Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 2, 2017
- Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj
- Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov
- Sergey Lavrov to attend photo exhibit opening ceremony for the establishment of Russian-South African diplomatic relations
- Sergey Lavrov’s talks with German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel
- Russia’s priorities during China’s BRICS presidency
- The situation in and around Syria
- Developments in Mosul
- Intra-community dialogue as part of settlement in Cyprus
- Deterioration in Macedonia
- Ceremony on the restoration of the Soviet soldiers’ cemetery in Milejczyce, Poland
- Vandalism of a monument to the Russian soldier in Bulgaria
- Update on the Sputnik situation in the Baltics
- The case of Russian citizen Alexander Lapshin
- Russia-Iran relations
- Hearings in the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague on Ukraine’s lawsuit against Russia with regard to alleged violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (December 9, 1999) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (December 21, 1965)
- Answers to media questions:
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Contacts between US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak
- Russia-NATO relations
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Murder of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother
- Deployment of US THAAD anti-ballistic missile systems in South Korea
- The criminal case of Lisa F
- Russian military base in Afghanistan
- Turkish president’s visit to Russia
- Deployment of US THAAD anti-ballistic missile systems in South Korea
- Russia-UK relations
- Vandalism of a monument to Soviet soldiers
- Russia-Tajikistan relations
Sergey Lavrov will meet with Fayez al-Sarraj, Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya, today in the afternoon. After the meeting, we will inform you about its content and results.
Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov will be in Russia on an official visit on March 6-7 at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s invitation. The visit comes in the lead up to the April 4 celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan.
The foreign ministers will hold talks, and Mr Mammadyarov will also meet with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council Ilyas Umakhanov. The Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan is also expected to deliver a speech at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
During the talks in Moscow, the foreign ministers of Russia and Azerbaijan will discuss a wide range of issues on the bilateral, regional and international agendas.
The official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry will publish an update with more details about the talks and the content of the meeting.
On March 7, an exhibit of archival documents and photos devoted to the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and South Africa will open with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation. The exhibit features materials related to the different stages in the history of friendly ties and cooperation between the two countries.
Representatives of the Federation Council and the State Duma, Russian ministries and agencies, business and expert communities, diplomatic service veterans and serving officials and representatives of the South African embassy in Moscow, the South African business community and students have been invited.
On March 9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks in Moscow with German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
The ministers will discuss the schedule of upcoming political contacts, the current status of bilateral relations and a number of practical issues on the bilateral agenda, including the implementation of particular trade, economic, cultural, humanitarian, historical, and memorial projects.
They will exchange their views on current international issues with a focus on multilateral efforts to resolve the Ukraine and Syria crises and normalise the situation in Libya.
More detailed information on the upcoming talks will be posted on the ministry website.
On February 23-24, a meeting of BRICS sherpas and sous-sherpas took place in Nanjing, China, the first such meeting this year, in the course of which the proposals and vision that the Chinese presidency introduced into the group’s 2017 agenda in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres, as well as related priorities, were considered. Russia was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister and BRICS Sherpa Sergey Ryabkov.
This meaningful and substantive exchange of views confirmed that the approaches proposed by the presidency lay a solid groundwork for furthering strategic partnership in the group of five member countries. They are fully in sync with the Russian line. We welcome and share our Chinese friends’ commitment to strengthening the role of BRICS as a major factor in the formation of a new polycentric world order. We support the focus on the continuity of efforts and the institutionalisation and consolidation of cooperation mechanisms.
We believe it is important to continue working together to strengthen solidarity within the framework of BRICS so that the “group of five” can speak in a “single and strong voice” on topical issues of international politics and economics and so that this voice and our coordinated position can be heard in the world and at key international platforms: the UN, the G20, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and other multilateral organisations and forums. We are willing to work together along these lines.
We praise the Chinese presidency’s proposals on deepening cooperation on the Middle East between the foreign ministries, on foreign policy planning, peacekeeping, the fight against corruption and cooperation between law enforcement agencies. Our priority is to counter the terrorist threat which has reached a global level and requires a collective response.
We share our BRICS partners’ evaluations regarding the importance of stepping up cooperation in the financial and economic sphere. There is a sound, solid foundation here: the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership. We welcome Beijing’s desire to give high priority to its implementation. We will work through concerted efforts to further strengthen financial cooperation mechanisms: the New Development Bank and the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement.
We value China’s proposals to expand BRICS humanitarian dimension, which are based on the solid foundation of the traditional cultural values of our five countries and are designed to enrich the cultural and civilisational diversity of today’s world.
These are only some of the wide-ranging multilateral cooperation mechanisms that are based on the solid foundation of similar or identical approaches within BRICS toward what is, without exaggeration, a majority of topical issues on the international agenda. It is impossible to address all areas of cooperation during a briefing, due to time constraints, especially since many of them fall within the jurisdiction of other ministries and agencies. We will keep you up to date on Russia’s efforts within this association.
Russia is ready for the closest possible cooperation with the Chinese presidency and other BRICS partners to ensure that the upcoming 9th BRICS summit in Xiamen in early September can become another meaningful step forward in consolidating five-nation strategic cooperation.
The intra-Syrian talks under UN auspices that resumed on February 23 are ongoing in Geneva. Unfortunately, after the first several days of intra-Syrian dialogue, there are still question marks about the willingness of Syrian opposition representatives to negotiate an agreement. The so-called High Negotiations Committee is refusing to engage with the Moscow and Cairo platforms, effectively sabotaging comprehensive dialogue both with the Syrian Government delegation and with different opposition groups.
We are committed to advancing the Astana process, which was originally meant to support the Geneva negotiating process. As you know, concrete results were achieved in Astana. We are ready for new participants to join this track, including Syrian armed opposition groups that wield real influence on the ground and will be willing to make a constructive contribution to the Syria peace process.
At present, the military and political situation in Syria remains tense. Over the past several days, terrorist groups have carried out a series of major terrorist attacks and provocations.
On February 24, ISIS militants, in retaliation for the loss of al-Bab, detonated a car bomb outside the Free Syrian Army headquarters in the village of Sousian, Aleppo Province, eight kilometres from the city, killing about 80 people.
On February 24, an ISIS rocket and mortar attack disabled the Ebla gas plant in the east of Homs Province that supplied fuel to local thermal power plants. As a result, the local authorities had to significantly extend the duration of rolling outages in Damascus and other major cities.
On February 25, six Jabhat al-Nusra suicide bombers almost simultaneously blew themselves in the city of Homs, in the Mahatta and Ghouta districts near Syrian special services buildings, killing over 50 and seriously injuring about 30.
The Syrian armed forces are continuing the counterterrorist operation in al-Kabun, eastern Damascus, and the adjacent district of Tishreen. The Syrian military are determined to take out the al-Nusra militants who have entrenched themselves there, regularly shelling Damascus from their positions. The campaign also aims to destroy the extensive network of tunnels leading to eastern Ghouta that terrorists use to supply ammunition and reinforcements. On February 25, in retaliation for Syrian artillery attacks, the jihadists launched over 10 rockets on Dahiyat al-Assad, a Damascus suburb. The Syrian authorities had to close all local schools for several days due to the threat of indiscriminate shelling.
During the week, government forces freed about 50 population areas to the east of Aleppo. The Syrian army’s current priority is to ensure the security of the Assad water reservoir near the city of Deir Hafer and the al-Khafsa water pumping station, and then restore regular water supplies in Aleppo and its suburbs. On the whole, the Syrian military maintain control of the town of Tadef and adjacent areas, blocking the militants’ advance to the east of the province.
Kurdish militias are advancing in the north of Deir ez-Zor Province. Over 50 towns have been freed from ISIS.
In al-Ziyabiya, southern Damascus, the last wave of internally displaced people have begun to return to their homes. Earlier, about 1,500 families returned following the restoration of housing and utilities infrastructure. The final stage of the “peace enforcement” operation began in Surgaya near the Syrian-Lebanese border, whereby following the evacuation of the so-called intransigent elements in Idlib, the militants who have laid down their arms will be granted amnesty. According to Syrian media reports, about 700 people have received amnesty so far.
Fierce fighting resumed between Jund al-Aqsa militants and extremist groups acting under the umbrella of Organisation of the Liberation of the Levant (another rebranding of al-Nusra) in the north of Hama Province. Over the past weekend alone, Jaish al-Nasr, a group affiliated with al-Nusra, lost over 70 militants in this “family conflict.”
Russia is doing all it can to resolve humanitarian problems in Syria. We are closely working with the Syrian Government to this end. Our service personnel are risking their lives to deliver food and medicine to those in need. The mobile hospital of the Russian Defence Ministry deployed in Aleppo is providing medical care to civilians.
The situation in Iraq remains complicated. Over four months have passed since the start of the military operation to liberate Mosul. It was only on February 19 that the government forces supported by popular militia and Kurdish units began the liberation of the western part of the city located on the right bank. To date, 25 near- and far-lying suburbs, including Mosul airport, have been liberated. Advance is stalled by ISIS multi-layered defence and dense urban development. The terrorists manage to do serious damage by counter-attacking with suicide car bombs.
Despite all efforts on the part of the Iraqi Government, ISIS still holds vast areas in the Western provinces of Anbar and Nineveh. Its position in the region is propped up by the continued inflow of extremist fighters from the neighbouring Syria as Islamic State controls both sides of the border. As a result, the Iraqi air force has carried out a strike on ISIS facilities in the Syrian town of Abu Kamal in a raid that was agreed with the Syrian Government.
The flip side of the military operation against ISIS is the deteriorating humanitarian situation. According to Iraqi Government statistics, the number of people having fled Mosul is nearing 250,000. Around 700,000 civilians remain in the ISIS-controlled western part of the city. The figures are approximate but real, and no one can ignore the gravity of the situation that they represent. Relevant UN bodies have described the humanitarian situation in Mosul as critical. The growing shortage of food, drinking water and medicines, which are no longer supplied to the blocked neighbourhoods, is cause for special alarm.
Continued air strikes of US-led anti-ISIS coalition are contributing to civilian suffering. One way or another, information about civilian deaths makes it to the media. In this context, we have noted a publication of the Airwars group of independent British monitors regarding recent coalition actions in Iraq and Syria. In January, the number of air strikes in these countries increased by 25 and 68 per cent, respectively, resulting in the deaths of 630 to 820 civilians. These are terrible figures.
It is unfortunate that our western partners, the media they control and mainstream publications are continuing to filter information coming from Mosul. They must be doing it manually online. The real picture is either hushed up or polished so as to prevent intelligent readers in the West from drawing comparisons with Aleppo, which was in the focus of an off-the-charts propaganda campaign.
It is regrettable that the difficult negotiations for a settlement in Cyprus have been further complicated.
We believe that at this point in the negotiations both parties should act from a prudent balanced position, provided they really want to find a comprehensive solution to the Cypriot problem. The political and historical debates, which are not directly connected to the negotiation agenda, must not be allowed to hinder the search for a mutually acceptable compromise.
We hope that the parties will take a constructive stand and will return to the negotiating table to resume talks in the spirit of mutual respect and work towards practical results. It is important to maintain the pace of the process and push towards visible progress in the settlement process.
We have received many requests for comments on the growing tensions in the Republic of Macedonia. A comment with our views on the developments in that country has been published on the ministry’s website.
A ceremony has been held in Milejczyce, Podlaskie Voivodeship (Poland) following the completion of repairs and restoration at a cemetery for over 1,600 Red Army soldiers who died liberating Poland during WWII. I would like to remind you that the cemetery was vandalised and over 50 gravestones were damaged in September 2015. We published a comment on that situation at the time.
The vandalised graves have been repaired thanks to the joint efforts of the Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas in Kronstadt International Charity Fund and the Milejczyce District authorities. It was a challenging job that was financed by the Naval Cathedral and the local Polish administration.
We are grateful to everyone who contributed to this noble enterprise and supported the restoration of our military cemetery with words and deeds. We believe that social initiatives such as this one disprove the allegations about the “irreconcilable differences” between Russia and Poland, including with regard to the historical lessons of WWII. The example I have provided today shows that Russians and Poles share a sense of justice based on traditional moral values.
We have received many questions from Russians regarding the outrageous vandalism of the famous monument to the Russian soldier in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on February 21. Known as Alyosha in Russia and Bulgaria, this monument was unveiled on one of the city’s most beautiful hills in the middle of the 20th century as a symbol of Bulgarians’ gratitude to the Soviet Army’s invaluable contribution to the liberation of Europe from the Nazi occupiers.
A note has been sent to the Foreign Ministry of Bulgaria over this outrageous act of vandalism. It expressed Russia’s serious concern over this cynical and illegal act that was perpetrated on the official day of tribute to the opponents of Nazism in Bulgaria that was introduced by the Bulgarian government. The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria demanded that all the necessary measures be taken to repair the monument, investigate the incident and call the culprits to account.
We hope that the concerned Bulgarian authorities will do everything in their power to prevent any future vandalism of the common historical sites of Russia and Bulgaria.
We were dismayed to learn that Latvia’s LETA information agency has terminated a contract with the representative office of Russia’s Sputnik news agency in Latvia from March 1. At the same time, the BNS news holding has unilaterally stopped all cooperation with Sputnik Estonia without any prior explanation.
In our opinion, these decisions, which lack any legal or economic justification, have become another stage in the absolutely discriminatory strategy to oust a highly popular Russian news agency from the Baltic media scene. Indicatively, they started demonising Sputnik even before it entered the regional media scene, without reading or watching any of its materials. Last month, BNS terminated a contract with Sputnik Lithuania along similar lines. At that time, Sputnik, a legitimate national media outlet, perceived this unexpected incident as a vexing misunderstanding and urged the Baltic media company to peacefully settle the case out of court.
Indicatively, to the best of our knowledge, the Lithuanian-Estonian BNS holding and Latvia’s LETA are owned by one and the same Estonian investment holding UP Invest OU, which has comprehensively and consistently created an information blockade around the Russian news agency. We believe that, unfortunately, all the basic principles of business ethics are being trampled upon under the guise of higher values referred to in a letter from LETA to Sputnik Estonia.
We have already seen the times when higher values were used to justify every conceivable arbitrary action and when this ideological environment served as an end in itself. This is a very strange interpretation of democracy. One can only hope that the freedom of the media will one day be listed among the higher values to which our Baltic colleagues aspire.
Russian-Israeli citizen Alexander Lapshin continues to be kept at a pre-trial detention centre in Baku, Azerbaijan. His case is being investigated, and a trial is pending.
Earlier, representatives of the Russian Embassy in Azerbaijan visited Mr Lapshin, who did not make any serious complaints about the conditions in which he is being kept. Professional legal aid is provided to him now.
The Russian Embassy is in constant contact with Mr Lapshin’s lawyer and his family, Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies, Prosecutor-General’s Office and Foreign Ministry, as well as the Israeli Embassy in Baku.
We will regularly brief you on this and other similar issues.
During the February 3 briefing, I was asked to comment on Russia-Iran relations in light of the upcoming celebrations of 515 years of diplomatic ties.
The first diplomatic contact between Russia and Persia was established in the 16th century. On May 20, 1920, the governments of the RSFSR and Persia exchanged documents of mutual recognition. On December 25, 1991, Iran expressed willingness to maintain relations with Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union. The legal framework of Russia-Iran relations was boosted on March 12, 2001, when the presidents of Russia and Iran signed the Treaty on the Basis for Mutual Relations and the Principles of Cooperation Between the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which came into effect on April 5, 2002.
Iran is a close regional partner for Russia. Russian-Iranian ties are based on years of friendship, neighbourliness, mutual understanding and trust. Over the past few years, our political dialogue and practical cooperation have risen to an unprecedented level and have become more intensive and busy than ever.
Russia-Iran cooperation meets the interests of strengthening stability and security in the Caspian region, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Of major significance is the coordination of our actions against terrorism and drug trafficking.
The further development of bilateral relations is boosted by regular contacts at the top level and also between our defence ministries, national security councils and parliaments. The Russia-Iran Memorandum on Cooperation for 2015-2018 provides a framework for closer ties between our foreign ministries. Our foreign ministers regularly exchange opinions on current international issues, which we invariably report.
Iran is a promising trade partner for Russia. The rapid growth of mutual trade is evidence of positive dynamics in our business ties. In 2016, mutual trade increased by over 80 per cent compared to the previous year. Our energy cooperation is spearheaded into the future. Russia and Iran are working together on the North-South international transport corridor between Europe and South Asia. Other promising spheres of bilateral cooperation include electricity generation, the oil and gas sectors, railway transport, the aerospace industry and military technology.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme that was adopted in Vienna on July 14, 2015 offers new opportunities for the consistent development of lasting and mutually beneficial relations with Iran.
We highly value our cooperation with Iran on a political settlement of the conflict in Syria. Iran, Russia and Turkey have pledged to guarantee agreements reached between the Syrian Government and several armed opposition groups. Iran actively contributed to the intra-Syrian talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on January 23-24 and February 15-16, 2017.
We will continue to publish detailed information about the main trends and avenues of Russia-Iran relations on the ministry’s website.
Hearings in the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague on Ukraine’s lawsuit against Russia with regard to alleged violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (December 9, 1999) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (December 21, 1965)
The hearings will be held in The Hague on March 6 to 9.
Russia will be represented by an interdepartmental delegation led by Foreign Ministry officials – Director of the Legal Department Roman Kolodkin, Director of the Department for New Challenges and Threats Ilya Rogachev and Deputy Director of the Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights Georgy Lukyantsev – who have been appointed legal representatives of the Russian Federation at the court. Russian and foreign lawyers will be also involved.
Question: Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces clashed along the frontline the other day and people perished as a result. The situation remains tense. As an active participant in the negotiating process, does Russia believe it is necessary to urge the warring parties to reach a ceasefire and to sit down at the negotiating table?
Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry maintains working contacts with the parties to the conflict. You know our principled position aims to resolve the situation around Nagorno Karabakh solely by diplomatic means. We adhere to this principled position which is also formalised by specific documents.
Question: The media have reported that President Vladimir Putin and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will also discuss the Nagorno Karabakh peace settlement during the latter’s visit to Russia. Is this so?
Maria Zakharova: You know that you should address this question to the Presidential Administration and Press Service which comment on all issues linked with summits, top-level meetings and talks.
Question: Can you comment on US media reports regarding contacts between US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak during the US election campaign?
Maria Zakharova: As a character in a famous work of fiction said, “It’s something shameful.” The current goings-on in the Western, including US, media can be described as media vandalism. I wonder if the Western media has reached the rock bottom or it still has further to fall. As I browsed the internet today, I saw an item by CNN according to which “Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington.” There are dozens of articles about Russian diplomats who are supposed to be spies or spy-recruiters or hold secret meetings. This background is being used to plant rumours about the allegedly secret meetings between Russian embassy staff and Americans in Washington. I’ll tell you a military secret: the job of a diplomat includes holding meetings in the receiving state. This is a written truth. If diplomats don’t maintain contacts and don’t attend negotiations, they are not diplomats. If they are diplomats, and Ambassador Kislyak and other embassy staff hold Russian diplomatic passports, it is their duty to meet with officials and members of the political establishment of the receiving state.
What US and other media write is an attempt at total disinformation of their own and the global public, but the main target is the American public. First we called this an information campaign. And then we changed the tone and described it as hysterics. But it is even worse than that, it’s George Orwell’s “1984.” We see now what he meant when he wrote about Big Brother. The Big Brother in the United States today is the US media, which have moved far beyond the limits of professional ethics and competence and feel free to denounce and condemn, or simply to fabricate news. This is exactly what is happening now. This is terrible, because the heat of internal political competition has reached the media, including the US media, which have joined the hostilities and are destroying the prestige and trust in media publications not only of their own public but also the international community as a whole. It is a frightening trend. The attempts to raise the public’s temperature by writing about the Russian diplomats’ allegedly secret contacts are part of a blatant disinformation campaign. Everyone knows how diplomats work and that meetings and contacts are part of their job. Will you write about the number of contacts and the contacting parties of the US Embassy staff in Moscow? Not interested? Just ask them about this. Or maybe you want to know the number of people employed at the US Embassy’s press service in Moscow? No? Why not? It is very interesting information that can shed light on great many questions.
There is a big divide between a politically motivated involvement in the election process and the current goings-on, which are designed to undermine the global public’s trust in and for the media. In our opinion, this is the only credible explanation.
The current trend is to write about the demise of Russian diplomats in a disgraceful and inhumane manner. All of us wanted to believe that Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin and Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov would live forever. But they are mere humans, and two of them died and one was killed. Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov was treacherously killed in a terrorist attack, yet many US media outlets, though not all of them, did not describe his murder as a terrorist attack and, what is even worse, justified his murderer. As for Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin, I did not expect the US media to stoop to mud-throwing and provocations. Even my colleagues at the Russian Foreign Ministry sometimes ask me if this abracadabra and the conspiracy theories planted in the global information space are true.
I want to stress that the question is much broader and much more frightening. Journalists used to write their articles to win prestige for themselves and their media outlets, because their work is focused on winning public trust. What is happening now is a global disaster, because people are losing trust in the media. What will happen next? I believe they do not fully understand that they are opening Pandora’s box, considering that terrorist organisations also have access to this information technology, and that hundreds of thousands of people, as they lost trust in the media, will turn their attention to the internet, where really fake news and unreliable information are waiting for them. This is a terrible process.
By the way, this is also true about Montenegro and the recent information about it, with endless allegations about Russian diplomats who worked or did not work somewhere, and names that match or don’t match. To be honest, I want to say that we will deal with this only after we receive official documents from the Montenegrin authorities. And everything else is fake news and information planted for specific purposes. Taken together, this constitutes a trend. You may remember the information campaigns about the Sochi Olympics, Aleppo and doping in Russia. By the way, the latter allegation has been overturned. The latest information campaign is targeting Russian diplomats. The outcome will be deplorable: the global public will lose any trust in the media. Unfortunately, it will be our new reality.
Question: OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier has expressed his opinion about growing tensions between NATO countries and Russia. He said it would make sense to set up a mechanism within the Russia-NATO Council to prevent possible military incidents. Is there really a need for such a structure? What could be its foundation?
Maria Zakharova: As I see it, what is needed to prevent conflicts, let alone deterioration of relations, is not creating something new but at least setting into motion what already exists. Unfortunately, the existing mechanisms tended to be blocked, not on our side, but on the side of the Alliance. What is the point of creating something new if what exists does not work or works at less than its potential? Today priority should be given to full-scale resumption of existing mechanisms and normalisation of interaction in their framework, and then other issues can be considered if additional instruments are needed for interaction.
Question: Addressing the summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) in Pakistan yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Muslim countries to unite against Armenia and its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is yet another attempt to lend the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in Karabakh a religious and civilisational character. This position is in stark contrast to the approach of the Minsk Group, which Russia co-chairs. Turkey is a member of the Group, i.e. in this case the approaches of the Minsk Group co-chair and one of its members diverge cardinally. How would you comment on that? Can there be a reaction on the part of the co-chairs, specifically Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I think you have already answered your question. You said what the Turkish side has said and what the position of the Minsk Group is. Honestly, there is nothing to add here. I’ve just said that we are fully committed as a country and in our capacity as a co-chair of the Minsk Group to our position on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. This is how our position should be presented.
Question: The South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo reported recently that an unnamed diplomatic source had indicated that South Korea had asked Russia to detain four suspects in the case of the murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, but Russia turned down the request saying there were not enough grounds for detention. At the same time Interfax news agency quoted a source at the Foreign Ministry to the effect that the investigation is conducted by the Malaysian side and that no official requests had been received. Could you comment on the current situation? How do you assess such statements by South Korea?
Maria Zakharova: I can say that the Interfax information you cited is correct. As far as we know, the investigation into the incident involving the North Korean citizen at Kula Lumpur airport is conducted by the Malaysian side. There has been no reliable information on the complicity of DPRK citizens in the incident or official request on detention from a competent party to Russia (I am speaking on behalf of the Foreign Ministry). We are closely following the course of the investigation into the incident. It is being conducted by Malaysia. We expect that it will be completed and official data will be presented on which the information will be released.
Question: The South Korean Defence Ministry has acquired land to deploy American THAAD anti-missile systems. China has repeatedly criticised and continues to condemn the actions of the US Department of Defence and South Korea and is threatening sanctions. What will Russia do in that case?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly stated our position on stability in the region. I have nothing to add on this issue. If you want an extended commentary on the story I can turn to experts and they will supply the information to us. But our position on the need to preserve stability in the region remains unchanged. We have reiterated it more than once.
Question: Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov is currently staying in Beijing. Coincidentally, a top North Korean diplomat is also there. Is there any information on possible contacts between them?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information on that score.
Question: Have there been any developments in “the case of the girl Lisa” which the Russian Foreign Ministry is surely closely following?
Maria Zakharova: The most absurd thing is that for about a year now, the German media have been ascribing to Russia participation in some kind of information campaign on the issue. We stated our position clearly a year ago. We have not been involved in any information campaigns, as German media claim, although of course our Embassy in Berlin has been working to clear up the situation. It has a duty to do so, considering that the Russian citizen at the time was a minor.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this topic has been raised again in the public domain by the German media, which has published new information on it. The paradox is that the publications on the case and the new circumstances that are coming to light are put out by the German media, and yet they are accusing the Russian media and the Russian side as a whole of creating media hype around this topic. It’s a paradox.
As for the substance of the issue, I would like to remind you about how this topic cropped up, and to fill in the background. During events on New Year’s night on January 1, 2016 in Cologne and other German cities, hundreds of German women (the figures were cited by German media) were attacked and sexually assaulted by groups of migrants. The lack of a proper reaction on the part of law enforcement bodies and the official attempts to hush up and sidestep this topic provoked a public outcry in Germany. At about the same time, it was reported that a 13-year-old Russian girl had been missing for more than 24 hours and might have been a victim of abuse. These reports, too, failed to be promptly and openly commented on and adequately reacted to by the German authorities, which led to spontaneous unrest in the Russian-speaking diaspora in Germany, a fact that was reported in the media.
At the time, we officially appealed to our German counterparts to verify the media reports and apprise us of the course and results of the investigation. The Russian side made it clear that the Russian public was paying attention to the case, because it involved a child who has Russian citizenship. There is no question of any interference in German affairs.
Instead of dialogue through the relevant channels, which is the normal procedure in such cases, we were promptly accused of using the case for some kind of political ends, of attempts to discredit the German leadership (even this was imputed to us, and some German media are still writing about it). We have heard these charges from some high-ranking German politicians. Russian journalists working on the story, including in Berlin, came under serious pressure. Pressure was brought to bear, as we know, on members of the Russian diaspora, who were accused of being disloyal to the German authorities.
The leading media outlets in Germany are continuing to harp on this topic, presenting it as the result of Russian propaganda and passing it off as an attempt to manipulate German public opinion through the Russian diaspora in Germany. These are citations of how the topic is presented in the German media. Moreover, the same media wrote that no violations of the girl’s rights had occurred and that the whole story is a Russian fabrication aimed at destabilising the situation in Germany.
We have taken note of information in the German media and have verified it through corresponding channels. Reports now coming in say that the Prosecutor’s office of Berlin has brought an indictment regarding a 23-year-old citizen of Germany, charging him with grave offences against the girl in question. It has to do with sexual abuse of a minor. The man also faces charges of producing child pornography.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin continues to closely follow the development of the situation and the progress of the investigation. We hope that it will be carried through to the end, that those guilty will be duly punished and the interests of the Russian citizen will be properly protected. This is exactly what we were saying a year ago.
We also hope that those in Germany who have used the case to foment anti-Russian sentiments will draw the appropriate conclusions, and if they do not have the courage to apologise, which would be the right thing to do in this particular situation, then at least they will realise that it is simply shameful to speculate on a child’s tragedy.
Question: The chief of police in Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan said several days ago that Russia had built a base for training Taliban fighters and was rendering them military and technical assistance. Could you comment on that?
Maria Zakharova: These are morbid fantasies on the topic. We have repeatedly said that Russia is not providing any help to the Taliban. There are some contacts, and their purpose is to ensure the safety of the Russian citizens in that country and to stimulate the process of national reconciliation.
Incidentally, the other day the official site of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the section “Published materials that contain false information about Russia” posted a piece regarding an article by Al Jazeera on this very topic. The Arab journalists claimed that our Minister spoke about interaction with the Taliban movement, which is untrue. You can visit the section and read the material and its refutation. And I have already said what I think of these speculations.
Question: President Erdogan of Turkey is shortly to visit Russia. How does the Russian Federation see its relations with the Turkish Republic today?
Maria Zakharova: I repeat, all top-level contacts are commented on by the Presidential Executive Office. If you need reference materials on the state of bilateral relations, we will publish them or present them at the next briefing.
Question: The co-chairs of the regular Russian-Chinese Dialogue on Security in Northeast Asia had a meeting in Beijing recently. The Chinese Foreign Ministry then issued a statement to the effect that the two sides had agreed on the need to continue strengthening coordination to thrash out a common position on the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea. Is a coordinated position being worked out?
Maria Zakharova: I repeat, our position on the issue has not changed. You can safely refer to it. It has been set forth in detail more than once. Of course, we discuss the issue with the Chinese authorities because it is an issue of regional stability.
Question: Could you comment on the report by the British Parliament on Russia-UK relations, specifically the part which says that Britain must counter Russia’s information influence and increase funding of overseas broadcasting?
Maria Zakharova: Again, it’s all about money. We have made this point repeatedly. One of the aims of the campaigns being launched is to solve financial issues, to get increased funding for certain government-controlled Western media. We are being used as bogeys for big money, which is further proof of what we have been saying all along.
Question: What is your comment on the fact that on February 21, like in Ukraine, a monument to Soviet liberator soldiers was smeared with paint in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv? Could there be a link between these provocations? We hope that the vandals will be caught.
Maria Zakharova: I agree with you. These actions are provocative. I don’t think this is the only aim pursued by the people who perpetrate such acts, but only one of their hideous motivations. The aim is to provoke and to constantly introduce into the bilateral agenda negative artificially stirred up trends and issues.
Question: First I would like to convey sincere thanks to all the diplomats of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the brilliant conduct of inter-state negotiations and the signing of agreements, memoranda and programmes between the leaders of Central Asian countries and Russia during the official visit to these countries of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Maria Zakharova: If I try to fulfil your request and convey your words of thanks to all the diplomats of the countries you have mentioned, it may be a long time before we meet again. You can take this opportunity and express your thanks to all the diplomats of these countries.
Question: Thank you. Good deeds and good words will reach any centre. Don’t be stingy with good words and good deeds. I would like to note in particular that Russia and Tajikistan signed a package of six documents. One of these is a programme of cooperation between the foreign ministries of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan for 2017. Could you comment on its content? What does it consist of?
Maria Zakharova: I am taking this as my “homework” and will certainly provide you with detailed information about this document next time.
Question: At your last briefing, you mentioned fake news. I don’t want to bring up this topic today, but I have to. On February 2, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published an article, “A Schoolboy Used Mobile Phone to Film Sex with his Teacher.” The boy’s name was not indicated. I’ve been perusing this kind of stuff for quite a while. Let me read a few phrases: “an 11-year-old student,” “a 40-year-old English teacher,” “the teenager’s mother,” “the MK found out that…,” “a native of Tajikistan,” and the like. Please, convey my request to name names to the media and let them stop engaging in fake reporting. This particular article doesn’t say anything specific. I suggest that the media mention names and other data in any news they disseminate. This article was written by one Yulia Afanasyeva. Who is she? Where does she come from? We don’t know anything about her, nor do we know who to contact.
Maria Zakharova: Yes, you do. You know who to contact. There is the editorial board that hired this journalist. You can contact them directly. To implement your proposals, you can use the resources, contacts and connections of the Union of Journalists of Russia and the Union of Journalists of Moscow. Bring this issue to their attention. If you have an opportunity to address this on the operating level, do discuss it with journalists. Besides, there is an opportunity to place the problems on the theoretical basis to solve the issue strategically by submitting it to relevant organisations of the professional community. Since you represent a foreign media outlet, I can only help you to establish contacts with your Russian colleagues. I could draw their attention to the problem you raised.
Question: I was contacted by Department of Journalism students from the Tajik National University in Dushanbe. They use your briefings as educational aids. These address many topical issues, but the transcripts don’t name the persons who ask questions, including media representatives.
Maria Zakharova: Do you want your name to go down in history?
Question: Oh no! If possible, please give the names of those who ask questions. The students don’t want it all to look fake.
Maria Zakharova: I’ve heard you, and let me answer right now. The thing is that far from all journalists introduce themselves. This is a hard fact. Some introduce themselves, others do not. You can tell your interested colleagues that each briefing is videotaped. The verbatim report of each briefing has a hyperlink to a video, in which everyone can not only hear your name but also see how you look. In this sense, there can be no fake materials.