Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at the UN Security Council Meeting on Syria
We thank Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock for their briefings.
Frankly speaking, we again have a feeling of deja vu. We heard same calls and laments many times already, when reconciliation of Eastern Aleppo and Ghouta was in progress. However, let me ask why the “humanitarian troika” did not hurry to convene a Security Council meeting, when the so-called coalition was razing Baghouz and Hajin to the ground? Back then civilians died, air strikes destroyed civil infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. What about Raqqa? Almost no one bothered about the fate of this city that in fact was destroyed.
Let us recall what happened in Raqqa. This is never unnecessary, especially since this is something one prefers not to hear about and would like to forget. We recommend to get acquainted with the publication by Amnesty International – a global human rights watchdog. This publication speaks about events that took place two years ago. Human rights advocates accomplished painstaking and thorough work which resulted in them stating that after thousands of indiscriminate strikes of air forces and artillery of the so-called coalition and its allies, over 1500 civilians died, 11 thousand buildings and infrastructure facilities were ruined. Let me remind that our Western partners used to claim that the operation in Raqqa had been nearly the most precise air campaign in history. They took responsibility for the death of only 159 people.
It is time double standards regarding what is going on in Syria were abandoned. For example, we encounter moralizing about Rukban, though all the problems of Rukban have to do with militants from "Mahavir as-Saura" who, with the acquiescence of the U.S., prevent IDPs from voluntarily leaving the camp and restrict their rights. As of May 15, 12 thousand people had left Rukban. We hope our American colleagues will change their nonconstructive approach or better yet – stop the illegal occupation of a part of sovereign Syrian territory. In any case, the occupying state is responsible for the population residing in the occupied areas according to the Geneva conventions. This is not politicizing of the issue of Rukban. Geneva conventions are the groundwork of the international humanitarian law. To pre-empt the comment that might be coming, let me say that no fight against terrorism can justify occupation.
In contrast to Rukban, we see no lamenting and no concerns about pitiful humanitarian state of affairs in IDP camp “Al-Houl” in the North-East of Syria, which is out of control of the Syrian authorities. The camp is overcrowded, there are women and children inside, their rights are violated, humanitarian aid is by far insufficient. Instead of helping to establish a standing flow from the Damascus-controlled territories, there are insistent attempts to organize deliveries of humanitarian aid through the non-transparent cross-border mechanism.
We reject point blank any accusations of violating the international humanitarian law. Neither the Syrian army, nor the Russian Air-Space Forces carry out military action against civil population and infrastructure. Our target is terrorists - the thing some of you prefer to keep silent about.
Once again, we call upon the UN Secretariat and specialized agencies, including WHO not to hurry and throw into the public space unverified information about civilian casualties and damage to the civilian infrastructure. Data should come from credible non-politicized sources and it should be carefully double-checked to determine, i.a. if the facilities that were allegedly stricken had gone through the deconfliction procedures. Instead of this, what we are treated to is data coming from “reliable sources”. When we ask to name those sources, you refuse. Are we speaking about the “heroic” White Helmets?
The Syrian government as well as the Russian representatives always try to prevent violence and settle situation peacefully whenever possible, even if it is about illegal armed formations. Reconciliation at the major part of the Syrian territory was achieved through negotiations.
In Idlib there is one impediment – unstopping aggression of terrorists from “Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham” that have provoked serious escalation of tension in the governorate. The militants continuously carry out attacks on the positions of governmental forces and shell at adjacent settlements. It is peaceful population and Syrian military that are victims of those attacks. Today we heard about people who died from missile strikes, but you shied away from saying that those civilians in Aleppo and Hama die from missiles launched by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. By the way, the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria received operative information verified by independent sources that terrorists from “Nusra” are planning another chemical provocation in Saraqib to subsequently blame Damascus for it.
On April 27 about 130 terrorists attacked defense location of the Syrian government in the vicinity of Suqaylabiyah in the North-West of Hama governorate. The Syrian army struck back, but sustained losses of 26 people who were killed and over 40 who were wounded. Over the first fortnight of May, attacks by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham killed 22 Syrian military servicemen and 4 civilians, and wounded approximately 100 people.
Provocations of jihadists pose a significant threat to security of Russian air base “Khmeimim” and the lives of our military. The militants make active use of multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and combat UAVs. Late in April and early in May terrorists used to fire rocket missiles at the air base. We downed 18 combat UAVs as they were approaching “Khmeimim”.
In response to such aggressive outings and provocations by terrorists from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, on May 6-11 the Syrian governmental forces, supported by the Russian Air-Space Forces, had to take counter-measures to oust terrorists from the areas that they were stationed in as they fired at “Khmeimim” and the Syrian armed forces. Strikes were launched only against terrorists’ facilities identified as such by intelligence data. As a result, we managed to clear areas that housed the largest share of terrorists in the South of Idlib de-escalation zone.
However, even after the Syrian forces terminated the military action, terrorists from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham set forth their aggression. On May 13, two teams of people from illegal armed formations (650 militants in total), supported by the artillery, 10 tanks and 4 armored vehicles, attacked positions of the Syrian armed forces in proximity of Kafr Zeita and Suqaylabiyah which resulted in two Syrians dead and 9 more wounded.
Russia reiterates unwavering commitment to agreements about stabilization in Idlib, including the Russian-Turkish memorandum dated September 17, 2018. At the moment the defense ministries of Russia and Turkey negotiate reliable stabilization for the North-West of Syria and eradication of the terrorist threat that comes from there. Let me emphasize, for those of you who raise concerns regarding what is going on in Idlib, actions of the Syrian army and of those who support it: this memorandum by no means says that terrorists should be spared. On the contrary, it reiterates the commitment of the signatories to counter terrorism. We refuse to take terrorists for “untouchables” and we will continue our fight against them despite laments coming from some of our partners.
We start thinking that someone just “covers up” for terrorists in Idlib to spare them for some unscrupulous purposes. Protection of the civil population serves as the main argument, despite the fact that we care about them not less than you do, and we realize that in fact they are hostages of terrorists who are taking roots in Idlib.
Instead of promoting specific self-serving agenda in Syria that seeks to change the regime, everyone should consolidate efforts to stabilize situation in SAR, collectively eradicate terrorism, embark on post-conflict building, and help refugees get back. I would like to return to our American colleagues the accusation of Russia destabilizing the region. We have different assessments of who used to and does de-stabilize the region. What is really important is to prevent escalation in the Persian Gulf related to growing disputes between the U.S. and Iran. This will give impetus to political settlement in the entire region; otherwise, it will plunge into chaos.
Russia will set forth efforts to bring peace back to Syria. We will do it in our national capacity, in our capacity of a Permanent Member of the Council, and also in the framework of “Astana troika” that has done more than any other format in terms of de-escalation and reduction of terrorist threat, expansion of humanitarian aid, and, most importantly, laying the groundwork for political process.
In response to the representative of Great Britain:
Thank you, Mr. President,
The distinguished representative of Great Britain asked a question that implied that representatives of Syria and Russia should answer it. The distinguished representative of Great Britain was absent from the room – for a good reason, I know this – when I was making my statement. I would like to say that we asked the very same question to representatives, for example, of the World Health Organization. We requested information about the medical facilities that had been destroyed and asked to name the sources of this information. Our request was rejected, on the pretext that disclosure might harm those who shared the data. That is why we are just as eager as you to learn the answer to this question.
By the way, you mentioned that given the “non-surgical” strikes that Russian Air-Space Forces allegedly launched against facilities in Idlib governorate, you would not like to get to a medical facility in Russia. I genuinely wish to you never to find yourself in any medical facility whatsoever, God forbid. However, in Russia there are very good medical centers. Should you need something – just let us know.
To sum up, if the WHO or other UN health organizations share with you any information about the sources of what we are discussing and you share it with us – we will very much appreciate it.