Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 3, 2017
- Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Delcy Rodrigez
- OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Madina Jarbussynova to visit Russia
- Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani
- Possible meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
- Diplomats’ Day
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the release of the 26th volume of the Foreign Ministry’s serial publication “USSR Foreign Policy Documents”
- The situation in Donbass
- Reporters under artillery fire in Donetsk
- The situation in Syria
- The humanitarian situation in Yemen
- The situation in Libya
- The Netherlands claim Russia’s primary radar data fail to meet international standards
- Ban by the IPC Governing Board on the participation of Russian athletes in qualification events for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games
- Simplified entry procedure for Russian citizens entering the UAE on ordinary international passports
- Reuters’ allegations regarding Russia
Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Delcy Rodrigez, who will arrive in Russia on a working visit, will be held in Moscow on February 6.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela Delcy Rodrigez will review current issues of the bilateral agenda, taking into account the outcome of a recent meeting of the Intergovernmental Russian-Venezuelan High-Level Commission. The ministers will focus on promising joint projects in energy, agriculture and the manufacturing industry.
The ministers will discuss Russian-Venezuelan cooperation and steps to improve coordination of the countries’ approaches in the UN and other international forums. The sides will conduct a thorough exchange of views on the situation in various regions of the world and the global agenda.
Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Madina Jarbussynova will come to Russia on an official visit on February 6–11. This will be her first visit to the country since taking office.
During her stay in Russia, she will meet with representatives of federal government bodies in Moscow and will visit the Republic of Tatarstan, in particular, Kazan.
During her visit, she will speak with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, senior executives of the Prosecutor General’s office, the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Labour, the Civic Chamber and the Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as with regional authorities of the Republic of Tatarstan, and will participate in a number of other meetings.
The agenda includes a wide range of international cooperation issues related to combating human trafficking and protecting its victims.
Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani, who will come to Moscow on a working visit, will be held on February 7.
The ministers will discuss the security situation in Afghanistan, as well as prospects for national reconciliation in that country.
The sides will exchange views on a wide range of issues of bilateral cooperation, including, among other things, providing further assistance to Afghanistan as it opposes and counters terrorist and drug-related threats, and cooperating in the military-technical, economic and humanitarian spheres.
With Rex Tillerson sworn in as US Secretary of State Thursday, we were asked to comment on the possibility of a meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State. I would like to inform you on where we currently stand on this.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent a message of congratulations to his new American counterpart Rex Tillerson on his appointment. The message reads in part, “US-Russian relations continue to play a special role in the modern world, remaining a key factor in ensuring strategic stability and security. I look forward to a constructive dialogue with you on the full range of issues on the bilateral and international agenda. I am confident that, guided by the principles of equality and balance of interests, our countries will be able to resume pragmatic cooperation in various fields, and make a significant joint contribution to resolving the most pressing global and regional problems.”
I would like to make it clear that we have no schedule for contacts yet. When we have the relevant information, we will certainly let you know. There have been questions regarding the possibility of a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of various international events that are planned in February. We are not ruling this out. As soon as we have specific information on this matter, we will let you know.
On February 10, the Russian Foreign Ministry will mark Diplomats’ Day, which was established by Russian Presidential Executive Order No. 1279 of October 31, 2002. This holiday unites staff members of the central administrative office of the Foreign Ministry, foreign missions and representative offices in the Russian Federation’s regions. Every day, Russian diplomats solve issues related to securing the interests of our country and its citizens in the international arena, seeking solutions to conflicts and crises and responding to the global challenges of today’s world.
Russian diplomats will celebrate their professional day at work, reviewing the intermediate results of their activities and analysing the goals set to them by their leadership. International relations, sadly, remain strained and global challenges remain acute. Competition in all areas is increasing at a turning point of global development. Hotbeds of conflicts are merging into large zones of instability. There is a growing gap between levels of welfare of different countries and regions, and cultural and civilisational contradictions are growing.
Despite the challenges, Russia’s position on the international arena is becoming stronger. Russia is taking an active part in developing the global agenda, and strengthening its status as a major guarantor of stability and security in the modern world. Russia’s principled stance in favour of the rule of law, justice and collective approaches to solving pressing international issues is gaining more and more supporters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is fully committed to promoting the country’s independent foreign policy in accordance with its historical traditions, culture and civilisational role. The intensity of work by ministry agencies is growing. Russian diplomacy is becoming more open as regards information and innovation and its performance is improving.
Our professional day is also a symbol of continuity in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s history and the indissoluble link between generations. Traditionally, a wreath-laying ceremony will take place in the lobby of the Foreign Ministry building at the memorial plaques commemorating our colleagues and friends – diplomats and diplomatic couriers who lost their lives during WWII, became victims of political repression, or were killed while on duty. To our deep regret, last year, the name of Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, who was killed in a heinous act of terror, was added to this sorrowful list. Wreaths will also be laid at the graves of renowned Russian diplomats who were buried in Russia and abroad.
Celebratory events to mark Diplomats’ Day will also take place in Russian diplomatic missions abroad.
A traditional meeting will take place on Smolenskaya Square.
On February 8, as part of the preparations for and celebration of Diplomats’ Day, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the presentation of the next, 26th volume of the Foreign Ministry serial publication, “USSR Foreign Policy Documents” for the year 1943.
This volume contains documents reporting on the turning of the tide in the course of the Great Patriotic War and the Second World War, which was the result, above all, of the Red Army’s military and strategic success. The published documents cover the activity of Soviet diplomats aimed at consolidating the Anti-Hitler Coalition and expanding military and political cooperation with the allies.
Representatives of the diplomatic corps, the Russian History Society and the Russian Military History Society, the Federal Archival Agency, federal archives and academic institutions, as well as representatives of the public, media and Foreign Ministry veteran workers have been invited to the presentation.
We will invite you to all events that are open to the press in the course of preparing for and marking Diplomats’ Day.
In the early hours of February 3, Donetsk came under massive rocket attacks from the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Dozens of strikes from heavy large-caliber weapon systems, including Uragan and Grad multiple rocket launchers, were delivered against residential areas. Several civilians were killed or injured. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there are children among the injured. Of course, destruction was caused. Nothing can justify this barbarous raid. By these actions, Kiev has grossly violated not only the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949 but also all moral norms. Only vandals could bomb a sleeping city and kill innocent people. We have no other definition for the people who carried out this nighttime raid.
It is enough to watch morning news bulletins to understand the extent of the horror that the residents of this region experienced last night. But not the Ukrainian media. There is a clear connection with official Kiev there, involving the use of propaganda as a weapon and a method of warfare against civilians. Kiev attempts to demonstrate the unity of its country and its people by using heavy artillery against sleeping residential areas, against civilians.
Today, Kiev not only has failed to express concern over this new round of the crisis and its humanitarian consequences, or to accept any responsibility for what is going on, but is boasting about the actions by its Armed Forces in Donbass without any qualms, even using the rostrum of the UN Security Council, where Ukraine assumed chairmanship on February 1. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that Ukraine’s permanent representative to the UN Vladimir Yelchenko stated that the events around Avdeyevka have demonstrated the power and capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The capability to bomb civilians and children in their sleep? There is no need to demonstrate these capabilities any further. Everyone already knows about them. You’d do better to show your ability to establish at least some contact with the people who you describe as your citizens. All of this is taking place amid Kiev’s constant accusations against the DPR and the LPR. Based on Mr Yelchenko’s statement, Kiev openly talks about the successes of its Armed Forces. This is in effect an admission that shows who is behind this new round of tension in Donbass and who is violating the Minsk agreements. These are no longer violations, this is mockery of the Minsk agreements and the Package of Measures, among others. I would like to reiterate that the weapon systems used by Kiev are completely prohibited under the aforementioned documents and agreements.
Earlier this week we already expressed our concern over the serious worsening of the situation in Donbass. In this connection, on January 31, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement and the Russian leadership made a comment.
I would like to remind that the conflict has escalated along the contact line north of Donetsk, as well as in the Mariupol area. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have made new attempts to breach the line of contact and seize so-called gray zones and other territories in Donbass. These attempts were repulsed by militia forces.
That the escalation of the situation was initiated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces – in addition to the fact that this was reported in the media and was all but openly admitted by Mr Yelchenko – was recorded by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Its video cameras registered the first mass strikes originating from the northwest and west, that is, the positions of Ukrainian security forces. What’s more, tank guns, artillery systems and multiple rocket launchers were used. To reiterate, all of these weapon systems are prohibited by the Minsk Package of Measures. According to the mission’s February 1 report, the total number of explosions registered the day before was an all-time high. There were over 10,000 explosions, including more than 9,000 near Avdeyevka and Yasinovataya, north of Donetsk.
The OSCE mission reported civilian casualties in Donetsk suburbs. OSCE monitors themselves were also at risk during these events.
We urge the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to conduct objective and impartial monitoring of the situation in Donbass and other parts of Ukraine, in keeping with its mandate. The mission’s monitoring is not art for art’s sake, not work for the sake of work. These materials should have concrete results. The international community as a whole should act on the basis of the information that is provided. How much more does the obvious need to be demonstrated? How much longer must it be explained what we have been trying to explain for so many years? Stop killing your own citizens. We appeal to Kiev and the world community as a whole: you are so concerned about the fate of civilians everywhere, in regions that are not connected to Europe, that are separated by seas, by long distances, that you fail to see what is taking place in Europe itself. For two years now Europeans have been killing Europeans, and all of this is happening with the approval of the Europeans themselves. This is a disgrace to modern-day Europe. How can you possibly fail to understand this? You have protected Ukraine for so many years, [so] you are directly responsible for it. Where are you? Where are you hiding? Thanks to BBC footage (it should be given credit for this) we can see the mind-boggling images of tanks and heavy weapon systems being positioned near civilian facilities. Look at how this footage ends: representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces stand around laughing, discussing something; presumably they are preparing for nighttime bombing attacks. The last episode in this video is totally beyond good and evil. Their representative stands, bending over an OSCE representative and telling him something. What is there to tell? Everything is out there to see: tanks using civilians as a human shield. And then you will say that Ukrainian civilians “on the other side” are being killed. What are you doing? Are you blind? It seems as if nobody sees this and they keep saying that Russia violates the Minsk agreements. Do you have any conscience? Do the children of Donbass not exist for Europeans? We have heard so often Europeans talk about the situation in Syria and Aleppo. Donbass is closer to you. Are you not seeing them at all? Or are they not the children to be concerned about? Are you usually concerned about other children? The whole world watched the account of the Aleppo girl. No, the Donbass children do not have accounts, because they do not engage in propaganda. They simply live and suffer, while Europe could not care less about what is happening on its territory. You have stated so often that Ukraine is part of Europe and that Ukraine is close to the European community. Do not abandon those you took so long to befriend.
We are deeply concerned about reporters’ safety in this region.
On January 31, the NTV channel crew, RT video agency stringer Miroshnikov, Lifenews cameraperson Chuprina, and a correspondent from the Donetsk News Agency came under fire from Ukrainian armed forces artillery in the Kiev District of Donetsk. We believe the list is incomplete. Two reporters were wounded. Russia’s Investigative Committee is looking into the circumstances of this incident as part of a criminal investigation into illegal warfare tactics.
We consider this incident a gross violation of international humanitarian laws and standards. Notably, it is our Western colleagues who always refer to reporters as a category in need of more rights and legal tools to ensure their safety. No one noticed that the reporters were fired at? Again? The most cynical part is that Kiev is currently hosting a themed conference attended by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. I’m just wondering, will no one notice this time, too, that both Russian and other media representatives were fired at? I repeat, we consider this incident a gross violation of international humanitarian laws and standards, under which media workers in an armed conflict zone are considered civilians and have the highest degree of legal protection.
Once again, we have to state with regret the absence of a response to non-compliance with the commitments to ensure the safety of reporters on behalf of specialised intergovernmental organisations. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic didn’t consider it necessary to publicly condemn the incident. We are not talking about other representatives of various international organisations, who are invariably up in the arms when it comes to other conflicts. The shelling of the reporters was not posted on the website of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists. Apparently, they are still busy looking for Russian hackers.
We are convinced that such flagrant violations of the rights of media workers, especially in conflict areas, should not be ignored by the relevant international organisations. Once again, we are waiting for an objective assessment of what happened by the participants of a conference, which is taking place, by a dreadful confluence of circumstances, in Kiev under the auspices of the OSCE.
The cessation of hostilities established in Syria with the mediation of Russia and Turkey on December 30, 2016 continues to hold, with rare violations which are the exception rather than the rule.
We repeat that the cessation of hostilities does not apply to ISIS, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) or other terrorist groups, and fighting against them continues.
On January 28, Syrian government forces regained control of the only source of drinking water at Ain Al-Fiji outside of Damascus. On January 29, the army command announced the completion of the operation in Wadi Barada, including Ain Al-Fiji. According to available information, a pacification agreement was reached with the militants fighting there following negotiations. Those willing to lay down their arms will take advantage of an amnesty, and the so-called “die-hards” and their families will be evacuated to Idlib. Military engineers began de-mining the aqueduct and the surrounding areas. Repair crews witnessed the destruction of about 85 per cent of the infrastructure at the Ain Al-Fiji water pumping station and related equipment and power units. Fresh water supply to Damascus is expected to be resumed in full within a few days.
The Syrian armed forces and militias continue to drive ISIS out of towns and villages. Recently, eight towns were liberated: Bijan, Tell Bijaniya, Sarda, al-Qlea, Hirbet al-Tuba and Qsir in the Province of Aleppo and Murhatan and Tudmoriya in the Homs Province. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, Syrian government troops have liberated 29 towns and villages since January 1. According to the Centre for Reconciliation, a total of 913.1 square kilometres of Syrian land has been liberated since January 1.
Following the International Meeting on Syria in Astana, a rift developed in the ranks of the anti-government illegal armed formations. Terrorists from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) launched a massive attack against the armed opposition groups which sent their representatives to the forum in Astana. In this situation, some of the so-called “moderate opposition” groups requested protection from Ahrar al-Sham, as the most powerful group that claims neutrality in the conflict between Nusra and Astana meeting participants.
Meanwhile, the gangs whose ringleaders wanted to continue the armed fight against the government began to actively swear allegiance to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. To unite their supporters, Nusra created a new entity called the Levant Liberation Association, whose militants entered the fight against Ahrar Al-Sham in an attempt to drive the latter from the areas in the vicinity of the Syrian-Turkish border. Those who until recently considered and declared themselves comrades-in-arms, have now become rivals, and are desperately fighting for supply channels for arms and other resources.
The situation outside the town of Deir ez-Zor, which is surrounded by ISIS, remains tense. The terrorists are launching defiant attacks on a military airfield that is cut off from the town. The Syrian armed forces are sending in more troops by air to Deir ez-Zor. Russian Aerospace Force and Syria's Air Force are delivering massive missile and bomb strikes on ISIS positions.
We took note of the statements by representatives of the political and armed Syrian opposition, in which they are trying to anticipate the outcome of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva held under the auspices of the UN, which are planned to be resumed on February 20. Again, we are hearing ultimatums as preconditions for the opposition to come to the Geneva talks. The part where they demand for UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to apologise for his words, in which he expressed his willingness to form an opposition delegation in the event the opposition doesn’t do so before February 8, deserves a special mention. On our part, we fully support Staffan de Mistura’s resolute commitment to an early resumption of intra-Syrian contacts in Geneva. We consider any attempts to protract or delay them to be unacceptable.
The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains grave, if not catastrophic, which would better reflect the ongoing events under the current conditions. Since March 2015, the military clashes between the sides in Yemen, with the direct involvement of the Saudi-led coalition, have resulted in at least 7,500 deaths and over 40,000 wounded. Over 80 per cent of the country’s population – or about 19 million people – are in need of humanitarian aid. Two million Yemeni citizens have become internally displaced people, not counting tens of thousands of refugees.
There is a massive famine, with 97 per cent of children suffering acute malnutrition. According to reports from members of UN humanitarian missions, there are increasing instances of cases when parents with many children, unable to feed all of them, have to choose one to feed, while the others starve to death. And this is happening at the beginning of the 21st century!
Air strikes have inflicted immense damage to Yemen’s civilian infrastructure, destroying schools, hospitals and transport facilities. Due to the ongoing illegal air blockade and unlawful hindering of sea transport, neither food nor medications can be delivered to the country. The operations at the port of Al Hudaydah, Yemen’s main sea gate, have been brought to a standstill. The work of the country’s main airport in Sana'a has been halted as well. There is an acute shortage of medications, with many Yemeni citizens dying of curable diseases.
In this context, we are particularly alarmed and indignant about the lack of an adequate response and attention to the unprecedented tragedy in Yemen from the international humanitarian and human rights community, especially given the hysterical statements as regards the situation in Syria. Sadly, this has become a typical reaction from the Western mainstream. They choose to see what is advantageous and where it is necessary to hush up their own efforts, which for many years have been taken to derail security and stability, and fail to see the suffering of other people – in this case, much more suffering people – if there is no interest in doing so. This is their ‘humanitarian law.’ We are convinced that in this situation it is inappropriate to be guided by political considerations and that double standards are unacceptable. These are not even double standards. It is impossible to ignore such figures when millions of people are involved.
For our part, we will continue to closely follow the situation in Yemen and give all-out assistance to the work of international, above all UN humanitarian agencies in that country. We cannot allow the tragedy in Yemen to get lost amid other conflicts that are shattering the Middle East and North Africa.
A couple of days ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry received questions from the publication Politico regarding Russia’s foreign policy on Libya. Let me specify what kinds of questions were posed. Considering Russia’s global lead in resolving the crisis in Syria, does Russia plan to play a leading role in Libya? Does Russia back the power ambitions of General Khalifa Haftar? Does it view his role in the Libyan settlement as political or military in nature? What is Russia’s vision of a plan to stabilise the situation in Libya? Does Russia continue to support the internationally recognised government in Tripoli? We promptly gave Politico detailed answers to all those questions. We did not cherish hope that our position would be reflected fully. But we certainly did not count on what we got in the end. Naturally, the article that followed could be called thematic, in tune with the mainstream. Of the “Russians did it” variety, as I would call it. Given the media harm that the above publication did to us, in spite of the fact that we strove to observe professional and ethical norms while communicating with them, I would like to spell out our answers to its questions, so that mass media and the public could hear Russia’s position on Libya directly from us, rather than from a media outlet which has completely distorted all that is happening on the Libyan track of Russia’s foreign policy.
We have been closely watching the developments in Libya, something you probably already know. Here is an interesting fact. We spoke out on the Libyan issue so many times, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about this so many times, we published detailed commentaries on all our resources, and yet Politico does not see this. Why? I repeat, they did not even see the answers that were prepared specially for them.
We cannot but be concerned over the ongoing confrontation between Tripoli and Tobruk that has led to the virtual paralysis of the entire system of government. As a result of this, socioeconomic problems are becoming worse. Amid the power vacuum, the presence of the ISIS and Al Qaeda continues in some districts, and associated local extremist groups also remain active.
We are not indifferent to the fate of Libya. Our absolute priority is to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country. We want Libya to overcome the protracted crisis as soon as possible, to become again a prosperous state, relying on strong government institutions, efficient army and law-enforcement agencies, and to regain the status of an important regional player.
That is why we welcomed the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement on national reconciliation on December 17, 2015, in Skhirat, Morocco. We also supported the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2259, which enshrined the Skhirat agreements as the key element in settling the Libyan crisis. That said, I would like to recall that we initiated the provisions providing for an inclusive political process.
Over one year has passed since then, but the situation has not changed for the better. The Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord established based on the Skhirat Agreement failed to operate efficiently. The priority goals of the transitional period, stipulated by the Skhirat roadmap, have not been reached: the work on the draft constitution has not been completed, and general elections, following which permanent bodies of state authority should have been formed, have not been held.
We believe that Libyans themselves should decide the fate of their country. We consider counter-productive all attempts to impose any ready-made solutions on them. This is our position of principle, not only because it is good in theory, but because nothing else works in practice. We always talk about this to our Western partners and to Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya Martin Kobler.
At the same time we are convinced that new national power structures should represent the interests of all public and political forces and tribal groups. Without it we will not be able to start moving the process out of its current stalemate. This being said, no matter how the situation evolves, the political process in Libya should be based on all involved parties renouncing power methods of resolving the crisis. We should look for ways to break the deadlock through joint efforts at the negotiating table. We cannot see any alternative to a political settlement.
In line with this approach, we are carrying out methodical work with both centres of power in Libya: Tripoli and their opponents in Tobruk. We are trying to encourage them to overcome internal disagreements and look for middle ground on all points of dispute. We stressed the importance of building a constructive dialogue in our conversations with Chairman of the House of Representatives (Parliament in Tobruk) Aguila Saleh and Libyan National Army Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar during their visits to Moscow in November and December 2016. We address the Government of National Accord in the same vein. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in New York in September of last year. We are planning to receive him in Moscow in the near future, in February.
Russia’s contacts with Marshal Haftar arouse keen interest in the foreign media and among diplomatic analysts. I have repeatedly come across situations when Russia’s efforts and contacts are quoted out of the context of what we are doing concerning Libya, and are considered as something standing separately, detached from the rest of our steps and actions aimed at the settlement of the situation in that country. Of course, this distorts the objective picture in many ways. Moscow proceeds from the premise that Marshal Haftar is a political heavyweight who exercises a dominant influence on the alignment of political forces in modern-day Libya. In addition, he has made a significant contribution to the struggle against ISIS terrorists and he continues do so. As a result of his effort, the country has resumed oil exports and has started to obtain the resources necessary for addressing urgent social and economic problems.
I would like to emphasise once again that we cooperate with various forces and we are informing you about this with an understanding of the principles that, in our opinion, underlie the potential Libyan settlement. We believe that the Libyan National Army could be the backbone of the united Libyan armed forces. On the whole, it consists of well-equipped and organised paramilitary units that have proven their capability to engage in large-scale warfare. This is evidenced by their rather successful clearing operation, eliminating extremists in Benghazi, Derna and some other communities in East Libya. The army’s chief function should boil down to fighting against the terrorist underworld and maintaining law and order.
These are our answers to the questions that you posed. I sincerely recommend that you read the article in Politico, so that you may compare our position with what is written in that publication. Everything else concerning this publication’s coverage of Russia’s approaches looks roughly the same, which is, certainly, unfortunate.
Over the past several months we received a large number of questions, to which we were unable to respond at the time, as we were awaiting an appropriate reaction from the Netherlands, in particular, with regard to its statement that the format of the primary radar data provided by Russia was not up to international standards. As we informed you, such data were transferred to the Netherlands. We expected a corresponding reaction and so did not comment on it. That was followed by statements from The Hague claiming that the format of the primary radar data provided by Russia did not meet international standards. Again, we waited for a while, believing that this would be followed by some official correspondence or response. After all, the data that we provided were transferred through official channels. However, considering the large number of questions on the issue, I am ready to comment on it now.
I would like to start by saying that our Dutch colleagues chose a rather strange method of relating their problem. All of this is being done through the media. Presumably, this is a new Dutch fashion: communicating with Russian official agencies through the media. After all, there is the concept of “legal interaction,” within the framework of which the confidentiality of certain aspects of communication is still relevant due to an ongoing investigation. This legal interaction is part of an investigation that is in progress. There is also diplomacy, and there are diplomatic communication channels. Strangely, the Netherlands forgets this.
There is another aspect that we find surprising and cannot possibly ignore. How can one explain the time that the Netherlands required to see the so-called failure to meet international standards? For instance, it took them three months to understand that the disc could not be read. Somehow, this is hard to believe.
We believe that the explanation of what is going on is very simple. It is simply that the official investigation is in no hurry. In the summer, the victims’ relatives will mark the third anniversary of this terrible tragedy. However, to date, there is no coherent answer to the question about its causes or who is to blame.
Instead of prompt and transparent action, we are still seeing attempts to make groundless and unsubstantiated accusations against Russia. This time, to all appearances, they are aimed at diverting the attention of the victims’ families, who are demanding the resumption of the search mission and are accusing the Dutch authorities of negligence and indifference. None of that is in the interest of our Western colleagues, who do not bother to look for an answer to the question about what actually happened there.
I would also like to say a few words about these international standards that, according to the Netherlands, the format of our primary radar data failed to meet. As Russian Aviation Agency Deputy Chief Oleg Storchevoi explained recently, international civil aviation standards do not set any requirements on the list of parameters or radar data recording or storage format. In investigating air accidents, the ICAO recommends ensuring close interaction with companies that have specialists, equipment and software to decode such information.
Russia will be pleased to help, provide specialist assistance and equipment. The only problem is that no one is in a hurry to send this kind of request to Russia.
We are extremely disappointed with the decision by the IPC Governing Board to turn down a request from the Russian Paralympic Committee for it to enter athletes in the upcoming qualification events for the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. This decision in essence puts up a serious barrier to Russian athletes’ participation in the South Korean Games.
Against the backdrop of the notorious decision with regard to the recent games in Rio de Janeiro, we are again witnessing the application of collective penalties against a large number of our athletes for unproven crimes.
Russian representatives have repeatedly, and quite convincingly, laid out their position on the anti-doping issue. We would like to reiterate what has been stated at all levels, that is, that there is no place for doping in sport. In our country, doping is seen as a threat to the health and life of athletes, one that discredits fair competition.
We are firmly convinced that, in the context of the fight against doping in sport, it is essential to act on the basis of the principle that “clean” athletes – that is, athletes who have not been caught using banned substances – must not be denied the right to participate in Olympic and Paralympic Games, world championships or other international sport forums.
On February 1, the United Arab Emirates introduced new visa regulations that establish a simplified entry procedure for Russian citizens entering the UAE.
The new rules stipulate that starting February 1, Russian citizens holding ordinary international passports may receive a one-time entry/exit visa to the UAE for a term of up to 30 days at any of the country’s border crossing points. The visa is issued duty free and may be extended once by 30 days, subject to the payment of a corresponding fee.
We regard this step as evidence of the advanced character of Russian-UAE relations and our partners’ commitment to further expand mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in various areas, and to foster humanitarian contacts. For our part, we would like to stress that we share this commitment and are ready for joint movement forward down the path of liberalising travel procedures for citizens of both countries. Considering that Russian law provides for the possibility of introducing a procedure for visiting Russia by foreign citizens that differs from the one established by the Federal Law on the Procedure for Exit from the Russian Federation and Entry into the Russian Federation only on the basis of an international agreement, we are ready in the near future to begin a discussion of corresponding agreements with the UAE.
We have taken note of Reuters Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler’s message to the agency’s staff about covering President Trump and his administration. We wouldn’t have taken note of this had not the agency itself drawn attention to this message by publishing it on the agency’s website. I want to stress that the way Reuters operates is not our concern, and the way it covers President Trump does not fall within the competence of the Russian Foreign Ministry. This message is designed for the staff but its open publication has made it a manifesto available to millions of readers. Wed have no doubt that it was a deliberate action on the part of Reuters. Again, I want to stress that we do not comment on the internal recommendations of editorial offices, but we could not leave the following part of the Reuters message unanswered.
According to Mr Adler’s message, Russia is a nation “in which we [Reuters staff] sometimes encounter some combination of censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists.” How can we ignore this? All of this concerns Reuters staff in Russia, Mr Adler writes. Are you serious? Can you tell me exactly when all of this simultaneously, or at least one of these attacks, was directed at your journalists?
We have asked Reuters for a comment. Nobody there could tell us what this means. We asked if any Reuters staff have had any problems in Russia. They attend our briefings and other events held by the Foreign Ministry and other Russian government agencies. A party was recently held for foreign journalists where Reuters leaders could directly approach Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to ask questions of concern to them. Why are you here if the working conditions are so bad? And why don’t we know about the above attacks, if they really happened? This is masochistic behaviour.
I would like to tell you a secret, which is not a secret to many of you because you are privy to it. Meetings with foreign journalists are held every Wednesday morning in the Foreign Ministry’s Press Centre, to which we invite absolutely all media representatives accredited in Moscow. These meetings are also attended by members of the Press Centre who are responsible for creating good living and working conditions for foreign journalists in Russia. We have not heard any Reuters journalist complain about working conditions in Russia over the past 18 months. So who’s lying? Your editor-in-chief? Is your editor-in-chief lying to the whole world when he claims that you have encountered censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats in Russia? Or do you hide the truth from him? It’s unthinkable that Reuters lies to the public, which means that there is only one answer to this question.
We have said this before but we would like to stress again: we do not divide journalists into good and bad. If we have any complaints, for example against politicians, we say so openly. We don’t deny visas or accreditation for publishing information we regard as biased. We work in keeping with Government Resolution No. 1055 of September 13, 1994, The Rules of Accreditation and Stay of Correspondents of Foreign Mass Media on the Territory of the Russian Federation. The Foreign Ministry acts as the coordinator in this sphere, which is why I am talking about this now. Our relations with foreign journalists are based on these rules only. I expect Reuters to provide detailed explanations. Once again, you are not telling the truth about this issue. We maintain close cooperation with Reuters in accordance with the ethics of our profession and Russian law. The head of the agency’s Moscow bureau can tell you this. If they have any questions they want us to comment on, we always answer them. I know that some six months ago we received a letter from Reuters regarding an incident with a staff journalist that did not involve the Foreign Ministry. We looked into the matter and provided exhaustive information about it. We cannot imagine why Mr Adler should say this for the whole world to hear. What he says is not true.
We have been doing our utmost to help you exercise your professional duties regardless of what we think about the materials you publish. If we have any questions about your materials, we say so openly, publish refutations or highlight what we consider important regardless of political likes and dislikes.
I would like to draw your attention to the following. The above message has been published by the editor-in-chief of a news agency in Britain, a country where Russian journalists are being harassed. Look at what is happening to Russia Today, what with complaints and threats of closing RT issued almost every month. For the past few months we have been working to prevent the RT accounts from being blocked. I am asking Mr Adler again: Are you serious? Look at what your country is doing to Russian journalists for political reasons. You are harassing them although Russian journalists do not violate British laws and otherwise behave as journalists do around the world. There may be problems with visas or accreditations, but these are minor technical problems that are easily solved. I would like Mr Adler to provide an example of the censorship his journalists have allegedly encountered in Moscow. Just one example, please? Although I cannot understand in principle how Moscow could censor Reuters materials.
Question: The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he would form the Geneva delegation, if the opposition failed to do so on their own.
Maria Zakharova: He didn’t say he would form a delegation. He said he was prepared to do that to avoid a slow-down. This is understandable because pressure is being brought to bear on him, including by the Russian Federation, as we said. It certainly means that we are using our political pressure, albeit within acceptable limits, but we are doing this to encourage all those involved in this process to launch talks on the Geneva site. So, Mr Staffan de Mistura, as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Syria, must do his best to somehow launch this process. The important thing is to not lose the ceasefire moment and the very productive outcome of the Astana meeting.
We see some clear signs that many opposition forces, pressured by a number of players, are taking the course for dragging out this process so as to postpone or delay it; some have a mind to disrupt it altogether. This is why we are doing all we can to encourage our UN colleagues by any available means to step up this process. We are quite happy that our persistent political signal has reached its destination and an increase in activity at the Geneva site is evident. The most important thing is to prevent more procrastination or the invention of new reasons for something getting in the way again.
Question: Sergey Lavrov said it was all right if the opposition sent more than one delegation to Geneva. What’s your take on this?
Maria Zakharova: This question should be addressed to the UN, not us. Being in contact with everyone and having the authority, they should be organising this process. Organising this, let me reiterate, is within the purview of the United Nations and the Special Representative for Syria. In this case, the result is what matters and we should be oriented to that. The nuances and aspects of preparations for the meeting should be based on the result we want to achieve.
Question: How do you assess the performance of the OSCE monitors in Donbass after recent events?
Maria Zakharova: We can provide any amount of assessments. There are objective things done by the monitors and there are those that can testify to their clearly inadequate performance. Evaluations are neither here nor there. We proceed from the assumption that all their actions should, first, be objective and, second, timely. Their actions should not be prompted by the media or some or other parties. They should take them on their own, and all of this is part of the concept of objectivity. Of course, the materials they submit should motivate Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements. The meaning of this process is not monitoring for monitoring’s sake. In a way, we are being held hostage to the situation, where there are a lot of materials and everyone is aware of what is going on over there but, regrettably, it has little or no influence on the position of the countries capable of bringing political pressure on Kiev and making it implement the Minsk Agreements.
Our position is this: All OSCE materials must be objective, timely and used to achieve the main goal, which is to make Kiev implement the Minsk Agreements.
Question: Last December, the Armenia-Azerbaijan Platform for Peace civilian initiative was launched in Baku. This project involves public activists from Armenia and Azerbaijan and politicians, with representatives from other countries also joining in. What does the Foreign Ministry think about this form of citizen diplomacy? Can it help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Can you comment on a statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the conflict threatens US national security interests? How effectively can Russia and the United States cooperate on this issue?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the establishment of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Platform for Peace initiative, I would like to reply in general that such venues and initiatives do exist. We praise the role of citizen diplomacy in helping resolve conflicts. The most important mission of citizen diplomacy is to convince public circles of conflicting parties that there is no alternative to a peaceful search for mutually acceptable compromise solutions.
We believe that any initiative should accomplish this objective first of all. We welcome any public initiative stipulating this goal.
Regarding the statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Nagorno-Karabakh, this is certainly his opinion as a US representative. While not commenting on the position of the United States, which has a right to independently evaluate threats to its national security, I would like to say that we should proceed from the assumption that the conflict itself mostly threatens the security, stability and future development of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
As I have said, contact with the United States is still forthcoming. Let’s wait until it is established, after which the sides will be able to discuss a number of issues, and then we can comment on it.
Question: Despite the Russian stance, that has repeatedly been voiced by officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Minsk continues to detain Russian citizen and blogger Alexander Lapshin. The Belarusian side has agreed to extradite Lapshin to Baku at the request of Azerbaijan, but he has not been extradited yet. If Minsk extradites Lapshin to Baku, will Russia try and secure his return from Azerbaijan? How will Russian diplomacy respond to this Belarusian act?
Maria Zakharova: We consistently insist that it is unacceptable to extradite Russian citizens to third countries. In an effort to set forth our stance on this issue, we maintain intensive contact with the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and that country’s law enforcement agencies. Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner issued her statement the other day, noting the incident’s humanitarian dimensions and evaluating the legal aspects of the situation. I can only comment on this issue based on these criteria.
Question: How will Russia respond to the extradition of a Russian citizen?
Maria Zakharova: Our briefings would last for days if I were able to comment on things that have not taken place.
Question: Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski announced that Poland intends to sue Russia in the International Court of Justice over the dragged-out investigation of the Smolensk plane crash. The investigation is preventing Russia from transferring the wreckage to Poland.
When will foreign nationals be able to cross the Russian-Belarusian border without problems? The current situation is not exactly normal. How does this affect heavy truck movement?
Maria Zakharova: I need to clarify details to answer the second question since it does not fall entirely into the Foreign Ministry’s competence. We will make sure to provide you with the latest data.
As concerns the progress of the investigation, unfortunately, we can see that Poland’s opinion of the situation is divided. There are those who want to conduct an actual investigation and we are open to this. Repeatedly during briefings, we have spoken about our willingness to cooperate with Poland over any issues. We said that if we receive any requests from our Polish counterparts we are ready to provide the necessary information, including whatever is required for them to inspect the wreckage. Unfortunately, not everybody in Warsaw prefers this particular approach. There is a group that is approaching this issue in a completely different manner, that is, increasingly trying to politicise it. This has nothing to do with the investigation. Instead, it is an attempt to turn the Smolensk crash into a political issue, use it as a domestic policy (which is absolutely incomprehensible) and a foreign policy cards (which is, unfortunately, more explicable considering our history). Our opinion is that it is absolutely destructive to further politicise the tragedy.
Regarding the statements on the tribunal, retrials, appeals, lawsuits, all these actions lie within the second, or politicised, approach. There are no outstanding inquiries from Poland regarding the wreckage still in Russia that we have not considered or responded to. Of course, we are not the main authority here, but I can’t remember any such request being rejected. Unfortunately, we can see how vigorously the situation is being politicised and the process is even being recorded. These are not just occasional outbursts but an intentional pushing of the tragedy into a political context for both domestic and foreign policy purposes.
Question: If there is a lawsuit how will Russia respond?
Maria Zakharova: Once again, we cannot comment on what has not happened. What are the complaints? We assume that this is not an attempt to uncover the circumstances of the incident (I believe everything possible has been done for that) but an intention to use the crash as a political issue in domestic and foreign policy.
Question: A delegation from the Norwegian Parliament was scheduled to visit Moscow today, but the visit had to be postponed after Russia denied visas to two members of the Norwegian delegation. After that, Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said that he may have to cancel his visit to Russia, where he was expected to take part in The Arctic — Territory of Dialogue International Forum in Arkhangelsk. What is your view of the state of relations between Russia and Norway after these events? How many Norwegians have been blacklisted by Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to draw your attention to the comment to this effect by the Embassy of Russia in Norway, if you have not seen it already. The Russian Embassy expresses regret over the postponement of the return visit by the delegation of the Foreign and Defence Committee of the Norwegian Storting headed by its Chairperson, Anniken Huitfeldt, to Moscow at the invitation of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly, Konstantin Kosachev. The decision to postpone the visit was taken by Norway after two members of the delegation were denied entry visas to the Russian Federation. Ms Trine Skei Grande and Mr Bård Vegar Solhjell are listed as persons subject to entry restrictions to the Russian Federation as a retaliatory measure to the decision by Norway to join the sanctions imposed by the European Union and making permanent the discriminatory entry requirements to Spitsbergen for Russian citizens effective September 1, 2016 as per Regulation No. 96 relating to the Rejection and Expulsion of Persons from Svalbard dated February 3, 1995. The information about these lists was communicated to Brussels and Norway in due time along with a request to inform all parliamentary, political and civil society representatives from the relevant EU countries and a number of other European countries, who intended to visit Russia, so that they could inquire with the consular authorities in their countries whether they would be able to use their travel documents, i.e. the diplomatic passport and a Russian visa, to cross the Russian border. In addition, the list of persons prohibited from entering Russia was communicated by diplomatic channels to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry on November 29, 2016, long before the Norwegian parliament formed this delegation. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry was aware of the situation with the two Norwegian officials long before the incident.
Let me emphasis that the Russian stop list is a legitimate response to unfriendly and unprovoked actions by the EU and a number of supporting countries, including Norway.
As the Embassy has also said in its comments, let me also draw your attention to the fact that there were no individuals from the EU’s and Norway’s stop lists on the delegation of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee headed by Konstantin Kosachev that visited Norway on June 16-17, 2016. This is very important and should be taken into account.
The Russian Embassy in Norway said in its comments that measures taken by Russia were a response to Norway’s actions. Russia never intended to step up the sanctions war and has no plans to do so in the future. We were not the first to enact these sanctions, and we are not the ones seeking to further escalate tensions on this issue. Time and again we have warned that sanctions of this kind can have a boomerang effect on those who initiated them. We have said this on numerous occasions, and warned our partners against taking such steps. By postponing their visit to Russia, members of the Norwegian Parliament have become hostages to a decision taken more than two years ago. Let me reiterate that this did not come as a surprise for them, since the lists were communicated to the Foreign Ministry of this country well in advance. We are interested in equal and mutually beneficial relationships with Norway, including inter-parliamentary ties. For many years, our relations were marked by mutual respect and an eagerness to take into account each other’s interests. This provides a foundation for further developing our relations, which we believe to be the only possible way forward. To be honest, we believe that it is high time that our Norwegian partners start questioning the effectiveness of joining various sanctions and enacting lists against Russia.
As for the issue of how many people are on these lists and who they are, my advice would be to ask Norway. If the Norwegian Foreign Ministry decides that disclosing these lists to you would be the right thing to do, they can do so as an act of good will. For us, this is a matter of diplomatic procedure. We have done everything we could in order not to complicate things. Norway, not Russia, created this situation. We have done everything we could so that Norwegians, representatives of the Kingdom’s delegation, do not find themselves in an intricate situation. It was for this reason that the lists were communicated to Norway in advance. Should the Norwegian Foreign Ministry wish to disclose these lists, they are free to do so.
Question: How many people are on these lists?
Maria Zakharova: I am not telling you. What do you want from us?
We are looking forward to building normal relations and cooperating with everyone. When we are informed that, for example, Norway wants to introduce sanctions or is drawing up stop lists, we warn them that Russia will retaliate in the same manner. But they do not listen and are unwilling to heed us. They introduce lists, and we retaliate with our lists. And you are asking, how many people are on those lists. We are guided by the same approach in terms of sanctions lists.
Question: Why were these people put on the black lists?
Maria Zakharova: And why have you blacklisted the Russians who are prohibited from entering Norway? How can I answer your question? There is one kind of logic to the sanction lists madness: reciprocity. You will not find common sense or any other logic here. We said at the very beginning that these actions were illogical and unnecessary, that they were harmful and would not bring any result, yet Norway has done it. We have reciprocated. There is nothing to comment on here, nothing more or less to say other than there are no other diplomatic measures possible in these situations. Diplomats have immunity from the laws of the host country, and so the activity of diplomats and people holding diplomatic passports is regulated by a different set of rules. For example, they cannot be sued. There is an accepted rule whereby these people are not subject to the jurisdiction of the host country. This rule of reciprocity was invented years and even centuries ago, because sometimes reciprocity is the only possible reaction.
There is a practice of reciprocal steps, which is used, unfortunately, when it is impossible to provide any other reply. It is a signal showing that if you continue to use destructive approaches and interaction, you will get an answer in kind. This is regrettable, but it was not our choice. It’s simple.
As I said, the number of blacklisted individuals and the actions taken against them were reciprocal measures.
Question: We know that Kazakhstan and Russia are strategic allies and partners. However, Russian politicians sometimes talk about territorial claims against Kazakhstan.
Maria Zakharova: Who was so daring?
Question: I can name several people, including Khakassian Parliament Speaker Vladimir Shtygashev and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. A similar statement was made on January 27 by State Duma Deputy Pavel Shperov. What are the authorities doing to prevent this from happening again? Are they taking any measures?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian authorities have clearly outlined Moscow’s official position regarding its partners, including Kazakhstan, which is one of its closest partners. As you know, we highly value our relations with Kazakhstan and the efforts of the Kazakh leaders to strengthen these relations. The official position on this is clear and unambiguous. However, we are living in an era of democracy, the generally recognised and possibly the optimal form of government. In a democratic state, people, and especially politicians, have the possibility to express their personal views, the opinion of the electorate or their own opinions of current international developments, internal processes and historical events, which the electorate can support. We always point to the difference between personal political views and the official position. I believe that Kazakhstan should not have any questions about the official Russian stance or Russian policy.
As for Mr Zhirinovsky, we often get a whipping from him too.
Question: The new Danish Foreign Minister, Anders Samuelsen, said during his visit to the Donetsk Region that Russia bears the bulk of responsibility for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Maria Zakharova: Is this what the Danish Foreign Minister said?
Question: Yes, it is.
Maria Zakharova: Well, he probably knows what he is talking about.
Question: What else can Russia do within the scope of its authority to prevent the conflict from escalating?
The Syrian opposition, including representatives of the so-called Moscow and Cairo groups, have stated on numerous occasions the need to create a single coalition with a view to engaging in direct dialogue. Nevertheless, this single coalition has yet to materialise. In your opinion, what prevents the Syrian coalition from coming together?
Maria Zakharova: I think that the representative of Syrian News Agency Sana, who is seated right next to you, can tell you about the contradictions that torment the Syrian opposition.
This is what the Syrian crisis is all about. It is about people with diverging political views and different visions on how these views should be acted upon. Had the opposition spoken with a single voice, many issues would have become irrelevant. This is what this is all about. I talked about this at length today. Even those who yesterday fought together against official Damascus today are fighting against each other. The opposition is fragmented. By and large it cannot be called opposition, since it consists of a plethora of representatives with constantly shifting views, from terrorist actions to moderate views and then back to rebel activity. This is the gist of the issue. The opposition lacks unity, be it in terms of its formal composition, external attributes, ideology or methods. This is a major issue. People who represented the opposition movements in Syria in the run-up to the conflict, do not believe in dialogue with the military, believing them to be traitors. At the same time, they never expressed any sympathy for the government of the Syrian Arab Republic or President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition was becoming more polarised as the crisis deepened.
It is a central theme in the West that there is a watershed between official Damascus and the opposition with no other contradictions or conflicts. This is a huge misperception, as we have repeatedly told our partners. This is something the Foreign Minister of Denmark, whom you’ve mentioned, should be aware of. If he is working on Ukraine-related issues, it would be advisable for him to have an independent take on this issue, just as for any other foreign minister who for many years turned a blind eye to all issues, and ignores the real problems in Ukraine. Their vision is one-sided, focusing on Russia’s alleged failure to abide by the Minsk Agreements. The same goes for the Syrian crisis, where they fail to see the causes, the way it developed and the issues it brought about.
The opposition lacks a single platform for common action. Getting the opposition together was a major challenge. It was very hard to convene the first meeting of the opposition in Geneva. I hope you remember that when indirect political contact between official Damascus and the opposition was launched last year in Geneva, they failed under pressure from the co-sponsors of specific countries. Reviving this process was a matter of great importance. We saw many attempts to derail these efforts. This is why we must use this opportunity to reset the Geneva platform. No one has a magic wand to resolve these issues. It’s a matter of working with the opposition. Why are we repeating time and again that all who have some leverage over the opposition forces should use it to make the sides sit down at the negotiating table. We have been saying this for several years now. But they either did not hear us, or did not want to hear us. This is the key to forcing the opposition forces to work together.
Many are asking why Russia has offered a draft constitution to the Syrian opposition, whether it can be regarded as pressure or a willingness to impose its terms. No, by doing so Russia has not attempted to impose its own terms or pressure anyone, but tried to focus the discussion, including within the opposition, on the constitution project. Russia did not try to impose a single vision, but to give the opposition a common cause. For now, they have been disunited even in their military activity. Our goal is to arrange things in such a way that instead of rifles they focus on the constitution and come together for discussing the future of the country. You know all too well what our partners did and how far they went in order to prevent any kind of rapprochement, including among opposition groups and the various countries that can influence the process.
As for the statement of the Danish Foreign Minister regarding the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and what else can Russia do, I have only one comment to make: what can Denmark do to make Kiev abide by the Minsk Agreements? I think Russia’s efforts are a fact of common knowledge. Russia is undertaking efforts on the political and humanitarian fronts, and delivers humanitarian aid. If this question comes from the head of the Danish Foreign Ministry, I can respond by returning the question: what is Denmark doing to stop Kiev from killing its own citizens? They could have issued a statement today to condemn Kiev’s actions to shell civilians. As for us, we have always been clear about the actions we undertake.
Question: Does Russia discuss the delivery of its weapons to General Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding weapons deliveries, I refer you to the Russian Defence Ministry which addresses these issues.
Question: How does Russia expect the opposition, the government in Damascus and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to respond to the new Syrian constitution? Do you think that they will accept it?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to note that it is customary to say “draft” to denote the document that has been presented to the Syrian opposition. In reality this is not a draft constitution to be approved or rejected. This is a compilation of quite diverse ideas that have been discussed with representatives of the opposition or Damascus, in one way or another. This set of ideas will have to be discussed during preparations for the full process of drafting the constitution. This is not some duly drawn up document awaiting approval. It only aimed to launch the discussion process, so that the opposition can determine what aspects are acceptable, what is included there, what should be included, what is absolutely impossible, and what seems constructive. I repeat, the main task is to start discussions of this issue. They have discussed the Constitution so many times, but so far no specific draft or proposals have been submitted. Therefore this was our idea to launch this process in principle, rather than examine it as a document to be voted on, approved or rejected. I think that even the most extremist members of the opposition did not view it as a document to be rejected or approved. In our opinion, this is a compilation of ideas that we need to start discussing. If some people find it important to add things, they can add or omit things. Mostly importantly, we need to launch this project.
Question (translated from English): Do you expect any other stance from the new United States Ambassador to the United Nations that would differ from the one set forth yesterday when she accused Russia of aggression in Donbass and said the sanctions would not be lifted until Russia returned Crimea to Ukraine?
Maria Zakharova: Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin answered precisely this question yesterday, while discussing the statements of the United States Ambassador to the UN. I can add nothing else here because he has already commented on this statement.
Question: How would you comment on developments around the Sputnik news agency in Lithuania?
Maria Zakharova: Indeed, we learned about this situation some time ago, and we are following these developments. This concerns the decision of the Lithuanian Baltic News Service (BNS) agency to early terminate the contract for the provision of Sputnik Lithuania media content. Naturally, Sputnik and some other media outlets had questions. As we see it, the Sputnik news agency completely fulfilled its contractual obligations on time. The Lithuanian partners acknowledge that the BNS materials, posted on its website, were not distorted. Nevertheless, a unilateral decision to stop providing services to Sputnik was made.
The situation continues to develop. As we understand, the management of Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency has already sent the appropriate letter to BNS, requesting that the contract be executed until its scheduled termination in August 2017.
Although it is hard to say that the decision by BNS is not politically motivated, especially in the context of statements made by top management about the allegedly inaccurate and propagandistic reports of the Russian news agency, we are expecting our Lithuanian partners to behave reasonably and to settle the case out of court soon. We would very much like to avoid any politically motivated approaches, so that media outlets of various countries can find opportunities for cooperation, all the more so as such cooperation was quite correct, to quote the Lithuanian partners.
Question: Wire services have reported barely twenty minutes ago that pranksters posing as Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko have called NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the telephone.
Maria Zakharova: Let this be the last question, please.
Question: I just wanted to mention Mr Stoltenberg’s statement that the issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership is just a misunderstanding, and that Ukraine does not meet membership criteria. Could you comment on this report?
Maria Zakharova: As if this wasn’t known before the prank call.
Question: The Afghan media reported a few days ago that Pakistan, Russia and China had reached an agreement on opening a Taliban office in Islamabad. Can you confirm this information?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information on this.
Question: The defence ministers of the United States and South Korea, who met in Seoul today, have reaffirmed their plans to deploy the THAAD anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea regardless of Russia and China’s protests. Can you comment on this meeting? What will Russia do if these plans are implemented this year?
Maria Zakharova: I will not comment on this meeting, because it was held by defence ministries. As for the deployment of ballistic missile defence systems, Russia’s position on this issue has been presented more than once and has not changed.
Question: What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about President Trump’s new executive order to ban the entry of people from some countries into the United States? What impact might this order have on international terrorism?
Maria Zakharova: We have said before that we need to cooperate with the United States on this issue [terrorism]. It is a fundamental position that does not depend on who sits in the White House. We have taken note of the new US administration’s intention to give this international issue priority attention. We applaud this intention and will do our best to resume counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, including Russian-US cooperation.
Counterterrorism cooperation was curtailed through no fault of ours but due to the conscious decision of the Obama administration. Our cooperation was reduced to a minimum, if not zero, in the existing formats, including between related agencies and within special bilateral institutions – I am referring to the Bilateral Presidential Commission, as well as in international organisations.
We regard cooperation in this area as extremely important, especially since we have made considerable progress and created the necessary infrastructure for cooperating with the United States.
As for your first question, it is a US decision.
I would like to remind you that a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in the Middle East, or more precisely, it attended talks in the United Arab Emirates. I believe it is important to listen to the opinion of the regional countries on this issue because it directly concerns them. A news conference held there was attended by Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Nahyan, who said that they viewed this US decision as a temporary measure aimed at settling current problems. It was in this spirit that they talked about it.
Question: The Russian Foreign Ministry has pointed out the serious aggravation of the political crisis in Macedonia. Are ethnic clashes between Macedonians and Albanians possible in this context? What can the international community do to prevent it?
Maria Zakharova: We have published exhaustive material on this issue. I have nothing more to add.
Question: Turkish Ambassador to Russia Huseyin Dirioz said today that Turkish diplomats would appeal to the Russian Foreign Ministry to introduce visa-free travel for Turkish business people and politicians. What does the Foreign Ministry think about visa-free travel for some categories of people?
Maria Zakharova: We will consider this request when we receive it.
Question: Russia and Iran established bilateral relations 515 years ago. What will the dominant trends be in their relations this year?
Maria Zakharova: Thank you for reminding me. We will prepare and publish extensive materials about Russian-Iranian relations, because this issue is too big for a briefing. We will make this information available very soon.
Question: What is Russia doing to ease tensions or improve the rapidly deteriorating situation in Donbass? Do you maintain contact with anyone?
Maria Zakharova: The UN Security Council recently held a meeting at the foreign minister level, and we also maintain contact with our foreign colleagues, including at international organisations. I would like you to take note of Vitaly Churkin’s statement, which has been published. We are working closely with our OSCE colleagues, the OSCE countries and the organisation itself, on the issue of objective presentation and timely provision of materials by OSCE observers, so that these materials can break out of virtual reality and be used for planning practical actions.
In the meantime, we continued to provide humanitarian aid to Donbass civilians. You know about the volume, size and forms of this aid. Government agencies and public organisations have not stopped sending this aid even for a day. It includes everything that is in short supply, including foodstuffs, medicines and other basic necessities, which are collected, packed and dispatched. Do you remember how this all started? We were almost accused of invading Ukraine when we sent the first convoys. Unfortunately, the international community has not given as much attention to subsequent convoys, although we need it to give large and objective coverage to our humanitarian efforts.
Of course, contact will be maintained at the bilateral level and within the framework of international organisations.