Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova Calls Out UN High Commissioner for White Helmets Propaganda
 Syria update

The situation on the ground in Syria has been steadily improving, thanks in part to the successful actions of government forces in the south of the country where, with the strong support of Russian military intelligence, they destroyed the hotbeds of terrorism in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra. The operation to evacuate the “irreconcilables” and their families to the north of Syria has also been completed in Deraa. Last Sunday, the last group of 452 people was moved out.

The “mop-up” of the east of the province of Suwayd to take out the last of the ISIS fighters is nearing completion. Over the past two weeks, the Syrian forces successfully liberated about 2,000 square kilometers.

The return of refugees continues to gain momentum. Last Monday alone, 204 refugees returned from Lebanon (61 women, 104 children). As for internally displaced persons (IDPs), 316 Syrian citizens returned to their places of residence on the same day, including 189 in Homs, 85 in Eastern Ghouta, and 42 in Deir ez-Zor.

In 117 localities least affected by the hostilities, there are refugee reception and accommodation camps for more than 490,000 people. In addition, in 295 villages, intensive work is underway to create an infrastructure for accommodating almost 1 million refugees and IDPs.

Over the past 24 hours (August 14), 16 residential buildings were restored in Syria, 1 km of motor road was repaired, 1.5 km of power lines laid, and one water supply facility resumed operation. These are figures for only one day. They show the speed and scale at which Syria is reviving.

In the village of Hirdjilla in the suburbs of Damascus, more than 3.5 tonnes of food was distributed as part of humanitarian aid. In Aleppo, 1 tonne of bread was distributed in the Sheikh-Said district from the Kadyrov Foundation.

Russian military doctors provided medical care to six residents, including three children, in the village of Salhiyah of the Deir ez-Zor province, and to 54 patients, including 16 children, in Yalda, a suburb of Damascus.

The engineering units of the Syrian Armed Forces continued demining the area and facilities in the Homs province – two hectares of land and ten buildings were demined. They detected and destroyed 50 explosive items, including 21 improvised explosive devices.

Media reports on UNHCR’s involvement in evacuating the White Helmets

The Foreign Ministry took note of media reports on the involvement of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in evacuating from Syria a large group of the infamous White Helmets, who under the pretence of working for a humanitarian organisation, actually served as a tool in the information and propaganda warfare waged by a number of countries in Syria, including by relying on illegal armed groups and would-be humanitarian organisations.

It is unfortunate that the UNHCR confirmed its involvement on its official website.

By doing so, the UN body supported the false narrative on these While Helmets promoted by the Western media and officials, misrepresenting them as genuine and fearless humanitarian workers.

But how come these fearless humanitarian workers need to be evacuated from Syria? Why can’t the White Helmets stay there as peace returns to cities and communities? How come the White Helmets are not there to distribute bread rations or to restore medical aid stations and civilian infrastructure? Have they thought about Syrian children who have to go to school, and what are civilians supposed to do? What happened to their commitment to the humanitarian cause? As a matter of fact, it never existed to begin with. All the White Helmets did was contribute to fake stories, in exchange for huge sums of money, on the alleged chemical weapons attacks, and helped spread this propaganda online. They alleged that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people. That is all there is to it. That is what all these would-be humanitarian efforts were all about.

Considering that the UNHCR is a high-profile and respected international institution, we would like to draw the attention of its representatives that they need to show a greater sense of responsibility in their actions and avoid steps that could not only hurt the reputation of this international organisation, but most importantly affect UN’s role in addressing major humanitarian tasks, including in Syria.

We would like to reiterate that the White Helmets are experts at provocation and disinformation who spread fake information under the guise of humanitarian work. In fact, they have colluded with the most dangerous terrorist groups with a mission to malign and undermine counter-terrorist efforts undertaken by the Syrian government with Russia’s assistance.

The White Helmets were behind a series of cynical fake stories that were concocted to prevent stabilisation in Syria and consequently making it impossible to address humanitarian needs, including assisting refugees.

Having the UNHCR provide any kind of assistance to the provocative undertakings of the White Helmets is a grave mistake, at best.

We call on the Office to act in strict compliance with its mandate, avoid any political bias and abide by the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence, humaneness and impartiality in their work, as well as focus on maximising international efforts to facilitate the voluntary return of Syrian refugees, which is currently the main objective. It is interesting that international agencies and the international community are working on the evacuation of the White Helmets at a time when life is returning to normal in Syria. But when it comes to helping civilians and refugees who want to return to Syria, many are those who take a step back or say that it would be unsafe. What an interesting story. When civilians were in Syria and multiple regional and Western powers sponsored fighters, they were not in danger, but now having people voluntarily return to their homeland is viewed as being unsafe. This is absurd, but facts speak for themselves.

Question: Some in the UN opposed the return of refugees back to Syria. Why is the UN refusing to accept normalisation in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: I cannot agree with you when you claim that the UN has a negative attitude regarding the return of Syrian refugees. I have already mentioned this today. The approach adopted by the UN is that conditions have yet to be created to enable refugees to voluntarily and sustainably return back to Syria in safety and dignity. The lingering obstacles pinpointed by the UN are the continuation of hostilities, devastation, a general lack of security, poor social infrastructure, contamination with unexploded ordnances, etc. The question is who can be tasked with improving social infrastructure, if not the Syrians themselves? Who should do it? Who should be in charge of mine clearance? It’s clear that for the time being Russia is doing all this, but Syrians must be the ones to improve their own territory. This is what our question boils down to once statements of this kind are made.

The position of UN leadership is of course influenced by major member countries who are the main donors of international humanitarian programmes. Unfortunately, the US and other Western countries have been pursuing a regime change in Syria for quite some time. They condition the provision of recovery relief on what they call a political transition, which means the ousting of Bashar al-Assad. The unilateral sanctions these countries imposed on Syria show this all too well. In fact, this is a paradox. The country that has already been torn apart is being bombarded with more challenges such as the unilateral sanctions. This is an obstacle as far as reconstruction is concerned.

Considering the tough stance adopted by the main donors, the UN is unfortunately unable to contribute to addressing Syria’s immediate needs, including facilitating the return of refugees. The leadership of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees strongly believes that a number of political conditions have to be met in order to enable large numbers of Syrians to return back to their homes. We believe this position to be questionable. So far it is too early to discuss UNHCR’s active involvement in enabling Syrian refugees to return back to their homes. This does not mean that the UN is against normalisation in Syria. We know this from our contacts with the UN, and the talks that we are holding. We remain in touch at all times. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently had a conversation with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. There are projects to resettle Syrian refugees from neighbouring countries and a number of other humanitarian initiatives that are implemented with the help of UNHCR as well as other UN agencies.

To be continued…

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation