Ambassador Andrei Kelin's address at the international conference «A Decade of War in Syria», 15 March 2021
Thank you very much for a timely opportunity to reflect on one of the world’s deadliest conflicts and the fate of the long-suffering people. This month marks 10 years since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” in Syria.
What had been peaceful rallies at first, was quickly fuelled by the significant foreign interference and within several months had grown up into fierce clashes with the government forces. Later it paved the way for a full-scale civil war. The dire situation was further aggravated when ISIL and a number of other terrorist groups conquered significant part of the country’s territory, causing even more unbearable damage to the economy, infrastructure, human and cultural legacy of the Syrian Arab Republic.
At the request by President Assad in order to support the Syrian armed forces in their fight against extremists, in September 2015 the Russian Parliament voted in favour of sending contingent of our troops to Syria.
Russia has played the decisive role in eliminating the hotbed of international terrorism in the country. As a result of the significant diplomatic as well as military efforts, today the ceasefire is maintained on the major part of the country’s territory. Nevertheless, the job is not yet finished: the situation in Idlib Province, as well as in the north-east of the country and in At-Tanf area in the south, de-facto occupied by the US, is still a matter of our deep concern.
Russian military cooperate with their Turkish counterparts on improving security of the vital M4 motorway, connecting Latakia and Aleppo. They also conduct joint patrolling of the contact line between pro-Turkish and Kurdish militias in the north-east. It is a huge responsibility and requires delicate work from everyone involved.
On the political track, we consider the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 to be the only viable roadmap to put an end to the Syrian conflict. It is obvious there is no military solution. Russia is committed to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence of Syria as well as its people’s right to decide for themselves on their future. We urge all the international community without exception to unconditionally respect and follow these principles. A breakthrough in political settlement will be welcome, but realistically we first need to see a step-by-step, yet consistent progress in line with the resolution.
From our part, in order to encourage the political process, the trilateral high-level forum, so-called Astana format, was created by Russia, Iran and Turkey in 2017. The initiative has proven to be the only effective international mechanism to support the settlement in Syria. Its 15th meeting was held in the Russian city of Sochi on 16-17 February. We once again brought together Syrian government representatives, opposition members, observers from Arab states, UN Special Envoy and UN agencies representatives. The work is ongoing, it requires consistent and meticulous efforts from everyone involved.
As a result, the Drafting Commission of the Syrian Constitutional Committee was established in 2018. Last January its 5th meeting took place in Geneva. The road is bumpy, but it has to be taken by the Syrian sides, with the international community playing a supportive role. Having said that, we do not believe imposing artificial timing to complete this work would be particularly helpful in itself.
The progress on the security and political tracks has to be bolstered by the improvement of the socioeconomic situation. This will help to create favourable conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
In November 2020, Damascus hosted the first international conference on the repatriation of Syrian refugees. The event, supported by Russia, was attended by over 20 countries, including several Arab states. We believe this was a promising sign of the international community recognizing the importance of practical steps to deal with the repatriation challenges. Unfortunately, Western countries, including the UK, preferred to ignore the conference, which can hardly be explained in the light of their declared commitment to assist Syrian people. We look forward to a change in the approach from our colleagues in the West.
Development in Syria is being hindered not only by the consequences of conflict and COVID pandemic, but also by the illegal unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria by the US, the UK and some of their allies. These restrictive measures not only put obstacles to the economic recovery, but also prevent essential purchases of pharmaceuticals, medical and construction equipment. This is morally corrupt and unacceptable. We took note of the letters sent to President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson last January, requesting to lift anti-Syrian sanctions. Among its 90 signatories there are representatives of academia and clergy, journalists, humanitarian workers, former ambassadors of the UK, Germany, France and Tunisia to Syria, as well as a member of the House of Lords. We urge the US and UK authorities to listen to these voices, if they do not find our arguments convincing enough.
Russia has been at the forefront of humanitarian work in Syria, as well as other forms of support for the country’s development. Since September 2015 Russia has delivered more than 4700 tons of humanitarian cargo. Russian private companies carry out reconstruction projects in several Syrian provinces, including rebuilding of schools, hospitals, power plants and other infrastructure facilities. A comprehensive strategic programme for our bilateral economic cooperation is being prepared.
All of you know pretty well that it is not enough. The Syrian population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid. The policy of Western countries, including the UK – to deliver aid to opposition-controlled areas only, while strangling the rest of the country with sanctions. It is cruel and raises huge concerns. It is vital to reach out to help all the Syrians, regardless of where they live and whom they support, without discrimination and preconditions.
Instead of providing occasional support to neighbouring countries, where Syrian refugees reside on a temporary basis, the assistance should be directed to those willing to return. It will also help to ease the socioeconomic burden on the host countries.
So my message is this. It is clear that Syria has overcome the most gruesome challenges of civil war and terrorist invasion. However, the country faces a thorny path to get back to normal. It is long overdue for all the international community, and here I turn to the UK authorities, to support this process by getting involved into reconstruction and helping people to build back better. Better late than never.
Thank you for your attention.
15 March 2021; 18:00