Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, September 28, 2017
On October 6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will make an official visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan at the invitation of Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Kazakhstan (October 22, 1992).
During the talks, the ministers will discuss current issues of Russian-Kazakhstani strategic partnership and cooperation between the two countries within the framework of interstate associations such as the EAEU, CSTO, CIS, SCO, UN and OSCE.
Mr Lavrov will also attend the 4th Forum of MGIMO University Alumni.
Despite the endless attempts by extremists to disrupt the agreements that were reached during the International Meetings on Syria in Astana (IMSA) and to restart the cycle of violence, in general, the situation in the de-escalation zones is assessed as stable. The guarantor countries of the ceasefire regime – Russia, Turkey and Iran – maintain regular contacts in order to coordinate efforts to reduce the severity of the military and political situation provoked by offensive operations of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra) in Idlib.
In order to eliminate the emerging threat and prevent new provocations, the forces and resources of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Russian Navy are involved, which are tasked with stopping the terrorists and causing them maximum damage. These tasks are being successfully carried out. The terrorists are suffering serious losses in manpower and equipment.
The pinpoint airstrike in the area of Maarat al-Hurma in Idlib can serve as an example of the effectiveness of Russian military operations. And there are many such examples. The Russian Defence Ministry quickly provides relevant information. I recommend that you regularly visit the Defence Ministry’s official website, where exclusive materials are published.
We hear and take note of our Western partners’ statements that the elimination of ISIS in Syria remains the priority of their policy. We would like to believe it. This was repeatedly said by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. However, there can be only one criterion in this matter: the establishment of practical coordination and interaction in the fight against terrorists and honest and mutually respectful cooperation in facilitating a political settlement in Syria as soon as possible based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254. For our part, we are ready for this, as we have repeatedly said and confirmed in practice.
Improving the humanitarian situation in Syria remains the focus of our special attention. We call on all concerned parties who are not indifferent to the plight of the Syrian people to intensify humanitarian assistance to the affected Syrian population, to take urgent action to help restore Syria's civilian infrastructure and create conditions for the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.
For example, a disastrous situation has developed in the Rukban refugee camp, located in the so-called security zone arbitrarily established by the US military around al-Tanf in southern Syria. According to estimates, up to 60,000 people found shelter there. The camp has not received humanitarian aid for several months. Of course, this state of affairs is absolutely unacceptable.
Moscow took notice of the statement made by Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign and Expatriates Minister of Syria Walid al-Moallem that Damascus is ready to discuss the issue of self-governance with the Syrian Kurds after ISIS is finally defeated. We welcome and support the Syrian Government’s efforts to achieve national reconciliation and create comfortable conditions for the coexistence of members of various ethnic and religious groups in Syrian society within a united Syria.
A three-party humanitarian mechanism (Russia-UN-Syria) to facilitate humanitarian access began its work in Damascus.
Two meetings of the mechanism took place, on September 19 and 25, attended by representatives of the Syrian authorities and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, heads of the UN agencies based in Damascus and the leadership of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria. The parties discussed the issues of improving the procedure of sending convoys with humanitarian aid to the affected Syrian regions and simplifying humanitarian operations in the de-escalation zones. It was decided to develop specific proposals for better control over the distribution of humanitarian aid to the people in districts controlled by the armed opposition.
Participants of the three-party format count on significant practical results of its work in developing exact parameters of providing humanitarian convoys and establishing close cooperation between the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
We believe that the work of this new mechanism will help to improve the humanitarian situation in the country and to process requests for humanitarian assistance faster. It will also facilitate the activities of the Humanitarian Task Force functioning as part of the International Syria Support Group. This task force holds weekly meetings in Geneva, but unfortunately without Syrian representatives. The established mechanism will hopefully help to fill this gap.
The Ukrainian education law signed by President Poroshenko on September 25 violates the basic principles contained in the documents of the UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe, and violates Ukrainian obligations in these international organisations. As evidence I will cite examples and quote from international legal documents. In particular, the law violates the provisions of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 2), the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities (Article 14) and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (Article 8).
We call on the governments of all countries of the world to take effective measures to have it repealed.
We presume that the UN Council on Human Rights, the Consultation Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Expert Committee of European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and other relevant international agencies will immediately give their objective assessment of this legislation, if it can be called that.
The new legislative provisions are obviously at odds with the recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.
The High Commissioner’s 1996 Hague Recommendations regarding national minorities’ rights to education directly stipulate the rights of national minorities to study in their native language in primary, secondary, vocational and higher education. The document emphasises that “The right of persons belonging to national minorities to maintain their identity can only be fully realised if they acquire a proper knowledge of their mother tongue during the educational process.”
The 2012 Ljubljana Guidelines on Integration of Diverse Societies note that “states should respect the right of persons belonging to minorities to be taught their language or to receive instruction in this language.”
The right of national minorities to be educated in their native language was stipulated in the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document of the Conference on the Human Dimension and in the 1991 Report of the CSCE Meeting of Experts on National Minorities in Geneva. The importance of the aforementioned recommendations “on education, society involvement and language issues” at the intergovernmental level is recognised in the Document of the 11th OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Maastricht in 2003.
I would advise the Kiev authorities and officials to watch the film “Crimea” directed by Alexei Pimanov in order not to forget where ignoring the rights of their people to cultural identity can lead to. The first run of this film was held in Moscow yesterday. It is a work of art, but I believe it will help wake people up, especially those who approve such laws. History must teach us something. If events that took place just three years ago are already being forgotten in Kiev, watching “Crimea” would be a good refresher.
We noted that right after this draft resolution was submitted to the UN Security Council for discussion, and even earlier, when the Russian initiative was first suggested, it was, unfortunately, distorted by the Ukrainian media, cast in a totally different light than intended. The original idea was immediately twisted. That is why we return to this topic, to give a clear understanding of what the essence of this draft resolution has been and is now, as well as the thinking of the Russian side.
As is known, one serious problem to be solved in order to proceed with the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict is to provide security for OSCE observers. We have heard it many times, even from representatives of the Kiev regime. With this in view, on September 5 Russia proposed a draft resolution to the UN Security Council. It stipulates that an OSCE special monitoring mission (SMM) will continuously monitor the line of contact, and UN troops armed with light weapons will be deployed there for its protection.
On September 11, parameters of the UN Mission were discussed by President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
We think that the key point is that the UN Mission to provide security should not change the current settlement formats, such as the Contact Group and the Normandy Four, and should not compete with the OSCE SMM in the monitoring it is carrying out in accordance with the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Also, it is necessary to comply with a number of conditions to establish the Mission: 1) its functions are to be limited to providing security for OSCE staff; 2) the Mission can step in only after the disengagement of forces and the withdrawal of heavy weapons; 3) the agreement of all the parties to the conflict is necessary, both official Ukrainian authorities and the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR authorities. This is a clear position, which the Russian leadership has already presented. This is the basis of Russia’s approaches formulated in the draft resolution.
We believe that Ukrainian demands to deploy peacekeeping troops in the entire territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and above of all, as Kiev insists, along the entire border with Russia, as well as to give them a “full-force” mandate, will lead to the breakup of existing settlement formats and change the sequence of steps envisaged by the Package of Measures. I would like to remind you that, according to this document, Kiev regaining total control over the border is the final stage of the settlement, and is only be possible after fulfilling all the provisions of the Package, including the political provisions. I would also like to remind everyone what Kiev tries hard to forget: This document was signed by the Ukrainian leader.
On September 26, the Moldovan authorities once again refused a Russian media worker, in this case Darya Aslamova, a journalist with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, entry to the territory of their state. Despite the fact that she arrived at the invitation of President of Moldova Igor Dodon, she was literally detained, without the opportunity to take in the situation and to report in due course the violation of her rights, and was taken away.
We completely agree with Mr Dodon’s description of what happened as “the next hostile step of the Government (of Moldova) towards the Russian Federation.”
We immediately appealed to OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir for a professional assessment of the outrageous actions of the Moldovan authorities that undermine the fundamental principles of freedom of speech. We also sent a note to the Foreign Ministry of this country.
I would like to say that Darya Aslamova’s articles do not always seem to be “soft and fluffy” to the Russian Foreign Ministry as well. She can be quite outspoken. But at the same time, we treat her, first and foremost, as a media representative, a person professionally engaged in her activity, which is regulated by law, not by political considerations, internal political squabbles, or moreover, by the absolute permissiveness of people, who call themselves law enforcers, authorities, and so on. If there are complaints about journalists and their work, then they must be addressed in accordance with law – by writing rebuttals, giving interviews, inviting, explaining, showing and telling, but not acting as they do against Russian media representatives in a number of states. Unfortunately, this has become a very ugly trend.
We have taken note of numerous media reports about the United States’ intention to take steps to limit Russian observation flights over American territory in response to Russia’s alleged violations of the Open Skies Treaty (OST). I will tell you about the alleged violations and our response to these allegations.
As far as we can see, Washington blames Russia for three alleged violations.
First, Russia has imposed restrictions, allegedly unlawfully, on observation flights over the Kaliningrad Region. According to the United States, this precludes effective observation of Russia’s territory during the approved number of flights. Moreover, NATO countries have accused Russia of a desire to “conceal” military facilities near Kaliningrad from Open Skies cameras.
It is much simpler than this, though. Some of our partners, who have the right to make observation flights at a maximum distance of 5,500 kilometres, used this right over the Kaliningrad Region, flying over it far and wide, which created problems in the limited airspace of the region and hindered the operation of Khrabrovo International Airport. We did not manage to convince our partners to show a reasonable degree of restraint. This is why we had to minimise spending by restricting the maximum flight distance over the Kaliningrad Region to 500 kilometres. This is not contrary to the OST or the signatories’ subsequent decisions. I would like to point out that this has not changed the total flight distance of 5,500 km and hence coverage of Russia’s territory. The flight range of 500 km over the Kaliningrad Region is sufficient for observing any part of the region, even the most distant areas, during observation flights. In other words, this restriction has not affected observation effectiveness.
By the way, the United States did likewise when it restricted the distance of observation flights over the US pene-exclave, Alaska, which start on the continental part of American territory.
It gives me pleasure to listen to our American colleagues’ complaints, considering that they have assumed their positions only recently and are not aware of many details. We are willing to help them clarify the situation. They only need to ask.
Second, Russia has been accused of the unlawful denial to permit observation flights in the 10 kilometre border area of the so-called Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This problem is rooted in political differences. The Treaty says that “the flight path of an observation aircraft shall not be closer than ten kilometres from the border with an adjacent State that is not a State Party.” To Russia and several other states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia ceased to be “Georgian regions” back in 2008 (I am saying this for those of our US colleagues who assumed office only recently). They are sovereign states and hence the OST provision I have cited is fully applicable to them. The reasons for this are common knowledge. If some of our partners cannot accept the new political realities in the Caucasus, it is their problem, but definitely cannot be interpreted as an OST violation.
By the way, Georgia has closed its skies to Russian observation flights for political reasons, which is a clear and gross violation of the key OST provision. However, our Western partners have closed their eyes to this and have not criticised Georgia for this.
Third, Russia has been accused of overusing the force majeure provision to change the coordinated plans of observation flights due to flights made by the country’s leaders in close proximity to the planned paths of observation flights.
This is the most absurd allegation of all, because we have used the above provision only once since the OST was adopted in 2002, several years ago. We subsequently discussed this matter with our partners and it was agreed that the priority for state leaders’ flights, which other states party also observe, can be coordinated without invoking the force majeure provision. The matter seemed to have been settled and laid to rest. However, they are still tempted to present as many complaints against Russia as possible even if the substantiation is completely nonsensical.
Why are they doing this? On the one hand, they probably want to distract public attention from the really serious OST violations by the United States, its allies and wards. There have been very many such violations, enough for a whole page. The most flagrant of them concern direct or indirect restrictions on observation flights over the entire territory or whole regions of some member states. However, Washington prefers not to notice these violations.
Another reason could be the negative attitude of some Congressmen and the US military and political establishment to the Open Skies Treaty itself.
Anyway, Washington’s attitude bodes ill for the OST, as we have told our partners.
Regarding media reports about the potential countermeasures, which the United States is considering to complicate Russian observation flights over US territory, we will analyse them, including for compliance with the OST. We will analyse them and then we will take a decision on appropriate response measures, because nobody has cancelled the principle of reciprocity in international affairs. It is far from clear what the United States stands to gain. Anyway, Washington will definitely not see any unilateral advantages.
I would like to say in conclusion that confrontation is not our choice. We suggest that our American partners stop before taking the plunge into yet another chasm of measures and countermeasures, stop before the measures they have announced come into effect and instead launch a politically impartial search for mutually acceptable solutions to OST issues. This, of course, should be based on respect for the concerns and interests of all parties rather than only the United States.
We consider the situation in Catalonia Spain’s own domestic affair. We believe that the matter concerning Catalan should develop strictly in keeping with the current Spanish legislation.
As for the so-called referendum on Catalan independence scheduled for October 1 by the Catalan authorities, as well as other unilateral initiatives of local legislators, we consider those in the context of the respective decisions of the Constitutional Court of Spain.
In our relations with Spain, we derive from the unconditional principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country.
I would also like to draw your attention, and repeat once again that we have already commented on this subject in detail, and I would also like to point out the relevant statements made by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.
This year marks the 120th anniversary of Russia’s diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Thailand, dating back to an agreement reached on July 3, 1897, during King Rama V’s visit to Russia.
An interdepartmental working group formed at the Government’s request has prepared a plan of celebratory events. In July, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries exchanged messages; an exhibition of archival documents and material on the history of bilateral relations opened at the Russian Foreign Ministry, and an anniversary postage stamp was released cooperatively by the two countries.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a working visit to Thailand in August in connection with the anniversary. In late September − early October, Thai princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the younger sister of the King of Thailand, is expected to visit our country.
In September, the Yekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theater company performed in Bangkok as part of the cultural programme planned for the anniversary. In October, the traditional Thai Khon theatre is to perform in St Petersburg.
The packed agenda of the celebrations for Russian-Thai relations demonstrates the mutual desire to further strengthen the multifaceted cooperation, mutual understanding and longstanding friendly ties between the peoples of the two countries.
On September 23−24, in accordance with the agreement between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe a direct charter flight flew to the south Kuril Islands of Kunashir and Iturup. It carried former Japanese residents of these islands providing them with an opportunity to visit the graves of their relatives. The Japanese participants were split into two groups, one for Kunashir, the other for Iturup.
The trip was originally expected to take place within a single day, and both groups were to return to Japan on the evening of September 23. However, the weather interfered. Due to unfavourable weather conditions, the plane that took off from Iturup with one Japanese group aboard could not land on Kunashir, and had to be diverted to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where it landed. The government of the Sakhalin Region provided the Japanese group with hotel accommodation and food. Accordingly, the other Japanese group stayed on Kunashir in the House of Russian-Japanese Friendship. Even though weather conditions remained quite challenging the next day, the plane landed on Kunashir, and eventually both Japanese groups returned safely to Hokkaido.
This flight proves once again Russia’s good will and attention to humanitarian issues related to the former Japanese residents of the South Kurils, and its commitment to the agreements reached by the leaders of the two countries.
On September 18−22, a number of cities in northern Italy hosted the Days of Moscow, which were a big success. The Moscow Government played a key role in organising this initiative, including many cultural events, as well as meetings with municipal officials and businesses in Venice (September 18), Bolzano (September 19), Milan (September 19−21), and Genoa (September 22).
The Days of Moscow featured concerts by Vladimir Spivakov’s Virtuosos of Moscow Orchestra, the Turetsky Choir, performances by the Moscow Cadet Musical Corp, film screenings, photo exhibitions, presentations on Moscow tourism and the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia.
As I read this report, I feel that the expression on my face changes, since all this gives me great pleasure. I think that there should be more events of this kind.
Special attention was paid to sports and youth events, including a simultaneous exhibition game by Anatoly Karpov (in Milan), friendly football matches with youth teams in Milan and Genoa and basketball games in Venice. Milan and Venice hosted business forums with presentations on Moscow’s economic and investment potential.
During meetings with Moscow Government representatives local municipal officials were united in calling for stronger ties with the Russian capital in various areas, and businesses confirmed their commitment to stepping up trade and economic ties with Russia and implementing investment projects on its territory. Our Italian partners at all levels demonstrated their friendly attitude towards Russia, and called for lifting sanctions against Russia and restoring full cooperation without delay.
On September 19−21, Tallinn hosted the traditional St Petersburg Meetings with the participation of a large delegation of the St Petersburg Administration. During the delegation’s stay in the Estonian capital, the sides discussed a number of practical issues of mutual interest, primarily in the area of culture, education and sport, information technology, housing and utilities, and urban development.
This is the 17th event to date, and it proves convincingly that both sides are interested in expanding constructive Russia-Estonia interregional cooperation, despite the Tallinn authorities’ attempts to instil a hostile attitude towards Russia in society.
As you know, Washington has once again stated and shown that it has absolutely no regard for the free democratic expression of people’s will if it runs contrary to the US beliefs. The US State Department once again discussed in a public statement the “occupation” of Crimea, whose residents had decided their future by an overwhelming majority of votes in a nationwide referendum three years ago. The referendum took place following an unconstitutional coup in Ukraine.
This time, the US State Department used a Simferopol court verdict in the case of Nikolai Semena as a pretext for this rebuke. This person, who cooperated with the American propaganda machine, received a 36-month suspended sentence for advocating the peninsula’s blockade with the use of force. We are talking about calls for a blockade. You know what a blockade means, and Crimea has already experienced an energy blockade with all the ensuing consequences. All of us recall its results, and the amount of resources it took to return the peninsula back to normal. Such calls are absolutely illegal from the standpoint of international law. Many documents that have been signed by leading countries equate calls for a blockade, as well as energy, food or any other blockade, with terrorist attacks. I repeat, the US State Department has failed to take note of his call to blockade his compatriots, as if it never happened. It appears that our partners are upset over this verdict because it deprived them of an opportunity to make additional statements about the severity of punishment. In fact, many experts considered the verdict to be lenient. I would like to point out that if similar calls for blockading any state in the United States, any US territory or population group were made in the United States, the perpetrator would not get away with a suspended sentence. He or she would receive a real and long prison term.
Once again we are witnessing another persistent US attempt to interfere in our domestic affairs, to tell the courts what they should do, and how this country should implement its domestic policies. To be honest, it is hard to understand why the United States believes it possible to meddle in the life of other states.
We have repeatedly commented on the attitude towards the Russian media and journalists among politicians, other officials and security agencies in the United States.
The United States demands that the company which provides services to RT America in the US register as a foreign agent. On the one hand, this is clearly a policy of double standards. It could be categorised as one, if the situation wasn’t in fact far more serious, multilayered and complex.
The point is that all the demands placed on RT and Sputnik contradict the principles of freedom of speech, which are promoted by the US.
First, the selective and clearly politically motivated application of law to Russian media would imply a restriction of the freedom of speech – the freedom guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Second, the application of FARA to RT may lead to serious legal consequences and pose risks to employees’ security. The obligation to disclose the channel’s corporate data, including – I want to stress this – the staff list and employees’ personal information, may constitute an actual threat in the current witch-hunt climate in the United States.
Third, the accusations that Russia Today in spreading Russian propaganda began after the publication of a report by the US intelligence community on interference in the election, a report that was not supported by evidence. In this report, Russia Today is mentioned over 100 times but there is not a single siting of proof of interference in the elections. That is, there is not a single item of the so-called fake news distributed by the Russian television channel in the US. They couldn’t find one. It just doesn’t exist. It’s another matter if there was something they didn’t like. Still, they could not provide any evidence to support the accusations.
Fourth, regular attacks on the network by western leaders and organisations loyal to them have particularly intensified in the past years. Thus, the Atlantic Council, which has close ties with NATO, published a report in which it recommended Poland to include Russia Today in the list of potential targets for cyberattacks. The same organisation is lobbying to include Russia Today in the list of foreign agents.
Fifth, a huge number of Russian-language information sources, including those in the US that have an audience in Russia, receive funding from the US. However, so far they have not been qualified as foreign agents; they withhold their sources of funding and do not register as foreign agents.
In summary, I would like to say that Russia complies with all international regulations and laws regarding the freedom of speech, which it has proven many times. When fights without rules begin, the law is distorted and used as a tool for ruining a television company, every step against Russian media will have a proportionate response. Washington should figure out carefully who the target of this response might be. The clock is ticking.
September 30 is, unfortunately, one of the most tragic days in world history. On this day in 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his French counterpart, Edouard Daladier, met with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich to sign an agreement that later became known as the Munich Betrayal, on the annexation of Czechoslovak regions designated as Sudetenland. The presence of Czechoslovak representatives during the signing ceremony was a pure formality. They were pressured to sign. Poland and Hungary also took part in the unceremonious parcelling of Czechoslovakia.
In terms of historical research, the Munich Betrayal is viewed as de facto capitulation by Western countries to the emerging power of Nazism. Having refused to combine their efforts with the USSR in countering National Socialism, the leaders of major Western European powers opted for a tactic which consisted of appeasing the aggressor, thinking that this would fend off the threat and direct Germany’s military machine to the East. On the same day of September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler also separately drafted a non-aggression pact, and France signed a similar declaration with Germany three months later on December 6.
It was the Munich Betrayal that enabled Adolf Hitler to unleash World War II that resulted in a global catastrophe and brought untold suffering to humankind, especially to the peoples of the former USSR, who sacrificed almost 30 million lives to fighting the brown plague.
All progressive forces of the world had to go to great lengths and an anti-Nazi coalition had to be put together to push back the aggressor, defeat Hitler and liberate Europe. The Nuremberg Tribunal declared the misanthropic ideology and practice of Nazism a crime.
We believe that the events of September 30, 1938 must serve as an eternal reminder of the consequences of politically manipulating public opinion, flirting with Nazism, and the infantile pandering to neo-Nazism, which is unfortunately reappearing in new forms in Europe.
Question: Rosneft will hold their annual general meeting in St Petersburg tomorrow. Former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroeder could be elected chairman of the oil company’s board of directors. What can you say on this matter?
Maria Zakharova: It has nothing to do with the Foreign Ministry.
Question: There is much controversy about this in the German media.
Maria Zakharova: The German media must be very busy discussing such a matter. However, it has nothing to do with the Foreign Ministry of Russia.
Question: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on the South Caucasus recalled during a visit to Azerbaijan the other day that the OSCE Minsk Group would mark its 25th anniversary in 2018 and that its composition could be reconsidered in this connection. At the same time, the United States has announced the termination of the positions of special ambassadors on Nagorno-Karabakh at the OSCE Minsk Group. Could you comment on this, please?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information about any of these changes. I will request expert information and report back to you.
As for Russia’s role in settling this conflict and the fundamentals of our position on it, they have not changed.
Question: We would like to know when Ambassador at Large Oleg Burmistrov will hold talks with Choe Son Hui, Director of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry Department on North America, who will visit Moscow, as well as where they will meet plus what they will talk about. What is the goal of these talks?
Maria Zakharova: Ambassador at Large Oleg Burmistrov will hold consultations with Choe Son Hui, Director of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry Department of North American Affairs, in Moscow on September 29. They will exchange opinions on the situation on the Korean Peninsula as well as in Northeast Asia.
This is all I can tell you before the talks, but after they have taken place you will be able to learn more from the press release we will post on the ministry’s website.
Question: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that the US administration does not want to defeat ISIS in Syria. According to him, the United States wants above all to prevent the Syrian government from regaining control over the border with Iraq. He pointed out that Tehran wants to see a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and added that Iran’s goals differ from those of the United States. Will you comment on this please?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the difference in US and Iran’s goals in Syria, this is a question for Iran, because this opinion has been expressed by the Iranian Foreign Minister in his comments on differences in the approaches of Tehran and Washington.
I have already explained Russia’s attitude to the Syrian settlement and our concerns or differences with the American partners. We proceed from the premise that the US counterterrorist activities correspond to the declared US counterterrorist goals. We hope that this is so, because this is how it should be. As for Tehran’s position, you should ask Tehran.
Question: As far as I know, President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have agreed at their meeting that one more business mission would be sent to the Kuril Islands. Can you tell us when this may take place?
Maria Zakharova: As you know, a large plan has been coordinated, and it is being implemented. I will have to ask about the precise date though.
Question: My question also concerns the planned visit by the Director of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry Department of North American Affairs to Russia. Radio Free Asia has reported today that representatives from the North Korean Foreign Ministry will meet with US experts in October, and that Choe Son Hui is expected to attend this meeting. What would Russia like to convey to the North Korean partners at the talks tomorrow ahead of the upcoming North Korean-US meeting?
Maria Zakharova: I have told you everything I could about tomorrow’s meeting. We will post information on its results later on. You know about our attitude to a settlement on the Korean Peninsula: it has not changed either.
It has been written that tomorrow’s meeting will be secret or clandestine. As you know, it is nothing like this. I have spoken about this meeting right now, and besides, in the past few days we confirmed this meeting in answers to media questions. However, media are not invited to take photographs at such talks. Such meetings, that is, the ones held at the level of experts, usually do not include official photo opportunities.
Question: The Turkish media have reported the kidnapping of two Russian colonels, citing sources in Deir ez-Zor. Do you have any information about this?
Maria Zakharova: I saw these reports before the meeting but I can’t either corroborate or refute them. They have to be verified.
Question: A representative of the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq Khoshavi Babakr said that if Turkey blocked shipments of oil from the region through its territory, Russia would help sell their oil. Would you comment on this? Has Russia recognised the results of the [recent] referendum in Iraq?
Maria Zakharova: As for the referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, first, I’d like to draw your attention to our extensive comment posted on the Foreign Ministry website on September 27. It says that an independence referendum was held in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region – both in the region itself and in the neighbouring areas in the Iraqi provinces of Diyala, Nineveh and Taamim, which are controlled by Kurdish militants.
According to preliminary results, over 90 percent of those who voted in the referendum are in favour of independence. As we understand, the final count of the votes finished earlier today. I believe the final results will agree with the preliminary figures.
In connection with this referendum, Russia has announced its position of principle, which is the importance and necessity to avoid anything that can further complicate or destabilise the situation in the Middle East, where there are already too many conflicts. We remain committed to supporting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq and other Middle East countries.
Moscow respects the national aspirations of the Kurdish people. We believe that all disputes between Iraq’s federal authorities and the leadership of the autonomous Kurdistan region can and must be solved through constructive and respectful dialogue that seeks to develop a mutually acceptable formula for co-existence within a unified Iraq.
I’d like to add that we’re watching the situation closely to keep up with the events in that country. Of course, we’ll immediately comment on any changes or developments in the situation.
As for your question about oil, I haven’t seen any statements like this. I believe that it is Russia who should speak out on its behalf. I don’t think we should take these statements for granted.
Question: My question has to do with the demolition of a mausoleum at the mass grave in the city of Trzcianka (Greater Poland Voivodeship). The mausoleum was demolished several weeks ago, but the Polish authorities continue to assert that there was no mass grave there, and that exhumation was carried out, and the place is only symbolic. This is not true. Just two days ago, NewsBalt, a Russian media outlet operating in Kaliningrad, published official Polish documents that date back to 1953, specifically, Protocol 13. The information came from Memorial, a society the Polish authorities respect. Under Protocol 13, this was the burial site for 53 Red Army tankmen.
The mausoleum is no more, but the grave is still there. According to the latest reports from this Polish city (which used to be a German town), grass has already been planted there. Is there any legal mechanism to influence the Polish authorities?
Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry, as well as the Russian Embassy in Warsaw have already commented on this incident. As you know, there are agreements to this effect with Poland. However, Poland does not abide by them, and manipulates information as well as data. I will seek expert advice. There are various options. It is a question of a legal opinion on the relevant agreements (mostly in terms of compliance). Political action can also be taken, from diplomatic steps and statements, to highlighting this matter on international platforms.
I think that all this is related to the new initiative announced by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week in his statement at the UN General Assembly General Debate. He proposed drafting some kind of an international instrument for regulating matters related to monuments and their demolition. The idea was aired, but our efforts will not stop just there. This is only the beginning. We are currently working on framing this initiative so that it develops into a document.
Let me reiterate that I will seek a legal opinion on compliance with the relevant agreement.
Question: The parliament in Japan has been recently dissolved, and a snap election is to take place on October 22. What is Russia’s perspective on the future of joint economic activity (on Kuril Islands) in case Shinzo Abe’s government resigns after the election?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that domestic policy is Japan’s internal affair. We are currently working proactively with our Japanese colleagues and are consistent in implementing all the agreements signed by the leaders of our countries.