Information and Press Department’s answers to questions from Izvestia newspaper regarding the activity of the White Helmets in Idlib
Question: Will the Foreign Ministry propose that the UN ban the White Helmets?
Information and Press Department: The Russian Federation uses all international platforms to dispel the myth created by Western special services whereby the White Helmets are an exclusively humanitarian organisation. In particular, in late December 2018, Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN, along with Syria, held an event at the UN Headquarters to expose the true nature of this organisation, which is affiliated with terrorist groups. Maxim Grigoriev, Director at the Foundation for the Study of Democracy, a Russian NGO, and member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, was the keynote speaker at this seminar. He coordinated the drafting of a 250-page report containing convincing evidence of criminal activity by the White Helmets. The Russian Federation will maintain its efforts to raise awareness within the international community of the true face of these pseudo-humanitarian workers.
Question: Can a planned chemical attack serve as a pretext for the US to delay the withdrawal of its troops from Syria?
Information and Press Department: It has to be noted that unlike the terrorists, Damascus never had any reason or motive to use chemical weapons, having eliminated its stockpiles under international supervision. In addition to this, the UN Security Council and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons have been keeping a close eye on Damascus from the very beginning of the crisis.
The Russian Federation takes very seriously reports that fighters operating in Syria are preparing new provocations using chemical warfare agents and toxic chemicals. They are clearly seeking to provoke foreign interference in the Syrian conflict. If history is any guide, this tactic works, unfortunately. The US and its allies used fabricated reports produced by the White Helmets as a pretext for carrying out missile strikes against Syrian government and military facilities. It should be recalled that the US used this terrorist provocation consisting of staging a chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun (Idlib Province, April 4, 2017) to carry out an act of aggression against a sovereign UN member state on April 7, 2017 by launching missile strikes against Shayrat Airbase. On April 14, 2018, the US, Great Britain and France bombed one of Syria’s leading research institutions in Barzeh as retribution for an alleged chemical attack in Douma, even though two inspections by the OPCW at the site concluded that this centre was not engaged in any prohibited activity under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
In this connection, possible provocations using chemical weapons cannot be dismissed as a way to not only discredit Bashar Assad’s government, but also to maintain the illegal military presence of the US in Syria and justify possible military action against a UN member state.
Question: How does Russia intend to counter these provocations?
Information and Press Department: The Russian Federation is firm and consistent in its calls for creating a genuinely impartial and professional international mechanism under the auspices of the UN Security Council that can investigate incidents related to chemical terrorism in the Middle East while strictly keeping with international standards, which is something that the entity that existed under the same name until November 2017 was unable to achieve. However, our efforts were blocked by specific Western countries who are satisfied with a situation where organisations under their control stage one fake chemical weapons attack after another in order to blame the legitimate Syrian government for them.
The Fact-Finding Mission that was created within the OPCW to investigate chemical incidents is expected to play an important role in preventing crimes involving the use of chemical weapons. However, in order to do so it is essential that its system-wide shortcomings are addressed, which include the unbalanced geographical distribution of its membership, its selective approach to working with witness accounts and the failure to visit the sites of chemical incidents under the pretext of security risks, despite guarantees provided by the Syrian government. This lack of transparency results in the failure to comply with the OPCW’s fundamental principle of chain of custody when gathering evidence. It is obvious that it is high time that this mission undergo a radical makeover.
As for specific initiatives, together with our Syrian partners we are proactive in exposing fake chemical attacks staged by the White Helmets. In April 2018, we held a joint briefing at the OPCW with the participation of people who unwittingly became part of the chemical weapons provocation in Douma on April 7, 2018. More than 50 delegations from OPCW member states were at this event. It is telling that most NATO countries simply ignored the briefing.
In this connection it is also quite telling that just a few days ago BBC producer Riam Dalati confirmed that a video sequence on the White Helmets that was circulating online was actually staged. It would be interesting to know what the OPCW as a specialised organisation will say, considering that it has yet to release an investigative report on the events in question.