Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Botswana
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23 august / 2018

Press release on the recent development of the situation in Syria

During the talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Lebanon’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Gebran Bassil in Moscow on August 20, 2018 the issues related to the safe and dignified return of Syrian citizens home were discussed. Two parts agreed that conditions for the return of refugees were already being created, and it is counterproductive to make artificial demands that complicate the return of the refugees and the restoration of the country’s potential.

Several days ago Mr Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, visited Washington and met with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Following their talks, the US Department of State said it was premature to even discuss Syria’s restoration. It was said that first it was necessary to reach a political settlement, the so-called “political transition.” Indicatively, the US sets these preconditions only for the territories that are controlled by the Syrian Government and have been liberated from ISIS, al-Nusra and other terrorists.

Such requirements are not set for the areas controlled by the opposition forces that are cooperating with the US and enjoying its support, primarily on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates. On the contrary, restoration is in full swing and the US is involving many allies in the payment for these efforts. Recently, US officials and senators openly promoted their efforts on removing mines on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates and restoring roads, schools, hospitals, residential and commercial buildings, thereby emphasising that the US is making a contribution to Syria’s restoration. However, it is limited to the areas occupied by the opposition that are not always constructive. On the territories under its control and that of the opposition, the US has established an unilateral security area in At-Tanf that includes the Rukban camp. UN officials are not allowed to visit this camp, and humanitarian relief is being impeded. However, militants including al-Nusra fighters periodically conduct raids in the part of Syria freed by Damascus, in part, to prevent refugees from Jordan from returning.

Of course, Russian Federation is drawing the attention of the UN Security Council to this situation that does not meet any requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Considering this absolutely destructive US position, the UN Security Council will hardly be able make any positive decisions on this issue at this time. We will continue working with the countries that understand the urgency of the measures on returning the refugees and the creation of conditions for this. These are countries that have accepted refugees from Syria (mostly, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey) and the European states that are also coming to realise the need for specific steps to this end. This was confirmed by the recent joint Russian-French humanitarian act on the delivery of cargo to Eastern Ghouta by a Russian aircraft from France and the talks between President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Mesenberg on August 18, 2018. They discussed Syria and, in particular, the refugee issue.

Russia and Turkey, as well as Iran as guarantors of the Astana process are working every day by telephone and in person in order to unblock the situation in Idlib and the return of Syrian refugees. In the next few days, Russia will hold talks with its Turkish colleagues to discuss Syrian settlement in general and all of its aspects. Of course, especially with regard to the military, we are focusing, at this stage, primarily on implementing the tasks agreed upon during the creation of the de-escalation zone in Idlib. The key goal now is to separate the opposition groups that are willing to participate in the political process from the al-Nusra militants who abound in the Idlib area and are trying to govern it and provide for day-to-day life in that region. The armed opposition groups that are trying to establish cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra should think twice and do so as soon as possible.

When Turkey deployed 12 observation posts in this zone awhile back, the situation calmed down a bit, but then al-Nusra and their branches began to fire at the Syrian army’s positions from this de-escalation zone; they launched drones, and tried to attack Russian air base in Khmeimim. This must stop. The other day in Ankara, Foreign Ministers of Russia Sergey Lavrov and of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed that a separation of the armed groups that are willing to cooperate in resolving the crisis from Jabhat al-Nusra is a priority.

Concerning the position of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi who spoke against facilitating the return of Syrian refugees, calling the situation in Syria too dangerous, Russian Foreign Ministry contacted the headquarters of his department. It was told that the commissioner had in mind the following: until there is a so-called process of political transition, the main donors, primarily the West, will not send any funding to restore Syria's infrastructure and economy in general. We stated our view that there are other donors besides Western ones, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees should not look like a "branch" of a group of Western countries. Concurrently and irrespective of the refugee issue, Russian Federation asked UNESCO how they plan to implement long-standing agreements on how to make that organisation's potential useful for restoring Palmyra. From their explanations as to why UNESCO cannot yet engage in this, we realised that they have instructions from UN headquarters in New York. It turns out that the Political Department of the UN Secretariat issued and circulated throughout the UN system in October 2017 a secret directive prohibiting organisations that are part of this system to participate in any projects to restore the Syrian economy limiting their involvement to humanitarian aid and nothing more. Again, a condition was put forward that only after progress had been made on a so-called "political transition" will it be possible to deal with the restoration of Syria. Minister Sergey Lavrov asked Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres why such matters are the subject of some in-house secret Secretariat’s directives and why the UN Security Council which deals directly with the Syrian settlement is not aware of them, and why such decisions are made without an open and objective analysis of the situation on the ground. Mr Guterres promised to sort it out. Russian Federation convinced that everyone will agree that no group of countries should be allowed to manipulate in their self-serving geopolitical interests or the secretariats of international organisations whose employees must be impartial and independent. We see our partners in all international organisations. The UN system was created under UN Charter principles based on respect and equality of all states. Our country calls on our Western partners to return to these principles and not to try to take advantage of unwitting, as they say, international organisations. We have disagreements over Syria and a host of other issues, but Russia wants to discuss them candidly and openly, rather than try to address matters behind the backs of our partners in a particular international structure by influencing the secretariat staff in the corresponding international organisations.

The Embassy of the Russian Federation
in the Republic of Botswana