Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control M.Ulyanov Interview to the Interfax Agency (April 6, 2017)

Question: Mr Ulyanov, the UN Security Council held debates yesterday on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, focusing on reports about the April 4 tragedy in the area of Khan Sheykhun, Idlib Province. What is your take on the discussion?

Mikhail Ylyanov: The Americans, who currently hold the Security Council presidency, insisted on an open, televised debate, and this is a good thing, because we were able to convey Russia’s approaches to a wider audience. But the contrast between the Russian fact-based remarks and the largely demagogic statements by a number of Western countries produced a sad impression. A case in point is the US Ambassador, who showed heart-rending photographs of supposed child victims of the Khan Sheykhun attack. This propaganda trick is quite like Colin Powell brandishing the notorious test-tube at a UN Security Council meeting in February 2003, where he sought to justify the need for a military invasion in Iraq. But the “noble” pathos of the American remarks can hardly be taken seriously, given that the United States and its allies were absolutely indifferent to identical events that took place in Mosul, Iraq, several weeks ago, when a number of peaceful civilians suffered in an ISIS chemical attack, including adolescents. It appears that the Western countries are more concerned with the suffering of children in Syria than the death of their peers in neighbouring Iraq. As is clear, this is yet another demonstration of double standards based on anything but humanitarian considerations.

Question: What in particular displeases Russia in the US-British-French draft resolution?

Mikhail Ulyanov: We are primarily displeased with two points. First, the tragedy was blamed on Damascus even before an investigation began. From the point of view of normal logic, it should be the other way about: first comes an investigation, followed by an accusatory verdict. Another serious flaw of the document submitted by the Western trio is the weakness of its provisions related to the investigation. Its wording is, in effect, ritualistic and proposes maintaining the existing practice, which has proven its ineffectiveness. The staff of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission and the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) do not even come to the scene of events. Nor do they take soil samples or make postmortem examinations. Their conclusions are mostly based on internet data and interviews with dubious “witnesses”, chiefly opposition members, who are questioned in neighbouring countries rather than directly in Syria. Conclusions based on such flimsy evidence cannot be trusted at all. It’s profanation, not serious and important work.

As we see it, the FFM and JIM staff should immediately leave for Khan Sheykhun and use all the tools in their arsenal to find out the truth. Moreover, investigators should be provided with free and safe access to the presumed incident site and the adjoining territories. The investigative groups should report their conclusions to the UN Security Council and the OPCW, along with all of the evidence the conclusions are based on.

Yet another point of fundamental importance is that the group of inspectors who will conduct the investigation should be truly international. It is only in this case that we can hope for the investigative mission to be impartial and unbiased. We have to talk about this, because the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria is dominated by NATO countries. Moreover, the heads of the Mission’s two constituent segments are UK nationals. Even if they are brilliant professionals and managers, this is absolutely abnormal and contrary to the UN Charter, with its principle of broad and balanced geographical representation. This state of affairs must be urgently redressed. And, without any doubt whatsoever, it is high time we gave up the rotten practice of “remote” investigations.