Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 15, 2019
- Act of terror in New Zealand
- Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Algeria Ramtane Lamamra’s visit to Moscow
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Conference on Disarmament
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to San Marino
- A meeting of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad
- A meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund
- Fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia
- Ukrainian authorities raise obstacles to visiting some districts in Donetsk and Lugansk regions
- Update on Kirill Vyshinsky
- Syria update
- Child deaths at the Rukban refugee camp in Syria
- Foreign terrorist fighters remaining in Syria and Iraq
- Presentations by Maxim Grigoriev, director of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy, a Russian NGO
- Venezuela update
- Current developments in Afghanistan
- Rising tension in northern Kosovo
- The publication of the White Book of Western States’ Violations of Human Rights Standards under the Pretext of Fighting Terrorism and Other Criminal Challenges and Threats
- Meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear programme
- Aggravating persecution of Russian community representatives in Lithuania
- Demolition of a monument in Sarnice (Poland)
- Update on Konstantin Yaroshenko
- Update on Russian sailors detained in Cabo Verde
- Russia-West relations before and after Crimea’s accession to Russia
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Repatriation of Russian citizens
- Russian Foreign Ministry comments on non-admission of Russian citizens to Azerbaijan
- Kurdish question in context of Syrian settlement
- Russia’s involvement in drafting the Syrian Constitution
- Talks with Kurdish side on evacuation of captive terrorists and their family members
- Possibility of exchanging Russian citizens imprisoned in Ukraine for Ukrainian citizens imprisoned in Russia
- Developments related to Paul Whelan’s detention
- Developments related to Maria Butina’s detention
- Korean settlement
- Russia’s calls for softening sanctions on North Korea
- Political developments in Algeria
- CIA’s influence on US foreign policies
- Nature of Russian and US foreign policies
- Interview by UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow
- Fate of Russian citizen Maria Lazareva imprisoned in Kuwait
- Parliamentary elections in Moldova
- Mine found in US embassy employee’s luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport
- JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford’s preventive nuclear strike statement
- Russian foreign policy’s preferable conflict settlement principle
An act of terror in which dozens of people were killed was committed in a mosque in New Zealand.
President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the leaders of New Zealand.
We are shocked by this horrific crime. On behalf of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation we also express our deep sorrow and support for the people of New Zealand.
According to reports received in the last hour, the victims did not include any Russian citizens. As for the Foreign Ministry, our diplomats continue monitoring the situation in New Zealand. We will pass on any additional information as it becomes available.
On March 19, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria Ramtane Lamamra.
Algeria is a key partner in Africa and the Arab world. The approaches of Russia and Algeria to most international and regional issues are close or identical, which was again confirmed during Mr Lavrov’s talks with representatives of the Algerian leadership, which took place during his working visit to Algeria at the end of this January. Our countries are united by a commitment to the peaceful settlement of conflicts, non-interference in the affairs of other states, and promoting stability and a balance of interests in international relations, while always respecting the UN's central role and the norms and principles of international law, including the right of nations to decide their destiny themselves without any outside interference.
We have developed mutually beneficial bilateral ties on a large scale, including trade and economic ties, as well as defence industry and humanitarian ties, which we intend to further consolidate in line with the letter and spirit of the 2001 Declaration on Strategic Partnership.
We hope to continue our engaged and productive discussion of all major issues related to the development of our bilateral cooperation in various fields.
We also hope to receive first-hand information on potential developments in the friendly nation of Algeria in the context of the recent decision to change the date of the presidential election in that country.
On March 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. In his address to this major forum on disarmament talks he will set forth Russia’s approaches to the key issues of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation in the context of recent developments in this area. Mr Lavrov will pay significant attention to the work of the conference itself and the task of resuming its negotiating activities.
The Russian Federation is making a major contribution to breaking the stalemate in the work of the CD. In 2016, Russia initiated the drafting at this venue of an international convention on countering acts of chemical and biological terror. This idea received broad international support. It does not impinge on the interests of any country and its implementation would help close the gaps in international law on countering terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction. We hope that all interested states will join the practical work on the Russian initiative.
The elaboration of a legally binding multilateral instrument on preventing an arms race in outer space remains Russia’s priority at the CD. It should be based on the Russia-China draft treaty on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space and the use of force or its threat as regards space vehicles.
The purposeful steps the United States has taken recently toward deploying weapons in space, including the formation of a space-based missile defence array, confirm the increasing urgency and importance of international efforts to counter such irresponsible plans. We hope for an early start of talks on this issue at the CD since it is vital for maintaining international security and strategic stability.
On March 21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to the Republic of San Marino at the invitation of the receiving side. Mr Lavrov is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State (Minister) for Foreign Affairs, Political Affairs and Justice Nicola Renzi and to address the Grand and General Council (parliament) of San Marino.
The parties will share their views on the current state of bilateral cooperation and prospects for its further development as well as some topical international issues. They will also discuss their interaction within the UN and European organisations of which both countries are members.
On March 25, the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad will hold a regular meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry. The meeting will be chaired by Sergey Lavrov.
Meeting participants will discuss progress in the implementation of the state programme to assist voluntary resettlement to the Russian Federation of compatriots living abroad.
The discussion will also include an analysis of the practices of the executive bodies of the Russian regions in 2018 in implementing the state policy regarding compatriots living abroad.
The Russian World Foundation will share information on its activities in supporting compatriots in 2017-2018 and its priorities for 2019.
The commission members will approve a concept for holding the world thematic conference of compatriots to be held in Moscow next October-November.
On March 27, the Board of Trustees of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund will hold its annual meeting, chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to take stock of the organisation’s performance in 2018, discuss its plans for the future and outline a list of priority activities for 2020.
The Gorchakov Fund was established in 2010, following the Russian President’s directive to support public diplomacy, involve NGOs in international cooperation and engage civil society institutions in foreign policy processes.
On March 18, 2014 Crimea was accepted as an inalienable part of the Russian Federation. For us, the issue of Crimea has been settled once and for all because its reunification with Russia was the result of the free expression of the will of the population at the referendum that was held in line with international legal standards and was a great triumph of democracy.
The strategic line of the so-called “collective West”, which consists of undermining Russia’s growing might and standing on foreign policy matters, has fully revealed itself in the situation around Crimea. Having supported the unconstitutional seizure of power by force in Kiev, our Western “partners” were obviously dispirited by their failure to draw Crimea in their orbit of influence, along with Ukraine, turning it into a kind of NATO aircraft carrier in the Black Sea. The patriotic feelings of the Crimeans did not allow these plans to materialise. Illegal sanctions were imposed in revenge – sectoral, individual and political sanctions, as well as other restrictions, including “visa discrimination.” I’m referring to the EU restrictions on Crimeans who made their choice in 2014. This is, of course, a graphic illustration of the policy of double standards and discrimination.
However, despite all attempts to isolate it, Crimea is one of Russia’s most dynamically developing regions with one of the highest growth rates in the country. The federal targeted programme for the socio-economic development of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to 2022 is being successfully carried out. One of its main aims is to raise the standard of living of Crimeans to the national average. Key sectors of the Crimean economy are developing dynamically, the regional budget is steadily growing, the construction industry is on the upswing, infrastructure is being upgraded. The potential of the spa, resort and tourist sector, which is the trademark of the peninsula, is being revived – Crimea is the leading domestic destination for tourism.
Special attention is paid to social issues, supporting harmonious ethnic and religious relations and ensuring human rights, including the rights of minorities. Crimeans have seen for themselves that their right to speak their native tongue (be it Russian, Crimean Tatar or Ukrainian) has not just been avowed but is enshrined in the Constitution and, most important, it is possible in practice.
Crimea is being steadily integrated into the Russian economic space. The problem of electricity supply has been resolved. To end energy dependence on Ukraine, Russia built and put into service high capacity thermal power stations. Transport links with Russia’s mainland have been created and logistics opportunities have substantially increased: last year auto traffic was launched on the Crimean Bridge built in record time and regular railway service across the bridge will begin before the end of the year. Passenger traffic has grown with the introduction of the new terminal of Simferopol International Airport. The Tavrida motorway of federal significance is under construction.
Active steps are being taken to involve Crimea in projects of international cooperation. Contacts with representatives of foreign political and business circles and public organisations are expanding. The Yalta annual international economic forum testifies to the development of Crimea’s foreign economic ties. This year the forum will gather hundreds of domestic and foreign entrepreneurs. Alongside the St Petersburg, Eastern and Sochi forums, the Yalta forum is one of Russia’s top four international economic and business venues.
An unbiased observer who really wants to know the truth about Crimea can see for himself what achievements the peninsula has made and what problems it still has to resolve. This stands in stark contrast with the situation in the Ukrainian period when many socio-economic problems of Crimea went unresolved for decades or were sometimes simply ignored, while the entire infrastructure was inexorably falling into decline.
The important changes that have happened, the stable socio-economic progress and durable peace in multi-ethnic Crimea confirm that the Crimeans were right when they made a historic choice to return to their home port five years ago.
We took notice of the interest displayed recently by many European politicians, MPs and representatives of international organisations in visiting certain districts in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions so as to have a personal perspective of the situation in the region.
However, as far as we know, the Ukrainian authorities impede such trips under the pretext of security concerns, among other things. Meanwhile, they willingly take foreign visitors to the Ukrainian-controlled side of the contact line. The same applies to most media representatives: they have not been allowed to the DPR and LPR for a long time.
In essence, reports by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) are the only source of information for the international community about the situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. With due respect for this agency, this monopolistic view does not encourage objectivity. For example, we have been pressing the SMM for some time to publish a report on civilian casualties in the Donbass conflict starting from 2014. We are confident that the Mission does have the data, however, it prefers to release reports on gender and other issues.
Obstacles created by Kiev to impede visiting certain areas in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions keep the true situation in the DPR and LPR off the radar. In fact, we are watching another manifestation of the blockade of Donbass, the sabotage of the implementation of the Package of Measures and attempts to conceal the real situation in the region, where civilians continue to die due to the conflict that has been ongoing for several years.
We call on the parties to the conflict – Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk – to ensure proper conditions for SMM activities on both sides of the contact line and also to provide opportunities to foreign politicians, MPs, international agencies and the media for visiting the region. We are confident that this will contribute to obtaining a true picture of the situation on the ground and of the progress, if any, in implementing the Minsk Package of Measures.
I am often asked why we single out the Vyshinsky case among many others. We do not. But I think this symbolises the lawlessness currently reigning in Ukraine. This is not “a particular case,” from the point of view that we talk about some individuals and not about others. It is an illustration of what can be done to a person who never participated in combat actions and was never complicit in any illegal activity.
The Ukrainian court once again extended the detention of the head of the RIA Novosti-Ukraine website Kirill Vyshinsky, who was arrested on the absurd and false charges of high treason and other criminal offences.
A country that aspires to a worthy place among the European family of nations is persecuting a journalist for the sole reason of being a journalist, reviving classical totalitarian practices.
We stress again that the Kiev regime openly and malignantly violates Ukraine’s international commitments regarding freedom of the media. We call once again on relevant international agencies and NGOs to step up pressure on the Ukrainian authorities in this regard.
For our part, we will continue to monitor developments regarding Kirill Vyshinsky as well as other Russian nationals who are being illegally detained in Ukraine, and we will use all means available to us for their prompt release and return home.
We continue to closely monitor developments in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Terrorist fighters from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance affiliated with al-Nusra, persist with their provocative attacks against government troops. More than 460 incidents of this kind were reported since the beginning of the year, leaving more than 30 people killed and some 100 wounded. On March 12, terrorists carried out a massive attack involving suicide bombers against the positions held by the Syrian army in northern Hama province. In addition to this, several civilians have been killed recently after communities in northern Latakia and in western Aleppo were shelled. The Syrian army returned fire, destroying Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s strongholds in northern Hama and in southern Idlib. We are concerned with the incoming reports of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham fighters, together with the infamous White Helmets, preparing new stage-managed incidents involving toxic agents in order to blame the government forces for using chemical weapons. Terrorists are hiding ordnances for these attacks in arms caches across Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia and Hama provinces.
Kurdish units of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operating on the east bank of the Euphrates have resumed their efforts to take over the last ISIS stronghold in Baghuz, Deir ez-Zor province. The SDF is getting air support from the so-called international anti-ISIS coalition led by the US. According to media reports, on March 11, about 50 civilians were killed and dozens sustained wounds of varying degrees of severity in an indiscriminate air strike against Baghuz, when these people, mostly women and children, were trying to get out of the so-called Baghuz pocket.
Apart from casualties among local civilians, carpet bombing of Baghuz has also resulted in more people arriving to camps of internally displaced persons (IDPs) located on the east bank of the Euphrates. In particular, according to UN data, there are already more than 65,000 people in al-Hawl camp that we mentioned on a number of occasions during our briefings. It has to be mentioned that this facility is designed for temporary accommodation and lacks the resources to satisfy the needs of people arriving there. As a result, the al-Hawl camp is overcrowded, and suffers from poor sanitation. More than 100 people died there due to unsatisfactory conditions, and two-thirds of these people were children, many of whom died from hypothermia. All in all, we note further deterioration of the already complicated humanitarian situation in this camp.
The third Brussels Conference, Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, was held yesterday March 14) under the EU and UN auspices.
Russia used the Brussels conference as a platform for explaining to all responsible members of the international community the damage caused by unilateral sanctions imposed by a number of Western countries against Damascus. These sanctions did nothing except worsen the humanitarian situation in Syria.
I would like to point out that in our contacts with our Western partners, including representatives of pan-European international organisations, Russia repeatedly asked about their motives in imposing sanctions against Syria. What data led to the decision to introduce these sanctions? The sanctions were imposed legitimately was the only reply we got. It remains a big question what underpins these sanctions and what served as a justification for imposing them. It would be fine if someone really made an effort to reveal the legal and humanitarian foundations of these sanctions. This is an absurdity at its finest. On the one hand, they are raising millions of dollars to help Syria and its people, talking about their plight and setting up non-governmental foundations, while, on the other hand, imposing blocking sanctions. These two lines of conduct are totally at odds with each other. It is hard to understand how they can coexist in the minds of those promoting policies of this kind.
Unfortunately, organisers of this relatively representative forum once again failed to invite representatives of the legitimate Syrian government to this event. Our Western partners continue to turn a blind eye on the positive changes taking place in the country, in part on the back of the efforts made by the Syrian government. Let me remind you that the central government restored its control over most of Syria during the past year, significantly reducing violence levels. Proactive efforts are underway to promote the political process, including the establishment of a Constitutional Committee, and more and more Syrian refuges are returning to places of their permanent residence in Syria.
Regarding the refugees, I would like to mention the visit by a delegation headed by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, to Syria in early March. Apart from contacts with the Syrian leadership in Damascus, the UN delegation also visited accommodation facilities for Syrian returnees in Homs and Hama provinces. It is noteworthy that during this exploratory trip UN humanitarian officials were able to talk to Syrians and saw with their own eyes that the returnees lived in decent conditions and did not complain about returning to their homeland.
The Syrian government guarantees the same decent conditions to citizens seeking to leave the Rukban camp that is located in the US-occupied zone near Al-Tanf. But they are not having much luck as they are being prevented from doing so by the US-backed militant group Mahavir as-Saura, whose fighters require people leaving the camp to pay a stiff fee. Washington abets these criminals in their arbitrary outrage by fomenting fears that people leaving the “reservation” will be immediately arrested. Few are willing to challenge the doubts expressed by the US. Still, UN representatives who visited Rukban last month saw with their own eyes that people there really wanted to leave this nightmare behind.
At the previous briefing, I was asked to comment on the reports on deaths of children at the Rukban camp for refugees and internally displaced persons.
Indeed, according to information from UNICEF, 12 children, including five newborn babies, have died at the Rukban refugee camp since the beginning of 2019.
We can confirm this data. We have no information about mass graves of children at the camp. The situation as described certainly is a cause for grave concern.
Russia has repeatedly drawn public attention to the root of the problem, which is the illegal 55-kilometre so-called security zone set up by the US on sovereign Syrian territory, where the camp is located. We would like to stress the point again that the only solution to the Rukban problem is its speedy disbandment and resettlement of its inhabitants.
We are convinced that stopgap measures, primarily the sending of convoys with food and medications there, will not solve the humanitarian problem in Rukban, where 95 percent of the refugees want to leave the camp as soon as possible. However, the US and the armed gangs it supports control the area around the camp and actually block exits from it. As such, they take full responsibility for the developments there, including deaths of children. The Americans provide their troops with everyday necessities, so making an issue out of food deliveries to the refugees in the camp is nothing but political games.
Amid the artificially fueled media hysteria around the humanitarian situation at Rukban, we are concerned by the fact that so-called humanitarian activists are actually hushing up the critical situation at another refugee camp in Syria, the al-Hol camp, where the living conditions continue to deteriorate. The death toll has exceeded 80 people there, most of whom are children.
The topic of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) returning from Syria and Iraq has long been on the international agenda. The world is discussing measures to bring the so-called “jihadi tourists” to account and to prevent their further involvement in terrorism, including by cutting short the terrorist and extremist propaganda. Another topic is the fate of the fighters’ families (women and children), who were subjected to radical views and are therefore compromised.
Western officials are actively promoting the idea of the rehabilitation and reintegration of the FTFs and their families, focusing on human rights and the importance of preventing any impairment of the rights of those who are guilty of terrorist crimes.
This is nice and correct in word, but in practice the Western countries are doing their best to prevent the return of their citizens from the conflict zones in the Middle East to their home countries. For example, they more often deprive these people of citizenship. It turns out that the Western democracies, which supported the armed thugs when they fought against the legitimate Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad in the past, are now trying to get rid of them in any way possible. It is difficult to prove before a court that these jihadi tourists are guilty, and leaving the returning terrorists at large carries risks for the security of American and European citizens. I would like to remind the politicians and officials involved in these debates that they had a very good way out of this situation in the past, for example, when Russia said they supported terrorists and they argued that these people were not terrorists but “moderate rebels.” Now they can add the word “moderate” to the evaluation of the activities of their citizens who fought in the territory held by the extremists and on this ground allow them to return back home.
It is a fact that there are over 800 FTFs which US forces have closed off in the camps in Syria, including many Western citizens. What should be done about them?
It is possible that the United States and its allies believe it is expedient to keep these FTFs in a legally undetermined situation, similar to those who are kept at Guantanamo and the infamous secret “flying” prisons, where interrogation methods that are unacceptable in states governed by the rule of law were used.
An even better solution for them is to wait until someone else “neutralises” these fighters. The Western countries used this method in Iraq, when they shut their eyes to the arbitrary execution of hundreds of those found guilty of terrorism, including foreign citizens, and to the possible legal drawbacks of the Iraqi judicial bodies’ actions taken in extreme circumstances, for which they would have been criticised in a different situation.
I would like to point out the differences in the Western camp on the subject of the future of the FTFs remaining in Syria and Iraq. Judging by the statements made by American leaders, the United States, knowing that there are few American citizens there, are mounting pressure on the bewildered Europeans to deal with their jihadists.
The West is only united when it comes to rejecting the legally correct solution advocated by Russia: that the remaining FTFs and their detention centres are turned over to the Syrian government. Of course, this solution entails an indirect recognition of the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad as the Syrian president legally elected by the Syrians, which is unacceptable to many “old democracies.” At the same time, the Western authorities refuse to take their citizens out of Syria in order to put them on trial for their crimes.
Does the anti-ISIS coalition continue the de facto and de jure illegal occupation of a sovereign state and does it keep battle tested FTFs there so as to have an opportunity to use these fighters in some future political and geopolitical projects? There have been such cases in the region before, for example in Libya. The West armed those whom it hailed as pro-democratic Libyans and later it held combat operations to destroy them. Those the West was fighting there used the very weapons the West had supplied them with. It happened relatively recently. Yes, we have seen this before.
Independent journalists and civil society activists continue to expose the White Helmets’ pseudo-humanitarian activities in Syria by revealing the truth about their links with terrorist groups.
On March 11, Foundation for the Study of Democracy Director Maxim Grigoriev made a presentation at the OPCW headquarters at The Hague titled “Chemical Weapons in Syria: Information and Disinformation.” On March 12, Mr Grigoriev held a presentation “The Syrian Humanitarian Dossier: Eyewitness Reports” on the sidelines of the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Based on evidence collected on the ground in Syria, he presented an objective and convincing view on what the White Helmets had been doing in Syria, specifically their contribution to staging fake chemical attacks and shelling residential areas. I would like once again to draw your attention to the fact that this is not the official Russian position, but we believe that this evidence must be studied, verified and analysed. It is a very serious and thorough facts-based analysis.
The presentations by Mr Grigoriev were accompanied by photo and video materials with dozens of eyewitness reports made by civilians, former members of illegal armed groups and individuals who were formerly affiliated with the notorious White Helmets.
On March 11, The Hague hosted yet another important event, i.e. a news briefing sponsored by the Permanent Representation of Russia to the OPCW on the report compiled by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria (FFM) regarding the April 7, 2018 incident in Douma.
The situation in and around Venezuela continues to be extremely tense. Following the failed “humanitarian” invasion at the end of February and the ongoing provocative activity of the self-proclaimed “acting president,” another major disaster hit Venezuela this week that cost tens of lives. Unfortunately, the new problem came the way we talked about during our previous briefing on March 7 – through sabotage, just a few hours after our warning. Like the absolute majority of the troubles that have befallen independent Venezuela in recent years, this trouble also came from outside.
According to the legitimate Government of the country led by President Nicolas Maduro, as well as other reliable sources confirming this information, the Venezuelan power sector has been attacked from abroad. The case in point is an integrated remote impact on the controlling and monitoring systems of the country’s main power distribution stations, which use equipment produced in one of the Western countries. Naturally, all the algorithms and vulnerabilities of that equipment and systems were known perfectly well to the masterminds of the aggression. It is these people and those who ordered this act of sabotage who are responsible for the deaths of people, including hospital patients cut off from the electric supply. We hope that this responsibility will sooner or later translate into a court sentence. The incident is being investigated. Anticipating possible questions about President Maduro’s recent statement on this subject, I will answer right now. If we receive a formal request for our specialists to assist in the investigation, it will be considered very carefully.
I would like to note that this kind of malicious impact on infrastructure facilities is being increasingly used as a method of so-called hybrid warfare.
An obvious analogy to the situation in Venezuela offers itself. I mean the Kherson Region in Ukraine in autumn 2015. As a reminder, Ukrainian right-wing radicals, despairing of breaking the will of people in Crimea, imposed the so-called water blockade of Crimea and blew up pylons of power transmission lines supplying electricity to the peninsula, thus intentionally jeopardizing the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people. The so-called heroes of Maidan did not think the dirtiest tricks as too low for themselves in order to achieve their own goals supported by the United States and a number of its allies. In particular, Mustafa Dzhemilev, sued in absentia in Russia, called for completely cutting off the electricity supply to the peninsula during the energy blockade he supported, and wondered why food products still continued to be supplied there. That is, he called for a food blockade, a repeat of the most terrible and tragic episodes of world wars. Apparently, inhumanity and neglect of the elementary norms of human morality are the hallmarks of those who put themselves above international law, be it in relation to people in Crimea or Venezuela.
In its truly manic desire to overthrow the legitimate government of a sovereign state, Venezuela, by any means, Washington is not hesitating to use any scenarios, doing that sequentially or in parallel.
Let's go point by point. ‘A’ is for external Aggression. The US attempts, having declared that “all options are on the table,” to secure even the slightest understanding from the countries of the region and the international community have predictably failed. It was also unable to hide from the international community attempts to create combat Brigades (illegal armed units) – that is point ‘B.’ We have already discussed plans to purchase large quantities of weapons in Eastern Europe and illegally supply them to Venezuela. By the way, it came out recently that the US intelligence agencies are working to establish contacts with smugglers and drug traffickers for information on illegal border crossings.
The next point is ‘C’ for relying on a military Coup. That failed too.
Point ‘H’ [according to the Russian alphabet]. The “Humanitarian” invasion collapsed. There is a remarkable detail. Another example of the White House’s double standards policy was to reject Havana’s proposals to provide humanitarian aid to the United States after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, US, in 2005 and Hurricane Maria's landfall in Puerto Rico in 2017. The Cuban leadership at the time notified Washington that it was ready to provide assistance. It was about sending teams of Cuban doctors, dozens of tonnes of medicine and medical equipment, as well as the deployment of field hospitals. Both George Bush’s and Donald Trump’s administrations refused, although under different pretexts. They refused even though Cuba emphasised its willingness to help without preconditions, without in any way linking this move with any demands that Washington lift the financial and economic blockade of the island. I would especially like to emphasise that in both cases the Cuban leadership acted in strict accordance with international norms and rules for the provision of humanitarian assistance. They respected Washington’s refusal to accept the proposed assistance, did not impose it by force and did not use it for propaganda purposes. After that, it sounds absurd for American politicians to lament the fact that the humanitarian aid offered to the suffering people of Venezuela is not being accepted and to claim it is a clear sign the government should go, forgetting to mention that the people of that country are actually suffering from Washington-imposed sanctions.
Point ‘D’ is for Diversion. In recent years, evidence of a criminal plot has become increasingly frequent. Acts of subversion targeting civilian facilities always follow the same vicious logic: the worse, the better. I think everyone understands whose situation becomes worse (the target is the Venezuelan people), and who is better for it. At this point, we will stop with the alphabetical list, since it is getting hard to sustain. On a more serious note, we recommend to those adding points and sub-points to these illegal plans that are contrary to international law, to think where this would lead to.
In the meantime, the news about Washington’s decision to evacuate all the remaining personnel from its diplomatic mission in Caracas was alarming. Although the intention was not extraordinary – not after American diplomats were shown the door minutes after diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the United States were severed – the alarming thing was that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the presence of personnel restricted US actions. What actions did he mean?
Back to the so-called humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, we would like to point out another one of Pompeo’s statements, claiming that the United States is not connected in any way with the decline in agricultural production in Venezuela. The US administration is diligently stepping up economic sanctions against Venezuela; their direct damage is comparable with Nicolas Maduro’s legitimate Government’s annual spending on imported raw produce for the local food industry (more than $800 million). In the meantime, according to US National Security Advisor John Bolton, new sanctions are being considered “to tighten [the] grip on Maduro's financial wherewithal,” to deny his regime money. What else is there to say? Maybe this would not have sounded crazy 100-200 years ago, when the world was not used to appeals to international law, human rights and humanitarian efforts. But it is 2019. How is this even possible? All this is aggravated by how fast information is disseminated, when everything becomes known to everyone literally in a second. How can these things exist side by side in countries that call themselves civilised, open, free and democratic?
Apparently, Washington prefers to entertain illusions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words that “the international community sharply rebuked Russia” and that “54 of the world’s democratic nations recognise” the so-called interim president’s cabinet “as a legitimate government” do not correspond to reality. It looks like the foreign Friends of Venezuelan Democracy are failing to notice, in the heat of persecution, the simple fact that more than two thirds of the UN member states still refrain from recognising Washington’s illegitimate protege, who, by the way, recently said that he will continue to fulfill his presidential duties to realise the Venezuelans’ newfound hopes.
When the media commented on this politician’s return to his home country, there was evidence that he arrived on a regular flight. Many noted that he did not check in for the flight. It is a big question how an ordinary regular flight transported him without registration.
We have noted a considerable aggravation of the military-political situation in Afghanistan lately. Taliban members have staged a number of large-scale attacks on the military bases and checkpoints of the government forces. In another sensational terrorist attack, the ISIS terrorist group has fired a barrage of mortar rounds against participants in a commemorative event in Kabul on March 7 and wounded presidential candidate Latif Pedram.
In turn, aviation units of the international coalition and Afghan government forces are trying not to reduce the intensity of air strikes in areas controlled by the armed opposition, and efforts are being made to maintain military pressure on the ground.
We emphasise that all this is taking place in conditions of continued talks between the United States and the Taliban on ways to end the armed standoff and to establish a peace settlement in Afghanistan. The media has even reported the conclusion of a preliminary agreement on the terms for withdrawing foreign troops from Afghanistan; however, this document’s paper version should yet be coordinated as well as approved.
Quite possibly, the warring parties are trying to bolster their arguments at the talks by stepping up military pressure. We believe that this option has no future, and that it does not facilitate the attainment of agreements. In our opinion, it directly serves to torpedo them, not to mention the fact that the continued war inflicts untold suffering on ordinary Afghans.
We are urging the warring parties in Afghanistan to cease the hostilities and to display their goodwill to the people of Afghanistan and their striving to achieve genuine peace.
Tension continues to increase in Serbian-populated northern Kosovo. Kosovar authorities are toughening control along the administrative line motivating this by the need to stop what they consider allegedly illegal goods deliveries from Serbia in circumvention of the 100 per cent trade barriers, introduced by Pristina in November 2018. The situation with supplying some vitally important resources, including certain food products, continues to deteriorate. Pristina has put some influential activists of the Serbian community on the wanted list and is deploying security forces close to the areas where Serbs live.
On March 7, members of the Kosovo Assembly passed a categorical “platform” that makes any further dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina pointless. In addition, Kosovar authorities recently tried to establish control over the Serbian section of the Trepca mining complex and to virtually deprive several thousand employees who have families of their work. All these measures of Kosovar authorities are nothing else but efforts to tighten the noose, to methodically expel the Serbs from the territory by creating unbearable conditions for them and to intimidate them in the spirit of ethnic cleansing campaigns. Where are all those European human rights organisations, and where are all those people who deal with human rights issues and who are well-versed in regional matters?
The Kosovo Force (KFOR) must fulfil its UN mandate and prevent violence against Kosovo’s Serbs. We note that the KFOR did not hamper earlier aggressive Kosovar actions in the north, and that it remains passive and indifferent today.
The crisis situation in northern Kosovo is the consequence of the long-time pandering to Pristina on behalf of external patrons, namely, the US and the EU. This serves to explain the current excessive appetites of Kosovo’s Albanians and their irreconcilable line during dialogue with Belgrade. Washington and Brussels must rein in Pristina’s radicals who have been nurtured under the West’s patronage. I want to recall that main US television channels broadcast a commercial noting that Kosovo is a country of opportunities for several years after the so-called recognition of Kosovo’s independence. We can now see what opportunities this implies. Pristina’s radicals purposefully undermine peace and security in Kosovo and serve as a source of conflict in the entire Balkan region.
The Foreign Ministry has drafted the White Book of Western States’ Violations of Human Rights Standards under the Pretext of Fighting Terrorism and Other Criminal Challenges and Threats (http://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/international_safety/crime/-/asset_publisher/3F5lZsLVSx4R/content/id/3571187).
A situation has arisen today, where the world community has to toughen the controlling functions of law enforcement and special services to fight the threat of terrorism and crime. But protecting the human right to life and physical security often clashes with other human rights principles.
As long as the universal dilemma – human rights vs. security – remains unresolved, Western countries pursue a very tough policy of strengthening the state agencies’ law enforcement functions and expanding their powers, something that often has the side effect of restricting individual rights and freedoms. At the same time, the Americans and certain Europeans take every opportunity to criticise the Russian Federation and accuse it of violating human rights standards, when it resorts to similar, if much milder, measures than those in the West.
The document we are presenting is packed with facts showing that in practice the Western secret services have ample opportunity to exercise an almost total control over the public and the tendency we are witnessing is towards an increase in their powers. To monitor Internet traffic and, if need be, censor the web, they impose cooperation terms on private IT companies or providers, and spy on the users of information and communications systems both domestically and internationally, including in allied countries, as well as on international organisations. As a result, they systematically violate the right to privacy of both their own and foreign citizens.
Using antiterrorism as a cover, Western states often trample on people’s rights to personal integrity and a fair trial, resulting in illegitimate arrests or detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions.
The White Book also cites facts proving that Western countries violate the right to freedom of expression. The publication exposes attempts to restrict media freedom and introduce censorship. It also lists cases of Western law enforcement agencies and secret services collecting personal data in circumvention of the law of other states.
In addition, The White Book dwells on the West’s use of racial, ethnic, or religious controls and highlights the so-called racial (or other) profiling practiced by the secret services as they fight terrorism.
We think that these approaches, aggravated by the Western countries’ use of double standards, pose a threat to much of the international community which is sincerely advocating the supremacy of international law in foreign policy and bona fide respect for fundamental human rights.
On March 5-6, the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme convened for a meeting in Vienna at the level of Political Directors/Deputy Foreign Ministers. The meeting was preceded by a complicated period of preparations, including expert consultations held in various formats and also meetings of the JCPOA working groups in all the key areas.
It can be stated confidently that despite the US refusal to comply with its obligations under the 2015 agreements sealed in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the JCPOA has survived, is workable and is being implemented as planned. Of course, these positive developments were due to the major efforts taken by the other JCPOA signatories, who have to make up for the damage done by Washington so as to restore, from the ground up, the initial balance that underlies the agreements.
The results of the Joint Commission’s meeting show that the remaining JCPOA signatories remain loyal to their commitments.
Iran is strictly abiding by all the requirements, as the IAEA regularly confirms. Iran’s nuclear activities are regularly monitored by the Agency and are a shining example of transparency. We point this out for those who continue to criticise “the nuclear deal” and are trying to nullify it.
The Joint Commission has reviewed the attainment of the practical tasks set forth in the JCPOA, in particular, the conversion of the Fordow facility from uranium enrichment to stable isotope enrichment (Russian nuclear experts are doing this), the modernisation of the Arak research reactor, international assistance to Iran’s peaceful nuclear projects and nuclear security, as well as the transfer of controlled goods and technology to Iran in keeping with the JCPOA procedures.
The Commission paid special attention to the lifting of international and unilateral sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme, which was a major condition for signing the JCPOA. A straightforward discussion on this subject showed that the participants do not approve of the US decision to reinstitute unilateral sanctions against Iran in violation of the JCPOA.
The US deliberate and demonstrative non-compliance with the JCPOA, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and Article 25 of the UN Charter, which obliges the member states to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council, is cause for growing concern. Another cause for shared concern is the US actions taken to prevent the consistent implementation of the JCPOA after Washington had decided to jump the ship and was being relegated to a diplomatic side track.
The Commission members are resolved to use all the resources at their disposal to counter the US sanctions attack and to prevent the failure of the projects that are an integral part of the 2015 agreements.
A major step towards this was the establishment of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) with Iran, created by the European trio. We hope INSTEX will be used very soon to support the JCPOA. This will be above all in the interests of the European countries and their companies, which are directly involved in the implementation of the nuclear deal and which continue to maintain contacts as well as business ties with their Iranian colleagues during this difficult situation. We hope that INSTEX will also be open to other countries.
One of the main results of the meeting is a firm agreement to build up practical interaction in the fields that were set forth in the ministerial statements of the JCPOA signatories in July and September 2018. These documents focus on the strengthening of trade and economic cooperation with Iran. This is the shared answer to Washington, whose actions are forcing the international community to form a global front of struggle against the US sanctions policy.
Russia will continue to do everything within its power to maintain the efficiency and stability of the JCPOA and to help attain the noble goals for the sake of which these comprehensive agreements were signed.
Once again, we are expressing serious concern over the toughening pressure against Russian residents of the Lithuanian Republic amidst the anti-Russian hysteria instigated by Vilnius, demonstrative persecution and the atmosphere of fear building up among the Russian-speaking population.
This time, there were attempts to label Ela Kanaite, history teacher, respected public figure and Chair of Lithuania’s Russian School Teachers Association, as “disloyal” and “a Kremlin agent.” As a result of the organised bullying on behalf of the local media and the Lithuanian security services, the teacher suffered a heart attack.
Russian-speaking young people are being ostracised under contrived excuses. The methods of repressive pressure in the form of “preventive talks” and searches without any grounds were recently used against Pavel Zhevzhikov, a participant of a conference of Russian compatriots that took place in Vilnius.
We strongly condemn despotism of the police against the Russian community that is being practiced in order to please the political forces. We are calling for respective international bodies to pay utmost attention to the increasingly disturbing situation with human rights in this European country.
Polish officials continue the profane practice of consistently desecrating memorials dedicated to Soviet soldiers who were killed in WWII liberating the country from the Nazi occupation.
It was reported that another monument was demolished, this time in Sarnice (Greater Poland Voivodeship). The monument was erected in 1969 at the site where in 1944 three Soviet reconnaissance officers died heroic deaths while performing an assignment during which they blew themselves up together with the approaching Nazis.
Unfortunately, it has long become a state policy in Poland to defy the memory of the heroes and their feats accomplished for the sake of saving the Polish people from extermination. It is shocking for any civilised society to see such displays of forgetfulness and hostile revisionism.
Once again, we are calling for the officials in Warsaw and their local subordinates to come to their senses and stop this disgrace under the guise of a national law on so-called ‘de-communisation,’ and remember their international obligations to Russia concerning memorials, the performance of which cannot depend on selective ‘historical amnesia’ of the Polish administration.
Once again, we want to draw attention to the situation with Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko who is serving a 20-year sentence in the United States.
In 2010, he was abducted in Liberia by officers of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The charges were based solely on testimonials of undercover agents who claimed they had been negotiating a deal to transport drugs to the United States with Yaroshenko although at the time he did not even speak English. During the first interrogations, our fellow citizen was subjected to physical pressure. Almost all his teeth were knocked out. Konstantin Yaroshenko flatly refused to admit that he was guilty. Nevertheless, on September 7, 2011, a New York court issued a guilty verdict.
Konstantin Yaroshenko, who did not have any health issues before the arrest, is now suffering from a range of serious conditions which were caused by torturing. They include acute dental problems as a result of his losing his teeth and inflammation of damaged internal organs. Despite multiple attempts to request qualified medical help with US officials, the Russian citizen has not been provided with it.
The situation is getting worse due to the harsh conditions of the Danbury prison in Connecticut where Yaroshenko was transferred in June 2018. Parcels with food, medication and other things are not allowed in this penitentiary institution. Visits are extremely limited. Between October and April, walks after 3 pm are forbidden. The medical office at the prison often lacks the medication that Yaroshenko needs. All these factors are having an additional negative impact on his health.
In other words, Konstantin Yaroshenko was first kidnapped from a third country, subjected to sadistic beating, then convicted on very dubious grounds and now he continues to suffer in prison without medical treatment. This has been going on for nine years.
We believe this is a grave violation of international law and humanitarian regulations. We are calling for US officials to take immediate measures in order to observe Konstantin Yaroshenko’s legal rights. We demand that this abuse be stopped and Yaroshenko be returned back to his home country.
We continue to receive questions about the circumstances surrounding the Russian sailors detained in Cabo Verde. I would like to say the following.
The Foreign Ministry and diplomats are monitoring the situation. The sailors have not voiced any substantial claims or complaints about their prison conditions or anything else. In view of the fact that there are people from various countries among the inmates, representatives of international organisations specialising in human rights matters, including the UN, often inspect the prison.
Officials from the Consular Department of the Russian Embassy in Praia are maintaining contact with the sailors, their relatives, the Russian Trade Union of Sailors and the Foreign Ministry’s territorial offices in Murmansk, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.
Apart from making direct telephone calls, the sailors can contact the Embassy and their lawyer promptly via security guards under an agreement between the Embassy and the prison administration. They are able to take a walk every day inside a fairly large prison courtyard; media reports about an alleged prison corridor are not true. And they are also able to use sports equipment and to visit shops.
They receive essential medical treatment.
At this stage, attention is focused on the more active provision of material assistance to the Russian sailors, with the Embassy coordinating this process. Acting on the initiative of State Duma Deputy from the Murmansk Region Alexey Veller, who maintains close contact with the Foreign Ministry, the Murmansk Region Administration is set to hold a meeting of sailors’ wives, representatives of the business community and regional public organisations and to raise funding to pay for the services of a lawyer and a translator.
The diplomats did not and could not advise the relatives of the sailors against speaking with journalists. On the contrary, the Embassy perceives information work regarding the detained Russian citizens as one of its priorities. The Embassy regularly updates its website and maintains direct contact with representatives of Russian media outlets and public organisations, as well as sailors’ relatives and friends.
Question: You have mentioned the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia. I would like you to comment on the international relations that have developed following that event. Do you agree that it has closed a whole chapter that lasted since the late 1980s and was noted for the striving of Russia and the West towards cooperation? Do you agree that Crimea’s reunification with Russia has given rise to an era that is being described as a new cold war?
Maria Zakharova: Have you read any statement by a Russian official, the President of Russia or different Russian ministers to the effect that Russia is not interested in strengthening cooperation with Western countries? I have not. We hold a huge number of various forums to promote this cooperation.
Let us begin not with a full stop but with a question which President Vladimir Putin set forth at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 when he asked how these relations can be developed. We were open for the development of equal cooperation and for dialogue in all spheres. But what we see in return is a deliberate striving – it was a covert striving initially, and now it is an open desire – to isolate Russia one way or another, to violate some arrangements and to withdraw from the agreements that ensured stability and security in this region, on our continent.
It could be a question that ended with an ellipsis. There is such a punctuation mark in the Russian language. But we have not received any answer to it anyway.
We tried to attract the attention of the Western community to the existing problems. We thought that the problems concerning bilateral relations were not Russia’s fault, and they existed long before 2014.
We saw that a number of Western countries and institutions were losing interest in bilateral interaction with Russia. We saw the erosion of trust that is needed for developing cooperation, such as the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, a tidal wave of criticism against Russia, as well as many other factors.
I would like to remind you that the planned Russian-US summit was cancelled before 2014 at Washington’s, not Russia’s initiative. This happened before Crimea and Maidan. Why then?
I believe this has to do with a new stage in our relations. But Russia has never indicated a desire to stop cooperating with any region across the world. This is certainly not so. It is another matter that interaction and cooperation must be between equal partners. Dialogue must be based on international law, because there is no other acceptable system of coordinates now. Dialogue must be mutually beneficial and based on respect of the partners’ interests. Russia has tried many times to make its Western partners see this.
I believe that these developments certainly cannot be described as you did in your question.
A major feature of this new era is an open demonstration of the West’s disregard for international law and the very norms that were developed in the West, such as the humanitarian aspects and human rights.
I believe this shows not so much that we have entered a new era but that these sentiments also existed before, only under a cover. Everyone thought it necessary to observe proprieties and to keep up appearances. This has become obvious now. Nobody thinks it possible or wants to observe the proprieties without which interaction becomes extremely difficult.
Question: Can you comment on the statements by EU representatives maintaining that there should be no prerequisites for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh and that it is necessary to maintain the current bilateral format of talks?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian Federation, being the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, has repeatedly spoken about the format of negotiations, which can be changed only with the agreement of the parties. If they agree that Nagorno-Karabakh should again be present at talks, it would be their decision and we will respect it. We share this approach with other members of the trio. I would also like to draw your attention to the latest statement by the Minsk Group co-chairs, dated March 9, which quite clearly outlines the approaches of Russia, the US and France to this issue.
Question: On April 5, Moscow will host a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers. Is Moscow ready to provide a platform for a meeting if the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers come up with a similar initiative?
Maria Zakharova: Let us not get so far ahead given how sensitive and pressing this issue is, taking into account that it is sometimes inaccurately covered by the media. When parties address the Russian side with such requests – to provide a platform and to be a mediator – Moscow always treats such requests with respect.
Question: Some time ago, Russia used to officially return adult Russian citizens, women in particular, using Defence Ministry aircraft. It has recently abandoned this practice, and now only assists in returning children. Has the Russian stance on this issue changed?
Maria Zakharova: We have talked a lot today about Russian citizens who have been detained in various parts of the world. There has been no global change in our approach. First, this depends on the law enforcement agencies and the court procedures in the countries where individuals involved in terrorism, or family members of terrorists are detained. Second, this is a matter of international interaction between law enforcement agencies. Our diplomats, embassies, consulates and the Foreign Ministry’s central office provide support to the competent agencies in establishing relevant contacts. Each case is different. There have been cases where whole families were affiliated with terrorist activity in some countries in one way or another and then arrested or detained. Investigation is either underway or the court has already passed a verdict. Or there can be a reciprocal extradition agreement. So, each case is different.
Question: The Foreign Ministry has recently issued a warning stating the need for a balanced approach to travelling to Azerbaijan because there have been cases of mistreatment of Russian citizens who were considered to be of Armenian ethnicity. Has Baku responded or reacted to this statement?
Maria Zakharova: I am not aware of the official response of Azerbaijan. The media, however, reported an unofficial response: comments, interviews and statements alleging that there is a similar problem for Russian citizens who have Azerbaijani roots, when they enter Armenia. This morning, I read an interview with a well-known personality on this issue, and I was quite surprised that that person blamed the Foreign Ministry for not dealing with it. Our experts have never heard of any such cases and neither have I. If there are such cases, please send us the relevant information and we will examine it. The Foreign Ministry responds to all cases of mistreatment of our citizens, regardless of country or region.
I can show this interview to those interested. It surprised us too. It might contain unsupported allegations, but it is definitely not a fake, we checked.
Let us not deprive the Armenian Foreign Ministry of its duties, let them comment on their part. I commented on what directly relates to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Again, if there are cases of such treatment of Russian citizens who cross the Armenian border or arrive at Yerevan Airport, we would appreciate if we could receive the dates, places, flight numbers and other supporting information, at least something, to avoid unconfirmed allegations in the media.
Question: Are the Russian and Azerbaijani foreign ministries holding consultations on this matter?
Maria Zakharova: The message on the Foreign Ministry website mentions the Russian party’s concern of which our Azerbaijani colleagues have been repeatedly notified. We have not received a response yet.
Question: Several days ago, we marked the eighth anniversary since the beginning of the war in Syria. After the mass scale surrender of ISIS militants, one can say that a new post-ISIS stage is getting underway. Is Russia trying to resolve the Kurdish issue, now that the military phase is over?
Maria Zakharova: Such wordings as “resolving the Kurdish issue” are very dangerous.
We have repeatedly noted that most of Syria has been liberated, and that Damascus controls these parts of the country. However, the ISIS problem still exists. We should talk about the region in a broad context, rather than just Syria. Today, I cited data on an ISIS terrorist attack in Afghanistan.
This problem should not be divided, and no demarcation lines should be drawn. The global ISIS problem exists as a phenomenon. Although the problem has been minimised in Syria, it remains on the agenda.
As for intensifying the political process, we regularly deal with this matter via various channels. I have received questions about upcoming meetings in the Astana format. There are plans to hold a meeting at the level of deputy foreign ministers this coming April. The date and venue are being determined. Work is underway, and experts are in close contact.
Question: Russia proposed a draft constitution for Syria, stipulating autonomy for the country’s Kurds. Is this issue on the current agenda, and is work in progress in this area?
Maria Zakharova: Russia did everything possible when a sustained trend for establishing peace on the ground began to manifest itself, and it started building political bridges for restoring peaceful life. A political settlement was needed for this purpose. A lot was accomplished, including the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, the launching of the Astana format and efforts to facilitate the Geneva talks.
You remember our proposals to discuss the future constitution of Syria. We believe that Russia should not model the legal framework and the new law. We can provide assistance, invite the parties to take part in a dialogue and share our views, but these matters concern the domestic political process in Syria.
I believe you are aware that Russia advocates active dialogue and efforts to engage the Kurdish population in discussing the future Syrian political system.
Question: Does Russia plan to evacuate imprisoned terrorists, their families and children? Is it negotiating this matter with the Kurdish side?
Maria Zakharova: Speaking of the official level, we are in talks with states where the Kurdish population lives. Certainly, we take advantage of various opportunities and meetings, but, speaking of the negotiating mechanism, this implies efforts to maintain interstate contacts between capitals and specialised agencies.
Question: In the introduction, you spoke about Russian citizens who are being held in Ukrainian prisons. Why is the Russian Federation refusing to exchange them for the Ukrainian citizens who are being held in Russian prisons? Ukraine has repeatedly suggested doing this, including exchanging Kirill Vyshinsky for Roman Sushchenko.
Maria Zakharova: As I understand it, you are cooperating with Novaya Gazeta. We have seen your publications. I would like to once again refute what you have written and what was reported by Novaya Gazeta.
Protecting the rights and interests of Russian citizens, our compatriots (regardless of their location), including those persecuted by the current regime in Kiev, is a priority. The Foreign Ministry pays special attention to this task.
Despite the fact that the Russian Embassy in Kiev and consulates general of our country are operating (I hope you know it) in, to put it mildly, rather peculiar conditions and with limited staff (because of last year’s campaign to expel Russian diplomats which Kiev decided to join for some reason), they are trying to provide necessary assistance to Russian nationals while overcoming sometimes very harsh resistance.
At the same time, unlike such people as Lyudmila Denisova who is working, it seems to me, more in the media environment, Russia prefers not to build its PR on human fates. This is what many officials and journalists are doing, as it seems to us. Not to mention the election campaign in Ukraine and how exactly this factor is involved in it now.
We are actually trying to solve the problem of bringing home Russian nationals who are being unlawfully held in the territory of Ukraine. The fate of Valery Ivanov who was tortured to death in a Lvov penal colony demonstrates Ukraine’s actual attitude to persecuted Russian nationals. We cannot help but recall Kiev’s last-minute refusal to exchange the Russian nationals in its custody in December 2017, despite the fact that all the lists had been approved, including by the President of Ukraine. By the way, Yevgeny Mefedov, who was mentioned in a Novaya Gazeta article, was also among those people who were taken to the exchange site and later returned to prison (I hope you know about that). These actions are nothing but sheer mockery.
In his testimony, Yevgeny Mefedov gives examples that demonstrate the nature of the law enforcement, judicial and entire government system in Ukraine which is run by nationalist radicals, including street hooligans who break into courtrooms during hearings. We respect Yevgeny Mefedov’s ability to stay optimistic and not to lose hope for a successful outcome to his case despite the difficulties.
Once again, I would like to tell everybody who builds their careers and PR campaigns on the fact that Russia allegedly ignores the fate of its citizens held in Ukraine: as before, Russia will continue to fight for Russian nationals’ interests, including at various international platforms. At the same time, unfortunately, we have to state that, because of considerations of the moment, among other things, our foreign counterparts often turn a blind eye to the existing problems in this area. I’m asking you to be objective when reporting on these issues and to draw conclusions based on facts. For my part, I have given you some facts today.
Question: Today, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a statement saying that Russia has failed to provide any evidence of detained US citizen Paul Whelan’s guilt for two months. Why has no evidence been provided yet?
Maria Zakharova: Is two months too long from the US Embassy’s point of view? Ask them, since you are quoting their statement. How does the US Embassy establish the timescale? A huge number of Russian citizens who are convicted on trumped-up charges are in prison. For example, I talked about Konstantin Yaroshenko today. He was abducted from Liberia and has spent nine years in custody. That is almost a whole life, and who knows what his condition is at the moment. According to the interviews and statements given by his family, his condition is appalling. I have already told you what our diplomats found out.
Here you are – two months and the US Embassy is already in a fit of hysteria. Russian law enforcement authorities are working. The man was caught red-handed, and it was stated overtly. I see no reason why American diplomats should be indignant.
Question: Have Russian diplomats got access to Maria Butina as of late?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information about any recent problems with getting access to that Russian citizen. I can find out and tell you.
I sincerely hope that access to her is not in any way connected with Paul Whelan’s situation. I hope that is not what the US Embassy is hinting at with this question.
Question: I want to explain why I asked about Butina. According to some US media reports, she may be deported in the next few weeks.
Maria Zakharova: It’s difficult for me to dwell on this issue because Butina is in the United States now awaiting relevant decisions. There is nothing to comment on for now in this case. We have regularly reported on our diplomats’ contacts with her. I don’t know of any problems with that as of late, but I will find out.
It was you, not me, who drew the parallel, and based on your question, it turns out that after two months the US Embassy is asking questions about Whelan, and Butina was arrested eight months ago under a pretext which is unclear even to those who know the ins and outs of US laws. What has she done to be kept in such conditions for eight months already? It is impossible to understand it even logically. There is an obvious connection to US domestic politics, but it is hard to conceal anything in such a case. We don’t see any special response, either by officials or otherwise, from the US side. This situation is for some reason taken for granted. Although, as you should know, there was not a single briefing for more than six months when we did not mention the case of Butina. We are doing everything possible to draw attention to the unacceptable situation that defies everything: logic, law, ethics, human rights, etc.
Question: Several hours ago, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Choe Son-hui said North Korea may suspend talks with the United States. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about this decision? So far, this does not amount to an official North Korean statement, and everyone is waiting for Kim Jong-un to make his address. Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov met with his North Korean colleague Im Cheon-il. According to a Foreign Ministry press release, the sides discussed the schedule of political contacts. Did they reach any agreements in this connection? Or perhaps they managed to agree on the leader’s visit?
Maria Zakharova: You know that you should contact the Presidential Executive Office about the visits of leaders; its officials always comment on these matters.
Regarding statements of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s representatives that Pyongyang might break off talks with the United States, I would like to say that Russia is committed to resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula by political-diplomatic methods. Moscow consistently advocates continued dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington on the basis of gradually meeting each other halfway and without any overstated expectations.
We praised the organisation of the summits and the attitude of the sides after the talks, although there were no results. We formulated our position and noted that, in our opinion, both capitals hold the key to a political-diplomatic solution, and that they realise that there is no alternative to this.
Question: Russia calls for easing sanctions against the DPRK. Will Russia still advocate this approach if the DPRK resumes nuclear tests and missile launches?
Maria Zakharova: If you are talking about unilateral sanctions, we do not support them. We believe that they are illegal. If you are talking about sanctions that have been declared by the relevant UN Security Council agencies in line with international law, then this is a matter of discussing a response to an improved situation or to specific steps, due to be taken by Pyongyang with regard to the international community’s concerns. These matters are interlinked. Legitimate sanctions, being imposed by the UN Security Council, are meant to incentivise the resolution of matters of concern to the international community. If specific improvements are achieved and formalised, this would influence decisions on sanctions.
Question: What is Russia’s attitude towards protests against President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an elderly political “heavyweight” in the region? Is there any danger for democracy in connection with a possible Muslim Brotherhood takeover?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that this is a domestic situation in an independent sovereign state. The people of Algeria themselves should resolve this situation inside the country without any foreign influence. As I have said, it is our opinion that, during the upcoming tour of official talks and meetings, we will hear the position of this state’s representative and a first-hand update on the current situation, as well as upcoming steps that should be taken for the benefit of Algeria.
Question: The current US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is a former CIA chief. During this briefing, you mentioned what the US is doing in Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine, as well as the developments regarding humanitarian aid, etc. It is hard to imagine a former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service becoming the country’s top diplomat. How strong is the CIA’s grip on US foreign policy? What are its methods and practices?
Maria Zakharova: It is not uncommon for our US partners to use dreadful measures and practices to achieve their foreign policy goals. As far as I know, there are a myriad of historical books and academic research on this subject. Quite often we have to give examples and explain the historical context considering the absolutely apocalyptical accusations we hear against Russia. However, I believe this is something historians, observers and journalists have to delve into.
Question: Can it be said that Russia and the US differ in terms of the nature of their respective foreign policy?
Maria Zakharova: I would rather you avoid comparisons of this kind. We proceed from the premise that international law provides the primary foundation for Russia’s foreign policy, which should not be regarded as a mere coincidence or our only available option. This is not the way things are, and I can back this up with various examples, including from our country’s past. Russia’s foreign policy is designed this way because this approach offers a genuine opportunity to avoid global shocks such as the Second World War.
We also believe that the existing foundation is sufficient, subject to some tweaking and fine-tuning, for shaping international relations in general and taking into consideration the often contradictory interests of various countries large and small. Russia rejects in its foreign policy anything that has to do with relying on military force, illegal methods, including economic pressure, unilateral sanctions, sabotage, etc. Russia not only rejects all this conceptually, but also acts accordingly day in and day out.
As for the assessment of US foreign policy, if you allow me I would prefer not to elaborate on this matter. I think that the materials that I presented today contain quite a few examples that clearly show the difference between the approaches adopted by Washington and Moscow. This relates in particular to the situation in Venezuela.
Question: Ambassador of Great Britain to Russia Laurie Bristow gave an interview to a Russian newspaper, in which he literally scapegoated Russia. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: This was a suicidal interview for the British ambassador. He has done a lot of strange things, but even I did not expect so much nonsense from him, especially considering that he is rumoured to be leaving soon. I mean this in a good way, since he could be heading back to London.
We could not fail to read this interview. It shocked us by its strange, opinionated and aggressive nature. In the interview, he mentioned the very stereotypes, accusations and nonsense on Russia that can regularly be heard from Theresa May’s representatives. This is yet another manifestation of the choice by London to keep up tension in the relations between our two countries.
We believe that the ambassador could have followed statements by a number of high-ranking British officials who declared their intention to search for ways to put bilateral relations back on track and restore trust. After all, the interview was timed to coincide with the opening of the cross years of music between Russia and Great Britain. However, these were not the tunes that we expected to hear. Although there are clear attempts to begin the interview on a positive note, this is not the way it went and the interview ended in the worst traditions of our time. The ambassador once again could not help but distort facts and whip up anti-Russia hysteria. It will suffice to mention the list of what he referred to as Russia’s “sins”: attacks against Georgia and Ukraine, supporting Bashar al-Assad when he used chemical weapons in Syria and carrying out killings on British soil!
This would be shocking to any person reading this for the first time. For us, this is not so much shocking as it is nonsense. It may be that this interview targets those unaware of London’s position. We know it all too well, and we have learned our lesson. The reality has little in common with what Mr Bristow said. It would be sufficient to mention topics that we discussed today, including fake incidents staged by the infamous White Helmets. Their undertakings were possible only because of support from Western sponsors, including London. Just look at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has come to symbolise inconsistencies among Western powers regarding human rights and humanitarian matters, as well as the approach consisting of reaffirming the inviolability of human rights and the special role played by NGOs, on the one hand, while inventing mock structures such as the White Helmets or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on the other. They have nothing to do with real Syrians, while serving as a source of information that London relies on. Take, for example, the government coup that was carried out in Ukraine with the personal contribution of some of our Western partners in Great Britain, and with the connivance of those who only a day earlier guaranteed a peaceful settlement to the intra-Ukrainian conflict. What about the unscrupulous methods used by British secret services that we exposed on numerous occasions? This topic even found its way into documentary films. I remember how the British embassy denied that UK secret services used these methods, including in Moscow, when they ridiculed claims made by Russia, calling them “lies” made up by Moscow. By the way, the claims we made turned out to be true.
The British Ambassador mentioned the so-called Alexander Litvinenko case. Her Majesty's Envoy believes that the matter has been decided once and for all and that Russia is to blame. In fact, he completely ignores the fact that London turned down all of Russia’s requests to share information on the case without providing any reasonable explanation, keeping the information under the veil of secrecy.
Let me pick up this topic where Laurie Bristow left it. We have called on numerous occasions for an objective and impartial investigation into the death of Russian nationals in Great Britain. This is evidenced by the fact Russia’s Investigative Committee was a proactive participant in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, which was carried out under UK laws in Great Britain. However, it seems as if it had failed to produce the outcome expected by the British government, prompting it to close the inquest and replace it with a public inquiry, a quasi-judicial process replete with closed hearings to review “secret” materials from secret services and testimony by secret witnesses. Russia’s Investigative Committee had no choice but to withdraw from this show due to the lack of transparency in this so-called investigation. It was clear that it would be inevitably politicised. The goal of this performance, played out in London, was also clear, to confirm what was already said and to pin everything on Russia.
The Skripal case is following the same scenario with Britain refraining from sharing any information, refusing inter-agency cooperation and blaming Russia for the whole thing. They also rely on the “highly likely” principle, feeding what they refer to as “irrefutable evidence” to their allies. I am referring to the five or six slides that could have been prepared by a middle-school student. Laurie Bristow distributed them at a closed briefing, and this presentation literally shocked the entire world, when Kommersant newspaper published it. No one expected to see anything as absurd as this. How can five images with an unsophisticated explanation of the historical background serve as irrefutable evidence of Russia’s responsibility? Everything is built around this document. There was nothing but five or six slides with images taking most of the space that were intended to be shown at a distance. Nothing else.
A single phrase reflects the hypocrisy of Britain’s anti-Russia policy. Answering a question on the Skripal case, Laurie Bristow said that he had to refrain from making any statements so as not to influence the investigation. Mr Bristow, are you serious? Maybe this was just fake news? Maybe you were not the one who said this? Just four questions prior to that you accused Russia of organising a murder on British soil. Or was it not you? Let me share with you some statements and phrases by Mr Bristow’s superiors who were not as tactful as their Ambassador to Russia, who claimed that he had to make sure that his statements did not affect the investigation.
– On March 12, 2018 Theresa May said in Parliament: “The Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal … And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.”
So you say that you cannot influence the investigation with your statements. But Theresa May can do it, for whatever reason. Please remind her, that she should not behave like this.
– On March 14, 2018 UK Chargé d’Affairs at the UN, Jonathan Allen, spoke during a UN Security Council briefing on the Salisbury nerve agent attack:
“Mr President, we therefore have no alternative but to conclude that the Russian State was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and Police Officer Nick Bailey, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury.”
Is this OK? Why not say this to the British press? Why didn’t you send a cable to London saying that influencing the investigation was inappropriate?
– On March 15, 2018 during a visit to a west London military museum with the Polish foreign minister, Boris Johnson said that it was overwhelmingly likely that it was Putin’s decision to direct the use of the nerve agent (“It is overwhelmingly likely that it was his (Putin’s) decision to direct the use”).
– On March 22, 2018, Laurie Bristow himself, speaking at a briefing for the international diplomatic community in Moscow, said: “Based on the information we had, we concluded that there were only 2 plausible explanations for how this material had been used in the United Kingdom. Either it was a direct act by the Russian state against our country or the Russian government lost control of this catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
What is going on in the British Embassy in Moscow? Why are you contradicting your own words?
It has to be mentioned that the British press published links to leaked information, clearly with help from the officials, as they always do.
- March 8, 2018. From The Sun:
…Anti-terror cops are investigating the possibility that Kremlin-linked assassins slipped deadly sarin nerve gas into Sergei Skripal's present as daughter Yulia prepared to fly over from Moscow days earlier.
So how is the investigation going?
– The Sun wrote on March 6, 2018:
Was the daughter of an ex-Russian spy poisoned for a one-word Facebook comment calling for Putin to be jailed?
There were no disclaimers afterwards.
– Daily Telegraph, March 28, 2018:
Russian hit squad put poison on Sergei Skripal's front door, police believe.
- Sunday Mirror, April 7, 2018:
Russian who planned spy nerve agent attack 'runs hit squad known as The Cleaners and is a sleeper agent STILL in UK.'
– Sunday People, April 22, 2018:
Is this the Salisbury poisonings hitman? Former KGB captain codenamed 'Gordon' is Russian assassin suspect.
Does His Excellency Mr Ambassador actually believe that neither high-ranking British officials nor major media outlets influenced the investigation? How can one remain impartial when all you hear from all the screens, at all levels and literally everywhere, be it online, on television, on the radio, in Parliament or from newspaper headlines reports about the vicious Russian threat and the outrage committed by Russians? This seems to suggest that these developments have nothing to do with an impartial investigation. There is no way the investigation can remain impartial when everyone from the Prime Minister to the tabloids point fingers in the same direction without a single piece of evidence.
Going back to Laurie Bristow’s disastrous interview, I am also perplexed by his statement that Britain did not initiate sanctions against Russia. I read this statement several times. This is what it said. But we know all too well that London literally twisted the arms of its allies so they expelled Russian diplomats without any reason in March 2018. We also hear regular calls by British officials to increase pressure on Russia through sanctions.
The overall message His Excellency Mr Ambassador wanted to convey in this interview was that Russia needs to acknowledge these sins even though it didn’t commit any of them, and then it will be “highly likely” that everything will be all right. This approach covers bilateral relations between Russia and Great Britain, as well as the international agenda. There is no way this policy can become a platform for putting Russia-UK cooperation back on track and promoting constructive ties. It is time that we learn to be professional and treat each other with mutual respect as befits serious and responsible countries. We monitor statements by British officials, save them and compare them with what was said in the past. This is very interesting.
There was an incident at a Moscow airport recently when a US Embassy employee tried to sneak an old landmine out the country. It contained remnants and traces of explosives in it. What does Great Britain have to do with this? Well, a number of experts argue that the incident was an outright provocation rather than negligence or lack of responsibility on behalf of an embassy employee. We have said this. Looking at the whole picture it could be argued that London may have been involved. In fact, the American had to change planes in London, although there are quite a few regular direct flights from Moscow to the US. Could it be that once this Marine from the US Embassy in Moscow managed to take an old landmine out of the country, the landmine could have ended up in Great Britain so that we would be told that anything can be taken out of Russia, even a landmine, let alone Novichok. The landmine would have probably been found near the residence of a Russian national or compatriot as new “evidence” of an attack by the “bloody” Kremlin against its citizens. This scenario exists and experts are looking into it.
Question: Today you devoted much of your time to Russian citizens serving time in prison abroad. I would like to ask about Marsha Lazareva, who has been sentenced to a prison term in Kuwait. Can you influence the Kuwaiti authorities on her behalf? Can the Kremlin do anything to save this Russian citizen?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the Kremlin, you should ask the Kremlin press service. I can only comment on the actions of Russian diplomats and the Foreign Ministry as a whole. We are providing multifaceted assistance to this Russian citizen. There are many examples of how such matters are decided. This is certainly done within the framework of the law, as we always point out. There are also foreign policy factors to take into account. This is all I can say in regard to this case.
Question: A parliamentary election was held in Moldova in late February. Political coalitions and a new cabinet are being formed there now. According to the Moldovan media, politician Vladimir Plahotniuc can be elected prime minister or parliament speaker. The trouble is that he is a suspect in two criminal cases launched in Russia, where an arrest warrant has been issued against him in absentia, for attempted murder and the other for the criminal withdrawal of tens of billions of dollars from Russia. Can this affect Russia-Moldova relations? What can Russia’s Investigative Committee do?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, let’s leave internal political matters underway in a sovereign state to its people. Elections have been recently held there. International organisations have a positive view of the procedure. We have expressed our opinion of this matter as well. When it comes to new appointments, they will be decided on the basis of national procedures.
As for ties between out law enforcement agencies, you should address this question to them. I cannot make any judgement on this matter.
We believe that the further development of relations with Moldova and the Moldovan people is a foreign policy priority for Russia. We have had close historical and cultural ties, share a common past and have good prospects for the further development of bilateral ties in many spheres.
Question: Does the Foreign Ministry believe that the mine found [in the luggage of a US Embassy official] at a Moscow airport is proof of the US involvement in the terrorist attack at Domodedovo Airport in 2011 and other attacks?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that it was a provocation. It could have a variety of goals. Our experts [on the United States] can tell you more on this matter. We only shared with you our opinions based on the views of experts. I have no reason to speak on this subject in the terms you have suggested.
Question: US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford said the US should not relinquish its right to be the first to use nuclear weapons during a possible conflict with an adversary. What does Russian think about this US policy and the related risks of a nuclear war?
Maria Zakharova: The most frightening thing is that discourse about nuclear strikes is conducted with an ease that in my opinion demonstrates absolute incompetence in this issue. When people start juggling with things that may put an end to our common world with all its good and evil for political or PR purposes, they apparently do not realise what they are saying.
Of course, there are public issues and military doctrines whereby nuclear powers express their approaches. However, the frequency with which many politicians toss about and discuss these issues (regrettably, there are too many of them in the West) compels us to question their competence and responsibility.
I think we should be more grateful and attentive to the productions of “the dream factory” on this subject. One way or another many directors act like futurists trying to comprehend the future in the context of this scenario, among others. Why not see these movies again to understand that political discourse on issues that threaten the existence of the entire human race is unacceptable?
I could have given a shorter answer but I wanted you to think about it like this – are these ill-considered statements and the endless exploitation of the nuclear weapons issue as a political argument apocalyptic or not?
Question: Today many conflicts are being settled on the basis of two principles – territorial integrity and the right of nations to self-determination. What principle does Russia prefer to adhere to in its foreign policy?
Maria Zakharova: Some issues are inseparably connected. Much is written about this in documents of title that form the foundation of modern international law. These principles cannot be viewed in isolation or separately. It is impossible to make a global choice in favour of one without understanding the situation, specific analysis of what is going “on the ground,” historical background and all related circumstances. Importantly, the circumstances should not completely prevail over law. I am not a lawyer and have never dealt with the law, but what I have read on this subject shows that these principles can only work in combination with each other. Otherwise, they can become a weapon aimed against you, your state and your nation.