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12 April 201821:38

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 12, 2018

691-12-04-2018

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Table fo contents

  1. Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Stef Blok to pay a working visit to the Russian Federation
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the 26th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in opening exhibition of Ilya Glazunov’s works dedicated to Chile
  4. Republic of Austria Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl’s working visit to Russia
  5. Developments in Syria
  6. Tony Blair’s remarks on Britain’s actions in Syria
  7. The World Health Organisation’s statement on a “chemical attack” in Douma
  8. Attack on a bus carrying Russian journalists in Syria
  9. The so-called Skripal case
  10. OPCW Technical Secretariat’s report on the findings of the designated laboratories in the so-called “Skripal case”
  11. Canceling Russian-US consultations on cultural-humanitarian matters
  12. The Pentagon finances the construction of biological laboratories in former Soviet republics
  13. The MICT sentence to Vojislav Seselj
  14. Seizure of the Russian bulk carrier Sea Breeze in Ukraine
  15. Situation regarding the Russian fishing vessel Nord
  16. Creation of the Medical Centre of Russian-Japanese Friendship in Moscow
  17. Article concerning the Foreign Ministry’s alleged covering up the budgetary spending data
  18. Resumption of flights to Egypt
  19. Celebrations to mark the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Bratislava from Nazi invaders
  20. Excerpts from answers to media questions:
  1. Presidential elections in Azerbaijan
  2. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s statements on Russia
  3. US President Donald Trump’s Twitter statements
  4. “Skripal case” developments
  5. OPCW report concerning “Skripal case”
  6. Russian-Ukrainian relations
  7. US Administration’s threats to Syria
  8. Investigation into “Smolensk” air crash
  9. Further developments of Geneva Process against backdrop of discussing possible strikes against Syria
  10.  Russian-Israeli relations
  11.  Unacceptability of forward-based force groupings being deployed near Russian borders
  12.  Russia’s response to yet another US sanction package
  13.  Prospects for development of Russia-Azerbaijan relations
  14.  Situation involving Russian media in Estonia
  15.  Further Russian steps in “Skripal case”
  16.  Assessment of East Libya political situation
  17.  Tips for foreigners crossing Russian-Belarusian border during FIFA World Cup
  18.  Combating international terrorism in Syria

 

 

Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Stef Blok to pay a working visit to the Russian Federation

 

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Stef Blok are scheduled to take place in Moscow on April 13. He will be in the Russian Federation at the Netherlands’ initiative.

The two foreign ministers will focus on the state of bilateral relations. They are also expected to discuss urgent international and regional issues on the agenda of the UN Security Council where the Netherlands has non-permanent member status in 2018.

This will be Mr Blok’s first visit to the Russian Federation since being appointed Foreign Minister.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the 26th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy

 

A regular annual meeting of the Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy (CFDP) will take place on April 14-15. This non-governmental organisation brings together prominent representatives of the academic and expert community, diplomats, military officials, entrepreneurs, journalists and public figures. The forum’s main subject is “Unity and Struggle: How to Continue Developing in Conditions of Confrontation in the 21st Century.” Participants will discuss various aspects of domestic and foreign policy, and pressing issues in international relations.

Per tradition, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will make a speech at a session on April 14. He will focus on the key aspects of the changes that are taking place in the world, Russia’s role and the tasks of Russian diplomacy in these complicated and conflicting processes.

The Foreign Ministry is interested in cooperating with the CFDP. This is one of the oldest NGOs in the country for studying the problems of international relations and security. During its events the Council advances new ideas and proposals and elaborates practical recommendations for the ministries and departments concerned, including the Foreign Ministry.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in opening exhibition of Ilya Glazunov’s works dedicated to Chile

 

On April 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony of an exhibition of Ilya Glazunov’s works of art dedicated to Chile at the Moscow State Picture Gallery of Ilya Glazunov.

I would like to recall that the artist visited Chile in 1973 and met with members of the country’s Government as well as outstanding politicians and public activists, including President Salvador Allende. This trip resulted in a series of works depicting the collective image of the Chilean nation, including the faces of ordinary workers, farmers, young people, cultural workers and Chilean political leaders.

The opening of the exhibition is timed to coincide with the Russian artist’s trip to Chile (May-July 1973).

The heads of the Latin American diplomatic missions accredited in Moscow, representatives of the group of deputies for contacts with the National Congress of Chile, together with state agencies and business circles cooperating with Santiago, have been invited to attend the presentation.

The exhibition will continue constructive practical cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Glazunov Gallery that has won a reputation for itself. I would also like to recall that, in December 2017, we organised an exhibition of works from the artist’s “Nicaraguan cycle” jointly with the Embassy of Nicaragua.

We are inviting everyone to cover the event.

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Republic of Austria Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl’s working visit to Russia

 

Between April 19 and 20, Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Austria Karin Kneissl will pay a working visit to Moscow.

She will have a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on April 20, where the officials will discuss topical matters concerning Russian-Austrian affairs, including the timeframe of upcoming bilateral contacts and the state of political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties. They will focus on the overlapping Year of Music and Cultural Routes, scheduled for 2018.

While reviewing the key issues of the international agenda, the Russian side is to focus on the task of pooling joint efforts for effectively combating international terrorism and resolving the situation in Syria. In this context, the ministers are to exchange opinions on the situation in crisis-ridden areas in the Middle East and North Africa.

They will also touch upon cooperation at European venues. For example, Mr Lavrov and Ms Kneissl are to discuss the current state and prospects of cooperation with the European Union in the context of Austria’s upcoming presidency of the EU in the second half of 2018.

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Developments in Syria

 

The situation in Syria remained quite tense over the past week. Against the backdrop of successful efforts to promote a settlement in Eastern Ghouta through negotiations, which helped spare the lives of thousands of Syrian civilians, extremists who are apparently not interested in a resolution of this kind scaled up their operations to a maximum extent. Backed by their sponsors, they seem ready to undertake the most radical actions in order to push their agenda in Syria, which has nothing to do with what the Syrian people are actually looking for.

On April 6, the centre of Damascus suddenly came under artillery fire once again, leaving 8 civilians dead and about 40 wounded. The Syrian army had no choice other than to launch an attack on Douma, the last community in Eastern Ghouta that was still controlled by the rebel fighters. Airstrikes targeted the headquarters and strongpoints of the illegal armed groups. The Syrian government forces succeeded in dislodging these fighters from the city’s southern and eastern suburbs.

The next day, on April 7, activists affiliated with the infamous (as we now know) White Helmets started reporting on the internet that the government forces conducted a chemical attack against Douma. Initial reports claimed that “thousands” of civilians were killed. The numbers declined however with later reports. There were many inconsistencies in terms of the time and the location of the would-be chemical attack in the material coming from the opposition sources, let alone the identification of the toxic agent that was allegedly used.

All this however did not confuse the political elites or biased media outlets in the West who were preparing for this provocation for a long time (and maybe even plotted it). Since late February or early March they made numerous statements to issue some kind of warnings (we mentioned them in previous briefings). There were no requests to immediately investigate this incident coming from these circles, and no attempts to question the absurd video sequence shot by the same White Helmets in which children and adults are seen spraying water on each other. They presented it as evidence that chemical weapons were used. News agencies that pretend to be respectable also took on face value another astoundingly fake report showing a half-tonne bomb lying on a neatly made-up bed against the background of a shattered window with intact glass. All the opponents of Syria’s legitimate government called on the international community and primarily the US to interfere and punish the Damascus “regime.” What a classical scenario.

There were threats of a harsh response and use of force against Syria made at the highest level, including by the presidents of the United States and France. I would like to note that the threat to use force against a UN member state is in itself a blatant violation of the UN Charter. I would like to point out that it is within the UN that the Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Nikki Haley is so active making her statements, thereby enhancing the UN’s legitimacy. Against the backdrop of her statements, we would like to know whether threats to use force against a sovereign state are legitimate. We are not even speaking about how far Syria has come in fighting international terrorism and for its sovereignty.

The West persists in its refusal to heed Russia’s appeals to study the fake news with a critical mind, or to hear reports that Russian military personnel, including doctors and experts in protection against chemical weapons visited Douma where the chemical weapons attack allegedly happened, but did not find neither any signs that chemical weapons were used, nor any victims of the mythical attack.

No one so far has been able to explain to us or the international community why the Syrian government would use chemical weapons when the remaining fighters were completely blocked in Douma and negotiations on their evacuation were even underway?

At the same time, major international media outlets and official representatives of foreign capitals remain silent on the discovery of large stockpiles of chemical weapons in warehouses of the terrorists in liberated parts of Eastern Ghouta. They have been trying to sweep under the carpet the fact that there were four incidents since the beginning of 2018 involving the use of toxic chemicals by rebel fighters against the government forces near Sroudj and al Mshairfa. More than 100 Syrian army personnel suffered in these attacks and were admitted to hospitals for treatment.

Russia calls for having the OPCW investigate without delay the groundless accusations professed by the anti-Syrian forces. Russia vigorously supports this position in the UN Security Council. The Russian military in coordination with the Syrian government are ready to ensure that experts can safely operate on the ground.

The airstrike conducted by Israel on the night of April 8 against Syria’s T4 airbase 70 kilometres to the west of Palmyra did nothing to improve the situation in Syria. It is worth noting that Syria’s frontline aviation involved in combat operations against ISIS in the east of the country is based at the T4 airbase, and the attack against it coincided with the terrorists in these territories stepping up their operations.

Warmongering statements are still coming in from Washington, threatening an escalation that would be extremely dangerous. These accusations are made not only against Damascus. They also target the Russian Federation who allegedly “protects the Assad regime” and “ultimately shares responsibility” for its crimes. Moreover, these statements are coming from no other than President Donald Trump himself, while one of his very first steps was to declare a crusade against fake news and disinformation. It is not clear how an understanding of what fake reports are worth can coexist with fateful decisions to use force against a sovereign state, while also threatening to use force on the international stage without having a true image of what had happened.

Russia calls on all the responsible members of the international community to ponder over the possible consequences of these accusations, threats and even more over the planned actions. Western leaders have no authority to assume the role of global policemen, while also acting as investigators, prosecutors, judges and executioners.

Our position is extremely straightforward and specific. We are not seeking an escalation, but at the same time we will not back any false accusations. We hope that our partners have enough common sense to come back to legal mechanisms and work together on resolving the challenges that may arise, as stipulated in the UN Charter.

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Tony Blair’s remarks on Britain’s actions in Syria

 

We took note of remarks by the former British prime minister and now a “consultant” with ambitions to get back into big-time politics, Tony Blair, who urged the British Government to show solidarity with the US and start a new military campaign in the Middle East. According to him, the prime minister does not need parliamentary approval to attack Syria.

We are well aware of the “success and effectiveness” of a similar Blair scheme in the region. Representatives of the international political circles, economists, heads of humanitarian organisations and ordinary citizens have repeatedly exposed the consequences brought about by opening this Pandora’s box. The British themselves had to admit this as well: in July 2016, following a seven-year inquiry into the British involvement in the Iraq War, an independent committee chaired by Sir John Chilcot published a report which described the invasion of Iraq as a “terrible mistake” and the Blair government’s decision to become involved as “hasty” and “based on inadequate evidence.” Even Blair himself admitted that the invasion of Iraq had been carried out on the basis of false intelligence and that the actions by the Western coalition, in effect, facilitated the rise of ISIS.

We are reaping the fruits of the Iraq War, one of the bloodiest and debilitating conflicts both for the region itself and the invading countries that decided to “put things in order” over there, to this day. I say “we” deliberately. Russia was not involved in the intervention and was openly calling on the world to oppose the invasion with facts in hand. Regrettably, the situation progressed the way it did. I would like to reiterate that the word “we” in the context that we, including we in Russia, are reaping the fruits of the Iraq War, was not used by chance. The selfsame ISIS, which the Western world has been fighting so valiantly, is what they created with their own hands as well as a consequence of incompetent, foolish and illegal power politics practiced with regard to Iraq and neighbouring countries.

It is in Iraq that hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed, it is from there that people had to flee en masse in search of a better life, it is in Iraq that terrorists of every stripe honed their barbaric intimidation and extermination techniques, it is in Iraq that they looked for – and never found – chemical weapons while destroying the country’s entire infrastructure and great monuments of world cultural heritage. Since 2003, the situation in Iraq has been so disastrous that any comments are just superfluous.

To be honest, any other politician in Blair’s place would be too ashamed to show his face after what was perpetrated. But no, he is offering his judgements on new reckless schemes and the need to support the use of force against yet another country in the same region. Does he want to push his rivals into a scheme doomed to suffer a fiasco and thus make a political comeback?  A strong case for a political future!

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The World Health Organisation’s statement on a “chemical attack” in Douma

 

On April 11, the World Health Organisation (WHO) circulated a statement concerning the “suspected use of toxic chemicals in Douma.”  As it transpired later, most of its evidence came from the notorious White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society.

Who among you hasn’t asked yourself in the course of the past 24 hours: Is this war? Everything was being done for precisely this decision to be taken. But after less than 24 hours details have emerged on how all of this was engineered.

By a strange coincidence, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom and his deputy Peter Salama, who was quoted in the statement, were not available for comment and allegedly were even absent from Geneva when we attempted to contact the WHO leadership.

All we have managed to obtain from WHO staff were references to certain “information sources” that underpinned the statement. But they were unable to name the notorious “health sector partners” in Douma with a direct access to the specific territories and buildings where the chemical attacks had allegedly occurred. Nor could they indicate the medical establishments to which the said 500 victims had applied, or say who counted the alleged dead, determined the diagnoses and identified the causes of death.

Although the WHO representatives assured us that their “information sources are highly trustworthy” (we know the worth of these information sources), we regard the WHO statement as an act of irresponsible dissemination of unfounded and unsupported information inciting those willing to add fuel to the Syrian conflict to new aggressive actions.

We call on the WHO to display greater impartiality in its reports and statements and rely on the opinions of experts who can only draw their conclusions after a detailed and serious probe, rather than on biased and discredited sources. 

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Attack on a bus carrying Russian journalists in Syria

 

A bus carrying Russian journalists in Syria was attacked at 6 pm on April 11. Three journalists were wounded, including an NTV journalist as well as cameramen from Rossiya 1 and Zvezda.

The journalists were returning to Damascus from Eastern Ghouta, where they filmed a report about the Syrian government forces regaining control over Douma and the operations of the Russian military police.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, medical assistance was promptly provided to the wounded journalists. There is no immediate threat to their lives. They reportedly feel well.

We wish them a speedy recovery so that they can resume their work in Syria to provide us with first-hand information. 

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The so-called Skripal case

 

Everyone knows about the information campaign, or rather warfare of the UK authorities against Russia over the so-called Skripal case. They are using all the propaganda means and methods they can get their hands on. It is a long time since we last saw an ill-disguised and unscrupulous anti-Russia campaign of this dimension. The UK authorities are disregarding the standards of international law, diplomatic rules and principles, and elementary human ethics.

New versions and more discrepancies are coming to light amid the silence kept by the concerned UK agencies and the numerous political statements, which were anti-Russia from the very beginning. We do not see any intention on the part of the UK authorities to disprove false information planted in the media and blatant lies. On the contrary, this massive propaganda campaign involving all types of media is fully in keeping with London’s anti-Russia strategy. The UK authorities are actually encouraging the deliberate distortion of facts. It is clear why they are doing this. If government agencies and media outlets, for example, in the UK, really decided to get to the bottom of this case, if they started questioning some of the reported “facts” and analysing the increasing number of discrepancies, this would have rocked the European public’s belief in Russia’s alleged involvement. And the people would have asked the question that should have been addressed to London earlier on in the case: What has really happened at Salisbury? 

Judge for yourself: On March 4, a former GRU officer and an agent of the British secret services, who was brought to the UK in a spy swap in 2010 after serving part of his prison term in Russia, and his daughter Yulia, a Russian citizen living permanently in Russia, were poisoned, as we have been told, with one of the most potent nerve gases known as Novichok according to the Western classification. Moreover, this happened in broad daylight in a quiet UK town that is not a tourist or pilgrimage site but a place where neighbours know each other and notice the smallest details. More than that, judging from London’s claims, Moscow apparently did not find a better time to poison Sergey Skripal than a week before the presidential election and three months before the FIFA World Cup, although it could have had lots of opportunities to do this since 2004, first while Skripal was serving a prison term for treason in Russia and later after he moved to the UK in a spy swap.

Nobody wanted to take any notice of these facts. The crime was immediately blamed on Russia. The very first official statements started appearing even before the more or less serious investigation began. Of course, Moscow was kept away from the investigation, probably because London has drawn its lessons from the Litvinenko case, when Russia’s initial involvement complicated the investigation. BBC brought up the Litvinenko case as soon as March 6.

On that day, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera drew parallels with the poisoning of ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in the UK in 2006. However, there is one very important difference between the two cases: back in 2006, the public was at least shown the photographs of Litvinenko. As for the Skripals, during the whole month since the tragedy nobody has seen them. The media and Russian officials have been unable to contact the Skripals, although we have sent numerous notes to the UK side asking for such an opportunity.

But Russia has not kept away from these developments either. London has turned a blind eye to Russia’s appeals over the Skripal case and has refused to involve our officials in the investigation. In this situation, we simply must draw public attention to inconsistencies in the official UK statements and assessments, and to the numerous absurd leaks. A simple comparison of facts and conclusions clearly shows that this case is a poorly prepared and implemented (in terms of logic and logistics) provocation against Russia.

Full use has been made in this case of a new information warfare strategy, with the planting of fake news and suspicious leaks. Take note of the extremely sparse comments made by the official investigative authorities. The most frequent explanation was that the investigation was highly confidential and involved the interests of national security. What is the explanation then for the new versions of the incident, citing “sources close to the investigation”, that were provided almost daily to the media? Does this mean that the investigation was not so extremely confidential after all? Or do the UK investigative authorities employ people who don’t understand that state secrets must be kept secret? I believe that they know how to keep secrets. Previous cases have shown that when information is made confidential in the UK it is kept confidential tightly and for a long time. This brings us to the initial presumption according to which these leaks, which continue to reach the public, are made deliberately. Furthermore, no official comments have been made regarding these numerous leaks to the media. One more feature concerning this case is that many leaks allegedly originated from official agencies, yet none of these agencies have published a refutation.

Why do we say that this is a novel feature? Because the British media acted as the press service of government agencies in this case. One possible explanation is that these agencies are incompetent, but they are nothing but. We know how well the British can work, including in an information environment. We have seen the clear-cut and emotional statements made by Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament and the extravagant statements made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, including in the media. But why didn’t members of the investigative authorities hold any briefings or news conferences to clarify the discrepancies as well as the leaks to the media? They have not been held because the authorities didn’t need them. London did not want to follow grammar rules to the letter in this compound sentence.        

The number of versions, according to the UK media, was really impressive.

March 5: Salisbury Journal writes that emergency services suspect the powerful drug fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, may have been involved. The Zizzi restaurant where the Skripals ate that day has been cordoned off.

The Telegraph offered a similar version. That item was later deleted but it is still to be found in Google's cache. Why was it deleted? What information did it carry that had to be done away with so urgently?

March 6: Nothing was clear yet, but Boris Johnson says pre-emptively in Parliament that the UK will “respond appropriately and robustly” if the Russian state is found to have been involved in the Salisbury incident. The decision was clearly made and the political accusations were formulated.

March 7: Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley says that the former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were deliberately poisoned with a nerve agent. He refused to reveal the substance used.

The Daily Star carries an item saying that the victims may have been targeted with poison spray by an assassin.

March 8: The newspaper Metro writes that the nerve agent may have been administered into the pair’s food.

March 10: The Skripals could have been poisoned in the Mill pub or at the Zizzi restaurant. Those who visited the pub and the restaurant are advised to “wash their clothes and possessions,” says the advice posted on the UK government’s website. Note that the investigators suspect poisoning by one of the most toxic agents, yet six days after the event the authorities only recommend that the people “wash their clothes”!

The same day, Daily Mail writes, citing a high-ranking source, that the bouquet of fresh flowers Sergey Skripal laid at his wife’s grave may have been contaminated.

March 11: The newspaper Express writes about a sophisticated plot to kill Sergey and Yulia Skripal with a poisoned parcel delivered by a courier service.

March 12: Theresa May says in Parliament that Sergey Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia and known as Novichok. The UK Prime Minister said precisely the following: “It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergey and Yulia Skripal... There are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

March 13: Mail Online offers a new version of the incident: a nerve agent was smeared on the door handle of Sergey Skripal’s car.

March 14: Theresa May blames Russia for the attempted assassination of the Skripals.

UK Deputy Permanent Representative Jonathan Allen said there was “no alternative conclusion than that the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter.”

March 15: The Guardian cites Boris Johnson as saying that the UK government had “overwhelming evidence” of Russia’s involvement. He did not say what kind of evidence the UK government had.

On the same day, The Telegraph published an article citing its own sources in the intelligence agencies, alleging that the nerve agent that poisoned Sergey Skripal was planted in his daughter’s suitcase. According to the newspaper, the toxic agent that poisoned Sergey Skripal landed in Salisbury via Yulia Skripal’s luggage. It was alleged that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or in gifts brought by Yulia.

On March 17, Boris Johnson told the BBC that President of Russia Vladimir Putin was behind the Salisbury incident.

On March 18, The Daily Star posited, in keeping with the best traditions of science fiction, that a drone was used to poison the Skripal family. On the same day, The Guardian assumed that the toxic agent was introduced in the ventilation system of Skripal’s car. Let me remind you that British government agencies together with the investigative authorities have not yet refuted these claims.

On March 22, EU leaders issued a statement following a summit reaffirming the European Union’s solidarity in that there was no plausible alternative explanation to Russia’s involvement in the incident.

On March 28, the British police reported that the investigation believed that the Skripals contacted Novichok at home, since the highest concentration of the toxic agent was detected on the door handle of the building where Sergey Skripal lived.

On March 29, the Foreign Office posted a message on its official Twitter account, accusing Russia of spreading misleading information by exploring multiple versions and theories regarding the Salisbury incident (it turns out that we are the ones with multiple versions).

On April 1, The Sun tabloid published material alleging that the toxic agent could have been brought in a bag of buckwheat or in a packet of bay leaves or spices that Yulia forgot to pick up before her departure to Great Britain. Instead, she asked a female acquaintance who was to fly to London with her husband a little later to bring the things. As it later turned out, it was an April Fools' Day joke. Do you think it is normal to make jokes in situations like this? This is not funny.

There was another version whereby Novichok was applied to an advertising leaflet that was intended for the Skripals.

On April 2, The New York Times cited “British officials” when it alleged that smearing a nerve agent on the door handle (after all, they preferred this explanation) was “so risky and sensitive,” that it was likely to have been undertaken by super professionals, meaning Russians… The newspaper went on to explain the lack of evidence on whether President of Russia Vladimir Putin himself ordered Sergey Skripal’s killing by the fact that the Russian President “is skilled at hiding his communications.”

On April 8, Boris Johnson published an article in The Sunday Times, claiming that Russia invented 29 theories about the poisoning of the Skripals. A few days before, on April 4, he released the long-awaited “facts” showing Russia’s alleged guilt in addition to the infamously overwhelming evidence contained in the six slides:

1. Porton Down identified the nerve agent as military grade Novichok;

2. Russia has investigated delivering nerve agents and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichok;

3. Russia has a motive for targeting Sergey Skripal.

All in all, watching the events unfold as they were reported on the Twitter account of the UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is quite intriguing. Harsh, rude statements about Russia and its guilt in the Skripal case are mixed with cute photos of Boris surrounded by smiling people, followed by monsters wearing masks and chemical protection outfits. It can be easily spotted that people are being manipulated to believe that the “terrible Russia” has intruded into the peaceful and happy life Britain enjoyed.

It seems that this media campaign to discredit Russia has not been easy for British politicians. Either they have run out of arguments, or their nerves are on edge. Take the war of words between Boris Johnson and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who accused the Foreign Secretary of misleading the public by his frivolous interpretation of conclusions by Porton Down experts. In response, Boris Johnson accused the head of Labour party of playing the Kremlin’s game and “lending false credibility to its propaganda onslaught.” He went even further by describing Corbyn as “the Kremlin's useful idiot.” And all this was done so that not a single political force within the country, let alone the media, has any appetite for appealing to reason and taking up a normal investigation after all. If statements of this kind can be thrown at politicians, what manners can be expected in communications with the country’s media?

The main message coming out from this multitude of voices is that the official position adopted by Britain does not require any evidence. It should be taken for granted. This is what British diplomats tell their colleagues when asked when evidence would be produced. They just look straight in your eyes and ask whether they are not being trusted.

Insinuations concerning the origin of the so-called Novichok merit special attention, of course. Theresa May first declared on March 12 that this particular substance had been used. Since then, this has never been questioned in spite of the repeated calls by Russia to look into what had happened and discuss the information about the alleged Russian provenance of the substance.

On April 4, Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, told Sky News that experts had been able to identify the substance as belonging to the series of agents classified by the West as Novichok. They were unable to identify the precise source, but they provided the scientific information to the Government, which had then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions.

From what other sources could information have been obtained if it requires special chemical laboratory research? Does Britain have any other lab than the one at Porton Down? If so, this is something new. Neither the British Foreign Office nor the Home Office have the facilities to analyse the substance, or at least this is what we were previously told.

At the same time, the head of Porton Down neither confirmed not denied the claims that the lab had samples of the agent, saying merely that “there is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility.” Interesting wording. So, did they produce and develop it or was it the case that the substance “could not have left the four walls?” These are different things. The wording is so evasive as to leave it unclear whether or not the facility produced the substance. But it could have left the four walls only if it had in fact been produced.

The Foreign Office reacted instantly to the Sky News interview making it clear from the start that Porton Down experts had identified the substance used in Salisbury as a nerve agent called Novichok. But this was only one part of the intelligence picture. As Theresa May repeatedly made clear at the House of Commons beginning from March 12, the conclusions were based on the knowledge that over the past ten years Russia had been studying routes of delivering nerve agents, possibly for political assassinations, and produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichok as part of that programme. She repeated that considering Russia’s record there is no credible explanation of what had happened in Salisbury other than Moscow’s responsibility for the “reckless attack.”

How do you like the legal grounding? But as they don’t know who did it and they have no proof if it was done by anyone at all, they conclude that Russia did it. Show me the provision in international law about accusations based not even on suspicions, but simply on the grounds that there are no other logical explanations?

Why the Foreign Office hastened to announce its official position immediately after the interview by the Porton Down lab head Gary Aitkenhead will be clear from the article by the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray of March 16 (i.e. before it was announced that the OPCW experts had been brought in). Citing sources at the Foreign Office, Craig Murray speaks about frictions between the Foreign Office and the lab at Porton Down. We do not know if this information is true, just as we don’t know if anything the British media wrote is true. But since we have been citing the British media, we might as well cite Mr Craig Murray. According to him, the British Foreign Office demanded that the lab confirm the Russian source of the agent used. In the end they settled for the formula “the type of agent developed in Russia.”     

On April 6, the British publish yet another fake in the media and declare with reference to “special services officials” and “government sources” that the agent used was manufactured at a secret laboratory in Yasenevo (amazing geographical precision!). Needless to say, no facts are offered again. 

However, on April 9, the Financial Times publishes an interview with the Soviet chemist Vladimit Uglev, who, although overwhelmed with anti-Russian sentiments, admits that it is impossible to get an irrefutable confirmation of Russia’s responsibility for the manufacturing and use of the agent: unlike radioactive materials, it does not leave traces behind and cannot be identified by usual means. The British officials yet again offer zero comments and no statements about that.

Here is another remarkable fact. In December 2005 and later in January 2006, the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry published in its Volume 49 an article by a group of UK chemists including Porton Down laboratory employees Christopher M. Timperley and Gareth R. Williams. The article features a formula of an organophosphorus agent similar to the one published in Vil Mirzayanov’s book. It means that specialists at this British laboratory were capable of synthesising Novichok as early as 2005. These are the thoughts prompted by the UK media publications.

Numerous inconsistencies in media stories with reference to “reliable sources” are absolutely apparent. Here are just a few examples. The issue of the antidote – did it exist or not? Was it used or not? If we look at the news agencies’ reports – now it was, now it wasn’t, now it does not exist at all. Not a single person from the British side can make a responsible statement and clarify the issue. Meanwhile, there is a big reason to do that. Apart from the case itself, which, as we are told, should be classified since it is a national security matter, there are media publications that offer new versions every day. Could at least those have been commented on? 

Regarding the doctors – this is a special topic. There were great many reports concerning the doctors who were rendering assistance and we do not doubt the competence of British medicine. But look, what sort of miracle doctors are they who work with a weapon-grade nerve agent, either using an antidote or even without it? This is an absolute miracle!

After leaks from a certain “closed briefing” for special services on April 6, it became known that at the hospital where the Skripals were taken by a pure coincidence (!) there were doctors trained to treat victims of chemical attacks. This is yet another miracle! And again we see manipulations on the antidote issue – which antidote was used and in what way.

The next topic mooted in the British media, though we do not know the answer to the question, is what exactly they were poisoned with? Was it one substance or a group of substances? Was it one type of substance or several different sorts of substances?

I would also like to draw attention to the statements made from the local hospital in Salisbury where the Skripals were taken to. It never said in so many words that the victims showed symptoms of chemical poisoning and that this is what they were treated for. In a March 16 letter to The Times one of the hospital’s doctors, Steven Davis, wrote that “... no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients (apparently the Skripals and the police officer) with significant poisoning.” If this is classified data, why a letter to The Times?  If it is a question of the hospital having no right to disclose information for humanitarian or ethical reasons why does a doctor write a letter to the media about the situation inside the hospital?

There is not a hint at what they had been poisoned with. Some other members of the hospital staff mentioned that the Skripals and Nick Bailey “were exposed to a nerve agent.” This could mean anything. For a specialist, the formula means nothing. It’s a fudge. For instance, they could have been near the poison without touching it, or they could have been attacked with this agent.  In a statement made on April 10 the hospital’s Medical Director Christine Blanshard again used the word “exposed,” referred to standard chemical poisoning symptoms and then, referring to the Skripals, studiously avoided the words “chemical” or “nerve agent.” This raises a crucial question about the symptoms with which the Skripals entered the hospital, the methods of treatment as well as  the methods of diagnosis that justified the treatment administered. Information swirls, but there is no official confirmation or denial.

What is one to make of the recent episode when plans were announced to destroy all the evidence, including the Skripals’ house? One can place accents whichever which way and provide any reading, but the fact still remains that the Skripals are in isolation. We have not seen them and we do not know what is happening to them.

According to security sources, Sergey Skripal’s house, as well as Zizzi restaurant and Mill pub that he and his daughter visited on the day of the poisoning will be demolished. Why not investigate every square inch of the buildings instead? The bench on which the Skripals were found has also been destroyed. No sooner did we publicly raise the question of the fate of the domestic animals in Sergey Skripal’s house (unconnected with any animal rights issues, and probably linked with the use of chemical agents) than the media carried official and unofficial claims which further muddied the picture. Apparently the animals were in a sealed home. How could they not have been noticed if the house was scoured by “men in pressure suits?” That is, they discovered a poisonous agent on the door handles, but did not notice the animals? Can you believe it? All the more so since the Skripals had posted information on their pets, including numerous pictures, in social networks and everybody knew that they had them.

As a result two guinea pigs died from dehydration (not from poisoning with a toxic agent) and the cat was “under such stress” that it had to be put down. How could it have happened that the information fed raised more questions which no one seems to care to answer? Allegedly there was one more animal, but it was never found. Could it be that the animals were, after all, found during the search? What has become of them and where have they been taken? Probably not to the Foreign Office, much as they like cats there. More likely, to Porton Down. And what happened to them there? No one in Britain asks these questions. People have fun, draw pictures and chatter. But no answers have been given to questions that would occur to any person who can think straight. It is worth noting that, according to the media, the vet who had been attending to Skripal’s animals for many years, said that from his information the animals had been taken to Porton Down immediately after the house was searched. As of today, there are no animals and the house is likely to follow the way of the bench in the very near future.

I would like to highlight again the delay with releasing information about the pets, the confirmation that they died of dehydration or were just exterminated – this is another indirect proof that all evidence is being concealed and everything is being done to complicate the story from beginning to end.

Regarding the relatives. As you know, on April 6, the UK denied a visa to Skripal’s closest relative Viktoria, a niece and a cousin to the victims. These developments were very odd. There was not a single statement made concerning the reasons for denying the visa, the form of the denial, whether she could apply again or was denied a visa for good. Each UK agency gave its own version. Some of them via leaks, some through chats with journalists, and some readdressed the question to another body. What is so odd about this? If you do not want to issue a visa, if you are reluctant to do that, if it cannot be done for national security reasons, just tell us about it. Yet nothing like that happens, and we see a million versions again.

We are perfectly aware that very real political considerations are behind the formal explanation of the reasons for denying the visa. Let me underscore again that the Skripals have not yet had any contacts with the outside world.

In violation of international law, we were not granted consular access to a Russian citizen. According to the Sunday Times and a number of other newspapers, the Skripals will be offered (or ordered?) to change their names and move permanently to one of the Five Eyes countries. And on April 11, it was revealed that Yulia Skripal had been transferred to a hospital at a military base.  This is just a terrible mix of what is being published and chewed over. Why is this being done? The answer is very simple – to keep the topic afloat yet not to give any answers on the essence of the case.

On the same day Scotland Yard published a statement on behalf of Yulia Skripal saying that she allegedly does not want to meet with the media, asks her cousin Viktoria not to come to London and also does not want to communicate with the Russian Embassy. Why then wasn’t Yulia’s reluctance to see her cousin given as a reason for denying Viktoria a UK visa?

We certainly would like to make sure that the statement really comes from Yulia Skripal. Because we do have doubts in view of all that hell that is raging in the UK media and in statements made by British politicians. As has already been noted in an official comment by the Russian Embassy in the UK, the text was evidently written in such a way as to prop up official statements by British officials and at the same time to make it impossible for Yulia to have any contacts with the outside world. The phrase about “access to friends and family” is also surprising since none of the Skripal’s friends or relatives referred to by the Russian and UK media have had any contacts with them. As far as we know, Viktoria Skripal and Sergei Skripal’s mother, who resides with her, are the only close relatives of the victims. What family does Yulia have contacts with in that case? And it is even more bewildering that nobody speaks on her behalf. If it started out as a detective story, it is now turning into a thriller right before our eyes.

We understand perfectly well that Scotland Yard has real professionals who proved their professionalism to the UK and the whole world on a number of occasions. But we cannot but question why Yulia’s letter was published by Scotland Yard. To be honest, the latest development reinforces our concerns that it is about isolating Russian citizens. We have every reason to believe that it is either premeditated forcible containment of Russian citizens, or a forcible or factual coercion to participate in some sort of a frame-up show.

Questions keep multiplying but there are no answers.

The position of many countries that decided to “express solidarity” with Britain merits a separate mention. Their comments and speculations on this subject appear not only biased but also simply unprofessional and even awkward.

For example, on April 8, the Daily Express published a notable selection of remarks by East European politicians, which supposedly illustrated London’s presentation of convincing evidence of Russia’s involvement in the poisoning of the Skripals. But the paper did not even bother to analyse the essence of those statements, which testifies to the fact that nothing of substance was really presented.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki, for example, said that “in our case, the profoundness of information provided by the British was not of critical importance because we had observed Russia’s behaviour model even earlier…” Is this evidence that some facts have been provided? On the contrary, this proves that facts are of no importance. Poland has a long-standing position.

Paul Teesalu, Political Director at the Estonian Foreign Ministry, declared: “We didn’t have to think long before we came out in support of Britain.” Generally, thinking tends to be a good thing, particularly when you represent a foreign ministry and a country in a situation where one country is accusing another. “We didn’t have to think long” is how all these decisions are taken.

“As far as Britain’s position is concerned, we have full confidence in our British partner; you don’t doubt your friends, particularly when they say words like ‘highly likely,’” said Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic Jakub Dürr.

Saying that this is not serious is to say nothing. We are not saying that you can’t have friends, but the case in point is a crime and an investigation. In this instance, we are not playing the believe-it-or-not game; people’s fate is at stake and, I repeat, neither we, nor you have seen these people. The use of the word “solidarity” is indicative, as we said earlier.

Today we have every reason to accuse London of purposeful disinformation, propaganda and manipulating public opinion.

I would like to reiterate that we have no information about the Skripals’ whereabouts and the circumstances of what has happened to them. We are doing our best to obtain this information via the British Foreign Office by sending diplomatic notes. We have publicly called on the UK to provide information, to let us make sure that the Russian citizens are not in danger, to let the world see that these people have not been held hostage, that they are not involved in a hideous manipulation or game, that these people are alive so that they can speak for themselves and there is finally something in this story that could be used as reliable information.

We have sent dozens of diplomatic notes to the Foreign Office, which in one way or another boil down to demands to provide information about the incident, to offers of cooperation and requests for information on the condition of the Skripals and for access to them. Regrettably, we have to do the journalists’ job as we write these diplomatic notes. We ask them to confirm or refute each new plant that appears. As of today, we have, regrettably, received no reply to our requests to confirm or refute a new version or some new information published in the media.

Last week, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office sent to the relevant UK authorities a request for legal assistance in a criminal case related to the assassination attempt on the life of Yulia Skripal. The British side has not replied. We continue to insist on being provided with detailed information on the course of the investigative actions as well as explanations concerning the reliability of versions surfacing in the media. Specifically, the Russian Embassy in London asked the Foreign Office about the British media allegations that the nerve agent had been brought to the country in the form of a “clear and odourless gel” that was smeared over the handle of Sergei Skripal’s front door by some agents “in broad daylight.”

We have officially asked the Foreign Office to comment on the media information that the British have intentionally destroyed material evidence I have listed. These actions are certainly creating obstacles to an independent and unbiased investigation. We feel that they are trying to conceal and destroy all incriminating evidence related to this case.

The Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, has written to the Salisbury hospital medical director, Dr Christine Blanchard, asking her to clarify a number of concrete issues related to the Skripals’ confinement at this hospital and the treatment they had received. We tried to obtain the same information via the Foreign Office, but when this proved impossible, the Russian Ambassador had to apply directly to the hospital. Mr Yakovenko also sent a personal letter to Yulia Skripal. We still don’t know whether it has been passed on to her. Yulia Skripal’s statement, at least the statement that has been ascribed to her and published by the Scotland Yard, says nothing about receiving the ambassador’s letter.

We have asked the British side for explanations in connection with publications about the “interception” of two messages, which were allegedly sent from Syria to Russia and which the UK immediately linked to the “Skripals case.” They are clearly unwilling to provide any information at all.     

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OPCW Technical Secretariat’s report on the findings of the designated laboratories in the so-called “Skripal case”

 

On April 12, the OPCW Technical Secretariat shared the report with all States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on the findings by the designated laboratories of the samples collected from the Skripal father and daughter at a medical facility in Salisbury.

The document confirms conclusions regarding the identity of the toxic chemical that was used that severely injured three people, including by all appearances, a British police officer.

According to the report, the toxic substance was of high purity with an almost complete absence of impurities.

The statement raises questions for Russian experts and definitely requires additional work on it, including by the British party. Any specialist understands that final conclusions can be made only having available the results of the chemical and spectral analysis of the above samples.

Let me reiterate, Russia is ready and open for joint work.

We confirm our official stand that Russia would not accept for granted any conclusions about the “Skripal case” until Russian experts are allowed access to the affected persons as well to the material of the above OPCW findings and all the real information on the incident available in London. This is not a matter of trust but an issue of working with concrete material. It is impossible any longer to believe those who refer to partial results and make statements on somebody’s behalf. 

We all are sinking in a stream of disinformation which is one way or another supported by official London.

There are no reasons to believe that this is not a continuation of a crude provocation against the Russian Federation on the part of the UK special services.

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Canceling Russian-US consultations on cultural-humanitarian matters

 

We are once again forced to draw attention to the US Administration’s highly unpunctual behaviour, as regards the organisation of events in line with our bilateral dialogue. A decision to cancel Russian-US consultations on cultural and humanitarian matters, scheduled for April 11−12, is another example.

I would like to note that the US Department of State itself had called for holding these consultations some time ago. We were ready to receive a US delegation in Moscow, and we were preparing for a detailed conversation. The meeting was to have involved representatives from the Foreign Ministry, as well as other specialised agencies, including the Ministry of Culture, the Federal Archives Agency and the Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation. Last week, however, when all preparatory work was mostly complete, officials in Washington declined to come.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the US side torpedoes bilateral meetings and talks at the last moment without any clear explanations. An attempt to link this refusal with the expulsion of US diplomats from Russia, in response to the US Administration’s absolutely unmotivated actions with regard to Russian diplomatic missions and their officials, looked particularly strange.

Yet we are still ready to discuss cultural and humanitarian cooperation with the United States. We believe that this discussion is called on to play a positive role in improving the atmosphere of our relations and facilitating mutual understanding between the citizens of our countries. We hope that Washington will eventually resume a pragmatic and constructive approach towards conducting this dialogue.

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The Pentagon finances the construction of biological laboratories in former Soviet republics

 

We are closely following reports about the US Defence Department’s medical-biological activities in former Soviet republics. Although provisions of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons, including its Article 10, make it possible to expand international bioengineering cooperation, we cannot turn a blind eye to some alarming aspects.

We are concerned with the scale of US activities in former Soviet republics. The United States is establishing a chain of microbiological laboratories in the South Caucasus and Central Asia under programmes financed by the Pentagon. In 2013, a laboratory featuring third-level biological protection was established in the town of Alexeyevka near Tbilisi. It is possible to conduct experiments with pathogens of the most dangerous diseases at this facility, now called the Lugar Centre.

Understandably, it is possible to conduct research not only in the interests of sanitary-epidemiological well-being of the population in neighbouring states at such centres. Therefore we are particularly worried about the Pentagon’s large-scale medical-biological activities near Russian borders.

One has every right to ask a question about the real goals of this US military-biological activity.

Speaking of international cooperation in the biological sphere once again, we would like to note that, of course, any state has the right to expand such cooperation as well as to freely choose their partners. At the same time, interstate cooperation must completely meet the provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention. And states launching joint work on any specific project must clearly comprehend all the risks and the consequences of its implementation, including those for its neighbours.

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The MICT sentence to Vojislav Seselj

 

On April 11, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) gave a 10-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity to Serbian Radical Party head Vojislav Seselj, who was acquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on March 31, 2016.

By the time he was acquitted, Vojislav Seselj had spent 12 years in pre-trial detention. Therefore, he should be released even despite the MICT’s sentence. However, this does not mean that there are no questions regarding the MICT’s decision.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has more than once drawn international attention to the situation regarding the trial of Vojislav Seselj.

Although the full text of the MICT’s reasoned decision has not been so far fully revealed, the information available to the public points to considerable discrepancies.

We regret to say that the MICT is moving in the ICTY’s footsteps. The MICT sentence given to Vojislav Seselj is yet another politicised anti-Serbian decision that has nothing in common with justice. This negative consistency is undermining the idea of objective international criminal justice.

We expect the MICT as a temporary structure to be completely transparent and effective and to comply with the standards of justice, in particular the terms of the trials.

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Seizure of the Russian bulk carrier Sea Breeze in Ukraine

 

On April 10, the investigating judge granted the Ukrainian prosecutors’ request for the arrest of the Russian bulk carrier Sea Breeze owned by the Russian Trans-Service Maritime Agency.

According to the Russian Consulate General in Odessa, most of the ship’s crew members (about 20 people) are Ukrainian citizens, and only two sailors are Russian citizens. Officially, the Belize-flagged ship is registered in Tuapse.

The crew has been accused of violating Article 240 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (violation of rules related to the protection of mineral resources) by illegally mining sand off Crimea. The Kiev authorities have arrested the ship to force the ship owner to pay for the illegal mining of sand in the Karkinitsky Bay of the Black Sea by the dredger Pechora, also owned by the Trans-Service Maritime Agency, between 2014 and 2018.

According to a representative from the ship owner’s agent, ATIS, the law firm Interlegal is providing legal counselling in this case. The ATIS representative has refused to provide any other details regarding the ship owner or the law firm’s attorneys. He has been provided with the contacts of the Russian Consulate General in Odessa for transfer to the ship owner. As of April 11, nobody has contacted any Russian diplomats. Neither have we received any official Ukrainian notification regarding the ship’s arrest.

We are monitoring this situation and are ready to provide assistance if the company involved or its representatives request it.

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Situation regarding the Russian fishing vessel Nord

 

The Ukrainian provocation against the crew of the Russian fishing vessel Nord began over two weeks ago. The Russian crew is being kept hostage under far-fetched pretexts in Ukraine. Every time the Russian sailors try to cross the border, Kiev presents more new reasons to stop them from reuniting with their families. The extreme cynicism of the Ukrainian authorities is fresh evidence of the duplicity of the current Ukrainian government, which is bullying common people while paying lip service to its adherence to democracy and rule of law.

We demand that Ukraine stop this outrage and allow our sailors to return to their homes in Crimea. We hope that the international human rights community will give a proper assessment to Kiev’s inhumane actions. Russia also reserves the right to reply actions until our citizens are allowed to leave Ukraine.

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Creation of the Medical Centre of Russian-Japanese Friendship in Moscow

 

On April 17, a conference dedicated to the creation of the Medical Centre of Russian-Japanese Friendship in Moscow will be held at the Russian Embassy in Japan.

This project was developed by the Main Administration for Service to the Diplomatic Corps under the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (GlavUpDK) together with their Japanese partners.

The event will be attended by the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Japan Mikhail Galuzin, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Healthcare Ministry, as well as other Japanese ministries and agencies, plus the potential project participants from Japan’s side – heads of over 60 companies manufacturing and distributing medical equipment together with heads of various clinics.

The aim of this project is to develop humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Japan in the sphere of healthcare. The new medical centre, which will be operating using state-of-the-art technology and equipment, will be created on the basis of the Medincentre – an affiliate of GlavUpDK.

The centre will offer a broad range of high-quality medical services to Russian citizens and representatives of diplomatic missions, international organisations as well as press offices that have been accredited in Russia.

The joint implementation of this kind of humanitarian project is another positive signal that confirms that the relations between Russia and Japan have reached a new qualitative level.

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Article concerning the Foreign Ministry’s alleged covering up the budgetary spending data

 

We have taken note of the article, “Ministries do not inform citizens about budgetary spending” published on April 5 in Vedomosti, where the Foreign Ministry was featured in some sort of improvised ranking of state agencies that “cover up the most”. This means, the Foreign Ministry allegedly does not publish data on the implementation of state programmes. This information was published based on NGO data.

I have already commented on Vedomosti’s approach to this situation, when they submitted their request for a comment at 7.15 pm on April 4, one hour after the office had officially closed for the day. We simply did not see this. The article was published without our statement. We asked for our commentary to be published, but for some reason it was printed in the Letters to the Editor section. The most curious thing is that we have sent an official commentary on this matter, but for some reason the newspaper has not published it yet.

Another media started spreading this information, even citing Russian political scientist Mikhail Delyagin. We contacted him; he never said anything of the kind. The media apologised to us.

The reality is, in fact, that the Foreign Ministry, being an agency responsible for implementing the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy Activities state programme, regularly and timely reports to the Russian Government, the Ministry of Economic Development and Ministry of Finance on the progress made in its implementation on a yearly and quarterly basis.

Since the state programme contains information constituting state secrets, as well as confidential information, the records mentioned on the State Programmes of the Russian Federation Portal are not made public in accordance with the regulatory documents in force, namely, the ones concerning protection of state secrets and confidential information.

At the same time, despite the specifics of the Foreign Ministry’s activities, the criteria for information openness are fulfilled by the Ministry, including via internet resources, to a high degree. When it comes to these matters, the Foreign Ministry operates according to the Presidential Executive Order No. 1062 dated August 10, 2011, , On the Approval of the List of Information on the Activities of the Russian Foreign Ministry to be Published in the Internet.

We have a big request. Please, verify the information before publishing data like this next time.

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Resumption of flights to Egypt

 

On April 11, the direct flights between Moscow and Cairo were resumed.

After the terrorist attack that took place on board a Russian plane on October 31, 2015, above the Sinai Peninsula, experts in aviation safety from Russia and Egypt carried out an effective job on strengthening security in Egypt’s airports in order to prevent incidents like this from happening again. The joint effort of the Russian and Egyptian sides will continue in the context of resuming direct flights to Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.

We believe that this landmark event will ensure further strengthening and development of the entire complex of friendly relations between Russia and Egypt.

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Celebrations to mark the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Bratislava from Nazi invaders

                                                                                               

On April 4, a traditional ceremony, organised by the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Slovakia, took place at the Slavin war memorial in Bratislava to mark a regular anniversary of the Slovak capital’s liberation from Nazi invaders.

Wreaths at the monument were laid by Slovakia’s National Council Speaker Andrej Danko, Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, ex-President Ivan Gasparovic, heads of Slovak ministries and departments, as well as representatives of local authorities, veterans’ and public organisations, Russian compatriots, and the youth. The ceremony was attended by Deputy Chair of the Committee on Economic Policy of the Russian Federal Assembly’s Federation Council Vyacheslav Timchenko, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Slovakia Alexey Fedotov, and members of the Russian Veterans’ Union.

At this difficult period, when international relations are facing serious trials and the established traditions of friendship and cooperation between countries of Europe are going through a test of strength, we are thankful to the people of Slovakia for preserving the blessed memories of the role of the Red Army in liberating Slovakia from fascism and for the attentive and careful attitude to the tombs of fallen Red Army soldiers.      

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Excerpts from answers to questions:

Question: Yesterday, a presidential election was held in Azerbaijan. According to preliminary reports, it was won by Ilham Aliyev. Today, our Western partners, observers from the PACE and OSCE missions and others, gave a briefing. They said that numerous violations were found. This sharply contrasts with a statement released by the CIS observers. What do you think is behind this? Would you like to comment on it?

Maria Zakharova: I think that there will be comments from the President’s Executive Office. I would like to say that a large number of international observers monitored the election in Azerbaijan – that is true. Moreover, those were observers from countries and international structures. Without doubt, they must have their say. We were fully aware of and pointed to the fact that the negative perception of the Azerbaijani election by a whole number of political forces was obvious even before the election. We see a similar attitude from some Western NGOs and Western officials not just towards Azerbaijan, but to a whole number of other countries, when there is a biased, pre-formulated approach to elections.

We proceed from the fact that there were many observers, who recorded everything. They must present their opinion, which can be relied upon.

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Question: Today, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that  “soft US policy” towards Russia is now over. Is this a follow-up to yesterday’s Twitter statements by US President Donald Trump, who was threatening Russia with new “smart” missiles?

Maria Zakharova: Yesterday’s statements by Donald Trump have been followed by today’s. We should proceed from today’s Twitter statements by Donald Trump. You have quoted Mike Pompeo’s statement. We proceed from concrete work. When he is charged with heading this agency in a practical manner and to start working, then it will be possible and necessary to give assessments on bilateral relations and their prospects.

Political bias or a predisposition towards constant assaults on Russia are disturbing, that is true. Problems must be solved at the negotiating table. If there are differences, then, as has been customary, this has to be discussed in a constructive way, keeping in mind the things we must solve. We want to solve a problem, some issue, and to improve relations. Speaking of statements like this, I do not think they are aimed at improving bilateral relations. We are open to constructive dialogue, we have not closed the doors. The potential and, most importantly, the demand for the normalisation of bilateral relations is what people in Russia and the United States are waiting for. I would very much like the US politicians to keep this in mind, too, because there are their political stances, platforms, arguments and differences, and then there are people who want to live on both sides of the ocean, communicate, receive visas on time, to visit their relatives, take part in humanitarian and sports events, hold exhibitions, and engage in cultural life of the two countries.

This is what people want. People in Russia and the United States do not want war, escalation or other political collisions. Obviously, people want relations to normalise. I have a great many friends in America and Moscow, who have sent a huge number of messages in the past 24 hours questioning the reasons for the statements made, that we heard, saw and read on social media in the United States. Why is the situation being aggravated instead of being solved? I have no answer to this question. We proceed from the fact that normalisation is long overdue, not only regarding bilateral relations but international relations as a whole. I read many articles, appeals and letters from citizens all over the world who all say one thing: it is so easy to initiate a conflict but so difficult to overcome it. It is solely the normalisation of relations and not their aggravation that helps the tasks and meets the interests of the two nations.   

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Question: I would like to ask you more about the statements made on Twitter yesterday; one way or another, we are focusing on them. Yesterday you almost had a dialogue with US President Donald Trump. He made a statement on his account and you on yours.

Maria Zakharova: Please be more careful with words. Or he will be alleged to have some connections with Russia.

Question: I hope not. The social networks were different: Facebook on the one hand, and Twitter on the other. Is this network diplomacy and policy a usual thing? Would you make an assessment of how appropriate it is?

Maria Zakharova: The way US President Donald Trump communicates with his people is an issue for the US community, not the Russian Federation. They have chosen their president, and he has found a method of communication which he believes is appropriate for the media and American citizens. This is not our affair.

We understand that the growth in social networks and their increasing popularity means information will be spread via these channels. The strange thing is, as social networks grow larger and more popular, and play a greater role in digital diplomacy, leading western powers make a U-turn in their attitude towards these networks. Just five years ago, we were told that social networks were new media and had the same rights as the press and journalists, and the blogger was a journalist and there was no doubt about this. We said that if this was the case, we needed to raise the question of responsibility. We are not against it, but it is a question of responsibility. The media has its rules, the main one being to confirm and distribute the information it is responsible for. We were told that our position would restrict freedom of speech.

The situation today is exactly the opposite. London, Paris and Berlin are rushing to adopt very strict regulations on social networks and attempting to bring them under some kind of legal control.

Another curious trend is that social networks are getting more attention from government agencies and special services, in particular, in the United States. You have all heard about the meetings, resembling interrogations, with Mark Zuckerberg and how his company was pressurised to take appropriate measures. We have read about this in the media and we have seen the efforts the company made. It is obvious these steps were taken to save themselves from further pressure from special services, which are really embedded in the activities of social networks in the United States.

We are well aware that social networks are mass communication media with enormous reach, where, of course, security issues and antiterrorism efforts must be taken into consideration. Spreading such information via social networks must be prevented. However, we understand that we must differentiate between these two areas: preventing the use of social media by terrorists and militants, on the one hand, and preserving a possibility for people to spread information and communicate freely, because they do not yet feel these boundaries on the internet, on the other.

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Question: Does Russia have any idea why London or Washington should need this provocation with the Skripals? Could the reasons be the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly and some of the US Senators’ statements to the effect that an agreement with Russia is now possible?

Maria Zakharova: This case is directly connected to the situation in Syria, as we said. It also dovetails with the general agenda of the campaign that has been launched against Russia. Furthermore, it is also a matter of the domestic consumer market in terms of information and public opinion in the UK, a matter of the extremely complicated Brexit talks, which are painful for London, as well as other problems on the agenda from which the Skripal case could divert public attention. It is a crosscutting matter, a provocation that was designed to deal with a host of problems. In our opinion, this situation is also directly connected to the developments in Syria. It is an attempt to deprive Russia of any arguments regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. A provocation with the use of chemical weapons in Syria took place almost simultaneously with the campaign against Russia in connection with the Salisbury incident. Highly aggressive statements on the possible use of force have been addressed to Damascus, but they also concern Russia somehow or other. In other words, the incident in Salisbury was definitely a multidirectional provocation. I don’t think we should talk much about this. Establishing the truth is your task more than ours. We can only use a limited range of resources when it comes to coming up with answers. You cannot imagine how many notes, letters and requests we have sent to the UK via our Embassy in London. We have not received any replies. Why don’t you direct all these questions to the UK?

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Question: Several hours before this briefing, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons published a report and the Executive Summary of its report [regarding the Skripal case]. The full version of the report discloses the formula of the toxic agent that was used in the Salisbury incident. It has been shared with all States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This means that Russia has received this report as well. Did you have an opportunity to read it? If so, do you accept the data and conclusions in it?

Maria Zakharova: We could only read the Executive Summary of the report. Before this briefing began, I had no information about access to the full text of the report. If the report is made available to us, which we want more than any other country, our experts will analyse it and draw their own conclusions. In principle, we previously published the list of basic questions we would like to ask the OPCW regarding this matter and the report that has just been made public, and I have repeated them today. Once again, I had no access to the full text of the report before this briefing.

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Question: We recently observed the conflict between the DPRK and the USA with threats of mutual destruction. But the episode died down and the North and South Korea drew much closer together. We see a similar situation being repeated in Syria between Russia and the United States. In this context, how would you describe the mood between the foreign ministries of Russia and Ukraine?

Maria Zakharova: I see no logic in the structure of your question. I can only answer the question about the mood between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministries. Unfortunately, the outlook is not optimistic. One sign of it is the way the Ukrainian Embassy is represented in the Russian Federation and the Russian Embassy is represented in Ukraine. As you know, we recently had tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats. This and many other things suggest that the atmosphere between our ministries leaves much to be desired.

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Question: What are the implications of the US Administration’s threats to Syria? Will they attack a sovereign state? Speculation is rife. One version has it that the US military-industrial complex needs to spend its budget and Trump needs to report to the “hawks” in Congress. I have my own version. Just days before these threats were made a tripartite meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian presidents took place in Ankara. Perhaps the United States is trying to wreck the Astana format by forcing Turkey to take sides.

Maria Zakharova: I cannot deny your version, but I would treat it only as a version. I think it is still the same “global” concept that was formulated by the previous US Administration in a single phrase, “Assad must go.”  Times change, presidents and administrations change, but it is a very convenient concept. It is still there. It is connected with the “red line” we are constantly reminded of. “Red line” refers to the use of chemical weapons by Damascus. 

We have been down that dangerous road before. You will remember that similar statements were made by President Obama who linked military strikes with the use of chemical weapons by Damascus. But at that time it was possible to deprive the countries and political forces that considered the chemical weapons to be the “red line” of their argument, because there were indeed chemical weapons on Syrian territory. Russia proposed to the USA and the whole international community the idea of chemical demilitarisation of Syria, an idea that Washington supported and that was put into practice.

Several years have passed. Damascus has no chemical weapons, but the concept is still there. Accordingly, the main idea, the “red line” which, according to Washington ideologists, must trigger the mechanism of implementing the “Assad must go” plan, is still in place. And again, it is the chemical weapons. Nothing has changed. Be that as it may, in pursuing this concept, the spin doctors who stand behind its development and implementation put the stake on two elements which have long been linked in the public mind, Bashar Assad and chemical weapons. The concept may be implemented some day, one way or another.

This is what the situation looks like. There is no flat answer to the question about the motivation of the current statements, whether it is internal or whether it has to do with international relations as well. It may be both and it may be many other things. I don’t think the question should be directed to us. It is more a question for political scientists, journalists and official representatives in Washington.    

Question: To what extent is it Trump’s own choice? Is he perhaps under pressure? If we look back at the record, Trump has avoided direct accusations against Russia and its leadership...

Maria Zakharova: I am not sure we can talk about attempted arm-twisting but it’s obvious that political pressure is being applied. This is the pressure of the losers who actively oppose the present administration and not just criticise it, but question the legitimacy of the elections and constantly link the President’s current actions with the past elections. The Russia factor is invariably present in this clash.

There are certainly grounds for speaking about political pressure, but I would not hazard to say whether it is in this context or in some other contexts. I can merely confirm that we are aware that there is political pressure.   

Question: Would you say that, judging by Donald Trump’s statements on Twitter, he is not on top of the situation?

Maria Zakharova: I have asked myself this. To what extent do leaders of various countries or foreign ministers, for example, in various North Atlantic Treaty countries, have genuine information on hand?

It’s a question to them, of course, not us. How much real information gets to the top? Is it not distorted? How much of it comes from actual data “on the ground,” rather than reports? You remember when Theresa May made a statement. We asked many times on what information it was based. We were told that is was some report prepared by special services. Later, it turned out that this report was not completely true, because Porton Down did not confirm this theory. One way or another, this is an example of how the British prime minister used information that was only a couple of weeks later refuted by British agencies, in particular, the Porton Down laboratory. Boris Johnson acted in the same way.

This is a very good question, not to me, but for discussion. There is something to think about.

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Question: April 10, 2018 marks the eighth anniversary of the crash of the Polish presidential plane in Smolensk. My colleagues traditionally ask a question about ending the investigation of the crash and returning the plane’s fragments. We know the answers, and I would therefore like to ask another question. We have been conducting high-quality investigations of the causes of various disasters, including your plane crashes, in Russia and in other states. The investigations are always very efficient and good. All results are summed up quickly. Why are officials of the Russian Investigative Committee unable to complete this investigation regarding the Polish plane? All other investigations proceed quickly.

Maria Zakharova: Don’t you know the answer to this question? You realise quite well that this incident has become extremely politicised in Poland. The Russian side has done its best to disclose all information to Polish investigators, experts and other people conducting the investigation. We have been and remain committed to full cooperation with Warsaw. It is impossible to reproach Russia for hiding something from the Polish side or for failing to provide access to the Polish side to something.

Question: You often talk about honest things. That Tupolev Tu-154 plane belongs to the Polish state. Maybe it is time to return this property to its owner?

Maria Zakharova: You understand that your second question regarding the return of property to its owner is linked with the first one. You are asking why Russia doesn’t want to close this issue. Maybe this does not sound very ethical, but I would also like to ask the Polish side as to what prevents Poland from closing this case?

Question: You also know the answer very well. The Polish side is suggesting that the plane’s fragments be returned, so that it would be possible to conduct a normal investigation under the established procedure.

Maria Zakharova: And what hampers a normal investigation stipulating complete access to fragments in the Russian Federation? We have failed to receive a clear answer to this question.

Question: If the Russian President’s plane crashed in Poland, would you agree to have our state retain its fragments for several years?

Maria Zakharova: I believe that experts and specialists will always reach consensus (and this was done), if there is a real desire to conduct a real investigation, rather than politicise it. Unfortunately, we later found out that following unprecedented openness on Russia’s part and cooperation between Russian and Polish experts, a number of political forces in Poland began to politicise this issue very actively. This is what we see. Unfortunately, it appears that this is the key and answer to all your questions. You are asking us a question. The same question can be addressed to you.

The recordings of conversations inside the plane’s cockpit were deciphered and submitted to the Polish side and the entire international public. They are posted online.

Although we displayed maximum openness, the Polish side continues to level endless accusations against Russia. I am talking about statements by Polish politicians and Polish publications that traffick in accusations against Russia, in one way or another, and you cannot deny this.

Question: Don’t you think that all these doubts are caused by the fact that the plane belongs to Poland, and that it has remained in Smolensk for eight years?

Maria Zakharova: What doubts are you talking about when the Polish side can access the plane? What does this have to do with Warsaw’s distrust? You are talking about distrust. But what distrust can one talk about when the leaders of both countries controlled the investigation and everything linked with this disaster. Given the unprecedented nature of the disaster and the force of the blow dealt to Poland, a narrow investigation became much broader, and everything was done to ensure a maximally open process. Later, former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev repeatedly said and confirmed that it would be possible to access all materials of this case in line with all inquiries of the Polish side. Our experts and representatives of government agencies also reiterated this. If you need to work with the plane’s fragments and other materials or to cooperate with our experts, then you are free to do so. We are ready for this. As of today, none of the Polish side’s inquiries has gone unanswered. I know nothing about this.

I am not a speaker on this issue. I would like to note that we have the concerned experts who are responsible for commenting on this issue. But after reading Polish media stories, I have to prepare for discussions of this issue. Each time, after yet another discussion of this issue by the Polish media, I try to find out whether the Polish side was denied access to materials of this case or the plane’s fragments. So far, this has never happened.

Question: Except one thing: returning the plane.

Maria Zakharova: We are once again going back to the first question. The investigation is underway, and it has not been completed in the Russian Federation. A question about the causes I have to address to you, as well. Why are you also conducting an investigation?

I want to say once again that the Polish side will be able to access any materials or the plane’s fragments each time it requests such access. We realise that, unfortunately, this issue has become a significant issue in Polish political life. This is the gist of the matter. Instead of searching for the truth and working with evidence or any other data, this shows a desire to keep this issue going forever and to exploit it, which is what various politicians are doing.

Question: You want to shield us from this by impounding the plane?

Maria Zakharova: No. Do you really believe that this issue will be closed if Poland gets the plane’s fragments back?

Question: I think it would happen faster than it is now.

Answer: The scale of this issue’s discussion in Polish politics over the past few years shows that, unfortunately, this issue will not be closed for a long time. This has nothing to do with the investigation or the work of experts. On the contrary, this shows a desire to just keep talking about it. I read articles published in Poland, I hear statements by Polish politicians, and I see a desire to continue discussing this issue, rather than recheck data (for this purpose, they will have to come here and request various documents and factual information).

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Question: Do you believe that the Geneva process will continue to move forward amid debates about possible strikes on Syria?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian point of view is that we consider any force-based solution to the Syrian conflict unacceptable. All resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council say that the Syrian crisis can be resolved through exclusively peaceful means. It is not just a matter of Russia’s position, but also of the coordinated stance of the UN Security Council.

Proceeding from that, we believe that both the Geneva and Astana processes, as well as all other formats for seeking to consolidate the Syrian political forces, both opposition and pro-government, are extremely important in terms of indicating practical progress towards peace.

Certainly, statements about a possible force-based solution are hampering the peace process, are encouraging extremists on the ground to pursue extremist and terrorist activities and are lifting the spirits of militants.

I have already said today, and our experts on the ground confirm it, that as soon as the first Israeli air strikes were carried out, followed by statements by the American side about possible air attacks, bandit formations have immediately intensified their activities. That does not help, but rather aggravates the problem. All this is despite the fact that the United States, Russia and other countries pledged to settle the Syrian crisis through peaceful means.

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Question: Yesterday, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu had a telephone conversation. What is your opinion of Russian-Israeli relations following the events in Syria earlier this week?

Maria Zakharova: We have a rule – we do not comment on events involving the President of Russia. This is a prerogative of his Executive Office and press office. You should ask them about his telephone conversation.

As for relations between our countries, they develop along various tracks. We disagree on certain issues. For example, I explained our position on the Israeli air strikes. Yet, we proceed from the fact that these issues are being addressed, including through a trustful dialogue. We discuss, we spell out our approaches and listen to the Israeli side, trying to find common ground. As regards the air strikes, we expressed our position clearly today, and before, too.

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Question: Our diplomats have repeatedly pointed out that it is unacceptable for forward-based force groupings to be present near our border, as are the frequent violations of international treaties, specifically the Vienna document. Our concerns are, as a rule, disregarded. How can this be explained? Can this situation be changed somehow?

Maria Zakharova: Of course, the situation in Europe has become much more complicated and we have repeatedly said as much. The North Atlantic alliance is building up its military capacity on the eastern flank. More specifically, four multinational battalion-size tactical task forces have been deployed on a  rotating basis and brought to full readiness status in the Baltic states and Poland as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence concept. As of February 1, 2018, their total strength was about 5,000, or the equivalent of a motorized infantry brigade with heavy equipment: these are a 1,000-strong battalion in Poland, about the same number in Estonia and Latvia, and 1,400 in Lithuania.

Active air patrol missions in East European NATO countries continue without interruption.

NATO’s permanent naval task forces and ships make regular visits to the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean seas and enter ports of non-NATO countries, including Georgia, Ukraine and Finland.

The 5,500-strong US contingent equal to two land brigades is deployed on a rotating basis as reinforcements on the NATO’s eastern flank, including as part of the US operation Atlantic Resolve. Given the continuing increase in funding under the European Containment Initiative, we cannot rule out the further growth of America’s presence and scale of its military activities in the region.

Efforts are being made to modernise military and civilian infrastructure in East European countries. High activity is observed among the allies, which are holding various military exercises.

Thus, there are today a total of 10-12 thousand troops with hundreds of units of military equipment and aircraft, which are deployed on so-called “continuous rotation” basis where they were never present, nor should be present on so large a scale or for such long time periods under the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act.

It is clear that all these NATO efforts are focused on creating a bridgehead to exert military pressure to bear on our country under the pretext of a “threat from the East.” At the same time, Russia is not interested in a further escalation of tensions near its borders. We call on the alliance to think long and hard about the fact that these provocative actions inevitably lead to the growth of tensions and a deteriorating military-political situation in Europe, which jeopardises the security of all countries on the continent without exception, and that includes NATO states.

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Question: What kind of a reply, in your view, can we make to the latest US sanctions package? Symmetrical?       

Maria Zakharova: We usually don’t discuss such things before decision-making. Neither will we this time. If decisions are adopted, there will be a consolidated process first, and then they will be announced.  

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Question: In a recent interview with TASS, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said that special relations with Russia were a priority of his country’s foreign policy. How do you see the further development of Russian-Azerbaijani relations after his re-election yesterday? What do you think the priorities are?

Maria Zakharova: Without repeating what I have already said today about the election in general, I would like to add that, of course, we will continue to promote relations with Azerbaijan, aimed at implementing the interests of our countries’ peoples in various areas and economic sectors, on the basis of mutual benefit and mutual respect. These relations have great prospects. For the next briefing, I will prepare detailed material on bilateral relations, with facts, figures and details of the prospects for cooperation. I think it will be quite useful.

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Question: Today, the Estonian Internal Security Service (KAPO) celebrates its anniversary. Every year, on April 12, this agency publishes its annual report on “the enemies of Estonia.” Those featured in it receive something of a black mark: for example, media are refused accreditation and cooperation from officials. Last year, Rossiya Segodnya and Sputnik received this mark. For many years, KAPO has been calling Russia Estonia’s main enemy. Is there any way for Russia to fix this? Are symmetrical response measures possible?

Maria Zakharova: It is true, the difficulties faced by the Russian media in Estonia are well-known. This also refers to undeclared discrimination: the refusal of accreditation for official events, and state officials are prohibited from communicating with Russian journalists. Now there is a novelty: some “label”, designating an “enemy”. Of course, all of this is depressing. It does not correspond with Tallinn’s declared goals of protecting freedom of speech and providing everybody with equal access to information. Unfortunately, we have concerns that this policy is aimed at limiting alternative sources of information, which publish news, data and articles that do not correspond with Tallinn’s official policy.

This issue should be addressed through cooperation with responsible international organisations such as the OSCE, partly the UN and, of course, the Council of Europe. These are the organisations that are responsible for protecting freedom of speech. We regularly draw the attention of our OSCE colleagues to this when we obtain relevant facts. It will be the same in this case.

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Question: You mentioned the version which says Yulia Skripal is being kept in isolation. Similar information was published by the Russian Embassy in the UK. Do you see any further action by Russia? It looks like our compatriot is being forcibly kept, and we do not know where. Should we not respond to this?

Maria Zakharova: There is one thing. We do not have information about whether she is being forcibly kept or she is staying voluntarily in some medical institution, and now possibly in other institutions affiliated with the British special services. This is not about trust. Trust has been completely undermined by London after we were denied access to the case materials. We can assume that, since the UK refuses to supply any information regarding Yulia Skripal’s location or condition, and since we do not have any data from her relatives, or possibly from some trusted media, who could have seen her or talked to her – then we have every reason to believe she might really be held against her will.

The letter published on the Scotland Yard website on her behalf is very strange. With all understanding of the situation she found herself in, this letter raises more questions than it gives answers. And the first question is, whether she has any access to the media at all. That is the question. The style of the letter is also suspicious. Considering the passions that rage in the world, does this young woman have access to the internet or television? Does she understand what is happening outside the building where she is being kept? If yes, one can only be surprised at the restraint shown in the letter. But it looks more like the opposite – like a person really kept in isolation, both physical isolation and isolation from the media, from access to information sources.

Our response will continue as before – we will be requesting access to facts, will be asking the British side to provide factual information, or have us involved in the investigative actions that we hope have been carried out in the United Kingdom, and to evidence that has not yet been destroyed .

Question: If the UK does not cooperate on the Skripal case, could the family relatives request an international search or file a complaint with the International Court of Human Rights citing violation of freedom or the right of access to information?

Maria Zakharova: I think this is up to the family. Surely there are legal procedures, but this issue is still up to the relatives and lawyers. They have taken the initial steps they had to take (not because they were forced to do so, but because they are the closest relatives); and they were rejected. This is the whole story. Unfortunately, the legal mechanisms that should work in this situation are not working.

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Question: Following numerous reports on Khalifa Haftar’s health, western experts have voiced various assessments on the grave political situation in eastern Libya threatening to further deteriorate to a power vacuum. In this regard, can we hear any assessments of the situation in eastern Libya from Russian experts?

Maria Zakharova: The situation is very difficult. Sadly, we cannot see tendencies towards improvement. At the same time, we are making efforts to maintain contacts with all sides representing this former state, which is now making attempts to return back into the folds of nationhood. This is the least I can say. I can ask experts to make a more detailed commentary on this matter.

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Question:  Do you have any information on what will be with the border between Russia and Belarus during the FIFA World Cup? Foreign citizens currently cannot cross the border as there is no control. Is there any information on this?

Maria Zakharova: I will request relevant details from our experts and we will present them to you. As you know, this issue has been discussed. I will definitely get updated information and pass it on to you.

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Question: Russia has been fighting international terrorism in Syria for seven years now. There were attempts to separate the opposition from militants. Why is there an escalation again? After all, there have been efforts towards a peaceful settlement at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

Maria Zakharova: One of the variants is that it was the prospect of a real settlement on the ground and, consequently, futility of any further promotion of a force-based scenario that led, among other things, to such desperate attempts to play power politics by using provocative statements about a chemical attack.

 

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