-Nusra”. What was the percentage of ISIS either in it or used in Aleppo and surrounding areas? How significant are the so-called moderate fighters?
V.Churkin: The moderate fighters….Again I mentioned this in my statement on 25th of September. In Eastern Aleppo the calculation of our military as of that date – 3,500 fighters. Close to 2,000 of them are “al-Nusra” and then the rest of them are scattered among twenty different groups which also cooperating with “al-Nusra”. ISIL is not there, it is elsewhere. ISIL is around Dayr al-Zawr, ISIL is in Iraq, so it is not in the vicinity of Aleppo or Damascus, which is the “al-Nusra” territory.
Q: On Dayr al-Zawr. After the attack on that mountain-looking Dayr al-Zawr airport, we have seen the Americans are intensifying their attacks against bridges in the region, in Dayr al-Zawr, cutting Dayr al-Zawr from one side of the river. Four bridges have been destroyed. How are they coordinating with the Russians?
V.Churkin: They are not coordinating.
Q: What are the possibilities, what are the risks that any friction can happen between if there is no coordination?
V.Churkin: Deconflicting keeps going because the first arrangement, you will recall, we made with the Americans when our air-force arrived on the scene. So that the military aircraft do not interfere in each other operations. This is still there. But of course there is no coordination. This is not what we want to have against “al-Nusra” and ISIL. That was the essence of September 9th arrangement of Geneva. But it is not happening. About the bridges I don’t know. I don’t have any first-hand information. But I am not surprised. Because, remember, in 1999 they started bombing Serbia, the first thing they did – bombing bridges across the Danube, which were hundreds of kilometers away from Kosovo, from whoever else. So, apparently, this is what they do.
Q: The Syrian Government presented to the Security Council the information that some terrorist groups are preparing some kind of weapons in as-Sukhari?
V.Churkin: This is a matter of great concern to us and this is where the SC should have done better. You may recall that a couple of months ago we suggested a modest modification of the functions of JIM – we wanted somebody to collect information, not to investigate even but to collect the information which is coming from various sources about terrorists using or preparing to use chemical weapons. To us it would have enhanced the awareness of the Security Council as to what is going on. But our Western colleagues said no. For them, the balance, as they put it between the government and the opposition or terrorists is more important. They didn’t want to sort of reorient the JIM towards the terrorists which in our view did not make any sense because the terrorists are around there and we know that they are preparing for the use of chemical weapons. In fact one of equivocal statements in the third JIM report is the use of mustard gas in Northern Syria. This was one of the chances missed in the Security Council as far as the terrorists and the chemical weapons are concerned.
Q: How does your military actually can count a number of terrorists and in what groups they are in Aleppo? How did they achieve these numbers?
V.Churkin: I don’t know exactly. We do have military intelligence and those people have their sources.
Q: You have been very patient with us but it is still not clear in my mind, do you come to this press-conference with any sense of moral responsibility or do you regard Syria as just entirely disconnected from Russian foreign policy or Russian military policy? Do you have a sense of responsibility for what is happening in Eastern Aleppo?
V.Churkin: When you come clearer in your mind about what you want to ask, please ask me the question.