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18 February 201622:10

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 18, 2016

303-18-02-2016

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Table of contents

  1. Sergey Lavrov’s participation in an upcoming meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad
  2. The third session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Moscow
  3. Upcoming meeting between First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and Austria’s Secretary General for Foreign Affairs Michael Linhart
  4. The results of Russia’s BRICS Presidency
  5. The 8th International Economic Summit, “Russia –Islamic World: Kazan Summit 2016”
  6. Syrian crisis
  7. Terrorist attacks in Turkey and new anti-Russian statements by Turkey’s leaders
  8. Statements by Turkish President Recep Erdogan on the Cyprus settlement
  9. Contacts with Doctors Without Borders and civilian casualties in the MENA region
  10. The US Department of State’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget for countering Russia’s aggression
  11. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan report on the protection of civilians in Afghanistan
  12. The Serbia-NATO agreement on logistics support
  13. The increasing number of pirate attacks on civilian ships in the Gulf of Guinea
  14. Russian weapons delivered to Fiji for peacekeeping forces
  15. The rules of entry to the Hong Kong and Macau SARs of the People’s Republic of China in view of the growing numbers of Russian tourists
  16. Refusal by British authorities to extradite people accused of committing crimes in Russia
  17. Publication of the story ‘Russian Accused of Silencing Activists Is Considered for Top U.N. Post Dealing with NGOs’ in Foreign Policy magazine’s online edition
  18. The Norwegian Justice Ministry’s decision to extradite Russian Mark Vartanyan to the US
  19. Turkey’s decision to introduce visas for Russian journalists
  20. From answers to questions

 

Sergey Lavrov’s participation in an upcoming meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad

 

On February 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad held at the Foreign Ministry Mansion (17 Spiridonovka Street).

The board will discuss the fund’s performance in 2015 and its priorities for the upcoming period in accordance with the decisions of the Fifth World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad and in light of recent developments.

I’d like to say a few words about the fund’s goals and activities.

The fund’s main goal is to provide legal assistance to and protect the rights and legitimate interests of compatriots permanently residing abroad.

The fund implements its programmes in cooperation with Russian and international state-owned organisations and NGOs and associations of compatriots with due regard for the national, cultural and historical components of the country of residence.

The fund operates in accordance with the Russian Constitution, applicable norms of international law, Russia’s international commitments, Russian law and other enactments, as well as the fund’s charter.       

 

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The third session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Moscow

 

On February 26, Moscow will host the third session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum (RACF) at the foreign minister level. In accordance with the format as stipulated in the December 2009 Memorandum on the forum’s establishment, we expect the foreign ministers of the UAE, Jordan and Bahrain (members of the Arab League Council), Egypt, which holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League Council, and the Arab League’s Secretary General. We note with satisfaction that the foreign ministers of Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen and Oman have expressed a desire to attend the forum in Moscow.

The forum participants plan to exchange opinions on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, focusing on ways to settle crises and to respond to the challenges and threats facing regional countries. They will also discuss current regional and global issues, such as the Arab-Israeli issue, the fight against terrorism and extremism, and the creation of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Another issue on the forum’s agenda is to coordinate practical actions to strengthen all-round cooperation between Russia and Arab countries, including in the economic, humanitarian and cultural spheres. The results of the forum’s third session will be formalised in a joint statement and an action plan to implement the principles, goals and tasks of Russian-Arab cooperation in 2016-2018.​

Russia believes that this forum has become a respected and popular venue where Russia and Arab countries can exchange opinions and coordinate their stands on current issues. The forum’s third session is expected to promote cooperative action on key international and regional issues and to strengthen multifaceted cooperation between Russia and the Arab countries. A news conference on the session’s results  will be held later the same day.

 

Upcoming meeting between First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and Austria’s Secretary General for Foreign Affairs Michael Linhart

 

On February 19, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and Austria’s Secretary General for Foreign Affairs Michael Linhart will meet in Moscow for planned consultations.

The talks in this format are an integral part of multifaceted Russian-Austrian relationship. In early February, economic aspects were on the agenda of the Mixed Russian-Austrian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, which is co-chaired by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and Austrian Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, Federal Minister of Science, Research and Economy. Mr Mitterlehner also met with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, held talks with Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller.

During the upcoming meeting, Mr Titov and Mr Linhart will discuss a wide range of current issues pertaining to bilateral political cooperation and international affairs, including the fight against terrorism, settlement in Syria and the Middle East, Russia-EU relations, Ukraine and the OSCE’s role in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the peace process, in particular in light of Austria’s OSCE presidency in 2017.

We consider this meeting as evidence of Austria’s resolve to maintain a constructive dialogue and to boost bilateral cooperation in all spheres.

 

The results of Russia’s BRICS Presidency

 

I would like to say a few words about the results of Russia’s BRICS Presidency.

Russia’s rotating presidency in BRICS, which lasted from April 2015 until February 2016, has been successfully completed. We have proposed to our partners a large number of new initiatives and projects to expand cooperation within BRICS. Many of these proposals were met with attention and interest, and most of them are already being actively implemented. Well-coordinated joint efforts of these countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have made it possible to strengthen strategic BRICS partnership and to streamline the ramified system of cooperation mechanisms.

Contrary to regular reports, primarily circulated in the West, that BRICS is no longer what it used to be, that the dynamics of its development have been lost, this organisation has proven its relevance and efficiency. Experience has shown that its participants value this format, both in good times and more during difficult periods in international relations that call for joint efforts of like-minded countries and for pooling their potentials. This is the main achievement of our Presidency.

In the wake of Russia’s BRICS Presidency, the Foreign Ministry has prepared and published a report summing up information about various events, adopted decisions and approved documents. This report lists the entire range of BRICS cooperation avenues and cooperation formats that will continue to expand in the future. The document is posted on the websites of the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s BRICS Presidency and the forum’s online secretariat.

I would like to dwell briefly on the report’s main points. BRICS financial and economic cooperation has made considerable headway during Russia’s BRICS Presidency. The New Development Bank and the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement have been established. We are expecting the bank to finance its first project already this year, probably, in the area of sustainable energy and energy efficiency. Participants in the Ufa summit approved the Strategy of BRICS Economic Partnership and supported the Russian idea to draft a roadmap of trade, economic and investment cooperation until 2020.

Cooperation was launched in such new areas as immigration, energy, industrial safety regulation, environmental protection and efforts to combat infectious diseases.

Over 100 events were held over the ten and a half months of Russia’s Presidency, including over 25 events at the level of ministers and heads of specialised agencies.

It should be noted that the scope of BRICS’ activities is not limited to economic issues. BRICS countries are united by common political and strategic interests in such areas as maintaining international stability and security and honouring the principles and norms of international law. We advocate the UN’s stronger central role. We agree that security should be indivisible. We consider unacceptable any attempts to apply double standards or unilateral sanctions, especially the use of military force to resolve international problems, interference in the domestic affairs of states and some countries applying pressure on other states.

Our association is focusing on the tasks of jointly coping with global challenges and threats. We believe that it is possible to effectively combat the terrorist threat, as we have repeatedly mentioned, only on the basis of the principles and norms of international law and by pooling the efforts of the entire international community. The same approach should be applied to the fight against trans-border organised crime, drug trafficking and corruption – all attendant phenomena of international terrorism – plus maintaining international information security and searching for solutions to other problems and crises, including the problem of refugees. BRICS is taking specific practical steps in these areas.

From February 2016 until early 2017, India will take over the rotating Presidency of BRICS. We are ready to support our Indian friends in this large-scale and multifaceted work, which implies a search for a balance between innovation and continuity, i.e. reliance on previously adopted decisions. We are confident that India will introduce many new economic, political and cultural initiatives and innovations.

 

The 8th International Economic Summit, “Russia –Islamic World: Kazan Summit 2016”

 

I’d like to draw your attention to the event that will be held in May, although I’ll announce it now. The 8th International Economic Summit, “Russia –Islamic World: Kazan Summit 2016” will be held on May 19-21 in Kazan.

This forum is being held for the eighth time and will become the main platform for economic cooperation between Russia and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states. Since 2009, the summit has been held annually, supported by the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly and the Government of the Republic of Tatarstan. The event involves Russian and foreign businesspeople, investors, federal and regional authorities, heads of global organisations, funds, financial and banking institutions, and members of the expert and academic communities.

The information on media accreditation in Kazan will be provided before the summit.

 

Syrian crisis

 

Let’s move on to regional issues.

We have regularly shared our perspective on the Syrian crisis. Let me briefly remind you that two groups are actively working in two areas based on the Munich communique. As you know, the first group on humanitarian issues has already met. Not only was it a success, but also yielded tangible results. There is now real work being done in this area. In this regard, let me refer to the February 17 comment by the Information and Press Department on the humanitarian situation in Syria. We are satisfied with the progress in this area and note that the Syrian authorities have been engaged in prompt and active efforts on the humanitarian track.

As for the second group, I’d like to draw your attention to a comment by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who said that we expect this group to meet on Friday. Hopefully the group will hold its meeting tomorrow and will get down to work. Russia is ready for it, and there are no obstacles or delays in this respect on our side. All in all, these efforts got off to an active start. We hope that they will be fruitful, and that our partners will contribute to this process in the same vein.

Of course, we will regularly share our perspective on the initiatives by and the work of these two groups.

 

Terrorist attacks in Turkey and new anti-Russian statements by Turkey’s leaders

 

The Foreign Ministry has already commented on the February 17 terrorist attacks in the centre of Ankara and conveyed its profound condolences to the Turkish people. Unfortunately, in the last 60 minutes we received a report on yet another terrorist attack in this country, the second one in just 24 hours. It is up to the relevant Turkish authorities to investigate what happened. We again extend our condolences to the victims of these attacks. These are very alarming trends.

Unfortunately, this is happening against the backdrop of rising terrorist threats in the region, when we need to close our ranks in combatting this evil. We have a very solid framework to this effect, including the Vienna format, which can be used to discuss all aspects of the settlement in Syria and regional developments.

Although the situation calls for urgent action, we hear strange and at times inappropriate statements by the Turkish leaders, who do nothing to reduce anti-Russian rhetoric but instead are stepping up their efforts to discredit Russia’s efforts to combat ISIS and promote a settlement in Syria.

The statements by the Turkish leaders are false. I can’t even use the word “untrue” to describe them. They are deceitful, mildly speaking. What else can be said about a statement alleging that Russia and its Aerospace Forces are involved in purposeful efforts to kill civilians in Syria and destroy the country’s schools and hospitals? Unfortunately, Russia is now being accused of “all the possible sins,” and these accusations are presented in the context of the Munich agreements on Syria. All this goes a long way to show that Turkey is not willing to engage in any kind of constructive way, has adopted a biased, partial perspective and is unable to see the situation as it really is.

New attempts to accuse Moscow of using “migration leverage” for pressuring Turkey and the European Union by saying that “Moscow’s policies lead to new flows of refugees,” is absolutely cynical. This is what Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has recently said. Statements by Turkey’s officials insinuating that Russia covertly supports ISIS are absolutely unacceptable.

Mr Davutoglu, are you serious or just kidding? If this is a joke, I think that everyone, and especially Turkey, should be paying more attention to concrete actions aimed at combatting terrorism, instead of wasting time on irony and sarcasm. At least, this is what, in my opinion, the Turkish people expect from you.

It is startling to hear statements of this kind coming from the head of the government, whose actions resulted in some 200,000 people in the southeast of his country having to leave their homes, and the death of over 500 civilians.

The fact that this campaign has been gaining momentum in recent days is not a coincidence. As a matter of fact, vast territories in northwest Syria were liberated in successful counter-terrorist initiatives by the Syrian Army supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces. In place of the terrorist infrastructure in this region that was developed with direct support from Turkey, among others, conditions for bringing life back to normal are being created. It was these territories that have been regularly targeted by massive artillery fire of the Turkish Armed Forces since February 13, killing dozens of people, including both members of the patriotic opposition and civilians. A number of civilian infrastructure facilities were destroyed. I hope than Ankara will heed the UN Security Council’s assessment of these unlawful actions.

 

Statements by Turkish President Recep Erdogan on the Cyprus settlement

 

Russia is not the only country to be targeted in statements by Turkish officials. I would like to draw your attention to what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on the Cyprus settlement.

We continue to closely monitor developments on this issue, and noticed recent articles published by Turkish media in Cyprus on the contacts between representatives of the Majlis (parliament) of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Turkey’s leaders, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What we see in these articles is that the President of Turkey openly calls on the Cypriot Turks to take a tough, uncompromising stance in the ongoing intercommunal talks in Cyprus, including on territorial delimitation, a very sensitive issue. This is in stark contrast to Ankara’s statements on its commitment to facilitating a peaceful settlement on the island in the near future. It is obvious that by addressing such calls to one of the parties to the inter-Cypriot dialogue, Turkey’s leaders are rudely interfering in the negotiation process with a view of promoting their own interests. Judging from what we have read, these interests have nothing to do with bringing about a fair and viable solution to the Cyprus issue.

 

Contacts with Doctors Without Borders and civilian casualties in the MENA region

 

Let’s go back to accusations that the Russian Aerospace Forces allegedly target civilian infrastructure, accusations addressed to Russia not only by Turkey but also by officials from other countries. The case in point is Doctors Without Borders hospitals in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

I’d like to say that Russian diplomats held a meeting with a delegation of Doctors Without Borders in Geneva on February 15, and they shared their vision on the situation in the region as a whole. The delegation said they had no reasons to address grievances or accusations of having attacked the hospitals to anyone in particular. Thus, all speculations and references to statements by anonymous “spokespersons” of this organisation are dashed by this report.

To reiterate, as usual, there are no direct or indirect data indicating that the Russian Aerospace Forces were involved in the airstrike. Moreover, our foreign colleagues emphasised that they had no direct evidence of any Russian involvement in the demolition of that infrastructure. The rest is, naturally, part of the information campaign. But who is behind this campaign?

Asked to comment on the airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Syria at the US-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit, the US President’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, had this to say: “And this does call into question Russians’ willingness or ability to implement the agreements achieved in Munich.” At the same time, she admitted that she couldn’t confirm that the hospitals were attacked by the Syrian government forces or the Russian Aerospace Forces. Can you imagine such cynicism? On the one hand, the strikes are an indication of Russia’s alleged unwillingness to implement the Munich agreements, but on the other, there is no evidence. It’s 100-percent propaganda.   Let me quote her verbatim: “I can’t provide a specific attribution at this point,” although before that she claimed that the Russian Federation was to blame because it didn’t want to implement the Munich agreements. That’s not how it works. Let me go on quoting: “That said, we still believe that Russia has the ability, should it choose to, to play a constructive role in restraining the regime and obviously its own actions as well, and we stand ready in cooperation with our partners in the Syria Support Group to do our part to try and bring about the cessation and the humanitarian access. We’ll see what Russia will do.”

Ms Rice, do you switch on your TV at least from time to time? First, Russia did and continues to do a lot to bring humanitarian assistance to Syria. The Russian Emergencies Ministry and the Foreign Ministry regularly provide this sort of data. We constantly render direct aid to the Syrian Red Crescent Society and work through UN humanitarian organisations, as is reported at regular Foreign Ministry briefings. Is it possible that you have not been informed on this? Ask for information and you’ll be briefed. I think we’d better see what the United States, not the Russian Federation, will be doing in this regard.

I’d also like to remind our US colleagues that after their insistent and uncivil moves certain countries closed their airspace to Russian aircraft delivering humanitarian cargoes to Syria. Why at that time didn’t you speak or think of people in that country suffering without humanitarian assistance?

Do you people want to know what propaganda is? It’s what we are talking about right now: regular “plants”, the lack of real facts, and, of course, media manipulation. Given Ms Rice’s status, the media certainly cannot but quote her.

Our US colleagues are talking about the humanitarian situation and civilian casualties with reference to NGOs. OK, let’s talk about that. We also have a few things to say and to remind them of.  

Let me refer to NGO data. For example, Human Rights Watch says that Operation Allied Force mounted by NATO (and we know well who dominates NATO) and the Kosovo Liberation Army resulted in 500 civilian deaths.

According to Prof. Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire, over 3,000 civilians died from 2001 to 2003 alone during US-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Ms Rice, I’m quoting this especially for you. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has calculated that nearly 2,000 civilians fell victim to the International Security Assistance Force since 2011. Wouldn’t you like to come to the UN Security Council and report on the mandate that was issued to your country for an operation in Afghanistan? Please, don’t forget to focus on civilian losses and damage to civilian infrastructure.

According to Iraq Body Count, tens of thousands of civilians died in Iraq in the course of the US-led coalition operations since the start of the campaign. As far as I remember, there are still no official statistics on civilian losses in Iraq. If they are available, please give us US official statistics.

Airwars Monitoring Group reports that the US-led anti-ISIS operation accounts for more than 2,000 civilian casualties in the period from September 2014 to this day. I think you’d do better to rely on your own investigations rather than our assessments. Do take the trouble to find this information on your own. This is about who and how drills strikes at civilian targets.

 

The US Department of State’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget for countering Russia’s aggression

 

 US officials keep talking about so-called Russian aggression and the need to respond to it. At the same time, we keep searching for an answer to the issue of this aggression and why it has recently become of interest.

In fact, it’s quite simple. According to available data, the US Department of State’s FY 2017 budget stipulates the allocation of about $1 billion, or more precisely $953 million, to deter the alleged Russian aggression. Once again, this money will be used to counter “Russian aggression.” Ukraine could have rejoiced at the news of a possible major influx of money, if not for the fact that only $42 million of the above sum will be spent on Kiev’s military concerns.

I’d say that the concept of countering “Russian aggression” is a good business.

 

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan report on the protection of civilians in Afghanistan

 

We have taken notice of the annual report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The report points to an unprecedented increase in overall civilian casualties in 2015 due to the ongoing hostilities between the government forces and the armed opposition.

This report has confirmed our fears that the internal conflict in Afghanistan is far from over and that the stabilisation outlook is vague.

We are alarmed by the growing terrorist activity of ISIS, the Taliban and other groups in Afghanistan, which select civilians as their targets, as well as by the disproportionate actions by the Afghan army and the US troops of the NATO contingent in Afghanistan.

Overall, it’s obvious that NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan has not attained its stated goals; neither has its predecessor, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), about which we spoke today. The Afghan army fighting against the opposition is sustaining heavy losses and often appears unable to keep back the opposition forces’ pressure.

We support the UNAMA report’s recommendation that NATO should independently investigate the US airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz on October 3, 2015, and review its combat goals to prevent attacks on civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities.

We hope the international community will continue working to put an end to the multi-year military confrontation and to promote an internal dialogue in Afghanistan.

 

The Serbia-NATO agreement on logistics support

 

Many media outlets have asked us to comment on the recent agreement on logistics support signed between the Serbian Government and NATO. We have given a short comment, but I will address this issue again today.

We’ve taken note that the other day the Serbian Parliament ratified an agreement signed between the Serbian Government and the NATO Support and Procurement Organisation (NSPO).

All of you are aware of our stance on NATO’s persistent desire to expand and promote ties with partner states. We interpret this primarily as the bloc’s attempt to involve as many countries as possible in the sphere of its geopolitical influence in any way and by any means.

In this context, we’ve noted that Serbia has not changed its official commitment to military neutrality, which Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić has reaffirmed.

 

The increasing number of pirate attacks on civilian ships in the Gulf of Guinea

 

The number of pirate attacks on civilian ships in the Gulf of Guinea has recently increased. It is alarming that the number of these attacks launched on foreign ships to plunder and to take hostages for ransom has risen amid complex socioeconomic problems in Nigeria, terrorism and separatist sentiments in some regions of the country. In 2015 alone, pirates attacked foreign ships more than 50 times, injuring citizens from many countries.

The trend continued in 2016. Recent examples include the January 29 attack on the Greek chemical tanker Leon Dias. The pirates abandoned the tanker after taking several hostages, one of whom is believed to be a Russian citizen. The Russian Embassy in Nigeria is trying to clarify the situation and maintains the necessary contact with the authorities and representatives of the ship owner.

In this context, the Russian Foreign Ministry strongly recommends Russian sailors who are seeking employment to consider these risks in the Gulf of Guinea.

 

Russian weapons delivered to Fiji for peacekeeping forces

 

On February 16, Russian small arms and light weapons were ceremoniously handed over to the Fiji authorities in Suva, the capital of Fiji. The ceremony was attended by a Defence Ministry delegation led by head of the ministry’s Main Missile and Artillery Directorate Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin, Acting Commander of the Fijian Armed Forces Commodore Viliame Naupoto, as well as members of the diplomatic corps and the media.

These weapons have been delivered to Fiji within the framework of gratis military and technical assistance upon an official request from the Fiji authorities and the agreements reached during Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s visit to Moscow in 2013.

These weapons will be supplied to the First Battalion Fiji Infantry Regiment of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) deployed in the Golan Heights. I am speaking about this now because a few months ago some media published speculations on this issue and even made strange assumptions. This is why I have provided additional information now.

A group of Russian military instructors has been stationed in Suva to train their Fijian colleagues in using these new weapons.

 

The rules of entry to the Hong Kong and Macau SARs of the People’s Republic of China in view of the growing numbers of Russian tourists

 

The flow of Russian tourists to China, particularly to the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, has increased. In this context, I’d like to focus on visa issues.

The bilateral agreements on easing entry regulations provide for visa-free travel for Russian citizens to the Hong Kong and Macau SARs of the People’s Republic of China for up to 14 and 30 days, respectively.

To enter Hong Kong and Macau, Russian citizens need to have a valid international passport (with at least two blank pages), valid for not less than six months after entering the SAR.

To work, study and live in Hong Kong and Macau, Russian citizens have to obtain an appropriate visa at China’s diplomatic missions in Russia and abroad, as well as immigration departments of the Hong Kong and Macau SARs.

To enter mainland China from Hong Kong and Macau, Russian citizens are required to have a visa. While staying in Hong Kong or Macau, one should apply for a visa to mainland China at Chinese Foreign Ministry’s representative offices in these regions. If you are already in mainland China and plan to travel to Hong Kong or Macau with subsequent return to mainland China, you must check the number of entries allowed by your visa. If you’ve got a single entry visa, you will need to apply for a new visa to return to mainland China.

We recommend that you plan your trip in advance and obtain all appropriate visas while still in Russia.

I’m focusing on this issue intentionally. Russian citizens may not know all the small details and can sometimes find themselves in difficult situations, whereas Russian foreign offices try to provide their assistance.

Russians often disregard the rule of visa-free entry to Hong Kong for up to 14 days by entering and leaving Hong Kong every 14 days for the purpose of extending the period of their stay for another fortnight. Such attempts are strictly forbidden by the Immigration Department of the Hong Kong Government, which can deny a visa after the second border crossing. Hong Kong laws stipulate severe punishment for violations of immigration legislation, including imprisonment.

One should also take into account that any firearms and cold weapons, tasers, javelins, knuckle-dusters, large knives, iron, rubber and expandable batons, pepper-spray, handcuffs, laser pointers and weapons are prohibited for importation to Hong Kong and Macau both in carry-on and checked luggage. Even a bullet-like pendant or one that is made from a bullet can become a reason for being detained at the customs. The maximum term of imprisonment for this violation is 14 years, the fine amounts to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars (almost one million roubles). We ask Russian citizens who are planning their trips and travel agencies that offer package tours and air tickets to this destination to keep this information in mind.

 

Refusal by British authorities to extradite people accused of committing crimes in Russia

 

I would like to go back to our Western colleagues and the media who are paying close attention to corruption in the Russian Federation. Russia participates in the relevant specialised international anti-corruption initiatives, and fighting corruption is among the priorities for the Russian authorities and people. We view the often dubious attempts by our Western partners as being agenda-driven when it comes to bringing this issue to the attention of the Russian Federation.

Let me go back to the recent BBC documentary on corruption in Russia. This is an interesting subject. I would like to say that if there is so much interest in Great Britain, and even more so among its media, in the issue of corruption, once you pledge, don’t hedge, as the saying goes. If you are monitoring developments in our country, keep in mind that corrupt people tend to be attracted to the West, as we had said earlier, and especially London.

Let me share some numbers with you.

Our British colleagues have yet again decided this February to shelter in the UK a number of persons that are on the wanted list and accused of committing various crimes on Russian territory. UK Home Secretary Theresa May has personally taken decisions in a number of cases, refusing to extradite Russian citizens.

I think that this could provide BBC with a plot for another investigative documentary. How come people accused of economic crimes and fraud, including fraud on a particularly large scale, are becoming British subjects, and why are high-ranking officials like the Home Secretary willing to take them under their wing?

It is important to have a general perspective on this situation. If you have the impression that these are isolated incidents, it is not so. All in all, Britain has refused to extradite over 40 Russians by decision of the Home Office or a ruling of a court that is always the same, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.

What’s more, as far as we understand, Britain doesn’t bother to provide any detailed or convincing reasons for such refusals. All it does is refer to standard phrases saying that people hiding in Britain de-jure have some kind of immigrant status. We are also told that their extradition may result in human rights violations. It turns out that those who are in Russia are corrupt individuals, but once on British soil, they are protected by human rights principles. This is unique logic.

In this connection, in almost every request from the Russian law enforcement bodies, on top of providing a detailed explanation of the criminal charges against the individual in question, we have to state the obvious: that the extradition requests are not politically motivated and have nothing to do with pursuits on the grounds of race, religion or ethnic background. Discrimination on these grounds is forbidden under Russian law. However, London prefers to ignore expert opinions, even by British experts, as well as written guarantees by Russia that all the rights of the accused will be respected, including the rights envisaged in Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the relevant conventions of the UN, the Council of Europe, and their protocols.

Individuals that the United Kingdom de facto harbours on its territory using far-fetched pretexts face charges in Russia for committing criminal offences such as fraud on an especially large scale, embezzlement, misappropriation of major and extremely large amounts of money, robbery, pillage and even murder.

Damages from these crimes incurred by the state and private companies are in the tens and hundreds of millions, not to mention damage to the wellbeing and health of ordinary Russians and assault on human life.

It is obvious that these actions are driven by a political agenda and do nothing to improve the image of the British Government in the eyes of ordinary Russians and the international community. As we know, public opinion really matters for the British establishment. By all accounts, this discredits the country’s judiciary, which the British are so proud of. Actions of this kind send a signal to people committing economic crimes in Russia and around the world: you can steal and move to our country, where you will be safe and sound, as long as you are loyal to the British Government. It looks as if Great Britain was “legalising” criminal suspects. When such people receive legal status, they can also legalise their finances. We have already described the way they received these funds. It is no secret that Britain does not mind using these people to its own benefit. In fact, British special services, among others, use the services of such people. This raises many questions.

This would make an interesting plot for a new BBC documentary. I’m looking forward to watching it.

 

Publication of the story ‘Russian Accused of Silencing Activists Is Considered for Top U.N. Post Dealing with NGOs’ in Foreign Policy magazine’s online edition

 

We have taken note of the material posted on the website of Foreign Policy magazine. The article presents information about Sergey Ryabokon, a Russian candidate for the post of Director of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) NGO Branch at the UN Secretariat, in a negative, biased and politically-motivated light.

What is behind this complicated phrase? Russia has nominated its candidate for the post at the UN Secretariat. A number of countries have leaked information about the Russian candidate in the media, choosing Foreign Policy magazine for this purpose. They did so not simply by providing information but fed Colum Lynch, a journalist I respect, some strange absurdities. I will now explain what this is all about.

The Russian diplomat is currently head of the NGO branch at the Foreign Ministry Department of International Organisations. The Russian candidate was nominated for a position in keeping with his professional area of activity. He has years-long experience of working in this area and is well acquainted with the forms and methods of activity at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) NGO Committee, a key UN agency for liaison with NGOs. In recent years, Mr Ryabokon has taken an active part in the agency’s activity.

He is a wonderful professional who is well known by his colleagues. By all indications – and this fits into the general trend – such a professional approach on the part of Russia towards the candidates that it puts forward has not been appreciated. As a result, some materials were fed to a respectable publication. The article casts the Russian diplomat as little short of being the chief “oppressor” of Russian NGOs. This is not simply a lie but a fairytale and myth, pure and simple. A journalist – to reiterate, the journalist in question is one with years of professional experience in covering international issues, including the UN – should know very well that the activity of Russian NGOs is regulated not by the Foreign Ministry but by Russian law. Actually, this does not fall within the ministry’s purview. We are involved in international cooperation in this area. It seems to me that this is self-evident, especially for people who deal with the issue on a professional level.

I can say that no one from Foreign Policy magazine asked us – the press service of the foreign policy agency – for comment or information on the Russian diplomat’s professional activities and no one asked us to confirm or deny the material that was leaked to them from somewhere.

It may be recalled that the decision to appoint a candidate at the UN Secretariat should be based primarily on professional criteria and a high level of efficiency, competence and diligence, as the UN Charter states. These are precisely the qualities that the Russian representative has. They can be confirmed by dozens of Russian NGOs, as well as by our international partners, including from the ECOSOC NGO Committee, where Russian diplomats, including Mr Ryabokon, have been working actively to achieve consensus-based solutions to some of the most intractable issues. Thanks to the contribution by Russia and Russian diplomats, with support of our candidate, a large number of NGOs from the United States and other Western countries have received positive recommendations from the NGO Committee regarding their acquisition of consultative status with ECOSOC.

When such publications are prepared, it would be a good idea to elicit the opinion of the NGOs that the Foreign Policy journalist purportedly wanted to defend. If you defend somebody, you should take the trouble at least to ask NGOs what they think about the Russian diplomat’s record. The story is utter rubbish – not even a fabrication but complete nonsense and rubbish.

In addition, there are numerous examples of a situation where even candidates who fervently uphold their countries’ policy when they work for government agencies at home, once they come to the UN, adopt an impartial and unbiased approach, following the spirit and letter of the UN Charter. As they become international officials, they do not pursue their government’s course – they must not do so. They become UN Secretariat officials and work on assignments set to them by the Secretariat. There are no grounds whatsoever to doubt that these requirements are observed and will be observed by all Russian UN officers.

Such planted stories, especially in reputable publications (and we have always considered Foreign Policy as such), in support of open pressure that is exerted on the international organisation’s leadership by certain Western countries to expel the Russian candidate from the race, are at odds with journalistic ethics and show that the author lacks professionalism and elementary conscience.

 

The Norwegian Justice Ministry’s decision to extradite Russian Mark Vartanyan to the US

 

 The Norwegian Justice Ministry decided on February 5 to extradite to the United States Mark Vartanyan, a Russian citizen who has been under arrest since 2014, on a US request over the allegations of his computer-related crimes.

We have repeatedly said that detention and extradition of Russian citizens on a US request in third countries is unacceptable. This practice has nothing to do with true justice and disregards the norms of international law. If the US authorities truly wanted to stop this criminal activity, they should have sent a request to Russia, the home country of Mr Vartanyan.

The Russian citizen’s lawyers are preparing an appeal against this decision which will be considered by the Norwegian Government authorities. I hope an unbiased approach will eventually prevail to meet the generally recognised criteria of justice.

 

Turkey’s decision to introduce visas for Russian journalists

 

We have already made warnings about it, but we didn’t have any official information. Now we do.

Turkey has officially notified the Russian Foreign Ministry about introducing journalist visas on the principle of reciprocity, starting February 15, 2016, for all Russian press representatives who intend to visit Turkey to do their journalistic work, including for short-term stays of less than six months.

We’d like to draw Russian journalists’ attention to this new measure, and we hope Russian journalists will take these requirements into consideration when sending their staff on working trips to Turkey.

 

From answers to questions

 

Question: What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s attitude to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls for a no-fly zone in Syria? Under what conditions can Russia support this initiative?

Maria Zakharova: First, let me note that, although these statements were indeed made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the idea is not new and it doesn’t belong to her. It had been pushed forward by Turkish colleagues. Second, let me draw your attention to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov’s comment in which he pointed out that any such proposal must be coordinated with Damascus, because no one has abolished state sovereignty. Third, I believe that no one wants a repeat of the Libyan scenario. The international community already saw this concept in action. Its aftermath is being felt not just in Libya. Actually, in Libya nothing at all can be seen, because everyone hates to even look at what has happened to that country. But it is seen far beyond its borders – in Europe, and it will be felt beyond the European continent soon.

Question: Mrs Carla Del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor of the UN criminal tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is reportedly visiting Moscow. Could you comment on this visit? Does Mrs Del Ponte plan to meet with Russian Foreign Ministry officials? Does she plan to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?

Maria Zakharova: This time you failed to cause a stir. Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a press release on its website about Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov’s meeting with members of the UN Human Rights Council’s independent commission of inquiry on Syria. Mrs Del Ponte, as a member of this commission, attended the meeting. The delegation was headed by Mr Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. Mrs Del Ponte was one of its members and in that capacity was present at the Russian Foreign Ministry. She did not have any other meetings at the Foreign Ministry, at least I haven’t heard of any. Being a remarkable diplomat, she drew attention to herself. I repeat that she was a member of the delegation, and she didn’t have any other meetings in any other capacity at the Russian Foreign Ministry.       

Question: Today you attended the ceremony of the unveiling of the monument to Ivan Chernyakhovsky in Moscow. Will Russia insist on the restoration of the monument to him in the Polish city of Pieniężno? The bust was removed on September 17, 2015, but the stele is still there. That said, the monument is in the process of being dismantled. 

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, you’re right. I attended today the ceremony of unveiling a monument to Twice Hero of the USSR Gen. Ivan Chernyakhovsky. I’d like to draw your attention to this event. The monument was unveiled near the Aeroport metro station. A street in this district was named in his honour a long time ago and now there will also be his bust. The event was organised upon the initiative of the Russian Military Historical Council and Chernyakhovsky’s family. The ceremony was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Culture. The question you raised was voiced at this ceremony as well. I replied that the Russian Embassy in Warsaw is in contact with the Polish authorities on this issue. We are convinced that people who do not remember their own history and history as a whole are bound to turn into Mankurts. Probably, few people remember who the Mankurts are and it would be good if they refreshed this in their memory.

Polish journalists asked if the Russian public unveiled this bust in Moscow in response to the dismantling of the monument in Poland. I replied and can confirm again that we are doing this not in response to some actions but for ourselves, the people of Russia. A poem by Robert Rozhdestvensky was quoted today. He wrote: “This is necessary not for the dead! This is necessary for the living!” This is necessary for those who live in the Russian Federation because if we don’t remember and don’t know our heroes, we will turn into Mankurts. We remember our heroes but we want future generations to remember them as well. A monument is visualised history.

As for the dismantling of the monument in Poland, we consider this issue very important. We still hope that the anti-monument campaign will reach an end in Poland. I’d very much like Polish officials (although there is little hope) and ordinary Polish citizens – the same people as we are – to understand one simple thing: it is impossible to demand respect for oneself if you don’t respect other people. We hold sacred the memory of our great grandfathers and grandfathers who fought in World War II regardless of where they lost their lives. Many of them were killed while liberating Poland. Our Polish colleagues keep telling us that they didn’t bring freedom and liberation to Poland. I won’t even argue with this because they brought life to Poland. Many of the living Polish citizens are simply obliged to our grandfathers and great grandfathers for their existence because many of our soldiers perished there.

There was a weird episode recently when a Polish journalist interviewed Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky. She said her grandfather was purged and this is why Poles hate Russians. I’d simply like to remind Polish citizens that a vast number of Russian citizens were also purged. This is our common grief and pain. We repented and apologised for these times to each other and even set up a Russian-Polish group on sensitive issues in cooperation with Poles to overcome this. It is impossible to use human pain for political objectives all of the time. We have a big request to Polish citizens – please separate politics from history and life, please go forward and realise that we hold sacred monuments to these people. Just imagine for a second what Russian people feel when they see this Polish attitude towards our monuments. I think when they realise this, their mentality will undergo a global “reset”. This doesn’t mean at all that we should forget about our past errors and achievements in bilateral relations. This simply gives us an opportunity to move ahead while remembering them. Let me repeat again that the Russian Embassy in Poland is permanently monitoring this issue.

Question: The Government of the Republic of Korea shut down the joint North-South Korea Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to a nuclear test and a rocket launch by North Korea. The United States also plans to impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea. Is it possible that Russia will too impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea by suspending joint economic projects with it?

Maria Zakharova: You are aware of our attitude towards unilateral sanctions. We believe that exerting pressure on any country in the form of unilateral sanctions to achieve political goals is an illegitimate practice. We recognise only the sanctions that are approved by the UN Security Council. This is my answer to your question.

Question: In response to the provocations by North Korea that have taken place in Munich, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested holding negotiations not only on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, but also on transforming the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 into a peace agreement to reduce North Korea’s concerns about the safety of its regime. What does Russia think about such a proposal?

Maria Zakharova: We have provided a principled assessment of the recent events on the Korean peninsula and reaffirmed our consistent and principled stance on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula. This is the basis of our policy.

Question: Recently, Grigory Karasin spoke with Zurab Abashidze on the telephone. Reportedly, the Trans-Caucasus Group may meet in Prague in mid-March. Is that true? Is such a meeting planned to be held at that time?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, in the course of a telephone conversation between Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Special Envoy of the Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Abashidze on February 4, the sides agreed to meet in Prague in mid-March. During the meeting, they will continue to discuss practical issues of bilateral Russian-Georgian relations.

Question: Ukraine’s National Council on Television recommended Ukraine’s National Security Council to impose sanctions on 38 legal entities, including Russian TV channels and media, such as Rossiya Segodnya and Sputnik. What do you think about this?

Maria Zakharova: We have seen media reports regarding a sanctions list against Russian media drafted by Ukraine. What am I to say about Rossiya Segodnya and Sputnik, if even Bobyor made it to the list? Apparently, Bobyor will be no longer broadcast in Ukraine.

In fact, this is a "normal" trend. This is happening not only in Ukraine. It’s a global trend. I have even prepared a short list of such events. Recently, two Sputnik correspondents were questioned by police in Latvia in connection with their work with a Russian media outlet, which had just opened there. They didn’t have time to do anything but were already questioned. The situation in Lithuania is about the same, where the local security service notified everyone who wants to work with Russian media to report to the police. Can you believe that? People who accuse us of so-called "Kremlin propaganda" are asking people who want to work with Russian media to register with the police.

Among more recent developments, according to information from France, Russian journalist and analyst Stanislav Byshok arrived in Paris on February 17 to take part in the conference, “Freedom of the Press amid Instability and Terrorism”. I’m not going to provide assessments of this individual or his work. I don’t know him personally, but here’s a fact. At the passport control at the Charles de Gaulle international airport, the border control checked his passport and visa and politely asked him to go to a separate room, where he was held for about three hours without explanation. Then, he was given a document in French and explained through an English interpreter that upon the request of (guess who?) Lithuania he has been denied entry to the Schengen Area since September 2015. The French had no problem with him, everything was fine and friendly, but based on existing Schengen rules, they complied with the relevant demand of Lithuania

I looked further into this issue, and it turned out that the conference organiser, the international nonprofit organisation Association of Journalists for Peace, based in Germany and created in May 2015, invited a Russian representative to make a presentation on freedom of the press in Ukraine. He was denied entry, and he cannot participate in discussions in countries in the Schengen Area.

It’s all part of the same story. Then, they tell stories about the media being allegedly harassed in Russia and foreign correspondents expelled. When a Finnish correspondent comes to Russia without proper documents and engages in journalistic activities and is asked to go back and return with the necessary papers, it is portrayed as pressure on free journalism. When our specialised journalists (he has published more than one book on the situation in Ukraine) want to participate in corresponding activities having all the necessary papers, they are told that entry is denied, or they must register with the police. Unfortunately, such things are unacceptable, but they flourish in European countries.

Question: You mentioned today’s terrorist attack in Ankara, which the Turkish authorities blame on Syrian Kurds. In addition, there is the danger of Turkey invading Syria. The Syrian Kurds say that Moscow has promised to give them military support and protection from the Turkish army if this happens. Can you confirm this?

Maria Zakharova: I don’t know which statements by Syrian or other Kurds you are referring to. Who exactly has said this?

Question: A member of the Syrian Kurds’ representative office in Moscow.

Maria Zakharova: Again, who exactly?

Question: Rodi Osman.

Maria Zakharova: I haven’t seen that statement. I can only tell you that we consider Syrian territory a sovereign state. It’s strange that many other countries don’t regard it as such. It is this that leads to such questions. Any incursion into the territory of a sovereign state is illegal. This is a fundamental truth. At least, we consider this to be absolutely clear. The other day Syria raised the issue of the situation on the Syrian-Turkish border at the UN Security Council. The council discussed this issue before that and is still discussing it. Therefore, the obvious answer to this question that this [incursion into the territory of a sovereign state] will be illegal. Fortunately, no one has rewritten the UN Charter yet.

As for modelling situations, we hope that regional and other countries will make plans based on legal awareness and a correct understanding of international law rather than based on what they want or what would suit them best at any given point in time.

I perfectly understand the ongoing debates, including on the terrorist threat coming from Syrian territory. There are two crucial elements. First, regarding the terrorist threat, I’d like to point the finger at those who nursed it and who supported the extremists and have been delivering weapons to them all this time. But, we know that the victims of terrorism don’t care for this now. Being experts, we should analyse the situation. The second vital issue we highlighted and formulated as the goal of the Russian Aerospace Forces, is to reduce the terrorist threat, in particular to Russia. However, there is a small but very important element: We have been acting [in Syria] on the basis of international law. When we spoke about the need to reduce the terrorist threat coming from Syria, we did this at the request of the Syrian authorities, or more precisely the Syrian government, which the UN still considers to be the legitimate government of Syria. There’s no reason why other countries that are concerned about the terrorist threat coming from Syria cannot act jointly with Damascus and do this officially, through the UN and other related organisations, but only based on international law. 

Question: Are you preparing for the next round of the Normandy format talks on Ukraine? When and where will it be held?

Maria Zakharova: I can say to this that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has provided detailed comments on the results of the ministerial – almost ministerial – Normandy format in Munich.

As you know, due to a recent government reshuffle, France was represented by the ministry’s political director rather than by the foreign minister. In light of the packed agenda of the Munich Security Conference, the Normandy format meeting was quite short. This means that another ministerial meeting will be held. The date has not been coordinated yet, but the possibility of convening this meeting is being discussed. As I have said, no date has been agreed to so far. We will inform you as soon as it’s decided.

Question: Will relations between Moscow and Bishkek change now that Kyrgyzstan has withdrawn from the Kambarata hydroelectric power station and Upper Naryn cascade projects?

Maria Zakharova: Overall, we have a common understanding with the Kyrgyz authorities on Kyrgyzstan’s withdrawal from these projects.

As for the future of our relations, our countries will continue to strengthen cooperation in all the main spheres. Our bilateral relations have been based on complete trust between Moscow and Bishkek on all levels and on all issues in the past few years, whether it’s cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Union or the implementation of various joint projects. I’d like to remind you about the growing activity of the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund, the opening of Russian markets to Kyrgyz commodities, primarily agricultural products, and lastly, the development of interaction in tourism.

The strategic partnership between our countries has grown stronger, and we highly value Bishkek’s consistency in this respect, of course. Kyrgyzstan is a reliable partner in Central Asia with whom we will continue to strengthen our mutually beneficial cooperation.

We will deal with all issues and problems, should any arise, constructively and based on mutual respect.

Question: You mentioned NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg’s visit to Serbia. Will Russia seek the same status for its representatives in Niš as NATO representatives in Serbia? Do you know the date of Prime Minister Medvedev’s visit to Serbia?

Maria Zakharova: For the date of the Prime Minister’s visit, please check with the Russian Government’s Press Service.

What status would we be seeking?

Question: NATO representatives were granted diplomatic status in Serbia.

Maria Zakharova: I will need to check on this and reply later. I have no information on this.

Question: Is Russia planning to invite Turkey to the International Economic Forum in Kazan?

Maria Zakarova: We are open to Turkish business. I’d like to stress once again that the November 2015 tragedy has caused a deterioration in Russian-Turkish relations. This is obvious and we aren’t hiding the motives. But Russia has stressed – and we repeatedly said as much – that although the deterioration couldn’t help but affect people in both countries, we proceed from the assumption that Russian-Turkish relations will develop. If the Turkish side and Turkish business are interested in attending the Kazan Forum and other fora, and in general in promoting business and economic opportunities and the potential for relations, we’d only welcome that.

Question: You are speaking about compliance with international law. But it’s already rumoured that Turkey is at the point of crossing Syria’s border. How will Russia respond if Turkey clashes with Syrian Kurds in northern Syria?

Maria Zakharova: Russia will regard any invasion in Syria as a violation of international law. Our steps will depend on the specific actions that occur. We proceed from the assumption that the neighbouring countries will have enough reason and wisdom not to breach their earlier commitments on promoting the peaceful political and diplomatic process in Syria. Turkey, among others, has assumed these commitments as it signed the documents adopted initially in Vienna. Later the group was renamed the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), something that was confirmed in Munich. But before that the documents were accepted by the UN Security Council as its official binding instruments. Apart from Syria enjoying sovereignty as any independent state does, there are commitments on renouncing military solutions to the Syrian crisis and to facilitate a peaceful settlement, which were assumed within the ISSG framework by a number of countries, including Turkey.

As for any invasion plans that are being talked about, how would this help a peaceful settlement? A military solution to the Syrian issue has no chance. Everyone is saying as much. There is not a single country that has said that. Any actions you are referring to would mean a disruption of any peace process and the renunciation of commitments undertaken, among others, by Turkey. Apart from certain additional processes, there is a global understanding of Syria’s sovereignty.

Question: What is your attitude towards the possible emergence of an independent Kurdish entity in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian Federation has been speaking on the theme of independent territorial entities in Syria for several years. We see Syria as an independent, sovereign and democratic state, where different churches and faiths would coexist peacefully. We’ve always stressed that we see Syria as an integral state. Therefore, any insinuations about someone planning to create independent states in Syrian territory have nothing to do with reality. I have seen certain materials – and we’ve commented on them extensively – with allegations that Russia is interested in establishing certain independent zones, entities, or territories. Not only do we not support this, we actually are favouring the opposite – Syria’s territorial integrity.    

Question: Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström recently proposed, in Baku, that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue be addressed within the broader format of the OSCE Minsk Group rather than by the three co-chairs. What do you think about this idea? Would Russia support the format?

Maria Zakharova: I think that it is the countries participating in this format who should decide the issue of expanding the current, generally recognised system. We don’t see any need for changing the format. The group members should work to promote a solution to the [Nagorno-Karabakh] issue. However, the Swedish official is free to express her expert opinions. The current format has been approved and is generally respected and largely effective. However, all of us would like to see more progress, but this format is expedient, by and large. As I said, the decision rests with the format participants.

Question: Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, that Baku was considering joining the Islamic counterterrorist coalition in Syria. What do you think about this?

Maria Zakharova: It is the sovereign decision of Azerbaijan, which has the exclusive authority to decide which formats to join. You should have addressed your question to our Azerbaijan partners.

Speaking about formats, what I’d like to say has no relation to the statement made by the Azerbaijani official, but we see the number of formats growing and the members of existing coalitions making new proposals. I wonder if there is any coordination in this respect. There is the US-led coalition. Later several regional countries decided to create a coalition within the above coalition, like matryoshka dolls. As far as I know, the format of this new coalition has not been clearly outlined. Moreover, the goals and objectives of this proposed coalition are unclear.

How would the actions of these two coalitions relate to each other? Will they relate, or will these coalitions have different functions? Some countries that are members of some or other coalition have recently stated their individual intentions concerning their operation in Syria. It’s unclear whether they would coordinate their operations or whether there is a common strategy at all. If this is a process for the sake of process, then so be it, but if this process aims to attain a certain result, then we need to understand its goals and objectives and methods of attaining them. So far, what we see is a process for the sake of process, which has not increased overall effectiveness.

I’d like to repeat what I said about Azerbaijan: this will be its own decision.

The issue of formatting or reformatting existing coalitions concerns only one aspect: the existence of a strategy and how these coalitions correlate to each other. We see no strategy so far. Nobody has declared one. It appears that this process is only designed to show that they are working and that the fight against ISIS is ongoing. But we believe that the creation of new formats is only meant to make up for the lack of these coalitions’ concrete achievements on the ground.

Question: Let’s get back to Syria. A ceasefire will become effective in Syria soon.

Maria Zakharova: How optimistic!

Question: The next issue I’d like to mention is not so optimistic. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the following about a ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities: “Regarding a ceasefire, a halt to operations, if it happens, it doesn't mean that parties will stop using weapons.” What does this mean? Will you comment, please?

Maria Zakharova: Please, for comments on President al-Assad’s statements go to the Syrian press service or the Syrian Embassy in Moscow. They have a very media-active staff who can tell you what the Syrian President meant.

I can only speak on behalf of Russia. We have been ready for a ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities or any other similar action for a long time, when the Vienna format and the International Syria Support Group were only in the making. But the other members of the group who represented the so-called coalition were not ready. They now seem ready for this challenge and have worked out a formula that suits them. We have accepted it because we know that an unconditional ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities, which have been coordinated in Munich and put on paper in the Munich agreements and which will be discussed in detail within a concerned group, does not mean that we will stop fighting terrorism. We will always fight terrorism. The main question now is to correlate the two elements – a ceasefire and the continued fight against terrorism. For the past few months Russia has been advocating cooperation and interaction between the involved militaries so that no one can accuse anyone else of striking the wrong targets. The ice has broken. After the Munich meeting, our proposals have been heard as the situation has reached a stage where evading this action has become impossible. As you know, the violence cessation group includes military experts. We believe that they will coordinate further action.

As I said, ask the Syrian representatives about the meaning of President Bashar al-Assad’s statement. As Russian officials and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have said, we believe that the fight against terrorism will include the continued operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces. This was stated after the meeting in Munich, and corresponding comments have been made at a joint news conference of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

 

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