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30 March 201716:46

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 30, 2017

634-30-03-2017

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  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Erlan Abdyldaev
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in the 25th Anniversary Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy
  4. Holding regional consultations on Afghanistan in Moscow
  5. Current events in Ukraine
  6. Kiev’s plans to enshrine in law forcible Ukrainisation of all spheres of life in Ukraine
  7. The situation in Syria
  8. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s statements on Syria
  9. The situation around Mosul
  10. The humanitarian situation in Yemen
  11. More about Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election
  12. Remarks by Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite about the Russian threat to the Baltic states
  13. Vandalism against the monument to the victims of Nazism in Riga
  14. A regular Russia-NATO Council meeting  
    1. Answers to media questions:
    2. The Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
    3. The end of Euphrates Shield operation and the fight against terrorism 
    4. Russian-Ukrainian relations
    5. Russian efforts to influence European countries
    6. The assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov
    7. The date of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Russia
    8. The situation in Aleppo and Mosul
    9. The United States’ non-participation in the Moscow Conference on Afghanistan
    10. The contribution of Kurdish media outlets to coverage of the Mosul operation
    11. Hacking attacks
    12. The Russian Foreign Ministry gym
    13. Great Britain’s exit from the EU
    14. Russian-Japanese relations
    15. The current situation on the Korean Peninsula
    16. The appointment of a new Russian ambassador to Turkey

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Erlan Abdyldaev

 

On April 2-4, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan Erlan Abdyldaev will be in Moscow on a working visit, at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The ministers will exchange opinions on key issues of political, economic, military and humanitarian cooperation, including within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, and will discuss cooperation at the international stage, including at the CSTO, the CIS, the SCO, the UN and the OSCE. They will focus on regional security issues.

The Russian and Kyrgyz ministers will review their countries’ efforts to implement the agreements that were reached during the official visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan on February 28. These agreements provide for strengthening bilateral relations through an intensive political dialogue, which is evidence of the high standards of allied relations and strategic partnership between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council

 

On April 7, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will participate in the meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council in Tashkent.

Russia holds the rotating presidency of the Commonwealth of Independent States this year. On September 9, 2016, President Vladimir Putin approved the concept of Russia’s CIS presidency and an action plan for its implementation. These documents cover all aspects of the multifaceted cooperation within the CIS. The CIS ministerial meeting in Tashkent is one of the key meetings of the high CIS agencies planned for 2017. These events also include a meeting of the CIS Heads of Government Council in Kazan on May 26, and a meeting of the CIS Heads of State Council in Moscow on October 11.

The CIS is playing a crucial unifying role. Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, which President Putin approved on November 30, 2016, prioritises the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation with the CIS countries and the strengthening of the CIS integration organisations, in which Russia is involved.

This explains the packed agenda of the upcoming meeting. The ministers will discuss a broad range of issues pertaining to the development of international cooperation and the coordination of foreign policy issues between the CIS countries. They will also exchange opinions on key foreign policy issues.

The upcoming meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council will focus on the adoption of a joint statement condemning religious intolerance and the discrimination of Christians, Muslims and members of other religions. They will also review the interim results of their countries’ efforts to implement the decision on adjusting the CIS to modern realities, which was made by the CIS Heads of State Council on September 16, 2016. This decision includes a set of measures to strengthen the CIS status, enhance the efficiency of its agencies and optimise the CIS budgetary expenditures. The ministers will also discuss cooperation between their law enforcement and humanitarian organisations.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in the 25th Anniversary Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy

 

The 25th anniversary assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy will take place on April 8–9. The Council is turning 25 years, and its Russia in Global Politics magazine is turning 15. The council members, representatives of academic circles and leading think tanks, will discuss new global factors and trends as part of the Assembly's main theme, “International Politics. System Change.”

By tradition, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the Assembly on April 8 and share his assessments of global political developments, talk about the priorities in the work of Russian diplomats and our approaches to key issues on the international agenda, as well as the Foreign Ministry’s vision and assessments.

The Foreign Ministry highly values long-term productive cooperation with the Council, which, alongside other international NGOs, is providing effective expert support to Russia’s foreign policy, prepares analytical materials upon the Foreign Ministry’s requests and develops practical recommendations. The Council places high emphasis on developing breakthrough ideas and proposals, many of which materialise into actual projects. The Council on Foreign and Defence Policy is a strong brand.

 

Holding regional consultations on Afghanistan in Moscow

 

We have already commented on this issue when we answered your questions. Today, I would like to talk about it in more detail.

Another round of regional consultations on Afghan issues will take place in Moscow on April 14. The talks will focus on security in Afghanistan and its prospects. In our opinion, the main goal of the consultations is to develop a single regional approach with regard to further promotion of the national reconciliation process in that country, while maintaining Kabul's leading role and complying with the earlier reviewed and approved principles on the integration of the armed opposition into peaceful life.

Invitations to participate in consultations were extended to Afghanistan, Central Asian countries, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and the United States. I would like to say that Washington and US officials expressed their interest in attending this event and participating in the international discussion on this subject. We sent them an invitation. Most of the countries have already confirmed their participation. We expect some of our Central Asian partners to provide a response soon. We consider the participation of the Central Asian states important. An agreement on this was reached during the previous meeting of the Moscow format on February 15. Thus, all the neighbours of Afghanistan and the key states of the region will be represented at the upcoming talks. We regret Washington's refusal to take part in the consultations. The United States is an important player in the Afghan settlement, so it joining the peacekeeping efforts of the countries of the region would help to reinforce the message to the Afghan armed opposition regarding the need to stop armed resistance and to start talks.

 

Current events in Ukraine

 

We are alarmed by the deteriorating situation in southeastern Ukraine. According to SMM OSCE reports, observers registered 500 to 5,000 ceasefire violations a day in March.

Towns and villages in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics were shelled on 14 occasions between March 13 and 26 alone, sometimes by MLRS, which are banned by the Minsk Agreements. Residential buildings and a secondary school in Dokuchayevsk were damaged and 13 people injured. I stress again that civil infrastructure was shelled. 

The SMM goes on reporting the presence of heavy weapons along the contact line in violation of the Minsk Package, with 58 units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against militias’ 24 units.

OSCE observers also report that the Ukrainian army-controlled stretch of the demarcation line in Zolotoye and a road in Katerinovka are mined.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to shell the Donetsk water filtering station. On March 17, the station was shelled in the presence of SMM observers, Russian officers of the Joint Coordination Control Centre and local repairmen. Clearly, the shelling of such facilities poses a threat of chemical contamination to the area.

As for the situation in other parts of Ukraine, the SMM reports more instances of vandalism and blocking Russian banking offices in Kiev, Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk by local radicals with officials’ blatant connivance.

The SMM also monitored the trade and transport blockade of Donbass. Indicatively, the blockers told OSCE observers that they had found a way to bypass police posts. The Ukrainian authorities are making bewildering contradictory statements suggesting that they have not yet determined whether to support or condemn the blockade, while the Ukrainian National Bank and Finance Ministry have already made forecasts of its negative impact on the national economy.

We call upon the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to continue its objective observation of the situation in Donbass and other parts of Ukraine in conformity with its mandate, which has been prolonged to March 2018.

 

Kiev’s plans to enshrine in law forcible Ukrainisation of all spheres of life in Ukraine

 

With tenacity worthy of a better cause, Kiev continues its policy towards the total de-Russification and forcible Ukrainisation of the country. Following the infamous laws which deprived the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine of the right to receive objective information in their native language, the Kiev authorities intend to actually legalise a ban on the Russian language.

The Verkhovna Rada introduced a draft law On the State Language, which provides for mandatory use of the Ukrainian language in all areas of daily life without exception. Any attempts to establish the official use of more than one language in that country are equated with an attempt to overthrow the political system and are subject to prosecution. I would like to say that we are talking about decisions and actions of the very authorities that came to power not illegally, but on the declaration of their allegiance to European democratic values.

The draft law on media languages ​​adopted on March 23 in the first reading, which prohibits publications in the languages of neighbouring countries, is part of the same approach. Had the Ukrainian authorities tried to learn how the issues of multilingualism are addressed in European countries, they would have realised that they had been heading in the opposite direction all those years they were in power and declared their commitment to European values. Look at how the Scandinavian and Western European countries, as well as the United States and Canada, approach these issues. After all, it’s not about the minorities residing in Ukraine, but the people who have been using this language, which created the common culture of Ukraine, for many centuries. Most importantly, it is not about the people who moved to Ukraine in recent years or even decades, but the indigenous population. Under this document, national TV channels would have to allocate 75 percent of the air time to programming in the Ukrainian language.

Approving such documents would mean actual legalisation of the forcible Ukrainisation of the country, a legitimatised fight not only against the Russian language and culture, but also languages spoken by other ethnic groups residing in Ukraine. This “creative law-making” is nothing more than a tool to limit human rights and crack down on dissent. All international legislative acts and regulations governing human rights issues in the European and North Atlantic space signed by Ukraine as a sovereign state clearly state the inadmissibility of restricting human rights in this sphere or any crackdowns on dissent.

Acting in this way, the Kiev regime not only violates its own constitution, which guarantees “the free development, use and protection of Russian, and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine” (Article 10), but also openly demonstrates disdain for universally recognised human rights protection standards, enshrined, in particular, in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as well as in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. That country is, in fact, about to introduce “language genocide” at the state level.  

We realise perfectly well why official Kiev is doing this. It is under heavy pressure from the nationalist ideas of radicals, whom they once encouraged to take appropriate actions, and today, they cannot force that genie back into the bottle. Any attempts to use language issues as a way to flirt with radicals can cost Kiev dearly, especially given the highly polarised Ukrainian society. Suffice it to recall that the attempt to repeal the current law On the Foundations of the State Language Policy in 2014 provoked the separation of Crimea from Ukraine and the onset of the armed conflict in Donbass. This is precisely what led to the momentous changes in Ukraine.

 

The situation in Syria

 

The intra-Syrian talks based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 have been underway in Geneva under the auspices of the UN since March 27. The consultations are being held separately. Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his staff are making efforts to guide the discussion between the Syrian government and the opposition into a constructive course. Russian representatives in Geneva, namely, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister for the Middle Eastern Settlement and Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department Sergey Vershinin, are actively involved in this process. Moscow looks forward to the Syrian parties showing their willingness to achieve a compromise on all four baskets of the agreed-upon agenda in order to make headway towards peace and stability in Syria.

We assess the military and political situation in Syria as tense.

The Syrian army continues its anti-terrorist operation in eastern districts of Damascus, which was undertaken in response to the rebels’ attempts to invade the city centre on March 19–22. The extremists from Jabhat al-Nusra who organised this raid suffered significant losses and were forced to retreat into the suburban towns of Jobar and Qaboun and retaliated with rocket and mortar fire on Damascus. The shells exploded in the districts of Tijara and Qusur and in the suburban town of Sayyidah Zaynab. There are casualties among civilians.

The offensive by Nusra and their accomplices in the north of the Hama province, where terrorists created an immediate threat to the administrative centre of the province and the Christian town of Mahardah, was stopped.

Relief efforts are underway following a major bloody provocation undertaken by the terrorists during a counter-offensive by government forces, and the Syrian military are regaining their temporarily lost positions.

We took note of the fact that the terrorist attacks outside Damascus and Hama were synchronised and well prepared. Radicals from Nusra managed to involve militant formations officially participating in the agreement on cessation of hostilities, in their actions.

We are disappointed by assessments of these events provided by a number of opposition politicians, primarily in Western and regional media, who have tried to justify the terrorists and their accomplices, and portrayed it as “the success of the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the regime.”

This kind of propaganda game is unacceptable. Everyone should clearly understand that any actions taken with the participation of Nusra, ISIS, or other Al-Qaeda offshoots, are subject to decisive and unconditional condemnation.

The Syrian government troops are continuing to drive ISIS out from eastern Aleppo. They blocked an ISIS unit outside the town of Deir Hafer in Aleppo and are on an offensive in the direction of the Jirah Airbase controlled by ISIS. An operation is underway seeking to destroy it.

A lightning-fast attack by Kurdish militiamen undertaken with the support of the US special forces made it possible to seize a bridgehead on the right bank of the Euphrates River and drive ISIS from the airbase outside the town of Tabqa. The town itself remains under the control of the terrorists, who clearly stated that air strikes by the US-led coalition may destroy the Euphrates, Syria’s largest hydroelectric power plant, built with the technical assistance of the Soviet Union. Indeed, two security valves in the southern part of the dam were damaged during an air raid on March 26. Military operations in the vicinity of the power plant have been stopped. Engineers were provided with an opportunity to inspect the dam and take proper measures to prevent this catastrophe.

In this regard, we urge all participants of the US-led coalition to act responsibly as they fulfill their mission to defeat terrorists in Syria and Iraq in order to prevent civilian casualties and damage to critical civilian infrastructure.

Work is underway to sign local reconciliation deals between the opposing sides in order to avoid unnecessary loss of life and to alleviate the sufferings of the civilian population. In accordance with the plan, the evacuation of rebels and their families from the al-Waer neighbourhood in the city of Homs continues.

On March 29, media reported that, with Qatar's mediation, an agreement had been reached to evacuate the defenders of the Shiite enclaves of al-Foua and Kafraya in Idlib in exchange for the rebels withdrawing from Zabadani, Madai and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus. We welcome this agreement, which provides for the rebels and the civilians who wish to evacuate to be evacuated, the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid and the adoption of measures to strengthen mutual trust and release prisoners. We hope that the agreements will be fully implemented.

At the same time, I would like to remind everyone that, within the Astana format, Russia has suggested that its participants adopt a provision on a reconciled area, which would identify a clear path towards stopping hostilities, including responsibilities on the part of the parties, which would exclude any rumours about alleged forced relocations. Unfortunately, as is known, the armed opposition representatives refused to come to Astana this time.

 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s statements on Syria

 

We are saddened by the statements issued by Western capitals, by officials and representatives of foreign states with regard to the Syrian settlement, most of which are absolutely devoid of objectivity. I’d like to elaborate on one of them.

Against the backdrop of efforts to promote a political settlement in Syria, which continue in the Astana and Geneva formats, statements released by some of our Western partners arouse dismay and disappointment. We think that they are beyond mere propaganda. We believe that they can be qualified as direct instigation. In this context, we have taken note of French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s speech at the Arab World Institute on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, during which he made absolutely inappropriate and destructive remarks.

True, we have many differences with our partners, as you well know. We speak at length about them and spell out our position both publicly and, above all, during bilateral contacts. At the same time, a sincere wish to resolve the Syrian crisis should, in our opinion, push all the parties concerned not to fixate on contradictions or criticise each other (often without any proof), but to search for new common points and expand the area of understanding. This is not so hard to do, if there is a wish, because this area is outlined by relevant resolutions, above all, UN Security Council resolution 2254, International Syria Support Group (ISSG) decisions and other jointly adopted documents. They should be regarded as a single set, without distortions or wishful thinking. It is impossible to build an effective counter-terrorism strategy against the seat of international terrorism in Syria based on political pressure on Damascus and its allies. Let me remind you that the Russian military are in Syria and are helping Syrians fight terrorists on legal grounds, unlike our European and American partners.

The position, according to which the removal of the legitimate president of a UN member state is proclaimed a condition for bringing aid to the population of that country, seems paradoxical. One gets the impression that this is a kind of blackmail and that the officials in Paris have stopped understanding humanistic values. From a political standpoint, it is hard to combine the thesis that the Syrians themselves have the right to decide their own future with attempts to force them preemptively to accept humiliating terms: make one choice and get a carrot, make a different choice and get a stick.

On the whole, continuing public talk of the “Bashar al Assad must go” variety fully contradicts our common  – I would like to stress that – beliefs that it is up to the Syrians themselves to determine their future and choose the government that will steer them there. Frankly speaking, that slogan virtually torpedoes and undermines any attempts to move forward along the path of intra-Syrian talks and dialogue and to separate the armed Syrian opposition from the ISIS and Nusra terrorists. This is something that Mr Ayrault cannot fail to understand.

We have repeatedly emphasised that Russia is ready for equal and mutually respectful cooperation with all partners interested in a political solution and the liquidation of the terrorist seat in Syria. Those are very serious priorities requiring collective efforts on a solid international legal basis. And here, there is no room for envy, jealousy or unhealthy competition.

 

The situation around Mosul

 

The situation around Mosul is continuing to deteriorate. The military operation to free the city, which has been going on for four months now, has not yet achieved its declared goals, specifically eliminating ISIS’s main base in Iraq. Despite the forces and assets used in combat operations, Iraqi government troops, unfortunately (we take note of this), have bogged down in gruelling urban fighting in the western right-bank part of Mosul. Each step forward here comes at great cost. Regular army forces and militias have to breach ISIS’s multi-layered defence involving the use of locals and civilians as a human shield. Unfortunately, these tactics are well known to us.

Meanwhile, in UN estimate, as many as 500,000 people remain in terrorist-controlled districts. With such density, what kind of “surgical” air strikes (something that our Western partners like to talk about) are possible here? Consider this. Statistics speak for themselves. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, between March 17 and 22 alone, at least 307 civilians were killed and 273 injured in western Mosul. And this is only confirmed data reported by the UN. However, what is happening in reality and what are the actual casualty figures? It is terrible to think about the actual figures and the casualty scale has yet to be assessed.

US military representatives had to acknowledge, albeit with the utmost reluctance, the mass casualties among the Iraqis as a result of the air strikes by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. A few days ago, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, made statements to that effect. It may be recalled that this refers to the March 17 air strike on the al-Jadid district. According to various sources, 200 civilians were killed there. On March 22, a residential building was razed as a result of an air strike against the Rajm al-Hadid district, burying people alive, including children. These are only two tragic episodes that have been widely reported in the media. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein aptly described the operation to free the main city in northern Iraq as a massacre of civilians, when coalition forces bomb residential districts from the air while ISIS militants kill people on the ground.

The humanitarian situation in Mosul has escalated to the limit. Iraqi President Fuad Masum has compared it to a full-blown disaster. Now is the time to sound the alarm and constantly remind [everybody] that 400,000 residents remain in the city, where food and medical supplies are running out. Experts are warning about the danger of mass famine if the storming of Mosul drags on. Unfortunately, by all indications, this is the most likely scenario.

The position of hundreds of thousands of residents who have fled the city is also unenviable. Their suffering continues even after they escape from that hell. The provision of aid still leaves a lot to be desired, which is also recognised by international agencies.

It is impossible to understand why world media outlets are keeping to mainstream coverage. To say nothing about what is going on in Mosul is simply a crime, as evidenced by reports occasionally filtering through that show the real picture of what is happening in the city.

 

The humanitarian situation in Yemen

 

We have taken note of a statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, timed to the second anniversary of the Yemeni conflict. He cites civilian casualty statistics specifying that these are only figures obtained by his agency. As far as he knows, 4,773 have been killed and 8,272 injured in these two years, while the actual casualties are much greater. The United Nations does not deny these figures, I stress again. More than that, 21 million Yemenis, or 82 per cent of the population, are in urgent need of humanitarian relief. A nationwide catastrophe has broken out.

Last month alone brought 106 civilian deaths, mainly in air raids and naval artillery shelling. An incident is mentioned in which 32 Somali refugees and a Yemeni died, ten Somalis were reported missing, and 29 Somalis, including six children, were injured, some of them badly. According to eyewitness accounts, their ship was attacked by the Coalition’s Apache helicopter. The UN High Commissioner mentions a number of other instances of helicopters shelling fishing vessels, and the Khokha marketplace tragedy, where 18 civilians died in an airstrike.

Instances are also reported of indiscriminate strikes by people’s committees associated with the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. They are also reported to impede humanitarian deliveries to Taiz.

A similar statement was made by Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who said that even appalling casualties do not entirely reflect the scope of the Yemeni humanitarian disaster, with the economy in ruins and seven million people starving.

This is not an industrial accident or a natural calamity that has stricken Yemen but a human-caused disaster. I took notice of a statement by United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who said that the United States is “the moral conscience of the world”. If you are really the moral conscience, why do you turn a blind eye to what is happening to people in Yemen? Or is it a new hybrid kind of conscience, which does not send signals to the brain or other vital organs? It is impossible not to see the disaster. I realise that the US media are preoccupied with other problems. The words “Yemen”, “Mosul” and “Syria” do not occur in their front-page news. They are focusing on Russia. We will talk about it later. But can “moral conscience” be mute to such an extent? Surely, it cannot have atrophied completely. This means there is no such conscience at all.

Two years of violence, bloodshed, despair, famine and destruction are more than enough for all sides to see the necessity of an urgent search for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. All this bears out our assessments of the Yemeni situation and the correctness of repeated appeals to an urgent peaceful settlement.

The international community’s duty is to work towards an immediate cessation to all violence, whatever motivations might be found for it. We are firmly convinced that there is no military solution to the Yemeni conflict. The sides should return to the negotiating table with assistance from UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and work for a lasting ceasefire and the political settlement of the conflict.

 

More about Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election

 

We have taken note of yet another attempt to play the Russian card in the internal political debates in the United States. Personally, I wouldn’t describe this as an attempt but the continuation of a campaign and a new round of the hellish propaganda campaign launched under the previous US administration. The point at issue this time is a fresh bout of hysterics over routine diplomatic contacts of the Russian Embassy’s leaders and staff in Washington.

Some US and other media are again writing about Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election last year. It looks as if you are preparing for a new round of an internal election campaign. I think you should see that it’s time to do some work in-between the election campaigns. As it is, it looks as if the US administration will approach the next election cycle with only one result – artistic demagoguery about Russia meddling in the previous election. I would describe this behaviour by some US journalists and media outlets as a threat to our diplomats. If our diplomats refuse to give interviews on highly specific matters – we understand that requests for such interviews are made to keep the issue of Russia’s alleged meddling in the US elections afloat – fresh batches of “compromising information” will be planted in the media. We see this as dirt throwing and misinformation. We are told about the fake news that appeared in January, which was spearheaded against President-elect Donald Trump and contained allegations about Russia. It was published by BuzzFeed and hinted that Russia should be more actively involved in this information war or they would do everything without us. Actually, this is information blackmail.

I can cite one more example. To avoid generalising, I will provide hard facts. One of the items included allegations concerning our colleague, Russian diplomat Mikhail Kalugin, even though we published a refutation when Mr Kalugin’s name was first mentioned in the items about the alleged Russian spies and agents in Washington. We said that this is disinformation that has nothing in common with reality. However, these allegations continue.

I want to once again make it quite clear that neither Mikhail Kalugin nor any other member of the Russian diplomatic and other agencies in the United States was connected in any way with the US presidential election. We believe it’s time to stop playing these dirty information games.

I would like to say more about Mr Kalugin. We have taken note of a recent item published by a BBC correspondent in Washington. It is a long item that has no respect for personal data. It includes claims that have no relation to reality and is supplied with many photographs. It is an absurd story that violates BBC principles. As I have said, the item has been published, and I want to comment on it.

This item mentioned Russian diplomat Mikhail Kalugin, who headed the Russian Embassy’s economics division until last August. According to this item, Mr Kalugin is a spy and this confirms Mr Steele’s dossier about the Russian connection in last year’s election campaign in the United States.

I want to say that we have published the necessary refutations. However, more than two months later, the allegation is being repeated in an item that provides photographs, personal data and the photos of the Russian Embassy in order to give more weight to the allegation.

I would like to repeat what I already said at a briefing [in January] that Mikhail Kalugin is absolutely not guilty of the allegations laid against him and the Russian Embassy. He is a Russian diplomat who has worked in the United States for six years. His mission in the United States was to facilitate the Russian and American companies’ business in Russia and the United States. He helped promote bilateral economic relations and, contrary to what the media claimed, he left the United States when his contract ended to assume new responsibilities at the Foreign Ministry. He goes to his office [in Moscow] every day. Contrary to what the BBC claims, when he worked in the United States he regularly met with representatives of the US Department of State, the National Security Council and various US economic departments, including the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Energy. I am saying this now to lay to rest the fake news published by BBC and its Washington correspondent. This is all lies, nothing but lies, fake news and disinformation.

Mikhail Kalugin was also engaged in the public sphere giving lectures and interviews on the prospects of our bilateral relations. You can check this information and conduct your own investigations. By the way, the BBC item claims that State Department staff who dealt with Russia did not come across Kalugin. This is nonsense. However, I really do wonder if the State Department knows anything. Based on my contacts with our American colleagues over the past few years, I can tell you that they only admitted six months after the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis that they had a clearer view on what was happening there than they did at the beginning. For a long time, there was nobody in the State Department with whom we could discuss matters. In the past six months, it was unclear whom we could phone there in case of problems. It is also unclear whom the BBC correspondent talked with. He mentioned reliable sources. We know only too well just how reliable these sources are.

I have told you about the areas where Mikhail Kalugin worked and his contacts. As for the claim that he never went to the State Department or communicated with State Department staff, I can tell the BBC reporter Paul Wood that he simply doesn’t know that in 2014 the US State Department curtailed communications with Russian diplomats, which had been maintained in full in many areas before that. Russian diplomats could only get an appointment with the State Department in the case of an  emergency. All other humanitarian and economic contacts were curtailed. The Russian Foreign Ministry holds regular consultations on information issues with the foreign policy departments of all countries, both those with which we maintain trust-based relations and those with which we are poles apart on information matters. We hold consultations, exchange opinions and discuss issues of concern for us and them. I can tell Mr Wood how we pressed the US State Department to talk with us on information matters. Trying to get an appointment to talk with State Department staff was no easy feat. You are writing nonsense, of course, but at least try not to put your head on the block with such items as this one.

So, the US State Department curtailed any contact with us in 2014 as prompted by the Obama administration. The Russia-US Bilateral Presidential Commission was suspended by our American partners. The same happened to other bilateral formats. When coming to any conclusions on a cosmic scale, remember what writer Mikhail Bulgakov said about conclusions that can turn out to be silly on a cosmic scale.

Although all official forms and methods of interaction were curtailed at the initiative of the Obama administration, our diplomats searched for and found ways to keep our bilateral relations afloat. I have said above with which officials and agencies our diplomats cooperated. It is an absolutely normal practice.

And lastly, I would like to present this “tough, arrogant KGB man”, as the BBC reporter described him. Can you imagine this? A “tough, arrogant KGB man” in 2017? Guys, the KGB was closed down long ago. What are you talking about? Mikhail Kalugin goes to his office every day, but today he changed his routine to come to the Foreign Ministry Press Centre. Here he is, this “tough, arrogant KGB man”. He will be available to make comments, and he will tell you about his work. This is a paradox, an information paradox. We have to comment on these rumblings, which are published again and again. There are such problems as Yemen, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, drug trafficking, organised crime, migration, illegal migration and Afghanistan. However, the intellectual power of Washington, including the media and analysts, are busy searching for the Russian connection in all their problems and failures. There will come a time when these cases will be cited in textbooks as drivel, and this horrible period in our history will be sharply criticised in the United States itself. People will come to their senses and they will see that they wasted their time on fighting imaginary dragons. Regrettably, it will only happen later, not now.

 

Remarks by Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite about the Russian threat to the Baltic states

 

It looks as if the experience of American and West European colleagues who have repeatedly expressed fears about a “Russian threat” is having a harmful impact on other countries. The “infection” has caught up with Lithuania. Bad examples are known to be contagious. In a March 24 interview published on the website of the US magazine Foreign Policy the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that Russia posed a threat not only to Lithuania, but to the whole of Europe. Well, perhaps she sees something we don’t. Her fears are prompted by the stationing of Iskander missile systems in Kaliningrad. In this connection Dalia Grybauskaite has called on the US to deploy a permanent military contingent and elements of the US missile defence system in her country.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already described these remarks as absurd and groundless, noting that these claims are politically motivated and create a negative background for bilateral affairs. I have no doubt that this is part of a media campaign. All this is part of a massive information effort focused on the search for an enemy. The enemy has been found. It is Russia. Nevertheless Russia has stressed that “we do not see insuperable barriers to the relations between Russia and the Baltic states developing in the spirit of good neighbourliness and mutually beneficial cooperation.” Although our relations with that country have seen various periods, we have never retracted our global proposal and the wish to have comprehensive interaction in all fields.

It is true that such statements made by officials in the spirit of paranoid Russophobia are becoming ever more characteristic of the Baltic states. They harp about a mythical Russian threat hanging over them like a Damocles sword. Many Baltic politicians labour under a misapprehension that Russia is cherishing imperialist plans and wants to challenge the sovereignty of their countries.

I would like the Baltic countries to calm down, along with all the other countries which consider Russia to be an aggressor. We are doing all we can to oppose any manifestations of international aggression, come out for peaceful settlement of problems and are not out to conquer anyone.

On the other hand, how independent the Baltic countries are today is a big question. A rhetorical question as far as we are concerned.

 

Vandalism against the monument to the victims of Nazism in Riga

 

An act of vandalism against the memorial to the victims of Nazism was perpetrated in a Riga district on March 24. The front of a granite obelisk on the site of a mass burial of 13,000 people was smeared with paint. The inscription about Nazi atrocities committed on the site has also been painted over.

In connection with this incident, our Embassy in Latvia has sent a corresponding note to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanding an investigation into this flagrant act and measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

We hope that the Latvian authorities will take all the necessary measures to remove the consequences of this outrageous act and to bring the people responsible to account.

 

A regular Russia-NATO Council meeting  

 

A regular meeting of the Russia-NATO Council (RNC) at the level of permanent representatives is to be held today.

I would like to recall that last year three meetings of the Council were held after a two-year break. The resumption of the work on the RNC platform takes on added significance under the current conditions of the build-up of military-political tensions and a media campaign. We want the dialogue mechanism of the Council to be used on a regular basis to discuss the issues its participants consider to be important, topical and necessary.

Among the priority topics the Russian side plans to raise today are predictability of military activities, reducing the risk of escalation as a result of unforeseen military incidents and regional issues. We will also raise the issue of the build-up of NATO military presence and military training activities along the Russian borders.  

 

Answers to media questions:

Question: The US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Richard Hoagland, recently said that a meeting was being planned in Moscow between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to prepare the ground for a meeting between the two countries’ presidents. Can the Russian Foreign Ministry confirm this information? If so, what timeline are we talking about? It will shortly be a year since the escalation of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. In this connection the co-chairs of the Minsk Group have announced that this year must be marked by an encounter at the negotiating table and not on the battlefield. Can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the date and give its assessment of the settlement process during the past year?

Maria Zakharova: I am not aware that an early meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan is being planned in Moscow. If such information comes to hand I will share it with you. At this point in time such a meeting is not on our schedule. I repeat, I am ready to check this information and let you know.

Question: After yesterday’s meeting of the State Council in Turkey the President and Prime Minister of that country announced the end of the Euphrates Shield operation in the neighbouring state. How does Russia see it and does it have anything to do with the decision (the reference is to bilateral discussions on this matter between Moscow and Ankara)?    

About 20 days ago Turkey told Russia that terrorists cannot be used to fight terrorists. Has Russia determined its attitude to the terrorist groups in the region?

Maria Zakharova: It is interesting to hear the Turkish side asking whether terrorists could be used to fight terrorists. This is dialectics. The Russian Federation has an absolutely clear position that terrorists cannot be used or divided into good and bad, moderate or active in order to justify supporting them. This position has repeatedly been articulated by the Russian leadership, reaffirmed in all our basic documents as well as during the course of work on international legal acts. We have a clear-cut position. Certainly, there is the process of a peaceful settlement, which implies “conversion” or an invitation to people who preach the use of force, including terrorist methods, to renounce their ideology and sit down at the negotiating table to put in place the process for a peaceful settlement. These are different things.

On the first question, let me reiterate that flirting with terrorists, still less supporting them in order to solve one’s own tasks or get involved through some terrorist groups in some internal political or international conflicts  is simply inadmissible. If we are talking about peaceful political processes, which promise a chance that the people who preach the principles of terrorism to further their ends renounce these principles, then on the basis of international law and proceeding from the norms, laws and international documents, that would be another matter. The Syrian crisis is vivid proof that such a concept may work. Only a year ago irreconcilable opposing sides were preaching not just extremism, but terrorism, pure and simple, and now they are trying in one way or another to work out a common platform and an approach to trigger a political process and set the situation in Syria on a peaceful track. This is one example, and there are more examples in the world.

As for your question about the end of the military operation, it is up to the military experts to answer it. The Russian Ministry of Defence is in a better position to comment on this aspect. The Foreign Ministry gives political assessments.

We are in contact with Turkey on the Syrian settlement in the framework of bilateral contacts and the responsibility assumed by Moscow, Teheran and Ankara. Dialogue and active work on the issue continue with the Turkish colleagues. We think it is constructive, though not devoid of difficulties.

Question: It looks as if the “hand of Moscow” has reached Poland. Ukraine accuses Russia of being complicit in the blockade between Ukraine and Poland.

Maria Zakharova: I think it would be right and honest if Ukraine, which constantly accuses Russia of throwing its weight about and of instigating many internal political decisions and actions on Ukrainian territory, published a list of persons who, in its opinion, are “Kremlin agents.” Let it make an inventory and analyse those people. Instead they are engaged in vetting (I don’t know if they have dropped this practice). Perhaps they need a second round of vetting at the present stage. Let them say what opposition forces, organisations, people in Kiev’s City Hall or the Poroshenko Administration are working for Moscow, in their opinion. Let them point the finger at Ukrainian citizens whom they suspect of working under orders from Moscow. Making unsubstantiated accusations is really not the way.

A couple of years ago I talked with a colleague from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and asked her if they were not aware that what their nationalist radicals were doing in Kiev and in the regions was doing harm to Ukraine. She replied that they had strong suspicions that they were working for Moscow. In other words, we come out against Ukrainian radicals and argue that this is destructive for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and they are accusing us of this very thing. Let them step back, present proof and say which forces are suspect at the Rada, for example. Is Oleg Liashko a Russian agent too? The leaders of some parties, people who wear nationalistic armbands and promote the theories that there is no shared history with Russia – I ask you are they Russian agents too?

One has to start with banal things, with determining the foundations, with taking a long hard look at the ideology inside Ukraine. It is not right to say each time that Russia is to blame for all the bad things that happen on Ukrainian territory. Most importantly, there are laws. The blockade declared by Ukrainian citizens themselves falls under certain internal Ukrainian laws and can be regulated through legislation. There are law-enforcement agencies, and laws that can be complied with and these people can be punished. It is odd when on the one hand, radicals are encouraged and egged on using the anti-Russian theme, and the people in Donetsk and Lugansk are declared enemies and then, after the radical elements start boiling over and pass on from words to actions, to blockade, to look on and say that this is “the hand of Moscow.” I believe that Kiev has to do its internal ideological work. I repeat, perhaps it would mark the second round of vetting. I find the word abhorrent, but since they are actively engaged in witchhunt, it may help to determine who among them is on which side of the barricades.

Speaking seriously, everything we warned people about two years ago is coming true. We did not say it somewhere on the quiet or during private conversations, we stated clearly that this strategy and putting the stake on radicals and nationalists would lead to a dead end. Nationalism is a beast that constantly demands sacrificial offerings, it needs somebody’s blood to feed on. When the topic of southeastern Ukraine is milked dry and is no longer sufficient while problems in the country multiply and Donetsk and Lugansk are no longer enough to explain them away, a new target, a new victim will be needed. They will then go after other ethnic groups, and social classes. That is how it all happens.

Ukraine needs to get its act together, by staging “another round of vetting,” as I noted sarcastically, or in earnest. Serious work is a hard slog, but it is the only way to deal with mistakes made over many years. Renunciation of nationalism and the use of radical forces, the search for a national consensus, discarding the methods of tearing society apart, as I have said, including on grounds of language, and an attempt to analyse the interests of Ukraine to understand what the Ukrainian people is, what its true and intrinsic interests are, who makes it up and how to ensure the rights of all the categories of the population. This is a colossal lot of work. Torches and nationalist slogans would not be enough. One would have to work seriously, perhaps bringing in international experts from the organisations I have mentioned which work out international provisions on protecting human rights, and the rights of ethnic minorities. This is serious and profound work. A lot of time has been lost, but things may keep getting worse.

I repeat, it is the mechanism launched in Ukraine several years ago, and not “the hand of Moscow” that got Ukraine to where it is today. I repeat, things may get even worse. No one is setting barriers in the way of this absolute ideological collapse, on the contrary, the process is gaining momentum. Afterwards, people will ask who is to blame and look for culprits not in Donbass, Donetsk or Lugansk, but in Kiev, in big cities, in next-door flats and houses. You cannot forever keep people on a diet of stories about a mythical enemy, mythical tanks allegedly flown by air to Ukraine, about “Kremlin agents” etc. Some day that tale will come to an end, and it will be indeed a tragic end.  

Question: Italian newspaper La Stampa carries a contribution on the US administration warning Rome about the major political party Five Star Movement’s direct contacts with Russia, which tries to influence Italy and other European countries at future elections as it implements its interference strategy. Can you comment on this information? Is it a hoax?  

Maria Zakharova: I don’t quite see what “a political party has contacts with Russia” may mean. What hard facts are there behind this statement? You have come to the Foreign Ministry Press Centre, and it is possible to say that Italian journalists have contacts with Russian government agencies. Anything can be misinterpreted as you wish.. It is also possible to say merely that Italian journalists visit the Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s news briefing and ask her questions.

You know our strategy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and our approach to this matter. We maintain contacts with national capitals and official governments, work on NGO lines within Russian legal limits and with due respect for the relevant laws of other countries. We have official contacts with many opposition and pro-government parties and movements in keeping with diplomatic traditions.

That was the case before the US presidential election, when Hillary Clinton’s people came to Russia but no one took any interest in it afterwards. They came repeatedly to talk to officials and had very informal meetings with particular people to discuss diverse matters. However, the US press takes no interest in this- for some reason. However, Russian Embassy phone calls in Washington (I needn’t say how many people in the US relished these conversations) give reason to accuse the election winner of some kind of ties with Moscow.

I think this is just a mere part of an information campaign. If you have hard facts I can confirm or deny, please cite them. I have no idea how to comment on vague allegations of Italian parties’ ties with Moscow.

Question: How far has the investigation into the murder of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov got? There were reports about a Russian girl who was allegedly involved, but they have not been confirmed.

Maria Zakharova: Russian experts from several agencies are involved in the investigation. This is serious interdepartmental work. Contacts with our Turkish partners are maintained primarily via our embassy in Ankara. As you said, new information has come to light, just as in any other investigation. Some pieces of information are confirmed and others are not. I expect to be able to provide you with the latest information very soon.

Question: Has the date for US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Russia been set?

Maria Zakharova: As I said before, this visit is a possibility. However, at this point we don’t know the precise date and have no other information about the visit we could share with the media. If these plans come to fruition and we coordinate the format and date that would be suitable to both parties, we will inform you about this. As I said during the previous briefing, preparations for a visit are not limited to agreeing on the visit and setting the date. Preparations also include the agenda and the choice of issues that would be of concern to both parties, as well as working with experts. In short, a great deal of factors must first click into place.

Question: During the congressional hearing on Wednesday, American politicians and generals agreed that the counterterrorism operation must continue despite the civilian casualties in Mosul. Why didn’t they say this during the operation in Aleppo?

Maria Zakharova: Can’t you guess, or do I have to tell you? Propaganda is a tool used by all countries, though to a different degree by some. It amounts to promoting one’s own interests in the sphere of information. All states are involved in information work and the promotion of their policies. This is normal. However, it’s bad when the media take up the propaganda campaign. Also, the lengths to which our Western colleagues go are unacceptable. They distort facts completely, which is actually very much like disinformation.

As for Aleppo, their goal was to publish material that would convince the public that Russia’s role in settling the Syrian conflict was not constructive or positive but, on the contrary, extremely destructive, which would explain our partners’ political and military failure in Syria. This issue was also used for election purposes, because Hillary Clinton’s team was concerned with foreign policy when she was US Secretary of State. It was therefore clear that her election campaign would be focused on US foreign policy achievements and victories. This is why Russia’s involvement in Syria and its allegedly unconstructive role there was given as much attention as possible.

As I have said, facts about the situation in Mosul are being hushed up to minimize the information damage to the United States. The Mosul operation did not begin yesterday or a month ago; it was launched by the Obama administration almost six months ago. We described it as part of the election campaign. They needed a short victorious war, but the war is neither short nor victorious. The war would have been completely acceptable – after all, it is a war on terror – had it not been timed for the election campaign. It should have been a carefully planned operation with provisions for keeping the civilian casualties low, with humanitarian corridors and humanitarian aid, as well as assistance for those who wanted to leave the city. All these considerations were sacrificed to the time factor though and the election campaign. As a result, we have what we have, that is, what Iraq and the Iraqis have.

Question: The United States has refused to attend the Moscow conference on Afghanistan in April. Will Washington’s absence affect the outcome of the conference?

Maria Zakharova: I have already commented on this too. We sent an invitation to our American colleagues at their request, because they had expressed an interest in this. A while later, they said they would not attend the conference. So the conference will go ahead without US representatives. We wanted as many countries as possible to attend it not because we are after numbers, but because different countries could make different contributions to the common search for a solution to this complicated issue.

I don’t think I need to tell you about the US role in Afghanistan. As an Afghan journalist, you know what the Americans were doing all these years in Afghanistan. I would like to remind you that apart from their interest and political involvement, here is also the factor of the UN Security Council mandate for a US-led counterterrorist operation. I would like to remind you that in the decade since this operation was launched the United States and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan never reported to the UN Security Council about their achievements there. The UN Security Council issued the mandate and set the goals, but it has never learned if these goals were attained and what strategy the United States pursued in that region. We could only judge about this from the statements made at a national level. There was no documentary proof in the form of a report.

Our American partners expressed a desire to attend the conference, we duly sent the invitation to them, but they have refused to come. I have the impression that, unfortunately, this decision was taken largely because at present Washington does not have a global foreign policy strategy yet. We are waiting for them to formulate this strategy, so that we will be able to interact more actively. We are open to any form of US involvement in the formats where our American partners are traditionally present, including on Syria and Afghanistan.

Question: My question concerns Mosul. So much has been said about a lack of information concerning the operation to liberate Mosul. We know that thanks to the Rudaw TV channel, the world has become aware of heavy casualties in Mosul. A month ago, a female reporter of that channel was killed while covering mass burials around Mosul. How would you comment on the role of the Kurdish media in covering the Mosul operation?

Maria Zakharova: Look, I am going to advertise the Kurdish media without any material provision. As you know, the Russian government has repeatedly said that it is necessary to engage Kurdish forces and movements in various processes, given their active role “on the ground” and the fact that these associations, political parties and movements represent a large number of people. They have their own interests. They play a big role in a number of international issues, and, therefore, the role of the media, which reflect the standpoint of such a large number of people, should, indeed, be active. We believe that objectivity remains the principal factor here. The most important component today is objectivity and comprehensive coverage. The materials you have mentioned fill the gaps in the information picture. We stand for objectivity in the presentation of materials, they must not be engaged or serve the interests of only one group or political force, etc. A general picture is necessary.

I can repeat that if this is the way the media work, one cannot but applaud them.

Question: The Turkish leadership indirectly, or perhaps even directly, accused Russia of cooperation with terrorism, meaning that Russia cooperates with “terrorists” in the fight against terrorism. The case in point is Russia’s cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has been actively fighting international terrorism and ISIS. Does Russia regard PYD as a terrorist organisation?

Maria Zakharova: I gave a very detailed answer to this question.

Question: Recently, Russia has faced accusations that Russian hackers influenced the election results in the United States. But you somehow missed the recent elections in Bulgaria. Is it because of fraternal friendship?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian hackers, it seems, had a day off on that day.

This topic has indeed become ridiculous. There is no proof whatsoever. These are the same songs sung over and over and the fantasies of mass media. This topic has become a convenient way to excuse someone’s own defeats and failures. Curiously, when the results suit the interests of the mainstream, the Russian hackers did not intervene, and when the results came as a surprise for the mainstream, they were blamed on the “Russian hackers.” It’s very strange logic indeed.    

Question: Recently, I have seen your photograph in a gym on Facebook. I would like to ask you what gym you go to.

Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry has its own sports complex. Not just me, but many of my colleagues work out there. It seems to me that we made a series of reports about it. I can give you more details. It opened inside this building in 2011. This is a comfortable and functional building, and it has a small sports complex of its own.

Question: Yesterday, Great Britain launched the official procedure of its withdrawal from the EU. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry see this event? In your opinion, can Russia benefit from Brexit? Foreign Policy magazine, for example, wrote that Brexit is Russia’s victory. Do you agree?

Maria Zakharova: We consider Brexit to be an internal matter for Great Britain and see it in terms of relations between London and Brussels. Naturally, we analyse the potential consequences of this event for Russia, in the economy, for example, or perhaps also in other spheres, including finance. As for political assessments, they are made by our analysts, journalists and political scientists, who study global processes and movements, the future of Europe, a certain strategy and development prospects for countries.

We do not have any special attitude to Brexit because this is an internal affair for Great Britain. It’s an area of responsibility for Britons themselves and their relations with the EU. Of course, we have been watching this process since we live on the same continent and we have relations both with London and Brussels.        

Question: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov is currently visiting Japan. What is his mission? Has this to do with preparations for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s upcoming visit to Russia or the continuation of a recent dialogue by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov with their Japanese counterparts?

Maria Zakharova: We maintain regular contacts with our Japanese colleagues. We are very glad that a normal diplomatic dialogue has resumed, which has always been characteristic of Russian-Japanese relations. It is normal when a dialogue is conducted not from one visit by the head of state to another, but is maintained regularly at different levels. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov’s visit to Japan is proof of that. This is normal regular contact with our Japanese colleagues in a variety of areas. Unfortunately, much time has been wasted over the past two years. The dialogue was interrupted. Today, there are very many issues that need to be solved. Certainly, there is also an element of preparations for future visits, but this too is simple, routine work aimed at restoring the dialogue, directing it and addressing routine bilateral issues.  

Question: The US Congress has proposed putting North Korea on the list of terrorism sponsoring countries. Do you think such sanctions will promote the Korean Peninsula settlement?

Maria Zakharova: You know our position regarding unilateral sanctions – we consider them absolutely non-constructive. In the context of Korean Peninsula, as well as in other situations, we have always emphasised that only sanctions imposed by UN Security Council resolutions can be effective. We regard a collective approach to crisis settlement, rather than its exacerbation, as the sole opportunity for using sanction instruments.

We proceed from the assumption that the current situation on Korean Peninsula is just the case that demands collective efforts to settle the crisis rather than bring it to a head. It is questionable whether the US rhetoric and moves you mention will improve the situation. We suspect the result will be quite the contrary.

Question: US intelligence data show that North Korea is about to carry out new nuclear tests. Russia has said repeatedly that it resolutely objects to continuous nuclear tests and missile launches. Is Russia doing anything to prevent possible nuclear tests? Is it working to influence North Korea or other nations in the region? Does Russia intend to introduce sanctions against North Korea if it goes through with the test?

Maria Zakharova: As for sanctions, I have said that they are introduced by the UN Security Council, not Russia. As far as work is concerned, we cooperate with our interested colleagues at the relevant agencies, and have general discussions of the Korean Peninsula situation in the context of current international efforts. We think that the available efforts and mechanisms can be very effective when implemented. On the contrary, when one engages in political creativity which, instead of following the line of established international institutions and formats, pursues particular domestic political goals, such conduct does not help to address the problem. We have said repeatedly that we deem it necessary to work in the available formats. We have everything for it, and need only goodwill. We have goodwill, and we are ready to cooperate.

Question: What does the Foreign Ministry think about US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement on the United States being interested in an urgent peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Maria Zakharova: I have answered that question already.

Question: The media and other Russian written sources often use the letter е instead of ё. I am raising this issue because you alone can help me. If I do it on my own, it will take me 5-10 years. So I am asking you officially as the representative of one of the key Russian ministries. We would like the media and other agencies to use the letter ё because there is such a letter on the keyboard. We think it will be of great help to students from CIS countries who learn the Russian language.

Maria Zakharova: As far as I know, the two letters can be used interchangeably according to Russian language rules. But then, I am no expert in this field, so just refer to the relevant rules and regulations. If I have an opportunity, I will certainly highlight this matter in relevant formats.

Question: Almost three months have elapsed since the tragic death of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov. Russia has not yet appointed a new ambassador. Would you specify whether there are any clear prospects?

Maria Zakharova: An ambassadorial appointment requires a procedure for internal coordination made not only by the Foreign Ministry but also by relevant government agencies. This issue is outside my competence, and I will not comment on it before officially approved information comes out. I can say only that it is under consideration.

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