Russian Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, News Briefing on Syria

Excerpt from remarks by Russian Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, April 19, 2018 – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 19, 2018


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura

On April 20 2018, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The officials will discuss in detail the status of the Syrian settlement process and its prospects, in particular, in the context of the consequences of the aggressive action by the United States and the countries that supported its illegal measure against Damascus on April 14.

Developments in Syria

The act of open aggression on April 14, when the US together with Great Britain and France carried out a massive missile strike on Syria, was the central event in the country over the past week. I do not wish to repeat my assessment of this gross violation of the UN Charter and fundamental principles of international law in general, committed under an absolutely falsified pretext of alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in Douma, as it has been given in statements by President of Russia Vladimir Putin as well as the Foreign Ministry many times.

In the early hours of April 17, Tuesday, media began reporting another attack on Syria: a missile strike at the Shayrat base, but soon Syria announced that it was a false alarm and there was no new attack.

However, the negative consequences on the ground were felt immediately. Our suggestion that the actions of the three western countries were aimed at giving radicals and extremists some time to recover and prolong the bloodshed in Syria, thus complicating the political settlement process, were confirmed.

The irreconcilable fighters remaining in Douma began to act and on April 18 attacked the UN Department of Safety and Security officials who were assessing the situation and developing plans to provide the OPCW experts with access to the place of the alleged chemical attack. It is no accident. The fighters and extremists are probably concerned about the OPCW experts and members gaining access to the spot.

The resisting fighters shelled the Syrian troops as well as the closest airfield from Grad multiple rocket launchers in Eastern Qalamun, where Dumayr city council announced the local illegal armed groups’ decision to give up their weapons and return “to the state.”

Hostilities between the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIS were recorded in Hasakah Province for the first time in several months.

Tensions remain on the western bank of the Euphrates, in Deir ez-Zor Province. Diversionary attacks by ISIS terrorists against Syrian troops located between the cities of Mayadin and Abu Kamal have been increasing in frequency.

However, there also are some positive trends. The situation in Eastern Ghouta remains stable in general, and peaceful life is being restored. For example, over 400 civilians returned to their homes in this area on Tuesday, April 17, alone.

The Jaysh al-Islam group has almost left Douma. Over 12,000 people – fighters and their families – have been relocated to the north of Syria since the beginning of April. Another illegal laboratory to produce toxic agents such as sulfur and nitrogen mustard gases as well as a weapons manufacturing factory were discovered in the Douma districts vacated by the terrorists. In total, 1.5 tonnes of explosive substances, 250 landmines and 25 kilogrammes of TNT were withdrawn from their storage facilities.

On April 17, the Jaysh al-Islam fighters began to surrender their weapons in Dumayr located northeast from Damascus. As expected, about 1,000 militants will leave the city for the north of Aleppo Province.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson’s remarks at the 58th Special Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council

On April 16, the Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson gave a speech at the 58th Special Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council.

Several days ago the notorious White Helmets organisation issued an official statement on the alleged chemical attack in Douma. A large number of fake materials were spread in social networks – photos and videos allegedly from the incident site. Indeed, the site can be identified. In many cases, the situation and circumstances of the developments in the distributed materials are all made-up. In his presentation, the Defence Ministry official gave a detailed account of the so-called “exclusive” report and clearly revealed not only obvious photo and video edits but also what seems to be laughable carelessness when those stories were cooked up, with children forced to pretend to be wounded, dead, poisoned with a deadly gas. Among other things, this is a concoction of hastily made materials, ignorance and incomprehension of what they are speaking about.

Video footage which appeared after reports of chemical attacks feature whole families that were allegedly killed. Footage was taken in flats on different floors of the same residential building. In one of the videos a boy in a striped sweater with a mark on his temple is lying in the corridor whereas in another clip the same boy is lying on a carpet in another room.

In the video, a girl in a red sweater lies under a striped blanket whereas in posted photos the same girl lies in the center of another room among numerous dead bodies of adults. This is a pure fake.

An appropriate question arises as to how the allegedly dead children could move around different rooms. Why such manipulations when the main goal of those videos was to confirm the fact of a chemical attack? Apparently, they were needed so as to promptly spread a huge amount of video evidence. What mattered was not reasonable but rather prompt actions so as to convince the viewers by playing on emotions, to distract attention from the large number of inconsistencies, it was the emotional colouring that was needed.

Similar manipulations using children were used by the White Helmets in staging an alleged chemical attack in Khan-Shaykhun. I remember an image of a small girl in different places and conditions which was used in a number of video clips – in one video the girl was depicted as dead, in others she was suddenly alive.

The alarming fact about this whole story is that the fake materials are immediately picked up and spun by prominent western media resources and media outlets such as The Guardian and Euronews which posted the videos where medical help is rendered to the victims of a chemical attack with bare hands while the people in the background keep on eating shawarma.

How do such staging decisions and ideas come to mind at all? This terrifying disinformation was followed by bombs falling on Damascus launched by those who are avidly looking for any, even most crude and ludicrous, signals for action.

What could be more awful than that? There is something, if you can believe it. Syrian government forces in the liberated territories of Eastern Ghouta found chlorine containers from Germany and smoke grenades from Salisbury, UK. I am sure everybody is now aware where Salisbury is. This fact is hard to comment on, it is so scary and it undermines your belief in the humanity of some states. Of course, we are not referring to states as a whole but to those politicians and leaders who give such orders and make such decisions.

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that back in January 2013 the British newspaper the Daily Mail published an article disclosing information on the White House’s consent to stage a chemical attack in Syria by the United States and its allies to be subsequently blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in order to step up international military activities in that country.

Russia and Syria stated a number of times that they have information on militants plotting provocations using chemical weapons, the discovery of underground workshops to manufacture chemical weapons of all kinds in the liberated areas of Eastern Ghouta. All this information was sent, is being sent and will be sent to the OPCW. Unfortunately, it remains unnoticed both by countries and western mainstream that are doing everything possible for it to be ignored.

Evidence that the “chemical attack” in Douma was faked

Next, about the so-called evidential base of the chemical attacks allegedly committed by the Government of Syria in the city of Douma and the fictitiousness of most of the evidence.

As you know, the West accused the Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma on April 7. As far as the evidence is concerned, it cited, above all, the media and social networks, where there is quite a lot of materials that cannot be interpreted other than as crimes by the Syrian leadership. It was precisely that “fake production” video, filmed by the White Helmets organisation, that prompted the decision to carry out missile strikes on the territory of a sovereign country and a UN member state – Syria.

But, as we always say and as it actually always happens, the truth gradually comes out. There emerges more and more proof that the chemical attack committed, as we were all told, by the Syrian Government, in the city of Douma never took place. While experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are only just beginning to work in that city, facts are coming to light, confirming that the so-called “chemical attack” in Douma was nothing more than a performance and a dangerous media provocation. Let me repeat that earlier the Russian Defence Ministry published video testimony by two Syrian medics. According to those Syrians, none of the patients admitted into their hospital had any symptoms of poisoning by toxic agents. Yesterday, Russian military correspondents Yevgeny Poddubny and Alexander Kots, visited the city of Douma, where they managed to find a Syrian boy, who was used in those fake videos.

“We were in the cellar,” Khasan Diab recalls. “My Mom told me that we have nothing to eat today, that we will only eat tomorrow. We heard shouts in the street. They were shouting to us to go to the hospital. We ran to the hospital. As soon as I entered, they grabbed me and began pouring water on me. And after that, they put us on beds next to other people.” That is a quote from that very report by Yevgeny Poddubny that he sent yesterday from Syria. Those were the boy’s words.

Khasan’s father was not at home at that time, he was out, working. “When I learnt that my child was in hospital, I got permission to leave work for a while and immediately ran there. There was no chemical weapon. I was smoking in the street and I felt nothing. I entered the hospital and saw my family. The militants gave them dates, biscuits and rice for taking part in that video and let them all go home. My child was fine,” Khasan’s father said.

Our journalists also managed to talk to medical staff of the hospital in the city of Douma. “Not a single patient with any symptoms of poisoning by any toxic agent was admitted to our hospital on April 7. True, people came, who began dousing themselves with water from this hose. But there were no corresponding symptoms. On that day, several buildings were destroyed and fires erupted. Many had breathing problems due to construction dust and smoke. They were brought here and we were helping them, when somebody ran in and shouted: “Chemical attack! Chemical attack!” And people started dousing themselves with water. Actually, there were no reasons for that,” a hospital employee said.

We believe that, with time, the whole truth behind that grim spectacle, that dangerous provocation, will become known to us. Much, of course, depends on the results of the OPCW mission and on you, journalists. Unfortunately, the decision to punish the Syrian authorities for the supposed use of chemical weapons has already been made and, moreover, it has already been carried out.

I would like to recall a 2016 situation when, in an interview with Minister Lavrov, CNN’s leading political commentator Christiane Amanpour produced a photo of a Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh as she accused Syrian troops and the Russian Aerospace Forces of torturing Syrian children. Several months later Russian journalists found this boy again. You remember the picture of his almost lifeless body in a chair that perhaps the entire planet has seen. This child was tracked down by Russian journalists. His father said that what happened then was a horrible fake and appalling manipulation of the public. The boy was not caught up in attacks of the Russian Aerospace Forces or some Syrian government forces, but extremists and terrorists that were active in the district during that time.

But the situation repeats itself, the fakes continue. The very same Christiane Amanpour appears on CNN each week. You cannot imagine how many letters we have sent to that US television channel demanding an explanation or at least an apology from Ms Amanpour for using the interview with Minister Lavrov to manipulate the public by broadcasting this photo for the entire world to see. We never received a response.

The most cynical fact is that several days ago I received an invitation from Christiane Amanpour to appear on her show. No, Ms Amanpour, I don’t do shows. I am waiting for you to officially apologise and, being a journalist, a political commentator and therefore a person politicians cite, to find the courage to apologise for manipulating the public, as I said. It is strange that you have not received word of our letters, because we wrote a lot of them. In addition, the CNN news office in Moscow replied to us regularly. We would like to specify whether it was due to them or Ms Amanpour’s aides.

In order to be fair and honest, using the photo of Omran Daqneesh back in 2016, it would have been right to show the previous photo of another Syrian boy, Khasan Diab, that you have seen, for example, to former British Prime Minister David Cameron whom Christiane Amanpour interviewed yesterday (maybe even earlier, but it was on air yesterday) and ask him: “Mr Cameron, what do you have to say about the White Helmets’ manipulations, who use a Syrian child to stage a video that later motivates our countries, the US and Great Britain, to attack a sovereign state?” I would like to see the former prime minister’s reaction. I am sure he would have found something to say. These people always do.

And another thing. If anyone must be the main speaker at the UN Security Council, I believe it should by the Syrian boy Khasan Diab as well as his parents, who should tell the Security Council what the White Helmets are and how they cook up their fakes. I believe Khasan Diab’s family will know what to say and what questions to ask of the Security Council. By the way, I noticed that today his family stated they were ready to testify at any international organisations about what happened to them in Douma. What do you think, if the family were to decide to go to the US, especially to New York City, would they be able to obtain visas? Let us hope that this question will not be rhetorical in all senses.

Response of French experts to “evidence” provided by French authorities that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Douma

Following up on the story of fabricated photographs and videos from the Syrian city of Douma, I would like to tell you about an interesting and, in our view, very relevant response to a report released by French intelligence services. I will quote the French media. In addition to us, French experts and journalists had reason to receive the report with skepticism.

Even some of the most influential media that normally remain loyal and toe the official line had to admit in their reports that the document was not based on samples taken for analysis at the sight of the alleged incident in Douma. Now and again, the so-called “evidence” is circumstantial or is based on material from social networks – we have just examined these materials – which cannot be verified. However, the truth that all of them are fabricated keeps coming out.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on April 16, opposition members said that there was no conclusive evidence that the authorities had really used chemical weapons in Douma. Many of them directly said that the incident had the appearance of having been “staged” and wondered why the strikes on Syria had been carried out before the OPCW Mission completed its investigation, to say nothing about France’s participation in the operation. A legitimate question was asked about why the bombing of the Syrian stock of chemical weapons, say, chlorine, had had no impact whatsoever on the environment.

We have also asked these questions. Many are asking themselves the same kinds of questions. Now, members of the French political elite, among others, have started to ask these questions.

Why was no one poisoned? Could it have been just production facilities rather than chemical stockpiles that Syria did not have, after all?

This emotional debate was provoked by Frederic Pichon, a political scientist and expert on Syria, who is known for his reputation for being independent.

Comparing the French report and the OPCW report of March 23, he points out the following – I would like to repeat that these are not Russian or pro-Russian experts but a French expert. The OPCW report said that the analysis of the samples taken during inspections on November 22, 2017 at the research centres in Barzeh and Jamrai did not reveal any prohibited chemical substances. The inspections did not detect any activities violating the Chemical Weapons Convention. Frederic Pichon is confident that it is impossible to resume chemical weapons production within such a short space of time. Consequently, the bombing of Barzeh was a “real farce” staged by “three members of the UN Security Council who decided to carry out a strike no matter what, in order to save face.”

Also, the French report says that it was only in 2018 that Syria announced that it had divisions of the Syrian Research and Development Centre in Barzeh and Jamrai. This begs the question as to how OPCW experts were given access to them in November 2017.

This is only the beginning. There is every reason to believe that eventually, not only will the number of skeptics among experts and journalists increase but that we will be provided with facts that will refute the arguments that were allegedly adduced as evidence.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation