Организация по запрещению химического оружия (ОЗХО)
Remarks and answers to media questions by participants in the news conference “Who is using chemical weapons in Syria?” organised by the Permanent Representation of Russia to the OPCW, The Hague, July 12, 2019
Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW:
Ladies and gentlemen,
We welcome you to this press conference where will focus on an important issue – who, after all, is using chemical weapons in Syria?
I am Alexander Shulgin, permanent representative of Russia to the OPCW. And together with me we have Syrian Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh, Deputy Chief of Russia's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection (NBC) Troops Major General Sergey Kikot and Director of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy Maxim Grigoriev.
We would like to suggest the following format. First, my Syrian colleague Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh and I start with brief opening remarks. Then Russian experts, both military and civilian, take the floor, and after that we proceed with questions and answers.
In recent years, every now and again, we come across reports on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. And as time goes by, a peculiar pattern has emerged. All these reports resurface against the backdrop of victories held by government forces, as they drive terrorist groups and their accomplices out of occupied land. It is then, as if by a magic spell, that the media are swarmed with reports on chemical attacks in Syria. News channels of international media, without any let-up, show footage with people in white helmets providing first aid to the people allegedly exposed to toxic chemicals.
It is well known that such incidents are to be investigated by a relevant international organisation – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Specifically, its special Fact-Finding Mission in Syria, tasked with establishing facts regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Under its belt you may find the work on the episode in the Syrian city of Douma that is a suburb of Damascus. On April 7, 2018, once again all the international media all over the world rolled out the footage of the White Helmets who were saving, providing aid to the people who allegedly had been exposed to either sarin, or something else. The United States and its closest allies immediately placed the blame for this alleged chemical attack on the Syrian government.
The leadership of the OPCW sent a group of relevant experts to Damascus. There even was a special release that informed everyone that the fact-finding mission team would be soon arriving in the Syrian capital. Nevertheless, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom ignored this very circumstance. Instead of waiting even for the beginning of the investigation they executed a massive airstrike on Syria. That was a cynical thing to do just a few hours before the arrival of the OPCW experts to Damascus. As if the United States and its allies did not actually care in the slightest what exactly the OPCW team would ascertain. In doing so, they revealed their true stance on the OPCW while paying lip service to strengthening the role of the OPCW and chemical disarmament. In fact, they ignore the organisation altogether.
It is in these difficult circumstances that the Fact-Finding Mission in Syria commenced its work. By that time, all of Douma had been freed from militant groups.
Unlike the United States, unlike France, and unlike the United Kingdom, who try to impede or even disrupt the start of the investigation of the OPCW by carrying out the airstrike, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian military created the most comfortable conditions possible for the work of the OPCW representatives. It was them who provided all for the security of those who had arrived from The Hague.
The Syrian authorities granted access to all locations to be visited by the experts, provided maximum assistance in searching for and interviewing the witnesses.
Meanwhile, in hot pursuit after the incident, as it were, Douma residents managed to find the people who confirmed that the provocation was indeed staged by the White Helmets with support from the sponsors from abroad. In April last year, here in the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, we held a briefing with participation of the Syrians who came to The Hague and who had been involuntary extras in the well-known footage made by the White Helmets. Each of them commented on the video showing where exactly they were in the video, explaining their roles in this staged relief effort after an alleged chemical attack. We all remember well the speech of the little boy Hassan. It is said that truth comes out from the children's mouth, and Hassan’s tale shed light on an atrocious provocation set up by the adversaries of the Syrian authorities.
The investigation by the Fact-Finding Mission in Syria was a lengthy one, and strange things could be observed. The team leader of the FFM barely set foot in Damascus, and then immediately fled to the adjacent country, according to the terminology of the OPCW, where he remained. The samples taken by the FFM specialists were sent to The Hague and remained here a dead weight for a long time. No one analysed them. It was stated that the dedicated laboratory was overloaded and they had their hands full, essentially. There was unwillingness in providing the Syrians with their due share of the samples. It was only done under a lot of pressure. One way or another, the inevitable impression was that the samples and the very work in Douma in the field for the FFM were of little to no interest. The main thing for them apparently was as follows: to gather needed information from the social media and from the groups affiliated with terrorists.
And eventually, on March 1, 2019, we were presented with a long-awaited report. The conclusions were worded in such a way that no one could doubt that the responsibility lay with the Syrian government. The two cylinders with chlorine, which were found at the location, had allegedly been dropped from high altitude. That conclusion automatically put the blame on the Syrian side which has aircraft. In a long and very colourful report of the Fact-Finding Mission, which was over 100 pages long, there was practically no mention of the briefing in the OPCW headquarters with the Syrian citizens, who confirmed without any doubt that this was a staged provocation.
Meanwhile, a report was published by a member of this Fact-Finding Mission, an Australian national, Mr Ian Henderson, who was involved in the engineering part of the investigation. From this report it follows that the above mentioned cylinders were most likely manually placed in the room, which absolutely reversed the whole situation, because on April 7 Douma was under the militants’ control, and hence only them could bring the cylinders there.
It must be said that Mr Henderson was not alone in expressing this opinion. Similar conclusions were made by a group of independent British researchers led by Professor Robinson. Just like the Russian military experts before them, they found numerous inconsistencies, gaps and discrepancies in the FFM official report. The essence of these remarks will be presented later by a representative of the Russian Ministry of Defence, Deputy Chief of Russia’s NBC protection troops.
The responses of the Technical Secretariat to the opinions expressed British researchers, as well as to the materials provided by the Russian military experts, were deemed unsatisfactory.
In these circumstances we proposed holding a general briefing session within the framework of the 91st session of the OPCW Executive Council with the participation of all FFM experts who were involved in the investigation at one stage or another. This requirement was justified by us by the need to clarify the situation and to obtain comprehensive responses from the Technical Secretariat.
However, despite our requests, which were supported by a number of other delegations, we were denied such a briefing, with the Technical Secretariat referring to the vote that was taken during the March session of the Executive Council, in which the United States and its allies blocked any discussion on the merits of the report.
We honestly warned the Technical Secretariat that under the circumstances we had no other recourse but to make public the whole unpleasant situation within the OPCW, when the legitimate desire of a large group of states to address a very important issue pertaining to potential threats to international peace is met with a stonewall of, one would say, obstruction.
So, in conclusion of these brief introductory remarks, I would ask my Syrian colleague to take the floor. His Excellency Mr Sabbagh, please, sir.
Bassam Sabbagh, Permanent Representative of Syria to the OPCW: Thank you, your Excellency. Allow me first to thank the permanent mission of the Russian Federation to the OPCW for organising this briefing on the important matter related to the report of the Fact-Finding Mission, the FFM. Especially regarding the alleged incidents of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons in Douma in April 2018.
In fact, the emergence of such allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria came after Syria succeeded in implementing the elimination of chemical weapons programme and after its victory achieved by the Syrian government against [the] terrorist groups which enabled its control over large areas of the Syrian territories. In order to clarify the truth about these allegations, Syria responded positively to the initiatives of the Director General of the Organisation to establish the Fact-Finding Mission to gather information on these allegations and to confirm whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals were used or not in Syria. Since the issuance of the first FFM report, Syria has repeatedly expressed its grave concern over the modalities and methodology of the work of the FFM team and on several occasions has sought to work with the Technical Secretariat to fix those shortcomings and to avoid any gaps. There are also open questions about the compatibility of the FFM activities with the rules of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) especially when it comes to the issue of the visits' locations, sampling, interviewing witnesses and cooperation with the relevant states-parties which [were] not respected by the FFM team.
The final report of the Fact-Finding Mission on the alleged incidents in Douma has given rise to considerable concerns in many countries, and among international research centres and independent experts related to the technical, professional and legal aspects, which have affected the credibility of that report.
Let me highlight here some of those concerns. The report contained a serious distortion of facts on the ground and lots of discrepancies and inconsistencies and lack of credibility of some witnesses and absence of material evidence and chain of custody for the samples.
There was a selective selection of the witnesses: only 7 out of 15 witnesses who appeared in the videos published about the incidents were interviewed inside Syria, while for the 26 witnesses who were interviewed outside Syria, their relation with the incident was not known. Plus, the double standards in dealing with the testimonies of the witnesses between those who were interviewed inside Syria and the others, who were interviewed outside Syria.
The politicization appeared clearly in the report by signalling some indirect hints against the Syrian government while totally ignoring the role of the White Helmets – the arm of the Al-Nusra Front – and other terrorist organisations who played a special role in implementing the agenda of the countries who were behind the whole war against Syria. In particular, this incident was used as a pretext to justify the aggression of the United States, France and the United Kingdom on the territories of Syria on April 14, 2018. This constitutes a clear violation of the international law and the UN Charter.
The neutrality and objectiveness were totally absent. The report ruled out completely the terrorist armed groups' positions of chemical weapons materials. For example, the report's conclusions referred to two cylinders containing chlorine and used as a weapon in the incident. But similar cylinders were found in the warehouse of the terrorists in Douma, but the FFM team neglected this important fact.
The delegation of Syria to the OPCW, along with the other delegations, including the Russian delegation, requested the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW to organise a general briefing on this report with all members of the Fact-Finding Mission who investigated in Douma. However, attempts by some states impeded such a discussion. Regrettably, the Technical Secretariat responses to the written questions submitted by Syria and Russia on March 11, 2018, concerning many elements of the Douma report, were too general, vague, and superficial, and have not provided any deep or scientifically convincing responses.
The leaked report of one of the FFM members, Ian Henderson, cast another doubts on the credibility of the final reports on the Douma incident and clearly demonstrated the validity of the views expressed by several delegations in the OPCW, including Syria and Russia. The importance of Henderson’s report is based on the fundamental point that two cylinders found in two locations in Douma were placed manually. This unequivocally proves that the alleged incident of the use of chlorine as a weapon in Douma was fabricated.
Mr Henderson was not alone in this opinion. The findings of the study of the British working group on Syria headed by Professor Robinson, recently published on its web site, reached the same conclusion. Interview and articles published by many researchers and international media, as David Miller, Robert Fisk, and Kathleen Johnson, and others spoke in the same direction.
Syria strongly believes that the common objective of the state-parties and the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW is to maintain the professionalism and credibility of the work of the organisation. Therefore, Syria calls on the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW to reconsider its position and to revaluate its investigations to clarify the truth regarding the Douma incident in light of different views expressed by member states and report of investigator Henderson, and the review of other scientific studies and analyses.
I want to indicate that the Syrian Arab Republic has repeatedly requested discussions with the Technical Secretariat to review the Terms of Reference of the work of the FFM in order to make the modality and the methodology of its work transparent and fully consistent with the Convention’s standards. In this regard, vice-minister for foreign affairs and chairman of the Syrian National Authority sent a letter on May 1 to Director General of the organisation, inviting him to initiate comprehensive discussions on this issue.
Finally, I want to reiterate that the Syrian Arab Republic provided utmost cooperation to the FFM and hoped that by facilitating the FFM more it will conclude with logical and objective findings, and will not be subject to any special [inaudible] exerted by certain countries.
Here, I will seize this opportunity to stress again that Syria has fulfilled its obligations under the convention and will continue its cooperation with the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW.
I thank you for your presence and listening.
Alexander Shulgin: Thank you, Ambassador Sabbagh. Now let me invite General Kikot to take the floor and share his thoughts.
Sergey Kikot: Ladies and gentlemen,
The official results of the investigation by the FFM were presented in a report released on May 1, 2019. The report claims that “the use of toxic chemical as a weapon took place” in Douma (see its Paragraph 9.12). At the same time, the report’s materials and the Mission’s conclusions actually lead the public to believe that the cylinders were dropped from an aircraft (as per Paragraphs 9.9 and 9.10 of the report).
Russia has repeatedly stated, including here at the OPCW, that Douma witnessed a carefully planned provocation. Our experts have provided the proof of the fact that the characteristics, the appearance of the cylinders and the sites of the incidents testify that the cylinders were manually placed at the location and not dropped from an aircraft. The relevant materials were transferred by us to the Director General of the OPCW and sent to the Technical Secretariat of the organisation.
On May 13, the web site of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media published a confidential document of the OPCW titled Engineering Assessment of Two Cylinders Observed at Douma Incident dated February 27, 2019. The author of this document is OPCW expert Ian Henderson, who took part in the investigation of the incident. The conclusions of this purely technical document confirm the conclusions of the Russian experts expressed to the Technical Secretariat on numerous occasions.
The Technical Secretariat of the OPCW, in fact, admits that three days before the publication of the final report, the FFM experts had a version of the events different from the conclusions stated in the report.
Let us take a look in more detail at the evidence presented by Mr Henderson.
During the analysis of Location 2, he conducted modelling, which was supposed to answer the question of whether the cylinder, when dropped from the supposed height (the heights of 500 and 2,000 metres were tested) could result in the destruction and damage similar to those seen in the photographs of the cylinder and the slab from the site of the incident.
Paragraph 19 makes a conclusion that “the assumed drop heights, even the lowest one of 500 metres, were too high to be able to reproduce the observed impact event.”
“Further analysis of the simulated and real concrete crater and vessel shape also revealed the following discrepancies.”
“Although steel rebar was visible in the images of the observed concrete crater, no traces of interaction of the cylinder with the steel were observed on the cylinder.”
“The model was not able to reproduce the reinforcement response observed in the images of the observed crater.”
This is a quote from Mr Henderson’s work.
By evaluating the crater in Location 2, Henderson concludes in Paragraph 20 that the observed appearance of the cylinder and rebar were not consistent. The front of the observed cylinder shows no signs of impact with the concrete slab or rebar, and the appearance of the observed rebar does not indicate it having slowed the cylinder to a stop.
In Paragraph 25, Mr Henderson concludes, “it (the crater) was more consistent with that expected as a result of a blast or energetics (for example, from a high-explosive mortar or a rocket artillery round) rather than a result of impact from a falling object. The likelihood of the crater having been created by a mortar or artillery round or similar was also supported by the presence of more than one crater of very similar appearance in concrete slabs on top of nearby buildings and also by (an unusually elevated but possible) fragmentation pattern on upper walls by the indications of concrete spalling under the crater and… black scorching under the crater underside the ceiling.”
Our specialists previously also noted these discrepancies and detailed analysis of the crater on the ceiling of the building, as well as the presence of black scorching and destruction of the rebar in the crater are more consistent with artillery explosive of the 120mm calibre mortar or an artillery round of a similar calibre which approached the concrete slab following an arching trajectory.
In view of all these findings, Ian Henderson fully confirms Russian experts’ conclusion on Location 2. Paragraph 21 says that “the alleged impact event (or events) leading to the observed vessel deformation and concrete damage were not compatible.”
Now, let us look at the situation at the next location, Location 4.
Our experts noted that relevant sizes of the crater do not coincide with the relevant size of the impact vessel – the cylinder. The size of the crater exceeds the diameter of the cylinder by more than two times which goes against the calculations and practical results of the penetration of solid bodies into concrete reinforced blockades.
The presence of the rebar inside the crater created with soft metal materials show that the crater was artificially, mechanically expanded, it was not created after an impact with a solid body. The state of the vessel does not conform to a deformation that could have been inflicted had it been filled with a liquid, namely chlorine, under the conditions of a plane penetration. Under such conditions of the penetration, the core of the vessel should have been plainer and wings of the stabiliser, the valve, and the bow, and other elements should have had significant deformations. During a drop of a similar body with a stabiliser system from an altitude of over 100 metres, the approach angles varied from 45 to 60 degrees from the surface. This fact does not allow us to conclude that the cylinder was falling under direct angle, supposedly from an aircraft. Similar conclusions were made by Mr Henderson in Paragraph 27, I quote, “in the scale-dimensional analysis on Location 4 cylinder, pre and post-deformation, compared with the crater in the roof, it was not possible to establish a set of circumstances where the post-deformation cylinder could fit through the crater with the valve still intact… and the fins deformed in the manner observed. The observed deformation of the cylinder and direction of the apparent directional deformation of the metal attachments, were clearly consistent with a cylinder having impacted in a flat configuration on a horizontal surface, and not that of a cylinder having penetrated though a crater.” Next, paragraph 29 states that “the examination of the cylinder, including paintwork, condition of the metal surfaces, and the mild steel attachments, indicated a significant degree of degradation (corrosion) as a result of weathering in the areas that had been damaged by impact… the cylinder showed appearance of having spent some post-damage time being exposed to the elements, and would most likely not have degraded to such an extent in the case of it being inside the bedroom.” Evaluating the possibility of the cylinder’s drop onto the bed, Russian experts stated that the conditions of the cylinder’s penetration through the roof would not allow it to move away from the penetration trajectory without inflicting collateral damage to the furniture, the walls and the glass in the windows. There were no traces of such damage located. Henderson makes a similar conclusion in paragraph 30. I quote: “the deflection of the shower frame in the bedroom was primarily in the west (“left”) direction; not consistent with the direction of required northward movement of the cylinder within the room to move from the as-delivered location under the crater, to the bed. The shower frame appeared to have been pulled outwards, rather than impacted forward in the direction of the cylinder travel.” Paragraph 31: “Regarding the post-impact movement of the cylinder laterally within the room, it was established that obstacles on top of the building precluded the possibility of this being due to the incoming flight trajectory. Examination of the walls in the bedroom did not indicate marks that would have indicated the “equal and oppositeЭ forces required to deflect the cylinder in the horizontal direction. And the still remaining projections of the valve at the front of the cylinder and fins at the rear, precluded the possibility of a direction-changing “bounce.” Therefore, it was not possible to establish the complete set of circumstances that were consistent with observations, which could have resulted in that movement.”
The main conclusions of Henderson’s analysis are as follows: “At this stage the FFM engineering sub-team cannot be certain that cylinders at either location arrived there as a result of being dropped from an aircraft. The dimensions, characteristics, and appearance of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having being delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only possible explanation for observations at the scene. In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with a subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations, rather than being delivered from an aircraft.”
This is what Mr Henderson said. These conclusions refute the conclusions made in the FFM final report and confirm the version of the Russian experts on the manipulation of the conclusions and the staged nature of the incident in Douma. Moreover, allow me to draw your attention once again to a number of questions arising after detailed analysis of the report. We have already mentioned them previously. Paragraph 2.5 of the mission report reads: “All the environmental samples from Douma were collected by the FFM team on Syrian territory in the presence of representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic. Fractions of the aforementioned samples were handed over by the FFM to the Syrian National Authority representative.” But the report makes no mention of the samples being separated on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. There were brought here to the central lab of the organisation, separated here and transferred to Syria under solid pressure only six months after the FFM finished its work in Douma. Paragraph 8.5 of the mission report reads: “129 samples in total were collected and transported to the OPCW Laboratory. To expedite analysis of those environmental samples considered to be of greatest probative value or of highest susceptibility to degradation, 31 samples were selected for the first round of analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories. An additional batch of 13 samples was sent for a second round of analysis at a later stage.” But out of the mentioned 44 samples 11 samples were obtained supposedly from the incident witnesses. The information on the circumstances of the obtainment of these samples, information on who gave these biomedical samples, and whether the principle of chain of custody was respected, is not mentioned in the report. These samples cannot be viewed as primary evidence. On the content of the results and methods of analysis, which are there in the final report, one can make a conclusion that environmental and biomedical samples taken in Douma were analysed by the same designated laboratories of the OPCW that were involved in the investigating of the preceding incidents in the Syrian Arab Republic with the alleged use of chlorine. The results of the analysis made our specialists ask a lot of questions. For example, during the analysis of the same samples taken in Douma, i.e. the 33 environmental samples, the results that contained data on chlorine products that where presented by the two laboratories, coincide only in one case – in the sample number 22. At the same time, the analysis of samples 18, 21 and 23 that were taken at Location 4 show the presence of trinitrotoluene, an explosive. One would arrive to a conclusion that the hole in the roof was a result of an explosion rather than the drop of a cylinder that did not sustain major damage. The Russian Federation, time and time again, proposed to the OPCW to make public all technical data provided by the designated laboratory, together with the final report on the investigation of the chemical incidents. This is the only way to conclude that the analytical procedures were correct and that the tasks set before these laboratories were completed.
In paragraph 8.72 of the report, it was stated that “the FFM interviewed four physicians, seven medical support staff and 28 witnesses/casualties”. Yet, in paragraph 8.43 of the report, it is stated that the information from the witnesses in Douma that was earlier presented at the briefing that was held by the Russian Federation in the headquarters of the OPCW on April 26, 2018, were considered by the FFM as “ other open-source video material,” despite the fact that out of 16 people that participated in the briefing, 10 were two days earlier questioned and interviewed by the FFM in Damascus. It is not understood why the specialists of the OPCW did not pay enough attention to these invaluable witnesses of the incident whose identities were confirmed and who were identified on the footage from the Douma hospital staged the White Helmets. It is also worth mentioning that, once generalised, the FFM interviews with the witnesses offered incompatible results in terms of the number of people who allegedly died and suffered from the alleged use of chlorine and the amount of the alleged evidence found. The Mission has failed to establish the precise number of victims. Some sources reported it to be between 70 and 500, others denied that there were victims of toxic chemicals use altogether. This did not prevent the Mission from concluding that there were 43 casualties in the chemical incident, including men, women, and children. There are no documents that would corroborate such conclusion in the report.
As for the cylinders that were supposed to prove the use of chlorine and were discovered on the upper storeys of the buildings in Locations 2 and 4, in Location 4 there were no victims, only 2 people experienced discomfort, tearing up, vomiting and coughing. In Location 2, where there were many alleged victims , the wall of the building and part of the ceiling of the building, which was apparently impacted by the cylinder with chlorine, were partially destroyed, after which the room where the cylinder was found was well aired. The cylinder itself that was found by the FFM at Location 2 sustained very minor damage. Chlorine was supposed to leak for a 3 cm hole in the cylinder . How exactly chlorine leaking from a 3 cm hole in the cylinder located in a well-aired room could have such an effect on the alleged victims that mainly were located on the second and the first storeys of the building? No explanation has been provided to clarify this point. All these questions were multiple times asked by the Russian Federation and contained in verbal note of the Russian Federation No 759 dated April 26, 2019. Yet the response of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW did not contain any specific answers to the questions, was very formal and vague. The Russian Federation continues to insist that the incident in Douma and the supporting evidence were falsified. Thank you.
Alexander Shulgin: Thank you very much, General Kikot, for this presentation. This provides a vivid example of what we were talking about. There are a lot of inconsistencies, very unconvincing statements and lack of consistent comments to the questions posed by the Russian military specialists. General Kikot mentioned a note sent to the Technical Secretariat. There were other documents. And time and time again we received very formal responses. We cannot take these responses at face value. Now I give the floor to Mr Grigoriev, Director of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy, who just came back from Syria, where he worked extensively and is now ready to share the latest information on what happened in Douma.
Maxim Grigoriev: The Foundation for the Study of Democracy carried out an independent assessment of the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma. On March 11, 2019, I participated in a briefing at the OPCW where we provided convincing proof that the White Helmets had routinely staged chemical attacks. The evidence obtained was based on more than one hundred interviews we conducted last year in Syria with members of the White Helmets who provided detailed descriptiosn of the methods commonly used by the organisation to fake scenes. More than 20 people witnessed the White Helmets staging chemical attacks at a hospital in Douma. In the report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, the hospital is referred to as Location 1. We also investigated the building in Douma, where allegedly bodies were found. The OPCW report refers to this place as Location 2. We also carried out with the help of volunteers a survey among 300 Douma residents who live within a kilometre of Location 2. Last year we went to the hospital that was filmed by the White Helmets. They accused the Syrian authorities of a chemical attack. The hospital personnel and other witnesses refuted all these allegations. Here are the words of only one of the many witnesses we interviewed. Doctor Hassan from the Douma hospital said the following, and I quote, “The medical examination revealed no signs of chemical poisoning. We provided them with basic medical aid, and let them go home.” It is now well known that the White Helmets’ falsified their footage from Location 1. The White Helmets posted this video from the hospital on their Twitter account in April 2018, with a caption: “Another video showing cases of suffocation among civilians, following the chemical attack against the civilians in Douma city.” On February 13, 2019, the BBC Syria producer Riam Dalati tweeted: “After almost six months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital.” The facts presented in our report confirm that fake chemical attacks were a routine practice of the White Helmets. The evidence provided below unequivocally proves that the attacks in Douma in April 2018 at Location 1 and Location 2 were both staged. Now I will cite some key statements of only a few of the witnesses we interviewed. The first witness is Sikham Khaiti, permanently living in the house referred to in the OPCW report as Location 2, where the bodies were discovered. As you can easily see on the photographs, we interviewed her at the exact same spot, where the yellow cylinder was found. That is the cylinder that was presented in the videos on the internet and later in the OPCW report as the cause of death. You can see our questions and her answers on the screen. I will read them out.
Question: How long have you been living in this building?
Answer: For five years.
Question: Have you been spending every night in your apartment with your family?
Question: Who do you live with? Your husband? Children? How old are your children?
Answer: Yes, five children – 19, 18, 12, 21 and 7 years old.
Question: Have they also been spending the nights here?
Question: Were you at home on April 7 last year as well?
Answer: Yes, we were here.
Question: Some videos have appeared on the internet showing dead bodies in this building. Allegedly those people have been killed by the chlorine cylinder. If this was the case, would it have killed all your family as well?
Question: And what happened to you?
Answer: Well, nothing.
Question: Did you or any of your children feel sick?
Answer: Nothing happened.
I will show you another video. Watch it carefully, please.
Question: Is this your staircase? This is from the White Helmets video.
Question: Do you recognise any of those people? Have they ever lived here?
Answer: I don't know any of them. They have been brought here from the medical centre. They have brought the bodies here and staged the whole thing.
Those answers are so eloquent that there is no need to comment. The next witness we interviewed is Imam Karim, 20 years old. She has also been permanently living in the building, including on April 7, 2018, where the bodies were discovered. I will cite the most indicative questions and answers from the interview.
Question: How long have you been living in this building?
Answer: More than five years.
Question: Did you and your parents spend every night in the building?
Question: How old are your parents?
Answer: My father is 65 years old, and my mother is 60 years old.
Question: They do not leave the building? In other words, they spent most of the time in April last year indoors?
Question: This is the photo from the OPCW report. This chlorine cylinder is lying right here, on this floor. On the Internet, it was stated that chlorine killed the people who stayed in this building, but if your parents and you lived here all year long, and your parents remained indoors, it means they should have died as well, if chlorine had actually been there.
Answer: We stayed here every day, my father and mother. We did not feel anything. Should there be anything, they would have been the first to fall sick.
Question: Did your parents complain of anything – of chlorine or anything unusual?
Answer: No, they did not complain of anything.
Question: I will show you video footage. Please, take a close look and then say if you know any of those people. Do you recognise anyone?
Question: So those people never lived in the building?
I would like to note that any journalist could do the same and get the same answers. The OPCW team should have interviewed them as well, but for some unknown reason it either didn’t do it or concealed those data. Next witness is Mahmood Mehbal. He has also permanently resided in the building, including on the day of the alleged chemical attack last year, when dead bodies were found. We will once again quote the most important questions and answers.
Question: How long have you lived in this building?
Answer: For five years.
Question: Have you been here every day, including last year and on April 7?
Question: Who do you live with?
Answer: With my wife and four children.
Question: Last year video footage showing dead bodies appeared on the internet. It stated that this building had faced a chemical attack. How you can explain that people’s bodies were in the building, and you did not experience any damage to your health?
Answer: It never happened at all.
Question: Are you absolutely sure that in reality there was no attack?
Answer: No, there was not.
Question: Did you feel any damage to your health, either you or your wife or your children, who stayed here all the time?
Next witness is Nadya Ajar, a student. For 3 years, including on the day of the alleged chemical attack, she resided in the building. We will once again quote the most important questions and answers.
Question: Please, have a look at these images and video footage. This video footage has appeared on the internet, it was made in this building, in particular, in this apartment. This video shows that people died here in a chemical attack. Please, have a look and say if you know anyone of them.
Question: Please, take a look at them once again. Do you recognise any of those people? There are almost 30 bodies.
Answer: No. I do not recognise anyone.
On July 2, 2019, upon our request, volunteers conducted a survey among 300 residents living within 1 kilometre from the building where the bodies were found, i.e. Location 2. The task was to identify the dead bodies on the video footage. Respondents were asked whether they recognised anyone on the pictures and video footage. The results of the survey: no one of the 300 respondents recognised any of the bodies in the video footage mentioned in the OPCW report. I would like to once again underline that no one of the 300 local residents recognised any of the bodies on the video footage mentioned in the OPCW report.
The conclusion from the interviews and the survey of 300 residents are as follows. First, witnesses permanently residing in the building, who stayed there during the day and night of the alleged use of toxic chemicals on April 7 last year, were not affected. Second, according to accounts by witnesses who resided in the building, their wives and elderly parents, who permanently stayed there during the day and night of the alleged attack were not affected either. Third, among the bodies shown in the video footage from the internet and the OPCW report, there are no residents of the building, which allegedly faced a chemical attack, and no residents of the local neighbourhood either. These data unequivocally prove, that the [inaudible] incident on April 7 last year was completely fake. The dead bodies belonged neither to the people from the building nor even to the people from the neighbourhood, but were brought from elsewhere for staging the incident.
I, and hopefully you, may wonder, where did the bodies seen on the video cited in the OPCW report come from? We got the answer to this question from our interviews.
Muhammed Shakhadr Abul Qadar is 40 years old. He is a driver. He resides in the apartment which is just on the left from Location 2.
Let us quote the most important questions and answers.
Question: There is a video recording published on the internet featuring the bodies of those who died in this building in April last year. What happened?
Answer: The fighters shot at the windows, they brought dead bodies by cars. Two columns, many cars.
Question: Look at the photos of the dead people carefully. Do you know any of them?
Answer: I can recognise no one. I know all the locals, we all live here and we know each other well. I have been residing here since my childhood, but those people – I don’t know them. In this street, I saw 10 or 15 dead bodies – unfamiliar to me – that the White Helmets were filming.
Those answers are also so eloquent that there is no need commenting them.
The next witness interviewed by us is Qamal Alif ustuki, 24 years old, a baker.
Question: What happened to your brother?
Answer: My brother was killed in an artillery strike. They brought his body from the hospital here, took a picture, and told he had died in a chemical attack. They brought his body here with no traces of the use of chemical weapons.
Question: Please show, where did your brother’s body lie?
Answer: Just over there. Just over there. Same street.
Question: What happened next to your brother’s body?
Answer: We approached the fighters for his body, but they refused to deliver it to us. They buried it themselves. All the bodies were taken and buried. I don’t know where.
The meaning of those answers is obvious.
The next witness interviewed by us is Faez Omar Fattum, 45 years old, a butcher. He also resides in the apartment which is just on the left from Location 2, where dead bodies were found.
Question: For how long have you been living in this house?
Answer: I’ve been living here for the whole of my life. We have never left Douma.
Question: There is a video recording published on the internet featuring the bodies of those who died in this building in April last year. Please, tell what happened.
Answer: We lived on the second floor. We were attacked by fighters. With their faces covered, they shot in the air. We were forced to go outside. There were the White Helmets too. The fighters brought dead bodies by car. We saw the dead bodies.
Question: Where did those bodies come from?
Answer: The fighters brought the bodies from prison Al-Tawba.
Those answers are also so eloquent that there is no need commenting them.
I would like to remind you once again that any journalist, not even mentioning the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, could easily find and interview those people.
Those represented above as well as a whole range of other witnesses of the falsification told us how it all happened. The fighters who came with the While Helmets brought the dead bodies, intimidated locals, shot at windows, forcing some people to leave their homes and isolating the rest in their apartments. Then, they filmed the setting and brought the bodies outside. One body left by the fighters outside was identified by the witness as his brother, who had been killed in an artillery shelling and taken by fighters from hospital.
The remaining bodies, as the witnesses of the forgery suppose, were brought from the Al-Tawba prison, where the people captured by fighters were kept – including women and children. Taking into account that other bodies had no injuries, the witnesses are pretty sure that the people featured in the video recordings were killed for the sake of organising the falsification on April 7, 2018.
We have provided you with only part of the evidence we have collected. But on the basis of the undeniable evidence we have provided today, it can clearly be said that on April 7, 2018 there was a falsification of an incident involving the use of toxic chemicals in Douma.
Thank you for your attention.
Alexander Shulgin: Thank you, Mr Grigoriev. As I was listening to Maxim and witness accounts provided by Syrians who met him, I wondered why the FFM investigators did not question those people. It would be logical to ask the people who live in the building where the events took place. So why did they not question these people? Did they have the intention to do so? Could they do it? Unfortunately, we must conclude that this was not needed for the FFM members. Perhaps they pursued different goals. From the very beginning of my speech I said that the leader of FFM group, who arrived there, spent just several hours in Damascus before leaving to the adjacent country, as per OPCW terminology, where he spent the whole time. He’s never been to Douma. And this man is defining the tone and the conclusions of the work of the group that he led. All this is very deplorable. One arrives at a thought that certain information had to be gathered that would fit a certain narrative. You know, this is a very flawed and vicious method of work that the FFM adopted. And we witnessed it not only in Douma but in other cases when preference was given to work with representatives of NGOs affiliated directly with terrorist groups rather than serious, verified information from Syrian sources and the witnesses that we presented. They do not hide themselves and can be identified. One arrives at a thought that the conclusion had to be fit into a certain narrative. So let us finish there and move on to the Q&A.
Anthony Deutsch, Reuters: I just want to clarify, if I understand this scenario correctly. The militants brought the canisters. They took them up… weighing several hundred kilos… they took them up to the fourth floor of the house, made a hole in the canister so the chlorine gas would leak. Then they brought several carloads of bodies, 43 bodies including children – who had no signs of being killed in battle. And they were killed in a way to make it look like they have died in a chemical attack. They cleared out the whole neighbourhood, so that the residents of the house were gone. They shot a video, and then put it on the internet. Is it a roughly correct summary?
Maxim Grigoriev: I will be answering in Russian with your permission. Everything we have done, all our conclusions are built exclusively on the interviews we conducted with the people who reside and resided exactly in the building and on the staircase where everything happened. They were there on April 7, 2018. And everything we are saying is only based on the testimony they gave. First, people who lived there and continue to live there, including children, minors, including seniors, in no way suffered from the alleged incident. As you may understand, chlorine kills indiscriminately. So, it cannot affect people in a certain apartment then circumvent the next apartment, kill someone at the staircase and then avoid affecting children in the next apartment and then kill someone who once again is located lower at the staircase. This cannot happen at all. So, if we assume that the chemical attack did happen, then we have to understand that it was discriminatory in nature. Some people were killed, some were not – and in such a manner that those who reside in the building and were there during the alleged attack did not notice it and do not confirm that it indeed took place. Second, we have witnesses and it is confirmed by the survey that not a single body that was filmed there belonged to any of the residents of this part of the building or another part of the building or people of the neighbourhood. In Arab cities, as you may be aware, all people who live in a neighbourhood are very closely intertwined, they communicate with each other. It is one hundred percent evident that the bodies that were there did not belong to the residents of the building or nearby buildings. One hundred percent. It is confirmed that these bodies were brought from elsewhere. And these people somehow died or had been killed some time before. This is what we know for sure. Next, we have witnesses who testified that they saw with their own eyes the militants bring these bodies, bring them in the building and bring them out. Among other things, we have the witness who identified one of the bodies. This was the body of his own brother. This is the information that we have. Regarding the yellow cylinder, the people who live in the building – they did not tell us anything about that. It is quite possible that they had never seen it before the start of the investigation. So, on the yellow cylinder none of our witnesses spoke.
Anthony Deutsch: It’s so elaborate that it makes me think of a very complicated Hollywood set, this Douma. I have a question then for the Syrian Ambassador Sabbagh. With all this activity going on at what point did you think that there was a fake staging had taken place?
Bassam Sabbagh: Three main elements. First, the witnesses who were brought here to The Hague just days after the incidents and their testimonies here in front of the people, the media and the members of the Executive Council of the OPCW clearly explained their own reactions and their own information and their own stories. Second, when the investigation started, they were very discriminatory, let’s say, in dealing with the information. Like, when we have the witnesses who were from Douma interviewed in Syria – only seven of them were interviewed, while there were twenty six interviewed outside of Syria whom we don’t know – what’s their connections and relationship with this incident.
Third, the issue of the two cylinders. If you look at the pictures, you will see that despite the fact that this heavy cylinder was lying on the bed but everything around was perfectly kept as it was. So, this raises a lot of doubts and concerns. Plus, there were very similar cylinders stored in the warehouse not very far from these two locations. And even if some witnesses and some of the interviewees were talking about not seeing these cylinders before… So, all this information was gradually gathered, which gave the doubts about what has happened. That is on the one hand. On the other hand, this is not the first time. Because it happened before in Khan Sheikhun and happened before in the other areas, where… And that’s why, as I said, my delegation raised the concerns with the Technical Secretariat and the FFM, about the methodology, the modalities of the work of the FFM. This has to be fixed in order to have credible, transparent investigations.
Anthony Deutsch: You haven’t answered my question. When did the Syrian government believe that it had been staged, the attack in Douma? And why did it not take samples? If you thought that this had been staged, why did you not take samples and share them with the OPCW?
Bassam Sabbagh: You are asking about timing? No, you have to understand that the area of Douma was not at that… When the information about the incident in Douma… this area was not under the control of the Syrian government. Even when the FFM experts came into Syria, like a week after… because it’s on the 7th – they arrived I think on April 15 after the American and Western aggressions. They were… their activities conducted inside Douma were with the help of the Russian military, who were at that time helping to clear this area. So, it was sometimes the Syrian government were back inside or controlled this area. So, the issue of timing that immediately as you are asking it was not the case.
Maxim Grigoriev: I do not really understand why our colleague is so surprised that the White Helmets or someone else would be ready to stage a Hollywood set, as it were. If it is indeed interesting, we are ready to hand you the report that we made last year. Among other things, we interviewed more than 40 ex-members of the White Helmets, who described their own involvement in the filming of these staged events, sharing detailed information about the time and locations. There was a whole system within the White Helmets organisation that dedicated its work exclusively to staging this work. We are ready to transfer to you this information. This was regular work of the White Helmets and they received separate sponsorship for these activities alone. I would also like to say that this information on the White Helmets is not the most shocking out of what we have. We conclusively show that the White Helmets were directly involved with the terrorist groups, they were militants, and we have names of people who were involved in the killings and torturing of civilians in different territories including in Aleppo. And in Aleppo, White Helmets were a key element of criminal, illegal organ harvesting from civilians, from women and children. I personally talked with women whose children were caught up in the shelling or they were shot at and then White Helmets took these people away – allegedly for medical aid – and then they brought back their bodies to the people, to the parents – without their organs. We have this information on record and if you would be ready to publish it, we could give you the evidence.
Eric van de Beek, Novini Magazine: A question to Mr Grigoriev. Did you share the videos that you showed us to the OPCW? And if yes, what was their reaction? Then a question to Mr Shulgin. If the people found dead were killed to stage an incident, then the OPCW was covering up for mass murder, we could conclude maybe? So what would that mean for the position of the Russian delegation at OPCW?
Maxim Grigoriev: First of all, everything we have recorded and what we have screened today, we have screened to the audience for the first time. And we shall for sure ask Mr Shulgin to pass these materials to the OPWC officially. We shall ask for their feedback. We also realise that there was a trove of information that had earlier been transferred by the Russian Federation, by other parties was not reacted to, and we are deeply concerned by this fact. But once again, all these materials will be transferred to the OPCW.
Alexander Shulgin: In addition to what Mr Grigoriev has said, over the past two days during the work and the 91st session of the Executive Council of the OPCW quite a lot of time was dedicated to the report of the FFM on the incident in Douma. Unfortunately, I cannot go into detail on our discussion because it was held behind closed doors. But I would like to underscore that we expressed our hope that additional analysis would be undertaken in light of new, revealed facts, and the proof that we now have and the right thing would be done, the right conclusion would be arrived at. As General Kikot was very right in mentioning, we would like – and indeed this is open information – we would like to review the reports of the three independent experts that made a conclusion that these canisters were dropped from high altitude. You are free not to name them. We already know the name of one of the experts and we highly doubt that they are indeed unbiased. Please make these reports public, these so-called independent reports. Our experts, international teams of researchers will peruse these reports. And if they are conclusive, if they are grounded, why can’t we agree with them? If they are not, then we have to reopen the investigation, naturally.
Willy van Damme, independent journalist: I have two questions for the panel. One is the fact this technical report by people on these vessels was not known, it seems, to Russia or Syria, while both countries are members of the OPCW. Isn’t that strange that such crucial part was never shown to the Russian government and the Syrian government? That is very strange to me. Second question. I was told by somebody that regarding these dead bodies that were buried, that the OPCW wanted to dig up and to analyse them, but the Syrian government refused to have that done. If that’s true, of course, [inaudible] blame [inaudible] on the Syrian government.
Bassam Sabbagh: Just to clarify the two aspects. The part of the report – yes, we have no idea. They were hiding it and we were not informed, even as a state-party concerned. We were totally not known about this. And that’s why we raised this concern and we said that “at least you show, you know, the other views just for the others to know.” As for the second question, I mean the word “refuse” is not correct. It’s actually wrong. We said that this is very sensitive issue, because traditionally, culturally – the religious aspect has to be considered. Even legally. Because there has to be issued an order by the court, and also we have to take into account others sensitivities. And we agree to work with the Technical Secretariat on that according to these aspects. But, unfortunately, the FFM did not follow on these aspects.
Babak Rezvani, Chairman of Association for the Study of EthnoGeoPolitics: Thank you Mr Ambassador, thank you Mr Grigoriev. Something that I say is personal. I’ve been working on conflicts and I’ve been also working on methods of research. For the first part, someone who has grown up in a war I can say that the bombs were not dropped from the air. I’ve been raised in a war situation and nothing like this can happen. And another thing is about the sociological aspect. If there are outsiders, who confirm that these people were living in this neighbourhood in these two buildings for a long time, this will be an affirmation of information. And when the dead bodies are found and researched if there are any traces of poison in them. So these were my two suggestions.
Maxim Grigoriev: We have the cross-examinations for the people who lived in these buildings for a long time. There’s a large of number of such people. Most importantly, it is not difficult for anyone if you actually want to go deep into the information, it is easy to find the truth. Several people, for example, the owner of the apartment where the cylinder was located, as we were told, he left for Idlib. Most likely, he was affiliated with the terrorists themselves and the armed groups. But the majority of people are still there, right in those apartments at that floor. There’s no difficulty for any journalist to come there and question them once again and interview them. I have no idea why no one has done that. Perhaps only because these shocking details that I shared with you are undeniable proof that there was no chemical attack. Perhaps that is the reason why Western journalists do not come there. In reality, there’s no problem in coming there and interviewing the people.
As for the traces of chlorine in the bodies, you’re right in asking this question. The first thing that the FFM should have done is locate these bodies, find them, dig them up and analyse the samples. Still, they had to do that but did not. Moreover, if the terrorists actually knew that this is about those chlorine cylinders, the first thing they should have done to confirm their words was to transfer the bodies for analysis. Instead, the White Helmets and those associated with them completely concealed the situation, they destroyed the bodies, they burned them to make sure that no one can analyse the samples. Although it seems like it should have been the first thing they could do to confirm the attack.
Eric van de Beek: Where’s Mr Henderson? Is he in this room by any chance? Because I understand the Russian presentation has tried to bring him here? Is he still working for the OPCW? Was he sacked? Where is he?
Alexander Shulgin: Mr Henderson has already left the OPCW, and is under investigation for leaking his report. As far as we can make out, Mr Henderson was ready to defend his good name and reputation, including in connection with the attempt to belittle his status pretending that he was not a full member of the Fact-Finding Mission but rather some kind of extra pair of hands who was merely given the job of carrying out certain instructions. The fact of the matter is, he was actually actively involved in the investigation. As far as we understand, he was in charge of the engineering side of the mission. We have been informed that he was ready to come and present his point of view, subject to a green light from the OPCW leadership.
I am not going to hide it, we asked the leadership of the Technical Secretariat about it. I already said that we suggested holding a general briefing with all the experts including Mr Henderson, and Henderson was not alone. There are other members of the Fact-Finding Mission, who share similar views. Unfortunately, we were denied by the leadership of the Technical Secretariat. We were told that a vote took place in March. And the vote confirmed that the members did not want to hold a briefing and did not want to invite anyone.
Now I can already tell you that this vote in March was provoked by the US delegation. The US delegation suggested putting this question of a briefing to a vote. And the reasoning to deny the Russian offer was as follows, “We,” the American side said, “do not want to recreate the Stalinist process of the 1930s here in The Hague with the cross-examinations and intimidation of witnesses. This was the rationale and the argument provided by the US delegation which demonstrates the nervousness of our American partners. They do not want the truth to be revealed.
But you see that the stakes are very high. At stake, we have the US along with its allies, France and Britain, who conducted an unprovoked airstrike on the Syrian Arab Republic under the pretext of the alleged chemical attack in Douma. Back in the day, we were calling this an aggression against a sovereign state and a blatant violation of international law. And if now we find out that no chemical attack actually took place – and we are finding more and more conclusive evidence to this effect especially taking into account what we saw today on the screen and what was told by Mr Grigoriev – then the whole Western picture crumbles. This would mean that they actually violated international law and our American partners do not want to find themselves in this situation. That is why they are trying to do everything they can to hide the truth.
Willy van Damme: Recently, the Swedish scientist and researcher on chemical weapons in Syria Åke Sellström, the man who led the 2013 missions in Eastern Ghouta and so on, said that the problem with the OPCW is that it is becoming considered to be a partisan organisation losing the confidence of many other countries, and that therefore the OPCW should reorganise itself, become more impartial. More or less that’s what he said. Can somebody on the panel say something about that?
Alexander Shulgin: This is a very good question. The OPCW is currently going through a severe crisis, there’s discord and extreme politicisation in what it does. The practice of consensus decision making has been forgotten completely. Last year the Americans along with their allies using the procedural tricks pushed for a decision to give the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW new unusual functions to determine who should be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons, which is at odds with the Chemical Weapons Convention where there is no mention of such mechanisms. This was done to the detriment of the exclusive prerogatives of the UN Security Council.
The tension degree is getting higher and the scandal around the FFM report is only another detonator which could unleash the explosive trends in our organisation. This whole story goes far beyond the OPCW. For some time this was all happening behind closed doors and only national delegations knew of it. But now this is an open issue – outside of the OPCW. And even the Dutch parliamentarians here in The Hague are concerned about the OPCW situation. They have sent a request to the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands asking what exactly is happening in the OPCW. It is clear that is cannot continue this way. We would like to hope that we can come back to the normal working practice, since the current OPCW leadership always says that our organisation should be our common home, where each and every one of us, each delegation has the right to state its concerns and problems – an organisation, where we can take into consideration our interests and speak on a mutually respectful basis, and discuss all our problems.
What is the current situation? The situation is at least strange and very unpleasant. Look at what we have: a report on Douma was published based on the points of view of three independent experts. One of them, whose name we know, has a rather dubious reputation in terms of his impartiality. Still, three people have supported the version of an airdrop of the cylinders. At the same time, the Russian military experts as well as British researchers, and we gave the names, Mr Sabbagh mentioned Robert Fisk as well as other specialists supported a different point of view. And the FFM itself does not have a single opinion on the issue. We mentioned Ian Henderson, there is also another person who is ready to confirm that there was no airdropping, to confirm that the cylinders were dragged there… But if it is so, then let us see what actually happened. Of course, three people could be mistaken even if they had independent investigations. So, why should we dismiss any other versions? We cannot agree with this approach and we will keep insisting that the situation should be reviewed and clarified with the consideration of all the available information.
Bassam Sabbagh: Just to add to what my colleague Alexander was saying. When the FFM was created, the goal was to create a body, an independent professional body to collect the information and to produce a report which can answer questions, not raise questions. To produce a report which can clear doubts and ambiguities, not casting doubts and ambiguities, produce a report [that] can unite the states-parties, not to divide the states-parties. Unfortunately, the lack of professionalism and high politicisation of the work of the FFM divert this from achieving its goal. So, I think there is a need for fundamental change in the nature and the work of the FFM aimed at creating different productions of its work.
Alexander Shulgin: Any questions left?
If there are no further questions, allow me to sum up the results of this discussion. Today we reviewed an extraordinary and challenging situation within the OPCW. The Douma report, as Syria’s Permanent Representatives to the OPCW has said, has given rise to a plethora of comments. There is a lot of controversy and heated debate around it. I believe that the opinion whereby we need to look very carefully into all this and think it over, especially taking into consideration the material presented by Maxim Grigoriev, should prevail. After all, it is unacceptable when opinions of certain FFM experts, including Ian Henderson, as well as his colleagues and a number of recognised researchers, are ignored in order to accommodate a narrow-minded agenda promoted by the United States and its closest allies using The Hague as a platform. You know, some may regard the questions that we discussed here today as some kind of a standalone episode. However, when these standalone episodes are put together they form a whole picture that is definitely a cause for concern.
We have already said that the United States and its closest allies are seeking to replace the international law with new rules of their own making. What we discussed here today is a perfect illustration of how the US seeks to impose its own rules to replace the international law, including here at The Hague. To substantiate my statement, let me say that it is under pressure from the US and its acolytes that the OPCW is being tasked with identifying who is accountable for the use of chemical weapons, something that the organisation has never done before and which runs counter to the Chemical Weapons Convention and undermines the authority of the UN Security Council. Our US partners are also seeking to impose their rules on the Fact-Finding Mission investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. Let us be quite honest that this mission is financed by the US and its allies. The saying “he who pays the piper calls the tune” inevitably comes to mind. The mission has always been staffed with experts from among the “friends” of Syria. This is a euphemism, of course, since it actually means the implacable enemies of President Bashar al-Assad and the legitimate Syrian government. Under the rules the US seeks to impose in The Hague, no matter what the conclusions are that the FFM makes, no matter how absurd they are (the cylinders were dropped from the air and bounced off a child’s bed without damaging it), we are expected to accept them without any qualms, questions or objections. Refusing to accept any observations has become a matter of principle. Syria’s Ambassador Sabbagh can confirm this. The US and its allies tell us that we are dealing with OPCW’s best experts with unquestionable credentials, a quality label. What the FFM decides is the way things should be. All attempts to challenge any of the findings are deemed unacceptable. In the case of any criticism against the mission, the US instantly calls such statements slander and an attempt to undermine unity and the authority of the Technical Secretariat’s Director-General. By the way, Bassam Sabbagh and I asked you not to mistaken our critical statements regarding the FFM for personal attacks on the Director-General. The US wanted to drive a wedge between us, but we will not let this happen.
I should like to remind you that, two years ago Iran and Russia introduced a proposal on improving the methods of work for the mission so that it would be joined by respected specialists in order to ensure equitable geographical representation. But once again it was rejected by the United States and its allies. They stated that no changes were needed. However, it is not uncommon that the rules imposed by our Western colleagues within the OPCW change along the way. Let me provide an example to prove my point. We are being told all the time that we need to have full confidence in OPCW’s experts from the FFM, so no challenges, just accept the conclusions as they are. But when it turned out that within the FFM there were people like Ian Henderson or another person whom I will not name, whose opinion was different from what the US wanted us to believe, the rules instantly changed. We were told not to pay too much attention to the opinion of FFM staff. It does not matter that Ian Henderson is from the OPCW, we do not have to pay attention to him, instead referring to some other prominent independent experts.
You know, today we are invited to play by one set of rules, tomorrow – by another, and this is a terrible situation to be in. Just like in many aspects of its foreign policy, Washington and its followers do experience some setbacks in forcing this policy, in rejecting international law in favour of these very dubious rules. And here in the OPCW more and more people are realising that this course of the United States is deepening the divide within the organisation. I could suggest that more and more representations are arriving at the conclusion that we need to reform the OPCW. Something has to be done here. I can share an example that is of great concern to me. We are talking about the Douma incident. But before that, there was a chemical incident in Khan Sheikhun. I would like to remind you the trigger for the US airstrike against Syria’s Shayrat airbase. These were photos of children, allegedly suffering from a sarin attack. These photos were shown at the United Nations Security Council by Ambassador Nikki Haley. These photos were shown to president Trump who was horrified, as they are saying, and immediately ordered a strike against the Shayrat airbase. But then the United States began to backpedal. Why is that? Because they blundered, their protégés were not impeccable in their work. And specialists, for instance, Swedish researchers, found inconsistencies in that situation. You may remember the photos about a dozen of children with widened irises. This is not how sarin works. It leads to narrowing of the irises to the size of a pin head. This was White Helmets’ mistake, an error, and that was a very crude provocation. Then, in the OPCW we tried to clarify. There were two team leaders there, both from the United Kingdom. We asked: “What about the photos?” The FFM has issued a report about the Khan Sheikhun situation. On page 48, there is a table where symptoms are described of the people who suffered from the strike, chemical strike on Khan Sheikhun: diarrhea, headaches, thrashing, but there are no widened irises, no children with widened irises. There were children first, then they vanished. And they are not there in the FFM report. We asked those UK gentlemen, naturally, their names were Mr Philips and Mr Wallis: “Have you incorporated these photos in your report?” They were not exactly responsive. By the way, yesterday at the Executive Council session an American colleague spoke ironically of my 45 minutes attempting to get something out of our British colleagues, at the time, though there’s no reason for irony. Now, they said, “we did not consider these photos primary evidence.” One would have to wonder, why you don’t consider them primary evidence if they were shown to the Commander-In-Chief of the United States and then there was the air and bomb strike against the Shayrat air base? Why do you not consider this evidence as primary?
The same goes for Douma. Last year, 11 Syrian citizens were brought here, each and every one of them pointed out where there were in the White Helmets video footage, what role they were assigned. They spoke in detail how it all happened. Was it taken in by the FFM? It wasn’t. There was a minor foot note that it was considered among other open sources. We are playing with fire here. Based on the footage by this White Helmets (it was screened everywhere in the international media), the United States and France and the United Kingdom executed an air strike. You may remember that the situation was very dangerous. There was a smell of gunpowder in the air. I remember – I lived through the Caribbean Missile Crisis. I was a minor then, but it was a terrible impression back then. And, partly, I recall having the same impression on the eve of the three-party airstrike. There was a difficult situation with tweets by the US, Russia be prepared, our smart missiles are coming in. With all due respect to the US technology, with its military budget of 700 billion dollars, every once and again, errors are there and they may go off-course. What if they fly elsewhere, strike another target, unplanned target? We were balancing on the threshold. Who would be responsible for that? Apparently, the FFM that fails to provide a proper necessary assessment. Why did they not provide assessment? Why did they not take in this particular circumstance? And I’m forced to arrive at a single thought. You know, the US and its allies in the West accuse the Syrian government for hiding part of its chemical arsenal, that it is not truthful, that is hiding, obfuscating. Whatever statement we listen to, every time we are reading that Syrians should be blamed because they are still obfuscating. The same could be stated about the FFM activities. Both in 2017 and now, I have the impression that there is deliberate obfuscation of reality, of the facts. And it is surprising that the people who work in the FFM are not aware what effect their actions have. Upon what they are writing, further situation in the international community greatly depends. Because we would like to be confident of our future, of the future of our children, but we can find ourselves in a very unpredictable situation, but these people do not understand it! How many times have we said – we have to investigate this thoroughly, carefully, comprehensively, to understand the situation very clearly. Apparently, there is unwillingness to do just that. As of today, we are in such a situation, that there was a conclusion based on the opinions of three independent experts, be content with that. There is nothing else coming. But, once again, I reiterate – I have the impression that more and more delegations understand that something has to be done about that. We have to work for reopening the analysis of the situation in Douma, to take into account new information that we have provided. Let them publish – I mean the leadership of the Technical Secretariat – the reports of the technical aspects that they refer to. Our experts will peruse them and assess them. But, more broadly, we have to reform the activities of the FFM. Old ways cannot be used any longer. This practice cannot continue. Apparently, no one wants to work with the Syrian government or accept its information. They only work with militant groups, they do not even conform to the rules they themselves set up in the organisation.
There is the rule regarding the chain of custody. The FFM experts themselves have to be taking the samples. Every now and again, we see them receiving samples from someone else, from unknown parties. All experts working in the FFM are from the states that are part of the ‘Friends of Syria’ group. When we proposed adding experts from Russia or China, there were many objections, for example, “Russian experts would be conforming to the orders received from the Kremlin!” What would be the opinion of the Technical Secretariat and other people? Apparently, by the US logic, they follow the orders from their capitals. But we have to remain optimistic, and we hope that we will be able to reverse this deplorable trend, and the promises of the leadership of the OPCW will come through, so that our organisation would eventually become our common home, and within the framework of this common ground we would be able to find mutually acceptable solutions, together stand against new threats and challenges, among which there is a threat of chemical terrorism. So, we have to remain optimistic and hope for the best. Thank you.
Bassam Sabbagh: Alexander, if you allow me, I just want to thank everyone who gathered here today for this important discussion. I think the issue of the credibility of the work of the OPCW is very important for all of us. And I want to specially thank Russian experts for the important information they brought to us and published today for the first time. I will repeat my call to the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW to reconsider its position and to re-evaluate its investigations, to clarify the truth surrounding the Douma incidents in the light of all different views expressed by States Parties, by research centres, by independent experts. And I hope that other countries will join us in this call. Thank you very much.
Alexander Shulgin: Thank you all for coming.
The English version of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGNLErw2MsQ