TASS news agency interview with Gennady Gatilov, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Office and other International Organisations in Geneva, February 26, 2018

Tuesday, 27 February 2018 13:59

Question: Mr Gatilov, you became head of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN Office in Geneva at a very difficult time. What topics covered by the UN Geneva Office constitute diplomatic priorities for Russia?

Gennady Gatilov: For us, almost all topics discussed in Geneva are of high priority. It is safe to say that there are no issues of secondary importance for us here. Speaking of the political track, it is, above all, the Syrian settlement and the resolution of conflicts and chronic crises in Cyprus and Yemen. Of course, Geneva is a global centre for human rights and humanitarian activities, where our country has its own strategic interests and initiatives.

Also notable are the talks on disarmament and non-proliferation in Geneva. Equally important is the work in areas such as healthcare, economic, environmental and scientific and technical cooperation, information and communication, including the internet. All of that directly affects our national interests. There are also issues related to various international organisations and UN institutions. We are pursuing our own policy in cooperation with other members of these organisations.

The agenda is very busy. Speaking about our initiatives in Geneva, for example, our country gives priority attention to preventing an arms race in outer space through the Conference on Disarmament. We are working in close contact with our Chinese partners and, in 2008, submitted to the Conference a draft treaty on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space, the use of force or the threat of force against space objects. This document was revised in 2014 based on comments of other states. We will continue to treat this topic as a priority.

Due to the fact that some delegations, particularly the US delegation, were not prepared to discuss this topic in 2006, we proposed - as a unifying idea for all states - to use the conference to develop a convention to combat acts of chemical and biological terrorism. A draft of the key provisions of this document was submitted. We believe that once adopted it would increase the effectiveness of international efforts in countering the WMD terrorism.

Our initiatives within the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and a number of other organisations account for a sizable amount of our work. Russia is a universally recognised leader in international cooperation in the sphere of prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. As you may be aware, the first global WHO conference on this topic, which was held in Moscow last November, gave a powerful impetus to multilateral efforts in fighting tuberculosis.

The WMO highly values Russia’s experience in the sphere of polar meteorology, as well as our contribution to the deployment of the Global Framework for Climate Services.

Of course, we are actively promoting our initiatives concerning the development of Euro-Asian Transport Links and the formation of the Unified Rail Law at the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

These are, perhaps, the main topics that are being discussed in Geneva. They are quite diverse and multi-dimensional, and cover a widest range of issues.

Question: In the past years, Geneva has become synonymous with the efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict. Do you think it will maintain its role or will the talks move to other platforms if the Geneva process stagnates?

Gennady Gatilov: Our stance in favour of continuing the Geneva talks in Syria remains unchanged. We have consistently supported and continue to support the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in promoting the intra-Syrian peace process under the auspices of the UN and pursuant to UNSC Resolution 2254.

We were the ones who were unhappy that the Geneva process had been ineffective for so long. Meetings initiated by Russia in Astana were intended to give the necessary impetus to the political process. The same applies to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that was held recently in Sochi. Its final statement clearly indicates that the political settlement must proceed within the scope of Resolution 2254, and the UN is granted the right to participate in forming the constitutional commission that will be developing Syria’s fundamental law.

It should be noted that neither Astana nor Sochi contradicts the Geneva process. On the contrary, they contribute to its progress. This has been confirmed by the countries directly involved in the Syrian settlement process and the search for a solution to the crisis. We believe that the UN should exercise wisdom, political will and make efforts to engage truly constructive forces in the constitution’s development, forces that are concerned with the fate of their country rather than short-term, self-serving interests.

The constitutional commission is already being formed. Three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, are closely cooperating on this issue and selecting members of the commission. I hope this work will be finished soon.

There are, certainly, many pitfalls and difficulties on the way. We can see that until this day, a certain part of the Syrian opposition, its most radical representatives, insists on unacceptable preconditions for beginning talks with the government delegation. The main precondition is the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Our opinion is that in this context, Staffan de Mistura should turn his attention to those in the opposition with a constructive approach – namely, the moderate opposition that was formed following the congress in Sochi. It is the platform of Haytham Manaa, Qadri Jamil, Randa Kassis and Ahmad Jarba. These representatives who played a constructive role in the Sochi forum are ready for substantive work on the constitution to make sure the result addresses the interests of all the categories and classes of the Syrian society rather than only a small group of immigrant members of the opposition who, by the way, have lost touch with their land and with those who remain in Syria.

Question: Journalists are used to seeing you not only as an expert on international diplomacy, especially on the Arab world, but also a newsmaker. What steps will be taken to settle the situation in Syria? For example, when will the next intra-Syrian round take place in Geneva? When will the constitutional commission become functional?

Gennady Gatilov: Predictions are unrewarding and do not come true very often because too many factors can influence the situation. Further steps on the road to settlement in Syria will depend on the development of the situation. I believe that the priority task today is the creation of a constitutional commission. If this is not delayed, talks between the Syrian government delegation and the opposition will finally move beyond a deadlock.

True, in many respects this will depend on the actions of Staffan de Mistura. We will be ready to support him as we have said many times. When he convenes a new round of intra-Syrian talks we will proceed from this principled position.

QuestionWhen guns do all the talking in Syria, diplomats find it particularly difficult to achieve anything. Do you think this means that there is no room for international efforts to move the political process forward?

Gennady Gatilov: From the very start we have been promoting a political solution based on universally recognised principles of international law and have agreed that there is no alternative to the predominance of diplomacy over guns, as you put it. Regrettably, many players came to this conclusion too late. Unfortunately, we are still witnessing attempts to disrupt the movement towards a peaceful, political solution by stirring up certain “issues.” Primarily, this applies to chemical arms. Some Western countries are accusing the Syrian authorities of using them, while Russia is made indirectly responsible for this.

It is also worth mentioning another issue − humanitarian difficulties – that is being continuously stirred up by the media, by the same ill-wishers. Today this is the situation in East Ghouta. Every day the media try to terrorise the public with this issue. The media lay the blame at Damascus and Russia that stands behind it but these statements do not reflect reality.

We are worried about the humanitarian situation in East Ghouta and Syria in general. In some places humanitarian problems are more pronounced, in others they are being resolved, mostly, with the aid of the Russian military that helps civilians on practically a daily basis. As for East Ghouta it is common knowledge that terrorists – Jabhat al-Nusra fighters – have entrenched themselves there. They are shelling civilian facilities in Damascus from there – hospitals, schools and diplomatic missions. Our Embassy in Damascus was also shelled several times. Recently mortars hit the Russian trade mission.

Therefore, allegations that the Syrian military is to blame for the current humanitarian difficulties are groundless. If our colleagues want humanitarian relief delivered to East Ghouta, it is necessary to compel Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists to stop the hostilities and the shelling of the capital from this place. This is the only way to have a truce and create favourable conditions for humanitarian supplies for civilians.

It is also common knowledge that the fighters are preventing medical evacuations and the release of civilians from East Ghouta, using them as a live shield. It is well known that militants establish their headquarters in hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities.

As for chemical arms, this issue is being used to escalate anti-Syrian actions and is also aimed against the country. One of the examples is France’s initiative to establish the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. Some time ago, France convened a closed-door meeting in Paris on this issue. Incidentally, neither Moscow nor Beijing was invited to take part in the event and it is clear why. This was basically to accuse Damascus of using chemical weapons and denounce the Syrian authorities and Russia. Moreover, this was done without any evidence or facts. References were made to some falsified reports that are floating around online.

Regrettably, this line continues. We know that France is going to conduct a meeting on the said partnership in Geneva on February 28. Needless to say, we are emphatically opposed to this event. This is an attempt to transfer it to an international venue to feign the impression that the international community, including the UN, allegedly supports this initiative. This is untrue. This idea is shared by only a small group of countries. We would like to hope that sooner or later these states will realise that there is no alternative to collective efforts without double standards to counter universal threats, such as terrorists from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and that they will facilitate the unification of all Syrians who are interested in seeing results on the platform of talks about the future of their country.

Question: The Geneva track of Russian diplomacy is not just about Syria. It is known that the Russian Foreign Ministry focuses on human rights issues. Will this continue? What steps can be expected of Russian diplomacy during the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 26?

Gennady Gatilov: The subject of human rights is one of the main areas of our activity. In Geneva, we are expecting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who will speak in the “high segment” of the UN Human Rights Council session, to spell out our approaches to these issues and our vision of how this very important structure should work. In his speech, the Russian foreign minister will propose a package of specific initiatives.      

We intend to hold a high-level thematic discussion to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. In addition, we will submit our traditional resolution, The Integrity of the Judicial System, which condemns arbitrary custodial detention without access to justice. Regrettably, this is still being practiced in some countries, above all, the United States.

In cooperation with Russian civil society, we will organise several events on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council session including a photo exhibition on the achievements of disabled Russians and persons with limited disabilities, a conference on Ukraine and the unacceptability of falsifying history. These are the key themes that we will work on during the upcoming session.

Question: During Human Rights Council sessions, Russian diplomats have always stood consistently and firmly for an unbiased approach to the human rights situation in one country or another and have opposed double standards in this area. Will Russian diplomacy pursue this line?

Gennady Gatilov: Our principled position on this issue remains unchanged. We believe that any human rights activity must, above all, serve people and promote respect for human dignity. Unfortunately, our Western partners constantly attempt to use the council to attain their own political and, as a rule, unseemly goals. We understand this and will, of course, take counter-measures and act proactively.

We cannot agree with using the issues of human rights as a means of attaining political goals and to exert pressure on uncooperative governments in order to eventually overthrow them or impose sanctions. The Human Rights Council is an organisation that must help countries adjust human rights mechanisms, rather than act as a punitive instrument.         

Question: Russia has always seen Geneva as a major center of multilateral forums and bilateral meetings. Will Geneva retain this status in the future? What meetings and talks have been scheduled for this year?

Gennady Gatilov: Of course, Geneva will retain this status. This is convenient in every way, so all countries eagerly send delegations to Geneva to hold, among other things, bilateral talks with their colleagues. In particular, the heads of Russian federal ministries handling relevant issues come to Geneva to attend UN-sponsored events and meet their foreign partners.   

Question: In recent years, the parliamentary dimension of international cooperation has gained importance. Geneva is the seat of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Russia’s representatives are involved in this. Please tell us about the upcoming IPU events.

Gennady Gatilov: We attach great importance to the activities of the IPU as a major international forum for promoting diplomacy at the parliamentary level. Russian delegations traditionally take part in its work. 

Last October, St Petersburg hosted the 137th IPU Assembly, which was attended by an unprecedented number of delegations, including 87 speakers of national parliaments. They approved a resolution proposed by our country, Sharing Our Diversity: The 20th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Democracy. Other assembly results included a proposal to designate June 30 as International Day of Parliamentarism, as the first IPU session was held on this day in 1889.

We will continue to be actively involved in IPU activities. The next IPU session will be held in Geneva on March 24−28, which is expected, in particular, to approve important resolutions, such as Sustaining Peace As a Vehicle for Achieving Sustainable Development and Engaging the Private Sector in Implementing Sustainable Development Goals, Especially on Renewable Energy. We expect the leaders of the State Duma and the Federation Council to attend the session.

Question: What is the outlook for the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, given that its work is being hampered by the differences among the member countries? What role should the forum play, in Russia’s view? 

Gennady Gatilov: Unfortunately, the conference has failed to make any progress for many years. Nonetheless, despite all the difficulties, the situation is not desperate. As the latest session of the conference has shown, the participants are becoming increasingly aware of the need to restore the normal operation of this body while they continue to look for a solution to this problem.

The input from our delegation in these efforts is considerable. During our chairmanship of the conference last year, we prepared a draft programme of work that shows a balanced approach to two main areas: nuclear disarmament and our initiative concerning the likely use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. These documents are still on the table of the conference and we expect action to finally be taken on them.

I would like to note that the recent approval of the decision to establish ad hoc bodies to thoroughly examine issues on the agenda with the aim of resuming negotiations can be viewed as an important move. It is a new turn in the activities of the Conference on Disarmament and we are looking forward to substantive talks in the future. The main thing now is to not mark time and use this concrete practical result, no matter how modest it is, to provide an impulse to the work of the conference.  

We believe that this shows very clearly that constructive dialogue and flexibility help the delegations find solutions acceptable to all.

Question: On February 1, La Tribune de Geneve, commenting on your new appointment, wrote that the arrival of “a heavyweight Russian diplomat bodes well for Geneva” because it demonstrated that Moscow was interested in this international forum. Do you agree with this comment?

Gennady Gatilov: I am flattered by these words but, frankly, I don’t associate my arrival and work here with an attempt to provide an additional impetus to the Geneva Office as this is already a forum in its own right and will remain so.

As for using other venues to hold international events, this only means that there is a multi-pronged approach that allows other cities and countries to make a contribution to the search for solutions to resolve serious conflicts. That said, I am sure that Geneva will remain a major centre for diplomatic efforts.  

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