Fact-checking at UN: Kerry blasts Moscow for statements it did not make
“I listened to my colleague from Russia and I sort of felt like we're in a parallel universe here,” Kerry said in a fiery 28-minute speech at the 71st UN General Assembly session in New York on Wednesday. He pointed to the differing accounts regarding the conflict in Syria, where Russia and the US have been working together on facilitating a ceasefire.
The outburst was caused by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s call made at the UN to re-launch an intra-Syrian political dialogue “without preconditions and ultimatums.” Kerry lashed out at the Russian FM, saying that the only thing the US demands is a ceasefire and that he does not consider it a precondition. “In each place, the International Syria Support Group, and here in the Security Council, the Security Council embraced a ceasefire applicable to all parties. That’s not a precondition. That’s an international agreement. “Four times, countries have said, ‘We will do this,’ and four times, it’s been shredded by independent actors, by spoilers who don’t want a ceasefire,” Kerry said.
However, the ceasefire has been violated twice within the past few days, with the US-led coalition accepting responsibility for one of those violations – the bombing of Syrian government forces’ positions near the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor that took place on Saturday and saw 62 troops killed and over 100 more wounded.
“Yes, the coalition did hit people on Saturday,” Kerry said. “We did it, a terrible accident. And within moments of it happening, we acknowledged it. We didn’t put out a bunch of obfuscating facts. We said, yeah, it’s a terrible thing, it happened. [The US] Defense Department apologized and we tried to find out how that happened. But I got to tell you, people running around with guns on the ground, from the air, is a very different thing from trucks in a convoy with big UN markings all over them,” the US diplomat continued.
Kerry was referring to the UN aid convoy destroyed on its way to the embattled city of Aleppo on Monday. He then proceeded to outline the ‘facts’ that are known about the convoy attack, which sparked a blame-game among the parties involved in the Syrian conflict.
“Just think about what happened in the last couple of days. First, President Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, claims that the attack on the humanitarian convoy was somehow a necessary response to an alleged offensive by Al-Nusra elsewhere in the country. That’s the first claim,” Kerry said.
However, contrary to Kerry’s wording, the first statement from the Kremlin spokesman was that Russia does not want to draw “unfounded conclusions” and would wait for the military investigation to bear results. “I do not think it is possible and correct to make unfounded conclusions. At the moment, our military is checking information regarding the airstrike and I hope they are getting concrete information from first-hand sources that were present in order to present their own findings,” Peskov said on Monday.
Kerry addded that following Peskov’s alleged statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the aid convoy had been accompanied by militants in a pickup truck with a mortar.
“We’ve seen no evidence of that,” Kerry said, despite the fact that on Tuesday the Russian military released a video from one of its monitoring drones in Syria, in which militants driving a pickup with a mortar are seen riding alongside the line of aid trucks, even stopping right next to one of them.
“The video clearly shows how the terrorists are relocating a pickup truck with a large-caliber mortar,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov previously said.
Kerry went on to say that “the Defense Ministry [then] switched completely and it denied Russia’s involvement.” However, the secretary of state’s rhetoric again contradicted the facts, as Moscow never said Russian jets carried out airstrikes at the site. Indeed, the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement on Tuesday read: “Russian and Syrian warplanes did not carry out any airstrikes on a UN humanitarian aid convoy in the southwest of Aleppo.”
Furthermore, the Defense Ministry says that a US coalition drone was in the vicinity of the aid convoy at the time of the incident. According to the Russian military, the unmanned aircraft was a Predator drone, a US unmanned aerial vehicle which carries Hellfire missiles, used for targeted assassinations and deployed by the United States in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and now in Syria.
“The object was in the area around the town of Urm Al-Kubra, where the convoy was a few minutes before it caught fire,” Konashenkov said on Wednesday.
Former US intelligence officer for the Middle East Elizabeth Murray believes untenable allegations from US officials are complicating the peace process in Syria.
“[Kerry] keeps saying that there are indications of Russia’s involvement in what happened in Syria, we keep hearing these vague notions but what we don’t have is evidence,” Murray told RT.
“I’m very concerned at the rhetoric that’s ratcheting up the tensions. Russia and the US have just signed an agreement for peace in Syria and now all of a sudden that’s just been blown apart.
“It is really quite concerning – the war-mongering rhetoric and building-up of a lack of trust when we were at the precipice of peace. We need to walk back the rhetoric and resume peace negotiations,” she added.
Despite Kerry’s allegations, neither the UN nor NATO has rushed to make conclusions or file accusations regarding the aid convoy attack. On Tuesday, UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said the organization is “not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes” that hit the convoy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg refrained from accusing any side of carrying out the attack, saying he should “get the facts” first in a brief interview to RT’s Ilya Petrenko, as he emerged from a meeting with Lavrov on Wednesday. “I will not speculate about that. It’s important to get the facts and to find out how this could happened, but I won’t speculate,” he said, praising the talks with Lavrov as “frank” and “useful.”
“It just underlines importance of an effective ceasefire, unhindered access for aid workers and, of course, lasting and sustainable political negotiated peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria,” he added, echoing Lavrov’s calls to galvanize the stalled reconciliation process in Syria.