Statement by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy at the open VTC of UNSC members on the implementation of SC resolution 2118
I am glad to welcome you at the first Security Council session in 2021. We congratulate our Tunisian colleagues on the beginning of their presidency in the Council. Mr. President, let me assure you of our comprehensive support.
Let me also welcome the five new non-permanent members who start their tenure at the Council and wish to them successful and fruitful work.
I thank Ms. Nakamitsu for presenting the 87th monthly report of OPCW Director-General (S/2020/1300) dedicated to the progress of implementation of UNSC resolution 2118. Thank you, Izumi.
It is quite symbolic that we commence our work this year with open discussions of Syria’s chemical file. Upon our initiative, starting from September 2020, UNSC meetings under this agenda item have convened in the open, thanks to which all those who closely follow this matter can receive firsthand information. We find it positive that this time no one at the Council spoke up against this. It proves that all UNSC Members have realized the importance of having a transparent discussion of this topic. Transparency and unbiased fact-based approach are the two principles that Russia promoted in the Council during the entire year 2020 in the context of the Syrian chemical file.
For these purposes, on 28 September 2020, we convened an “Arria-formula” meeting of UNSC members with participation of independent experts I.Henderson, T.Postol, and A.Mate. In October, upon Russia’s initiative, the Council heard the assessments of former OPCW DG J.Bustani – a professional with impeccable reputation and many years of experience at the helm of the Organization. His statement, which we had to read out because of the unconstructive position of Western delegations, provides an objective review of the internal situation in OPCW, fraught with serious problems for both its reputation and operational efficiency.
It took us several months of struggle before we could have the incumbent Director-General of OPCW, Mr. Arias, invited to the “Syria CW” discussion at the Security Council. He evaded this invitation for quite some time on various pretexts. Finally, in December 2020, DG Arias briefed the Council. When insisting on inviting him, we hoped that esteemed Director-General would at last provide clarifications on a number of questions to the work of OPCW Technical Secretariat (TS), i.a. with regard to ever-more-resonant irregularities and malfunctions concerning Syria’s chemical file. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Director-General Arias limited himself to formally repeating the already known general points. We heard nothing new from him either at the open or the closed segment of our meeting in December.
Besides, F.Arias could not deliver a full-fledged briefing, as the open VTC suddenly interrupted and then resumed in a closed format. No one could explain why this had happened. As a result, Director-General evaded answering to the questions that he had received from the audience during the open segment, even though such an approach runs counter to the normal practice of briefer interventions at the Security Council. This situation was very unflattering for the entire Council. We hope it will never occur again.
We hope that DG Arias soon finds courage to appear before the Council again and answer publicly to all the questions we had addressed to him. Those who were present at our discussion on 11 December already have the list of those questions. We plan to circulate this document once again for the information of the newly arrived Member States.
Let me briefly put the new UNSC members in the way of things regarding Syria’s chemical file and explain why this issue raises that much emotion and opposing assessments in the Council. Let us turn to facts.
Syria voluntarily, given Russia's support, joined OPCW, submitted its initial declaration under the CWC and disposed of all CW stockpiles. In 2014, Syria’s chemical weapons program was fully shut down, all CW stockpiles were eliminated and production capacities destroyed. OPCW proved this on many occasions. Since then Syria has engaged in comprehensive cooperation with OPCW, its Technical Secretariat, including the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT), and all investigative missions on the ground. There were hopes that all this would leave behind the allegations that Syria's leadership had used CW against its own population. Unfortunately, those hopes did not come true.
Throughout all these years, a number of states have been playing this “chemical card” to step up pressure on the Syrian government that they failed to overthrow in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring. I will not go into all the detail now, but the facts are that Western states again and again pronounce grave accusations of Damascus with reference to unconvincing evidence, to put it mildly – like video footage on social media or “testimony” of knowingly biased witnesses who belong with anti-governmental opposition or the notorious “White Helmets”. At the same time, proofs of the opposite, provided not only by Syria and Russia, but also by a number of independent experts and organizations, are deliberately ignored.
Regrettably, OPCW Technical Secretariat plays an increasingly negative role in this process. At first, we still had hopes that the TS would be able to stick to its technical mandate and investigate in an unbiased manner all cases of alleged use of chemical weapons on the Syrian soil. However, those hopes vanished too soon.
OPCW TS reports featured irregularities starting from the very first reports of OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria (FFM). Sometimes they would say projectiles had landed in ventilation shafts, “tailored” precisely to accommodate their diameter, or that unguided air bombs, instead of falling free on the ground, had flown a 5-kilometer distance to hit the target, or that activists from the “White Helmets” had collected samples of sarine with almost bare hands.
The farther the worse. The TS stopped even pretending to observe the normal practices and procedures of collecting evidence, i.a. the principle of secure preservation of physical evidence. When the most scrupulous employees of the Technical Secretariat, who were not ready to compromise with their conscience, raised alarm and refused to take part in a blatant forgery, the TS guidance started to oppress, intimidate and suppress the “dissidents” and distort facts.
Nevertheless, by the beginning of 2021, the bulk of proofs of direct forgeries, manipulations and internal violations in OPCW TS reached a critical mark. It would take me hours to list them all. The most vivid examples are blatant violations during investigations of incidents in Khan Sheikhoun (April 2017) and Douma (April 2018). I call on those who would like to form an objective idea of this, to study the materials provided by the independent experts at the “Arria-formula” meeting on 28 September that I mentioned before. It ensues from these materials that the TS conclusions on Khan Sheikhoun and Douma run counter to the basic laws of physics. I also recommend to pay attention to the testimony of I.Henderson, former OPCW expert who had taken part in the Douma investigation, who said that the TS leadership, under the direct pressure of Western states, “falsified” conclusions regarding the use of chemical weapons by the SAR. You have a summary of the mentioned “Arria-fomula” VTC. It is about to be circulated as an official document of the Security Council and the General Assembly upon our request.
Report of OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) on 2017 Lataminah incident is climax of all unscrupulous efforts of the Technical Secretariat. This is a politically biased, factually unreliable and technically unconvincing document that was well and truly beaten by the experts. We have already shared our detailed criticism of it, our arguments were circulated as an official UNSC document as early as in July 2020. However, you do not really have to be an expert to realize that Syrian governmental forces had no need (even hypothetical) to use chemical weapons, because at that moment the Syrian military was on a successful advance and had already won back control of nearly 75 % of its territory!
However, it is this dubious report that laid down the ground for the “accusatory” anti-Syrian decision of OPCW Executive Council, adopted by a minimum required number of votes at the July session last year. This decision prescribed that Syria must meet the knowingly unrealistic conditions – declare the allegedly remaining chemical weapons and related facilities that Syria simply does not have. Of course, Syria could not meet this ultimatum, and now our Western colleagues seek to incapacitate Syria in OPCW by initiating a corresponding process. Hopefully, the majority of delegations at the Member States’ conference in April will reject this provocation, and the West-initiated decision, which is “punitive” by nature, will not pass.
As for the recent DG report on the progress of resolution 2118, we are deeply concerned by its “accusatory” paragraphs regarding the outstanding issues of initial declaration. As we learned at our “Arria-formula” event from former inspector Henderson whom I mentioned earlier, the Technical Secretariat directly instructs the DAT to keep them open. Given this approach, the Syrians will never be able to close this part of the file, no matter how hard they try to justify themselves. I would also like to remind that, according to the same expert, at the initial stage of joining the CWC, many states-holders encountered similar problems when filing their declarations. But those problems were perceived as “minor drawbacks” that did not undermine the integrity of declaration.
I will not dwell on all details of issues related to initial declaration, because such discussions fall within the prerogative of the Hague platform, which holds the required technical expertise for that. By the way, the UN Secretariat does not have such expertise, which makes us wonder why it would push so hard on this topic. However, by way of a general remark, I would note that, as per the established OPCW practice, initial declaration is a dynamic instrument. States add to their declarations all the time, which is not perceived as something extraordinary. It can be about adding the recently discovered, old, abandoned stockpiles or chemical riot control supplies. There are many examples of this. My American colleague surely knows that the US on a regular basis updates its declaration, and therefore its declared stockpiles are growing – moderately, but constantly. Canada, Belgium, France, Germany and other countries do the same. In particular, our German colleagues, the well-known champions of anti-Syrian slogans at the Security Council, in 2013 belatedly declared a facility that had been used to produce nitrogen-mustard-gas in 2011-2012. The reason for that – allegedly, Berlin was not aware of OPCW requirements. As you see, nobody is perfect.
As for problems with initial declarations, suffice it to mention Libya – in 2012, around 500 undeclared projectiles were discovered there; or Iraq, where the initial declaration was based solely on UN documents, with no one to confirm it later. But the TS was easy on all those drawbacks with initial declaration.
In a word, there is every reason to believe that Syrian initial declaration was not an extraordinary case; and that the TS and Western delegations prefer to inflate agitation around it artificially. This is why in December 2020 we invited F.Arias and requested some explanation as to why the TS used double standards and “forgave” minor drawbacks in initial declarations of some countries, while “inflating” accusations against others. We received no answer to that. Instead, the DG report again asserts that Syria allegedly “does not cooperate actively enough” with OPCW in resolving this issue.
To avoid misunderstanding, I would like to emphasize that Russia, as any other responsible OPCW member state, in strongest terms condemns usage of chemical weapons by whoever for whatever purposes. That is why it is important to us that OPCW be able to fully implement its mandate. This is a global problem, not limited to Syria only. The Syrian chemical file has become a test that exposed all the problems that aggravate the current activities of OPCW. The problem itself is much broader, and it has obtained a systemic dimension – crisis of confidence to an international organization that used to be highly reputable is gaining momentum. Sadly, this organization is turning into a tool of political manipulation and a means to punish the unwanted.
This is a treacherous trend and we need to resist it collectively. OPCW is seriously ill with politicization. Those who call to turn a blind eye to this only exacerbate the situation. Let me ask a question to our colleagues who like to blame Russia for “attempts to undermine OPCW authority": who really means well to a patient – a doctor who diagnoses and prescribes treatment (even though it may be unpleasant at times) or the one who despite objective facts convinces the patient that he is absolutely fine? To our deepest regret, OPCW is not absolutely fine, so let us treat it together.
In conclusion, let me assure you that we intend to continue our struggle for restoring trust to OPCW and strengthening its mandate, protect the fundamental pillars of WMD non-proliferation regime and counter disinformation and blatant lies. In that, we count on support of all our UNSC colleagues.