During the July 17 press briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova adressed the situation with ‘chemical weapons usage’ in Syria and disinformation surrounding this issue in the conflict zone.
Russia-Syria news conference “Who is using chemical weapons in Syria?”, The Hague, July 12, 2019 (source):
Talking about Syria, I would like to go back to an event that took place at the end of last week.
On July 12, a major news conference was held in The Hague under the title “Who is using chemical weapons in Syria?” Among its participants were Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin, who moderated the event, as well as Syria’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW Bassam Sabbagh, Deputy Chief of Russia’s NBC protection troops Maj. Gen. Sergei Kikot, and President of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy Maxim Grigoriev.
The news conference attracted an audience of about 100 people, including reporters from the top Western news agencies and holdings such as UK’s Reuters, France’s Agence France-Press (AFP), and other media outlets from across Europe and around the world, despite the fact that the United States and its allies directly prohibited members of the Western group or representatives of the EU or NATO to be present at the event (speak about democracy!).
I will spare you a detailed account of this news conference. You can find the transcript both in Russian and English on the Foreign Ministry’s official website and via our social media accounts. A video recording is available for those who prefer an audio-visual format.
Let me just draw your attention to the fact that the news conference was based on real evidence. As sad as it is, there have been insistent attempts lately to persuade us that there is a parallel reality, and many in the West believe in it. We are being persuaded that in this new parallel reality the so-called highly-likely principle can be regarded as an indisputable argument. This is completely surreal, no matter how you look at it. It does not matter for them whether there is any evidence. It does not matter anymore. They just say: “this is what we believe to be highly likely,” and for them this is the truth. So the news conference in The Hague demonstrated the extent to which information can be objective. You will hardly find any evaluative judgements in what was said at the news conference, just testimonies, facts and questions that were mostly not rhetorical but real questions that we want to be answered. We believe that they have to be answered so that the international community understands the reality it lives in.
There is the report released in April 2018 by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, and the information it presents. But there are also facts exposing inaccuracies and inconsistencies, to say the least, that were actually outright falsifications. You know, nothing personal, only facts and questions.
Let me emphasise once again that Russia proposed holding a briefing session as part of the 91st session of the OPCW Executive Council with all FFM experts who took part in drafting the report in order to clarify the situation and what actually happened in Douma and get exhaustive answers. This initiative was supported by a number of other delegations, but we faced a refusal. The OPCW Technical Secretariat referred to a vote during the Executive Council’s March session when the US and its allies opposed a debate on the merits of the report.
Let me share some of the key messages from the news conference on the activities of the OPCW and the facts Russia and Syria have. We would like to draw your attention to these facts in order to once again stress their significance. We would very much like the OPCW to pay attention to them, not just to take note of them but to actually start working on these findings.
– Seeking to derail the investigation by the FFM in Douma, the United States, France and the United Kingdom carried out a massive missile and bombing strike against the Syrian territory just a few hours before the arrival of OPCW experts to Damascus. Therefore, they showed their true attitude toward the OPCW: while proclaiming their commitment to the elimination of chemical weapons and the strengthening of the OPCW’s role, they completely disregard it or seek to manipulate the organisation, or both. At the same time, Syria and the Russian military created the most favourable conditions to enable OPCW representatives to work there and ensured their safety.
– The 100-page report does not mention last year’s briefing at the OPCW headquarters with 11 Syrians who inadvertently appeared in the well-known video recording by the White Helmets. At the briefing, they said that this was a staged incident and a provocation. The FFM was clearly guided by a flawed method whereby it preferred contacts with representatives of NGOs, despite their close affiliation with criminal groups and terrorists, while ignoring verified information from official Syrian sources and witnesses who were ready to speak out. This means that the OPCW accepts reports and sophisticated video sequences, while refusing to talk to witnesses who were present at the site, can tell what happened and even answer additional questions. But all this is ignored.
– The conclusions contained in FFM’s official report were refuted by the findings from a report by an FFM member, Ian Henderson, an Australian national. FFM claims in its report that two cylinders containing chlorine were dropped from a high altitude, which automatically suggested that Syria was to be held accountable due to its use of air power. Mr Henderson was involved in the engineering assessment. In his report he wrote that “there is a probability that the cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from an aircraft.” Since Douma was controlled by fighters on April 7, they were the only ones who could place the cylinders there.
– Witnesses were interviewed in a selective manner. Out of 33 witnesses only seven were interviewed in Syria, and the involvement in the incident of 26 witnesses who were interviewed outside Syria is not proven or questionable. The report omits all the information on terrorist groups that had access to toxic chemicals, and fails to mention the links between the White Helmets and Al-Nusra Front or other terrorist organisations.
– Russia submitted to the OPCW Director-General and sent to the organisation’s Technical Secretariat evidence presented by Russian experts proving that the cylinders were manually placed where they were discovered instead of being dropped from an aircraft.
– Here are the takeaways from interviews carried out as part of Maxim Grigoriev’s investigation and a survey of 300 local residents by Syrian volunteers: people who were inside the building on the day and night of the alleged attack (these people are alive, they have addresses, documents and names, and they are ready to speak out and share the story of what they saw and experienced, but no one wants to listen) not only were not hurt, but did not notice the alleged chemical attack. There was not a single resident from the building or the neighbourhood in the video footage of bodies from the FFM report. How is that possible? Therefore, these data prove without any doubt that the bodies were placed there in order to stage the event, and what happened on the April 7, 2018 was a mere fabrication.
– Some witnesses reported that the fighters who came with the White Helmets brought the bodies, and pushed local residents out in the street, threatening them with arms, while blocking others inside their apartments. After that, they proceeded with shooting the sequence and brought the bodies out in the street. Witnesses believe that the bodies were brought from Al-Tawba prison, where fighters kept people they caught, including women and children, and that people appearing in the footage were killed for being used in this staged incident. Maxim Grigoriev also showed a testimony by a Syrian man, who recognised his brother killed earlier during artillery fire, whose body was used by the White Helmets as a “victim” of the chemical attack.
– The Syrian authorities did not deny FFM members access to burial sites for exhumation. This was a matter of respecting the customs of the Middle East and North Africa. The White Helmets were the ones who destroyed the bodies by burning them before the Syrian authorities came to this neighbourhood. As we know, it was all later presented the other way around, and those who were involved in fabrications became the primary sources of information, while the true primary source was accused of spreading misinformation.
Attempts made by the United States to replace international laws with its own rules placed the OPCW in a tight spot. Under pressure from the US and its acolytes, in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and to the detriment of the UN Security Council’s authority, the organisation was given the job of identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, which does not fall within its mandate. These and other messages were emphasised and backed with evidence at the news conference.
The US imposes its own rules on the FFM and uses them at its own discretion. At first the US demanded that everyone acquiesces to the FFM findings, arguing that the mission was staffed with the best professionals. But when the expert findings became at odds with the opinion of the US, the Americans called for trusting some outside experts rather than the FFM. But who are these experts? Who are these people? We would like to know what their level of expertise is and whether they can be trusted. At the end of the day, we want to look at their CVs.
Despite all the assurances that these experts can be trusted, all this information is kept secret, including their names. Judging by the available information, one of these people can be hardly viewed as a model of impartiality and integrity. Of course, no one bothered to provide an explanation that would satisfy experts, why should the identity of these people be kept secret from an international agency, its member states, delegations and the professional community? Why not arrange a normal expert conversation and ask some questions?
It is alleged that this is a matter of their security. Does this mean that it is not safe for experts to say something at The Hague? In reality, the idea is simply to keep them out of the public eye because they will inevitably face questions, and the answers they provide will contradict the conclusions that are being imposed upon us.
Having compared the incident in question with the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhun, which provided a formal pretext for a missile strike by the US Navy against Shayrat airbase, participants in the news conference agreed on the need to prevent punitive action of this kind by the United States and its allies who used as a pretext a staged provocation by their puppets from the White Helmets. It was also emphasised during the news conference that the FFM has to be reformed as soon as possible, since it increasingly tends to intentionally distort the reality and avoid facts in its work. The Russian representatives called for strict compliance with the CWC and OPCW’s regulations.
Once again, I urge you to pay special attention to this transcript and video material. I cannot list all the arguments and this is not my intention, since all this information is available on the Foreign Ministry website, including videos, interviews, figures, facts, geographical locations, etc. Please, go and take a look once more. I assure you that you will find many interesting things, if you are really into this problem.