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12 April 201719:36

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 12, 2017

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Table of contents

 

  1. Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye
  2. Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Foreign and Expatriates Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem
  3. Trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Republic of Abkhazia
  6. Russia’s position on space cooperation
  7. The situation in Venezuela
  8. Results of Russian MPs’ work at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 136th Assembly in Dacca and the 137thAssembly in St Petersburg this October
  9. The situation in Syria
  10. Hacking activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website
  11. Viktor Bout’s case
  12. Alexander Lapshin’s case
  13. Developments in the Marat Uyeldanov’s case
  14. The Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow
  15. Poland’s response to new information stands in Katyn
  16. Shipment of Crimean wines arrested in Italy
  17. Answers to media questions:
  18. Turkey’s Health Ministry statement on the use of sarin in Idlib, Syria
  19. Russian-Turkish relations
  20. Crisis in Venezuela
  21. Russia’s possible reaction to a repeated US strike on Syria
  22. The situation on the Korean Peninsula
  23. The fight against international terrorism
  24. National reconciliation in Afghanistan
  25. Prospects of a US military strike against North Korea
  26. Turkey’s role in the Syrian settlement
  27. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
  28. Failed states

 

 

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye will come to Russia on a working visit on April 16-18. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him on April 17.

Russia and Senegal maintain a constructive and substantive political dialogue based on shared perceptions of global processes, including the creation of a polycentric world order as a more fair and safe system of international relations. Meaningful cooperation is underway in various multilateral formats, including the UN, given the non-permanent membership of Senegal in the Security Council in 2016-2017.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye will discuss key issues of the global and regional agenda with an emphasis on settling conflicts on the African continent and in the Middle East, as well as fighting international terrorism.

A focus of the forthcoming talks will be promoting mutually beneficial trade, economic and investment cooperation between Russia and Senegal. Trade between our two countries amounted to over $82 million in 2016. An in-depth exchange of views on ways to improve business ties in the sphere of fisheries, geological prospecting, and mining will be held. Cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, in particular, training Senegalese specialists at Russian institutions of higher education, where about 25 citizens of that country are currently studying, is an important area of ​​our relations.

We look forward to Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye’s upcoming visit to Moscow giving an additional impetus to joint efforts to unlock the potential of the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries.

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Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Foreign and Expatriates Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem

 

Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem will pay a working visit to Russia on April 13-15 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

During the talks, the ministers will discuss the situation in Syria, which came under attack and continues to be attacked by international terrorists, and was also subjected to military aggression by the United States. I will say more about this later. Possible joint steps to minimise the negative consequences of this gross violation of international law for international and regional peace and security will be considered.

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Trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

On April 14, Moscow will host a trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Talks will mainly focus on the military and political situation in Syria. The participants will discuss measures for trilateral coordination in order to prevent the degradation of the situation and undermining of efforts for a political settlement in Syria amid Washington’s military aggression against Damascus.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani

 

On April 15, Moscow will host talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, which will continue the good tradition of bilateral contacts and the discussion of the situation in the region.

During these talks, the ministers will exchange views on a wide range of current issues on the regional and international agenda and the further development of bilateral relations.

The Moscow meeting will allow for coordination on key topics in the Middle East, with an emphasis on searching for ways to settle crisis situations there and the need to resolutely counter the threat of international terrorism.

The current situation in and around Syria is expected to be a focus. The ministers will discuss the military and political developments in Syria and prospects for promoting a political process with constructive international assistance.

Particular attention will be paid to the further development of Russian-Qatar relations, including the maintenance of regular political dialogue and the expansion of trade and economic ties. In this regard, the parties will discuss the progress in implementing agreements achieved at the Russian-Qatar high-level meeting in January 2016 in Moscow.

We will provide additional information on all of the contacts just mentioned and publish expanded materials following their completion.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Republic of Abkhazia

 

In accordance with an agreement, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Abkhazia on April 18-19.

On April 18, Mr Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony of the new Russian Embassy compound in Abkhazia.

On April 19, Mr Lavrov will hold talks in Sukhum with Abkhazian President Raul Khajimba and Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove, during which there are plans to exchange opinions on key issues of bilateral relations, consolidation of Abkhazia’s international position and coordination of Russian-Abkhazian foreign policy cooperation.

Mr Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Abkhazia is meant to give more impetus to developing Russian-Abkhazian relations based on the principles of alliance and strategic partnership, and also to strengthen cooperation between our countries’ foreign ministries. 

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Russia’s position on space cooperation

 

As you know, today is Cosmonautics Day, and I would like to wish you a happy one. Traditionally it is observed on a wide scale as an important event. Cosmonautics Day (International Day of Human Space Flight declared by the UN) is a good opportunity for focusing on some of the most important aspects of Russia’s space activity, in particular its international dimension.

Developing the country’s space capabilities is one of Russia’s national priorities, as President Putin has repeatedly stated. Designed through 2025, the Federal Space Programme provides for the development of all fundamental areas, including the study of planets of the solar system and the moon with the help of automated spacecraft and a manned space flight programme. I would like to draw your attention once again, considering that members of international media outlets are present here, and it is very important for us to make our assessments and our vision of this area of international cooperation clear to our foreign partners.

Russia is ensuring guaranteed access to outer space from its territory. Foreign policy priorities have been defined and are being consistently followed. Russia advocates the peaceful use of outer space and the prevention of an arms race in space.

Back in 2008, a Russian-Chinese draft international treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force against outer space objects was submitted for consideration to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 2014 an amended version of that document was submitted.

Essentially the only state that is opposed to the international community’s efforts in this area is the US. Under these circumstances, to enhance mutual confidence and transparency, back in 2004, Russia assumed a unilateral political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space, and urged all responsible countries to follow suit. Many of them, including those that have significant space potential, have already become full participants to this initiative. Even more countries have co-sponsored a corresponding resolution of the UN General Assembly, which has been approved by an overwhelming majority of votes for three years in a row. Today, the international initiative regarding no first placement of weapons in outer space is the most effective, viable, cost-free, and transparent confidence-building measure in this sphere and it is gaining momentum. Of course, the main goal is to prevent an arms race in outer space.

It is noteworthy that back in 2005, at the Russia-EU summit in Moscow, an agreement was reached on combined efforts to prevent an arms race in space. We believe that these agreements still stand. We therefore have quite a few questions about the EU’s collective position, which was formed under pressure from Washington and obligates all EU countries to refrain from endorsing this simple and understandable resolution of the UN General Assembly for the third time in a row, which calls for dialogue in this area without even requiring any new obligations from EU countries, which cannot boast independence in their actions.

Furthermore, at the UN Outer Space Committee in Vienna, Russia put forward a host of important proposals designed to ensure the safety of space operations and the preservation of outer space as a secure, stable and conflict-free environment. Substantive talks are under way.

We are ready to work constructively on all these issues with all states in the interest of preserving the peaceful skies over our planet.

This is the first time we are observing this day and this holiday without our outstanding cosmonaut Georgy Grechko. He will forever remain in our hearts. His shining memory will live on. We regard everything that he has done for the development of the space industry and international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space as an invaluable contribution. His name has been inscribed in gold letters not only in national history but also in the world history of cosmonautics.

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The situation in Venezuela

 

We’re receiving a lot of requests to explain Moscow’s position on this issue. 

We’re watching with concern the situation in Venezuela, a country with which we maintain friendly relations, where opposition activists continue to clash with law-enforcers, even with the Easter holidays approaching. We feel sorry for the people who were killed or injured in street violence that is spiralling out of control. We cannot help mentioning a growing risk that the destructive scenarios which we have spoken about time and again and have warned against and which call to mind the grievous events in Chile in the 1970s might be implemented.  

We believe that non-violence offers a way to end political confrontation – this is exactly our vision of how to resolve the political crisis and resume nationwide dialogue for the sake of searching jointly for answers and solutions to the socioeconomic challenges facing the country.

In this context, we’re concerned about the statements by the US Southern Command to the effect that further aggravation of the crisis in Venezuela might require a prompt response at a regional level. It should be understood that statements like these are adding to the instability, escalating the situation in that country. They cannot be treated otherwise than words to encourage Venezuelan radicals to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability and incite violent confrontation. We consider the fact that tensions are running high in Venezuela to be a very dangerous trend. Honestly, in our view, this would hardly be in the interests of the United States and the entire international community, including the countries in the region.   

We would like to say again that all political processes unfolding in Venezuela should be strictly in line with the constitution, keep to both its letter and spirit in full, and comply with the governing laws. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of Venezuela’s internal problems reached at the negotiating table and in compliance with the constitution – and there cannot be any. 

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Results of Russian MPs’ work at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 136th Assembly in Dacca and the 137th Assembly in St Petersburg this October

 

Last week, the capital of Bangladesh, Dacca, hosted the 136th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I would like to note the positive results of the Russian delegation’s work.

At the Assembly’s plenary session the Inter-Parliamentary Union adopted a resolution initiated by our country on the role of parliaments in observing the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states.

We repeatedly observed such actions in the past, including in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, and now we can see attempts to do the same in Syria. The resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of the delegations, despite the expected resistance from representatives of several western countries.

Also important was the support for the Russian initiative to establish a working group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Executive Committee on Syria. This group’s mandate is to include developing measures, to be accepted by the global parliamentary community, to promote an open and universal political settlement in Syria and also to support effective global efforts in fighting international terrorism in the region.

The group will have an opportunity to visit where events are happening, in particular, Syria. It will consist of representatives of the Executive Committee (besides Russia, the wish to participate was expressed by France, the Netherlands, Iran and Namibia) and of all six geopolitical groups in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The IPU Executive Committee has invited both the Syrian Parliament and representatives of the opposition to cooperate within the framework of the group. Russia’s representative (Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Federation Council) will be the coordinator of this working group.

This can be considered a continuation of efforts toward an intra-Syrian settlement made by Russian MPs. This settlement is developing in addition to TV link-ups with colleagues from Syria, Iran and European countries and trips to Syria together with European MPs. In our opinion, all this is having a perceptible effect and European MPs’ attitude to the events in that country is gradually changing. Our aim is not to steer it in an advantageous direction for us but to make it non-biased, impartial and independent, instead of going with the flow.

Participants in the Assembly in Dacca offered their condolences for the tragedy in St Petersburg and expressed solidarity with the people of St Petersburg and all Russia.

I would like to remind you that the next IPU Assembly will take place in Russia. We can say that in Dacca, Bangladesh passed the baton as host to St Petersburg. There was a presentation on this city on the Neva River and a discussion of key issues on the agenda of the autumn session of 2017.

In particular, there are plans to adopt another resolution in St Petersburg, initiated by Russia and dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Democracy. The resolution will acknowledge the absence of a universal model of democracy and the fact that democracy is not the exclusive privilege of a certain country or region.

It should be emphasised that, for its part, Russia will spare no effort to make the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 137th Assembly a success.

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The situation in Syria

 

The military-political situation in Syria sharply deteriorated following the massive US strike on April 7 against the al-Shayrat airfield where Syrian Air Force planes are based. In this room, as well as for many other audiences, we have given an extended evaluation of that, issuing corresponding statements and explanations and making comments. As is known, Russia responded to that outright act of aggression against a sovereign UN member state by suspending the Russian-US memorandum on the prevention of air incidents in the course of operations in Syria. A corresponding explanation was provided via both the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. Washington’s use of force is a serious challenge not only to regional but also to international security.

Unfortunately, there is no stopping anti-Russian forces in the West, which are bent on wiping out the positive achievements on the path toward a peace settlement. They were put in place mainly through the efforts of Russia and its partners in the Astana process, as well as the efforts of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his team in Geneva.

Some western media outlets are not above peddling these fake news stories and outright slander. Consider, for example, the AP report of April 11 citing a high-ranking US official as saying that Russia knew about Syria’s coming chemical weapons attack in advance!

How can we comment on this? These news stories can only be commented on in the same spirit. Let’s try to do the same today. Maybe those across the ocean knew about the terrorists’ coming provocation and so targeted their cruise missiles at Syria’s al-Shayrat airport in advance. Are these the kinds of polemics we will engage in or will we talk in a constructive manner? Will we destroy the media with these fake reports or will we come to understand the need for a responsible approach toward dealing with long-running international problems? Would it not be better first to understand what really happened at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 and ensure, as Russia immediately proposed, an impartial, objective and professional international investigation on the ground with the participation of OPCW experts? Unfortunately, our colleagues chose to act differently.

Our partners’ actions consists of constantly repeating the “vial of white powder” show at the UN Security Council that the US used to justify the need to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in the early 2000s. The comparisons are not simply appropriate, they are self-evident. There is only one “but” here: the situation today is far more dangerous, because a new bloody and insidious player has emerged – international terrorism, as represented by ISIS, al-Nusra and other Al Qaeda affiliates. How they evolved, as a result of what countries’ mistakes and in what region – I believe we have talked enough about that to repeat it today.

Independent experts from the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), a Swedish NGO, have questioned the videos of the “victims of the chemical attack” that were accompanied by comments in Arabic as to how best to position a child in front of a camera.

As before, we urge our partners for equal cooperation based on mutual respect in the interest of achieving the most important goals on the international agenda today: eliminating the seat of international terrorism in Syria and reaching a political settlement in that country.

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Hacking activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website

 

We would like to revisit the issue of hacking. However, today we will add a new twist to this traditional topic and tell you about hacker activity on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

I would like to remind you that for months Russia has been accused of using hackers to interfere in the internal affairs of the US and other western countries, but not a scrap of conclusive evidence has been presented either to us or to anybody else. All of these allegations follow the form of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark that they have no evidence but are sure the Russians have the capability to meddle. Unlike our western colleagues, we do have something to show.

I would like to say that this is quite a sensational story. Today I will tell you about what our agency and just one website regularly run up against, although there are a lot of sites that regularly come under attack. I believe we will be regularly updating you on these statistics. This example will give you an idea of the scale of resources directed against Russian government agencies.

Specialists say the ministry’s website regularly comes under attack from IP addresses registered in the US. In February 2017 alone, three attacks were registered. In March 2017, we recorded a significantly heightened level of activity by so-called bots, automatic programmes that can adversely affect the Foreign Ministry’s website from the US. Their share of the total number of visitors to the pages was 88 percent (1.51 million bot users of 1.77 million came from US territory). This refers to visits not by ordinary users who are interested in specific materials but those who use the entire array of actions that are usually called hacking attacks, computer systems, everything that does not qualify as legal or legitimate use of cyber technology. Bot visits to our website account for 50 percent of the total (1.47 million page viewings of 2.97 million). Analysis showed that all of them have similar characteristics (they are used by the same programme or organisation). According to our technical services, they come mainly from the US, from California (64 percent of all queries from Mountain View (47 percent) and San Jose (17 percent)), as well as from Ohio (8 percent) and the District of Columbia (8 percent).

I would like to remind you once again that cyber security is traditionally a priority on Russia’s agenda not only at home: it is a focus of our international efforts. Russia has put forward an initiative that is known at the UN as International Information Security. We have posted a lot of materials on this issue on the Foreign Ministry’s website and the social media and Russian representatives have given interviews on it. We have repeatedly urged our western partners to engage in genuine multilateral cooperation to put an end to hacker attacks, which have become a serious destabilising factor today. We would advise our US partners, instead of trying to bring down the website of Russia’s foreign policy agency, to steer their efforts to a peaceful channel and do their best to fight cyber threats together.

To reiterate, we will keep monitoring these statistics. I would like to repeat that these are specific figures for representatives of the relevant US services to work on. If they are so responsive to everything related to cyber attacks, at this briefing we are giving them an opportunity to look into the modus operandi of hackers and people registered in the US who unscrupulously use internet technology based in the US or operate from its territory.

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Viktor Bout’s case

 

On April 3, the US Supreme Court has turned down the petition to review the case of convicted Russian citizen Viktor Bout. No reason for the refusal has been given.

The appeal cited substantial proof that the US attorneys had concealed exculpatory evidence from the New York district and circuit courts to mislead them with the charge and the sentence.

The Supreme Court’s decision, however disputable, virtually terminates the process of appealing the verdict as all means of Bout’s defence provided by the US law have been exhausted.

The Foreign Ministry continues to monitor the situation and provide legal and consular support, and works to help bring him home as soon as possible.

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Alexander Lapshin’s case

 

The Russian embassy in Azerbaijan is closely monitoring the Alexander Lapshin controversy.

The investigation of his case has been extended until July 15. The suspect has no complaints about the conditions of his detention. His family’s concerns about his health have been conveyed to the detention prison authorities. Lapshin had a medical examination on the embassy’s pressing request.

I will not go into the details of his detention. I can only say that we are monitoring the situation, and the embassy is in permanent contact with his lawyer and family.

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Developments in the Marat Uyeldanov’s case

 

According to the latest update from the Russian embassy in Azerbaijan, initial hearings on Russian citizen Marat Uyeldanov’s case have been scheduled for April 13. Embassy officials are planning to attend.

After information about his failing health reached the embassy, a note was forwarded to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on March 28 demanding that the suspect undergoes an urgent medical examination. Similar requests were forwarded to the Azerbaijani Presidential Executive Office and State Security Service.

The embassy is in permanent contact with Uyeldanov’s lawyer and family.

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The Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow

 

At the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on April 6, our Ukrainian and American colleagues raised the issue of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow. We would like to say the following in this connection.

Contrary to what was said at the meeting, it is not true that the doors of the library have been closed permanently and its books have been seized. The books from the Library of Ukrainian Literature are being turned over to the Centre of Slavic Cultures, which has opened at the Margarita Rudomino State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow. The book transfer, which is underway, will be completed in 2017. Anyone can go there to read the wonderful Ukrainian books kept in storage in Moscow.

On April 3, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry filed a note of protest with the Russian Foreign Ministry, demanding that the books from the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow are turned over to Ukraine. We are surprised at these claims, to put it mildly. The Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow never belonged to Ukraine but was an independent state cultural facility located in Moscow and financed by the city.

Ukraine’s claims appear especially strange in light of the Ukrainian authorities’ policy regarding Russian language publications. Kiev has recently approved a procedure for confiscating the so-called anti-Ukrainian literature and published a list of books that are prohibited from entering Ukraine. On December 8, 2016, Verkhovna Rada amended laws to limit, and in fact ban, the entry of Russian print matter into Ukraine. Moreover, Russian films are listed for total suppression, Russian television networks have been banned in Ukraine and a quota has been introduced for the broadcasting in Russian of television and radio programmes to curtail the use of the Russian language. Many Ukrainian place names have been changed.

The Kiev City Council is taking an active part in the de-Russification campaign. This is contrary to what is happening in Moscow with regard to Ukrainian literature and all other elements of cultural cooperation, Ukraine and Ukrainian culture. One example: in March, the Kiev City Council decided to rename the Kiev Museum of Russian Art as the Kiev Art Gallery. And after this they dare take issue with our actions and make demands.

These and many other moves by the Kiev authorities lay bare the hypocritical rhetoric regarding the alleged infringements of the rights of the Ukrainian minority in Russia, where no obstacles are erected to the development of cultural identity. It’s just the other way round. Everything that is now happening in Ukraine points to the ongoing discrimination, including the adoption of new methods of suppression aimed at the forceful Ukrainisation of Russian speakers.

Also, Ukraine is not living on an island. It is a geographical, cultural and historical part of Europe. Ukraine has also decided to join the EU countries politically, saying that European values, in particular the declared EU values, are among its priorities and key goals. Why don’t these values include the protection of ethnic minorities? Frankly, the Russian speaking population of Ukraine cannot even be described as an ethnic minority, considering the country’s history and the fact that Russian has always been a language that did not push people apart but united them. Regrettably, it is also obvious that by pursuing this policy, Kiev is only further inciting Russia haters and actually seeks to lead the campaign to liquidate everything that could remind the Ukrainian people about the cultural and spiritual heritage they share with the Russian people.           

We believe that this policy has no future historically and is very harmful. 

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Poland’s response to new information stands in Katyn

 

We were perplexed by Poland’s response to new information stands installed near the entrance to the Katyn Russian Memorial Complex, telling the story of Red Army personnel who were imprisoned during the Soviet-Polish War of 1919-1921.

It is worth reminding that this memorial is a branch of the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia. In 2017, this museum is planning to open a new exhibition in Katyn on the history of Russian-Polish relations.

The Foreign Ministry views as counterproductive Warsaw’s eagerness to politicise the tragic pages of our common history and use them as a pretext for attacking Russia. We believe that history-related disputes should be settled by historians. As you know, this has always been our position.

As for the information stand itself, while Warsaw believes that it contains inaccurate data on the number of our compatriots who had lost their lives, these figures were confirmed by the latest research by leading Russian experts in this area.

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Shipment of Crimean wines arrested in Italy

 

This topic was all over the media yesterday. There were many requests for comments on this issue.

The Foreign Ministry views the incident with the arrest of a shipment of Russian wines made in Crimea at the VinItaly annual international wine exhibition in Verona as a provocation inspired by the representatives of the Kiev government in Italy, aimed at casting a shadow over the successful visit to the Russian Federation by the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, which was underway at that time. The rationale behind these actions is hard to understand.

It is perplexing that the Italian authorities were unable to counter this anti-Russia ploy and provocation despite their proactive commitment to stepping up bilateral trade and economic ties. As the organisers of VinItaly, a major international event, they failed to deliver on their obligation to provide the best conditions for all participants in the exhibition. The reference to the relevant regulations of the EU Council is totally groundless. We have checked everything. Despite its anti-Crimean slant, this document does not provide for banning non-commercial exhibition items made in Crimea. This was clearly wishful thinking, an attempt to juggle with facts and switch the discussion to other issues.

The Russian Embassy in Rome has taken the necessary steps to protect the interests of the Russian participants in the Verona exhibition. We have to say that what happened is detrimental to the organisers’ reputation, since it raises many questions and leaves a nasty aftertaste, which is a critical point as far as wine is concerned.

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Answers to media questions:

 

Question: Can you comment on a statement by the Turkish Ministry of Health, based on a medical inspection, about the use of sarin in Idlib, in Syria?  

Maria Zakharova: I believe that the Turkish Ministry of Health should collect seawater samples for tourist season and check them for bacteria. The Ministry should also check food quality, including at resorts. That’s what they should do today.

The issue of chemical weapons is the responsibility of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was created many years ago, and specifically the OPCW’s special division established for investigating incidents that involve the use of chemical weapons in Syria. They employ skilled experts focusing solely on the investigation of such incidents. It is them, rather than the Turkish Ministry of Health or some sort of cultural ministry, who should take part in resolving these issues. This is why Russia came up with the idea to send inspectors there as soon as possible.

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Question: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has urged Russia to stop supporting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. How will these statements influence relations between Russia and Turkey and the role of Turkey in the coalition?

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly said that the Russian position remains unchanged. From our standpoint the issue of a regime in Turkey or, for that matter, in any other country is their own domestic affair. We did not invent this provision which is stated in the UN Charter.

Second, we have always focused global public attention on the fact that members of the International Syria Support Group, which includes Turkey, approved documents which were eventually legitimised in the UN Security Council and which note that there is no alternative to resolving the Syrian issue through diplomatic means, and that the people of Syria themselves should decide their country’s future. The participating countries assumed certain obligations after signing this document and agreeing with its provisions. I believe we should proceed from this assumption.

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Question: You mentioned the crisis in Venezuela today. Is it possible to initiate any cooperation between Russia and the Latin American countries that could help resolve this issue?

Maria Zakharova: We maintain bilateral relations with the region’s countries, as well as with the concerned associations of various countries. We address and discuss various issues, conduct dialogues and assist the legitimate authorities in Venezuela. Today, this dialogue and our cooperation hinge on a desire to help resolve a political crisis whose origins I have already discussed.

I think we would be ready to review any proposals on expanded cooperation that might be submitted by these countries or their regional organisations.

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Question: What would Russia do if the United States repeated its missile strike on Syria?

Maria Zakharova: I did not expect this question. Do you have some information and that’s why you are asking? Are you planning something?

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Question: I am not planning anything. It is unclear what Washington would do next.

Maria Zakharova: That’s funny. I was trying to imagine what would happen if a RT journalist asked a question like this at a US State Department briefing. I bet American news agencies would have published reports with headlines like, “RT has information about planned strikes.”

Our position is that the strike was an act of aggression from the standpoint of international law and documents on a Syrian settlement. We have stated our point of view publicly and at talks with the foreign ministers of the leading actors in the Syrian settlement. As you know, Sergey Lavrov has had numerous telephone conversations with his western and other colleagues. We will carry this on at the talks with Rex Tillerson.

You probably know that a conference will be held between Russia, Syria and Iraq in Moscow on Friday. The main issue on its agenda is how to return the situation back to the path of collective struggle against international terrorism in Syria and stimulate both the Geneva peace process and the Astana one.

I have a question to your question. Based on what you have asked, it can be assumed that strikes can be delivered spontaneously, without any cause, as I see it. I refuse to believe that a great nation like the United States can do what it did decades ago. After all, this is 2017 and not the 1970s, 1980s or even 1990s, when strikes were delivered against countries simply because someone in Washington decided to do this. There are such things as international law and the international community. These strikes on Syria are a blow to the collective foundations of global decision-making. This is what matters. At some stage, we looked back at US history, the history of the US foreign policy, and saw that this behaviour is characteristic of all US administrations. If I’m wrong, say so, name the administration that didn’t do this, that renounced the use of force in favour of peaceful and diplomatic  means. The public aspects of these actions varied from open bombing raids to material assistance to the opposition and militants, from mistakes with tragic consequences to violations of international law. A case in point is Libya and the way the resolution concerning it was distorted.

The world has approached a dangerous line, and the new challenges and threats have grown to a scale where such actions [as the US air strike on Syria] can catalyse not just dangerous but absolutely tragic events. I wish the world’s largest country – largest on all counts – would see this as the main argument.

Well, if you have any information, don’t feel shy to share it with us.

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Question: Will Russia raise the issue of the Korean Peninsula where the situation has reached a critical point, and the possibility of resuming six-party negotiations on North Korea, during the Lavrov-Tillerson negotiations?

Maria Zakharova: Let’s keep the intrigue, not to tease you but so we can appreciate the results once the visit and talks are over. To avoid making an exception for you and then other journalists, I’d like to ask you to readdress all the relevant questions to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his news conference this evening.

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Question: A question about the previously mentioned meeting of the Russian, Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers. As the terrorist activity is gathering steam to include the recent terrorist attacks in St. Petersburg and Stockholm, is there any possibility for a new anti-terrorist coalition? How would this affect cooperation between Russia and the West in the fight against this global threat?

Maria Zakharova: This is a very general question, which is not so much connected to the upcoming meeting but rather takes us to the history of the problem. You probably remember that President Vladimir Putin voiced a proposal in the UN to set up a real global front for the fight against terrorism a few years ago. This proposal included such steps as adopting a relevant resolution, the collective fight against international terrorism, and cooperative efforts between both the regional countries and all the countries that could join the coalition. Of course, the main point would be to adopt an international legal document, in particular, a UN Security Council resolution, that would outline the framework of the coalition, formulate its mandate and require a report on implementation. This way, there would not have been members who join and then quit the coalition at their own discretion, based on their own considerations and pushing their own agenda. With this approach, there would have been a smooth collective effort firmly based on the principles of international law.

You remember how the international community reacted to this initiative, don’t you? Unfortunately, events unfolded according to the scenario Russia warned against, when it talked about the world and the international situation without a wide global front based on a UN Security Council resolution.

As you said, there have been an increasing number of terrorist attacks on peaceful civilians, which seem to be perpetrated in totally different ways. The most alarming sign is that the scattered terrorist groups are coming together. Largely speaking, international terrorism is now quickly gaining momentum. Day by day, Mr. Putin’s proposal is becoming increasingly relevant. Sadly, the players’ ambitions could be too large to take this step. Such a policy and approach could lead to the world becoming a hostage to one or several terrorist organisations. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

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Question: How will the increased tensions between Russia, the US and other countries in the Western coalition affect Russia’s participation in the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: Our position is that we should work with the US and other countries to do everything we can to reach a settlement in Afghanistan. We are always ready to do this. You know that we act openly and invite the US to take part in various efforts related to Afghanistan, its security, and the situation in the region in general. We always hope for constructive dialogue with our partners.    

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Question: How would Russia assess the possibility of a US military strike against North Korea? Is Moscow taking any steps to attempt to settle this conflict through peaceful means?

Maria Zakharova: Yesterday, we published a document just before Rex Tillerson’s visit. The document is available on the Foreign Ministry website and it outlines our position and concerns regarding statements on the possible use of force that have come indirectly from US officials and directly from sources and political analysts. I suggest that you to read this document. From our point of view, this is an important part of regional stability and security, and, as I said, this document lays out our position in detail.

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Question: How can we reconcile Turkey’s support for the US action in Syria and its call to settle the crisis through the Astana format?

Maria Zakharova: The question on how Ankara can reconcile these two approaches is one for the Turkish authorities. I think Turkey’s official representatives should explain to journalists and political analysts how Turkey conceptually resolves this. Turkey is facilitating the peace process on the one hand, but on the other, it has welcomed these airstrikes that effectively bury all attempts to bring the opposition and the official government authorities together, and any attempts at specific efforts to transform fighters and terrorists into an opposition organisation and encourage them to renounce armed action. The whole world has just received a bloody lesson in how to “sort things out.” For several years now, we have been calling on everyone to come to the negotiating table, and have persuaded the opposition fighters, terrorists and extremists to lay down their arms, including by offering them specific guarantees. These opposition fighters, terrorists and extremists are now asking a logical question: why is one person allowed to act through force, attacking a sovereign state’s territory without any approval or clear justification, and they are not allowed, and are constantly pushed to sit down at the negotiating table. No one denies that this is a very complicated process. We have always said that motivating extremists and opposition fighters who have spent years fighting for their “truth” and vision with gun in hand (albeit by taking a mistaken path, perhaps) to sit down at the negotiating table is an extremely complicated process. Let me say again that the opposition fighters, seeing this action, are only encouraged to continue using force.  

Many of these people never went to university or even to school. Many of them are young people and the only view they know is the one the terrorist organisations have given them. How can we explain to unsophisticated people how this US action is justified? How can we convince them that force is not the way to resolve the Syrian conflict? Why do prosperous and educated people from a prosperous country use force as the main means to resolve the Syrian conflict? You should put this question to the Turkish officials and get an answer as to how they reconcile these two concepts within a single foreign policy.

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Question: Will Russian President Vladimir Putin meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? One minute we hear that he will, the next minute we hear that he won’t. If this meeting does take place, what does it mean?

Maria Zakharova: You know very well that the Presidential Executive Office and the Presidential Press Service are the ones who can comment on the President’s meetings. You should ask them.

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Question: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the only countries that do not support the US position on Syria are Syria itself, North Korea, Iran and Russia. He also said that all of these countries, with the exception of Russia, are failed states. Can you please clarify if this is the complete list he mentioned?

Maria Zakharova: Iran is a “failed state”? Just look at Iran’s history. Are you in a position to buy a history book or any book on Iran? Can your media outlet do this?

Question: Yes.

Maria Zakharova: Then I strongly advise you to buy one and send it to the American official you quoted. So in future he knows what he is talking about.

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