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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

SERGEY LAVROV at the Special UN Security Council meeting on Syria



VOLTAIRE NETWORK | NEW YORK (USA) | 21 SEPTEMBER 2016 

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Mr. Lavrov (Russian Federation) (spoke in Russian): It is clear that the region of the Middle East and North Africa is undergoing a period of serious upheaval as a result of the conjunction of inter-ethnic and inter-religious clashes with the unprecedented eruptions of terrorism and extremism that have enveloped Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria and have disturbed a number of other countries, including some in Africa. The potential deterioration of the situation presents the likelihood of increasingly serious threats to international stability and security.This is hardly the first time that such a state of affairs is the direct consequence of the heinous practice of geopolitical engineering, interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States, and attempts to replace objectionable regimes, including by violent means. It is fair to say that the situation in Syria is particularly worrying. Since the very beginning of the crisis, Russia has consistently advocated an exclusively peaceful solution arrived at while respecting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of that ancient nation. We continue to believe firmly that there is no alternative to a political process based on a mutually respectful, inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue without preconditions, while ensuring an end to hostilities, the expansion of humanitarian access and a more effective fight against terrorism.
That complex position has been clearly affirmed in the decisions of the International Syria Support Group and the Security Council’s resolutions, particularly resolution 2254 (2015). In order to fulfil the provisions of that resolution, Russia and the United States, as co-Chairs of the International Syria Support Group, arrived at a specific arrangement, which took more than six months to produce and was completed on 9 September, after the Presidents of Russia and the United States, meeting three days earlier in China, had reached final agreement on the last remaining issues to be resolved.
I apologize for referring to documents that almost no one in the Chamber has seen. As ever, Russia is prepared to make them public and distribute them within the United Nations. It is important to note that the Russian-American agreement emphasizes that one of its key priorities is distinguishing the opposition forces from those of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat Al-Nusra, in order to put the ceasefire into effect, resolve humanitarian issues and, most importantly, end terrorists’ attempts to evade punishment by using the pretext of their cooperation with the so-called moderates participating in the ceasefire regime.

The arrangements came into force on 12 September, and I should say once again that the fact that they are not yet publicly available prevents us from comparing them with what has been done and by whom, but I can give one example. The arrangements required ensuring safe passage for humanitarian access along the Castello Road and that therefore both the Government and the opposition, which were controlling various sectors of that road, should withdraw their forces to an equal distance from the road. That distance was specifically fixed in the agreements. The Government forces began to withdraw, as required in the Russian-United States agreement, only to see that the opposition was not only not reciprocating but in fact began shelling the Government forces. That happened more than once, and the opposition has still not withdrawn from the Castello Road, as the 9 September agreements required. In general, through its Ministry of Defence, Russia has been continually monitoring the activity on the Castello Road and around Aleppo, and the Ministry’s website shows very clearly who is complying with the agreements and who is not.
Last week, through the operational monitoring centre we established in Geneva with our United States partners, we informed our American colleagues about 300 cases of violations of the ceasefire regime by Ahrar Al-Sham and a number of other opposition groups, including some whose names were provided to us as supposedly participating in the ceasefire. There were violations in Aleppo and the provinces of Hama, Homs, Latakia and Dar’a, as well as in the suburbs of Damascus. I would like to stress that the information we passed on is reliable. It comes not from Internet or media reports but was obtained on the ground by Russian military monitoring groups and it corresponds to specific facts. The violations include shelling using light weapons, mortars, multiple rocket launchers and homemade shells. The strikes on 16 September by the opposition coalition against Government forces’ positions in Deir ez-Zor were a clear violation of the ceasefire, and as soon as they occurred, ISIL launched an attack on the Government forces. Another unacceptable provocation took place on 19 September, when a United Nations humanitarian convoy was attacked near Aleppo in an opposition-controlled area. It should be noted, by the way, that on that same day, in the same area, known as the Ramusa road, Jabhat Al-Nusra and its allies carried out an aggressive attack on Government forces. As a result, the jihadists were able to make progress in the 10-70 sector.I do not have any proof, but I am certain that such coincidences should be thoroughly analysed and investigated, particularly the attack on the humanitarian convoy. Many people said that it could have been a rocket or artillery shelling — that was what we were informed originally — and then they started talking about helicopters and then airplanes. I think we should restrain the emotional instinct that makes us instantly reach for the microphone to comment and should rather conduct a thorough, professional investigation. I should mention that the distance between where the incident occurred and the epicentre, to the west of Aleppo, where Al-Nusra is, is no more than five or seven kilometres. Russia has provided all the information it has obtained about the attack on the convoy, including real-time video. In general, in spite of our appeals, which are to be found in Security Council decisions on the importance of exerting influence over the various armed opposition groups, the results have so far been extraordinarily limited.
I mentioned the list provided to us by our American partners of the 150 or so organizations named as participants in the ceasefire regime, but for a long time now, and officially since 12 September, more than 20 of them have declared that they will not comply with the agreement. That list also includes Ahrar Al-Sham, which, by the way, when drafting resolution 2254 (2015), we proposed including on the list of terrorist organizations, together with another group, Jaysh Al-Islam. At the time, however, our partners said that would make it impossible for us to work effectively, and as a gesture of goodwill we decided not to insist on that, limiting the terrorist list to Jabhat Al-Nusra and the so-called Islamic State. Well, after the ceasefire’s entry into force, on 12 September, the leadership of Ahrar Al-Sham stated officially that it would not abide by the agreements because they describe Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. Ahrar Al-Sham does not consider it to be a terrorist organization, and in fact works closely with it.I believe, therefore, that the time has come to think about revisiting the list of terrorist organizations, especially since a specific incident occurred in the past few days in the north of Hama province, where Syrian forces were defending against attacks by the Jund Al-Aqsa group in the El Khabare and Maan areas. Regarding the fighting there, some have accused the Syrian Government forces of violating the ceasefire, but yesterday the United States stated that it had added Jund Al-Aqsa to the list of terrorist organizations, so I hope that no one will demand that we cease hostilities against that group. I just wanted to mention that example, on top of what I just pointed out about Ahrar Al-Sham, since they will probably require that we revisit the list. There has to be an end to covering up for those who are opposed to peace and refuse to comply with the agreements and with the Security Council’s resolutions, and they should be considered equivalent to terrorists. In the past few days, in the Damascus area, Jaysh Al-Islam has been trying to gain territory in eastern Ghouta, while at the same time there have been intensive attacks on Government forces by Jabhat Al-Nusra and Failak Al-Rahman, which is also working in coordination with Al-Nusra in the suburb of Jobar, from where they often use mortars for shelling civilian neighbourhoods in Damascus.
Another lesson that we should like to draw from the latest events is that, in ensuring security during humanitarian operations, the effective participation of all parties to the conflict is necessary, not only that of Syrian and Russian armed forces, to which everyone usually addresses all appeals and requests. The armed groups and their sponsors need to provide relevant guarantees as well. Representatives of the United Nations also need to escort the convoys after receiving such guarantees.The International Syria Support Group met yesterday, and many colleagues were present. Everyone spoke in favour of resuscitating the cessation of hostilities. Initially the proposal was to ensure three days of calm. We are convinced that that can be achieved only by all the parties to the Syrian conflict without exception, taking simultaneous, parallel steps. Otherwise, nothing will happen. There will not be any unilateral pauses. We have done that already. There were unilateral pauses around Aleppo for 48 and 72 hours, and each time the result was that the insurgents, including Jabhat Al-Nusra, were provided with re-enforcements and military equipment and ammunition during these periods of calm. We therefore can no longer even discuss unilateral measures.What is needed is that every single member of the International Syria Support Group, especially those mentioned by the President of the Council, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, need to formulate serious guarantees in order to ensure that those units on the ground on whom they have influence will comply with all the provisions of the cessation of hostilities agreement. If we can agree on that type of comprehensive approach, then I believe that the viability of a cessation of hostilities will have a chance. Of course, it will not be enough to reach an agreement, we will have to make sure that the agreement is actually implemented.

Finally, I would like to say that we have always made a top priority of the intra-Syrian political dialogue, without any preconditions, as demanded by resolution 2254 (2015) and with the participation of representatives of all ethnic and religious groups, in order to implement the road map set out in the resolution, which should lead to a solution to the Syrian crisis within 18 months — as we had hoped at the time. Otherwise, we will not be able to achieve a lasting solution and preserve Syria as a single, territorially integral State, restore its economy and ensure the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. We support the efforts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Staffan de Mistura, and we call on him to continue working with the Syrian parties to the conflict to ensure the continuity and inclusive character of the negotiating process. Attempts by certain participants to put forward preconditions or ultimatums to sabotage resolution 2254 (2015) are unacceptable. Unfortunately, such attempts have continued, and the United Nations and the Special Envoy should not yield to such blackmail. Negotiations should resume urgently. Those who insist on preconditions should be told that such decisions run counter to the demands of the Security Council. We are ready to contribute in every way to the efforts carried out by Mr. De Mistura, including by further working with all parties — the Syrian Government and all members of the opposition — without excluding anyone.

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