Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

Statement by Mr.Vladimir Safronkov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East

The Russian Federation voted against the draft resolution (S/2017/315) on the chemical weapons incident in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April. That outcome was predetermined as we have consistently expressed our categorical disagreement with the distorted nature of the document, which, as events and consultations unfolded, did not undergo the slightest change. Russian concerns and priorities were ignored and brushed aside under artificial pretences. The primary problem was the fact that the draft resolution by the troika designated the guilty party prior to an independent and objective investigation. That approach is incompatible with legal standards. Those members were aware of our concerns, but, once again, put their unilateral and consequently doomed draft resolution to the vote. Has it become a national sport to intentionally undermine the unity of the Security Council?

The strike on the Syrian air base, which was undertaken before an international investigation was undertaken, was in violation of international law and lacked the approval of the Security Council. Voting in favour of the Western troika draft resolution would have meant legitimizing those illegal actions, which from the  point of view of international law and common sense is absolutely unacceptable. If our partners believe that it is necessary to adopt a generic resolution on chemicals in Syria, then we need to sit down together at the table and seriously agree on a comprehensive document, in which we will naturally include our assessments, backed by facts, on the use of chemical weapons by terrorists. In other words, we need to work on the basis of mutually taking into account each other’s interests and concerns.

If the goal of our Western partners in the draft resolution was to react to specific events in Khan Shaykhun, then, instead of adopting a one-sided anti-Syrian bias, it should have aimed at ensuring that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) be able to implement its mandate in conducting an impartial investigation. That is precisely the main difference between the Western and Russian draft resolutions. The troika’s draft is vague about the investigation; it routinely mentions the fact that the OPCW Fact-finding Mission to the Syrian Arab Republic will, at its discretion, determine the places that it would like to visit. Incidentally, a big question mark hovers over whether it would like to do so.

The Russian document contains a clear mandate to do that and in such a way as to leave one doubt that every available resource and all means were exhausted in preparing its conclusions, and, most importantly, that there was a visit to the site at which the incident occurred. We also insist that the staffing of the mission should be decided based on a broad geographical diversity. The results of the investigation must be credible.

It is of extreme concern to us that since receiving news of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun eight days ago, no concrete steps have been taken to investigate the incident through the relevant international entities. As usual, the OPCW Fact-finding Mission appears to be set up to work in remote mode, without visiting the sites where the incidents occurred. We believe that that amounts to a simulacrum of taking action, which only discredits the OPCW.

After what happened, we are going to have to be much more rigorous in taking a look at what the OPCW and the Fact-Finding Mission do. We are convinced that we need to have a full and immediate investigation.

The possibilities for such an investigation have not been exhausted. In order to have one, however, an international team of highly qualified specialists needs to visit the area of Khan Shaykhun and the Al-Shayrat  air base that was struck by missiles as soon as possible. In our view, the goal of the visit to Khan Shaykhun is to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used there and, if so, what were the circumstances and who could bear the responsibility for such use. A visit to the Al-Shayrat air base is also necessary, because that is how we can determine whether or not the toxic substances allegedly used in the bombing of Khan Shaykhun had been previously stored at Al-Shayrat.

We underscore the fact that in line with the Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2118 (2013), all parties in Syria have to provide international inspectors with free and unfettered access to the areas of alleged chemical-weapons incidents. Damascus has displayed, in its position statement on that point, openness and readiness to cooperate. On 11 April, the Syrian authorities approached the Director-General of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, Mr. Üzümcü, with an official request to send a mission to Khan Shaykhun and Al-Shayrat. We need to make use of that proposal by the Syrian authorities, instead of doing what we did after the chemical-weapons attacks in eastern Ghouta and Khan al-Asal, when people ended up being afraid to carry out an investigation. There were all sort of provocations there, and we almost got to the point where some permanent members of the Security Council were on the verge of armed attacks on Syrian territory. Fortunately, reason prevailed.

Like the Syrian authorities, the general coordinator of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, Mr. Hijab, sent a letter to the United Nations with a request to initiate an investigation at Khan Shaykhun and said that he stood ready to help in the investigation, which, for us, means providing safe access to the site of the alleged chemical incident. In other words, we have ended up with a very unusual situation where both the Government officials in Damascus and the opposition together are asking for an independent investigation, while the OPCW is doing nothing, for reasons unknown.

But if we are to talk professionally, then, in order to carry out an investigation by competent international authorities of what took place in Khan Shaykhun, and by that we mean first and foremost the OPCW, there is no need for a new Security Council resolution, and that is something that was being said during the past week by the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, except that he was putting a different spin on those words. It turns out that for him a resolution was necessary in order to predetermine the outcome  of the investigation. We should not forget the fact that our country was present at the inception of a unique, unprecedented process of the chemical demilitarization of Syria, which — and this has been acknowledged by authoritative international organizations — was carried out successfully. 

However, some capitals still have an anti-Syrianregime slant. We are left with the very clear impression that in actual fact the authors of the draft resolution do not want to work with the people whom they have sponsored and who feel very much at ease in Idlib province. They do not want to fulfil their responsibility to make sure that international specialists have free and safe access. Once again, let me repeat, they are afraid of an impartial investigation that could show that there is a developed system for manipulating chemical weapons. We have every reason to believe that after Khan Shaykhun other provocations by extremists using toxic substances could follow.

We once again emphasize that collective efforts today should be aimed at supporting the peace process using the Astana and Geneva platforms to strengthen the ceasefire regime and jointly combat terrorism, using a single standard. One of the first steps here should be the launching of an impartial, unbiased and truly independent investigation of the tragedy in Khan Shaykhun, which necessarily includes travelling to the place of the incident. Remote investigations must no longer be used. We are looking forward to the specific decisions that will be issued on that matter on 13 April, namely, at the meeting of the Executive Council of the OPCW on that date.

Once again I would like to ask speakers not to insult and offend Russia in their statements. We have to remain within some bounds of courtesy.