Statement by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC briefing on the Syrian chemical file
We congratulate you on the start of UNSC Presidency. You and your team can fully count on our support. Let me also welcome colleagues from Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, and the UAE to the first briefing of the Council this year. We look forward to having constructive and meaningful interaction.
Our newcomers have been truly lucky today: on the very first day at the Council, they have an opportunity to plunge into one of the most controversial and politicized topics on UNSC agenda – the Syrian chemical file. It is unique, because no other episode is so detached from reality and resembles a fantasy story as much as this file. With your permission, I will briefly explain why this is so.
Ironically, the Syrian chemical file has ceased to have any connection to issues of WMD non-proliferation, because all its aspects related to non-proliferation have been closed. When Damascus joined the CWC, it faithfully complied with all its relevant obligations in this area, of which the UN Secretary-General reported to the Security Council in June 2014. The fact of ultimate elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpiles was confirmed by the OPCW Executive Council and the Conference of the States-Parties in 2016. Since then, the Council has received no science-based proofs of the opposite. Speaking about the staged video footage featuring people who wear no protective equipment work with chemical agents and featuring alleged victims of a chemical attack show incompatible symptoms, that was provided by biased NGOs like the notorious “White Helmets”, created to oppose the Syrian government – good conscience will not let serious experts consider such footage as a proof, because its staged nature has been confirmed on many occasions.
It might seem that OPCW Director-General F.Arias and the Technical Secretariat under his lead should speak out at this point. But unfortunately, faith in them is fading. They have become mired in the scandal around the FFM report on the Douma incident (April 2018), the final version of which was largely doctored (to make it more anti-Syrian) under the pressure of some delegations as compared to the initial version. It means a forgery had taken place. This fact has been and continues to be proven by various sources, including former inspectors of OPCW itself who directly participated in investigating this episode. However, when those same inspectors tried to have the OPCW leadership start an investigation, they faced persecution for their “truth quest”. In the meantime, the Technical Secretariat refuses to take any measures to improve or at least discuss the situation, i.a through engaging the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board.
Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the obvious mistakes and trying to correct them, DG Arias continues violating the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the integrity of which he is called to defend. This trend has persisted for several years. I tell you more: DG Arias actually boasts of using the faulty methods that violate the CWC and are based on the information from biased sources that has been collected remotely.
Therefore things only get worse as new rather doubtful “innovations” emerge. The report under our consideration today gives clear examples of that. In it, the Director-General says that in November-December last year, the FFM “collected information and organized interviews” regarding the incidents in a number of Syrian settlements in 2017. Common sense implies that such backdated “investigations” cannot be consistent. What “chain of events” could possibly be restored after 4 years have passed, especially taking into account the dynamics of the military situation in Syria? What “eyewitnesses” could be found? What details could they possibly think back to? All this appears especially sad if we recall what huge efforts it took us and the Syrian colleagues to get the FFM inspectors to the site of alleged incident, because they were very reluctant and unwilling to go.
As for our Western colleagues, they did not need an investigation at all. They instantly proclaimed the Assad government guilty (even though, right before the alleged incident, we had warned about the Syrian militants preparing a provocation) and, without authorization of the Security Council, launched a missile strike against Syrian governmental facilities that were allegedly related to CW production. We are well aware of the manipulations that the report had to undergo, therefore we can only perceive all these developments as thoughtfully calibrated political provocation.
By the way, if I got it right, my American colleague has just said that the facts collected by the FFM in November 2021 prove the crimes committed by the Syrian regime. However, where did you get that data? The reports have not been circulated yet. Unless you have put them together yourself, of course.
To complement this image, we also need to mention the activity of the illegitimate Investigation and Identification Team that works remotely and churns out absurd and little convincing anti-Syrian reports that rest upon video footage and data from anti-Syrian bodies, as well as the campaign that our Western colleagues started around Syria’s initial declaration. As a result, Syria was deprived of some of its rights and privileges at the OPCW on a far-fetched pretext and given violations of the CWC.
Nevertheless, the Syrian leadership remains ready to have dialogue with OPCW even after what happened. However in reality, it is the OPCW Technical Secretariat itself that impedes the collaboration, even though it tries hard to shift the blame to Damascus in the context of the work of the Declaration Assessment Team.
Syria repeatedly claimed ready to host the DAT on its territory for the 25th round of consultations. But as we heard today, the Technical Secretariat postponed the consultations on an apparently invalid and politicized pretext. Allegedly, due to non-issuance of a visa to one member of the Team, the entire mission cannot perform its tasks. Let me remind that last time the DAT refused to go to Syria, the pretext was just as absurd: it was allegedly too hot in Syria in summer.
It is essential that dialogue with the DAT is part of Syria’s voluntary bilateral obligations. I stress the word ‘voluntary’ here. The DAT mandate itself does not envisage any “investigative” activities. Its task is to help the Syrian side with the initial declaration. No one ever authorized the Team to conduct intrusive retrospective “investigations”.
As we understand, at this point, modalities of a meeting of Syria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Faisal Mekdad with Director-General of the OPCW Fernando Arias are being elaborated. It must be noted that the Syrian side invites DG Arias to Damascus, assuming that it would be critical for him to perceive his own impression of the situation on the ground. Do you think the Syrian authorities would be doing this if they did not want to cooperate with the OPCW or had anything to hide? And also, why does DG Arias himself refuse to go to Syria?
Frankly speaking, the bulk of questions to DG Arias that we have is growing like a rolling snowball. His previous visit to the Council has left a bad aftertaste. In addition to his attempts to cover up the irregularities of the Douma report and justify the remote collection of evidence, he nonchalantly tried to distort the essence of the diplomatic note that the Permanent Mission of Russia to OPCW had submitted in this regard. Nevertheless, we believe we should keep demanding him to provide consistent and logical explanation of the current situation that threatens to undermine the OPCW for good. We only insist that DG Arias must comply with the CWC. And we intend to do it again soon by inviting him to one of UNSC meetings.
There is one more aspect that is crucial for understanding the dynamics of the Syrian “chemical file”. When overemphasizing the alleged “violations” of the Syrian authorities, the UN Secretariat and the OPCW Technical Secretariat basically soft-pedal the episodes of terrorists using chemical weapons in Syria and its neighbor-states. Let me turn to the November report by UNITAD. Among other things, it cites much evidence of ISIL using CW in Iraq in 2014 and 2016, namely of it using the labs of the Mosul University for CW-related research and development. These facts are subject to OP18 and OP19 of UNSC resolution 2118 and, according to OP12 of this resolution, they must be communicated to member states. However, we received no such information neither today nor before, even though this crucial data actually says that chemical weapons may be spreading among terrorists in the region and may be used at any time for chemical provocations.
To conclude, the so-called Syrian chemical file has ceased to maintain a façade of objective and unbiased fact finding that could confirm the assertions about CW usage in that country. Now it is but a lever of anti-Syrian criticism for our Western colleagues who are ready to do everything to prove the unprovable, even though in such case they would have to neglect the laws of physics, chemistry and elementary logic.
Colleagues, here is the context that you will have to be dealing with in the next while. And of course, be ready to hear furious accusations of Russia undermining the authority of the OPCW as an indispensable element of this narrative. I would very much want to believe that this context that everyone has been tired of will change to become more objective and fact-friendly, at least by the end of your tenure at the Security Council. If you choose to facilitate this process, alongside with us and other reasonable delegations, Syrians and their neighbors will be only grateful.