Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 25, 2018
I think you remember how the last briefing began. I’d be remiss not to revisit that subject today and not to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who responded to our national tragedy at the Kerch Polytechnic College.
We have received vast amounts of condolences, words of support and genuine and sincere sympathy for our country, the bereaved families and the wounded.
Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to ordinary citizens, representatives of the ruling circles, journalists, and international organisations. Thanks for your sincere words of support.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aidarbekov
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Foreign Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic Chingiz Aidarbekov in Moscow on October 26. This will be the first contact between the two foreign ministers following Mr Aidarbekov’s appointment to this position on October 17.
The ministers will discuss the schedule of events at the highest and high levels, a number of key issues of multifaceted bilateral cooperation and exchange views on the critical issues on the international and regional agenda.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is confident that the ministerial meeting will help implement the agreements reached at the highest level and further promote Russia-Kyrgyzstan relations within the intensive political dialogue reflecting the high dynamics of alliance and strategic partnership between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Syria’s chief opposition negotiator Naser al-Hariri
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Naser al-Hariri, head of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, is scheduled to take place in Moscow on October 26.
We hope that a detailed discussion of the developments in and around Syria will take place, with an emphasis on finding the earliest possible solution to the crisis in the county by political means, via an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
The priority topics for discussion include efforts to create the Constitutional Committee, the final eradication of terrorists in the Syrian Arab Republic, cooperation in restoring the destroyed socioeconomic infrastructure, the creation of conditions for internally displaced people to return to their homes and massive repatriation of Syrian refugees from abroad.
During his visit to Moscow, Naser al-Hariri will also hold consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier will be in Russia on October 28–30.
The High Commissioner’s visit to Russia includes meetings with federal authorities in Moscow, such as a meeting with senior officials of the Ministry of Education, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Cultural Cooperation, and the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs. In addition, Lamberto Zannier will take part in the second Protect the Future international conference organised by the Russian Jewish Congress.
On October 29, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will have a meeting with Lamberto Zannier to discuss the situation with the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, the Baltic countries and Moldova as well as to inform the High Commissioner of the measures Russia takes to support ethnic minorities.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a Business Council meeting
On October 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a meeting of the Foreign Ministry’s Business Council. To continue the discussions that took place at the meeting of ambassadors and permanent representatives of Russia held this July, it is planned to dedicate the event to increasing the effectiveness of political and diplomatic support for Russian business projects aimed at boosting high-tech exports. The participants will also discuss ways to strengthen the positions of Russian producers on foreign markets.
The meeting will be attended by senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and other interested ministries as well as heads of leading business associations and large Russian companies.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the upcoming 6th World Congress of Compatriots
The 6th World Congress of Russian Compatriots Living Aboard will kick off in Moscow on October 31. The event is held under the auspices of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad and the World Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address the plenary session on the opening day.
I would like to give more details about the content, programme and participants in this event.
Each of the preceding congresses has been a milestone in the development of Russia’s relations with our compatriots living abroad, unveiling ever more opportunities and prospects for further collaboration. Russian community activists and eminent representatives of the Russian diaspora will take part in the congress this year. Overall, 415 delegates from 98 countries are to attend. Russian authorities, including the heads of regions, ministries and agencies, the leaders of Russia’s traditional religions, NGO members, journalists and scientists, are expected to take part in the congress.
The format of the forum comprises plenary sessions and five themed sections, including Protecting Compatriots’ Rights and Legitimate Interests, Preserving Russian Identity: Support for Russian Language Education, The Role of Youth in Consolidating the Community, The Media Representing Russians Living Abroad in a Contemporary World, and Russia’s Economic Cooperation with Foreign Countries and Compatriots.
As part of the event, the most active representatives of Russian communities abroad, whose activities have been invariably directed at enhancing ties with their historical Motherland, preserving and supporting the Russian language and the Russian culture, will be awarded the Honorary Compatriot Badge and the Certificate of Merit of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad.
Relations with the millions of Russians living abroad have been noticeably increasing over the past three years. Our work with compatriots living abroad has elevated to a new level of partnership and close interaction in important areas such as protection of the rights and legitimate interests, promotion of the Russian language, and attracting young people to the public compatriot movement.
Despite anti-Russia sentiments and Russophobia being spun around the world, our diaspora today is stronger and more united than ever. Our compatriots living abroad are open to dialogue and make considerable efforts to promote cooperation between their countries of residence and the Russian Federation.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the presentation of the Moscow Region
On November 1, a presentation by the Moscow Region will be held in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Reception House as part of the assistance programme for the regions of the Russian Federation in promoting and strengthening cooperation with foreign countries and the business community. The Ministry has been holding similar events since 2007.
The Diplomatic Corps accredited in Moscow, federal and regional authorities, business community representatives and Russian and foreign media representatives will take part in the presentation. We invite all of you to attend.
The event is designed to present the Moscow Region’s economic and investment potential and also to explain the regional authorities’ plans to further boost business ties with their foreign partners. Different projects will be presented in which business people and stakeholders from foreign countries could take part.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Governor of the Moscow Region Andrey Vorobyov are scheduled to address the audience.
Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger
On November 2, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary-General of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Thomas Greminger are scheduled to meet in Moscow.
The meeting is expected to highlight, above all, important matters on the OSCE agenda ahead of the upcoming session of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan on December 6-7. For this central OSCE event, Russia is preparing draft resolutions on such pressing problems for the OSCE member states as anti-terrorism, the fight against the drug menace, ensuring the language and education rights of citizens and free access to information for the media and the public.
There will presumably be exchanges on topics with unifying potential that deal with all three dimensions of the OSCE (military-political, economic-environmental and humanitarian), as well as expressions of support for OSCE efforts aimed at promoting the settlement of regional conflicts, including the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.
Also expected to be touched upon during the talks are matters regarding the activity of specialised OSCE institutions (the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Representative on Freedom of the Media) and the OSCE’s field presence in a number of post-Soviet countries and on the Balkans. The sides will lay out their viewpoints on administrative, budget and staff aspects of OSCE activities.
Mikhail Bochkaryov’s release from a Norwegian jail
As you know, on September 21, an employee of the Executive Office of the Russian Federal Assembly’s Federation Council, Mikhail Bochkaryov, was detained in Oslo on absolutely fictitious espionage charges. On November 19, as we already reported and shared our assessments, he was released from a Norwegian jail. The Russian citizen is now in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Police Security Service has announced that it will continue investigating this so-called case.
As was repeatedly stressed by Russian officials, we cannot see Norway’s actions as anything other than a provocation and an unfriendly move. From the very beginning, we drew attention to the false nature of the accusations brought against Mikhail Bochkaryov. Up to now, there has been no apology from the Norwegian side, including from the country’s parliament that provoked the incident. Similar actions undoubtedly clash with the interests of promoting the development of Russian-Norwegian relations and will inevitably lead to negative consequences, including for our inter-parliamentary contacts.
Update on Maria Butina
We are carefully monitoring the situation with Russian citizen Maria Butina, who was arrested in the United States on false charges of acting as an “agent of a foreign government.”
Last week, diplomats of our Embassy in Washington met with her. We were pleased to learn that Maria’s conditions in prison are gradually improving. For example, she was allowed to do some work at the local library. We are sure that regular access to books and news media will give our compatriot a morale boost at a time when her name is being tarnished, and an atmosphere of hatred has been created around her, making her almost a symbol of the Russophobia spread by a number of US political circles. We are working to have Maria Butina transferred to a new cell soon, since hers has become very cold with the onset of autumn weather.
At the same time, it is puzzling that the court considering the case of the Russian citizen has not yet provided the court materials to Maria Butina, despite the fact that the next hearing is scheduled for November 13. Unfortunately, this is yet another reason to doubt the impartiality of American justice.
For our part, we maintain the complete innocence of Maria Butina, who was arrested only for her Russian passport and who is undeniably a political prisoner. We demand her immediate release. We will continue to make every effort to protect the rights of our compatriot and secure Maria’s return to her homeland as soon as possible.
Update on Kirill Vyshinsky
On October 23, it was reported that the Kherson City Court ruled to extend the detention of head of the RIA Novosti -Ukraine website Kirill Vyshinsky until November 4.
This professional journalist, who was arrested under entirely fictitious charges of high treason, continues to be held.
We are calling on the international community to respond to Ukraine’s flagrant violation of its international obligations to uphold media freedom. We expect competent international bodies and non-governmental organisations not just to confine themselves to the statements or brief messages on social media we are accustomed to, but rather to bring this situation under control and remind Kiev regularly of the need to meet its obligations, given that these people have signed onto them and regularly speak of their commitment to stand up for their values, in particular, freedom of the media, freedom of speech and the safety of journalists. We unequivocally condemn the repressive policy pursued by official Kiev in respect of a member of the journalist community.
These issues will be brought up and discussed by official representatives of the Russian Federation, in particular, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his forthcoming meetings with representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which I spoke earlier.
We demand that the Ukrainian authorities release Kirill Vyshinsky without delay.
Update on Syria
The situation in Syria remains tense.
Despite the overall successful implementation of the Memorandum on the Stabilisation of the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Zone, which was signed after the talks between President Putin and President Erdogan in Sochi on September 17, terrorists continue to stage armed provocations in Idlib from time to time. On October 20, illegal armed groups in northwestern Aleppo fired 37 mortar bombs at residential areas killing two locals and wounding 10. The positions of the government forces are shelled by Nusra and allied al-Qaeda offshoots from time to time in northern Hama and southeastern Idlib zone.
In this regard, I’d like to remind everyone that the ultimate elimination of the terrorists throughout Syria is one of the top priorities of the stakeholders in the Syrian settlement. The members of illegal armed groups who are confronted with a choice of whether to comply with the requirements of the Memorandum of September 17 or to continue their alliance with Nusra and al-Queda should keep this in mind more than anyone else.
The situation in northeastern Syria, where the Americans are still trying to dally with the separatist-minded Kurdish groups continues to cause concern. The same is going on in southern Syria, the At-Tanf region, where US forces openly occupy the territory of the sovereign Syrian state. According to incoming information, the militants who have “found shelter” in the 55-kilometer “exclusive zone” arbitrarily established here by the Americans, are demanding that the civilians who want to leave it, pay an exit fee of $2,000 per person.
According to Syrian sources, the US-led international coalition, which, a week earlier, was caught using phosphorus ammunition near the village of Hajin, delivered an airstrike on a mosque in the village of es-Sousse in eastern Deir ez-Zor province on October 23, killing about 70 people. In this regard, the Syrian authorities sent messages to the UN Secretary General and the President of the UN Security Council calling for an independent and transparent international investigation into these incidents.
Also, October marks exactly one year since the “liberation” of Raqqa by the coalition forces. The city was, in fact, wiped off the face of the earth with dead bodies lying everywhere as a result of massive air strikes and artillery attacks. Notably, 80 percent of the city is not suitable for living because of this.
On the bright side, we would like to note that efforts continue to restore normal life and to create proper conditions for bringing more internally displaced persons and Syrian refugees to their homes in the areas controlled by the legitimate Syrian government. After the Naseeb border crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border opened, hundreds of Syrians started returning to their homes from Jordan, in addition to the Syrians returning from Lebanon every day.
Resignation of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced his intention to resign in late November during the October 17 meeting of the Security Council.
In this context we would like to stress, which has already been repeatedly done by us including at the briefings, that the Russian side has remained in close contact with Staffan de Mistura within various bilateral and multilateral formats throughout his entire tenure.
The Special Envoy’s involvement in implementing the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, in which he personally participated, was of crucial significance. We recognise his contribution to this process.
We reaffirm our commitment to work constructively with Staffan de Mistura’s successor to be appointed by the UN Secretary-General. According to the basic principles of UN mediation practices, we believe the new candidate for Special Envoy should be acceptable to the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, and his performance should be neutral and impartial, in strict compliance with the United Nations Charter and UN Security Council decisions.
Allegations of Russia overstating the threat of ISIS in Afghanistan
We regularly, practically at every briefing, touch on the topic of Afghanistan both in response to your questions and to current developments in the country. We were surprised to see statements in the media made by people who are dubbed experts and even officials that Russia is “overstating” threats, in particular with regard to ISIS in Afghanistan.
We do not consider our assessments of the threats emanating from ISIS in Afghanistan to be exaggerated. ISIS members continue to reinforce their positions in the northern provinces of the country, conducting aggressive propaganda among the local population. They regularly commit large-scale terrorist attacks. We also repeatedly have drawn attention to flights by unidentified helicopters carrying weapons and new recruits to their bases. This is odd since Afghan territory is teeming with US military and NATO representatives. It is impossible to imagine a helicopter, not an automobile, moving around Afghan airspace without any identifying marks.
Those who have flown into Kabul can imagine how controlled the airspace is in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine that helicopters carrying weapons and recruits could move about that airspace unimpeded in the area of the terrorist organisation’s activities and operations.
All that is happening in close proximity to the borders of the Central Asian states which are our close neighbours and allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Extremists, meanwhile, do not hide that they are set on bringing down the secular governments in those countries and establishing the so-called Caliphate.
Unfortunately, we have to constantly refute insinuations concerning our contacts with the Taliban movement. I would like to stress again that the main objectives behind these contacts are ensuring the safety of Russian nationals in Afghanistan and contributing to the national reconciliation process in that country. By the way, the United States and some other nations also have regular contacts with the Taliban. We hope those contacts are made in the interests of promoting the peace process in Afghanistan.
Russia’s position on the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty
Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry, MPs and representatives of the Russian and international public have commented on this issue. If we speak about the international community’s initial response, it resembled a shock.
Considering the large number of incoming media questions, we have analysed them and prepared a comprehensive answer with additional explanations on this issue.
We are deeply saddened and gravely concerned about the statement by US President Donald Trump on intending to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and to start developing weapons systems banned by the Treaty. We believe that this would become one of the most dangerous mistakes among Washington’s recent moves to withdraw from a number of international agreements and organisations. Taken together, these steps appear to be frantic attempts by the United States to slow down historical processes which it is unable to control and is striving to obtain dominant positions in various areas, including the military sphere. All this merely serves to make international relations more turbulent.
The wrecking of the INF Treaty would be a very dangerous move and would have a devastating impact on international security and strategic stability. These US actions are fraught with the serious risk of involving entire regions in a new arms race. At the same time, it seems to be a purposeful implementation of a previously charted line. Long before announcing its intention to withdraw from the Treaty, Washington launched military programmes under far-fetched pretexts, which, if continued, would run counter to the letter and spirit of the INF Treaty. And the list of these projects continues to expand.
We firmly believe that these destructive actions of the United States will not be supported by the international community which is committed to maintaining security and stability and which is interested in strengthening the current arms control regimes. This is proved by the initial statements that have been made and by the response of experts and analysts in the international media.
We urge all those who understand their responsibility for the destinies of the world to send an unequivocal message to Washington about the danger of the plans it has announced.
In turn, we are also determined to continue working with the US. However, one gets the impression that the movement of the United States towards withdrawing from the INF Treaty is largely determined by the reluctance of certain forces in Washington to reach equitable agreements with Russia and by an ambition to guarantee military superiority in every area.
Even as it wrecks the Treaty, the United States is conducting an all-out propaganda campaign and is trying to convince everyone that this move was provoked by Russian violations. This is absolutely unacceptable because it is not true. The US side has so far failed to present us with any evidence for substantiating its claims. They remain mere assertions and are obviously a provocation. We reiterate that Russia has unfailingly honoured the Treaty’s provisions.
We would like to remind you that we have shown utmost patience and restraint for many years, while noting direct and obvious violations of the INF Treaty by the United States. Unlike our US colleagues, we informed them of these facts. Today, we are forced to issue a very stern warning to Washington that if the US side wrecks the Treaty we will be forced to respond. As President Putin has already stated, we will respond instantly and symmetrically.
As we have repeatedly noted, although the Treaty is not ideal in the modern security context, it, nevertheless, retains its value. We are ready to work on maintaining its viability. To achieve this, we need a responsible partner, who is interested in continuing dialogue for the benefit of global stability and security. A solution to the problem can be found only through candid, equitable and constructive dialogue. We hope that Washington will eventually come to realise this.
We have also received a number of questions regarding US politicians’ statements on this initiative. For example, we have been asked to comment on the possibility of China joining the INF Treaty, as well as on the Russian side’s alleged tests in violation of the Treaty. I would like to answer these questions in a comprehensive manner.
The United States has launched a campaign accusing Russia of violating the INF Treaty. This campaign is unprecedented in terms of its unsubstantiated nature. For the past several years, the US has been declining to submit any objective data that has prompted Washington to decide that the Russian-developed 9M729 land-based cruise missile, which has completed flight tests, exceeds the Treaty’s range limitations.
For our part, we have repeatedly confirmed that Russia’s missile programmes are fully in line with our obligations under the INF Treaty. This also concerns the 9M729 cruise missile, and we have displayed maximum possible transparency with regard to this missile. For example, the Russian Defence Ministry has reported its launch (when the missile covered its maximum distance) in the media, also specifying the distance. These parameters meet the INF Treaty.
We also provided the US side with all the necessary explanations via the relevant dialogue channels. If the United States disagrees with the information that has been submitted, then it would be logical to expect it to raise specific questions. However, all we have seen is references to certain classified data. This approach resembles purposeful efforts to block the efforts to resolve this issue.
We have also noted that the US side actively promotes the Chinese factor in the context of the INF Treaty.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has commented on this issue, discussing it in detail during an interview recorded today for the Rossiya-1 television channel’s Sunday programme. We announced this interview, some of its excerpts will be broadcast and posted on the Foreign Ministry website already today.
The question of China’s possible involvement in hypothetical new agreements dealing with shorter-range and medium-range missiles, which were mentioned by US President Donald Trump, should not be addressed to us.
I would like to remind you that some time ago, Russia called on the international community to universalise the INF Treaty’s obligations. At that time, this initiative did not receive broad support. In principle, we remain committed to discussing any constructive ideas that would strengthen international security and stability. But mutually acceptable consensus-based decisions are needed here. And such decisions are incompatible with Washington’s attempts to dictate its will and blackmail others.
Russia’s reaction to the US threatening to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union
We are preoccupied with the US’s intention to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union.
As you know, the Universal Postal Union is the main international platform for postal service cooperation, which develops the organisational and functional parametres for the world’s entire postal exchange system. There are no missiles there. The union’s main responsibilities include promoting global postal services and increasing post volume with the latest technology, products and services, and generally improving client services.
As far as we can tell, Washington’s decision was prompted by economic considerations, in particular, by how the Universal Postal Union’s rates affect post-related US companies and the US postal infrastructure in general. However, we believe that the US administration’s ambition to force the union work mostly by its rules is counterproductive, because it “distorts” the common postal space.
We believe that international organisations should reflect the interests of all members, and that any conflicts must be resolved through talks rather than ultimatums and financial blackmail. In addition, the effectiveness of these methods has been questioned many times. Examples can be found in the history of the United States. Memories of Washington slamming the door on UNESCO in the early 1980s, then quietly returning 20 years later, and then leaving it again, are still fresh.
NATO’s plans to hold Cyber Defence Exercises
Reports of NATO’s plans to hold Cyber Defence Exercises are sad but not surprising. These intentions are in line with the Western states’ concept of using technological advantage to impose their will on the rest of the world.
While the UN General Assembly First Committee is discussing Russia’s draft resolution on the rules for the responsible behaviour of states in the information space – this resolution aims to use information and communication technologies only for peace and to prevent conflicts in cyberspace – the Western states are increasing their cyber potential.
It is noteworthy that representatives of the US administration, when commenting on their intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, said that the treaty does not correspond to today’s realities and the participating countries are not equal, so something new must be created for an equal and responsible approach. However, at the same time when Russia has proposed new approaches to behaviour in cyberspace that would correspond to today’s realities, the West tests the skills that are necessary for war in the digital environment. Such actions expose and explain Western diplomacy’s passivity towards developing a universal code of behaviour in cyberspace, which is designed above all to protect it from conflicts involving information and communications technologies.
We believe this policy poses a threat to the overwhelming part of the international community which stands for a peaceful digital environment. For our part, we count on the support for our resolution from the states that do not want the information space to be transformed into a test range for new cyber weapons.
UK Government’s response to the parliamentary committee’s inquiry on fake news
On October 23, the UK Government published a response to the Disinformation and Fake News inquiry prepared by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the Parliament.
The document is interesting for its analysis of the campaign on “Russia’s interference” in the information space and the democratic processes led by the Western media. In its response, the UK Government confirms that it has no evidence of successful use of disinformation by foreign actors, including Russia, to influence UK electoral processes. The government did not respond to the question on the number of episodes of Russian “influence” in UK politics investigated by the responsible agencies.
The most interesting fact is that the authorities’ response did not satisfy the committee’s Chairman Damian Collins, who announced publically that he was disappointed that an opportunity to resolve the issues of “harmful and misleading content being spread.”
First, the UK executive power has constantly talked about Russia’s interference in everything over the past few years (especially this year): interference in the UK’s internal processes, policy and security. After such a massive information campaign by senior executive officials, the legislative power became interested and requested information that could confirm this.
The UK Government’s response shows that the British executive power can provide no facts to their parliamentarians in this case.
This entire story is aimed outside and for the usual domestic users, but when the time comes to answer before the legislative power, and the answer can also be used to undermine this disinformation campaign, no facts are presented. A congenial scheme.
As you can see, the UK Government that conjured up the myth of Russian hackers and disinformation specialists from nothing, has in fact backed itself into a corner. British politicians have taken so many efforts to exaggerate this lie that now it is almost impossible to explain to the public how hackers interfere in elections in various countries but have no influence on the situation in the UK.
Logically, this is a dead end. But I think it might serve as a good lesson in the future.
Collapse of an escalator in the Rome metro
On October 23, at 7.30 pm local time an escalator collapsed at the Repubblica metro station in Rome. According to the latest reports, 16 Russian CSKA fans were injured in the accident and taken to hospital. They came to Rome to watch their club’s match with Roma in the group stages of the Champions League. Later, another two Russian nationals were taken to Rome hospitals for treatment of injuries they suffered in skirmishes with Italian fans.
The injured were taken to six Rome hospitals. Diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Italy promptly went to the hospitals. The Embassy established a hot line for the families of fans, made a list of Russians taken to hospital and managed to establish contact between the injured and their families in Russia.
After being alerted to the accident, the Embassy promptly set up a fast-response team, launched a hot line and ensured that all necessary information is provided through the media and relevant Foreign Ministry departments. Russian diplomats immediately went to each of the seven hospitals in Rome where the injured Russians were taken. Thanks to the Embassy’s prompt actions, the identity of each injured person had been established within six hours of the tragedy, that is, by 3 am on October 24. Diplomats established contact with most of them and made a detailed list of Russians taken to hospital in Rome. Throughout the night and the next day the diplomats stayed at the hospitals and helped Russian fans with interpretation and translation and handled consular, organisational and other issues.
The Embassy assigned diplomats to stay permanently in contact with six Russian nationals who continue to receive treatment after the accident in order to sort out their problems.
The Consular Department of the Foreign Ministry is providing assistance to the CSKA Football Club leadership to help the relatives of the injured arrange their travel to Rome. The Italian Consulate-General in Moscow said it was prepared to expedite the issue of visas.
Russia believes it is necessary to establish all the circumstances of the accident. This is of principle importance because of the reports about the allegedly improper behaviour of Russian fans that led to the escalator giving way. We are calling for an independent examination of the accident to prevent anything like this from recurring in the future.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer’s visit to Skopje in the context of the implementation of the Prespan Agreement
Speaking in Skopje on October 22, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer leveled yet another unfounded accusation at Moscow regarding its allegedly obvious interference in the political process in the Republic of Macedonia.
We would like to remind you that it was the United States – not Russia – who as recently as October 19 pushed a decision through the Parliament of this country to launch the procedure to amend the Macedonian Constitution in line with the Prespan Agreement, resorting to unseemly practices to do so, like blackmailing, threatening and bribing members of parliament. Incidentally, the US ambassador in Skopje was inside the Macedonian Parliament building [on this day] and directly managed the process. At the same time our partners are reticent about the sentiments of the majority of the population in Macedonia, who, as is known, oppose the Prespan Agreement, which can be clearly seen from the outcome of the failed September 30 referendum.
Russia’s position on the issue of renaming the Republic of Macedonia remains unchanged. Russia believes that a long-term solution should be found by the countries involved – without anyone bringing pressure to bear on them and dictating any artificial timeframes and conditions – on the basis of broad public support and in full compliance with the law and UN Security Council Resolution 845.
Days of St Petersburg in Lebanon
We would like to draw your attention to an important upcoming event in Russia-Lebanon relations. From October 31 to November 7 the Lebanese Republic will host the Days of St Petersburg cultural programme.
Concerts with the participation of children’s and youth groups from St Petersburg, the Most Beautiful Country exhibition organised by the Russian Geographical Society, discussions about contemporary Russian literature and new works by St Petersburg writers, video presentations together with other events will be held in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and other cities as well.
The initiative is aimed at supporting cultural centres of the Russian diaspora in Lebanon and introducing Russia’s northern capital to people in Lebanon. It is interesting that the project is initiated and organised by NGOs, namely the St Petersburg-based regional public organisation Russian-Arab Cultural Centre and the Culture and the World Centre of Cultural Programmes autonomous non-profit organisation. This shows the developing cultural ties between the peoples of the two friendly countries that have always played an important role in comprehensive Russian-Lebanese interaction.
Four our part, we welcome this cultural event, which will undoubtedly facilitate the further strengthening and development of relations between the Russian Federation and the Lebanese Republic. We hope that it will be covered extensively in the Russian media.
First China International Import Expo
On November 5-10, Shanghai will host the First China International Import Expo. Its partners are the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as well as the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.
It is expected that the expo will bring together over 1,000 participating companies from 130 countries.
The Russian Federation will be a special guest at the event. The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Russian Export Centre are preparing the Russian programme at the expo.
The Russian exhibition will feature the country’s trade and industrial potential, as well as the most important projects that are being implemented with our Chinese partners. The image-building exhibition will include joint Russia-Chinese projects in the oil and gas, nuclear energy, transport, logistics and other areas.
On the sidelines of the expo there will be meetings with potential Chinese partners, presentations, seminars and roundtable discussions that will allow Russian participants to learn about the trends and demands of the Chinese market, and will provide new opportunities for the development of business relations.
Demolition of Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army in Warsaw
The demolition of one of the most famous monuments of gratitude to Red Army soldiers is being concluded in Warsaw’ Skaryszewski Park. It was installed in 1946 at the burial site of 26 Soviet soldiers killed in September 1944 during the liberation of Poland’s capital. Later, their remains were moved to the memorial cemetery on Zwirki i Wigury Street.
We are witnessing another attempt on the part of the Polish administration to revise history when it comes to the events of the Second World War and to erase the pages related to the decisive role of the Red Army in the liberation of Poland from Nazi invaders. It has become a routine thing to accuse the Soviet troops of “inactivity” during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, although the violent battles near the Polish capital did not stop for even a day, and we lost over 200,000 men at the front there.
The destructive anti-Russian policy regarding memorials is not only immoral, but is also a blatant violation of international and legal obligations. Its devastating effect on bilateral relations is inevitable.
Russia and Iran prepare energy agreement given the risk of toughened US sanctions
We confirm Russia’s principal stance on the illegitimacy of US unilateral sanctions. We are taking measures to minimise their negative impact on Russia-Iran trade and economic cooperation.
The interaction with Tehran in the energy field has traditionally been one of the key matters concerning bilateral economic affairs. There are many agreements in this field, in particular, within the Russia-Iran Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation. Among the most important energy projects are the construction of the Sirik Thermal Power Plant in southern Iran and the construction of the second and third power units of the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Answers to media questions:
Question: As we know, the US President’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is touring the countries of the South Caucasus after his visit to Moscow. Both in Azerbaijan and Armenia, he, as a representative of a co-chair country of the OSCE Minsk Group, has already made statements on Nagorno-Karabakh. Specifically, that the conflict should be settled peacefully and that it is up to the countries themselves to find a solution. Can you comment on the fact that Bolton flew to the South Caucasus immediately from Russia and on his statements regarding Nagorno-Karabakh?
Maria Zakharova: Frankly, I see no reason to comment. Countries carry out their own independent foreign policy and contacts. The way sovereign democratic countries schedule their diplomatic contacts has nothing to do with Russia.
As regards Nagorno-Karabakh, I have not seen Mr Bolton’s statements. Naturally, a peaceful settlement is something that meets the interests of all participants: both the OSCE Minsk Group and the conflicting parties. This is what we always adhere to and it has always been the main goal.
Question: The Baku Humanitarian Forum opened today. As you know, it was established eight years ago by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia. Can you comment on the fact that this initiative from Azerbaijan and Russia has become a practical and an authoritative platform for humanitarian cooperation with other countries showing interest in it?
Maria Zakharova: We welcome any development of bilateral humanitarian ties and contacts that paves the way for the promotion of multilateral cooperation, all the more so if they achieve such a level and bring such results.
Question: Recently, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe said that his country will only sign a peace treaty with Russia after the territorial dispute is resolved. Two questions in this connection. When and where will new rounds of Russian-Japanese talks be held? And what, in general, is the Foreign Ministry’s position on Japan’s stance?
Maria Zakharova: Our position on the matter is well known both to you and the Japanese side. We have repeatedly noted recently that any statements should be in tune with the existing agreements; a number of them have been reached recently. As for the contact schedule, I will clarify and we will be able to provide it to you. I have no specific information at this time.
Question: Two weeks are left before the US congressional elections. What are your expectations in that regard? How will the US policy towards Russia change? Will it change if the Republicans strengthen their position or, on the contrary, if they lose seats and the Democrats take power?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding elections to US legislative bodies, or elections to the legislative bodies of other countries, these are internal processes in those states. We take it as a premise that we do not change our position in favour of a normal and mutually respectful dialogue in the development of relations. As regards the upcoming vote and who will win – it is up to the Americans, the American voters and, probably, to experts and political analysts, who can and must analyse the situation before, during and after. It is not up to the foreign ministries of other states to express conclusions or preferences. We respect the choice of the American people, who exercise their democratic will through a vote when electing either a president or the legislature. This is an internal matter for the United States. Again, we favour the development of normal, mutually respectful and full-format relations with the US.
Question: The European Parliament approved a resolution calling on the EU to tighten its sanctions against Russia in the event of an escalation in the Sea of Azov. Can you comment on that?
Maria Zakharova: This is yet another propaganda card that is being played by our Western colleagues. If you look at statements by American officials, European officials – and now by members of the European Parliament – they are all identical and are devoid of any factual base. They are an example of political propaganda. Apparently, criticising Russia over the problems of the Minsk Agreements and our country’s failure to implement them is no longer possible due to the absurdity of this postulate. Everyone understands that they are being blocked or have already been blocked by the Kiev regime. A fresh topic was needed – and it was invented. Therefore, in this case it is just a propaganda move.
We have already spelled out our position on the matter. You can find it on our website.
Question: Next week, co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group will be in Armenia, as it was announced, to prepare for the next meeting between the foreign ministers of the opposing parties. However, Elmar Mammadyarov commented from Baku that since the change of power in Armenia the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement has been stalled. A number of experts say that during the next meetings and discussions, the participants may propose certain updates to the notorious Madrid Principles regarding matters concerning a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Is this true and can you offer any comments about this?
Maria Zakharova: As concerns amending the principles themselves, frankly speaking, this is the first time I have heard of this. What is your question based on? If you are referring to specific statements can you make them available to us? Perhaps you are talking about experts’ predictions, which is a different story. After all, we are relying on official information and I do not have any.
Question: New York Times published an article saying that US President Donald Trump has several personal iPhones tapped by China and Russia. There is very little insight on Russia but with regards to China, it says that they are not only listening in on the information that the President shares during his calls but also piece together a list of people that the US leader speaks to regularly in order to influence US politics and the President’s policies. There is very little information and details about Russia in the article. The newspaper refers to anonymous sources. Perhaps you have more details?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, I do. This is another example of a ridiculous absurdist theatre. It seems that we found ourselves in a kingdom of crooked mirrors. When the New York Times reports eavesdropping on several of the US President’s cellphones, as you said, without referring to specific sources or relying on official data, I do not know what to make of it. At the same time, there is official evidence of the fact that the US intelligence brazenly wiretapped, for example, Angela Merkel’s phone. If the United States and the US media, in particular, are so sensitive about this subject, what could be more interesting to them than the use of surveillance equipment by American politicians for spying on their partners in NATO, for example? However, for some reason, neither the New York Times nor any of the other newspapers gave so much attention to it than to never-ending leaks and references to anonymous sources regarding alleged interference by Russia, hacking, intrusion etc., without any solid proof whatsoever.
Question: We really hope and believe that you believe in public diplomacy. A Latvian family is facing a troublesome situation after it opened a Latvian restaurant in the Russian Crimea. Latvian officials did not particularly like it, to put it mildly. This family is being threatened with criminal prosecution and even imprisonment by the Foreign Ministry and security services. The restaurant owner Viktorija Sisoljatina is all by herself fighting against this persecution. She cannot afford expensive lawyers. She started a social media flashmob about friendship between the Latvian and Russian peoples with hashtag #LatviansAndRussiansTogether. Do you think public diplomacy has a chance here to improve this negative spin on the events? And perhaps you agree with her and would support her with this hashtag?
Maria Zakharova: I will look into this story. If the facts are as you present them, if the officials are indeed using force to destroy a person’s business that is not violating anything or breaching any laws intentionally, why not support it? Once again, we will make sure to review this story.
Question: What is Russia’s opinion of the new developments in the murder case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi? If it is proved that the Saudi authorities are involved will it influence Russia-Saudi relations?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, I would like to welcome Al Jazeera to this briefing. Fingers of one hand would be enough to count the times you have attended any of our briefings. I really do hope that this matter and the fate of one person is not your only concern. Perhaps, you would be interested in hearing about the fate of Syrian civilians and children who, unfortunately, have been killed for years in Syria. We speak about this here on a regular basis. Do come and visit us more. We will share this information with you and will be glad to answer your questions.
As concerns your question about the journalist’s fate, I do not think that I need to repeat myself once again. I announced our view at the briefing two weeks ago. Russian officials and President Vladimir Putin, in particular, also expressed their opinions. This incident has been fully addressed.
But if we do not close the question yet and rather summarise what has happened, it should be noted that there needs to be an investigation. As I have already said, at this point political statements must give place to an objective, comprehensive and unbiased investigation. When this investigation is complete according to all procedures and applicable law, we will be able to offer our views and make political statements.
We welcome the joint probe started by the parties, specifically, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Question: US National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said in Moscow that he had shared with the Russian side the information the US has on the Jamal Khashoggi murder. Are there any details available?
Maria Zakharova: Frankly, I cannot say the Russian side was informed of anything significant on the issue. The US involvement in this story is completely understandable – he was a journalist who worked for the American media after all. It is also clear why John Bolton raised this issue, as a representative of the country the journalist worked for. Unfortunately, this indisputable fact seems to constantly get lost amid the general array of statements we hear.
Question: Yesterday, the Interfax agency reported that the next Moscow format meeting on Afghanistan will take place in Moscow on November 1 and that Kabul and the Taliban will take part in it. Can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: I have seen references to specific dates. I can say that at the moment, the process of agreeing the dates, modalities and participants of the next Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan is still underway. I do not have a date or a list of participants that I could share with you. The same applies to the possible participation of the Russian Foreign Minister in this event. Therefore, as soon as this issue is agreed and we have the details, we will certainly update you. For now, I cannot confirm this information, because the process is still ongoing.
Question: Today, NATO started its largest military exercises in the last sixteen years, with two non-NATO countries participating, Sweden and Finland. Moreover, reports say the NATO countries will not only use the military infrastructure of these countries for the exercises, but also involve their armed forces, warships and aircraft. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry consider this a normal situation, given that the governments of Finland and Sweden have previously declared their commitment to a policy of non-alignment with military blocs?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian side regards everything that happens, as you just said, as a focused NATO effort to draw Finland and Sweden into the practical activities of the North Atlantic bloc, including the regular participation of their military contingents in NATO exercises, as well as the use of NATO members’ forces in military manoeuvres conducted in Finnish and Swedish territories. This is a clear position, which has not changed. This policy line does not contribute to the strengthening of stability and security in Northern Europe or on the European continent as a whole.
This policy, this approach comes with a real risk of a deterioration in the regional situation. On the whole though, given that NATO is led by the United States and therefore, both from the perspective of personnel policy and the ways and methods of making and adopting decisions, all of this fits into the mainstream US policy of undermining security in Europe. This is just a small part of the bigger picture. Compared to the entire picture, this piece is really small. As for its impact on security and irreversibility of processes – this is a debatable question. I think it will have a serious impact.
We view the actions of the North Atlantic Alliance as an attempt to use the military-political potential of Finland and Sweden for the realisation of their own short-term objectives of containing Russia under completely far-fetched and fictional pretexts. We assume that they also understand this in Helsinki and Stockholm, and are aware of the real threats and where these real threats to European security come from - certainly not from Russia.
Question: Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin said today at an international forum in Beijing that his country faces a serious threat, called “Greater Albania.” What in your view are the chances of implementing the idea of “Greater Albania” in the context of separatist Kosovo’s attempts to create its own army and establish borders with Serbia?
Maria Zakharova: I think this issue warrants a long article, or even a study. Let's split it up. As regards Kosovo, as you know, we do not recognise such a state. Moreover, as we have repeatedly said, we are concerned about the trends that have been developing there lately. With the total incapacity of this territory as a state entity, it is being injected with armaments. Therefore, we cannot help being concerned by its understandable and undisguised claim for weapons, because the statehood claimed by that entity was never achieved.
As for our assessment of the Serbian Defence Minister’s statements, about the quantity and quality of threats to that country, I would leave it up to the Serbian side. They have the right to say where they feel these threats are coming from.
Question: At the Beijing Xiangshan Forum in China, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said that the drones that attacked Russia’s Khmeimim base last January were controlled from аn American Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft. What would be your comment? Will there be any response?
Maria Zakharova: We can only confirm this information. It is absolutely verified and was provided by our military experts. We have repeatedly voiced our concern over the incident. Of course, we will communicate our concerns during contacts with our American partners, including military and political contacts.
Question: The United States announced its intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty shortly before John Bolton’s visit to Moscow. During his visit, he met with President Vladimir Putin, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. However, after all these meetings, apparently, the decision did not change. As we can see, the withdrawal process has started. What do you think is the reason? Russia failed to convince the United States? Was there insufficient proof that we do not possess the missile in question? Or do they simply refuse to hear any arguments?
Maria Zakharova: You probably did not hear my earlier comments. I have already covered this matter. I think I gave a clear assessment. It was not a spontaneous decision that was made ahead of John Bolton’s Moscow visit but a planned military and political course that has been implemented by Washington for the past several years. For a long time, we were engaged in public debates with the United States and a number of its representatives. The decision did not come to us as a surprise.
Of course, the question of when, how and in what manner the news was announced remains to be answered by our US colleagues. Specifically, the decision was presented as possible rather than final. But it is a matter of their current political style.
Repeatedly, several times a month, we addressed this topic and spoke about the fact that we understand where this is going. We offered specific examples and encouraged the United States to provide evidence if they have actual concerns. As always (based on the political style of the past years), no evidence was provided. Answering your question, I can repeat once again that this is a course and strategy that have been in place for a long time.
If you ask me why this course was not changed during John Bolton’s visit, I do not think that he was in Moscow to change it.
Question: If the missile in question does not breach the treaty in terms of its range, perhaps it would be reasonable to reveal its technical parameters to the public?
Maria Zakharova: What does this have to do with the missile? The missile was mentioned by several media outlets and experts. We received a question and, therefore, had to comment. But the United States is now talking about China rather than the missile. We can reveal China to them, here it is on the map; it is our neighbour. The arguments are changing every month, with more new issues being made up. You are right. A while ago it was a missile. Then it was Russia’s non-compliance with other aspects of the treaty. Now it is primarily related to China. The strategy is in place and the arguments are being selected based on the occasion.
Question: Poland is currently hosting the Warsaw Security Forum. Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz claims that Poland is concerned about Russia potentially stepping up its military presence in the Baltics through the Nord Stream 2 project. I can give you a direct quote: “’The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has a military dimension as it gives Russia the opportunity to patrol the area of the Baltic Sea,’ Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said.” Would you comment, please?
Maria Zakharova: It was not only Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz that expressed his views on the matter. Polish President Andrzej Duda also made a statement. Specifically, Poland has voiced its concerns about the alleged threats hiding in the construction of Nord Stream 2 at different levels. It is not clear how an additional (additional, I want to stress this) gas transit channel to Europe threatens European energy security. What is happening is diversification of energy supplies. As we understood and still understand, this is the intention of the European Union, whose member is Warsaw.
As concerns economic aspects, I would like to remind you that Nord Stream 2 is almost 2,000 km shorter than the current Ukrainian option. The estimate transit cost of the new gas pipeline will be several times lower than that of the Ukrainian route. I think this information is publicly available but I would like to repeat it in response to the statements by our Polish counterparts. Nord Stream 2 is based on modern technology that significantly reduces the risk of accidents and curbs greenhouse emissions. Many concerns that we heard earlier were taken into account.
There is an absolutely clear understanding that the opponents of Nord Stream 2 are not motivated by the issues of Europe’s energy security or environment rather than by their own benefit and their own role. This is a different story.
We always said that each European country has the right to buy pipeline or liquefied gas wherever it finds necessary. In this case there is no need to mislead or deceive anybody. If somebody buys a more expensive product to the detriment of its own economy and interests, that is a purely political decision.
In our opinion, we are witnessing a typical attempt to politicise cooperation. The source is not Moscow. Based on the quotes you read out and the statements that I have seen, it is Warsaw.
As concerns gas transit via Ukraine (the option also discussed in Warsaw), Russia has repeatedly stated that gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine will continue if the Ukrainian route is economically attractive. It is also necessary to settle the notorious dispute between the business entities involved.
Question: President Putin told US National Security Advisor John Bolton that he had had a fairly fruitful meeting with US President Donald Trump in Helsinki, according to both presidents’ opinion. Did John Bolton say anything in response, react to that in any way or did he just ignore it? I understand it was a conversation with the President but John Bolton also talked to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian high-ranking officials. Did he offer any explanations at the meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov? Why are things the way they are?
Maria Zakharova: As you rightly said, the President’s agenda lies outside our competence. Indeed, the US delegation had talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry. It is no good to retell literally or indirectly what happened behind closed doors. We have shared in great detail our overall assessments regarding the results of the meetings and specific issues without giving direct or indirect quotes. It could have been picked up that they are having a tough time in Washington now.
Question: According to your estimates, where does Russia have really influential Russian communities abroad, without counting former Soviet republics, where the situation is different?
Maria Zakharova: Influential in what way? If you mean domestic politics in foreign countries where our compatriots live, the Russian Foreign Ministry does not have it on its agenda. We do not recruit compatriots into “shock brigades” to influence the domestic political developments in the countries they live in. Our task is to assist them in solving their problems. It can be anything – from learning Russian (you have been working in the United States for a long time and you know how the interest in learning Russian skyrocketed in the past ten years), resolving passport, citizenship and visa issues, to supporting their initiatives in the community, compatriots’ media, culture and humanitarian projects. We do render this assistance. Experts from the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Work with Compatriots Living Abroad would give a better account of where and how well our compatriots are consolidated in terms of their entity.
A congress of the Russian-language media was held recently in New York, in Brooklyn, to be exact. I cannot say that the community is dissociated. There are problems, including those caused by the situation in Ukraine. There are divisions also within the diaspora as the situation in Ukraine is a highly painful issue. But the Russian communities in the United States, Canada, and European countries such as France and Germany are strong, numerous and vibrant. We see it because we constantly talk to them. This is as far as the Western world goes.
One more example. I take it Argentina is not included in your question; however, it is also located in the west, one way or another. I was there a year ago with consultations on information issues and met representatives of our diaspora. It is very well structured in accordance with the internal organisation of public life in Argentina. It is a choir of diasporas. The country is organised via the life of diasporas, it has always been like that in Argentinean history. Our Russian diaspora raised specific, practical issues before the Russian side connected with children’s education, Russian school and interaction in different areas.
Question: How would you comment on Oleg Sentsov winning the Sakharov Prize?
Maria Zakharova: An absolutely politicised decision has been taken. I am unaware of the reasons behind it. But the fact that it was based on a politicised approach is clear even without knowing the mechanics of how this decision is made. If you have more detailed, specific information about how the decision was made, please share it, we are all eager to know.
When I am told or asked about “film director” Sentsov, I ask if anyone has watched his films. Practically no one has watched them. What are the grounds for awarding these prizes is an open question. We should ask the organisers what they were guided by. For example, why was Oleg Sentsov chosen rather than Nadezhda Savchenko? She suffered more. Her situation now is incomparably more severe than that of Oleg Sentsov because she returned to her home country, where she was betrayed. I don’t think you should be smiling. She was initially actively called back, supported, cheered as much as Oleg Sentsov is cheered now. They ran a real experiment on the person and her conscience. And later she was betrayed in a cynical and tough way.
Question: Regarding the INF Treaty. Late last night Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, speaking on Channel One, said that Russia will submit a draft resolution to support preserving the Treaty. Has Russia submitted this draft?
Maria Zakharova: This work has been launched in the UN General Assembly First Committee.
Question: You spoke about universalising the INF Treaty. I understand that Russia has always advocated this idea, but it does not impose this idea or insist on it. I think it is a very passive attitude. Don’t you think that a unique opportunity exists today: first, you would resolve problems with the United States, and then extend the Treaty to other regions?
For example, a missile issue also exists in relations between Japan and Russia because in the past few years we have been voicing our intention to deploy a ground-based US missile defence system that would shield the country from North Korean missiles. And Russia’s response to this has been very negative. However, it would be possible to address various issues using the INF Treaty, if we turn it into a universal document. What do you think about this?
Maria Zakharova: As for Russia’s passive behaviour, I would like to remind you of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The situation is very similar. As you may remember, the United States also decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Treaty at that time, citing different reasons. These reasons changed as time went by: first, Iran allegedly threatened the United States, then it stopped threatening it, and then this threat reappeared, etc.
Let us remember how actively the Russian Federation tried to prove the completely inappropriate and impracticable nature of US arguments favouring a unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. The Russian side did this at every level, including the state level, the level of the academic community and public organisations.
A hotel in Moscow not far from here hosted a large conference involving Russian military personnel, experts, scientists and representatives of political and academic circles. They used facts, arguments, statistics, and computer diagrams to prove that, first, none of the US arguments hold water. Second, this creates a real threat to international peace and stability because the current security system is being disrupted and violated. And all this lasted several days. This is an example of how the Russian Federation held a conference, open for all participants, on its territory. Those unable to attend it received materials from the conference. This is just one example of our proactive and responsible approach. At the same time, we realise that every country has its own opinions. This is all the more true of such countries as the United States, where diametrically opposite decisions are often made after the change of administrations, and they are proclaimed as national ideas, interests and policies.
We realise perfectly well that they have a right to adjust their position, but I wanted to use this specific example to show you that we are always proactive in the context of retaining current treaties in the interests of maintaining international security and stability. We are not passive. The problem lies elsewhere. We conducted very proactive work providing information on and explanations of this treaty that you just asked me about. Interviews, articles and answers to questions were published regarding each US statement, and we presented our statistics, facts and arguments. During all the talks we had, we raised this issue with the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence. Of course, the presidential agenda also included this issue. But the problem lies with the desire of the United States to withdraw from more and more international agreements, rather than with us and our position. What does Russia’s passive attitude have to do with the US withdrawal from the Universal Postal Union (I have mentioned this as an example today)? This concerns all countries and the whole world, and this is motivated by the current position of the United States and its administration. Therefore I certainly cannot accept this.
Speaking of the future of the global security system or the INF Treaty’s future, I believe the whole world should sit down and think about what the future will look like if this Treaty is wrecked through the desire of one side. Today, I said that we are ready for work aiming to maintain and impart even greater security and stability in the world. To be honest, we don’t see such prerequisites today, as evidenced by Washington’s statements.
There are many examples similar to that regarding the ABM Treaty and our proactive position, and, to my mind, it would be interesting if I cite some of them next time.
Question: On Saturday, Turkey will host a summit on Syria involving the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Turkey. Could you comment on this, and could you say what we can expect from this meeting? How important can cooperation become at this stage?
Maria Zakharova: The meeting itself is within the remit of the Presidential Executive Office. Speaking of the importance and relevance of dialogue, it is highly important, regardless of specific levels and formats, because it involves the countries that play a considerable role in the resolution of the crisis in this region.
Question: The Pakistani authorities recently closed several non-profit organisations in charity and healthcare, which were engaged in anti-government activities in Pakistan. It is important to note that nine of those organisations were US-based, and three were from the UK. Based on Russia’s experience, what are the implications for Pakistan, which is trying to pursue an independent policy? Does Russia not regret that, despite international pressure, it has chosen to defend its sovereignty and made similar decisions?
Maria Zakharova: Based on your concern for Pakistan’s independence (I would start there), it is because of Pakistan’s independent decisions that I do not think it possible and appropriate to comment on its domestic issues. If such a decision was made inside the country, it probably means the issue was agreed on within Pakistan. It has nothing to do with the Russian Federation. This is a matter of your internal agenda. If the case is somehow related to the Russian Federation, please tell me, because I do not know anything about this.
If you are talking about Russia’s experience, unfortunately, we really have encountered, especially in recent years, some strange activities by NGOs affiliated with Western countries, in particular, the United States and a number of European countries. Those organisations were engaged in activities other than what was officially declared. This, indeed, happened, I can confirm this. This applies to NGOs and, unfortunately, a number of media outlets.
Question: Did Sergey Lavrov and John Bolton touch on the US intention to create a quasi-state in Syria during their meeting? What was America’s position, given that Bolton announced an agreement with Moscow to coordinate actions in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: They certainly discussed Syria. Russia laid out its approach once again. I think the Americans already know all about it, as a dialogue is maintained regularly, in particular, on the Syrian issue, regarding the future of that state as a whole, sovereign and independent country. This was our original position.
We publicly express this position, and it is addressed to all – our American partners and any other interested parties. This is the principled position of the Russian side in the context of the Syrian settlement – the unacceptability of dividing the country and the creation of enclaves on its territory not controlled by Damascus, the official legal authority. We talk about this regularly.
Question: Leader of the Batkivshchyna Party Yulia Tymoshenko said that if she won the presidential election, she would take Donbass back. She said she would achieve peace, but on Ukraine’s terms and would “return Donbass to Ukraine,” with Ukrainian laws reinstituted, the territory demilitarised, and the 2 million refugees coming home. Do you think it is possible to return Donbass to Ukraine?
Maria Zakharova: Fulfilling the Minsk Agreements remains a possibility. Why invent other schemes? Ukraine itself has subscribed to the Minsk package as a realistic roadmap for “the return of Donbass,” as you said, or for the “resolution to the domestic Ukrainian conflict,” as the international community says. The Minsk Agreements are there; they just need to be implemented. Perhaps, the Ukrainian politician you mentioned spoke in the sense of disagreeing with the policy pursued by Kiev on this issue, but this question is better asked elsewhere.
Question: My question is about Donald Trump’s initiative to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Commenting on this initiative, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came close to accusing Russia’s behaviour of being the problem. He almost said that was the reason the United States made this decision.
Maria Zakharova: He probably did not hear that the US President was talking about China.
Question: If you will allow a quote, he said that “all allies agree that the United States is in full compliance... the problem, the threat, the challenge is Russian behaviour.”
Maria Zakharova: I have a piece of advice for the NATO leadership. I will allow myself to give advice, including to Jens Stoltenberg, to actually study in more detail the statements made by the President of the United States. Many statements were made, but maybe it would make sense to read and figure out all the concerns expressed by the American side before blaming the Russian Federation again.
One more thing: Jens Stoltenberg maintains a regular dialogue with the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry. If NATO had specific facts, if NATO, in expressing what he calls the allies’ will, had any information regarding Russia’s alleged failure to fulfill its commitments, he could have handed them to the Russian side himself, not delegated by anyone, simply by showing some initiative. No such materials were forwarded to us even though the latest meeting took place just recently.
Question: Allow me to ask to clarify your answer regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and John Bolton. Is it possible to say that there is complete mutual understanding between Russia and the United States on a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, and that both countries are looking in the same direction?
Maria Zakharova: At the moment, given the digital diplomacy actively promoted in the United States, I would not risk talking about complete unanimity of positions on issues we used to be unanimous on previously. Everything changes so rapidly, several times a day. Answering your very specific question in part concerning the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, we do subscribe to a “peaceful settlement,” as this wording fully corresponds to Russia’s approach.