Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on the sidelines of the Eurasia Global International Youth Forum, Orenburg, August 15
- Eurasia Global International Youth Forum
- Orenburg Region: International and interregional ties
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion of Malta Carmelo Abela
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the opening ceremony of the documental exhibition: 1939. The Start of World War II
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas
- Update on Syria
- Libya update
- Developments in Venezuela
- Situation in Donbass
- Ukraine’s CIS membership
- Another anti-Russian publication in Dutch media
- Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s briefing on the sidelines of the 2019 Mashuk North Caucasus Youth Forum
- Situation in Ukraine
- Situation in Kyrgyzstan
- Russia’s position on establishing a security zone in the north of Syria, east of the Euphrates River
- Instruments of Russia-Uzbekistan humanitarian cooperation
- Construction of facilities at border checkpoints
We are holding today’s offsite briefing in Orenburg, which is hosting the Eurasia Global International Youth Forum from August 12 to 18. The forum is organised by the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, the Government of the Orenburg Region and the Youth Resource Centre, a federal publicly funded institution.
I had an opportunity to speak at the forum and talk with its participants today. Besides Russian citizens, there are also representatives of over 100 countries, and their questions mainly concerned the international agenda. So we had a little rehearsal already today. Our discussion of international issues continued for two hours. I enjoyed it very much, it was great. It seemed to me that the audience found it interesting too. We have established a good relationship with the forum and are prepared to support it in every way. We are thankful for the attention to our work here.
This forum is an annual platform for dialogue between youth organisations that foster engagement and cooperation.
The programme includes a wide range of topics: Social Project Planning, Culture and Arts, New Media and a practical component for participants from the CIS countries.
The Orenburg Region is a fast-growing constituent entity of the Russian Federation. It has rich natural resources, a very efficient agrarian sector and a diverse transport and energy infrastructure while its financial and lending institutions are developing dynamically. With its geographical location, the region plays an important strategic role to the southeast of Russia, as it lies between Europe and Asia. Many people travel here to see the region that connects these two continents of the world, two geographical and cultural spaces. I was told in my childhood that this point was a border, whereas today it seems to symbolise a connection. This, at least, can be said of our foreign policy objectives and it is what a number of regional organisations and institutions, as well as countries in the region are seeking to achieve.
To maintain its international relations, the Orenburg Region has signed 29 cooperation agreements with other countries. Its economy is integrated into the global economy, with over 80 countries among its trading partners.
The region’s foreign trade has shown positive dynamics in recent years. In 2018, it totaled some $3.4 billion.
Exports are dominated by fuel, energy and ferrous metals. Engineering products, chemicals, ferrous metal and fuel and energy products account for much of the region’s imports.
Key partners include Kazakhstan, the United States, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, China, Hungary, the Netherlands, Turkey, Lithuania, Tajikistan and Japan.
There are 364 companies in the region that have attracted investment from 39 countries. Their core activities are industrial and agricultural production, construction, transportation, communications, trade and services. Despite the introduction of economic sanctions by the Western countries, some European companies are not only maintaining existing partnership relations with the region but they are also contemplating the possibility of expanding their operations here.
The Orenburg Region, with its vast potential for promoting health and wellness tourism, attaches great importance to carrying out an investment project to create the Salt Lakes tourism and recreation cluster in the city of Sol-Iletsk. The Orenburgsky State Nature Reserve has good prospects for developing ecotourism, including tours to study the unique steppe flora and fauna. The Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Population of Przewalski’s Horses, which we all remember from our school text-books, was created on the basis of this nature reserve.
As for the cultural part of humanitarian cooperation with foreign countries, there are National Culture Days, memorial events and themed exhibitions. The East & West: Classical and Avant-Garde Art International Film Festival and the Gostiny Dvor Theatre Festival are annual events that draw performers and cultural figures from various countries.
People of 126 nationalities live in the Orenburg Region with its unique National Village cultural complex, which is popular with visitors who can learn about the history, culture and daily life of the largest ethnic groups.
The annual Orenburg Region – the Heart of Eurasia International Economic Forum is an important international event, which is attended by the authorities, members of the business community, leading Eurasian Economic Commission experts and civil society leaders from abroad, including the CIS countries. The forum highlights the special role the Orenburg Region plays as a popular EAEU integration forum.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion of Malta Carmelo Abela are scheduled to take place at the Russian Foreign Ministry on August 20. The ministers plan to discuss the current state of affairs in bilateral political dialogue and the development of trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian contacts between the two countries. They also plan to talk about a number of pressing international issues, including Russia’s cooperation with the EU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the developments in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.
The talks will be held in the context of a private visit by the Maltese Foreign Minister. It is timed to the opening of the exhibit of the painting, Portrait of Catherine the Great, by Russian artist Dmitry Levitsky at the Tsaritsyno State Museum-Reserve on August 18. The painting comes from the collection of the Presidential Palace in Valletta.
On August 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak at the opening ceremony of the documental exhibition: 1939. The Start of World War II. The exposition will present unique historical documents, including those from the ministry’s archives, which recreate the genuine picture of the events of those times, and which reveal the real reasons for the global conflict and those responsible.
The event will be attended by Director of Russian Archives Andrei Artizov and Chairman of the Russian Historical Society Sergey Naryshkin.
The exhibition was organised by Russia’s largest federal archives, including the Russian Archive of War History and the Foreign Ministry’s Department of History and Records.
Judging by the news from another Russian region – the Moscow Region, which is hosting the Terra Scientia Forum where Sergey Lavrov gave a speech, he has already announced his meeting and forthcoming talks with his German counterpart in Moscow.
On August 21-22, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas will pay a working visit to Moscow.
Mr Lavrov will hold talks with Mr Maas on August 21. The ministers will discuss key bilateral issues and verify their schedules for future political meetings. They will focus on ties between regions and civil societies and bilateral cooperation in the scientific, education, cultural, humanitarian, trade and economic areas.
They will also discuss in detail major international issues, including developments in Ukraine and Syria, the situation regarding Iran as well as the issues of global stability and strategic security.
The situation in Syria continues to be tense. The most difficult situation is in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist alliance militants continue shelling Russian military facilities and attacking government troop positions. They ignored Russia and Syria’s attempts to introduce a ceasefire on August 2. In all, over 200 ceasefire violations have been recorded, including with civilian victims. In response Syrian troops are conducting precision operations, with Russian air support, to suppress these terrorist activities while taking the necessary measures to ensure the safety of civilians in the de-escalation zone. Russia remains committed to the Sochi memorandum of September 17, 2018 on establishing a demilitarised zone. However, it should not be used as an excuse to protect and shield the terrorists that were qualified as such by the UN Security Council. We hope our Turkish partners will also abide strictly by the commitment assumed in this memorandum.
Attempts to isolate Syria’s northeast are a source of growing concern. Russia’s approach to this issue has remained unchanged. As before, we support efforts to reach long-term stability and security in the northeast by restoring Syria’s sovereignty and a productive dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds as part of the Syrian people.
Syrian nationals continue returning home. About 360,000 people have returned to Syria since the Russian initiative was declared last summer. All of them are receiving assistance to return to a normal life in the places where they have always lived.
On the humanitarian track, Russia continues working hard to relocate people from the Rukban camp of internally displaced persons. The camp is located near Al Tanf in the zone that was illegally occupied by the United States. As of today, about 18,000 people have been evacuated from there. We hope to complete the evacuation of peaceful civilians from Rukban, with the support of the relevant UN agencies, before September. Regrettably, the situation at another similarly notorious camp – Al-Hawl – does not evince a positive dynamic. It continues as basically an open-air prison for hundreds of local residents. The growth of contagious diseases is being recorded, and it lacks the basic necessities and medicines. The living conditions in the camp only encourage the extremist views of its radical residents, especially the young people.
Once again, we urge the international community to concentrate on post-conflict recovery and urgent humanitarian assistance for all Syrians without exception and without any political preconditions. In this context, we consider UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) funding an urgent necessity; Russia has already contributed.
We are optimistic about the political track and believe conditions exist for the successful convocation of the Constitutional Committee that will launch direct talks between all Syrians on the parameters of the country’s future governance, as is envisaged by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. For our part, we will continue rendering any necessary assistance to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen in completing the Constitutional Committee’s formation.
Distressing news keep on coming from Libya. Despite the ceasefire between the warring parties for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha brokered by UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, violence has broken out in various parts of the country.
On August 10, terrorists set off a car bomb in Benghazi killing three members of the UN Support Mission in Libya and injuring about 10 people. The latest escalation of tensions was discussed at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council where the Russian representative strongly condemned this and other terrorist attacks threatening both Libyans and employees of international organisations working in the country.
As we have noted on many occasions, the continuing strife in Libya directly plays into the hands of terrorists and extremists. Given the vacuum of central authority, and in the absence of effective government institutions, terrorists feel freer and freer with each day, and the Benghazi attack is convincing evidence of that.
We are convinced that terrorism in Libya can only be eradicated by the concerted efforts of all patriotic national forces both in the east and in the west of the country.
We reaffirm our view that there is no alternative to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis. This position is very often conveyed to the media and the international community, and it is notably free of ambiguity.
We believe there is a dire need to broker a lasting and stable ceasefire as the first step on this path. At the same time we are calling on the Libyan military-political forces to come to the negotiating table and take measures to launch an inclusive political process with a view to mending the country’s split and forming one set of effective government institutions capable of restoring peace and prosperity on Libyan soil.
The situation in Venezuela and around it remains tense. Washington has ignored our calls to lift sanctions against the social sector, to say the least, and therefore to help improve the humanitarian situation in this country. Moreover, the White House continues its attempts to put pressure on the people of this sovereign state which has no intention of renouncing its high-priority principles and does not want to be managed externally. These steps serve to deadlock the situation even more. Absolutely unacceptable threats to impose a total blockade on Venezuela and a readiness to use any means seen as “necessary” by Washington to counter Nicolas Maduro are being voiced. We know this entire rhetoric, and nothing new has been invented. The situation is being deliberately aggravated and intensified still further time and again.
We have repeatedly noted the need to act in strict compliance with the UN Charter, and we have underscored the illegitimacy of introducing any unilateral sanctions and the unacceptability of interfering in the domestic affairs of other states. However, Washington which is guided by its own interests continues to try and apply its own “rules.” This implies Washington as a group of individuals and a certain part of the political elite, rather than the capital of an entire state. The actions of the political establishment that has access to management leverage have nothing in common with the interests of the people of the United States. All of them lead to an all-out destabilisation of the regional situation. It is absolutely impossible to imagine how this can meet the interests of the people of the United States. Quite possibly, this does meet the interests of part of the business or political elite catering to the financial elite involved in the energy sector. But this does not mean catering to the interests of the entire American nation, although the incumbent US administration is publicly motivated by these high-sounding goals.
Washington’s approach being displayed over a period of the past few weeks will only exacerbate disagreements in Venezuela, and it will induce political opponents to steer towards violent confrontation. During these past weeks, a real attempt was made to stop the conflict’s hot phase and to launch a negotiating process using international mediation. Why should they reinstate all-out chaos that can escalate into an open conflict anytime and pass the point of no return? This is a big question.
Unfortunately, the United Kingdom is hot on the tracks of its partners. The British side is completing a military base on an island in the mouth of the Essequibo River under a nice-sounding pretext of thwarting arms and drugs smugglers. Several dozen so-called “refugees” from Venezuela have already arrived there who will undergo training in reconnaissance and sabotage teams. After that, they will infiltrate Venezuela, destabilise the situation there and commit various acts, including extremist and terrorist attacks.
At the same time, a media campaign to discredit the legitimate government of Venezuela continues. Throughout the year, Western media have been conducting a purposeful campaign accusing Venezuela of being a major drug threat for the United States. Are they meaning Venezuela? There are official statistics on the regional drug threat. For example, one can read official reports made by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. If the United States does not want to read UN documents (what if they are boring?), then it has always prioritised the data of NGOs. Specialised NGOs also provide such assessments. And, finally, the US Department of State issues its annual report. If they learned this data in line with any procedure, they would know where the main drug supplying countries are located in the Western Hemisphere. But, of course, Venezuela is not one of them. However, media outlets, US media outlets, first and foremost, have invented and are actively introducing a slogan that Venezuela alone is to blame for all regional narcotic-drug troubles. This is not the only absurd claim.
The objective successes of Caracas in coping with this threat are being deliberately hushed up. In 2005-2018, Venezuelan law enforcement agencies confiscated over 700,000 tonnes of narcotic drugs in border regions. We deeply regret the fact that this data, recorded by the government of Venezuela and other international organisations, is simply being ignored.
The US administration is adding fuel to the fire in line with a well-established tradition that aims to incite tension and to build up power pressure on Caracas, making statements that there is no longer any time for dialogue, and that it is high time to start acting. I would like to recall that the very same phrase implying that time for any dialogue and forms of talks is no more, and that it is high time to start acting was uttered with regard to Libya several years ago. Today, no one knows how to resolve the situation in Libya or how to launch a negotiating process there, one way or another. But the slogan remains the same, and it is now being applied to Venezuela, as well.
We consider such statements to be reckless and counter-productive; and, most importantly, these statements, have long ago proved ineffective. Against this backdrop, Admiral Craig S. Faller in charge of the US Southern Command has made some tell-tale statements on drafting a plan to assist Venezuela after the resignation of Nicolas Maduro. The situation repeats itself. I don’t believe that the administration of President Donald Trump that has such a pious attitude towards the legacy of President Obama does not know that he had a plan for assisting Syria after the resignation of Bashar al-Assad. Why should they repeat the mistakes of people whose example they do not want to follow?
It is clear that the legitimate government of Venezuela will not conduct a dialogue during conditions of blackmail and in a situation that can be described as that of “being held at gun point.” We consider it is necessary to help preserve a constructive atmosphere around the Oslo process. We would like to note once again that it is impossible to resume any talks between political opponents without understanding and restraint on the part of responsible members of the international community.
We are once again urging foreign states as well as Venezuelan politicians to continue their joint work and to search for a political solution through all-inclusive dialogue without any ultimatums or preliminary demands.
Despite the armistice that has been signed, the number of shell attacks by the Ukrainian Armed Forces has grown considerably over the last week. Although everybody expected the opposite.
It cannot be ruled out that the destabilisation is possibly an attempt to provoke retaliatory fire by the self-defence fighters and then again declare that the armistice has broken down through the fault of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Such massive shelling and destruction of civilian infrastructure, including housing, did not occur even before the “all-round and perpetual” summer armistice.
Twenty houses have been damaged or destroyed since July 21. In 14 instances, the Ukrainian Armed Forces used mortars of various calibres, firing in total over 60 projectiles.
Fourteen houses were damaged or razed to the ground as a result of mortar fire at Oktyabrsky settlement on August 12. A power transmission line and a gas pipeline have also been destroyed. The use of combat UAVs by the Ukrainian Armed Forces for strikes on peaceful populated areas has also been recorded. According to our information, on August 12 alone two such drones were shot down by the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s militia.
Regular shelling of School 30 in Gorlovka is absolutely unacceptable. The school shelling is not a myth; such a fact has been recorded by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in its report of August 9.
If the Ukrainian president is so concerned about the situation in Donbass, as he said at the emergency briefing on August 7, then why has he not yet demanded an investigation of his security forces? Does he control them or not? There is the public sphere and the level of statements. And even in the absence of complete power for effective steps he should possibly begin with a clear statement of his position that such conduct is unacceptable.
We are urging the international community not to overlook what is happening and to stop shielding the Ukrainian security forces who are purposefully annihilating the Donbass population.
Recently in Kiev, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vasyl Bodnar declared that Ukraine has no outstanding debts to the CIS, in the context that the Kremlin is allegedly persevering in its attempt to return Ukraine under its control by whatever means possible, including through the CIS. It was also claimed that although Ukraine used to be a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States it did not enjoy full-fledged participation in the organisation because it never signed the CIS Charter. Moreover, it was mentioned that Ukraine was a founding member because it made sense at the time but for six years in a row, Kiev did not sign any documents passed by the CIS bodies. Therefore, Ukraine cannot have any arrears because it is not part of the organisation. This was an official statement – although at this point, it is hard to say what is official and what is not official in Ukraine. They are going to ridiculous lengths. Let’s get down to the facts and straighten out the issue of Ukraine’s membership in the CIS. What do they mean, they were founders but have not signed anything over a period of the past few years and, therefore, they are not members of the organisation and are clear of any debts? This is a fairy-tale-ish idea of international law, international bodies and obligations of a state. I requested some background from experts.
We all observed that over the past years Ukraine has made it its policy to gradually dial down its activity in the CIS. In 2014, Kiev refused to perform the duties of the Commonwealth chairman, withdrew its representatives from quota positions in the Executive Committee and minimised its participation in the meetings of the supreme statutory bodies. In mid-2018, Ukraine closed its CIS representative office in Minsk.
Ukraine remains a de jure full member of the CIS. It receives regular invitations to attend the meetings of supreme statutory bodies, reports about meeting results, etc. I have not seen a single document requesting that the CIS no longer inform or invite Ukraine, no diplomatic notes, no anything. As recently as a couple of years ago, Ukraine participated in the events at the level of embassy representatives in Moscow. I am talking about meetings with the diplomatic corps of the CIS countries.
Despite multiple statements by the Kiev officials about their intention to break off relations with the CIS, the CIS Executive Committee has not received any formal notice of Ukraine’s withdrawal. I wish I could be heard in Ukraine by the people who are once again trying to throw dust in everybody’s eyes. Also, Kiev has not left any industry councils, therefore, Ukrainian representatives can take part in their meetings at any time.
Apparently, the truth is that Kiev understands that by finally quitting the Commonwealth it will have to withdraw from a whole number of international treaties restricted to CIS members in which Ukraine may still be interested. As of now, Ukraine has walked away from 15 international treaties and it remains a party to 212. This being said, we are hearing claims that Ukraine is not a CIS member from the people who associate themselves with power.
As concerns funding the Commonwealth, Ukraine stopped contributing to the common budget of the CIS bodies back in 2014. At the moment, the amount of Kiev’s outstanding payments is over 300 million roubles. The non-payment was not due to Ukraine’s formal withdrawal; nor was it due to the expiration of its membership by law or the Charter. It was simply due to Ukraine’s decision. That said, the Commonwealth and its executive bodies did not impose any restrictions on Ukraine’s participation.
There are no obstacles to Ukraine’s full-scale involvement in the CIS affairs. The statement is an improbable excuse for not paying contributions to the organisation. They should think of a more plausible reason. Meetings of the Commonwealth’s supreme statutory bodies, the Council of the Heads of State, the Council of the Heads of Government and the Council of Foreign Ministers, are scheduled for this October. Just like the other member states, Ukraine will receive material supporting the meetings’ agendas. If Ukraine does not need this material it could take preventive action and notify the CIS that it no longer wishes to be distracted from its state affairs. There have been no official or unofficial requests to this effect.
Further participation in the Commonwealth is entirely dependent on the political will of the all-new Ukrainian leadership. Please do not manipulate the information or plant any false stories where there are actual facts and figures.
On August 9, Dutch daily De Telegraaf published an article under the title that can be translated as “Russians are intimidating the wives of Dutch F-16 pilots.” This title is like a computer game option: press the button if you want to play. But this is a real article, not written by some blogger, but by a major newspaper. Referring to some “classified information from intelligence agencies,” the newspaper writes about alleged threats that the Russian security services made to the military personnel of NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Baltic countries. Intimidation was allegedly made against the families of Dutch F-16 pilots, who were posted in Lithuania in 2017.
By way of proof the biggest Dutch publication mentions the fact that the pilots’ families received phone calls from people speaking in “a heavy Russian accent.” The fact that their accent was identified as Russian, rather than Slavic or East European (I would like to remind you that the article mentions people who were allegedly intimidated in Lithuania), means that it is another case of deliberate, intentional, abominable distribution of arbitrary disinformation in order to once again make Russia look like an aggressor. Instead of citing facts, the article’s authors resort to referencing inadequate materials. In addition, the newspaper refers to the “classified, true information provided by the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service,” that is, information which nobody can verify. Regrettably, the lack of evidence and the absurdity of the ‘proofs’ provided does not seem to be an obstacle for publishing blatant anti-Russian fake news, a combination of propaganda clichés and Russopobic rhetoric.
We consider the publication by De Telegraaf to be a piece of unverified information deliberately planted to discredit Russia. We believe that the paranoid statements about the “Russian threat” which are consistently implanted in public consciousness are slanderous and unsubstantiated.
We will write to the newspaper and will also publish their article on the website in the section “Published materials that contain false information about Russia.” We will be further referring to this publication as another proof that Russia is facing a defamatory information campaign.
The next briefing will take place on Thursday, August 22 in Pyatigorsk, which will host the 10th Mashuk North Caucasus Youth Forum on August 9-30.
The forum has brought together about 3,000 young people from the North Caucasus Federal District, other Russian regions, and neighbouring countries.
Detailed information about the event and the accreditation form will be published on the official website of the Foreign Ministry.
Question: Representatives of the legislative assembly of the Orenburg Region annually visit the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic and say they always hear the hope for reunification with Russia while talking with the local population and the authorities. How real are these hopes? Are we not making unrealistic promises?
Maria Zakharova: I often get in touch with residents of Donbass. This happens during meetings. As a rule, they begin with words of gratitude to Russia. Often there are requests and, indeed, words of special hope that they will not be left behind. A year ago, I would have probably agreed with you. At that time people felt that we did not think about them enough, and they are possibly forgotten. They knew of course how much humanitarian aid, moral and political support Russia was providing to them while it was working for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Representatives of Donbass voiced their fears when I met with them last summer – that our attention would fade away and they would be abandoned.
However, I have not heard anything like this since Russia announced plans to support the residents of Donbass last spring – a special procedure of granting them Russian citizenship. We received a huge amount of support and gratitude in their letters and other feedback. I heard some today too. After that, how can anyone say that Russia has disappointed or is disappointing their hopes and expectations, inspires ideas that turn out to be empty hopes and goes back on promises? No way, I would say.
Our policy on this track is absolutely consistent, distorted as it is by the mainstream Western media, which are, unfortunately, obscuring the essence of what is being done. They fail to see the lives of people in a particular region behind this policy, but present it through the prism of Russia’s alleged imperial ambitions going nearly as far as to restore Russia within the Soviet borders.
Despite this biased attitude and the outrageous anti-Russia campaign and sanctions, many of which are actually motivated by our position on this issue, Russia has not stopped humanitarian and political assistance, as well as upholding the rights of the people of Donbass for a single day. True, the Normandy format meetings are not being held. But who are we to meet with, given what is happening in Ukraine? Yet, experts are working on this regularly. The development and upholding of positions on this matter is the subject of special attention of our Foreign Ministry and overseas agencies, including missions at international organisations, and you are well aware of this. This is about practical steps, about very thorough work on this track.
If, apart from political slogans and statements, you have specific examples of what was promised but not done, then I am ready to discuss this topic separately.
I repeat, while a year ago, the reasons for their despair were “we want to become Russian citizens,” “we cannot leave because we have no documents,” “Kiev has blocked everything from payment infrastructure to transportation,” “we are practically cut off,” “help, do not leave us here”, etc. – today we have done everything to provide these people with opportunities for life essentials, for movement, etc., releasing them from the situation where they felt like hostages or living on an artificial island. It seems to me there is not a single point where Russia has inspired empty dreams or given promises unsupported by real steps or actions. I would even say, on the contrary, we are talking too little about this, less than we probably should. But it is our national tradition to act first, and then talk about it – rather than first promise and then be unable to act. This is what happens. A lot is being done, contrary to the colossal mainstream rejection of Russia’s steps and policies on this track we have encountered – even though they fully fit into the agreements reached, in particular, in the Normandy format, and fully fit with the Minsk Agreements and human rights and humanistic values that our Western partners Kiev so respects have insisted on. At least for the past few years, Kiev has been fully in line with their statements, associating itself with the West in these matters.
Question: Kyrgyzstan is a top 10 international partner of the Orenburg Region. For Kyrgyzstan, the Orenburg Region is a transit region, meaning that people from Kyrgyzstan travelling to Moscow or to Central Russia transit through the Orenburg Region. Considering the political crisis that is unfolding in the country, does the Foreign Ministry expect there to be any complications in business-to business trade relations, or the arrival of refugees from Kyrgyzstan?
Maria Zakharova: To answer your first question, this concerns primarily information from economic, financial operators, rather than what the Foreign Ministry thinks about it. I do not have any information concerning any major problems faced by economic players that cannot be resolved or are a major obstacle.
As for the overall situation, we have already shared our perspective. What we are currently witnessing are manifestations of instability that we are all aware of. It can be said that this instability is waning, or at least that the situation has somewhat stabilised. We would like to point out that the domestic stability in Kyrgyzstan is of course in the interests of its people, as well as the region in general and the neighbouring countries. The Foreign Ministry proceeds from the premise that all the developments will be taking place strictly within the framework of the law. We do hope that the tentative stabilisation carries on, although it is too early to talk about complete stabilisation.
If needed, we will share our expert assessment regarding visits to this country.
As for the question of the refugees, it is exactly for this reason that we stand for stability. This position is not limited to Kyrgyzstan. We understand all too well and have seen in various regions that internal conflicts often offer a number of countries a pretext to “go fishing in troubled waters,” i.e., to take sides in an internal conflict. This gives a domestic conflict a regional dimension as it spills over the border of a single country. This always means trouble. It is for this reason that we have been so emphatic and clear in supporting internal stability in this country.
Question: The United States and Turkey have held talks on creating a safety zone in northern Syria to the east of the Euphrates. What does Russia think about this initiative?
Maria Zakharova: When I talked today about the Foreign Ministry’s general view of the developments in Syria and the region, I made it abundantly clear that Russia does not accept any attempts to isolate any regions of this country, no matter what the pretext is. Of course, there are counter-terrorism efforts. However, they must be coordinated with Damascus, which is the primary and invariable condition considering that this has to do with a sovereign country. This is the first point. Second, we understand all too well that neighbouring countries are pursuing their own interests, and that the situation is too complicated to make any categorical statements about it. However, going back to my first point, everything taking place on Syrian territory must be approved by the legitimate Syrian government. Third, none of the reasons that were mentioned or could be suggested are a valid justification for isolating certain regions, let alone “freezing” them with the view to separating them from Syria, changing their status, dividing or splitting the country. Russia has been consistently promoting this position, as we have said on numerous occasions. We will proceed from this premise.
Question: Does this refer to the entry of Turkish troops into northern Syria? Should Damascus consent to this move?
Maria Zakharova: We cannot have a situation where our position applies to 99 per cent of operations in Syria involving third countries, and not the remaining one per cent. Everything has to be coordinated. This is the territory of a sovereign state. Yes, it has now found itself at the intersection of the interests of a number of countries, including their national and strategic interests. But this does not mean that Syria should not be treated as a sovereign state. Moreover, Damascus authorities have proven that they are able to consolidate the society, counter terrorists and put an end to outside efforts to help terrorists. Over the years, Damascus has also established itself as an effective centre of governance, although Western capitals are unlikely to admit this. We have never questioned its authority or sought advice on this matter from anybody. For Russia, Syria has always been a sovereign independent country. We have heard a great deal, including about the inability of the Syrians and the Syrian government to consolidate the society and protect itself from terrorist groups. The legitimacy of this government has also come under question. But all these scruples became irrelevant once the country consolidated itself, including by fending off terrorists. Actual steps toward political unification are now emerging, which was unthinkable just a few years ago. Of course, a sovereign state has to be treated as such, as required by international law. All the operations taking place there have to be agreed upon with Damascus.
Of course, we are maintaining contacts with our Turkish partners. Some questions have been resolved, while others are still pending, which should not put into question Syria’s right as a sovereign nation to be in control and to make decisions on what is happening on its territory.
This is what we always say. This position has not changed throughout these years, no matter what the odds are.
Question: I have a humanitarian question. Here in the Orenburg Region there is a baby without the Russian citizenship in a hospital that needs a surgery. Is there any way to help him? Are there any tools of humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan for such help?
Maria Zakharova: This is truly a humanitarian case. A pregnant woman, a national of Uzbekistan, was in the Orenburg Region without prenatal care. She was delivered to the perinatal centre. Although she had no job and no documents, she received all the necessary medical care from Orenburg doctors. The baby was born on August 7. Unfortunately, a serious heart condition was diagnosed. Doctors say that he needs surgery. According to local experts, such surgeries must be carried out as quickly as possible: during the first three weeks of life. We have to face legal issues here related to both documents and financing. Let me remind you that the woman from Uzbekistan was unemployed and had no documents, but received the necessary care. However, now her baby needs long-term treatment. I believe representatives of Uzbekistan in Russia will take care of this after we share all the information in order for this issue to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Question: I have a question about infrastructure. Perhaps it is not entirely the Foreign Ministry’s business, but the Ministry is directly involved: it is about border checkpoints. To date, there are six checkpoints in Orenburg. Mashtakovo and Sagarchin are the biggest ones. Both of them are completely overloaded and out of date in terms of both infrastructure and technology. During the busiest season, especially in the summer, queues stretch for several kilometres and drivers sometimes have to spend several days waiting to pass. The repairs and renovation will begin in 2021 at the very best, but it is still unclear if they will take place at all. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it is not clear yet how the main transport routes will develop. Is the Ministry aware of this? Is it in touch with the neighbouring Kazakhstan regarding this issue? When will this be done?
Maria Zakharova: I can tell you for a fact that the Foreign Ministry is aware of this, and our experts are working on infrastructure projects in this area. I am referring to the countries we border, especially in this region. As for opening border checkpoints, that is not a matter for the Foreign Ministry. We do not open checkpoints, there are special services for this, , but I can make enquiries. I will give you this information if you leave your contact details.
If there are no more questions, I will say goodbye to you. Let me add that our journey does not end in Orenburg. This year August is the month of travel. We have been invited to the youth forum in Pyatigorsk.