Statement by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Vershinin at the UN Security Council Meeting on Syria
Distinguished friends, colleagues,
It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be here and be part of a regular, yet crucial discussion of the situation, humanitarian situation in the first place, that has developed in Syria by now. I am sure today’s exchange of opinions will help us better learn all the aspects of the situation, and view it – as should always be the case in the Security Council – in an objective and unbiased manner.
I thank Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller for her report on the situation in Syria.
We share concerns about the situation inside and around Idlib. In November 2018 militants from 'Hayat Tahrir al-Sham' (HTS) controlled 60% of the Idlib de-escalation zone. Now they control 99% of it. Aggression of HTS – fire against human settlements and positions of Syrian governmental forces – poses a threat to security of the civil population and leads to deaths of peaceful people, including women and children.
In April-May 2019, Russia registered 398 ceasefire violations on the part of militants in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Over this period, shelling by terrorists killed 76 and wounded 194 Syrian military officers. The toll among civilians stood at 19 killed and 42 wounded. I give the statistics for a reason. I want to make it clear, that what we are having here today is not about statements – it is about real people who die from terrorists’ hands.
There are ongoing attacks on Russian military facilities in Syria, thereby multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and combat UAVs are used. It poses a direct threat to the security of Russian military servicemen, who are legitimately present in Syria. Over the recent month, air base “Khmeimim” withstood 7 bombardments of terrorists. On May 19, its air defense systems downed 6 jet projectiles and 2 combat UAVs.
On May 21, militants from illegal armed formations carried out four bombardments of “Khmeimim” using MLRS (17 jet projectiles were launched). There was another attack on May 22, whereby 4 jet projectiles were launched.
Terrorists begin offensives from the South of de-escalation zone “Idlib”. It should be noted that in April 2019 there were three attempts of the kind, whereas in May there were 18 of them. You can judge it for yourselves.
Militants from HTS terrorize the local population, militarize civil infrastructure, and use peaceful citizens as a “human shield”. They do not bother about target precision. On May 12, terrorists launched a strike against a pre-school facility in a Christian city of Suqaylabiyah in the North-West of Hama, which killed 4 children and 1 women, and wounded 10 more children. Yesterday they shelled at this town and at Mhardeh settlement twice. There are people who got wounded, significant damage was inflicted on civil infrastructure.
In response to this aggressive action, the Russian Air-Space Forces (ASF) provide the required support to the Syrian governmental forces in order to oust terrorists from the areas they position in as they launch strikes against the Russian air-base and against the Syrian armed forces. Russian ASF also assist in suppressing hotbeds of terrorist activity in the South of de-escalation zone “Idlib”.
According to the intelligence data, at all locations where military action was in progress, Syrian armed forces were opposed by illegal armed formations that are part of HTS, which is known to be considered a terrorist group.
We stress that the Syrian armed forces and Russian ASF launch strikes only against terrorists’ facilities identified as such by intelligence data. Besides, Russia remains committed to agreements on stabilization in Idlib, and to the Turkish-Russian memorandum dated September 17, 2018. Let us remind that the memorandum reiterates commitment of the signatories to continue fight against terrorists.
We have particular concerns about attempts of terrorist leaders to escalate the situation using fabricated materials, i.a. materials about governmental forces allegedly using “chemical weapons”.
Reportedly, HTS has established a distinct structure called “Chemical wing” that is responsible for staging of chemical attacks. Head of this division is Abu Basir al-Britani, a man from Al-Qaida-affiliated group “Hurras al-Din”. Headquarters of “Chemical wing” that plans and coordinates staged shootings is situated in Idlib. Militants from HTS plant fake information in Media, which is then replicated by Western Media outlets. On May 19, terrorists claimed Damascus had used chlorine in the vicinity of Kabana settlement in the mountains of Lattakia.
Once again, we draw attention of the UN Secretariat and specialized agencies, as well as attention of all of our colleagues to the imperativeness of thorough verification of all incoming information.
Against the background of alarmist statements on Idlib, the agenda of the Security Council should not skip the alarming situation in the East bank of Euphrates that is not controlled by the Syrian government. We take notice of growing tension in this area. We believe we can avoid massive escalation and establish reliable national reconciliation only if the U.S.-led international occupation is terminated, and dialogue between the local ethnic communities and the Syrian authorities is established.
We should pay closest attention to the situation in Raqqa, Hajin, Al-Baghouz – in all settlements that have been destroyed and are not fit to accommodate people. The focus of our joint work should not shift from developments in refugee camp “Al-Houl”. The situation is disastrous there: over 73 thousand people, among them 47 thousand children under 18, have to exist in harshest conditions.
In “Al-Houl” there are severe shortages of food, water, medicines, medical staff and equipment. There is no opportunity to maintain basic personal hygiene; as a result, infectious deceases are thriving. Accommodation density by far exceeds any standard. Over 15 thousand people have to live in dugouts.
We believe it important to complete voluntary resettlement of refugee camp “Rukban” as soon as possible. It is immoral to impede this process. States that have an influence on militants from “Mahavir as-Saura” should put pressure on them so that they stopped terrorizing IDPs and let them exit the camp.
Since the end of March, over 13 thousand people have left “Rukban”. The majority of them are already out of provisional accommodation facilities in Homs and back to places of their permanent residence in the areas controlled by the Syrian government. Early in May, representatives of specialized UN mechanisms, in particular UNHCR visited those facilities and could see for themselves that all the basic conditions for accommodation were in place.
The international community should support stabilization processes in Syria that would make it possible to promote political settlement and improve the humanitarian situation. Russia continuously contributes to it, while never attempting to politicize the humanitarian dossier. Since July 18, 2018, Russia has helped Syrians to restore 856 educational and 168 medical facilities, repair five automobile bridges and over 1000 km of roads, build 968 km of transmission lines, launch 143 water facilities, 196 bakeries, 645 power stations, 14 305 industrial facilities. Humanitarian actions are in progress, as well as humanitarian mine clearing. Again, statistics might seem somewhat boring, however I would like to hear some of it presented by our friends and partners, because everything we do pursues the goal of improving humanitarian situation in Syria.
We call upon all interested stakeholders to consolidate efforts: when together, we will be able to eradicate terrorism, boost post-conflict recovery and assist in voluntarily return of refugees and IDPs.
I thank you for the attention and want to say that I am very attentive to everything that is said here. We put on record all concerns expressed by our partners. Let me say that what ASG Mueller was talking about is very important for us. At the end of her intervention, she posed some very simple questions as to what we should do in order to protect peaceful people; and these questions require our thorough thought and action.
I have also got some simple questions to ask. What should we do and what should the Security Council do in order for millions of people in Idlib to stop being hostage to terrorists? I think there is little doubt that those are terrorists who keep them. I have listened to the statement of the distinguished representative of Belgium with great attention. He spoke on behalf of humanitarian penholders – Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, and he expressed very interesting thoughts that we all should consider.
I have some more questions though. When we say that all parties in Idlib should abide by and implement the international humanitarian law, let me ask what those parties are. If they are the Syrian government and the armed opposition, then I understand this. But is it also about the 99 % of the Idlib territory that is controlled by HTS, which the Security Council lists among terrorist organizations? This raises some questions with me. Can we say that terrorists are obliged to do anything under international humanitarian law?
After the last statement:
Thank you, Mr. President,
I am deeply moved by the serious discussion we have had, and by how you welcomed me – I really appreciate this. We seriously address all aspects of the situation in Syria – humanitarian, political and military, political settlement. That is why I would like to briefly comment on what has been said here.
I am afraid I will not be able to continue the discussion at the level of comparing the situation in Syria to the events of TV-show “Game of Thrones” for the reason that I have not seen the show. However, I can assure you that what has been going on in Syria for a long time by now is far not a game. A sovereign country and its people do not play games but try to survive and build a future they want to live in.
In my statement, I said that 99% of the Idlib de-escalation zone is controlled by 'Hayat Tahrir al-Sham' – organization that our Council lists among terrorists. I expected somebody to correct the figures, at least the figures, but no corrections followed. Then I put a direct question: what sides are you talking about? Today we heard ceasefire violations by HTS be condemned. Let me say that there are no such violations, because HTS is not a party that has any obligations related to the ceasefire.
Ceasefire was established – Astana format played a role in it – between the government and the armed opposition. HTS, Nusra, Al-Qaida – these are organizations we all call terrorist; we have to combat them. In this regard, I was surprised at the words that the government had resumed armed fight against Nusra front. This is not a whim of the government; this is an obligation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic to us, to the international community. It is their obligation to combat this terrorist organization.
Today hope was expressed that Idlib would not become another Aleppo. I was expecting someone to say Idlib would not become another Raqqa. No one did it, then I will say it myself: Idlib will not be a new Raqqa. It will not become a dead city that the U.S.-led international coalition bombed down to ruins. We are not speaking about a massive force operation in Idlib – Russia is committed to its obligations under the memorandum that we signed with Turkey and that was repeatedly cited today. However, fight against terrorism is necessary.
Let me pose a counter-question. What is the signal we come up with after we have discussed today and before the 3 mln peaceful people who live in Idlib? As far as I understand, we all agree that all of them are hostages to the organization that we consider terrorist. As of now, the signal is that they should hold on and endure what befell them. I believe this is not the right signal that can only cause disappointment of the civil population.
As for statements by some of distinguished delegates who said that should chemical use of chlorine be reported, they would be fast to react; let me call to be wise rather than fast, and base on verified data. In fact, any action should rest upon verified information, especially if such action may have grave destabilizing effects.