Statement by Chargé d'Affaires of the Russian Federation Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC briefing on the issues related to implementation of resolution 2118
We join our American colleagues in thanking the French delegation for a successful presidency that they had in July. Mr.President, we welcome you as Chair of the Security Council and wish to you all the best. We are ready for cooperation, and you can count on our assistance.
We thank you and your colleagues for convening this UNSC meeting dedicated to the implementation of resolution 2118 in person. We are convinced that this is the most effective way to organize this discussion. We believe transparency is critically important in the context of Syrian chemical file – first of all in light of the approach that the OPCW Technical Secretariat has had these recent years.
We thank Mr.Thomas Markram for presenting the 93rd report of the OPCW Director-General. To our regret, we as before cannot agree with many of the report’s assessments.
What surprised us the most was how the report dwelt on the briefing that DG Fernando Arias delivered in June. The report said the DG Arias had given “detailed answers” to the questions that he received during that meeting. It is hard to think of a more absurd and far-off assertion.
DG Arias’s replies to the questions of UNSC members had so densely packed with discrepancies and straight-up distortions, and they were so striking that we had to react by circulating our arguments as official UNSC documents. The Syrian side had to make a similar step. We call on all delegations that are interested in perceiving an objective vision of that to study these materials (SC documents S/2021/641 and S/2021/588).
Today I am not going to give a detailed account of all contradictions that we spotted in DG Arias’s statements. We intend to do this during the next briefing of OPCW leadership at the Security Council, which we hope won’t be long in coming.
At this point, I will just flag the most outrageous aspects.
Director-General indulged in saying that at the beginning the Russian Federation allegedly had agreed to the conclusions of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria with regard to the Douma incident (April 2018). As a proof, he selectively quoted Note Verbale 759 of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the OPCW dated 26 April 2019. Colleagues, this is a direct forgery and disinformation, because the Director-General omitted the main conclusion of that note, which read that Russia insisted on the staged character of the incident in Douma, because the materials of the FFM report did not allow for a conclusion that toxic chemical agents might have been used as a weapon there.
At the very least, it was incorrect of DG Arias to state that the very fact of UNSC resolution 2118 (2013) calling to hold to account all those responsible for using chemical weapons added legitimacy to the work of the so-called Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) that was established within the OPCW in violation of Article 15 of the CWC. The decision of the 4th special session of the OPCW Executive Council that convened in June 2018 only offered the Director-General of the Technical Secretariat to present his observations as to engaging qualified external experts (who would have relevant expertise) in OPCW investigations upon request of a CWC member state and building capacity and resources of the Secretariat in order to better implement the CWC-warranted verification regime. However in reality DG Arias and his team basically created the IIT and elaborated its “terms of reference” The OPCW Executive Council did not look into any prior considerations to that end, which violated para.35 of Article 8. It had to deal with a fait accompli. Does it look like the Technical Secretariat had a “merely technical” role, as DG Arias would put it? I underscore that the Security Council never delegated its Charter-based exclusive authorities by attribution to either OPCW or by far its Technical Secretariat. No surprise that reports of the illegitimate IIT were prepared in violation of CWC norms as far as its methods and data collection. Besides, they were biased and pursued only one goal, which was not to come up with a truthful overview of the events, but rather to make the facts fit into pre-cooked conclusions about Damascus being guilty, in other words – to work off a political order. That is why we reject the conclusions of both the issued IIT reports (on Al-Lataminah and Saraquib) and any “products” the IIT may come up with in the future.
In fact, DG Arias almost overtly admitted that the OPCW TS did not uphold the CWC-stipulated methodology and the chain of custody when conducting its investigations, but used some “innovative methods” instead. What’s interesting, it was presented as something to be proud of rather than a direct violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention!
We regret that when briefing the Council in June, DG Arias was so neglectful of the two former employees of the OPCW Technical Secretariat who, as befits any conscientious and unbiased international official, had not been able to put up with a straight-up forgery and dared shed light on blatant manipulations of the Douma report and its conclusions. Counter to what DG Arias was saying, the two inspectors were both highly qualified professionals who had been directly involved in the Douma investigation, which fact is proven by documented evidence.
We have not received from DG Arias any plausible explanation why the approaches of OPCW TS to Syria’s initial declaration were much tougher than its approaches to other states, e.g. Libya and Iraq, that had encountered similar problems, but had not received such heavy criticism as Syria, which joined the CWC amidst exceptionally difficult, extraordinary conditions of military and political instability and a looming terrorist threat that was supported from outside the country. Despite all this, Syria faithfully complied with all obligations, which fact the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council in June 2014. In 2016, the OPCW Executive Council and the States-Parties Conference confirmed the fact of final elimination of Syria’s CW potential. The Technical Secretariat holds no “special” authority concerning Syria’s initial declaration under para.8 of Article 4 of the CWC. Contrary to claims of DG Arias, the CWC gives no right to the Technical Secretariat to apply any advanced or politically motivated verification requirements to Syria. Nevertheless, this is exactly what we see in reality. The more open to the TS the Syrians are, the more steps forward they take by hosting investigation teams and receiving intrusive inspections, the more questions and criticism they have to contend with.
Let me make a separate point about the airstrike mentioned in the DG report, which was launched against a declared former CW production site in Syria on 8 June this year and destroyed two cylinders related to the Douma incident of April 2018. Frankly speaking, it is rather strange that the report makes an emphasis on those cylinders having been moved by the Syrian side while giving no assessment to the fact of the airstrike itself. Even if the Syrian side moved them – within its territory, I underline this – does it justify the strike, which as a matter of fact was an act of aggression against a sovereign state? This is what we read off the report’s provisions at this point.
We believe that now we should be bothered by another question: who would have benefited from launching such an airstrike? Not the Syrians, that is for sure. It is hard to imagine them pick such an arcane way to get rid of the cylinders By all odds, it is more like some external forces tried to “cover up the tracks” in light of numerous public discussions of the manipulated FFM report on Douma.
We repeatedly warned about the destructive ramifications for OPCW reputation that the “punitive” decision incapacitating Syria at the organization would incur. I mean the decision that Western delegations “pushed through” the States-Parties Conference in April this year in violation of CWC norms (it was put forward directly to the Conference without prior consideration by the Executive Council) and the principle of consensus. Let me remind that in fact less than a half of OPCW member states voted in favor of this decision, among them – only six Western states of the current composition of the Security Council. The others either voted against or abstained. A number of former Council members adhered to the same position.
This was a clearly unjust decision (which had but one goal – to make Damascus a rogue). It would undercut motivation of whatever state to cooperate with the OPCW.
Despite this, the Syrian side does not refuse to collaborate, but demonstrates openness and readiness for dialogue with the TS leadership, and by the way at a high level. The current report of Director-General also confirms this. We believe it best illustrates the fact that any speculations saying that dialogue between Syria and the OPCW is stalling are absolutely invalid.
All Russia calls for is strict compliance with the CWC on the part of both member states and the Technical Secretariat under the lead of its Director-General. In accordance with the CWC, it is the Director-General who must do the fair brokerage. But instead of this we have a conundrum: the Technical Secretariat itself violates the Convention, and the Director-General, instead of curbing those violations, openly boasts about them. The dangerous incline towards politicizing of the OPCW is getting more prominent from month to month. From an independent and unbiased guardian of the CWC, it is evolving into a tool to punish the “unwanted” for the sake of geopolitical ambitions of some states. This jeopardizes the reputation of the OPCW, casts a shadow over its status as a pillar of WMD non-proliferation, and calls it into question whether the OPCW effectively implements its mandate.
Unfortunately, it seems that DG Arias is little surprised and is actually fine with this situation. Or else how can we explain his stance, which further exacerbates the already lamentable situation around the OPCW and implementation of its mandate? Unfortunately, there is no reason to think otherwise or cherish at least faint optimism.
In response to the representative of Estonia:
I asked for the floor again to express our surprise over the stance that our Western colleagues adopted with regard to the airstrike on the cylinders that had to do with the Douma incident. I already addressed this in my main statement. Let me just say again that, as we expected, a number of UNSC members cast aside the fact that a third party destroyed the evidence that had been the central piece of many questions to the quality of the work done by the OPCW mission. From the point of view of basic common sense, Syria had no reason to seek elimination of that evidence. At the same time, Damascus had every reason to worry about safety of the mentioned cylinders, should they have been transferred to the Hague – after OPCW experts failed to safe-keep samples of phosphorus chloride that had been picked at the 22nd round of DAT consultations in October 2019 and that mysteriously disappeared from a certified OPCW laboratory after that. I would like to remind you and underscore that the Secretariat still has not disclosed reasons why it lost the samples, the very fact of which it concealed for several months on end.
Let me also briefly address the remarks of our Estonian colleague, who mentioned the so-called Navalny poisoning. We already got used to the fact that our Estonian colleagues may be a bit too late reacting to some facts or developments. I remind that the story with the so-called Navalny poisoning has indeed become toxic, however not for Russia but rather for our Western colleagues who still do not answer to all our questions. So I believe it may be even uncomfortable for you to raise this issue now. A little piece of advice if I may: do recommend to your colleagues in Tallinn to update the “talking points”. Time flies.