Statement by Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, during the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria
The grave tragedy that befell the Syrian people is in its sixth year. In 2011, Washington and some other Western capitals decided to continue reshaping the geopolitical space of the Middle East and North Africa, which started with the US and UK criminal invasion in Iraq in 2003. Besides, both in Libya and Syria, they continued to “swing an axe”, not shunning away from the support of terrorist groups. The inevitable implications, including break-up of countries and millions of refugees, were written off as an unforeseen “irritant”.
As a result, hundreds of armed groups are active in Syria, the territory of the country is bombed and shelled by just about everyone; the country’s return to peace has almost become an impossible task. Many months of work of Russian and US experts under the leadership of the Russian Foreign Minister and US State Secretary, as well as with the involvement of the Presidents of both countries led to a detailed plan reflected in the documents of September 9, the fulfillment of which in good faith could have calmed the situation on the ground, significantly improved the humanitarian situation, given an impetus to the resumption of intra-Syrian negotiations under the auspices of the UN. The start of its implementation was constantly delayed due to the sabotage of the irreconcilable opposition. These agreements had a lot of opponents. Unfortunately, we have an impression that their unconstructive position outweighed the desire for peace and common sense.
The US side virtually acknowledged its inability to have any influence on patronized groups and ipso facto honestly implement the reached agreements – first of all to separate moderate groups from terrorists and carry out related delineation on the ground. It was put down in black and white in all the documents. Nothing has been accomplished. We have seen only wanderings even on the issue of defining terrorist groups, suggesting that the main objective remains the preservation of military capacity of the adversaries of the SAR Government, whoever they are. Unscrupulous means and the most dubious allies were of help.
New conditions and ultimatums were laid down, which were changing as fast as a kaleidoscope. Ceasefire requests have become of a habit: either for 48 or for 72 hours. We have always been responsive, at least tried to, and made agreements with the Syrian Government. But finally, all this ended up with the militants’ regrouping, reinforcing and launching a new offensive.
Later, a demand to the Syrian Government came up to unilaterally stop flights of their Air Force as a precondition. First, for the period of three days – we agreed. Then it was said that the US President had changed his mind and seven days were needed – it was not clear why. Such tactical tricks cannot continue forever. We will no longer agree to make unilateral steps.
The bombardment by the so-called ‘coalition’ (it was reported to be British aircraft) of the position of the Syrian Army defending the Syrian city of Dayr Al-Zawr from the ISIS terrorists seriously impacted the agreements reached. There was a real threat that the terrorists would capture the city and it would inevitably lead to a slaughter of civilians. Fortunately, the Syrian Armed Forces with the assistance of the Russian Aerospace Forces had managed to prevent this tragic event.
A threat to the cessation of hostilities was emerging. However, Damascus showed an enviable restraint in this regard.
As our colleagues, and it is clear why, spoke of the situation when the humanitarian convoy had come under shelling, I will say a few words on this issue.
First of all, I would like to note that here in New York we first heard about this from the US State Secretary who said in a private conversation: “We have information that two Russian aircraft were somewhere near the humanitarian convoy for a few minutes, near the place where it was attacked”. “But you should not worry”, he added, “we are not going to make this fact public as it needs to be carefully examined”. However, in a few minutes, as usual, leakages from various agencies in Washington started, and the following day the State Secretary made this tragedy one of the core elements of his dramatic statement in the Security Council. What I want to say is to explain the way we have to work with our US counterparts.
Another aspect is that we from the very beginning said that there is a need to examine everything; because at first it was reported to be shelling, then it was said to be helicopters, later – aircraft. I am not a military expert but today I have read somewhere that the bombing allegedly lasted seven hours. But if Russian planes had been somewhere in that area for several minutes, could bombs fall on the humanitarian convoy during seven hours? I do not think so. So let us investigate this incident. By the way, two months ago our Western counterparts promised to inform us about their investigation of the bombing attack on the Syrian city of Manbij where over 100 civilians had reportedly been killed. It was said to be French aircraft that bombed the city. But neither our French counterparts nor US leaders of the ‘coalition’ are in a rush to inform us of the outcomes of that investigation, which they promised to conduct two months ago.
Now, Ms. President, I will return to the Aleppo issue. The humanitarian situation in Aleppo could have been normalized in August. But armed groups prevented it because they continued to dictate their conditions of the operation and shell the humanitarian corridors with the connivance of their external sponsors. Deblocking was possible even in September. The Government withdrew its troops to the agreed distances and the authorities set up one of the checkpoints stipulated by the Agreement of September 9 with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent personnel present and gave permission for humanitarian convoy passage. But provocations by militants followed again.
I will give more details on the situation in Eastern Aleppo. Eastern Aleppo is controlled by over twenty armed groups with about 3,500 fighters. Jabhat Al-Nusrah units are the main force in the east of the city. Their overall strength amounts to around 2,000 fighters. They possess tanks, armored vehicles, a field artillery machines, rocket launch systems, not to mention so-called ‘hell canons’ for shooting gas cylinders, and many dozens of units of other military hardware, including heavy weaponry. This hardware certainly could not have been homemade – it was received from and continues to be supplied by generous Western patrons with the connivance of the US that leads the ‘coalition’, I suppose. In this regard I recall a Libya-related episode when the following question was voiced during the hearings attended by the State Secretary in the US Congress at the end of 2013. The question was: We know that some countries supplied 20,000 tons of weapons to Libya with the connivance of the United States. Could you please give this information to us? I assume, the State Department had to send this information to the Congress. We asked it to be shared with us as well, but have not received anything though the United States had to do it in accordance with the existing Security Council resolutions on Libya.
I suppose that the scope of the military support to the motley horde in Syria is bigger than it was in Libya. The positions of the Government forces and residential areas of the city are shelled daily from eastern districts of Aleppo. The shelling is blind without adjusting and aiming with a view to inflict maximum damage. Since September 1, over 50 military and over 120 civilians have died as a result of shelling from Eastern Aleppo. The specifics of Jabhat Al-Nusrah firing is that they install weapon sites close to social infrastructure objects – pumping stations, power substations, hospitals, schools, mosques – and in densely populated areas. In these situations civilians become a human shield for terrorists.
Principal strike directions of Jabhat Al-Nusrah are to north – via the Castello road to and to south-west – through Ramouseh district – aimed to breach the Government’s defense and create a corridor for reserves’ passage, weapons and ammunition supplies, often in the guise of humanitarian aid. By the way, our US counterparts have told us for a long time that Al-Nusrah is not present in Aleppo, it is somewhere in the south, then they confirmed that it is also in the north. In fact, Al-Nusrah is the main military force there. According to available information, over 80% of population in eastern districts support the lifting of the siege by means of peaceful negotiations and demand the terrorists to leave the city. A number of Aleppo militias are trying to find an opportunity to negotiate with the Government. However, Jabhat Al-Nusrah firmly suppresses this sentiment.
Since September 1, seven mass executions of people supporting the negotiations or willing to leave the city have been recorded. On 19 September
26 men and teenagers that had refused to take arms to support Al-Nusrah were shot dead in the presence of the residents of the Sheikh Hader. Mass exit of people was witnessed through seven humanitarian corridors created by Russia and the Syrian Government; they tell about savage reprisals against civilians. Upon exit the citizens are given humanitarian aid. Over 4,000 civilians and around 300 militants have left the eastern districts through these corridors since the start of the operation. Humanitarian access to the city is blocked by the armed groups. Since September 12, Russia, Syria and the UN have been trying to ensure the passage of humanitarian convoys to Aleppo using the Castello road. Demilitarization efforts have been made to that end. Twice, on September 14 and 16, the troops were withdrawn. On September 17, the personnel of the Syrian Red Crescent installed the Western checkpoint. The opposition refused to take similar measures stipulated by the Russia-US agreements of September 9. The coalition of illegal armed groups “Fatah Halab”, the Aleppo local council, as well as provisional opposition government declared that they would not let the aid into the city via the Castello road. Their militants threatened to attack convoys. As a result, the humanitarian operation in Aleppo, prepared at the end of last August by Russia and the UN, has been thwarted. The militants take food and water from civilians, take medicines and make them work at defense construction sites.
There were riots in the Avvad, al-Ansari, and Sahur districts of Aleppo. Protests have been brutally suppressed by terrorists using arms. Therefore, around 20,000 citizens of Aleppo fell hostage of Jabhat Al-Nusrah terrorists and other affiliated groups. These terrorists try to use women and children as a human shield.
The Government forces ensure security of the Castello and Ramouseh highways, as well as circular roads, that are strategically important for the city in terms of supplies. They open fire only in response to terrorists’ attacks and at developed and verified targets. They also suppress Al-Nusrah’s fierce attempts to break into the city from south-west and north. For a break-through, the terrorists actively use mined cars and armored troop carriers with suicide bombers. Since August 1, over 40 such attacks have taken place in Aleppo. Aviation is used against militants’ facilities and their groupings only with the use of air gunlayers and target illumination.
The main objective is to push the terrorists out of the city with the minimum civilian casualties. The militants are offered to negotiate. A special northern corridor to the Castello road is established for the exit with arms. The Russia-US agreements of September 9 provide for a mechanism ensuring the security of exit for combatants under the monitoring by the UN. Anyone willing to be granted an amnesty can use a simplified procedure of status clarification. Officers of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation are present in the areas of humanitarian corridors to monitor the situation and prevent inhumane treatment of militants. Civilians are offered all possible means to leave the city and get away from armed groups. Terrorists put obstacles to this. We see an attempt to launch an media campaign aimed at discrediting the Government’s measures to push terrorists out with the use of fakes and old video-recordings, including those made in Western Aleppo. The scale of the operation is exaggerated, video-recording of shelling is done in deserted south-west districts of the city, where fierce hostilities have been conducted for over a month. They are presented as indiscriminate strikes against peaceful districts of Eastern Aleppo.
Now, Ms. President, I will talk about the political process and will address to Mr. Staffan de Mistura as well as, certainly, to the Council members. It is necessary to resume the political process. We, frankly speaking, do not understand why since May no resolute actions have been taken in this regard. I would like to remind that the first statement by the International Syria Support Group contains the following provision (p. 9): “The participants together with the United Nations will explore modalities for and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire… in parallel with this renewed political process“. It means that the continuation of the political process is one of the most serious circumstances that should have helped the establishment and observance of the ceasefire.
I would like to ask Mr. de Mistura: Could you say who refused to engage in direct talks all this time? We know the answer. But I would like to hear it from you. Probably, it is time to stop dance around irresponsible politicians who pretend to present the interests of the Syrian people. If they are not willing to negotiate, they can return to those foreign capitals where they found haven. Those representatives of the Syrian opposition should come forward who really want to steer their country out of the crisis, and you know that there are such people.
And of course, I have mentioned the ceasefire. We would like this to remain our objective along with the resumption of talks. I would like to stress once again that we can discuss the revival of the ceasefire only on the basis of collective approach. It means that it is not us who have to unilaterally prove anything to anyone but others have to convince us of their sincere desire to dissociate the opposition cooperating with the US-led coalition from Jabhat Al-Nusrah. Then Jabhat Al-Nusrah should be finished off whereas the opposition should be made part of the political process. If they fail to convince us, it will only raise our suspicions that all this was done to take the heat off Jabhat Al-Nusrah. Thus, the only way out is to work jointly and honestly when all the sides implement the ceasefire agreements instead of putting forward unilateral demands about who should make a good-will gesture in the hope to be rewarded afterwards.
Thank you, Ms. President.