Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 27, 2017
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Eritrea Osman Saleh
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the fourth ministerial session of the Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Metropolitan Savvaty of Ulan-Ude and Buryatia
- State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin’s meeting with Special Envoy of the Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Abashidze
- Russian-Japanese consultations
- International Holocaust Remembrance Day
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of the Syrian opposition
- Syria update
- New Syrian draft constitution handed over to Syrian negotiators
- The decision of the Lithuanian Court of Appeal to find former commander of Vilnius Special Police Unit Vladimir Razvodov guilty
- Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office stops pretrial investigation of the participation of Vilnius Russian-language school students in international camps organised by Russia
- Mutual visa waiver between Russia and South Africa
- Lists of attorneys and law firms abroad
- Answers to media questions:
- Russia-Iran-Turkey cooperation on Syria
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Nomination of Bulgarian Orthodox Church for Nobel Peace Prize
- Situation around Syria
- Possibility of Russian-US cooperation in Syria
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Syrian opposition
- Geneva talks
- Munich Security Conference
- Situation around Syria
- Detainment of RT America journalist
- Detainment of Russian citizen in Czech Republic
- Geneva talks
- Roundtable discussion on the social adaptation and integration of migrant children and their access to education in Russia
- Radio Sputnik
On January 29-31, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Eritrea, Osman Saleh, will come to Moscow on a working visit.
On January 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his Eritrean colleague. The ministers will discuss the priority issues of Russian-Eritrean political, trade, economic and cultural cooperation, including the implementation of joint projects in Eritrea. They will also exchange opinions on current global and regional issues, in particular ways to prevent and settle crises in Africa, first of all in the Horn of Africa, and also the fight against international terrorism.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will lead the Russian delegation at the fourth session of the Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum at the level of Foreign Ministers, which will be held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on February 1.
In keeping with the format sealed in the December 2009 memorandum on the forum’s establishment, the session will convene the foreign ministers of the forum countries – the Troika of the Arab League Council (Bahrain, Tunisia and Algeria), Mauritania as the host of last year’s Arab League Summit, the UAE as the host country, and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit – plus the Russian Foreign Minister. Foreign ministry representatives from several other Arab countries are also expected to attend the meeting.
The session’s agenda includes a detailed exchange of opinions on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, primarily the importance of closer coordination of Russian-Arab efforts to normalise the situation in countries plagued by armed conflicts. Discussions of current international issues, including the fight against terrorist and extremist groups in the region, prospects for a Middle East settlement in light of the efforts to resume Palestinian-Israeli talks, and the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, will be held in the expanded format. The decisions reached at the meeting will be sealed in a joint political statement.
The forum participants will focus on the analysis of their previous agreements to strengthen cultural, humanitarian and economic cooperation, which were formalised in the 2016-2018 Action Plan aimed at implementing the principles, goals and objectives of the Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum. The document was approved at the forum’s third ministerial meeting in Moscow in February 2016.
We note with satisfaction that the Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum has become a respected international venue for a frank exchange of opinions on international issues of mutual interest to Russia and the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. The forum aims to coordinate approaches to crises in the region and joint assistance to settling global threats and challenges and to stimulate multidimensional mutually beneficial cooperation. We consider the forum’s fourth session as a big step towards the further development and strengthening of the entire range of traditionally friendly Russian-Arab relations.
Sergey Lavrov will meet with Metropolitan Savvaty of Ulan-Ude and Buryatia at the Foreign Ministry on February 3.
The parties will highlight issues connected to the monastery’s operation.
The Holy Transfiguration Posolsky Monastery was founded in 1681 on Lake Baikal, at the 1651 murder site of the Russian diplomatic mission to Mongolia, led by Ambassador Yerofei Zabolotsky. Until the middle of the 19th century, the monastery situated near the Prorva Bay hosted many famous state and public figures on their way to the Trans-Baikal area, China, Mongolia and back. Russian diplomats repeatedly received ambassadors from other countries at the monastery with its necropolis of the tragically assassinated diplomats.
The Foreign Ministry has been cooperating with the monastery since December 2002, when the Restoration of the Holy Transfiguration Posolsky Monastery on Baikal charity fund and its board of trustees were set up. The Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) has been regularly sending student teams to Lake Baikal since 2004 to help restore the monastery sites. Students and post-graduates of the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy have also been involved in the restoration efforts on the monastery’s premises.
Mr Lavrov’s meeting with Metropolitan Savvaty will help give an additional impetus to further cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Posolsky Monastery.
State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin will meet with the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze in Prague on February 7. The two countries’ transport officials will also attend the meeting.
The consultations will continue to focus on practical issues related to reinvigorating Russian-Georgian relations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov will meet with Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba for consultations on February 1 to discuss bilateral issues and crucial items on the international and regional agendas.
This week our briefing is taking place on Friday, January 27, rather than on Thursday, as usual. I would like to say a few words about the significance of this date in history.
January 27 marks the 72nd anniversary of Auschwitz liberation by Soviet forces. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is also marked today, under international law, in accordance with a UN General Assembly resolution. This is a day of remembrance, sorrow and, of course, gratitude to those who gave their lives to stop this evil.
Any man-hating theories, xenophobia, nationalism and fascism are an absolute evil stemming from ignorance, disregard for the past, fanaticism and the lack of spirituality. Therefore, it is very important to pass on the truth about the tragedy of that period from generation to generation. At the same time, we must remember that people also displayed their best traits by giving their lives for the lives of others, mostly strangers, only because that is what the situation called for at the time and due to the humane considerations of those who made such crucial decisions.
It is highly important now not to forget these tragic lessons of the past for just one reason: oblivion may lead to a recurrence of past events and new attempts to gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, we can now see that dangerous trends linked with attempts to rewrite history are now unfolding in Europe, where this terrible tragedy happened. This is very dangerous and, as often has been the case, may cause a backlash against nations, if wisdom and prudence are lost.
As you know, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of the Syrian political opposition started an hour ago. In his introductory remarks, Mr Lavrov described the goals and tasks the Russian diplomatic service pursued in organising this meeting.
We will later brief you on the meeting’s results.
Positive trends in the situation in Syria and around it that emerged after the declaration of a ceasefire regime on December 30, 2016 with Russian and Turkish mediation are being consolidated.
Moscow is satisfied with the results of the January 23-24 international meeting on Syria in Astana, as the ceasefire zone is consolidated and expanded. The discussions at a venue provided by the Kazakhstani authorities involved delegations of the Syrian Government, the Syrian armed opposition, as well as Russia, Turkey and Iran. The latter acted as guarantors of the ceasefire agreement. The participation and mediatory efforts of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura also had great importance.
Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already commented on our view regarding the Astana meeting’s results, the significance of the results which its participants achieved.
I would like to recall that a joint statement by Russia, Turkey and Iran that has been issued after the meeting stipulates the creation of a trilateral mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire regime, ensuring complete compliance with this regime and for preventing any kinds of provocations. The statement urges Syrian participants to become proactively involved in the intra-Syrian dialogue in Geneva under UN auspices.
We believe Astana has an impressive potential as a venue for contacts and agreements. Nevertheless, we have repeatedly noted that this venue is not a substitute for talks on the Syrian political settlement in Geneva. We support resumed intra-Syrian dialogue led by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. The talks should have a wide-ranging and all-inclusive format, as stipulated by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We are taking practical steps to assist the Geneva process to which, as we believe, Astana has imparted an additional impulse.
The fight against terrorists in Syria, ISIS, representatives of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) continues. The Russian Aerospace Force assists the Syrian Armed Forces and the people’s militia in their fight against ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. We note with satisfaction that peaceful life is being reinstated in Aleppo and other Syrian regions liberated from the terrorists, although, this process is, of course, slow and difficult.
Although we have already commented on this, I would like to once again focus on the subject, because there have been a large number of leaks, comments, and publications that do not reflect Russia's position, and even distort it sometimes.
We have noted a statement by Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian armed opposition at the Astana peace talks and adviser to the High Negotiations Committee, already quoted by various media outlets, that Russia is trying to impose this constitution on Syria, allegedly acting like Paul Bremer, head of the American occupation authority of Iraq, did in 2003-2004.
We strongly disagree with this assessment, which does not correspond to reality and generally distorts the picture. Russia is not trying to impose anything on Syrians – neither the terms of the settlement nor the new constitution. This, importantly, is the underlying principle we proceed from when discussing the issue. We firmly believe that the Syrian people themselves must determine their country’s future. We make every effort to stick to this approach, because only Syrians can uphold their country as an integral, sovereign, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.
As we know, the reason for the statements the Syrian opposition spokesman made is the new Syrian constitution drafted by Russian and Arab experts and presented by the Russian delegation at the Astana talks – something the opposition representatives have said openly and explicitly. Russia has repeatedly clarified the meaning of this move at various levels. Our task was to intensify the intra-Syrian political dialogue as prescribed by Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council, which includes the drafting of a new Syrian constitution. I would like to emphasise once again that Moscow is not trying to impose its decision, but invites the Syrians, including various representatives of the Syrian opposition, to accelerate the complex work on and coordination of this fundamental document.
The draft presented in Astana is, above all, a ‘questionnaire’ on what the Syrian constitution could be like; it is a set of proposals and ideas that assumes that the Syrians will be the ones looking for the answers to the questions posed to them by the process of developing a new fundamental document of their country. At the same time, Russian experts have suggested possible options, based on international legal approaches to the Syrian settlement set forth in the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, decisions of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and documents adopted at various times by the Moscow, Cairo, Riyadh and other groups of the Syrian opposition.
One could agree or disagree with what has been presented in Astana. It is important that the process of discussing the future Syrian draft constitution has been launched. We believe that a broad discussion should follow. Nobody is going to argue with the Syrians on their sovereign issues.
We would not like the work on the new Syrian constitution to turn into endless and irresponsible rhetoric, a chance to show personal ambitions or put forward a pretext to slow down the entire political process.
Being committed to the long-term and sustainable political settlement in Syria, Russia is deeply confident it is time to address Syria's constitution seriously. The Syrian people must see the prospects for progress towards peace. The conditions for this work have been created. You can see how seriously Russia is taking its intermediary role and responsibility: a ceasefire has been established and fratricidal bloodshed stopped. We hope that the Syrian sides – the Government and various opposition groups – will confirm in practice that there is no alternative to a political settlement in Syria, and that their willingness to seek common ground in deeds, not in words, will allow them to achieve it.
The Lithuanian Court of Appeal has recently sentenced Russian citizen Vladimir Razvodov in absentia to 12 years in prison for crimes allegedly committed in 1991.
We consider this decision to be in line with official Vilnius’s flawed practice to use the justice system for political benefit.
I would like to remind you that in June 2015, the Vilnius district court, unexpectedly and to the obvious discontent of the Lithuanian authorities, acquitted the Russian citizen, who had been charged with military crimes and crimes against humanity.
And now the verdict that did not suit the Lithuanian government has been reversed and Russian citizen Vladimir Razvodov declared guilty. They call it justice.
It was obvious from the outset that the pretrial investigation launched in 2014 at the initiative of the Lithuanian State Security Department was unreasonable and politically charged. The investigation was launched into the trips by students from Vilnius Russian-language schools to Russia and other CIS countries as part of international youth programmes.
Now the Lithuanian authorities are forced to admit it, too.
This again shows the absolute groundlessness of Vilnius’s line it has pursued in recent years to promote anti-Russian rhetoric and the myth of “the threat from the East.”
On January 18, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a directive to conclude, by exchanging notes, the protocol on mutual visa waiver between the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Africa for citizens carrying travel passports.
The protocol implies that Russian and South African citizens who have no intention to work, study or live in the other country, are not subject to visa requirements and have the right to enter, stay and pass through the other country without visas for the period of up to 90 days.
On January 24, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent the relevant note to the South African Embassy in Moscow. According to the protocol, the visa waiver will come into force 30 days after the note is received by the South African party. We will announce the effective date separately.
We are confident that the agreement to abandon visa requirements will boost mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries in a wide range of areas, first of all, in trade, the economy and culture, and will promote contacts between the citizens of Russia and South Africa.
We also consider the agreement with South Africa an important step towards visa requirements harmonisation within BRICS. South Africa has become the second member of BRICS (after Brazil) to launch a mutual visa waiver with Russia.
I would like to give additional information for Russian citizens who stay or travel abroad, namely that the Russian Foreign Ministry has prepared special reference lists of attorneys and law firms abroad to which people can apply for legal services if necessary.
Let me point out, however, that the lists were drawn up exclusively for reference, and these are not recommendations by the Russian Foreign Ministry or Russian diplomatic institutions abroad.
Whether to use or not to use the information or the services of attorneys and organisations from those lists is entirely up to Russian citizens themselves, who must decide on their own.
The experience of Russian consular missions shows that in the majority of problematic cases involving Russian citizens abroad, had people promptly received legal assistance, had our citizens known where or whom to apply to and could do it without delay, then a significant number of unpleasant consequences could have been avoided.
It is for this very purpose – to make it simpler for Russian citizens to search for and contact attorneys abroad – that we decided to draw up the lists of attorneys in foreign countries.
Thanks to the uniform and thoroughly systematic structure of the lists, any citizen of the Russian Federation, whether travelling or staying abroad, will now be able to access free of charge, 24 hours a day, high-quality and verified information about attorneys and law firms abroad and the full range of services they offer.
So far, the lists span 145 countries and comprise 1,336 attorneys and law firms. The lists will be updated and improved in the future to include other interested legal professionals.
I would like to note that the lists are very convenient to use as they are posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website in the For Russians Travelling Abroad section, in the Useful Information subsection. They are also available on the websites of Russian embassies and general consulates in all 145 countries included in the lists, as well as on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department and the Department’s mobile application of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre, “Assistance Abroad”, of which we have spoken so much and which, I hope, many already have.
We will certainly duplicate them and periodically post reminders on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official accounts in social networks.
Question: To begin with, I would like to congratulate you on receiving a well-deserved decoration, the Order of Friendship.
Maria Zakharova: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Question: What plans does Russia have for cooperation with Turkey and Iran to settle the Syrian crisis and stabilise the Middle East as a whole?
Maria Zakharova: We would like this cooperation to be constructive and lasting, because we know that a settlement in Syria will take time and the consolidation of efforts by all states involved in this process. I believe that “constructive” is the most important word in this respect.
Question: Did Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia discuss the possibility of holding an Azerbaijan-Armenia summit meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh with Russia’s mediation at their recent talks? What other steps on Nagorno-Karabakh did the foreign ministers coordinate at their meeting? Might Sergey Lavrov hold other meetings on this issue?
Maria Zakharova: There will certainly be other meetings. Their schedule has not been coordinated yet, but the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is a foreign policy priority for Russia. Of course, various other contacts will take place. As for the agenda of the three ministers’ meeting, the open part of their talks has been made public in the press department’s comments. I have no other information on what the ministers talked about. As you know, these are very delicate issues. The talks were constructive and included discussions of various specific ideas and steps towards a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Everything that could be said about the results of these meetings has been made public.
Question: Israel has nominated the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for the Nobel Peace Prize for saving some 50,000 Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War. Moreover, not a single Bulgarian fought against Russia in that war, which cost the Bulgarian tsar, Boris III, his life. What do you think about this?
Maria Zakharova: I think that nomination for such prizes is an issue for public debate. As I have said today, the heroism of those who sacrificed their lives selflessly to save people whom they did not even know is something we must never forget.
The reasons for Russia’s focus on collective memory are well known. We have been working to preserve historical memory both in and beyond Russia. As I have said, nominations for such prizes are an issue of civil society involvement and public debate.
Question: Russia has announced that it cooperated with the US-led coalition, receiving coordinates of terrorists in Syria and delivering airstrikes on their positions. But the United States has denied any involvement. Do you have any additional information about this? What is happening?
Maria Zakharova: Any questions about the specific aspects of hostilities in Syria and counterterrorism operations should be addressed to our Defence Ministry.
Question: What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about the possibility of cooperating with the Trump administration to settle the Syrian crisis?
Maria Zakharova: We are waiting for the new US administration to take final shape, the appointment of the key ministers and representatives. We are ready to launch comprehensive dialogue with the new US administration, because this is what we need in the current international situation and bilateral relations in light of the shared responsibility of Russia and the United States on many issues. We are waiting for Trump’s team to take shape, to formulate its foreign policy priorities, concepts and ideas, and to start operating. We understand that Washington is living through difficult days. More than that, it is living through difficult months. But we believe that the key appointments will be made soon, the administration will start working, and we will better understand the US strategy on the international stage.
Question: Will Foreign Minister Lavrov’s meeting with the Syrian opposition today touch upon Russia’s presented draft constitution for Syria that proposes self-governance for Kurdish regions?
Do you know the date and the participants of the next talks in Geneva? What are the chances that Syria’s Kurdish delegation will be there? It was not invited to any of the previous meetings, including Astana.
Maria Zakharova: You know our principled approach to inviting Kurdish representatives. We assume that their involvement in the talks is required. This is the first point.
Second. As concerns participants in the Geneva talks, the agenda and organisational issues are responsibilities of the UN, specifically, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. They could answer your question about the participants.
Speaking about the constitution, of course, the political settlement was and still is a central topic of Minister Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of the Syrian opposition. The constitution, which is part of the political process, was mentioned, absolutely.
I would like to draw attention to something you said, which is that the draft presented by the Russian delegation in Astana to the Syrian opposition supposedly proposes Kurdish autonomy. No, it does not. We outlined the topics, the issues that the participants in the talks have to deal with when discussing the Syrian constitution. Decisions regarding the format and organisation of the Syrian state, how it will live and develop, are not for Russia to make but for the Syrians, various representatives of opposition groups, government officials, and so on. We outlined the issues that need to be addressed and responded to by the Syrians. We are not going to propose or impose anything simply because it is pointless. We understand quite well that developing and drafting a new constitution is an entirely voluntary process. This document requires general concord in Syrian society which is now divided. We understand this very well, it goes without saying. Therefore, the constitution must be a document with which everybody agrees and which will not become another point of dispute. Once again, we are not suggesting any forms of organisation for the Syrian state. Rather, we are raising issues with the Syrians which they must discuss. This is how it works. Figuratively speaking, it is time we removed the guns from their hands and gave them a draft constitution instead. This is what must happen now. This is what we were expecting to achieve when the Russian delegation offered its draft concepts for the discussion of the Syrian constitution.
Question: Can you confirm the rumour that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will lead the Russian delegation at the Munich Security Conference? Will he meet with the US delegation and members of the new US administration in Munich?
Maria Zakharova: As I have said, Sergey Lavrov’s attendance at the Munich Security Conference is being discussed and coordinated. We will issue an official statement on the Russian delegation and its format later.
As for meetings with the US delegation, this concerns the same issue we spoke about before. We are waiting for the US administration to take final shape and for the appointment of key figures, following which the US administration is to take a decision regarding attendance and the level of attendance at the Munich conference. Only then will we be able to consider any contacts. So far, we have no grounds for doing any forward planning. We are waiting for concrete decisions from the United States. As you know, although the key officials have not yet assumed office, we have sent an invitation to the new administration to attend the meeting in Astana. Our American colleagues replied that they would be represented by the US Ambassador to Kazakhstan. In light of this, we can assume that the new administration could become involved in international processes even though the creation of the team is not complete yet. When the team takes full shape and Washington decides whom to send to Munich, we will be able to make our plans. We will provide our comments as soon as we know more.
Question: Many parties to the Syrian conflict did not consider Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organisation for a long time. But the Syrian Government regards some opposition forces, including some of those that are taking part in the talks, as terrorist organisations and demands that they lay down arms immediately. Did you discuss in Astana, or do you plan to discuss the issue of consensus on who should be considered a terrorist? What impact is this unsettled issue having on the talks?
Maria Zakharova: First, there are international legal grounds for declaring some forces terrorist organisations. There is also the UN list of terrorist organisations. It provides the fundamental framework. We know that the Syrian conflict has been distinguished by terrorist groups rapidly changing their colours, relaunching operations under a different name with a new logo, merging, separating and merging again. This has greatly complicated the identification of certain groups as international terrorists under international law.
Plus, not only the terrorist groups themselves but also people in these groups have shifted from groups on the UN list of terrorist organisations to groups which nobody has even heard of. This is an evil that has continuously changed its colours and continues to do so.
The issue of who is a terrorist and who is not is being addressed in the following manner, as Russian representatives have said more than once. The Cessation of Hostilities has been declared and is in effect in Syria. Those who have not joined the ceasefire and continue fighting are regarded as combat units that are to be destroyed because they have not accepted the terms of the Cessation of Hostilities. However, the issue of identification has not been decided yet. A year ago, the United States pledged to separate the armed opposition into constructive forces and those who mostly pursue terrorism, fighting and terrorist strategies. As you remember, the issue concerned breaking down the terrorists into moderate and extreme ones, as our American colleagues told us. You surely remember how this process ended. It was a time of lost opportunities, because the international community pinned its hopes on Washington, which publicly committed itself to separating the terrorists but has not delivered on its promise. Whether it did this wittingly or unwittingly is another matter, an issue for future historians. But it is a fact that they have not solved the problem. That is part of my answer to your question.
As I said, the issue is being decided on the ground very simply: those who have joined and comply with the terms of the Cessation of Hostilities are not attacked. Those who don’t and who continue to pursue terrorist strategies are to be destroyed.
Question: What’s your take on President Trump’s idea of creating “safe zones” in Syria? Is this consistent with Russia’s vision of fighting terrorism and the principles of international law and Syria’s sovereignty?
Maria Zakharova: As we have repeatedly stated, according to the statements made by new US President Donald Trump regarding the need to fight terrorism, particularly, in the MENA countries, this is an issue which ranks high on the new US administration’s list of priorities. This is encouraging. We, including Foreign Minister Lavrov, have said so repeatedly. With regard to details in the fight against terrorism and approaches to the Syrian settlement, I will once again (perhaps, for the third time today) say that we are waiting for the team to take shape and specify its approaches to these issues. Clearly, without talking things over or clarifying policy approaches and their elements, it is difficult to make assessments based solely on public statements. We are waiting for the team to be formed and then we will proceed from the assumption that it’s time to begin concrete work.
Question: What do you say about the detention of a reporter from Russia Today America covering the unrest on Donald Trump’s inauguration day? He was there doing his job and had a proper ID, but now he faces up to 10 years in prison on rioting charges.
Maria Zakharova: The situation with the correspondent of Russia Today America TV channel Alexander Rubinstein is cause for great concern. The reporter was arrested on Friday, January 20, by Washington D.C. police as he was covering a protest rally against US President Donald Trump on the day of his inauguration.
I would like to emphasise that the correspondent was performing his professional duties. Importantly, he had his press badge on him. Nonetheless, Mr Rubinstein was detained by police for almost 24 hours. Five journalists from other media outlets found themselves in the same situation.
According to our information, Mr Rubinstein has been released. The court date for his preliminary hearing is set for February 16. He is charged with felony rioting. As you may be aware, under US law, he may be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
We noted that the representatives of the media community and relevant international institutions and organisations spoke out in defence of the reporters. Russia Today’s senior executives, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the National Union of Journalists of Great Britain, and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic condemned the violation of the rights of journalists. I think this is a blatant infringement of the reporters’ rights.
We expect and believe that the incident will be thoroughly investigated, that the charges against Rubinstein and other journalists will be dropped, and that Washington will realise that this is an absolutely unacceptable and outrageous incident.
Question: Yevgeny Nikulin, a Russian citizen, was detained on suspicion of committing a cybercrime in Prague in October 2016. Moscow and Washington sent extradition requests to Prague at the same time. What do you think about this situation? If the Czech government decides to extradite Yevgeny Nikulin to the United States, could this impact relations between Moscow and Prague?
Maria Zakharova: We are constantly monitoring the situation surrounding Russian citizen Yevgeny Nikulin who was detained in the Czech Republic. We expect the Czech government to grant the request filed by the Russian Prosecutor General's Office with the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic regarding his extradition to Russia, especially since given that the campaign against alleged “ubiquitous” Russian hackers in US media makes it hard to trust the objectivity and impartiality of US justice with regard to a Russian citizen.
The Russian Embassy in Prague is providing Mr Nikulin with necessary consular and legal assistance, and making sure that he is detained under normal conditions. According to the latest information, no complaints on that score have been reported by Yevgeny Nikulin.
Question: I would like to go back to the Geneva talks and inquire about the exact date. Are we talking February 8 as before?
Maria Zakharova: We discussed this in the beginning. During opening remarks for the protocol recording of the Russian Foreign Minister’s meeting with representatives of the Syrian opposition in Moscow today, Mr Lavrov said we hope that the efforts in Astana will contribute to the Geneva talks on Syria under the auspices of the UN in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254. He also expressed regret that the new date for the next Geneva round was moved from February 8 to the end of February. He repeatedly urged the UN representatives who are directly responsible for this to step up efforts toward a political settlement of the Syrian crisis, as soon as possible.
Question: On behalf of the Tajik newspaper SSSR and myself, I congratulate you on receiving your well-deserved award. It's very nice, because when you and I discussed the use of the term Gastarbeiter by the media, your efforts actually made a difference – this term is no longer used. I am grateful to you for that.
Maria Zakharova: I think you exaggerate my contribution.
Question: On January 25, Russia’s Public Chamber hosted a roundtable, “Social adaptation and integration of immigrant children in the Russian Federation and their access to education in Russian schools”, led by member of the Commission on Development of Public Diplomacy and Support of Russian Compatriots Abroad Vladimir Shaposhnikov. Do you think me and my children should be called ‘migrants,’ as the Sputnik radio correspondent did?
Maria Zakharova: What I can say for certain is that you are not a migrant, simply because the Russian Foreign Ministry, among other things, provides visa support to journalists and grants them accreditation. So you are not exactly a migrant here.
Question: If Sputnik is a state-owned company in Russia, why does it copy the presentation style of Radio Liberty, instead of publishing official information of the Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of Defence? Also note that the colour of the banner is the same on the Sputnik and Radio Liberty websites.
Maria Zakharova: Radio Liberty is having a bad day being compared with Sputnik, and it is your doing. As for the colour, it's difficult for me to say what guided the designers. I think your question should be addressed to them.
Still, you have raised a very important aspect of Sputnik as a public radio station should reflect the government's position. In fact, it is a public radio station. But it employs journalists who are required – as well as journalists of other Russian media regardless of their status – to be guided by the laws of the Russian Federation. At the same time, there is no ruling out the right to have one’s own viewpoint. It is important here to draw a clear line between the journalist’s personal point of view, to which they are entitled, and the media outlet’s or the government’s position. These things must not be confused. Although sometimes it hurts us more than it hurts you to read certain materials, we still assume that journalists have the right to their own judgment. If they distort facts, it is our job to provide counterevidence and, probably, insist on its publication. But when it comes to assessments, or to journalists’ participation in certain events, they certainly have the right to their point of view.
I will certainly give your material to Sputnik, as we always do, and ask them to clarify the questions that you asked.