Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at a UN Security Council Meeting on Syria
We are grateful to Secretary-General his Exellency Antonio Guterres and Deputy Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo for their briefing. The situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone remains very tense. We maintain contacts with our Turkish counterparts, both in inter-agency format and at the highest level. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had another phone conversation this morning. It was agreed to arrange their face-to-face meeting shortly at the beginning of March, when schedules of both leaders will allow that. The Russian delegation is currently in Ankara and is intensively negotiating ways to stabilize the situation. Thus, we continue our contacts within the "Astana format". We are convinced that if the military, diplomats and representatives of security services participating in the Astana format focus on basic agreements on the Idlib de-escalation zone, it will pave the way to real changes “in the field”.
Yesterday, an incident with Turkish military took place, but not at the observation post – at observation posts Turkish military personnel is safe – it took place outside the observation post in the vicinity of Behun settlement. Russian Defense Ministry provided a detailed comment, which confirmed that Russian and Turkish forces "in the field" are in constant, everyday contact. The Turkish servicemen inform in real time the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Warring Parties about the current location of Turkish forces in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Russia transmits the coordinates to the Syrian armed forces in order to ensure security of Turkish soldiers when responding to terrorist attacks. As the Russian Defense Ministry informs, the coordinates transmitted yesterday did not mention the areas where ultimately the Turkish soldiers died. When it was reported about what had happened, the Russian side took comprehensive measures to cease hostilities and to ensure the safe evacuation of the dead and injured. Furthermore, in order to prevent possible speculations, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that Russian Airspace Forces had not used combat aircraft in the area of Behun.
We regret the fact the Turkish soldiers died, just as we regret the reports about the deaths of Syrian soldiers. We are convinced that compliance with the agreements, including those on de-conflicting, will make it possible to avoid such tragedies in the future. Our military forces "in the field" are ready to continue this work.
Both in discussions with our Turkish colleagues and within the Security Council we’ve reiterated: we are committed to the Sochi Memorandum of September 17, 2018. I’d like to remind you the essence of those agreements: to separate the opposition from terrorists; to establish a demilitarized zone free of jihadists, so that no one could shell civilian facilities, positions of the Syrian army and Russian military bases from there; and to provide the unhindered access to the M4 and M5 highways, which are crucial for the economy, humanitarian assistance and, and for the people of Syria as a whole. We share this goal with our Turkish colleagues. We are well aware about the challenges while achieving those goals, but together we can make them a reality.
At the same time, I would like to stress that the decisions taken in Sochi are temporary in nature because, as the Sochi memorandum also states, they refers to the national territory of Syria, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, which the parties are to respect and which are guaranteed by the UN Charter.
In recent months, terrorists, mainly from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, who seized Idlib, have stepped up their incursions against civilians in neighbouring populated areas and against the Syrian forces. In response to the ongoing violations of the ceasefire from within the Idlib zone, the Syrian army does have a right to retaliate and quell the terrorists. Here, we can’t ban the Syrian army from upholding the commitments stipulated in UN Security Council resolutions on uncompromising fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. And I would emphasize that this is in its own territory, the territory of sovereign Syria and not in nobody else’s territory. Today, Ms. DiCarlo reminded us that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is recognized as a terrorist organization in the UN, as well as in Russia, Syria, Europe, the U.S. and Turkey.
In this regard, we would like again to draw attention of our colleagues and everyone who is following closely the situation in Idlib that there are attempts to whitewash or justify the terrorists. Unfortunately, it’s happening at the level of officials, including the representatives of the USA. There is an argument that Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham is made up of "patriots and revolutionaries" rather than terrorists, simply because they are fighting against the legitimate Syrian authorities. We consider this argument as unacceptable and extremely dangerous.
It’s unfortunate, but today such statements seem to be taken as a signal to action. Recently, a well-known NGO decided to take an interview from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s ringleader Julani, who said that he was modifying the group and it focused mainly on combatting the Syrian Government, rather than on terrorist attacks. Yesterday, my Syrian colleague, calling for a ceasefire, asked – ‘why did no one talk to Bin Laden or Al-Baghdadi? We also do not recall that those people were interviewed by Western journalists’.
To be honest, we do have questions about the weapons that are in the hands of terrorists. The Russian Defense Ministry regularly provides information about this, and it is available on websites. You can find various photos and video clips, which provide evidence that the fighters are armed with the latest versions of the Western military products: drones, armored vehicles, small arms, missile systems, anti-tank and anti-aircraft equipment. These weapons are used against Syrian and Russian forces, and against civilians.
We would like to warn our Western colleagues against repeating their mistakes of the past, when in order to achieve geopolitical goals of regime changing in a country, - be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria - they relied on terrorists in the hope that terrorists could be controlled in the future after having achieved their geopolitical goals. That has never happened in history. I urge all our colleagues to bear in mind that it is not possible to make deals with the terrorists, especially while resolving such problems as those we are facing in the context of the Syrian settlement.
We have repeatedly stressed it is necessary to pool our efforts in order to combat terrorism and de-escalate tensions. We are ready for such interaction with everyone who is genuinely interested in it. It is important to demonstrate this understanding of the need for cooperation at all stages, not only when we urgently need to resolve crises. I would like to remind you that in 2003 when Iraq was bombed under completely made-up pretexts, our US and UK colleagues did not speak of any cooperation. Then, there was Libya that, after the NATO operation in violation of a Security Council resolution, de facto was fallen apart. They are trying to do the same with Syria. We reiterate the call to be guided by the interests of all countries of the region, rather than by selfish geopolitical interests, which are often incompatible with the interests of peoples who live in those countries, and who you supposedly so much care about.