Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 27, 2016
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Chelyabinsk Region presentation
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of Russian non-government organisations
- The situation in Odessa
- President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko’s comments on the need to provide heavy arms to OSCE observers in southeast Ukraine
- Developments in Syria
- UK Foreign Office releases its Human Rights Report 2015
- Tourist trips by Russian citizens to Turkey
- The unveiling of a monument to a Kyrgyz and a Ukrainian who repeated Alexander Matrosov’s heroic feat during the Great Patriotic War
- The West’s assessments of the causes and aftermath of the refugee crisis in Europe
- “The Russian threat” as a business
- Witch-hunting in Baltic countries
- Lithuania’s “leadership” in creating myths related to the “Russian threat”
- Freedom of expression in Latvia
- Answers to media questions:
- On settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
- On a Swiss artist’s installation
- On US plan to deploy an additional force in Syria
- On settlement of the Syrian crisis
- On a possible ministerial meeting in Normandy Format
- On the 5th Moscow Conference on International Security
- On the situation involving Soviet military monuments in Poland
On May 12, the Foreign Ministry will host a presentation of the Chelyabinsk Region as part of the effort to assist Russian regions in developing and consolidating ties with other countries and the business community. The presentation will gather the diplomatic corps accredited in Moscow, federal and regional authorities, businesspeople, and Russian and foreign media. I’d like to remind you that the Foreign Ministry has held such presentations of our regions since 2007.
The event is aimed at showcasing the Chelyabinsk Region’s foreign economic ties, the economic and investment potential, and the local authorities’ plans to develop ties with other regions. Promising projects that could potentially involve business circles or interested foreign entities will be presented to the participants.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chelyabinsk Region Governor Boris Dubrovsky are expected to speak at the presentation.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will have a regular meeting with representatives of Russian non-government organisations on May 13. Participants are expected to include leaders of about 100 public organisations specialising in international activities, implementing human rights, humanitarian, research, education, cultural and youth projects together with foreign partners.
I’d also like to point out that this is our traditional event, which has been held annually since 2004. This format has proven to be an effective mechanism for exchanging opinions between the Foreign Ministry and non-profit organisations.
We expect this meeting to bring up foreign policy issues crucial for Russian public organisations.
We have been receiving alarming reports from Odessa recently. Tensions in the city are growing.
Sadly, it will be two years on May 2 since the tragedy in the Trade Unions House in Odessa took place, when dozens of civilians died in a fire and were killed by nationalists and radicals. Recent reports suggest that fighters from the notorious volunteer battalions Aidar and Azov and the radical Right Sector organisation banned in Russia are gathering in Odessa. The national guard of Ukraine is also bringing reinforcements into the city and hospitals are preparing to accommodate the wounded.
In the two years since the tragedy, Ukrainian authorities in Kiev have failed or didn’t want to conduct a thorough unbiased inquiry into the incident to establish the exact circumstances of the tragedy and to punish the culprits. Even the Council of Europe, which is not known for its impartial stand on Kiev’s policy, had to point out at the official authorities’ reluctance to investigate the tragedy and bring those responsible to justice.
The current Ukrainian authorities have clearly made plans to exacerbate the situation and organise new provocations, which cannot but cause concern. We expect sensible politicians in Odessa, if there are any left, to avoid another tragedy and prevent another round of civil confrontation. Intimidating and silencing people is not a solution. It is impossible to endlessly hide the truth from people or stifle any attempts to conduct a fair investigation.
We do not want Mikheil Saakashvili, who said Odessa has all the signs of a disintegrating state, to be proved right.
In a recent interview with Ukrainian television, President Petr Poroshenko of Ukraine spoke of the need to arm members of the OSCE monitoring mission in southeast Ukraine. We are very surprised by these remarks. Mr Poroshenko is in effect proposing a “special new police mission in southeast Ukraine, that’s well-equipped with heavy arms, that’s able to ensure security and its own protection.”
The idea of an OSCE policing mission armed with heavy weapons is obviously Mr Poroshenko’s latest “know-how.” Such a mission does not exist, not even in UN peacekeeping practice. We hope that by “heavy weapons,” this “president of peace,” as he has referred to himself, does not mean nuclear missiles or other weapons of mass destruction.
Such objectives are completely divorced from reality, of course, and have no relation at all to the civilian mandate for the OSCE monitoring mission operating in Ukraine at present. As you know, the OSCE mission objectives are to monitor the security situation throughout the whole of Ukraine, the human rights situation, and compliance with the ceasefire obligations and the withdrawal of weapons. This mandate does not extend to any sort of “tank biathlon.”
We follow the mission’s reports closely. Let me note that the facts these reports contain disavow Mr Poroshenko’s statements, including some in his recent interview, that the militia forces in Donbass are responsible for the vast majority of violations. We are ready to send our Ukrainian colleagues regular updates on the mission’s statistics so as to save the authorities in Kiev from making any further declarations with no basis in reality.
Let me say again that ensuring the OSCE mission’s security is Kiev’s direct responsibility. The authorities in Kiev took on this responsibility voluntarily and should respect it in full.
The situation on the ground in Syria and on the political track of a Syrian settlement is a matter of grave concern. The ceasefire is holding, but is being put to the test almost daily. There is palpable tension in Aleppo and Latakia provinces, as well in some areas around Damascus, which is attributable to continuing attempts by terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, acting in cooperation with fighters from Ahrar ash-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and other groups close to the al-Nusra front, to reverse the course of events, including through sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Syrian army, civil infrastructure and civilians. Since the beginning of the week, government troops near Aleppo have been under continuous mortar fire from terrorists. More than 30 people have been killed, and hundreds of civilians wounded. We understand that the aim of these military provocations is to derail a peaceful transition in Syria and prevent an agreement within Syria on its future as a single, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country.
Against this backdrop, the actions by the so-called High Negotiations Committee, one of the Syrian opposition groups represented at the UN-sponsored talks with the Syrian Government in Geneva, also cause misgivings. This High Negotiations Committee has temporarily pulled out of the talks, which as it turns out is due among other things to the complete lack of constructive proposals. Its delegates decided to use their energy in a different manner. It is not without help from outside sponsors that they staged a series of public events in Geneva to discredit the Syrian Government, as well as the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria. To do this, they relied on a standard set of clichés, employing slogans like “the whole blame rests on Bashar al-Assad and his bloody regime” and “Russia kills women and children.” What’s more, it was Zahran Alloush who accused Russian Aerospace Forces of war crimes. He is one of the leaders of the all too famous Ahrar ash-Sham group, famous for its “exploitations.”
Russia reiterates its firm commitment to Russia-US agreements regarding the cessation of hostilities in Syria, and is ready to work with our partners with a view to reinforcing the truce, providing humanitarian access to the Syrian population that needs it, holding sustainable negotiations in Geneva for shaping a new, single, sovereign and secular Syria and providing for a peaceful and legal transition.
Once again, Russia calls on all international and regional forces that can influence the parties to the Syrian conflict to use this influence to reach a settlement in Syria, and help the Syrians achieve concrete results based on mutual respect.
We have taken note of the UK’s Human Rights and Democracy: The 2015 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report, which was released a few days ago. The fact that it puts Russia in the spotlight did not come as a surprise to us.
It has to be said that society in the Russian Federation aspires to democracy and rule of law. Of course, we are ready to face constructive criticism. As you know, promoting dialogue with civil society is one of the tasks set before government bodies, including those working in domestic and foreign policy. To this effect, all mechanisms are in place and we actively use them to identify weak spots and shortcomings, as well as areas that call for more resolute action. With this in mind, we always welcome and respect any constructive, well-grounded criticism. It goes without saying that we are aware that we still have progress to make in this area, just like any other country. While having quite positive results in some areas, there are issues that must be subject to extensive efforts in other areas. That said, it is simply impossible to pretend that the Foreign Office report is an impartial evaluation of the developments in Russia because it is inconsistent with reality.
I’m not going to elaborate on the paragraph that deals with freedom of expression, as I have raised this issue more than once. We are talking about double standards, etc. I do not even want to mention this today.
I would like to highlight specific allegations against Russia. For example, London mentions Russia’s plans to “enhance stability in the North Caucasus.” Did anyone try to question this in Russia? Rather, the question is, what does London have to do with it? It seems that the Foreign Office publicly acknowledges outright interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, while forgetting that Russia can deal with domestic issues despite huge efforts by the UK to destabilise the situation in Russia and the North Caucasus in particular.
Let’s ask our British colleagues several questions. For example, who is hiding terrorists on its territory and those who financed their activities? London is an obvious answer. Who supported the criminal actions of Mikheil Saakashvili, who was behind the civilian slaughter in South Ossetia? The answer is obvious. We all know who did it. Nevertheless, even though the answers to these questions are so obvious, they continue to make these immoral statements and include them in reports. Who benefits from this? Looking beyond details and nuances, I can say that at the end of the day it is terrorists and killers who benefit when the issue is presented from this perspective, including in this paragraph of the report. This is a very dangerous game. We see where double standards can take us. The same goes for freedom of expression. As the saying goes, the rifle can go off sooner, faster and with more far-reaching consequences. Even Europeans understand the consequences of flirting with terrorists.
The report sticks to the same approach regarding Ukraine, alleging that Russia bears full responsibility for the suffering of the people in the east of the country, while failing to mention the crimes supported or perpetrated by forces under the umbrella of the Kiev authorities. This report is an example of massive hypocrisy. Unfortunately, far from being an isolated case, this hypocrisy has been made by London into an official policy.
I cannot fail to remind the UK Foreign Office that only those can aspire to teach others (and Russia is ready to learn, we have always been, are and will be eager to learn from the best examples) whose reputation is more or less untainted, if not impeccable. Honestly and in all objectiveness, London’s reputation is far from perfect.
Let me give you a few examples. How can we take human rights lessons from those who are closing, on a massive scale, investigations into war crimes committed by British soldiers during the Iraq campaign? The delays in the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq military campaign in 2003 are obscene. Only recently, Privacy International reported on the illegal collection and exchange by the British secret services of the personal data of British subjects over the last 15 years. This is what this NGO said. These are just a couple of examples. Not only is London fully aware of these and other facts, but they were brought to the attention of Britain’s leaders by international governmental and non-governmental organisations. This shows that the UK has things to do itself.
There is another dangerous trend. Apart from flirting with terrorists and double standards, the excessive politicisation of the human rights issues in international affairs can have grave consequences. There is nothing new about this approach. It has been used for many years. Not only has it proven to be inefficient, but also dangerous. Nevertheless, many Western countries still stick to this approach for immediate gain. We are truly surprised that our Western colleagues are still eager to politicise human rights issues, a method that has long discredited itself. That’s just boring.
As the summer holiday season draws nearer, we regularly remind Russian citizens who plan to travel abroad of our recommendations. There have been numerous publications in the Russian media claiming that 600,000-700,000 Russian tourists are planning to visit Turkey this year. We would like to repeat that Turkey is among the countries that Russian citizens are not recommended to visit for a number of serious reasons.
Our previous strong recommendations to refrain from tourist trips to that country remain in force. Reality has shown that they are justified. People must be fully aware of the fact that intensive armed clashes between Turkish security forces and armed units of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party are taking place in the southeast of the country. In fact, it is a civil war. According to official estimates, more than 400 people have been killed in that part of Turkey over the past nine months. Over a hundred areas in southeast Turkey have been proclaimed “security zones” and curfew has been imposed there.
The number of terrorist attacks in large cities has grown sharply with more than 200 people, foreign tourists among them, reportedly killed in those attacks in Ankara and Istanbul alone since October 2015 to March 2016.
All these circumstances, figures and facts have prompted us to suspend the sale of package tours to Turkey and ban all charter flights between the two countries.
Therefore, we are again warning Russian citizens to refrain from visiting that country for tourist purposes, because this is fraught with real danger to their life and health.
We are all looking forward to the approaching spring holidays. They have different meanings to us. But there is one holiday which is exceptionally glorious for our country: Victory Day.
I would like to say a few words in this connection. Our country venerates the memory of heroes irrespective of their nationality or of whether their descendants now live in the Russian Federation or elsewhere. We do not divide Victory into ours and not ours, nor do we measure it by the significance or the volume of contributed efforts, be it material and technical contribution or human grief. We regard it as is our common Victory. And we are grateful to each and everyone, who helped bring it closer on the battlefield or on the home front.
On April 29, a monument will be unveiled in the village of Poddorye, Novgorod Region, to Yakov Pilipenko, a Ukrainian, and Akmatsha Tyumenbayev, a Kyrgyz, who blocked an enemy machinegun by throwing themselves on a pillbox embrasure during an operation to lift the siege of Leningrad. I would like to say that it is never too late to pay homage to fallen soldiers and immortalise their combat feat. Let me note that representatives of the Kyrgyz embassy will attend the ceremony. Regrettably, up to now we have not received any notice from Ukrainian embassy officials to that end. I hope that they will consider it possible to attend this event and to try to depoliticise it in their minds and realise that we have common history.
We took notice of media reports saying that with the arrival of spring and improved weather, the flow of illegal refugees from Libya to the southern coast and islands of Italy has grown. Compared with the same period last year, according to media reports, the number of refugees stood at 24,000; 10,000 of them arrived in March and more than 4,000 in the first week of April. I am giving these examples in order to disavow and prove the absurdity of accusations against Russia asserting that the migration crisis in Europe has allegedly worsened due to Russian aerospace forces operations in Syria.
In support of the fact that the West is becoming more aware of the causes of this mass exodus, let me refer to some highly authoritative experts.
For example, on April 13, Jeffrey Sachs, a prominent economist and political scientist and a Columbia University professor, made a speech at the Labour Market and Migration across the Eurasian Continent conference hosted by the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, during which he said that a timely change in the US political course, namely, dropping their regime change policy, which has brought nothing except unresolved conflicts and the further proliferation of Islamic terrorism, could save Europe from the migration crisis. According to Mr. Sachs, the cessation of secret CIA operations in the region will reduce the number of displaced persons and refugee flows.
Former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who also attended the conference, blamed the situation entirely on EU member states which are mindlessly toeing the US line. He believes that Brussels’ current policy is a worse threat to Europe’s future than migrants. “Major West European countries are adopting political decisions that completely disregard the opinions of the other member states, like during the Munich conspiracy 78 years ago”, the politician said.
European Council President Donald Tusk, in his article published in the April 22 edition of the Le Figaro newspaper, acknowledged that when the migrant crisis in Europe was only beginning to pick up pace, the Europeans displayed uncertainty and weakness and thus created fertile soil for the spreading of extremist, populist and nationalist ideas. As regards cooperation between the EU and Turkey, he openly warned his EU partners against handing the keys to European security over to third countries as this would enable those sponging on the situation to continue blackmailing Europe.
As you may remember, two or three months ago major officials currently in office kept telling us that it is Russia and its aerospace forces that are to blame for the migration crisis and the fresh waves of refugees. I cited internal European assessments. As we know and have often repeated: Russophobia is just business.
A recent publication in the American newspaper The Hill about the Pentagon’s plans to quadruple its defence budget for Europe has caught our attention. Of course, the potential “Russian aggression” is one of the main issues on the agenda of the US House Committee on Armed Services. And today, it is going to discuss its 2017 defence budget.
This really proves that the fight against the so-called Russian threat has become a good way to make some good money. The fact that Washington plans to increase its already significant defence budget is a clear and obvious proof of this.
The scheme is very simple. First, the population is intimidated by planted information about Russia being an aggressor, then the relevant publications appear, and then budget funds are allocated for new defence projects, which inevitably involve certain countermeasures to combat the “Russian threat.” This is a great story and one that actually works. This is a good occasion to explain to taxpayers on how their tax dollars are spent and invite them to support this policy. Recently, one Western foreign affairs senior official, who has popularity and authority with colleagues all over the world, said: “You cannot even imagine how many people have made their careers on Russophobia.” There are two variants: one can either build a business or a career.
I will give concrete examples of Russophobia by citing the situation in the Baltic countries. Of course, all of this bears a strong resemblance to what we saw in the 20th century. The only difference is that, unlike the US campaign to seek out closet communists, our Baltic colleagues are seeing Kremlin agents of influence everywhere. Essentially, this is based on the same matrix that was used before.
A ministerial meeting of the northern, Baltic countries and Visegrad Group states took place in Jurmala recently. It focused on the consolidation of efforts in fighting the “Russian threat.” Again, first there was intimidation and then the approval of new budgets.
Previously, for 12 consecutive years, Jurmala hosted a competition of young singers known as the New Wave festival, which brought the city millions [of dollars] in revenues. These revenues were not divvied up between military lobbies in the country or abroad, but went to the people, to small- and medium-sized businesses, staying in the country. Such cultural events led to a boom in Jurmala’s tourist industry. During the last three years of the festival, the tourist flow increased by 20 percent. These are only commercial indicators. Everyone knows it was a holiday for the country’s residents and visitors. Now Jurmala hosts congresses of Russophobes.
Colleagues, this is your choice, but you should understand that since the USSR fell apart, we have really done everything that we could to become good neighbours. What does being good neighbours mean? It means living in mutual respect, implementing joint projects and making sure it is interesting and mutually beneficial for people in border regions, as well as in our countries as a whole, to communicate. You are destroying this with your own hands.
This emerging trend has to do not only with the fact that important and interesting cultural events are no longer held, but also with local legislation. As you know, the Latvian Saeima recently adopted “anti-espionage amendments” to the country’s penal code. The greatest controversy was aroused by the move to criminalise illegal access to state secrets. I will not cite the remarks of public figures, journalists and politicians who said that all of this verges on insanity. I will not cite the statement of the Latvian Journalists Union and so on. Again, what lies behind this is the same Russophobic policy, the enflaming of passions, the search for nonexistent threats that purportedly come, in particular, from our country.
On the whole, experts come to the conclusion that the Latvian special services have managed to successfully lobby for a legislative tool to step up the struggle against dissent. Today, as you can see, it is a much-needed mechanism in that country. Now, local law enforcement agencies will find it even easier to deal with uncooperative individuals and organisations. It is quite likely that the deportation of people even with a Latvian resident permit will become common practice. For example, this recently affected the leader of the Latvian chapter of the Night Wolves motorcycling club. Unfortunately, this concerns not only Latvia. A similar situation is unfolding in Lithuania.
The Lithuanian media are whipping up Russophobic hysteria, scaring the public with a terrible, treacherous Russia and are trying in one way or another to focus the public’s attention on a perceived threat. There are reports of incursions by Russian special-ops commandos, the intrusion of Russian helicopters into Lithuanian airspace and cyberattacks against Lithuanian government agencies. All of this is being constantly bandied about and kept “afloat.”
Lithuanian officials are setting the pace in promoting such stories and campaigns. For example, Artūras Paulauskas, chairman of the Parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, said that “Russian saboteurs could have infiltrated during the exercise in Juodkrantė.” This is a 2016 report. The “sensation” was instantly disseminated by local media. They are all on standby for such reports. When reporters asked the prime minister for comment, they were told that “this is secret information” and that “the relevant services have responded promptly and efficiently.” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said: “No intelligence information, whatever it might be, is subject to comment and no officials may do this.” This begs the question: Did saboteurs infiltrate or not? If they did, warn the public. After all, this is a serious matter. If they did not, say so. However, when this propaganda campaign evidently began to go beyond what’s reasonable, Ms Grybauskaitė urged her politicians “to refrain from speculating on the issue of Russian invasion.” Say it loud and clear if there was an invasion. This is a serious matter. I cannot imagine a situation where self-respecting politicians who are responsible for what they say would be able to keep their country in suspense for a long time over possible mass infiltration by saboteurs from a neighbouring state.
We understand that all of these actions by Vilnius are aimed, above all, at ensuring somebody else’s interests, as this cannot be in its own interests, but the interests of “big brother.” I’d like to ask only one rhetorical question: When the local authorities mount this information campaign, are they not concerned about the everyman, do they not think about ordinary citizens? After all, this kind of information keeps them under constant psychological pressure. This concept of the growing Russian threat can lead to nervous breakdowns, as they keep the country under constant psychological strain.
As we know from open sources, the Lithuanian population is constantly shrinking. The most important thing is that Lithuania’s respected politicians do not accuse us – just as they do in Latvia – of creating demographic problems for them. Don’t scare your people and then they will not leave and the population will stop shrinking.
I could not ignore the recent news. Given the fact that I know Mayor of Riga Nils Usakovs personally, I have followed the story with the caricature that the mayor ventured to publish on his Facebook page. The caricature was about Latvian government’s recent demand that Russia pay compensation for the economic damage caused by the USSR. After it was published, head of the Commission to Study the Occupation, Ruta Pazdere, threatened the mayor with imprisonment for up to five years.
She was the first but not the only person determined to deal with Usakovs. She was followed by deputy of the Latvian Unity Party Vilnis Kirsis, who filed a police complaint demanding that the mayor is charged under a criminal code article that stipulates imprisonment for up to five years.
First of all, Nils, stay strong. Second, as I already said, next time publish your caricatures in Charlie Hebdo. You will be completely protected then, and no one will say a single word against you.
Question: On April 25, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said in an interview to Bloomberg that Armenia would not return to peace talks unless it has security guarantees, because the current situation is totally different from five years ago, when the Kazan document was being drafted. Yesterday, the Russian and Armenian foreign ministers spoke over the telephone. On Monday, the Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the situation was fragile in Nagorno-Karabakh. The OSCE Minsk Group is seeking to arrange for a meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia to take place shortly. What will be the foreign ministry’s comment on the Armenian president’s statement? Is there any progress in talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement?
Maria Zakharova: I’d like to comment on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh as a whole. The developments there are proof of what we said at our previous briefings: now as never before it is vital to show restraint and steer towards restoring stability. We are firmly convinced that the parties must resume the negotiations, which will be aimed at achieving a stable peace settlement. We think it is of fundamental importance to intensify work on reducing military risks on the basis of existing agreements.
As for your question, the priority now is to calm the situation, prevent new aggression and bloodshed, restore a settlement-friendly atmosphere, and resume the talks. These are things of fundamental importance.
Question: Are you aware of the situation involving a Swiss artist’s installation in front of the UN building in Geneva? The exhibition displays a photograph of a 15-year-old boy killed during protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan several years ago. Turkish representatives urged the Swiss to remove it. According to the latest news, the Swiss held their ground, while the artist said he would like to mount displays in other countries after the Geneva exhibition was over. What would be your attitude if he wished to organise a display in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I read a report on this in the media. We are not an exhibition agency. We promote Russian exhibitions in foreign countries by providing international support, signing relevant contracts, and instructing Russian missions abroad to assist.
As for agreements to organise private exhibitions, we leave this to civil society. I think that this person or his promoters, if they wish to hold an exhibition in Russia, should find a host organisation, agree to terms with it, and duly formalise entry documents. We host various exhibitions – political, artistic and others. If this event is not against Russian legislation and everything is complied with, I don’t see any problems with presenting this point of view to the Russian public. They just need to find an organisation that will invite him.
Question: Many Turkey’s allies and Turkey itself view this as a major provocation, the more so that the installation was positioned in front of the UN building in Geneva.
Maria Zakharova: Unfortunately, Turkey has seen everything as a problem over the last year or two – journalists, public figures, civil society… The spread of this attitude is unprecedented. One can’t imagine a Western civilised country, as Turkey styles itself, detaining or arresting over one thousand people on charges of insulting its leaders. It is these data that I heard from journalists yesterday. You can’t put up with a situation where real journalists who present different points of view are arrested and threatened with life imprisonment. But this really happens in Turkey. I am passing in silence their attitude to foreign journalists, who are deported, or not allowed to enter the country, or stripped of their accreditation, or persecuted. But Ankara feels this is not enough: they want to punish journalists and public figures abroad, specifically in Germany.
There is no problem with the installation in front of the UN building: it’s Ankara that is a problem.
Question: A few days ago, US President Barack Obama voiced his plans to deploy an additional 250 troops in Syria to provide anti-terror training for some local armed formations. Could you comment on this story, given Washington’s repeated statements that there will be no US boots on the ground in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: The day before yesterday, sharp polemics erupted between journalists and US State Department spokesman John Kirby. The spokesman insisted that US officials had never said that there would be no US boots on the ground in Syria, while journalists referred to President Barack Obama’s statements showing the opposite.
Since Washington’s policy in the region is so wide-ranging, one would also like it to be consistent. Those seeing themselves as world leaders cannot change their decisions or revoke them, and, of course, they must be the true masters of their words. It sounds pathetic, but this is the practice.
Indeed, we would like to understand what all that means, whether it is a one-time affair, who those people are, what tasks have been set before them, where they will be deployed, why they are being moved in, and, also very important, whether all that is part of a certain programme or a certain plan. It matters not just to Russia, but to all member states of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). We are all part of one common group, the ISSG. We all agreed to compromise something to be able to work together on Syria. Since we are working together on Syria, we must understand what steps each of the parties intends to take and the nature of its strategy and plans.
The day before yesterday, I watched my US colleague trying to give at least some explanation of why “we first play and then do not play,” why the “no boots on the ground” concept has been preached for years and why US soldiers are nevertheless being deployed in Syria. I think that there is a fine solution to this story: in order for at least the US State Department to save face, the US soldiers will have to land in Syria barefooted.
Question: After each escalation of tension on the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh, negotiations resume but then falter. Will there be an end to this?
Maria Zakharova: Your questions to me should be practical, not rhetorical. You are putting this question to me as the spokesperson of a mediating country, whereas you should be addressing it to the conflicting parties. This is a question for them, not us. Russia is trying to do its job well, as it seems to me. At least, and we are saying it openly, we have been contacting both sides and working with other settlement mediators at all levels. You know of President Vladimir Putin’s personal contribution to defusing tensions and of the contacts held by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But no mediation efforts can achieve maximum effect unless there is desire and free will on both sides. I would like you to address this global question to the two capitals.
Question: It was announced that Nagorno-Karabakh issues were discussed in Yerevan in accordance with “the Kazan principles.” What are these principles?
Maria Zakharova: You can read about this. This information is available on the Foreign Ministry’s website and on the Internet. The document was widely commented on. I suggest you study it.
Question: What, in the Russian view, is the status of the Syria peace process?
Maria Zakharova: I began my comment on the situation in Syria by responding to your question. I said that the situation both in Syria and as regards the political track of the Syria settlement arouses concern. This is the answer to your question. We are seriously concerned by the peace settlement processes. I also said why they arouse our concern. This is due to the unconstructive behaviour of a number of Syrian opposition members, support for these unconstructive approaches and actions by their external sponsors and a lack of consolidated efforts by international mediators to “maintain focus” and encourage the parties to move forward through talks. Additionally, of course, the situation on the ground is also a source of concern. At present, it is impossible to say exactly where we are. However, it’s clear that this is not the stage that we would be completely satisfied with. We can see problem areas and speak about them not only in public but through our constant and regular contacts with our partners at the ISSG, at the UN, in Damascus and with Syrian opposition representatives in European and regional capitals.
Question: How reliable is the report that a Normandy format ministerial meeting will be held on May 11 in Berlin?
Maria Zakharova: This possibility is under consideration. No agreement as to the date or venue has yet been achieved. Nevertheless, the possibility of holding a Normandy format ministerial meeting in the first half of May, indeed, is being considered. As soon as the parties agree on the date, venue, format and level of representation, we will duly inform you. However, I’d like to stress that this refers to preparations related to a ministerial meeting. To reiterate, so far, this possibility is under consideration.
Question: The 5th Conference on International Security is taking place in Moscow, which is being attended by representatives from 80 countries. What, in your opinion, is the main goal of this conference? Does its composition mean that the West has failed to isolate Russia?
Maria Zakharova: It’s a little awkward for me to respond to a question regarding Russia’s isolation. You can judge for yourself. It was a well-prepared plan, but it did not fly.
Regarding the international security conference in Moscow, it has already been addressed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This shows the importance and relevance of the event, as we see it. The transcript of his remarks will be posted on the Ministry’s website. You can study it. Mr Lavrov raised some fundamental issues for discussion at this conference.
The conference is organised by our colleagues from the Ministry of Defence. They have explained its goals and objectives. A key issue that will be addressed is security, the fight against terrorism and the consolidation of the efforts of all countries. The crisis is global and this challenge, which affects everyone, can only be met through collective efforts.
Work is underway. A large number of participants have registered at the conference, including representatives of the Foreign Ministry. The active discussion will continue.
Question: The director of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance recently gave an interview to a Polish online news agency, in which he spoke at length about Russia-Poland relations and monuments. In particular, he put forward an initiative that all monuments to Soviet soldiers subject to removal be relocated to Krasny Bor, a former army test range. Poland wants to show “the role that the Red Army played in Polish history.” In particular, Gen. Ivan Chernyakhovsky’s bas-relief, which was removed in the town of Pieniężno, will also be installed there, he said. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: I think and hope that Poland has something to show in areas other than the one related to the exhumation of historical memory. There are a lot of other areas: humanitarian cooperation, education, culture, science, industry and sport. Why is Poland not showing something from these areas? Why is everything that is related to Russia centred around monuments and constant groundless accusations against us? This is first.
Second, I respect people who are into history and I cannot treat them other than with respect. They have their own view and they work with documents. But listen, you Polish historians, why are you missing (I hope you are doing this inadvertently) a chance that you will not have in five or six years? Why are you not talking with the participants in those battle operations on the Polish side? Why don’t you ask their opinion? Why do you consider yourselves to be so flawless and brilliant as to draw such conclusions and put forward such proposals, based only on your personal opinion? Who do you represent? The part of society that has already been zombified, including by yourselves? Talk to the Polish veterans, soldiers who fought side by side with Russian soldiers. Pluck up enough courage. I don’t think Polish soldiers and veterans will have a consensus and I believe that there will be different viewpoints. However, in this case we’ll look, read and see and then you’ll have genuine grounds for making proposals and statements.
In Poland, they speak to just anybody, they interview just anybody and discuss things on the radio and TV with just anybody except those who truly have the right to comment on the issue. I think that if our Polish colleagues pluck up sufficient courage, this is exactly what they’ll do.