Remarks by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW Ambassador and head of the Russian delegation Alexander Shulgin at the 55th meeting of the OPCW Executive Council (the report on investigation of the Khan Shaykhun incident), The Hague, July 5, 2017
Dear Mr Chairman,
I would like to apologise in advance for the fact that I will have to depart from my prepared remarks, as I cannot leave unanswered serious accusations of Russia by distinguished US Permanent Representative Kenneth Ward.
We regret that our American partners have descended so low, to a level which borders on foul language. We are not going to start a shouting match with them. We leave on their conscience the labels that they are trying to attach to us. However, for the sake of fairness, if there is anyone who is telling stories about the events in Khan Shaykhun in the OPCW or outside of it, it is our American "partners."
With regard to the question of who has been emboldened, and whose actions are responsible for this, we have no doubt that it is the US underlings, including all kinds of White Helmets and oppositionists of all stripes, including the hardcore ones, which control Khan Shaykhun.
I think that in light of today's briefing, few people will have any doubts left on this account. With all the praise of the heads of the Fact-Finding Mission of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria regarding cooperation with NGOs - at least, this is how things are portrayed in the report - these people engaged in hiding important material evidence, such as fragments of ammunition found in a funnel caused by an explosion. What about their American overseers? Did they give them a dressing down? Apparently not, because a couple of days later they went ahead and poured cement into the funnel.
The explanations that we heard at the briefing (the allegedly urgent need to restore the roadway) are nothing short of ridiculous. It is unbelievable to see gray-haired and wise people praised for being top professionals take such perverted logic at face value, or pretend to do so. The opposition members and the affiliated NGOs have shamelessly destroyed important material evidence knowing that their American overseers will cover their backs, which, in fact, is what we are witnessing now.
We would like to draw your attention to the fact that our American colleagues are unmatched in modern history in terms of concealing the truth. In his remarks, distinguished Permanent Representative Kenneth Ward has once again directly linked the US military strike on Shayrat airbase with the incident in Khan Shaykhun. As is known, under the Fact-Finding Mission mandate, the mission must visit all the places relevant to the chemical weapons incidents under investigation. Since the Americans once again publicly confirmed such a relationship today, logically, such a visit should have taken place a long time ago. All the more so, since the Syrians have provided all the necessary security guarantees. However - we would like to emphasise this - after some hesitation, the Americans flatly refused even to discuss the idea of such a visit. No matter how sophisticated the interpretation of the mission mandate may get, the fact is that it was the United States which did everything to prevent the OPCW experts from being sent to the airbase.
Again, distinguished Permanent Representative Ward sounds the alarm, this time talking about some obscure preparations for another chemical attack at the same Shayrat airbase. The Americans just can’t get over it. I ask all the delegations in this auditorium and the senior officials of the Technical Secretariat, let us finally send the OPCW inspectors to the airbase and answer all the questions that we may have. This is what we proposed at the previous 54th session of the Executive Council, as we presented - together with the Iranians - a draft resolution on this matter.
Let the delegations think for themselves and decide who is actually trying to sweep things under the rug: is it Russia, which calls for a thorough inspection of the Shayrat airbase, or the Americans who are doing everything to prevent this?
Russia took note of the report prepared by the FFM on the results of the investigation of the chemical attack in Idlib in April, which established the use of sarin or a similar agent.
We immediately noticed that the report cites much of what the FFM failed to do in the course of this investigation. The inspectors failed to ensure the chain of custody which raises reasonable doubts. Numerous samples and witnesses presented, photo/video materials and other information, which is at the disposal of the FFM, does not, in fact, constitute direct evidence. All of it is just indirect evidence which, furthermore, came mostly from representatives of the opposition groups and anti-Syrian NGOs. Without visiting the area of the incident, the experts were unable to assess the topography of the scene, independently take samples, conduct a survey of eyewitnesses who provided first aid to the victims, and establish a "mechanism for the spread of a toxic substance" (in other words, the FFM is not sure what kind of ammunition was used).
The document openly recognises that the data provided on electronic media has not been checked for reliability. That is, the things that were handed over in abundance to the FFM by the opposition groups and NGOs were not subjected to strict verification in relation to the terrain, the place and the time of shooting, and also in terms of their authenticity. All this does not preclude the possibility of the videos being staged.
The mission failed to visit the medical institutions where the victims were first brought and look into their medical history, either.
Unfortunately, we have to state that the stylistics of the report is biased. When reading it, an uninitiated reader may be led to only one conclusion - official Damascus is responsible for the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun. Suffice it to read the description of the events which happened in Khan Shaykhun on April 4 provided by numerous eyewitnesses, including the air alert, the "roaring" Syrian aircraft, the pop sounds and explosions of air ammunition, the efforts to rescue the victims, including in the medical institutions of a "neighbouring country."
The vicious practice of conducting remote investigations from "a country neighbouring with Syria" was continued, which, in fact, allowed the mission experts to react so promptly to the tragedy in Khan-Shaykhun by being present at the autopsy and conducting interviews with the alleged victims brought from there.
After reading the FFM report on Khan-Shaykhun, one thing is clear: sarin or a similar agent was used there. This is confirmed, among other things, by analysis of the samples obtained from the site of the incident by the Syrian authorities. However, the main question remains unanswered - who, under what circumstances, and in what manner used this toxic substance.
It is important for us to understand and establish the truth about what really happened in Khan Shaykhun on April 4 and who is behind this crime in order to prevent the recurrence of such events in the future. Here, in Europe, the breath of terrorism can be strongly felt. The threat of chemical terrorism is becoming ever more real. The overall ability of the OPCW and the entire world community to block the path to this plague of the 21st century depends on whether we manage to bring the Khan Shaykhun investigation to the end and identify the real culprits of this tragedy. We all know how horrible the face of chemical terrorism can be after the tragedy in the Tokyo metro, where, incidentally, sarin was used as well. That is why it is extremely important to focus on establishing the truth, and not to avoid uncomfortable questions, not to follow the easy path, appointing in advance scapegoats for other people's sins.
For you to better understand the Russian position, we would like to ask you to circulate our position paper on the issue under consideration and to publish it as an official document of the OPCW and post it on the external and internal websites of the organisation. We would like the delegations to read it.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
Please consider these remarks an official document of the 55th meeting of the Executive Board.