Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 4, 2019
- Condolences on the deaths of the Russian submarine sailors
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the OSCE Informal Ministerial Meeting
- Commemorative events in honour of volunteer militia of USSR People’s Foreign Affairs Commissariat
- Start of issuing visas online for foreign citizens to visit the Kaliningrad Region
- Reports on Iran's exceeding JCPOA-agreed stockpile limit of low-enriched uranium
- Developments in Libya
- Protest to Japan on the depiction of South Kuril Islands as Japanese territory in materials used to cover the G20 summit in Osaka
- Presentation of World Drug Report
- Ensuring the safety of journalists in Ukraine
- Russian media outlets in a German counterintelligence report
- New planted information on the Salisbury incident
- Statement by Facebook vice-president Nick Clegg on the lack of evidence of Russia influencing Brexit referendum results
- Discrimination against Russian-language media in Lithuania
- News conference by Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Military History Society Sergey Ivanov
- The Sixth Forum of Young Diplomats from Eurasian Countries
- Suspension of INF Treaty
- NATO response to CSTO letter concerning compliance with INF Treaty
- Possible discussion of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at upcoming OSCE ministerial in Slovakia
- Russia-Japan ties
- US intention to pull out of Syria
- Creation of quasi-state east of Euphrates River
- Dutch MPs’ initiative on hybrid tribunal for foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq
- Format of Syrian Constitutional Committee
- Kosovo authorities’ ban on entry by all Serbian officials
- Payment of Russia’s fees to Council of Europe suspended in 2017 and 2018
- Korean Peninsula settlement
- Meeting between Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergey Kopyrkin and representatives of so-called Armenia-Artsakh Strategic Alliance
- Update on pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko
- Foreign tourists in Crimea
- Russia-China military technical cooperation
- Influence of China-North Korea military bloc on regional developments
- Digital terrorism
- Russia’s role in preventing a regional conflict that may be provoked by US actions towards Iran
- Russia-Holy See relations
- Russia’s proposals concerning Ukrainian sailors
The Foreign Ministry and Russian embassies have been receiving condolences on the tragic incident in the Barents Sea that killed 14 members of a navy research submersible crew, both from official channels and ordinary people from other countries. This is a tragedy for the victims’ families and friends. This is a terrible loss for Russia.
Let me also express my deepest condolences to the families of our sailors.
All letters with condolences will be forwarded to our military colleagues as soon as possible.
On July 5, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. At the upcoming consultations, they are expected to discuss the entire range of issues related to the Syrian settlement process, including developments on the ground, considering the need to continue fighting terrorists and provide humanitarian aid with an emphasis on creating the necessary conditions for the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. In addition, they will discuss issues related to the political settlement, above all the completion of the process to create and launch the Constitution Committee, which will make it possible to begin a direct dialogue between the Syrians in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Details will be available at the Foreign Ministry’s official website following the talks.
On July 8-9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the OSCE Informal Ministerial Meeting, which will be held in High Tatras, Slovakia. The event was initiated by Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak in his role as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. No official documents are planned for adopting at the meeting, which is held for an informal high-level exchange of views about the situation in the OSCE zone of responsibility and also to prepare the annual OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting, which will convene in Bratislava on December 5–6.
We hope to have an open conversation on the topical issues on the European agenda without politicisation. The discussion is expected to help ease military and political tensions in the Euro-Atlantic zone and step up efforts in fighting transnational threats, to give a boost to conflict settlement processes, in eastern Ukraine above all, and bring countries’ positions on current issues related to economic and humanitarian cooperation closer together.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to hold bilateral meetings with the OSCE leadership and ministers of several member countries on the sidelines of the informal meeting in High Tatras. The schedule is being agreed on now. I can say that meetings with foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Finland and Andorra were confirmed. I will inform you as soon as other contracts are confirmed as well.
Tomorrow, on July 5, a ceremony will be held in memory of employees of the USSR People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, who on July 5, 1941, voluntarily joined the people’s militia. In honour of this event, on February 10, 2014, a memorial panel was installed on the former building of the USSR People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs at 21/5 Kuznetsky Most Street.
Our colleagues heroically took part in heavy battles against the Nazi invaders as part of the 6th division of the Moscow militia in the Smolensk Region, during which almost all of them were killed.
The event will be attended by the ministry’s leadership, in particular, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin, representatives of the Council of War Veterans, the Association of Russian Diplomats, the Council of Young Diplomats of the Russian Foreign Ministry and other departmental staff.
We invite everyone to commemorate the heroes.
At the last briefing, my colleague announced in detail the introduction of electronic visas on July 1 for foreign citizens who wish to visit the Kaliningrad Region. The relevant directive of the Russian Government has entered into force. Today, the Foreign Ministry published on its website a full list of 53 states whose citizens can enjoy for the first time or once again the beauty of the westernmost region of Russia. Believe me, there is a lot to see there.
According to news agencies, I saw that today some people already received e-visas.
Russia is closely following the developments around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), including the implementation of the provisions on Iran’s nuclear programme parameters.
On July 1, the IAEA recorded a certain excess in the JCPOA-agreed stockpile limit of low-enriched uranium by Tehran and informed the Agency's Board of Governors of this as a mere fact. All work implemented by the Iranian side remains under the full control of the IAEA. There are no concerns regarding nuclear non-proliferation in this connection. We hope that Tehran will continue to act responsibly as regards implementing the safeguards agreement and the additional protocol.
With respect to uranium inventory limits, this is about voluntary obligations that the Iranian side undertook while agreeing to the nuclear deal in 2015. It is regrettable that the JCPOA-agreed limit has been exceeded; however, this should be considered a natural consequence of the preceding events. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked about this in detail at his recent news conference.
Again, I would like to note that we are talking about the US sanctions against Iran that made the latter's implementation of the JCPOA obligations impossible. Iran has long warned that exceeding the limit was imminent.
We believe that the involved parties have to act based on the interests of preserving the JCPOA, and should by no means dramatise the fact, while focusing on the joint work to stabilise the situation around the JCPOA in the context of the efforts taken at the Joint Commission's meeting in Vienna on June 28. These include developing practical measures to allow Iran to export low-enriched uranium and heavy water despite the US sanctions.
Consistent and persistent efforts are needed from the Joint Commission to preserve and continue the comprehensive implementation of the JCPOA.
We continue to receive alarming news from Libya. Hostilities around Tripoli are becoming protracted with a growing number of killed and wounded as well as internally displaced persons. It has been reported that an air attack on a detention centre for illegal migrants in the outskirts of the Libyan capital killed at least 56 people and wounded over 130. Efforts are underway to investigate the circumstances.
Regrettably, despite the urging from the international community, the conflicting sides are not showing any willingness to stop the armed confrontation and sit down at the negotiating table.
We believe that in the current circumstances the priority task is to cease the bloodshed that risks slipping into a full-scale civil war.
We confirm our principled stance in favour of a peaceful settlement of the Libyan crisis based on the constructive efforts taken in this respect through the mediation of Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame.
The feud and power vacuum in Libya are creating favourable conditions for the activities of various terrorist groups whose outrages have increased in number.
This can only be stopped by the coordinated actions of all national and patriotic forces both in the country's west and east.
We believe that it is vitally needed to establish a ceasefire. We urge Libyan military and political forces to begin a dialogue and take measures to restore an all-inclusive political process to overcome the country's split and create unified and effective state institutions that can bring peace and prosperity back to the Libyan people.
Russia has rendered, and is ready to render all possible assistance to this process together with all interested international partners. Once again, we emphasise the relevance of a clear and coordinated stance of the global community to oppose the ongoing power struggle in Libya in favour of an earliest possible national reconciliation with assistance from the UN.
On July 2, a diplomat from the Japanese Embassy in the Russian Federation was given a note of protest by the Foreign Ministry for misrepresenting the South Kuril Islands as Japanese territory in audiovisual and other materials used at the G20 summit in Osaka.
The note says Japan abused its G20 Presidency function in order to promote its unfounded territorial claims to this territory, which contradict the documents sealing the results of World War II, including the UN Charter.
We must point out that such actions run counter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated statements on refraining from steps that might damage the political position of the other side and that might generally have an adverse effect on the atmosphere of Russian-Japanese relations. Japan has been notified about this.
On June 26, International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the presentation of the regular World Drug Report took place at three UN venues – Vienna, New York and Geneva.
Compiled by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the report notes an increase in the death rate caused by the use of narcotic drugs, new records in opium and cocaine production and the growing expansion of synthetic narcotics.
Cannabis is a separate issue in the report. In part, the report points to the negative consequences of the legalisation of the non-medical use of cannabis in Canada, Uruguay and some US states. Commercial companies in these countries are striving to increase their profits from the sale of recreational marijuana, and are not being guided by considerations for the health and wellbeing of the population. The grey market has not been eliminated and continues to flourish. Broad access to narcotics has led to a sharp increase in abuse, especially among the younger generation.
These expert conclusions directly confirm the warmings made by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 62nd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs held in Vienna last March to the effect that the “legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes in some countries is a direct road to the ‘narcotic hell.’”
In cooperation with its allies and associates, Russia intends to continue consistently following the course towards consolidating the interstate anti-drug mechanism based on three relevant UN conventions. Our ultimate goal is to build a world free of drugs, rather than a world that is tolerant of drugs. We are determined to firmly and persistently move along this path.
Over the past few days, representatives of the Russian media have twice been subjected to shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the area of Donetsk. On July 2, the crew of the Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company correspondent Andrey Rudenko came under mortar fire from the Ukrainian security forces near the village of Aleksandrovka. The journalists were going to do a story about the consequences of the night and morning shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Luckily, no one from the crew was injured. A little earlier, on June 27, three journalists, including a Rossiya Segodnya photo correspondent, also came under fire from the Ukrainian army on the western outskirts of Donetsk.
We demand that the Ukrainian authorities fulfill their obligations to ensure the safety of media representatives. We remind that Kiev alone bears full responsibility for the life and health of journalists in Ukraine.
Yesterday, the Podolsky District Court of Kiev once again extended the pre-trial detention of Kirill Vyshinsky, who was arrested in Ukraine on the absurd charge of high treason, postponing the case hearing until July 15. As you know, he suffered as he carried out his professional duties, in full accordance with the laws of Ukraine and under a completely open editorial policy.
I would like to draw your attention to the comments made by Kirill Vyshinsky yesterday during the so-called proceedings. His remarks lasted a little over two minutes. I strongly advise you to listen to and hear what he said.
We almost weekly draw attention to this issue. He has been behind bars for more than a year. Once again, not only his colleagues fail to understand what this case is based on, if we talk about the charges, neither do Ukrainian prosecutors. That is what they said when they asked for another postponement. It turns out that they now need to look into the case and materials. I would call it a circus, but it already exceeds the bounds of reason. This is terrible discrimination against media representatives, the humiliation of a journalist and Ukraine itself, as Kirill Vyshinsky said yesterday. This certainly requires the close attention of the international community.
Despite the consolidated opinion of world experts, Kiev has consistently ignored calls to release Kirill Vyshinsky, not taking into account statements by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir. Once again, I would like to reiterate that the Russian Foreign Ministry made this topic one of the central issues in commenting and reviewing the situation with freedom of speech and the rights of journalists. We will continue to work with relevant international agencies in order not to ease the pressure on the Ukrainian authorities and bring them back within the confines of the law.
We have noted a report released recently by German counterintelligence with a number of accusations against Russia. Apart from claims that Russian special services are allegedly engaged in robust espionage activities in Germany, a large part of the report is devoted to Russian media’s influence on public opinion in Germany.
For example, the Sputnik news agency and the RT Deutsch TV channel are accused of “spreading propaganda and disinformation” claiming that the Russian state is stepping up its media presence in Germany. I think the same report could have noted Germany’s increased information presence in the world and in Russia and enlarged budgets for the country’s media outlets which are subsidised by the state – but German counterintelligence somehow failed to find time for that. The report claims that Russian government media companies are disguised as independent media to conceal the fact that they belong to the official authorities and to exert subtle influence on the public.
The report is awash with such dogmatic statements which match exactly the opinions of the German Union of Journalists. An intriguing coincidence, indeed. I think the phrases and words are exactly the same. This is not an impression, one feels confidence that the German Union of Journalists, which has been attacking Sputnik and Russia Today mentioned in the German counterintelligence agency’s report for almost a year, was using the guidelines of that very agency.
All the propositions in the report lack any evidence and facts while the conclusions are straightforward. For example, Russian media’s response to London’s numerous insinuations around the Skripal case is labelled as “Russia’s international campaign.” But who started that campaign? Who spoke in the UK parliament? Who feeds the British media with daily leaks from British official and state bodies and agencies? Is it the Russian media? Maybe it is the Russian Foreign Ministry? Or Russian special services? Certainly not. This issue, this theme and campaign are certainly British. But for some reason the report calls them Russian. RT Deutch and Sputnik, according to German counterintelligence, “were to distract attention from the suspicions and sow doubts about them” in that allegedly Russia’s international campaign. It is going over the top. It is some sort of nonsense, absurdity. The question to the German counterintelligence service: Does it have an understanding of what happened in Salisbury and Amesbury? If it does, this understanding should be based on facts. It would be absolutely appropriate to advance some arguments in the report, at least in support of London’s stance, rather than blame Russian media for all the world’s troubles.
In reality the British version of the investigation is so that doubts spring up by themselves not only among the Russian media but also among the public and people who do not get any answers to the most basic questions any thinking individual may have.
In fact, the report’s authors deny readers the chance to engage in critical thinking and virtually impose London’s official opinion. How about an alternative? How about different views? What about pluralism? Where is the democracy we have been lectured on for so long? According to the German counterintelligence service, there must be only one point of view on the Salisbury events, the British one based not just on experts’ opinions (and even British experts have different points of view on that). Even if we consider the British media and experts’ output – articles, films, documentaries (let us call it this way although it all looks more like fantasy or editorialising) – the number of different versions there goes overboard. Unfortunately, this is not due to official information lavishly provided by the British side but rather due to lack of official information. We as well as experts in Germany are facing controlled leaks. It is these scary realities of today’s media space that should be the focus of reports rather than legal, normal and adequate activities of journalists.
However, the story does not end here. Official Berlin is not only reluctant to share any evidence, it is also trying to avoid public discussion of all its propositions. When a Ruptly correspondent asked a follow-up question on the report addressed to Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer during the official news conference, they tried to shut her up under the pretext that she had not registered for the event. The Ruptly correspondent had to present her credentials, and only after that she was allowed to continue asking her question.
We perceive this as another episode of discrimination against Russian journalists, and indeed against journalists in general in Germany, and the aforementioned report as the next stage of heightening the atmosphere of hostility and toxicity around the Russian media, which official Berlin strongly turns into a threat in the eyes of the local audience.
We consider such a policy unacceptable and in violation of the fundamental principles of freedom of the media and expression. We are calling on respective international bodies and human rights NGOs to look into this situation, primarily the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir.
The selected excerpts on Russian media from the report will be attached to the materials we are sending to the international organisations. This is clear evidence of an aggressive attitude towards media representatives taking shape on the territory of another country. It is being done by special services.
We have taken note of a new BBC article on the Skripal case. The planted story was timed to coincide with President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka. It is based on an update in the “investigation” of Bellingcat as well as materials from a BBC correspondent. A new character is introduced in the drama: a certain senior official of the Russian special services (even his rank is provided) who allegedly led the operation. Of course, there is no proof that information could be based on.
In addition, Scotland Yard officially announced it would refrain from commenting because this information is related to an open investigation in several areas, including identifying new suspects. I have one question only. What about the materials provided for this planted story that could not be obtained by journalists in a lawful way? These journalists either hacked something or received the materials from precisely the agencies that later refrain from official comments. Of course, the hand that manipulated the journalists or Bellingcat and BBC’s investigation can clearly be seen here. There are no other options, as can be seen from the range of technical means and data, the access to which is only provided with permission by law, as I said.
I have a proposal: to finally ask those behind these articles and those showing them to us: stop making up mystery stories, just answer simple questions, because there are too many blank spaces in this story. We don’t know where the Skripals went on the morning of March 4, why they turned off their mobile phones and if they returned home. It is completely unclear why the chief nurse of the British Army was at the crime scene, as well as why personnel with special professional training on how to treat victims of chemical poisoning were at the Salisbury local hospital.
Another question we are waiting an answer on is puzzling us: why does Great Britain refuse to give us records from CCTV cameras located outside the Skripals’ house and to provide the consular access to them. It is completely unclear. It would be good if, instead of all these plants, leaks and the endless data falsification, Bellingcat answered on what grounds the British authorities created an information embargo around the Skripals. Why haven’t we had a chance (as well as they, by the way) to speak with the people so much was said about, for over a year? Why have these people been denied a chance to give their take? It is simply prohibited for them to meet with journalists or give interviews.
I would like to recall again that official London continues to reject any cooperation with competent Russian agencies in the investigation of the attempt on the lives of Sergey and Yulia Skripal. Russia’s position on providing full information about the status of the investigation and providing consular access in conformity with the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations remains in force.
Given the constant accusations of a Russian cyber threat, as well as of Russia's interference in practically every election across the globe, we took note of Facebook vice-president Nick Clegg's interview with BBC. Clegg said the social network conducted two full analyses of its data in the run-up to the referendum and on the voting day, and found no evidence of any activity that could influence the Brexit outcome.
It should be noted that Brexit opponents have already made attempts to look for traces of Moscow’s involvement, the shadow of the Kremlin and Russian meddling with the 2016 vote but all in vain. This subject is an endless topic of discussion. I think this interview, which sheds a great deal of light on what really happened, can be taken as an example.
Lithuanian authorities continue down the path of infringing on journalists' rights.
Recently, the local media regulator, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania, which is vested with authority to restrict television channels' broadcasting for up to 72 hours in case of serious violations that allegedly present a threat to national security, has made a decision to block seven websites that post mostly Russian-language content. The pretext was the websites' failure to notify the regulator that they were launching operations. This is not the first time Russian-language information resources were banned under invented pretexts. As a refresher, in May 2018 the regulator blocked access to six websites, which published, among others, Russian-language content, on the same basis.
Also, since July 1, requirements have been in effect in Lithuania that demand that television broadcasting companies restrict the volume of foreign broadcasting in languages "other than EU official languages." This is total discrimination. The Lithuanian media regulator has already reported 'success' in this field in a press release that said broadcast duration of Russian television and radio programmes has been reduced by over 20 hours. Such a discriminatory and antidemocratic measure has met with jubilation from a number of Lithuanian parliament members, while a representative of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats party Laurynas Kasciunas, who is known for making Russophobic statements, even said that “consistent efforts to fight Russian propaganda will consolidate this trend.”
In this way, official Vilnius continues its policy of blatant discrimination against Russian and Russian-language media, and is openly taking steps to cleanse the information space that blatantly violate fundamental principles of international law concerning the freedom of expression and equal access to information.
We urge related international organisations to respond, particularly the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and human rights NGOs. Also, we would like to hear Brussels' thoughts on whether such blatant mockery of the freedom of speech by Lithuania is evidence of a commitment to the pan-European democratic values the EU takes so much pride in.
On July 4, the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency press centre hosted a news conference by Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Military History Society (RMHS) Sergey Ivanov. The news conference was entitled Ahead of the 80th Anniversary of World War Two: From Versailles to Gleiwitz. Sergey Ivanov highlighted the factors behind and the causes that led to World War II. He spoke of the importance of the Munich Betrayal of 1938 in the context of efforts by London and Paris to channel Hitler’s aggression eastwards and reminded the audience of Poland’s infamous role in the events which preceded the beginning of World War II. He also explained in detail several controversial issues relating to the 1939 German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, emphasising that it was necessary to sign this document to safeguard national interests and ensure security for the Soviet Union and avoid the war on two fronts, that is, simultaneously against Germany and Japan.
Please note that materials relating to the news conference are available on the Rossiya Segodnya website along with documents dating back to this period from the Foreign Ministry archive, which will also be posted on the Ministry’s official pages.
On July 10-11, the World Trade Centre will serve as the venue for the Sixth Forum of Young Diplomats from Eurasian Countries. The subject of the Forum is Integration Processes in Eurasia in 2014-2019: Results and Prospects.
This is a very interesting and functional format for non-formal communication between young specialists representing the foreign ministries of the CIS countries and “greater” Eurasia. Fifteen countries will be represented at the forum.
The Sixth Eurasia Forum is dedicated to integration processes in Eurasia. The forum will include themed sections that will be attended by representatives of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the expert community, as well as by young diplomats from the CIS and Pacific Rim countries with observer status that have signed agreements on free trade areas with Russia.
The programme for the two-day forum includes meetings with prominent public figures and politicians, as well as top-ranking officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, and members of the Russian business and academic communities.
This forum is being held by the Foreign Ministry’s Council of Young Diplomats as part of the new horizontal diplomacy concept that is being developed to promote interaction between young diplomats around the world.
The meetings are expected to produce a road map for the employees of the foreign ministries of the Eurasian countries for 2019 and 2020, which provides, among other things, for the creation of the Association of Young Diplomats from the Eurasian Economic Union and the signing of agreements with counterparts that include the Council of Young Diplomats at partner foreign ministries.
We invite the media to attend the forum at 9:30 am on July 10 and 11.
Media accreditation until 3 pm, July 8 (Vera Pavlova +7 965 107 8509).
Question: It was announced yesterday that President Vladimir Putin had signed an executive order to suspend the INF Treaty. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the bloc would coordinate political and military measures in the event of the treaty’s suspension. Will you comment on this in light of the plans to discuss this at the Russia-NATO Council tomorrow?
Maria Zakharova: I believe this is a subject we comment on at all levels several times a day. But this has not reduced the number of questions. And just as often the media, primarily the US media but also European publications publish items that directly accuse Russia of violating the INF Treaty. It fact, it’s the other way around. Regrettably, it is the United States that is destroying the treaty under far-fetched pretexts, instead of working professionally together with us to analyse mutual complaints.
All accusations of Russia, which some of Washington’s European allies have supported, are absolutely groundless. We held news conferences, briefings and onsite seminars where the attendees could not only listen but also “feel” the Russian arguments. Unfortunately, Washington and many of its allies ignored those events and continue to attack us publicly in the media.
I would like to point out that we have not received any concrete proof of our alleged violations of the INF Treaty. The United States has rejected all our initiatives on mutual transparency measures and preferred to get rid of the treaty that restricts its ability to put military pressure on its opponents. Apart from Russia, it is China, which Washington sees as a long-term geopolitical rival, as the fundamental US national security documents say.
When it comes to our part, we did everything we could to save the INF Treaty. We offered Washington a package of concrete and practical measures, which could ease the sides’ concerns based on mutual transparency. But all our initiatives, including the idea of reciprocity, were rejected outright without a serious analysis. Despite Washington’s unsubstantiated and counterproductive refusal, on January 23 we held a briefing for all the concerned countries to display our arguments regarding the missile that is of such a great concern for the United States and NATO. This unprecedented measure went far beyond our INF commitments. It was a voluntary and friendly invitation to a normal dialogue based on mutual respect. Our Defence Ministry experts provided exhaustive information so that foreign experts could formulate objective opinions on the specifications of that Russian missile. However, nearly all NATO countries refused to attend that briefing. They didn’t do this voluntarily but under Washington’s pressure.
The United States started designing new intermediate-range missiles long ago. We will have to take measures, as the Russian authorities have warned more than once, to maintain the balance of forces if the Americans deploy these missiles. But we will not deploy our ground-launched intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, when we create them, until Washington deploys missiles of the same class in the designated regions. We see this as a big goodwill gesture. We are doing everything within our power to maintain predictability and conditions for resuming dialogue when – or if – Washington is ready.
Question: The CSTO has sent a letter to NATO countries regarding compliance with the INF Treaty. Have they responded in any manner?
Maria Zakharova: Such a document was indeed sent out through all possible channels, but regrettably, we have not seen any reaction so far.
Anticipating questions about possible contacts with the Americans on this subject, I can tell you that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson will meet for the next round of strategic dialogue in Geneva on July 17-18 to discuss a wide range of topics bearing on strategic stability. Mr Ryabkov will lead an interagency delegation. I would like to draw your attention to a detailed and substantial interview he gave to the newspaper Izvestia, in which he highlighted the problem of the INF Treaty.
Question: The OSCE foreign ministers will discuss the strengthening of security in the OSCE zone of responsibility at their upcoming meeting in Slovakia. Could they discuss conflicts in the post-Soviet republics, in particular the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group recently held a meeting with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington, with the approval of OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Miroslav Lajcak. Will this dialogue, which has become much more active of late, continue?
Maria Zakharova: I believe we should give the hosts of the meeting and the OSCE an opportunity to answer this question. I think it would be a good thing if the organisation’s representatives said what priorities they would focus on. On our part, I can say that all subjects on the OSCE agenda, including at the level of foreign ministers, will be put forward and brought up and discussed both at the multilateral as well as other formats.
Question: Is the peace treaty between Russia and Japan still being discussed regardless of the provocation that you mentioned by the Japanese side in Osaka? Is mandatory removal of the US military bases from Japanese territory a matter of consideration in this peace treaty?
Maria Zakharova: We have agreed with our Japanese colleagues not to comment on the course of discussions so as not to give grounds for further provocations. We ask you to show consideration for this agreement, and I would like to stress that we invariably follow it.
Question: The US has stated its intent to withdraw troops from Syria. Do you register any progress in that area?
Maria Zakharova: I am at a loss as to how to answer the question of whether we have marked any progress since it is hard to say if there can be progress in chaos. We heard innumerable statements regarding the US approaches to withdrawing troops from Syria, and they were all different. The funniest thing is that subsequently the US, both publicly and behind the scenes, accused us of trying to exploit differences in approaches and positions in the American establishment, and in particular, among officials. We are doing nothing of the kind. We are really trying to grasp the logic of actions on a practical issue at least in the short term – whether US troops will be withdrawn or not from Syrian territory.
To give a clear-cut answer to your question, we do not register any progress simply because it is only possible if you understand the logic of actions and can proceed from an official position. There is no official position regarding deadlines, quantitative parameters and other important nuances in this case. And so we cannot speak of any progress.
Question: Do you think the process of establishing a quasi state on the eastern bank of the Euphrates has become irreversible?
Maria Zakharova: Mr Lavrov gave a very detailed answer to this question. Honestly, I have nothing to add to our approach. I can give a quote from him. It is about the irreversibility of our approach towards Syria being a sovereign state and thus any territorial experiments are unacceptable, especially attempts to divide the country into several parts. I can speak about the irreversibility of the Russian stance with confidence. I think this also serves as an answer to your question.
Question: Will you please comment on the initiative of Dutch MPs to set up a hybrid tribunal for foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq?
Maria Zakharova: We have already commented on this matter. The idea of setting up an international antiterrorist tribunal on ISIS is not new, it has been discussed for several months. The root cause for the emergence of such ideas is the unwillingness of some European nations to readmit their citizens who went to the “hot spots” and joined international terrorist organisations there, and also a desire to shirk responsibility and shift it onto some international structures that are perceived at this stage as a kind of “legal panacea.” We underscore that this issue may be resolved only by enhancing international cooperation, including with the incumbent Syrian government, taking into account that a big number of militants operated in that country.
At the same time we note that the ideologues behind establishing such a tribunal are reluctant to acknowledge the legitimacy of the government of Syria. It is a closed vicious circle and it must be abandoned.
In this respect we continue to proceed from the fact that the issue of criminal prosecution of ISIS militants who were active on the territory of Syria should be primarily addressed within the Syrian justice system.
I have noted interesting expert assessments of the positions held by a number of nations. I think this concerned France. French nationals were arrested in Iraq and Syria on charges of terrorism and received death sentences. I was shocked by France’s position (as explained and written up by experts). On the one hand, the French government does not want to take those nationals back to France, but on the other hand it demands that the authorities of the countries who hold custody of those French nationals not apply capital punishment to them, thus dictating their will in the legal space of another country. This is an unparalleled situation. If you know how to try them and according to which laws – take your citizens back home. But if you do not want to take responsibility for your citizens and leave them on the territory of another country, it might be logical to delegate that country the right to decide the fate of those who killed and committed terrorist acts against its citizens on its territory.
Question: I think that most of these women and children are not guilty. Their men are.
Maria Zakharova: It’s a marvellous stance. In general, I can share your stance – women are not guilty, their men are. I like it a lot. I think it amounts to a political platform.
On a serious note, we can speak a lot and philosophise on that - who bears what responsibility, etc. But there are laws, investigations and courts. Only the courts can determine both the degree of culpability and the degree of guilt, on the basis of the law of a particular country. It also applies to these cases. But I welcome philosophising. However, I think we should separate philosophy from legal proceedings. Nevertheless, one does not replace the other and one must be of help to the other. If you wrote an article based on your experiences of living in the region, your knowledge of the culture and mentality of the people, I as a resident of a different region would be excited to read it and to learn of the problem you mentioned. I am serious, I would be happy to read it.
Question: Is there information, or when will it be known who will become members of the Constitutional Committee of Syria?
Maria Zakharova: As you have noticed, I did not devote a separate material to Syria today since Mr Lavrov is having talks with UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen tomorrow. We will publish an expanded material following their talks which will also cover this issue.
Question: The Kosovo authorities have banned all Serbian officials from entering the territory. How does the Foreign Ministry assess this move?
Maria Zakharova: I saw reports citing certain sources, certain officials from the self-proclaimed Kosovo authorities saying that allegedly, Serbian officials would not be allowed to visit Kosovo.
In this case, these statements – true or false, reflecting the position of someone in Kosovo or not – are of little significance. We adhere to our unchanged position regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, and the peaceful settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which is still in force. So we consider any attempts to introduce such bans – in theory or reality – legally void, meaningless and hardly helping resolve the existing problems.
Question: Will Russia pay its 2017-2018 membership debt to the Council of Europe?
Maria Zakharova: As you know, Russia has paid its membership contribution for the current year, 2019. At the June session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), our membership was reaffirmed, fully and without exemptions. So this created conditions for decision-making on the debt to the Council of Europe; therefore, the Russian obligations will be fulfilled.
Question: Russia has repeatedly stated its intention to take efforts toward denuclearising the Korean Peninsula. So is it planned to invite Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea Kim Jong-un to the Eastern Economic Forum this year? What is Russia’s assessment of the meeting between the US and North Korean leaders on June 30?
Maria Zakharova: A detailed commentary on your second question was published on the Foreign Ministry website on July 1. The Foreign Ministry announced that it welcomed the June 30 meeting of the Leader of North Korea and the President of the United States, which resulted in the agreement to intensify bilateral contacts at the working level. It also reaffirmed Russia’s position that the improvement of US-North Korea relations as well as relations between the two Koreas, as provided for by the Russian-Chinese roadmap, is an integral part of the process to resolve the nuclear and other problems on the Korean Peninsula. It also stated our conviction that the achievement of this goal requires the joint efforts of all the involved states and their rigorous commitment to the multilateral nature of the political negotiation process.
We continue working closely with our key partners in the interests of a comprehensive settlement in the sub-region.
As for the invitations to heads of state, they are being sent by, and upon the decision of, the Presidential Executive Office.
Question: Do you have any comment on Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergey Kopyrkin’s meeting with representatives of the so-called Armenia-Artsakh Strategic Alliance on June 26?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, I must say that we are talking here about routine contacts as part of the Ambassador’s communication with the political forces in the host country. Once again, this is his direct responsibility.
As far as I understand, you are talking about the meeting with the leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Dashnaktsutyun, one of the oldest political parties in the country. I can also confirm that the meeting was initiated by the Armenian side and covered a wide range of issues. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was also discussed, although it was not central.
After we saw this information in the media, we inquired and found out that our diplomats had not been informed that representatives of the Strategic Union Armenia-Karabakh Forum organising committee would accompany the Dashnaktsutyun leadership. But we are hospitable and polite people.
This meeting could not have had a political component as the media alleged. Russia’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has not changed in any way. It is regularly voiced in Moscow by the leadership of the state and confirmed, including on the ground, by our ambassadors and diplomats. As you know, it has always been weighted and balanced.
Since this topic has raised questions, including from Azerbaijan and in that country’s media space, I can say that we have given the same answer to our Azerbaijani partners.
Question: According to media reports, the Russian Federation is ready to exchange pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko for an American citizen now serving a prison term in Russia. What is the name of this person?
If the Russian side does not accept charges against its citizen who was arrested in a third state, will this be an equal exchange, considering the fact that American citizens who are probably being discussed were caught red-handed, and that they are believed to be spies and intelligence operatives?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly said that everything linked with the arrest of Konstantin Yaroshenko, as well as the methods being used against him, his prison conditions and the attitude towards him evoked a lot of questions and sometimes caused outright indignation. We have repeatedly voiced our public position and told the US side what we think about this matter, including at the level of ministers (in this case at the level of the foreign minister), and we have also notified senior State Department officials.
I understand that this refers to a statement made by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov who said this exchange was possible. Such matters are resolved via bilateral channels and are discussed at the level of experts, diplomats and lawyers, rather than in public. We are open and prepared for such dialogue.
You know about Yaroshenko’s prison term, you know that he has been in prison for a long time, and you also know about his health condition. We have repeatedly said that the entire process in which he was involved, starting with the provocative actions against him and ending with the attitude towards him in prison, raised the question of whether what is happening to him is legitimate or not.
Summing up, I would like to say that an exchange is possible. The decision is made via bilateral channels. This amounts to the work of experts and lawyers, rather than just public rhetoric.
Question: The West which believes that Crimea is an occupied territory is trying to prevent its citizens from visiting the region. Would it be appropriate to stipulate a more lenient visa regime in Crimea against this backdrop?
Maria Zakharova: The concerned agencies should deal with this matter; this process should include efforts to coordinate the positions of immigration services, law enforcement agencies and the Foreign Ministry.
But the problem is not mitigating or modifying Russian visa requirements for foreign tourists wishing to visit Crimea. Tourists are faced with direct bans or threats on the part of various national governments, primarily those of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. They intimidate their own citizens and persuade them not to go there, and they also impose sanctions on various companies. We can see that this is manifested in all aspects, including the designation of Crimea in tourist routes, online and on the websites of the relevant companies, as well as direct warnings issued by officials in the run-up to the tourist season or without any other pretext; these warnings concern travel agencies, companies, associations or private individuals.
A more lenient visa regime will not serve as a cure-all in this particular case because people are being openly intimidated and persuaded not to go. But I will inform our experts about your proposal.
Question: It is common knowledge that Russia maintains a military alliance with China …
Maria Zakharova: We have no military alliances. There is the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and intra-SCO counter-terrorism cooperation. We are not members of any military blocs and alliances; nor did we establish any of them. This is a very important aspect.
I understand that you might perceive these things as insignificant, and that you refer to everything linked with security or counter-terrorism matters as military alliances. But this is absolutely not so.
We support interaction and cooperation with various countries, including military-technical cooperation. We sell weapons, conduct joint exercises, including counter-terrorism exercises, and we sign the relevant agreements and exchange information. But none of this can be interpreted as the existence of military alliances or involvement in military alliances This is the Russian Federation’s principled position.
Question: I have a question about a military bloc due to involve China and North Korea. President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping recently said this bloc would be established in the Asia Pacific region. How powerful will this bloc be? How should Russia respond to this?
Maria Zakharova: We assume that strategic stability must be preserved in this region and in all others. Over the past few years, we have been noting that various destabilising trends are becoming more pronounced in the region. This includes US actions aiming to change the security system that has evolved or is being created there. This also includes joint exercises, and every country has a right to hold them, except when they are directed against sovereign and independent UN member states. Moreover, this includes the deployment of missile-defence systems which is not motivated by any obvious necessity but which, at the same time, jeopardises the security of a number of states.
We are working actively via various channels to maintain strategic stability in the region. We assume that current global threats do not amount to individual threats, and that they can only be repelled collectively, through partnership and cooperation. This is exactly what we are doing because this aspect is contained in fundamental documents linked with our national security.
We realise that independent and sovereign countries have a right to bilateral cooperation which does not evoke concerns if it does not aim to undermine common, global and regional security and if it is not directed against third states. This is our principled position.
Indeed, we maintain special relations with China. We expand our contacts in all spheres, including military cooperation and information exchanges, as well as economic, cultural, humanitarian and political cooperation.
Question: My question is about digital terrorism. Not so long ago, Yandex reported an attack on its servers. The media reported that hackers also attacked Russia’s electric grids. Is the issue of digital terrorism discussed on the sidelines or directly by foreign ministries and within the G20?
Maria Zakharova: Absolutely. This is the purpose of Russia’s international information security initiatives. This issue is handled by Special Presidential Representative for International Cooperation in Information Security Andrei Krutskikh and his team of experts, who participate in talks at different international venues, including the UN. They are in charge of developing Russia’s proposals. They work on resolutions, conventions and regulations. Of course, this matter is also in the area of special focus and control of a whole number of Russian agencies and departments. In particular, they deal with cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure.
Question (retranslated): What is Russia’s role in preventing the conflict in the region that may be triggered by actions of the United States against Iran?
Maria Zakharova: We are seriously concerned about the tensions in the region that are being exacerbated by the aggressive statements from the United States against Iran that we are hearing from the White House, the Department of State, the Pentagon and the National Security Advisor’s office. Not only are these statements aggressive, they are also inconsistent. I would say there are different degrees of aggression without any clear strategy or concept. We can see only one substantive tendency, which is constant intimidation of Iran. This is where we have observed consistency in the American approach. Unfortunately, when it comes to any other issues, the United States is not demonstrating consistency. Suffice it to mention their claims of a possible missile attack that horrified the world.
The region abounds in conflict spots that over the past years have overgrown the level of local and even regional conflicts. They have turned into a breeding ground for international terrorism, which has found a new source of strength there. To the same extent that the international terrorist activity was localised in the context of Afghanistan, for example, the international terrorist community got a second wind by feeding on local and regional conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. We have seen the outcome of these conflicts. They destroy states and infrastructure; they result not only in a sweeping impoverishment but a degradation of nations (not suffering but degradation is the word). The historical, political, economic, financial and defence potential that has accumulated over centuries ceased to exist within several years in a number of territories. It was destroyed. Libya is a graphic example.
Even if we set aside international law and the understanding that it is unacceptable to make aggressive statements against a sovereign state that follows the democratic law which is so important to the Western world (although it deserves a discussion), let’s think about the interests of the region. What will the region get from yet another acute conflict? I think it is beyond argument that it will plunge into another wave of chaos. We cannot help but worry about this and we express our concerns and clarify Russia’s position at all levels.
You asked about Russia’s role. Russia supports international law and existing legal mechanisms that quieted concerns of various countries with respect to Iran in the past, specifically, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA was a mechanism that our country actively participated in developing. It seems fair to say that it resolved the issues on the table for the subsequent four years and would have continued to do so successfully if the United States had not withdrawn from the agreement unilaterally. Our country clearly expresses its views. Russia’s mediation is not even in the equation because we are talking about the aggressive attitude of the United States towards Iran. We are criticising it in every possible way, to put it mildly. We do not accept it and find it illegitimate. Our opinion is that in this case it is necessary to go back to the international legal mechanisms that fully meet the interests of the United States, Iran and other countries in the region. These mechanisms do not produce anything but solutions and are certain not to aggravate the situation.
Question: How would you assess the current relations between Russia and the Holy See in the context of the meeting between President Putin and Pope Francis?
Maria Zakharova: All the materials and all the comments on the second question have already been provided. You know that we do not comment on the international agenda involving presidential visits and summits. This is a question for the Presidential Executive Office. I want to say again that the relevant materials have already been published and the Russian side’s opinions have yet to be learnt as a follow-up to the meetings.
Question: Do the Russian proposals on the Ukrainian sailors set forth in the Russian diplomatic note imply their return to Ukraine?
Maria Zakharova: There was nothing else in that note. The note stated clearly that Russian laws stipulate relevant mechanisms that Ukraine can apply for their release not of liability but from custody against Ukrainian written guarantees that each of the 24 sailors will attend pre-trial proceedings and the trial. The note did not say that they must stay in Russia. I believe that the publications of the Ukrainian bloggers or observers as they call themselves on this subject are nothing but speculations. The note stated clearly that Russian laws do have the relevant instruments. I want to emphasise that we have received from Ukraine an official refusal to discuss this subject as a matter of principle.
Question: Has the Ukrainian position been adjusted after the statements by President Vladimir Zelensky?
Maria Zakharova: Since June 26, after the receipt of an official Ukrainian refusal to discuss the Russian diplomatic note, which was accompanied by a public statement from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, there have been no other notes, proposals or statements from Kiev, nor have there been any attempts to discuss the subject. I want this to be recorded clearly. At present, we only have the formal Ukrainian refusal to discuss the note that was forwarded to Kiev via diplomatic channels or the provisions it contained.