Sputnik: You have vast experience in the Foreign Ministry and the UN. Don’t you think that even within this international organisation, the attitude of some countries toward Russia has become more aggressive compared to the time prior to Crimea’s reunification with Russia in 2014?
Vasily Nebenzya: I would like to say that I have no other experience. I’ve been in this profession all my life, which I have never regretted. Every year, I become more and more convinced that this is the most interesting thing that I could choose in my life. And in this regard, I would like to congratulate all of my colleagues, Russian diplomats, on our professional holiday, which we are celebrating on 10 February. I am acquainted with so many of them and I know that they are highly professional people, dedicated to their profession and their country.
As for the situation at the UN, I arrived in 2017. Prior to 2014, I happened to come here only occasionally and cannot reliably compare the atmosphere of that time and today. But we still had difficulties, difficult questions, and “sparrings”.
Another thing is that in the last few years after 2014, a new scheme was formed that targeted us and a number of other countries. If I were to describe it in two words, it would be the "highly likely" method. Now it’s enough just to stigmatise and blame a country (often Russia) for some kind of sin and not bother seeking further evidence.
This is a very cheap, in every sense of the word, way of waging psychological warfare. I will not provide examples, you know them perfectly well.
Another element that emerged not so long ago that is now actively being promoted by our colleagues under the guise of strengthening multilateralism, is the so-called rules-based world order. This is a wicked formula. It replaces international law, which is codified, in particular, in the UN Charter. And what we see behind the words of the “rules-based order” are attempts by a group of states to impose orders that do not represent the consensus of the global community. Of course, I see these trends clearly.
It is definitely difficult to estimate the level of confrontation. We have questions and meetings where the degree of confrontation is quite high. But there are many more meetings where there is no confrontation, where we actually are, as they say, "in the same boat".
Another thing is that confrontation, sensations, scandals, and incidents attract much more attention than the regular, and sometimes routine, work of the Security Council.
Sputnik: Amid such a confrontation, do Russian diplomats at the UN have a certain red line that Moscow will never step over in a dispute with foreign partners?
Vasily Nebenzya: Of course. There are red lines. We never allow ourselves to engage in unseemly conduct or humiliate our partners. We never bully anyone. We try to be objective and honest and say, firstly, the truth, but, secondly, we do not allow insinuations that target us to go unanswered, without going beyond diplomatic language.
Sputnik: The reason for such insinuations against Russia was, among other things, the situation with the mechanism of cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria. In January, the Security Council adopted a resolution to extend such assistance for six months, but, on the initiative of Syria and Russia, a couple of border crossings on the Syrian border were closed - in particular, at Al-Yaarubia (on the border with Iraq). This caused criticism by Western partners in the Security Council. The UN now predicts a deficit of medical care in Syria due to the closure of this checkpoint. What decision does Russia foresee? If this problem is mentioned in the UN Secretary-General's February report, will Russia agree to consider other options for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria?
Vasily Nebenzya: We said that we need to look for an alternative to Al-Yaarubia and Ar-Ramtha — crossings that were used in the framework of the so-called cross-border assistance, an alternative based on the principles of the Geneva Conventions and UN fundamental humanitarian resolution 46/182, which implies that humanitarian assistance must be provided with consent and in coordination with the host government. In this case, with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The mechanism, which is called cross-border, was used in emergency situations when there was no access from the Syrian government-controlled area to a part of Syrian territory. Therefore, Security Council resolution 2165 was adopted. It is, in fact, a deviation from the fundamental principles of humanitarian assistance, but it was necessary to provide assistance to people in need.
Today we are in a situation where the residents of only one province, Idlib, really need such help. In accordance with Resolution 2504 that was adopted on 10 January it was decided to keep the crossings involved. Assistance can be delivered to the rest of Syria through the country, which, in fact, is already happening.
In Al-Yaarubia, it's perfectly apparent that nothing fatal has happened. There have been no humanitarian supplies there since October 2019. Then, all of a sudden it turned out that a shipment of medical care was stuck somewhere as it became clear that Al-Yaarubia would be closed.
But the UN organisations, in particular the WHO, quickly contacted the Syrian government after the passage via Al-Yaarubia was closed. Options for delivering the same cargo to the same people in need are now being discussed, but via other routes, and specifically through the territory of Syria. So, nothing dramatic happened, contrary to what we were warned about. So it was supposed to happen, and so it will happen.
Moreover, Resolution 2165 was adopted a long time ago, in 2014. In addition to delivering aid via border areas that are not controlled by the Syrian authorities, it stipulated many other things, such as monitoring the distribution of this assistance, the presence of UN employees, etc. These provisions have not been implemented all this time. And it was ignored because many were comfortable with it. Now, conditions have changed. You just need to return to the standard practice of providing such assistance.
Sputnik: Do you expect any new provocations from the “White Helmets” in Syria?
Vasily Nebenzya: I would like to believe that there will be no further provocations. But we regularly receive information from both the Syrian authorities and from the Russian military in Syria that such provocations are being prepared, chemicals are being imported, and preparations are being made for staged chemical attacks.
The most striking example is, of course, the events that took place in Douma in 2018, which served as a pretext for the illegal aggression by three states against a sovereign member of the UN. On 20 January, we held an informal meeting of members of the Security Council on the "Arria formula", which aroused great interest.
Almost all of the permanent representatives of the Security Council and many UN member states were present there. We presented facts showing that this had obviously been a grossly staged provocation. Those who do not want to believe us have tried to accuse us of “Russian propaganda” and a disinformation campaign.
But the fact is that it was not only us who were concerned about this provocation, but also many independent international experts, retired military personnel, representatives of special services, including from NATO countries, who also have great doubts about the conclusions made in the OPCW fact-finding mission report.
Its preparation was an absolutely blatant story. The inspectors who were in Douma concluded that there was a chemical provocation. After that, some experts came from a Western country who instructed the inspectors on how the report should be, saying that they have reliable and irrefutable data on the use of chlorine. Those inspectors who wrote the initial report were suspended from work. In the final report, the findings were completely flipped.
The provocation itself was so badly patched together that it was impossible for specialists in the field of ballistics, engineering, and toxicology to notice that the conclusions of the final report do not correspond to the evidence.
Unfortunately, the history of chemical provocations in Syria is still not a closed page, and of course, we are afraid that something like this could happen again.
Sputnik: The situation around Iran continues to be tense. US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook regularly states that Washington hopes for UN Security Council support in extending the arms embargo on Tehran after Resolution 2231, which was passed in July 2015, and which bans deliveries of heavy weapons to Iran until 18 October 2020, expires. Will Moscow block attempts by UNSC partners to extend the arms embargo on Iran?
Vasily Nebenzya: We proceed from the fact that Resolution 2231, as a resolution of the Security Council, is binding for all UN member states. The United States showed disregard for UNSC decisions when it withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, thereby violating the resolution. The resolution must be implemented, and in October of this year, per the provisions of this resolution, the arms embargo for Iran will expire.
Sputnik: And if the US offers to extend it?
Vasily Nebenzya: Let's wait and see. We will react as events unfold.
Sputnik: Is it possible for the UN Security Council to return to imposing sanctions on Iran if the dispute over the JCPOA is still not resolved?
Vasily Nebenzya: The fact is that the sanctions imposed against Iran by the Security Council's previous decisions were aimed at encouraging Iran to sit at the negotiating table and reach an agreement on its nuclear programme. In this sense, the sanctions that were aimed at this have fulfilled their goal.
Iran sat down at the negotiating table, which resulted, as many believe, in one of the greatest achievements of multilateral diplomacy in recent years — the conclusion of the JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear programme. Therefore, these sanctions have already exhausted their purpose.
Sputnik: In December 2019, Moscow and Beijing submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that called for the easing of sanctions against North Korea to improve the humanitarian situation in the country. Are there any prospects for this document? At what stage is it in?
Vasily Nebenzya: Together with China, we prepared the so-called political resolution on North Korea late last year. It is on the negotiating table, but so far, some of our partners do not want to hear about the relaxation of the sanctions regime for North Korea.
The purpose of the resolution is to encourage both parties to move towards each other. The “action for action” concept implies reciprocal steps. We believe that it is the only way to resume the process and get it back on track. However, the United States and its allies still believe that the main tool is the policy of maximum pressure on North Korea. We believe that this is unrealistic and will not help us solve the problem.
After all, given a relative thaw in relations between the United States and North Korea, we have repeatedly called on the Security Council to somehow respond positively to this: after Singapore, and even before Hanoi. They told us every time: "No, no, wait, we’ll figure it out ourselves, and when necessary, we will call on the Security Council". So we waited until this warming gave way to cooling. And the purpose of the resolution that we proposed with China is to return to "summer" and leave the "fall," in which we found ourselves.
Sputnik: That is, the process with this resolution is now frozen?
Vasily Nebenzya: The last round of consultations was held late last year. The project is on the table. We have not retracted it, but as of now, we do not see the desire among some of our colleagues to adopt the resolution.
Sputnik: Is there any time frame for the adoption of this document in the Security Council?
Vasily Nebenzya: In principle, there is no time frame for the adoption of resolutions in the practice of the Security Council. There are resolutions of the Council that have been unrecalled there for years. So there is no time frame, although we, of course, expect that this resolution will not befall the fate of those that are waiting for years, unadopted.
Sputnik: Former Ukrainian Permanent Representative to the UN, now Ambassador to the United States Volodymyr Yelchenko said that at a certain stage, Kiev still plans to return to submitting a resolution on the deployment of UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine to the UN Security Council. Could Moscow’s position on peacekeepers, according to which they can only protect OSCE staff, change?
Vasily Nebenzya: The best thing Ukraine could do is not return to the question of the UN mission in Ukraine, but to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which are codified by Security Council Resolution 2202 and which are the only and uncontested basis for resolving the intra-Ukrainian conflict. But our resolution has been in the Security Council since September 2017. It is specifically aimed at supporting the OSCE mission in Ukraine.
Ukraine, from time to time, returns to the question of the UN mission in its interpretation. We believe that we should not think about this, but rather about how to implement the consistent provisions of the Minsk agreements, where everything is clearly spelled out.
We always tell our partners in the Security Council one simple thing, that they listen but do not want to hear. In all other conflicts — Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Libya — the main message that the international community and the Security Council gives to the parties to the conflict is “you must sit at the negotiating table and agree, this is primarily your business, and we, as the international community, can only help this".
But for some reason, our Western partners do not follow this approach, and the Ukrainian authorities categorically refuse to sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of Donbass, changing everything and trying to pass it off as a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. As long as the Ukrainian authorities do not want to talk to their own population, there will not be much progress. No UN mission in Ukraine will ensure this progress.
Sputnik: But in general, does the Russian position on the possible deployment of UN peacekeepers to Donbass remain unchanged, and will it be the same?
Vasily Nebenzya: We proposed a resolution that includes a provision about peacekeepers who will stand on the demarcation line. This resolution is on the table. We did not propose other resolutions, and we see no prospects for their adoption. And the most important prospects are the implementation of the Minsk agreements and Security Council Resolution 2202.
Sputnik: 9 May will mark the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. Should we expect a visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to Moscow in connection with the anniversary?
Vasily Nebenzya: Yes, we should. He has already confirmed his visit. I cannot tell you the details so far, but yes, he will be in Moscow to celebrate the 75th anniversary.
Sputnik: Is he expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov?
Vasily Nebenzya: I think this can be predicted.
Sputnik: With both?
Vasily Nebenzya: I think yes. This is part of an already traditional format for visits by the UN Secretary-General to Russia.
Sputnik: Is Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to the high-level week of the UN General Assembly in September being prepared, taking into account the 75th anniversary of the UN?
Vasily Nebenzya: Well, this question should be addressed to those who draw up the president’s schedule. But in general, this year, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary and victories in the Second World War and the 75th anniversary of the creation of the UN, which is a direct consequence of this victory. We are doing a lot of work in the country to prepare for the celebration of these events. And, of course, these dates will be celebrated within the organisation.
This decision (about Russian President Vladimir Putin's participation at the UNGA's high-level week) is not for me to make, as you understand. But, of course, the leaders of many states, including the founders of the UN, will take part in the anniversary session.
You know that President Putin proposed convening a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council. We have already received an almost immediately positive reaction from China and France, and are now awaiting the reaction of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Sputnik: Could such a meeting be held in September?
Vasily Nebenzya: Anything is possible. I do not rule out anything, but the format of the high-level week at the UN is so tense that it may be worthwhile to separate these two events. Because the idea here is, as I understand it, to sit down and talk seriously about the problems that have accumulated in global politics and propose solutions by countries that have a special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.
Sputnik: It seems that the situation around the denial of US visas to foreign diplomats is definitely not improving. Previously, it was repeatedly said, including in a UNGA resolution, that if this issue could not be resolved “within a reasonable time", then the issue of launching a dispute resolution process between the UN and the United States via arbitration would be considered. When will Russia initiate the arbitration procedure?
Vasily Nebenzya: We also believe that this issue has not yet been resolved. The arbitration procedure outlined in the resolution to which you referred is laid out in an agreement between the UN and the host country. We regularly discuss this issue in the UNGA Committee on Relations with the Host Country. We know that the secretary-general is aware of this problem and not just aware of it; he is really concerned about it. He is talking with representatives of the UN headquarters’ host country.
The situation is really not fundamentally improving. It concerns not only Russia and not only visas. A whole array of related problems has accumulated. As for us, this is also an illegal seizure of property. This is a restriction on the movement of diplomats. Diplomats from some countries are banned from leaving Manhattan, for example, like the Cubans. Some are instructed to walk along narrow routes from their mission to the UN, like the Iranians.
This issue concerns not only Russia but a significant number of countries. This list may be extended. Many UN members understand the severity of the problem. If this problem does not begin to be resolved in a reasonable time, then, I believe, several countries will propose using Article 21 of the agreement — on arbitration. These are not just words, it is provided for by the resolution that we adopted at the General Assembly.
Sputnik: When will this “reasonable time” expire? When is the time to take these steps?
Vasily Nebenzya: The resolution was adopted late last year. Now we have entered a new year. I cannot tell you the exact dates. Probably, we will consider it at the next meeting of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, where we will discuss this with other colleagues and come to a conclusion with them on what we consider reasonable terms. But, of course, this is not a year, and not two, and not three, and not decades. This issue must be resolved immediately, or rather, it should have already been resolved long ago.
Sputnik: If the problem is not resolved, will Russia boycott the activities of the next UNGA?
Vasily Nebenzya: Let's not rush about a boycott. We hope that our US partners will approach this issue responsibly, especially since this will be a special session of the General Assembly related to the anniversary of the organisation. But this applies not only to the events of the "high-level week". Visas must be issued for all UN events throughout the year. The failure cannot be explainedfor any reason, no national security considerations that our US colleagues like to refer to. This is simply unacceptable.
Vasily Nebenzya: The secretary-general has no means of enforcement. There is an agreement that the host country is required to comply with. It obviously violates it. The secretary-general makes this clear. But if the country that violates the agreement continues to fail to execute it, there is a procedure for this in the agreement, which is the arbitration we talked about. Therefore, if the situation does not change, then we will have to use arbitration.