Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 27, 2017
- Meeting on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement between the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Finland
- Sergey Lavrov to attend Arctic Council ministerial meeting
- Upcoming celebration of the 72nd Victory anniversary
- 10 years since Tallinn’s Bronze Night and Dmitry Ganin’s death
- Anniversary of the May 2 events in Odessa
- The situation in Syria
- Missile attack on Damascus International Airport
- The humanitarian situation in Deir ez-Zor
- The White Helmets
- Criticism of the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights NGO
- Dutch war correspondent Arnold Karskens on refugees
- The situation in South Sudan
- Situation in Venezuela
- The situation on the Korean Peninsula
- Combating piracy off the Horn of Africa
- Russia’s re-election to UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs
- Refusal to accredit Radio Sputnik, RT and Ruptly video news agency by the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s electoral staff
- The situation around Konstantin Yaroshenko
- The situation around Roman Seleznev
- Answers to media questions:
- Dilgam Askerov’s plight
- Found remains of a Russian national buried in Turkey
- Combating information aggression
- Office of the Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights
- Annual reports on human rights
- Overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy
- Rules of entry to the Russian Federation
- NATO military exercises in Bulgaria
- Developments in Afghanistan
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Russian-US relations
- Russian-Iranian relations
- Yemen’s humanitarian situation
- Combating terrorism
In accordance with previous agreements, a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement will be held in Moscow on April 28. At one point, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office for Nagorno-Karabakh will join the meeting. During the discussion, the parties are expected to clarify their positions on the most pressing aspects of the settlement and decide on the format of the negotiation process moving forward.
On May 4, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Finland at the invitation of Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini.
The previous meeting of ministers was held on June 6, 2016 in Moscow.
Mr Lavrov and Mr Soini will continue their dialogue on current issues of the bilateral and regional agenda and exchange views on international affairs.
During his visit, Mr Lavrov also plans to meet in Helsinki with President of Finland Sauli Niinisto.
On May 10-11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council that will take place in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA.
The foreign ministers of the Arctic states will address issues of strengthening international cooperation in the Arctic in the interest of ensuring the region’s sustainable development. Corresponding agreements will be reflected in the final declaration.
There are also plans for an intergovernmental agreement to consolidate international Arctic scientific cooperation to be signed in Fairbanks by all Arctic states.
In connection with the upcoming celebration of the 72nd anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, the Foreign Ministry and our missions abroad plan to hold a series of memorial, protocol, informational and cultural events. These include official receptions and gatherings, meetings with war veterans, ceremonies at monuments and memorials to Soviet soldiers and various public events with the participation of our compatriots.
The Victory anniversary celebration will feature the Immortal Regiment event, which will take place in over 50 countries, and the St George Ribbon campaign in more than 90 countries, both initiated by organisations of Russian compatriots. Other events will include the Memory Candle, the laying of flowers at the graves of those who laid down their lives in the fight against Nazism, requiem rallies, concerts and period song festivals.
I would like to note that these are public events organised by our compatriots and members of civil society. Needless to say, Russian missions abroad are providing them the required organisational assistance.
In addition, a dance festival called Victory Waltz, symbolising the bond of generations, countries and nations, will be held in some CIS countries, in particular, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Let me remind you of a line from Klavdiya Shulzhenko’s song: “Oh, how my head is spinning, how it’s spinning.”
We expect local residents, veterans and members of antifascist organisations to join these events in a number of countries together with our compatriots, as they did last year. We hope that the authorities of the countries where these formal and memorial ceremonies will be held will not obstruct them but on the contrary, will themselves pay tribute to the memory of those who defeated fascism.
Participants in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 living abroad, survivors of the Leningrad siege and juvenile inmates of Nazi concentration camps will receive personal greetings from the Russian president.
Special attention is paid to performing maintenance on Russian (Soviet) war burial sites in other countries.
On May 9, the traditional military parade will take place on Red Square, which is due to be attended by the heads of foreign diplomatic missions accredited in Moscow.
We are confident that the celebration will, as always, take place in a special spirit, with a sense of enthusiasm, in an informal and warm atmosphere, and that it will attract all people who are eager to preserve historical memory and prevent the revival and glorification of Nazism.
There will be another special event. I will not go into detail at this point but will just raise the curtain a little. The Turetsky Choir is preparing a special surprise for us. We will keep you in suspense for a while but I will soon tell you about this event in detail.
April 27 marks 10 years since the tragic events known as the Bronze Night took place in Tallinn when the monument to the Soldier Liberator was dismantled and the nearby remains of the Soviet soldiers who liberated the Estonian capital from the Nazis were exhumed despite repeated protests from the Russian side and in outrageous violation of the norms of international law and basic human moral principles. The street protests of those who tried to protect the memorial were put down by force.
That night’s events are still painful to remember for our compatriots and all those who care about the great exploit of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to secure peace in Europe as it is today. Every year, hundreds of people come to pay tribute to the perished soldiers and the Bronze Soldier, which were moved to the war cemetery in Tallinn. The Immortal Regiment procession is organised, and a guard of honour protects the memorial.
We are extremely concerned about the way the Estonian authorities are conducting the investigation into the murder of Dmitry Ganin, a Russian citizen who died in the protests of April 2007. After 10 years of inaction, the Estonian law-enforcement bodies are clearly seeking to drop the case, citing the expiry of its period of limitation. They are also ignoring the Russian Investigative Committee’s proposals to provide legal assistance.
Such an approach is unacceptable. We demand that the Estonian side take all possible measures to identify the culprits behind the Russian citizen’s murder, and to hold them responsible.
May 2 marks three years since the tragic events in Odessa, in which dozens of people died and hundreds were injured at the hands of thugs behaving like fascists. I regret to say that those responsible for that inhuman crime have not been punished yet and that the investigation has stalled in the face of the tacit indifference of the West and international human rights institutions. Just compare it with the storm of indignation, especially in EU parliamentary circles, that erupts over a visit by a European politician or a public figure or a member of parliament, for example, to Syria. A tidal wave erupts there. The man is humiliated to such a degree that he is ready to admit to anything, that he is an agent of every secret space agency, and to turn himself in to all authorities. He is utterly humiliated by the stream of media attacks.
We have seen nothing of this kind over the past three years from the West in terms of demands to investigate the Odessa events. Let me repeat that this tragedy was not just a political rally, or the dispersal of demonstrators or mistreatment of people. People were burnt alive, and they were not servicemen but civilians who were defending their right to a dignified life.
The inaction of the Kiev authorities and the pure connivance of their external sponsors are fuelling radical sentiments in Ukraine. It is troubling that more and more often we hear extremist forces say that they intend to disrupt memorial events, and make threats against those who have not forgotten the victims of the Odessa tragedy.
Let me stress that the authorities, who have halted the investigation, are not the ones coming under pressure but rather those who witnessed the events and still care about the search for truth.
We are calling on Kiev to ensure law and order in Odessa in the coming days and swiftly handle any provocations by nationalist radicals.
Sadly, we are often right about these things. Once again we would like to warn our Ukrainian colleagues that condoning, inciting and nurturing radicals will come back to bite you hard. I will not even say “the day will come” – it has, in fact, already come.
The situation in Syria is still a focus of our attention. We anxiously monitor reports about the situation in Syria. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of cause for concern.
On April 25, it was reported that Turkish jets carried out a series of strikes on the positions of Kurdish self-defence detachments near Mount Karachok in northeastern Syria and near Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. I would like to remind you that Kurdish detachments are the most effective fighting force in the war against ISIS terrorists in northeastern Syria. We were greatly disturbed by reports of Ankara’s operations. There is reason to believe that if it was not for the hasty US attack on Syria’s Shayrat Airbase, which was outside the bounds of international law, Turkey would not have carried out the recent strikes. It is necessary to put an end to arbitrariness on Syrian soil. We urge all international and regional partners to respect the sovereignty and independence of Syria and Iraq, as well as of other countries.
I would like to draw your attention to another issue. The targets that the Turkish Air Force hit in Syria included media facilities: a local TV and radio broadcasting station. Reports say some of your colleagues from the media centre of Kurdish self-defence forces were killed, among others. I would like to see the reaction of the relevant organisations and the journalistic community.
Syria’s government forces are successfully advancing on the positions of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. The offensive in the north of Hama Province is moving forward. Despite the fierce resistance put up by Nusra and its allies, the large towns of Halfaya and Taybat al-Imam have been liberated. At present, the army is exploiting its strategic success, advancing toward the border of Hama and Idlib Provinces.
On April 19 and 21, Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft destroyed Jabhat al-Nusra’s large training camps in Idlib Province. The strikes were carried out with coordinates received from the so-called competing group, Jaysh al-Izzah.
The dynamic of events in Syria underscores the pressing need for an international meeting on Syria in Astana. The next meeting is scheduled for May 3-4. We hope that the Astana process will help record positive trends in the development of the situation in Syria, prevent the deterioration of the military-political situation and help the Syrian parties in search of compromise solutions, which would put an end to the protracted intra-Syrian confrontation and prevent terrorists from gaining full control of Syria and the entire Middle East region.
According to media reports, in the early hours of April 27, Israeli Air Force jets conducted a strike on Damascus International Airport. According to Syria’s SANA news agency, a source in the Syrian Army described the attack as Israeli aggression against Syrian military installations southwest of the Damascus airport. The Israeli military declined to comment on reports of the strike. At the same time Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said in an interview with IDF Radio that “the incident is completely compatible with Israel’s policy principles.”
Moscow condemns acts of aggression against Syria and considers them unacceptable and at odds with the principles and norms of international law. We urge all parties to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, a UN member state. It would be not a bad idea to reflect on international law and its violations – something that our Western colleagues have talked so much about in recent years, for example, our EU colleagues, who suddenly began to remind everybody about the need to observe international law. It would be useful to assess the extent to which it has been violated now.
Whatever reasons might be invoked to justify gross violations of Syria’s sovereignty, they are unacceptable. They pose a threat to international peace and security and destabilise the existing world order. Among other things, such actions play into the hands of ISIS and al-Nusra terrorists, which also seriously undermines the efforts aimed at achieving a political settlement of the Syria crisis as soon as possible, based on internationally coordinated decisions, above all UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Improving the humanitarian situation in Syria and providing aid to those in need is one of Russia’s priorities in Syria.
We have often talked about the Russian military’s contribution to achieving this goal. They deliver food, water and basic necessities to the Syrian people, often at the risk of their lives.
The situation in Deir ez-Zor, where about 200,000 people have been under ISIS siege for over three years now, is also the focus of our attention. Russian airplanes regularly deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged people by using parachute platforms, including aid that the Syrian authorities receive from the UN. The most recent aid delivery – 21tonnes of food – was made on April 24-25.
According to the UN, more than a half of Syria’s population – 13.5 million people, including 6.5 million children – need humanitarian aid; 11.5 million people need medical care and 12.1 million have no access to drinking water.
Russia is doing its utmost to ease the suffering of the Syrian people regardless of their ethnic or religious background, political sympathies or antipathies. We call on our Western colleagues to do the same, depoliticise the humanitarian aid issue in Syria, and focus on the interests of those in need. People need bread, water and fuel to keep their homes warm; they need basic aid to survive. Alas, our Western partners, who tend to worry over non-issues, prefer to impose new sanctions, which only make the situation worse.
I would like to draw your attention to new facts exposing the activity of the White Helmets, a notorious organisation that is discrediting itself. This entire activity can be described as pseudo-humane or pseudo-humanitarian. There is evidence that some actions taken by members of this organisation not only prevent it from claiming the status of a humanitarian NGO or “saviours of the Syrian people,” but can be put in the same category as extremism and war crimes.
The real Syria Civil Defence organisation was established in 1953 and registered at the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO). Contrary to Western media reports, the White Helmets have nothing in common with Syria’s national emergency response system or the organisation of relief and rescue operations in case of accidents or disasters. As militants moved into Aleppo, they seized ambulances, firefighting trucks and other gear and equipment, while the majority of civil defence officers were shot.
The White Helmets not only feel at home on Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS-controlled territories but openly sympathise with them and provide them with information and even financial support. How is that for double standards? There is documentary evidence of the White Helmets’ involvement in some of al-Nusra’s operations and cover-up over civilian deaths. A case in point is a video presumably made in March 2015 that shows the White Helmets mingling with terrorists and beating a defenceless man captured by al-Nusra. In a video dated May 2015, they carry out a kind of a clean-up operation at the site of civilian executions in northern Aleppo. There is footage of torture of Syrian soldiers with their subsequent execution in the presence of the White Helmets.
The biased Western media outlets absolutely ignore the facts that expose the White Helmets’ propaganda and are silent about the falsification of casualty figures in Syria and the fabrication of acts of violence or the use of dangerous kinds of weapons. Eyewitnesses talk about looting, juggling facts and faking the provision of medical aid by members of this “humanitarian” NGO.
The White Helmets often come forward as the only witnesses to the destruction of civilian facilities and casualties as a result of alleged operations by the Russian Aerospace Forces or the Syrian Air Force. On the internet, people tired of propaganda do frame-by-frame analysis of their fake videos of civilian relief operations and discover footage with the participation of professional makeup artists. I believe you have seen them.
The White Helmets’ actions in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun on April 4 merit special mention. Their purportedly “incontrovertible” evidence gave the Americans a pretext for carrying out an act of armed aggression against Syria’s Air Force Shayrat airbase on April 7. Representatives of the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, an NGO, analysed the video footage and came to the conclusion that the saving of children shown there was in fact a dangerous manipulation of children’s bodies pumped with narcotics.
Importantly, funds controlled by some Western governments or business circles close to them are directly involved in financing the White Helmets. He who pays the piper calls the tune, especially since this music fully corresponds to the official position of Western countries regarding regime change in Syria – as we clearly realise, the only purpose of their presence there.
We have taken note of the criticism and open pressure put on the NGO, Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, after it questioned the allegation by the United States and several other countries that it was the Syrian Army that was responsible for the April 4 chemical attack in Idlib.
It has become a kind of tradition to attack and persecute independent NGOs for their alternative views. These NGOs are branded Kremlin agents and accused of attempts to discredit or undermine trust in the West’s version of events. At the same time, the Western capitals give a pat on the back to all kinds of pseudo-experts and pseudo-NGOs, such as the White Helmets, for promoting allegations and accusations against the Syrian Government. They also pretend not to see the shameless falsifications practiced by these NGOs.
The situation with Swedish Doctors for Human Rights is fresh evidence of the Western practice of double standards regarding freedom of speech: it appears that the only information that can be made public is that which strictly corresponds to the policies of Washington and Brussels.
We have provided our views more than once on the tragedy that is underway in the Middle East and North Africa because of the short-sighted democratisation policies of our Western colleagues. If our Western colleagues continue to talk about the democratisation of the Middle East and North Africa, knowing that they cannot retrace their steps, maybe we should choose a simpler solution, that is, change the definition of democratisation? Maybe we should write an article for Wikipedia saying that democratisation as understood in the West amounts to total destruction of states, and provide the numerous examples?
We have also noticed that the opinions of many Western experts who take an objective view on the situation in the region, its causes and their consequences, increasingly often coincide with our conclusions.
Independent Dutch war correspondent Arnold Karskens has written that Western politicians are guilty of the death of Mali refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe. Speaking on behalf of the families of the drowned Mali refugees, Karskens has filed charges of manslaughter, and aiding and abetting human trafficking against the European Union. He has named First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans as the defendant in the case. According to Arnold Karskens, over 12,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2015 because of the failure of European refugee policies.
We fear that this journalist is unlikely to win the case in a Dutch court, but we hope that at least this case will draw public attention to the tragedy of this modern exodus and its causes and consequences. At the same time, we hope that Dutch law enforcement agencies will have the good sense not to accuse this journalist of being a Russian propagandist in the West. But then, who knows?
We are closely monitoring the developments in the Republic of South Sudan. We believe that the South Sudanese themselves are responsible for normalising the situation in the republic. It would be inaccurate to blame the Juba government for the continued violence, considering that Juba has declared a unilateral ceasefire. The next important step is for the opposition to respond in kind.
We believe that stabilisation in South Sudan is possible if the parties strictly comply with the ceasefire terms and also launch an inclusive process of national reconciliation. We hope for the success of the National Dialogue initiative advanced by South Sudan President Salva Kiir, which would include all ethnic groups, political forces and social strata in preparing and holding a national conference on a peaceful settlement.
We still have a negative attitude to the toughening of sanctions against South Sudan. It coincides with the views of the African Union (AU), the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the main regional players. We believe that pressure and threats will not help defuse the crisis but will only aggravate it.
We welcome the agreements reached on the margins of at the 28th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit in January 2017 to coordinate the mediation efforts of the UN, the AU and the IGAD towards lasting peace, stability and security in South Sudan. We believe that the IGAD should play the key role in this process.
We are concerned about the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in South Sudan. It is obvious that the internal armed conflict is not the only cause of the humanitarian crisis, which is the direct result of the draught that has hit the region. We urge South Sudanese parties to take the necessary efforts to deliver international humanitarian aid to the people. We appreciate the considerable assistance provided by the adjacent countries, which have given shelter to many refugees from South Sudan.
Let me respond to the multiple requests we received regarding our perspective on the developments in Venezuela.
Looking at the political situation in this country, we see that both camps, the Chavistas and the opposition, enjoy strong support throughout the Venezuelan society. Neither side can deny the other the right to exist and stand up for its interests. At the same time, we strongly believe that attempts to achieve political results through riots are at odds with the democratic process. The country can resolve the challenging and urgent issues it faces only by promoting meaningful and effective dialogue as the only civilised way to bridge the differences within the society based on Venezuela’s constitution and current laws, while preventing violations of sovereignty or interference in domestic affairs in any form. Only those who stand for settling disputes by force can scorn at holding talks.
We cannot fail to note that outside forces clearly have a major disruptive impact on the situation. Their actions have already resulted in the death of as many as 26 people during riots. Russia mourns these victims together with the people of Venezuela. Unfortunately, those behind the violent action and acting with a sense of impunity can cause even more harm. I suggest that those so-called social engineers who preach civil disobedience take a closer look at what they achieved in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and also in Ukraine. What are outside forces trying to achieve in Venezuela? Are they looking for the same results? We reiterate that only the Venezuelan people themselves can resolve the issues their country is now facing, based on the constitution and through dialogue.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula continues to deteriorate. This trend is underpinned by the unwillingness of the conflicting sides to renounce confrontational approaches and attempts to resolve the existing issues by force, instead of focusing on dialogue and a positive agenda. The concentration of a US Navy strike group in Northeast Asia and the retaliatory war-like rhetoric coming from Pyongyang are a matter of concern. This is why the situation is escalating.
Against this backdrop, it is important to prevent the situation from sliding into a crisis mode and then leading onto an overt military conflict. We call on all the sides to exercise restraint and soberly evaluate the possible outcomes of escalating tension for the Korean Peninsula and the region in general.
Today, united efforts to achieve general military and political détente and find ways to settle all the existing issues at the negotiating table are needed like never before.
We expect a constructive discussion of the situation on the Korean Peninsula to take place at a special meeting of the UN Security Council on April 28 that will be attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.
The growing pirate activity off the coast of Somalia is a matter of concern. In March-April alone, six pirate attacks on foreign merchant vessels were recorded in this area, with the attackers managing to seize vessels and their crews in five cases. There are no Russian nationals among those taken prisoner by the pirates.
Russia calls for continued efforts to fight piracy, including within the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), the only universal anti-pirate mechanism with a substantial potential and experience of collectively combating this phenomenon. We firmly believe that the attempts of some of our Western partners to curtail the activity of the Contact Group under the pretext that it has allegedly fulfilled its mandate are counter-productive and even dangerous in the context of developments off the coast of Somalia.
On April 19, Russia was unanimously re-elected to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs for the 2018-2021 period at an ECOSOC Coordination and Management Meeting.
We believe that Russia’s re-election testifies to this country’s active and consistent efforts in favour of strengthening the international drug control regime based on the three UN anti-drug conventions.
Moreover, we persistently advocated closer international cooperation in resolving the situation with drug manufacture in Afghanistan and other regions with poor drug security. We firmly and systematically emphasised the clear connection between drug-trafficking profits and the financing of terrorism, including in the context of the so-called Islamic State’s attempts to establish control over Afghan drug trafficking, which is currently managed by the Taliban. The Russian Federation’s delegations working at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs will continue to focus on these and other issues of the drug problem.
Together with our supporters we intend to continue steering consistently towards a drug-free world, which, in our opinion, fully corresponds to the UN Charter’s principles and goals.
We noted what we see as an outrageous decision to deny accreditation to three Russian media outlets – Sputnik, RT, and Ruptly video news agency – accepted by the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s electoral staff. It should be mentioned that these Russian media outlets submitted their relevant repeated requests in good time and observed all the formalities. Given that no obstacles were put in the way of other foreign media, we regard these prohibitive measures as purposeful and blatant discrimination of the Russian media by a candidate to the presidency of a state that historically stood up for freedom of speech.
Regrettably, this latest encroachment on the rights of the mass media by the Macron team fits in well with his associates’ earlier unsupported accusations against RT and Sputnik, including allegations that they influence the democratic life of the country. We think that democratic life can really be influenced by unhindered media operations promoting the pluralism of opinions and providing people with more opportunities to access information, including alternative points of view.
Many international acts, including the OSCE’s Astana final document of 2010, emphasised the special role of the media in ensuring free and honest elections. However, despite their ostensible public defence of democratic values, French politicians disregard certain human rights imperatives formalised at top level.
We call on specialised international organisations and the relevant authorities of the French Republic to pay special attention to the violation of media rights in the course of the presidential elections [in France], and take steps to prevent these encroachments from being repeated during the second electoral round in May.
We were baffled to learn that the US authorities had decided against granting Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko’s request to hand him over to Russia under the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. As is common knowledge, our compatriot was abducted by US secret service agents in Liberia in 2010. He was forcibly and secretly taken to New York and sentenced to a 20-year prison term for alleged involvement in a drug transportation plot, of which there was no real hard evidence.
Regrettably, Washington’ latest preconceived decision is evidence that the US authorities are still unprepared to remove numerous irritants in bilateral relations, which have been created by the Obama administration. We have to state that this approach will not contribute to normalising the dialogue between Russia and the United States. It is also plain to see that [Washington] is disregarding the humanitarian factors, given that Konstantin Yaroshenko is facing serious health problems, something that we have repeatedly indicated to the US side and did our best to enable this Russian citizen to be given the required medical aid, particularly when his health deteriorated.
As is only natural, we will continue to insist on this Russian citizen being brought home. We will work actively to see that Konstantin Yaroshenko receive the medical aid he rightly deserves, of which he is deprived in the US prison. We intend to continue taking all possible steps to defend his rights and legitimate interests.
On April 21, a Washington district court sentenced Russian citizen Roman Seleznev to 27 years imprisonment. He was accused of wire fraud and stealing and selling credit card data.
First of all, we emphasise again that Roman Seleznev was illegally and forcibly transported from the Maldives in 2014 by US law enforcement, which actually amounted to the kidnapping of a Russian citizen. We think that the US actions of this kind are a gross violation of international law and demand that this criminal practice be immediately discontinued.
It is also clear that the US justice failed to take into account Seleznev’s acknowledgement of his guilt and his readiness to cooperate with the investigation. Neither were the humanitarian aspects of the case taken into consideration: he is a disabled victim of a 2011 terrorist attack in Morocco and has to take medication and remain under the care of physicians.
His defence attorney is planning to appeal.
The Russian Foreign Ministry continues to track events involving Roman Seleznev and take the necessary steps to render him consular and legal assistance.
Question: A comment by Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department Artyom Kozhin was published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on April 24, which said that efforts are being made to ease the situation of Russian citizen Dilgam Askerov for humane reasons. Could you give more detailed information about these efforts because Askerov’s case is different from Lapshin’s case?
Maria Zakharova: I have read Azerbaijani articles myself and my Azerbaijani friends have sent me links to them. These articles are offensive without offering any analysis or constructive criticism. And now you are asking for more information? Honestly, I have very little desire to communicate after reading such articles.
You know how open we are with the media, but such rudeness is unacceptable. We welcome any information or questions on the subject. If you are interested in something, we are ready to provide additional information but we have no desire to speak or otherwise communicate with journalists in such a tone. If you can (I know there are representatives of several Azerbaijani media at this briefing) please pass this on to your colleagues.
Question: I represent the APA information agency of Azerbaijan.
Maria Zakharova: We will give you additional information on all issues you are interested in. But I repeat my request: please pay attention to the absolutely offensive coverage of Russian Foreign Ministry’s comments on Azerbaijani media questions. This is not journalism; this is just insolence. I can’t describe it in any other way. The most interesting thing is that my Azerbaijani friends thought the same, and they even apologised for the tone of those articles. Informing your society is one thing but it’s something completely different when you constantly use pressing, complex issues that nobody conceals to stir up hostility between the two countries and peoples.
One thing I can say for sure: they won’t succeed. Relations between Moscow and Baku will not be damaged by a single fake article or even many fake articles, and this is even more true of relations between people, because they are so much wiser. However, they can create a certain environment. It’s hard to say why they are doing this and for what purpose. I don’t understand why they need to undermine bilateral relations by such articles. Ask them if such articles really benefit Azerbaijan. I don’t think they do.
We will provide you with more information, as we have promised.
Question: A coffin was unearthed yesterday in Turkey with remains of a Russian general. I have conducted my own investigation, and I believe it is the body of a hero of the Caucasus War, Lieut. Gen. Vasily Geiman. Do you know anything about it?
Do you watch The Optimists TV series? Are you and your colleagues optimists too?
Maria Zakharova: I am aware of the reports of the remains of our compatriot buried in Turkey, I know about it. Our Embassy in Turkey is working on this issue. I think that we will comment on this situation soon. Such reports always get a response and action. We will definitely comment on it after the initial information is collected.
As for the TV series, as you know I posted my materials and photos from the set on social networks. No one really asked permission and no one has addressed us. It was the initiative of the Rossiya 1 TV channel (VGTRK). When the shooting was underway, their screenwriter invited me to come and see the set. I did, and I was impressed. The only thing we assisted with was a tour we organised for the crew around the Foreign Ministry building so that they could get a feeling of the environment.
I haven’t watched the series yet because I was on a business trip with a very tight schedule, but I will definitely watch it. I saw some scenes during the shooting.
Are we optimists? We have no choice!
Question: At the 6th International Security Conference, which has just ended in Moscow, one of the topics discussed at a plenary session was information aggression and what to do about this phenomenon. Practical examples of its use by Ukraine etc. were cited. How can this latest form of information aggression be countered under the current conditions?
Maria Zakharova: Although I was out of Moscow and could not take part in the conference, I followed all the speeches and comments. I paid attention to the reaction to them and to everything connected with information, information wars and information aggression. What are we doing to counter all this?
First of all, we work directly with the audience and present timely quality information, confirmed by facts, figures and concrete examples. I think this is the main means of countering information aggression.
Second, we expose the people and agencies hiding behind the media brands who smuggle in misinformation and create fake news. The Russian Foreign Ministry website has opened a section devoted to fake news. It is functioning, publishing several items every week. Our initiative met with a very skeptical reaction from our Western colleagues. They immediately started to criticise us claiming that Russia just names the articles and brands them as fakes without giving the reason. That is untrue. We provide very detailed information, give our assessment and identify what we consider to be absolutely untrue information. This is a very effective method and an effective instrument. Today, when they ask me why Russia is spreading fake news I ask them to cite at least one example. Our examples are on the Russian Foreign Ministry website, not all of them of course, but only some of the millions of fake reports flooding the media.
Third, we use international legal institutions. It is important that not only the Russian Foreign Ministry but the media community work with the organisations concerned. The media must become aware of the danger of the very profession of journalist being undermined by the biggest and oldest media holdings. Audiences are drifting away from the traditional media outlets and turning to the internet, which is absolutely impossible to control in terms of verifying the facts. This is the job of professional communities and international institutions.
Just the other day, as part of the work of the UN GA Committee on Information, we made a proposal for the text of the resolution on which the Information Committee members will be working in the next few days on developing a strategy to combat the spread of fake news. We talked with Acting UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Public Information Maher Nasser on the sidelines of the session. He was totally supportive of the idea, partly because he himself highlighted this problem in his speech to the Committee members. The initiative is meeting with support. I hope it will not be blocked by some countries. We shall see how it goes. If somebody attempts to block it, we will inform you promptly. That would be interesting.
The UN Secretariat has a Public Information Department. It is doing a good job although it is working against heavy odds because it upholds not a country or party position, but reflects the opinion of the UN. It has to be weighed and balanced. The Department’s work is very complicated and taxing professionally. They, of all people, should know and understand what a supranational approach could be to developing a strategy of countering the spread of fake news.
This involves several areas of effort. Besides, I think the voice of every country and every journalist must be heard. It is not right to be indifferent and to think that it is no big deal if someone has failed to react to fake reports. That is not so. Each fake brings another fake in its trail. As of today, I consider the Western media reports about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when the first humanitarian convoys were sent to Donbass to be the most egregious and high-profile case of the spread of media fakes. This is not to mention Colin Powell, who probably feels very uncomfortable after the notorious episode with the vial. White vans with corresponding markings that were closely monitored by the Russian side, the Ukrainian colleagues and humanitarian groups started delivering humanitarian relief to the population which was deprived of bare necessities. The Western media unleashed a campaign alleging that Russia had started an invasion of Ukraine and that Russia was bringing in tanks in white vans. They claimed that the vehicles had not been inspected and that Russia opposed inspections. The reverse was the case. Russia was ready to comply with any inspections. I repeat, all this was happening before our eyes because the Russian Foreign Ministry was actively involved in this process. The media unleashed a barrage of fakes. Look it up online and find these media outlets. No one apologised, no one issued a disclaimer, no one sprinkled ashes on their heads and said they had been wrong and had been misled by false information. No one even wrote about it although very serious things were at issue. It was announced to the whole world that the world’s biggest country was perpetrating aggression against a neighbouring state. To me it was an ultimate example of the war of fakes.
These are just some illustrations of how fakes can be countered. In fact a strategy needs to be put in place. When I said that this is the job of the professional community I knew that it was already working on it. Some major organisations and social networks are currently negotiating among themselves the introduction of technologies to counter the spread of fakes. Major media outlets have made similar attempts to establish contacts. I think if the UN takes a step to work out a strategy and offer a venue for such experimental work, everyone will benefit from it.
Question: You mentioned the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Public Information and the reaction from the UN Department of Public Information. Have your other colleagues taken this initiative seriously? To what extent is this possible in the context of existing political and media realities, given the current media confrontation?
Maria Zakharova: You wouldn’t believe how seriously all of this was taken. The next day, someone sent me a link to a Washington Post article. I’ll read it in English and you please do the translating. I’ll read what it says. It’s not April 1, they really think this way: “Russians are fighting the war of words against the U.S. with American words.” We are accused of using American words in an information war with the US. This is the absolute limit! Read this amazing thing! We are being accused of having the nerve to use, I emphasise, “American” words in an information battle. I don’t know if there is any space left to fall any further. Are the US media probing the bottom? There are no other options. I think it is high time they started thinking about the heights, because they can’t fall any further.
Question: What about your colleagues at the UN?
Maria Zakharova: Our colleagues are working. The Committee will hold sessions until early May. Let me repeat that we are proceeding from what the UN Secretariat itself says. These were the remarks by the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Public Information. Many of our colleagues broached this theme in their remarks as well. Haven’t we had enough talk? It’s time we did something. This is why we made this proposal. The Washington Post article says we allegedly have the temerity to use “American” words. Personally I was accused of using the words “fake news,” but I couldn’t use this collocation because it was their find and invention that can be used only by them and not by us. Whose idea was this? The phenomenon is there, but you can’t say the words. It’s not serious.
Question: They are not English words, but American.
Maria Zakharova: This fits in well with the concept of exceptionalism.
Question: Izvestia reported a few days ago, with a reference to sources, that the Foreign Ministry’s former Human Rights Commissioner Konstantin Dolgov is taking a job at the Russian Presidential Executive Office. Will his position be abolished and his staff dismissed after he leaves?
Maria Zakharova: I like the newspaper Izvestia. But they did not ask me to comment, which, in my view, is not quite proper, if they write about the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation. But had they asked, I’d tell them that we have an entire Human Rights Department. At a certain stage in international cooperation it proved necessary to launch, initiate and head a new area of work. That is, the drafting of annual reports on human rights in the world. You know that identical reports are drawn up by many countries. Until recently, they were not written in Russia. For this reason, among other things, an additional tool was introduced to assess how this could be done. No one at the Foreign Ministry had done work at this level before. Konstantin Dolgov, formerly Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, had much experience in international cooperation. Accordingly, he was invited to start this programme. He did well and his superiors praised him. As of today, the mechanism is functioning, there is a specialised department, there are many experts, and so this kind of reporting is handed over to the department that will continue the work that Konstantin Dolgov brought to a competent level. We are working to optimise this programme with today’s realities in mind.
Question: What fate is awaiting these annual reports? Will they be continued?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, the annual surveys will be continued. There are moments when the work requires introducing an additional tool or a position in order to launch the process. Later a product with adequate status and weight will be optimised and returned to its native department. There are many methods and examples of this work. For example, we have an institution of ambassadors at large. These positions are held by specialists focusing on this or that issue at a specific point in time. They are in close contact with relevant departments, and when it is deemed necessary and expedient to optimise their activities or expand their functions, relevant steps are taken.
Question: Another anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster was marked on April 26. What efforts is Russia taking to overcome the aftermath of Chernobyl?
Maria Zakharova: We bow our heads in memory of the liquidators and we symphathise with all those who had to take part in the relief efforts following the industrial accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. We sympathise with those who had to relocate from their hometowns and cannot return.
The Russian Federation, as one of the countries that sustained the greatest damage, has traditionally been an important participant in the multilateral efforts to overcome the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. Since 1992, the Russian Government has adopted and implemented five targeted programmes, four programmes aimed at child protection and two programmes to provide housing to the liquidators.
Our country highly values the efforts of international community to eliminate the aftermath of Chernobyl. The issue of recreating normal living conditions for people in the areas affected by the disaster has long been discussed at the United Nations. In December 2016, the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. Apart from Russia and Belarus, the document was co-authored by 33 countries, including Ukraine.
In 2016-2017, the Russian Government also agreed to allocate 10 million euros to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund as an additional contribution. Since 2008, Russia has paid over 60.3 million euros to the fund. In 2009 and 2012, Russia also contributed 12.5 million euros for nuclear security purposes. The money is spent on the construction of the at-reactor dry storage facility in the Chernobyl nuclear power plan area.
Much work has been done in this area as part of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. A programme was implemented on joint efforts to overcome the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster until 2016. The funds allocated from the Union budget are spent on comprehensive medical aid for Russian and Belarusian citizens who were affected by radiation. Our country believes that the memory about the Chernobyl disaster should unite all countries of the world in their efforts to develop safe nuclear energy.
Question: Many foreigners fill in a migration card when entering Russia. This creates big queues at the airports.
Maria Zakharova: There are big queues at the JFK Airport in New York. There are big queues there, but in Russia, we do not have such big queues. I have not seen big queues in Moscow and at Moscow airports for a long time.
In New York, there are huge queues. Recently, I witnessed this first-hand and this was despite the fact that I had a diplomatic passport, as I was on an official business trip. Let’s be objective: much has been done at both federal and regional levels to ensure that these terrible queues are a thing of the past. I can definitely say this not because Russia is my native country and I am just defending it. You know that if there are objective difficulties and shortcomings, I always say that we will work on them. I really do take my hat off to how everything is now organised: clean, neat, beautiful, very friendly and in full accordance with the highest international requirements.
I understood your question about the migration card, but you have come to the wrong shop. This issue is in the competence of an agency, which was previously called the Russian Federal Migration Service, and now it is merged with the Interior Ministry. We will be pleased to forward your request to the relevant officers at the Interior Ministry. They will respond through us or directly. This is the sphere of competence of the Interior Ministry.
Question: Recently, Commander in Chief of United States Army Europe Ben Hodges gave an interview to a Bulgarian news station saying military exercises will be held in Bulgaria, even though most people in Bulgaria do not perceive Russia as a threat. Instead, they say they see a threat in migrants who come to their country. What can you say to that?
Maria Zakharova: Perhaps, they will conduct exercises against migrants, since Bulgaria feels that the threat is coming from them, and NATO happens to be conducting military exercises there. Perhaps, you could ask them to answer this question?
I’m not sure how to answer your question. Ukraine comes to mind, where the people didn’t see any threat coming from Russia, but NATO conducted military exercises there nonetheless. Everyone can see how it ended for Ukraine as a state. If you don’t heed what the people in your country want, you may end up facing sad consequences, which is what happened in Ukraine, in particular.
Question: Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan and Director of the Ministry’s Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov said that Moscow is willing to provide a platform for a dialogue between representatives of the Afghan leaders and the opposition. Have any steps been made to set up such a meeting?
Maria Zakharova: The willingness to provide a platform is a fairly concrete step. This is an invitation to dialogue and is also indicative of Russia’s commitment to create the proper environment. I will find out if there was a response.
Question: What diplomatic goals will Russia pursue during upcoming talks with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: Our goal is to make our contribution to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Question: Late April will mark the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency. What does Russia think about him after these three months? Is there any chance that relations between Russia and the United States will improve?
Maria Zakharova: It’s up to the American people and the people who voted for him or another candidate to decide on how well Donald Trump is doing as US president. US citizens can and should provide corresponding assessments. This is their tradition, their undeniable right. Some countries have the tradition of using the first 100 days as a benchmark, while others don’t.
Russia has its own segment. First, it’s bilateral relations. Second, interaction on international issues, on which we cooperate either as part of an established tradition, or because we are involved in resolving international conflicts. In this, we also have common ground.
As for our bilateral relations, dialogue is underway. Several meetings of foreign ministers and more than one telephone conversation have already taken place. We need contacts not for the sake of having contacts. We already had a situation where we were receiving calls on an almost daily basis. The outcomes and the effectiveness of such contacts is what matters to us. This is a matter of primary importance for us. Saying that there’s some kind of great positive dynamics would be a stretch. There’s a beginning approach to how we could start our interaction and take the situation out of free fall. In my opinion, both sides are properly equipped to speed up this work many times over. There are no problems on our side. But we understand perfectly well what is happening at the other end. This is a political fight, bargaining, and a clash of pre-election political opponents in a scramble for budgets, allocations, eventual portfolios, and spheres of influence. Of course, the other side is limited in what it can do.
Question: Will Russia-Iran relations change if a new president comes to power in Iran?
Maria Zakharova: We maintain a conventional position. We respect the people's choice, and the electoral process based on the primacy of the UN Charter, which clearly states that is it unacceptable to interfere in the internal affairs of other states or exert any influence on them, all the more so since this cannot be done when the people of a country have a legitimate right to use democratic institutions to address their problems and determine their future. The election in Iran is the exclusive concern of the people of that country. We will work with the people who come to power. We operate on the premise that relations between our countries should continue the good dynamics and the historical ties that we have. We maintain a bilateral dialogue. We actively cooperate on international and regional issues.
Question: Following his meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Adel Al-Jubeir said that he looks forward to Russia providing assistance to resolve the Yemen conflict. How can Russia help Saudi Arabia in this process?
Maria Zakharova: We maintain diplomatic and military contacts. They give us the opportunity to interact. It is also important in the sense of searching for joint steps to improve the humanitarian situation, which is simply disastrous in Yemen. We will continue to work in this area.
Question: Israel insists that the strike on Syria targeted a Hezbollah armament depot.
Maria Zakharova: The notion of state sovereignty has not been rescinded by anyone. No one is saying that any state cannot fight terrorism, especially so if the population of the country in question is suffering from such a terrorist threat on its territory. We are well aware of the hardships the people of Israel have gone through in their fight against terrorism, and we understand perfectly well how difficult it is to combat the terrorist threat. However, there are legitimate ways of interacting with a sovereign state which is member of the UN on matters related to countering the terrorist threat. There’s a dialogue maintained by the special services, the military, and the diplomats, which can be readily used so that the fight is underpinned by legal grounds.
Many countries launch attacks on Syria, saying they are doing so out of good intentions. However, the Syrian infrastructure used to fight terrorism is being damaged in the process. A global response could include the creation of a united front under the auspices of the United Nations to resolve the Syria crisis as part of the terrorism-fighting effort. However, global powers didn’t show any interest in that. It was Russia’s initiative. So, what’s left are bilateral or multilateral contacts which will provide the legal basis for fighting terrorism in neighbouring states.
I would like to remind everyone that Syrian representatives stated over a year ago that the idea of the third countries interacting with Russia, for example, along the lines of the Airspace Forces or the military experts, in order to coordinate their counter-terrorism activities in Syria, sits quite well with Syria and would address Syria’s concerns about sovereignty violations.