Inter-American problems and regional policy
Remarks by Deputy Head of the Russian delegation and Permanent Representative of Russia to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin at the 24th Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, The Hague, November 29, 2019
We would like to support our Syrian colleagues who spoke in favour of the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s senior officials providing a proper response to the new data that indicate a possible falsification of the well-known report by the Fact-Finding Mission in Syria on the March 1, 2019 incident in the Syrian town of Douma.
As you may recall, this incident followed a very strange script right from the start. Without waiting for the investigation to begin, let alone end, and in violation of international law, the three states in question launched a missile strike on Syria, a full member of the UN and a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. This was done as the inspection team was arriving in Damascus. If the strike had begun a bit later, the OPCW inspectors would have been in the middle of it. Thus, the above countries showed a complete disregard for the activities of the OPCW. In addition, this criminal act sent a clear message to everyone that Syria was to blame for the incident in Douma, and that there could be no other opinion. This was the beginning of this – now we can say it openly – egregious incident.
Later, during investigation into this incident by the OPCW, some of our Western colleagues, in particular, US Permanent Representative Kenneth Ward, mockingly asserted that the Russian military covered up their tracks and destroyed evidence at the site of an alleged chemical attack, thus helping Damascus cover it up. Meanwhile, our military police risked their lives to ensure OPCW staff safety. The Syrian authorities did their best to ensure a smooth operation of the Mission.
Almost immediately after the report had been released, the Western media began running analytical materials by independent observers expressing doubts about reliability of the Fact-Finding Mission’s conclusions. A BBC producer, recognising the fact that the Douma incident was staged, confirmed information presented during a news conference in The Hague in April 2018 with the participation of the Syrian citizens who were involuntarily involved in this staged travesty.
Notably, most Western countries decided not to attend that news conference, which we believe was a big mistake on their part. With regard to the important information provided by the Syrian participants in that memorable news conference, we were amazed to find that it wasn’t included in the Mission’s final report.
The number of doubts about the validity of the findings included in the report on the Douma incident gradually gained critical mass. Russia and Syria’s findings about the provocation were confirmed by the Mission members who worked in Douma, and their opinion was made public. Now, the findings in that infamous document are called into question by international experts, researchers and public figures, whose impartiality can hardly be questioned.
Think about it: the situation got so out of hand that many concerned individuals worry about this organisation’s good name and try to reach out to OPCW members and the Technical Secretariat, fully aware of the potential harm of this state of affairs. I’m talking, primarily, about an open collective email to all delegations represented at the OPCW. It was signed by renowned people, including first OPCW Technical Secretariat Director-General Jose Bustani. However, here today, all participating states are trying to keep silent about this.
At yesterday's meeting, the distinguished Permanent Representative Kenneth Ward compared the OPCW Technical Secretariat with an island in the eye of a storm. In other words, the situation at this Hague forum is none other than a storm. However, the United States and a number of other sympathising states provoke the politicisation of the OPCW, raise sharp and controversial questions during its meetings, and change the profile of the organisation, imparting it with functions that it doesn’t have under the Convention. It is known that the United States turns a blind eye to the standards of international law and replaces them with “rules” of its own making.
Delegates, we are given assurances that the OPCW is our “common home” and a place where we can share our concerns and hope, at least, that they will be reviewed. It appears that today is that day. There are a number of countries that are concerned about the new data on the alleged incident in Douma and insist on finally establishing the truth in this matter.
Leaving things as they are and pretending that nothing special happened would be a mistake. We are convinced that inaction will only undermine the credibility of the Fact-Finding Mission and the Technical Secretariat itself.
We suggest looking into this matter calmly and without unnecessary emotion or passion. For a long time now, Russia and a number of other countries have been suggesting holding a briefing for the participating states with the involvement of former and current FFM experts. We were told this won’t happen as some delegations saw the danger of reproducing the "Stalinist trials of the 1930s" involving cross-examination and intimidation here, in The Hague.
I would like to note in this regard that if Russia’s presence at this briefing raises this kind of concern, it can be held in another format, such as a separate meeting between the Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat with the above-mentioned experts in the presence of independent international observers.
In a word, there are options, and we are willing to discuss all alternative solutions. It is important to understand that the price of an OPCW experts’ mistake is very high since it can affect not only the reputation of our Organisation, but international security as well.
In this regard, we urge all delegations to express their ideas about how we can overcome the current situation and finally put this extremely difficult matter to rest.