Remarks by the head of the Russian delegation, Russian Permanent Representative to the OPCW Ambassador Alexander Shulgin at the 85th session of the OPCW Executive Council (general debates), The Hague, July 11, 2017
The Russian delegation is glad to welcome you as the Chair of the Executive Council and would like to assure you of its full support and readiness for constructive cooperation in making this session as successful as possible.
The Russian Federation is fully committed to its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and is steadily continuing to destroy its existing chemical weapons arsenals. As of July 10, 2017, around 39,659 tonnes of chemical weapons, or 99.2 percent of the initial volume, have been destroyed. Elimination of the remaining amount is being carried out according to plan at the last still functioning facility – Kizner in the Republic of Udmurtia.
We have been attentively following the situation with chemical weapons destruction in other signatory states. We consider useful, in terms of getting acquainted with the real state of things, the visits made by the Executive Council’s delegation in between the sessions to the Blue Grass chemical agent destruction facility in the United States and to similar sites at Haerbaling where the chemical weapons abandoned by Japan on Chinese territory are being destroyed.
The Russian Federation has taken note of the reports by the Director-General on the implementation of the plan for the elimination of the remaining category 2 Libyan chemical weapons abroad and by Libya on the progress it has made in destroying the chemical weapons left after April 29, 2012.
We would like to draw your attention to the still unsolved problem of 220 tonnes of chemical weapons precursors missing from the Ruvaga facility in Libya. It is necessary, in line with the Executive Council’s instructions to the Technical Secretariat during the 83rd session, to speedily conduct a full-fledged on-site inspection of this facility and collect the necessary samples. According to our information, the security situation in the above area is not that critical as to continue postponing the visit any further. We believe that it would be expedient to turn to the governing bodies in Tobruk, which, as far as we know, are controlling the area adjoining Ruvaga, for assistance in providing safe access to the facility.
We would like to note that regular reports of the Director-General and the documents of the Syrian Arab Republic on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons capacity in the period under review show the clear progress made in this area. We are pleased to mention that the last hangar of the former facilities for the production of chemical weapons was destroyed last June in the presence of OPCW experts.
We would also like to acknowledge the Director-General’s report on the results of the inspection of the facilities at the Syrian Science and Research Center (SSRC) in Barzah and Jamraya, commissioned by decision of the 83rd session of the Executive Council. We would like to draw your attention to the fact that despite the obvious circumstances surrounding this politically motivated decision, and the difficult security situation in this region, the Syrian Government managed to organise a visit to the SSRC for the experts of the Technical Secretariat in the spirit of goodwill. According to the report, the results of the visit speak for themselves – the Syrian side fully cooperated with the inspectors and gave them unlimited access to all buildings and premises they wanted to see; the analyses of the samples taken there showed absence of traces of “scheduled chemicals”; the inspectors did not find any signs of activities that would contradict Syria’s commitments under the Convention on the Prohibition and Elimination of Chemical Weapons (CPECW).
We believe it is important for the consistent dialogue to be continued between specialists of the Technical Secretariat and Syrian experts under the aegis of Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu and Syrian First Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad with a view to clearing up the situation around Syria’s initial declaration on the CPECW. We believe this format of OPCW-Syria cooperation has proved effective. We would like to note Syria’s readiness for comprehensive contacts with the Technical Secretariat.
Participants in the extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council on July 5 of this year reviewed reports by the Fact-Finding Mission on the results of the inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria during two incidents: in Um Hosh on September 16, 2016 and Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 of this year. The Russian delegation described in detail its assessment of the mission’s work and disseminated relevant materials that are open to everyone.
In response to the allegations that were made here to the effect that Russia and Syria are putting up a smoke screen and playing with the facts from the report on Khan Sheikhoun, I will say briefly that such assertions hold no water. I will explain why.
Smoke screens are typically used by those who have something to hide. We and the Syrians have nothing to hide. It may be recalled that we were the ones who proposed, as a matter of urgency, before April 21, sending OPCW experts to Khan Sheikhoun and the Shayrat airbase to find out what really happened. We were told: Don’t malign the FFM. They have their own work algorithm. Wait until the report is released.
Finally, the FFM released the report – as usual, drawn up remotely and with the use of more than dubious data. The report leads the reader to believe that there was an air strike. However, the FFM does not bother to find out what kind of ammunition was used. The fragments of the ammunition sticking out from the crater – we all saw them in the video footage – mysteriously disappeared. The FFM took that for granted: Well, they could not get fragments of the ammunition, that’s all. We did not receive any other explanation. So, the fragments were hidden and the crater was filled with concrete. This can hardly be described as anything other than the destruction of the most important material evidence. That’s some smoke screen.
As for the video footage with children dying purportedly as a result of sarin poisoning, FFM officials explained that experts had not even analysed it, because they did not consider that primary evidence. In other words, what’s the point of trying to find fault with the video footage? That’s a trifle. Excuse me, but whose photos did US Ambassador Nikki Haley demonstrate at a New York session then? Were they not of those same children? Therefore, she did not consider them a trifle, something irrelevant? It got worse. On April 6, at an official meeting between an OPCW delegation and State Department officials, we were told that US President Donald Trump was outraged when he saw the video of dying children. They say that report prompted him to order a strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase.
However, if you – I mean our opponents – say that the video footage is not important material in the Khan Sheikhoun case, then it turns out that the president of a great power made a critically important decision to launch missiles only on the basis of some irrelevant information. And if that is indeed the case, you should have distanced yourselves from the US decision, which was a gross violation of international law and an act of aggression against a sovereign state, the Syrian Arab Republic.
Why did that not happen then? Those who are now trying to blame us for unfairly criticising the FFM all as one, albeit with some reservations, backed the American use of force against Syria, praising it to high heaven as a reliable means of preventing the recurrent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Army.
However, why then did you so vehemently oppose our proposal to send experts to the Shayrat airbase, where, according to the Americans, chemical weapons were stored? Our Western colleagues’ arguments are full of holes and incongruities.
To go back to children with dilated pupils, we never got a coherent answer to the question why the FFM did not reflect that in its table of sarin attack symptoms. The exact number of instances of diarrhea, vomiting and pupils narrowed to pinhead size (a total of 137) was known. And what about children with dilated pupils? After all, there might have been quite a few of them as well. Maybe they were not included in the table because they were not killed by sarin? But in that case, what or who killed them then? Who will answer these questions?
Meanwhile, this footage was presented by the White Helmets, whose materials the FFM readily accepted for consideration. This begs the question: Why did the FFM easily accept some materials and reject others? Maybe because they did not fit into a predetermined pattern whereby those guilty were designated beforehand?
We have no illusions about the way our arguments will be received by co-opted delegations. Just how independent they are in their judgments is evidenced even by their statements: Each national statement by representatives of EU member countries opens with a ritual incantation to the effect that their country completely shares the position presented on behalf of the EU. Our explanations are targeted at delegations that are not affected by tunnel vision.
So, unlike our colleagues singing hosannas to the FFM’s professionalism and faultless work, we will continue to raise questions as we deem necessary. We will insist on getting the whole picture of what happened to identify not only the perpetrators but also those who ordered and masterminded this heinous crime. And we have no doubts that this is a gross provocation by the opponents of Syria’s legitimate authorities.
We hope that the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism in Syria will conduct a genuine investigation with onsite visits not only to Khan Sheikhoun but also to the Shayrat airbase and will work professionally and impartially.
At the same time it is important to remember the importance of inspecting the Shayrat airbase from where, according to our US colleagues, warplanes with chemical weapons took off. We will insist on its inspection by JIM experts.
Unfortunately, the problems of chemical weapons possession and use by non-state actors is becoming more and more urgent. Terrorist groups have real potential to make and use such weapons. The fact that terrorist have them is attested by the experts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria and by Russian specialists who visited the chemical incident sites in Syria. Thus, everything points to the fact that terrorist are responsible for chemical weapons use in Um Hosh.
We appreciate the increasingly active work by the OPCW in countering these threats. The discussion in the Open-Ended Working Group on Terrorism and in its sub-group on non-state actors shows that the Organisation can take corresponding steps within its mandate to contribute to building up the relevant capacities of the Convention signatories.
We also consider it important to increase the respective capabilities of the Technical Secretariat related, in particular, to responding to information which merits attention on cases of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups in Syria and the smuggling of dangerous chemicals from the neighbouring states. As far as we know, such reports are regularly submitted to the Technical Secretariat by the Syrian Arab Republic.
International efforts need to be further mobilised to fight the unending recurrence of chemical terrorism in Syria and Iraq. We reaffirm the urgency of the Russian initiative to draft an international convention on fighting acts of chemical and biological terrorism at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva.
We welcome the unfolding discussion on future OPCW priorities within the framework of the Open-Ended Working Group. We believe that the consensus-based convention principles should not erode and the time-proven balance between the rights and obligations of the member-states should not be violated in the course of the Organisation’s evolutionary development while the Organisation’s new activities should not overstep its convention mandate.
The decisive stage in the election of the Technical Secretariat Director-General begins. Very soon a difficult choice will have to be made among the seven worthy candidates in favour of one consensus candidate.
We will submit our considerations on the current session’s agenda separately as they are being discussed.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
We request that this speech be distributed as an official document of the 85th session of the OPCW Executive Council.