Press Conference on Russian Presidency of Security Council

23 December 2011

Press Conference on Russian Presidency of Security Council

23 December 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Russian Presidency of Security Council


The Russian Federation wanted Security Council action to end violence in Syria, but not if it would become an “auxiliary of regime-change policy”, Council President Vitaly Churkin said at Headquarters today.

Speaking at a press conference about his country’s position on investigations of possible civilian casualties resulting from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) bombing campaign in Libya, and on draft resolutions regarding Syria, he expressed concern over the growing acrimony among Council members, certain of whom were becoming inflexible and evincing “impatience and nervousness”.

However, he said much cooperative work had been done in response to crises occurring during the “Arab Spring”, which had posed difficult challenges for the Security Council.  Emerging from the Libyan crisis in particular, Member States had been receptive to the Russian Federation’s draft resolution on controlling the spread of weapons, he said, adding that the Russian Federation had worked well with the United States on “unfreezing” Libyan assets, and there had been consensus support for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).  “There were some good stretches in this rather difficult era for the Security Council.”

Mr. Churkin announced that his country had proposed an updated draft resolution on Syria earlier today, and a meeting of experts had been called.  Analysis of the text by Council members would then be awaited, he said, expressing hope for early action next week.  He recalled that yesterday he had proposed a Council press statement welcoming the deployment of a League of Arab States monitoring mission to Syria, commending its objective of ending violence in the country and calling for all parties to act with maximum restraint while allowing the mission to achieve its aims.  Unfortunately, five Council members had objected to the draft statement, he said, pointing out that such statements required consensus.

“When we try to do something positive we are inevitably met with all sorts of concerns about balance,” he said, adding that he had explained that the draft press statement was in no way a substitute for a resolution, but to no avail.  He said he had also tabled a draft press statement on today’s bombings in Damascus, in the standard form used by the Council after terrorist attacks, which was always to express the body’s condolences and its determination to fight terrorism.  Noting that the deadline for delegations to object to the text under the “silence procedure” was in two hours’ time, he expressed hope that the draft would be approved, as the standard form had been modified to make it palatable even to those with the most “anti-Damascus” positions.

On Libya, he clarified statements he had made yesterday, explaining that he had reacted to the “unusually explosive rhetoric” of the United States and French Permanent Representatives.  It had included accusations of “bombast and bogus claims” against the Russian Federation, he recalled, commenting: “You cannot beat a Stanford education can you?”

Explaining his country’s call for investigations into Libyan civilian casualties of NATO’s actions, he said resolution 1973 (2011) had been followed by a massive bombing campaign that had exceeded the text’s provisions, but which the Alliance had claimed to have been undertaken to protect civilians.  When news had emerged of civilian casualties, NATO had repeated the claim that everything had been done to protect civilians.  However, a New York Times investigation showed there had indeed been numerous civilian casualties.

He went on to say there had been no reaction to his suggestion that an investigation be held, although one member had proposed an investigation conducted by NATO and Libyan authorities.  Mr. Churkin said he had had stressed that the involvement of the United Nations and military experts would be critical to ensuring impartiality.  Some members had said they would support an investigation if it was requested by the Libyan authorities, while others had noted that the International Criminal Court would report in July.

Mr. Churkin stressed that he was not in any way claiming that NATO had intentionally set out to harm civilians.  However, it was important to determine quickly what mistakes had been made and to provide any restitution necessary.  There was no reason to wait for a request by the Libyan authorities, who were just now being put in place.  “If you want to clear the air, you do a quick investigation,” he said, adding that in any case, Libya could not be seen as a standard for future reaction to crisis situations.

Responding to questions, he stressed that Syria and Libya were different situations.  In respect of the Syria text, the Russian delegation remained flexible, but would not drop all references to violence by the extreme opposition.  Similarly, an arms embargo would not happen if imposed only on the Government.  However, all consideration would be given to language on human rights and stopping the violence and impunity, among other matters, he said, emphasizing that it was important that the Council show prudence and not take over responsibility for human rights in a way that impinged on other United Nations bodies.

He said the Council could have prevented much of the violence if it had worked together for a Syrian-led political process, as it had advocated in its 3 August presidential statement, and as had been supported in relation to Bahrain and Yemen.  The crisis could have been ended months ago, but instead it had turned into an opportunity to target Syria for regime change, and now the country was on the brink of civil war, he noted.

In response to other questions, he said that although his country had helped facilitate the Arab League effort, he would neither coordinate with that body or the Syrian Government on Council drafts.

Asked about his delegation’s frequent references to extremists while it seemed as though thousands of seemingly peaceful demonstrators had been killed, he said peaceful demonstrators had been caught in crossfire and used as human shields by extremists.

Denying that his country was supporting the Assad Government under any circumstance, he said the Russian Federation merely objected to externally driven regime change.  The complexity of the situation must be recognized, he maintained.  What was clear was that “something tragic has been happening in Syria and we have to bring a halt to it as quickly as possible”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.