Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at a UN Security Council Briefing on Syria
We thank USG M.Lowcock and Special Envoy G.Pedersen for their statements.
Today we again discuss the situation in Syria at the Security Council. We discussed it twice (!) within one day - on 29 January, we discussed it yesterday, we will do it at the sessions on 19 and 27 February. There are scheduled and special meetings of the Security Council. All special meetings have a somewhat familiar pattern. For some reason they are convened at the moment when terrorists in Syria are under threat, and the Syrian government reinstalls control over its national territory. Let me remind that those are terrorists recognized as such by the Security Council. We talk about sovereign territory of Syria and about militants that it is the right and duty of any government to fight with.
In December 2019 - January 2020 terrorists from 'Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’ that captured Idlib de-escalation zone, galvanized their activity. End of last year there were over 1400 attacks by militants that used tanks, machine guns, mortar and artillery bombardments. Over the past 24 hours there have been 31 cases of fire in provinces Latakia, Idlib, Hama. All this data is available at the website of the Defense Ministry of Russia. By the way, we circulate corresponding bulletins on a regular basis. But some of our distinguished colleagues are not interested in that. It is because we are talking about Syrians that are situated at the Damascus-controlled territories. Apparently, for some of our colleagues those are “improper” Syrians. Neither are they interested in the information that the Permanent Mission of Syria circulates about the victims among civilians as a result of attacks. Let me still avail of the opportunity to bridge this gap in my colleagues’ statements, and in UN reports: In December 2019 - beginning of January 2020, 42 civilians died, among them 5 children. 90 people were injured, among them 30 children. It mainly takes place in Aleppo province. There have been over 1000 assaults over the first to weeks of January. The killed and wounded among the civilians and the Syrian military count hundreds.
No attention is paid to recent cases of demolition of civil facilities by terrorists at the outskirts of Homs. Syrian oil and gas facilities suffered much material damage. Instead of boasting of how to politicize the country’s post-conflict recovery, it would be much better to revoke sanctions and return control over oilfields to Syrians, rather than pillage Syria’s national assets while pretending to be “protecting” them. This would be a real contribution to improving the humanitarian status of Syrians.
State Secretary Pompeo said in a press statement on 4 February, I quote: “The United States once again condemns the continued, unjustifiable, and ruthless assaults on the people of Idlib by the Assad regime, Russia, Iran, and Hizballah”. Please, note that it is “people of Idlib” rather than “people in Indlib”.
Let me clarify - Idlib is not a country, it is Syria’s governorate. In Syria’s Idlib governorate there are no nationals of Idlib, but there are Syrian nationals who became hostages to the terrorists who rule the area. The Secretary of State also referred to “barbaric attacks” in Indlib that “must cease”. To barbarity I will get back later.
During the counter-terrorism operation the Syrian army eliminated over 4 thousand militants, 17 tanks, mortar guns and pick-ups with machine guns. In this regard, we are puzzled by the aspirations of some Western states to present terrorist groups in Idlib as moderate opposition. We have come to hear it increasingly often that 'Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’ turns out to be “not that bad” and to pose “no such great threat”, moreover we come to hear officials of some countries say this - those officials who convened this meeting. We also have questions regarding the call to establish a nation-wide ceasefire with reference to resolution 2254, though paragraph 8 of this resolution directly stipulates the necessity to combat terrorists. I will get back to this too.
Unfortunately, Russian and Turkish military experts tragically perished. Attempts will not stop to attack Russian air base “Khmeimim” by assault UAVs. All of this once again shows that militants in Idlib have reinforced and enjoy total impunity.
Because of the escalating situation, we continue to interact with Turkey in the interests of deconfliction and mitigating tension. There are corresponding contacts at the level of presidents, foreign ministers, political and military bodies. We will continue this interaction and let no one drive wedges into it, or into our cooperation within the “Astana format”, where Russia, Turkey, and Iran contribute to the promotion of the political process.
Let me make it clear - Russia unfailingly abides by the norms of the international humanitarian law. All targets of Russian Air-Space forces go through scrupulous precision that is done via aerial reconnaissance and available on-ground information. MIlitary activity is proportionate and selective. A vivid proof of that is the low ratio of impacted targets as compared to the total number of on-ground facilities in the operation zone.
Let me also say that terrorists deliberately turn civil facilities, including schools and hospitals, into their combat positions, making use of their protected status and thus violating the Geneva conventions. The most recent of such cases was the capture of the Idlib Central Hospital on 29 January. The NGO that served the hospital advised of that in a press-release.
To those who tell us of “barbarity” I would like to remind of the results of operations in Raqqa and Mosul, Hajin, Baghouz. Fortunately, the UN published very detailed information about that. Before the operation started, in Mosul, captured by ISIL, there had been over half a million people. Seven to ten thousand of them died as a result of air strikes. Several dozens thousand were wounded. According to UN-Habitat that accessed the state of housing in the area right after the operation, in Eastern Mosul air strikes and artillery bombardment destroyed over 90% of residential buildings. 90 per cent! And this is a showcase of discriminate fire that is preached today. Or will our colleagues be saying that all the hospitals, clinics and educational facilities of Mosul fell within the remaining 10%? By the way, how many open Security Council meetings were held on that topic? How many press-conferences? Do not bother to check - there was none. Neither was there any UN investigation boards.
Or was the operation in Raqqa different? Did projectiles only fall on the “bad guys” hitting no civil infrastructure? The answer is no. The city was razed down to the ground. Let’s ask humanitarians, who entered Raqqa right after the coalition forces: How many working clinics did remain in the city once the operation was over? The UN OCHA materials answered this question: there were no such clinics. Medicine had to restore from scratch. How many peaceful people did die there or were left under rubble? Back then we were told it was needed to combat terrorists. We can recall no calls to establish a nation-wide ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.
If we talk geography lessons, I will give you one. Before the operation started in 2016, the population of Raqqa stood at 229 thousand people. This is almost half of the population of Edinburgh. After the operation finished in 2017, the population of Raqqa stood at 3 thousand people. Finally, in 2018 the population of Raqqa stood at 165 thousand people. What do you think, where are the lacking 55 thousand people? Do you think they all escaped? You are wrong then.
We can also have a closer look at the activity of the coalition in Afghanistan. Or in Somalia. There we can find a limitless field of opportunities for Security Council meetings and energy for humanitarian penholders.
However, as long as no action is taken on those numerous incidents, and those who have let those incidents happen live being guided by an Orwell formula “all are equal before the law, but some are more equal than the others”, any criticism addressed to Russia is a mere farce. Besides, this farce is based on nothing but dubious throw-ins on social media, reports of unidentified observers on the ground and - the best in this category - some mysterious “radio-fans” that intercept encoded radio exchanges between pilots and air base, apparently by means of kitchen radio receivers. This article has been refuted by the Russian Defense Ministry. We saw it: one cannot but be puzzled by how ignorant the presented materials are.
However, there is another thing that we are saddened by. While pursuing the goal to stop the offensive of the Governmental forces, the initiators of this unscrupulous and cynical campaign forgot the most important thing - the IHL was created as a means of peace, rather than a tool of war and military propaganda.
After the statement by the representative of Syria:
Today we are discussing the situation in Syria upon request of the delegations of three countries. This situation directly has to do with the Syrian Arab Republic. We are not at an open debate where 120 UN member states request the floor. The rule of five minutes is a recommendation rather than a rule. Speaking is a representative of the country the situation in which is discussed at the Security Council. I believe it is inappropriate to interrupt his statement and limit his floor time by artificial boundaries. I think that as President of the Council you should pay respect to the representative of the country that is on the SC agenda, who is making a statement on behalf of that country.