Statement and right of reply by Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, at an open VTC of UNSC memers under agenda item “The situation in the Middle East”
We would like to thank Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu for presenting the eighty-third monthly report of the OPCW Director-General (S/2020/871) on the implementation of the Security Council resolution 2118.
The Syrian chemical dossier has been on the agenda of the UN Security Council for 7 years. We discussed it mostly in closed format. But upon our request the SC meeting on this topic today is open to general audience. We asked for it because we believe that the Council has nothing to hide from the world, nor has Syria. Everyone who is interested deserves an opportunity to make his own judgement on how this issue is discussed in the Security Council. It is difficult to address every aspect of the Syrian chemical dossier in one statement. Suffice it to say that this is one of the most politicized items the Security Council is dealing with. However, let me recall some basic facts.
In 2014 Syria’s CW program was shut down, all its CW stockpiles eliminated and production facilities – destroyed. Damascus has no capacity, nor any intent or, most importantly, any clear or explicable reason to use CW. It gives no gains at the battlefield but would rather put Syria in a vulnerable position, as was witnessed by accusations and retaliation, levelled at it every time allegations of their use were made. The SAR is fully cooperating with the OPCW, its Technical Secretariat (TS), including the Declaration Assessment Team, as well as with all investigative missions on the ground. No undeclared CW stockpiles have been revealed by the OPCW in the course of numerous intrusive inspections since October 2013. So far no one has been able to prove the opposite.
Nevertheless, throughout these years Western countries continue to accuse the Syrian government of the use of CW, basing their allegations on a number of doubtful selected episodes with total disregard of evidence about the manipulations of facts and staged nature of these incidents.
Let me cite some of these here. One of the early FFM reports which accused the Syrian government of the use of CW in Sarmin on 16 March 2015 reflected an absolutely unrealistic scenario. It suggested that a barrel bomb with chlorine allegedly dropped from a military helicopter, fell through a ventilation shaft into a residential building. It was presumed that the diameter of the barrel was fully matching the diameter of the shaft itself. This contradicts the laws of physics, ballistics, and common sense itself. Even the authors of the report admitted that it was “improbable”. However, the blame was placed on Damascus.
Incident in Khan-Shaykhun of April 7, 2017 with alleged use of sarin by the Syrian government. The accusations were made that an uncontrolled aerial bomb was dropped by a Syrian military plane to the target at no less than 5 km distance from it. However, the ballistic analysis, including by independent experts, showed that it is not only technically impossible, but also runs counter the basic laws of physics. To reach the target, the plane should have approached it much closer, which would be visible for external observation. Besides, the crater left after the “bombing” was also similar to those after static explosion on the ground rather than after an aerial bomb.
The use of sarin at that case was even more than questionable - video footage by the “White Helmets” widely circulated by the Western media featured the “rescue team” with no protection equipment needed to handle real sarin samples. There were other numerous inconsistencies, which were fully ignored by the then JIM.
Another bone-chilling story about the crimes of the Syrian "regime" (in Western terminology) is an incident in Douma on April 7, 2018 when a video of the White Helmets providing first aid to victims of exposure to toxic substances was released.
Our military experts together with Syrian colleagues managed to find the Syrians captured on that notorious footage. It turned out that they were not poisoned, but rather became involuntarily involved in a staged provocation set up by the “White Helmets”. These 13 people, including a boy Hassan Diab, revealed it during a special briefing at the OPCW headquarters on April 26, 2018. Afterwards, the ill-fated video footage made by the White Helmets suddenly disappeared, just like the memorable photos of allegedly poisoned children from Khan Shaykhun a year before.
For the Douma incident, the Western narrative was that the attack was carried out by air-dropped cylinders with chlorine which broke through the roof and fell into living apartments. However, further expert investigation based on traces on cylinders and the scale of damage showed that they were manually placed at “targeted locations” rather than delivered by a helicopter. We dedicated a special Arria-formula meeting to this incident this January with extensive evidence of the staged nature of the episode which was marked by deliberate flaws of ballistic, toxicology, and chemical analysis, and manipulation with alleged victims, as well as manipulation of the conclusions by the FFM team and harassment of those experts that had come to alternative conclusions. We still have not received answers on these multiple examples of malpractices from the OPCW TS.
Initially Russia, just like other responsible CWC member states, was hopeful about the unbiased investigations of all these incidents. However, very soon it became obvious to us that the investigative mechanisms (the Fact-Finding Mission - FFM, Joint Investigative Mechanism – JIM) are failing to duly fulfill their mandate. Their investigations have been conducted in clear violation of the CWC, disregarding the so-called “chain of custody”, which requires the evidence to be collected on site and exclusively by the OPCW specialists. Instead, they made use of the information provided by questionable sources, including notorious “White Helmets”. The gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in their reports as well as their biased nature have been widely criticized not only by Member-States, but also by independent and reputable experts and scientists. Our experts produced our all national reports on all of those episodes including on the recent report by the so-called IIT on chemical episodes in Al Latamnah. We were calling for a professional dialogue on the findings by IIT, as well as on preceding episodes – a dialogue by experts who would be able to understand the validity of conclusions made. But we are being regularly denied such a dialogue. Our Western partners are not interested in it, because it will reveal the false nature of FFM, JIM, or IIT conclusions. All they needed was a stamp of proof of Syrian government’s guilt, and they received it.
At the same time, the evidence about the use of CW by non-state actors on the Syrian territory, including terrorist groups, has been deliberately neglected. Since 2013 the SAR has sent more than 200 letters to the UN Secretariat about the terrorist activities to prepare and carry out the acts of chemical terrorism. No follow-up measures have been taken with regard to this information.
Russia has repeatedly called to the OPCW TS to adjust its flawed working methodology. We were interested to have at our disposal an unbiased and fully accountable investigative body, but not a political tool to back somebody’s geopolitical adventures. However, these calls have met no response, so in such circumstances we had no other way out but not to support the extension of the mandate of the JIM. Then our Western colleagues in violation of the CWC illegally created within the OPCW so-called Investigation and Identification Team, which was devised as a useful tool to implicate the Syrian government and serves no other purpose than to whitewash, justify the aggression against Syria by three of the SC members in April 2017 and April 2018, and continue“maximum pressure” policy against Syria.
Chemical dossier is used just as one of many leverages to delegitimize Syrian government and justify meddling and military intervention. The recent report of the IIT is a clear testimony to this. Russian position on it is explicit in our national document, which was circulated in the Security Council and General Assembly in June. Its gaps, inconsistencies, discrepancies, as well as its biased nature, is a logical follow-up to the illegitimate nature of the IIT itself, coupled with managerial, infrastructural, and policy flaws by the TS. As expected, instead of conducting a serious investigative work, this team of so-called experts merely reduced themselves to retranslating baseless accusations, unsupported by material evidence, or directly contradictive.
This seven-years old strategy of fake evidence and manipulations has culminated this July, when the OPCW Executive Council adopted an anti-Syrian decision (EC-94/DEC.2) based on unsubstantiated assumptions of IIT, which in its methodology carries the same “original sin” as FFM and JIM. This document was adopted by a narrow margin of one vote and clearly showed how divided the international community is on this subject and how unwilling many countries are to further assist in the crusade against Syria.
This decision demands from Syria to do the impossible, even in theory - to declare within 90 days additional CW and alleged facilities related to them. Those that were destroyed and confirmed to be non-existent. We are not naïve not to see that it is a trap with no back exit. These demands cannot be met either in theory, or in practice, and so it was meant. This was a precondition to further steps the masterminds planned to take after these 90 days expire.
As a founding member of the OPCW, we are deeply concerned to witness that OPCW, once respectable organization, is becoming a tool in a geopolitical game. We call on the TS to adjust its working methods and ethics, abandon malpractices and double standards, and duly fulfill its mandate. In this regard, we insist that the TS stops delaying the investigations of the incidents upon the request of Damascus, in particular of November 24, 2018 in Aleppo. It is surprising and regretful that the current report does not have a single reference to this issue.
We also insist on proper and prompt investigation of a recently reported “mysterious evaporation” of samples with phosphorus trichloride collected by the Declaration Assessment Team during the 22nd round of consultations in Damascus in October 2019. It is appalling that this could happen in a certified OPCW laboratory and raises a lot of questions. The TS noticed that the evaporation problem as early as in February, however, it decided to keep it secret until the moment when the samples became irreversibly damaged.
We still expect a substantive clarification from the TS on the issue surrounding the Douma report and, more crucially, on the steps the Director-General intends to take to address the malpractices that were unveiled in this context.
With this statement we are just beginning a series of educational lessons on Syrian chemical dossier. More are to follow.
We know perfectly well the narrative that our Western colleagues will use today – that the conclusions of IIT or FFM, or JIM are beyond doubt, that the OPCW TS is beyond reproach. To our regret, this is not the case anymore. And our Western colleagues were the ones who made this conclusion. The case.
Right of reply:
I got used a long time already that my friend, the German ambassador, uses the platform of the Security Council to engage in a bilateral dialogue with me personally. I think he mentioned Russia today in his statement tenfold compared to him mentioning Syria. He is bombarding me with rhetorical questions which, he believes, make me petrified and speechless. I am supposed to answer them in a row. I will try to answer at least one that he posed.
I believe that Minister Lavrov when meeting President Assad was discussing a few things with him in Damascus, in particular, the suffocating sanctions that Germany and other allies of Germany imposed on Syria. I do not exclude that he might have raised the issue of the Syrian chemical dossier citing cheating, manipulation and implication by Germany and other Western countries on Syria in this matter. I also have a few questions to the German ambassador, at least an intervention.
We had few illusions that certain countries would raise the situation with Alexey Navalny today, despite the fact that it has no relevance to the today’s topic of the discussion. Today we are eye-witnessing another attempt at a scenario which is nothing new. We have seen it before. It was tested on the Skrypal’s case, to which, by the way, we still didn’t receive answers to still pending questions.
As for Alexey Navalny case, everything we said was crystal clear. We are the most interested party to know what happened, but even a first-year law student knows that any investigation should be preceded by evidence and by facts, based on available to us evidence. Or, rather, lack of it. Our law enforcement authorities do not have grounds to open an investigation. Our doctors who, by the way, saved Alexey Navalny did not find any chemical weapon substances in his analyses. The German laboratory claims it did. But we received no evidence from Germany that would allow us to make a conclusion that it was a crime by attempted poisoning and thus start an investigation.
On 27 August in accordance with the agreement on legal assistance between Russia and Germany we officially submitted a request for legal assistance from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. For more than a week, our partners did not respond, and then we heard conflicting information that this is being considered, but what decision will be taken and when it will be taken is unclear. Let alone the tone in which this was framed. Let alone accusations that followed. I would like to stress that this is an absolutely legitimate and natural request in the circumstances and it should be honored in accordance with the agreement between our countries. Moreover, it serves exactly the purpose our German colleagues (and now many others) are citing – to establish the truth by investigating an alleged crime.
A few days ago, we were told that since the samples were analyzed in a Bundeswehr institute, they would not share any information with us, since it could enable Russia to learn how much the Bundeswehr knows about chemical substances. Then we heard that the results were classified. How should we interpret this, what do you think?
At the same time, the German side shared their findings with their allies and now we hear not just appeals to provide explanation and conduct investigation, but we even hear demands to confess and plead guilty. It is not simply an immoral and implausible allegation, but it also goes against the rule of law that you pretend to champion. If you demand explanations, put the facts on the table and we will compare notes. Why should we trust allegations uncorroborated by evidence, even if this is, as you say, beyond reasonable doubt? We, as of yet, received nothing that would allow our relevant authorities to conduct their own de-jure investigation, although they started a de-facto investigation which is called pre-investigation procedures.
I would also like to recall that according to Article VII of the CWC “Each State Party shall cooperate with other States Parties and afford the appropriate form of legal assistance”. If our partners are so committed to the CWC, why do they fail to comply with that provision?
A group of prominent Russian doctors proposed to their German colleagues to discuss collectively the available data on Alexey Navalny’s health. But yet again, this has been rejected.
We are seeing a paradoxical situation – we are asking our German partners to cooperate. But how can we proceed if the German side refuses to cooperate, while the Russian law enforcement agencies are unable to engage in all the necessary procedural mechanisms to start an investigation.
This whole incident cannot but raise questions about some foul play being staged. We hear what statements followed and what measures are being mentioned, discussed or involved.
This leads to an unavoidable rhetorical question Latins posed in such situations: Cui bono? Is fecit cui prodest. Who is to benefit from this, that one did it.
Thank you, Mr. President.
In response to the Permanent Representative of Germany:
I listened to my German colleague carefully. He was trying to frame the situation as a matter of international importance. Trying to portray it in a way that it has nothing to do with bilateral German-Russian relations. I would not think it is the case. Indeed, the Russian Ambassador was in the German Foreign Ministry. He was orally demarched. He did not receive any materials, data or evidence, that we requested. And I would like to cite the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry of yesterday, 9 September. This is a statement, which cites, that the German Ambassador in Moscow was called to the Foreign Ministry, where he was reminded, that the Russian Federation asked for data from Germany on 27 August, which didn’t receive it, including the biodata, the results of the expertise, the analysis in order to comprehensively study them and to verify the findings by the German laboratory. And it was said in the end, and that relates to bilateral Russian-German relations, I would like to cite it. Sorry, this is in Russian, so I have to translate it.
“If these materials are not provided by the German side, this will be regarded by the Russian side as a refusal by the Federal Government of Germany to establish the truth in the context of an objective investigation and all its former and current actions in relation to Alexey Navalny as a blatant and hostile provocation against Russia, which would definitely undermine Russian-German relations and the international relations at the whole.