Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Vladivostok, June 8, 2017
Welcome everyone. Today, we have an off-site briefing here in Vladivostok on the sidelines of the media summit. Thanks a lot for the invitation. Indeed, I’m pleased to be back after several years. I think all the efforts invested into this land were not in vain and resulted in tremendous blossoming and fruits.
By tradition, I will begin with Minister Lavrov’s schedule.
Working visit to Russia by Foreign Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic Saleumxay Kommasith
Foreign Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic Saleumxay Kommasith will pay a working visit to Russia on June 14-16. He will have talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and a conversation with Minister of Communications and Mass Media and Chairman of the Russian part of the Russian-Laotian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation Nikolai Nikiforov.
The current state and prospects for expanding bilateral cooperation in the political, economic and cultural spheres will be reviewed in detail, with an emphasis on implementing the agreements reached at the highest level over the past two years. The ministers will also compare notes on current international and regional issues.
Minister Kommasith will give a lecture at MGIMO University as part of his visit, and participate in an open meeting of the Russian-Laotian Friendship Society.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in a conference of the Russian Committee for Solidarity and Cooperation with the Peoples of Asia and Africa
On June 15, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a conference of the Russian Committee for Solidarity and Cooperation with the Peoples of Asia and Africa, and will deliver a welcoming address.
The committee is the legal successor of the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee created in 1956, and participates in the work of the International Organisation of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia and Africa. During the Soviet era, the committee carried out extensive activities in the sphere of public diplomacy, such as providing scholarships to foreign students studying at Soviet universities. Currently, work is underway to reinvigorate the activities of Afro-Asian solidarity entities by way of forming committee branches and affiliates in over 40 Russian regions, to revive and reinforce the elected bodies of the committee, and to form the youth section of this organisation.
Since this is an off-site briefing, we received many questions from Russian and foreign media on regional issues. Today, I will answer some of them.
Foreign economic activity of the Primorye Territory
The analysis of the Primorye Territory’s trade with its partner countries demonstrates high level of integration of the region with the Asia-Pacific Region, where APEC countries account for 80 percent of the overall foreign trade, the European Union 4.5 percent, and CIS countries 0.6%.
Thanks to investment expectations related to creating the Free Port of Vladivostok and the territories of advanced socioeconomic development, foreign investment in the economy of Primorye Territory is growing steadily. The largest investors are China, including Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea, Cyprus, the Virgin Islands, Japan, and the Netherlands.
Transport and storage, processing industries, finance and insurance, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, as well as construction and real estate are the most lucrative sectors for foreign capital.
China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, France, and Brazil are the main trading partners of the Primorye Territory.
Reportedly, six agreements on cooperation of the Primorye Territory with foreign partners, including China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Korea, have been registered with the Russian Ministry of Justice.
Work is underway to create and expand special economic areas in the region to be led by Rosneft and Rusagro. The area of the Free Port of Vladivostok is expanding.
Easing entry procedures at the Free Port of Vladivostok for citizens of a number of states
Federal Law No. 28-FZ, On Introducing Amendments to a Number of Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, was adopted on March 7 of this year. It specifies rules for the entry of foreign citizens to the Russian Federation via border checkpoints on the territory of the Free Port of Vladivostok.
On May 30, the Government of the Russian Federation issued Resolution No. 667 on online visa processing and entry into the Russian Federation on the basis of online visas via border checkpoints on the territory of the Free Port of Vladivostok.
On April 14, the Government of the Russian Federation issued Directive No. 692 r that approved a list of foreign countries whose citizens can get online regular single business, tourist or humanitarian visas upon arrival in the Russian Federation via border checkpoints on the territory of the Free Port of Vladivostok. The list includes the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Brunei, India, Iran, Qatar, PRC, DPRK, Kuwait, Morocco, Mexico, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tunisia, Turkey and Japan (18 countries in all).
In line with the updated version of Article 25.17 of the Federal Law On the Procedures for Entry to and Exit from the Russian Federation, citizens of foreign states on the list determined by the Government of the Russian Federation can go online to obtain regular single business, tourist or humanitarian visas (e-visas).
E-visas are processed on the basis of a decision adopted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs following an application filed by a foreign citizen online on the website of the Foreign Ministry no later than four days before the planned arrival. The application should be accompanied by a digital photo as an electronic file. No other documents (invitations, confirmations etc.) are required and e-visas are processed free of charge.
E-visas are granted for a term of 30 calendar days with an allowed stay of no more than eight days on the territory of the arrival region in the Russian Federation.
Under the plan, the e-visa system for visits to the Free Port of Vladivostok will be launched on August 1 of this year.
The 3rd Eastern Economic Forum
On September 6-7, Vladivostok will host the 3rd Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), which was established by President Vladimir Putin in 2015 in order to boost the development of the Russian Far East and expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The previous EEF events (in September 2015 and 2016) showed that the forum has firmly asserted itself as an important regional tool for building broad and mutually advantageous cooperation and teamwork. Suffice it to say that around 300 contracts worth more than 3 trillion roubles were signed. This is glaring proof that Russia’s proposals on promoting economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region are in demand and that our partners are really willing to cooperate with the Russian Far East.
The forum’s agenda is currently being finalised. Given the scale of the tasks, it will cover a wide range of issues from the search for optimal scenarios for deeper regional economic integration in light of the Russian initiative to build comprehensive Eurasian partnership to the discussion of preferential conditions for business activity, created in the Russian Far East. A traditional APEC Conference on Cooperation in Higher Education, already the sixth one to be hosted by Vladivostok, will be held on the sidelines of the forum, as well as Russia-ASEAN and Russia-India business dialogues, a seminar on trade and investment cooperation in view of the entry into force of the free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and Vietnam, bilateral meetings on interregional cooperation between regions of the Far Eastern Federal District and interested partners, and a set of exhibitions and cultural events.
The invitation of foreign guests of various ranks is currently being discussed. We will inform you about this through Russian government agencies. A total of more than 3,000 high-ranking officials, top managers of leading companies, experts and media representatives are expected to arrive from around 50 Asia-Pacific countries and other regions of the world.
Cooperation between Russia’s Far East regions and China
Russia and China’s interregional relations are growing. The Intergovernmental Russian-Chinese Commission on Cooperation and Development of the Far East and Baikal Region of the Russian Federation and Northeast China has been set up. It is co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev and Vice-Premier Wang Yang of the State Council of China.
On September 2-3, 2016 the second Eastern Economic Forum was held in Vladivostok. China was represented there by Chen Changzhi, vice-chair of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, who took part in the Russia-China business dialogue. Preparations are underway for the third forum where ample contacts with our Chinese partners are planned in a number of areas.
As of today, the Russian Government has issued resolutions identifying 14 areas of priority socioeconomic development in the Far East. The heightened interest of Chinese businesses in these areas is noticeable. Work is ongoing to attract investors to the Free Port of Vladivostik. Seven Chinese companied have already been granted the status of free port residents.
The Programme of Cooperation between the Regions of the Far East and Eastern Siberia of the Russian Federation and Northeast China (2009-2018) continues. In 2016, 16 projects under the programme were at the implementation stage.
The development of railway links between Russia and China proceeds as scheduled, a border crossing bridge Nizhneleninskoye-Tongjiang is being built, as well as an automobile bridge and a cable tramway across the Amur River in the vicinity of the cities of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe.
The peace treaty issue and progress on joint economic activities of Russia and Japan on the Southern Kuril Islands
Russia’s position on the issue of concluding a peace treaty with Japan is well known. The Southern Kurils are an inalienable part of the Russian Federation, and its sovereignty and jurisdiction are beyond doubt.
In accordance with an agreement reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Japan in December 2016, at present the parties are engaged in a dialogue concerning the possibility of joint economic activities (JEA) on the islands. In March, the Japanese side was given a package of potential JEA projects in the Southern Kurils prepared by Russian federal agencies and the Administration of the Sakhalin Region and covering a wide range of areas – aquaculture, fish processing, improving infrastructure, geothermal energy, construction, environmental protection, tourism, and a number of others.
A number of specific initiatives are to be agreed on that basis and also in view of Japanese proposals, made in response, which are to contribute to socioeconomic development of the Southern Kuril Islands. Following that, we will be ready to discuss with the Japanese partners the legal framework for their implementation.
During their meeting in Moscow on April 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to arrange a visit to the Southern Kurils by a Japanese public-private mission to study business JEA opportunities. A Japanese delegation visited Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on May 30-31 and had meetings with officials of the Sakhalin Region Administration. In late June, a business mission will visit the Southern Kurils proper.
The Russian Seasons international project in Japan
The Russian Seasons, an international project initiated by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, began in Tokyo on June 4. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took part in the opening ceremony.
The Russian Seasons aims to bring the best achievements of Russian culture to audiences abroad. The project is a long-term undertaking with a broad geographical scope, but Japan was chosen as its starting point. This choice is not mere coincidence but reflects our desire to encourage in every way mutual interest among the Russian and Japanese publics to study and learn more about each other’s rich cultural traditions.
The Russian Seasons will present to the Japanese public a selection of the best ballet and theatrical works, unique exhibition projects, Russian cinematic masterpieces, symphonic and operatic concerts, and circus programmes. More than 200 events will take place over the course of the year in 40 different cities.
The Russian Seasons programme involves close bilateral cooperation, and this will provide us with an opportunity for gaining unprecedented experience in cultural dialogue and will contribute to deepening the mutual understanding between our countries.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula
We are following closely developments on the Korean Peninsula. We are deeply concerned by North Korea’s missile tests, which have become more frequent of late (I remind you that tests were conducted on April 28, and May 13, 21, and 29). We are sure that such steps fuel tension in the region. Russia supported the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2356 on July 2 on imposing new sanctions on a number of North Korean legal entities and individuals. We reaffirm our readiness to take part in joint work on resolving the nuclear and other issues on the Korean Peninsula.
At the same time, we are preoccupied by the growing US military presence in Northeast Asia. We believe, and we have said on many occasions, that this will not contribute to creating conditions for renewing dialogue and will only increase conflict potential in the region.
In our contacts with all of our partners, we call for restraint, and we stress the need for general military-political détente and a collective search for solutions to the existing problems through exclusively political and diplomatic means.
Developments in Syria
We are pleased to note the consolidation of the positive dynamics of the military and political situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR).
Implementation of the Memorandum on the Creation of De-escalation Areas, which was signed in Astana on May 4, and the consolidation of the ceasefire regime are allowing the Armed Forces of Syria to concentrate their efforts on the hottest spots and wage a successful fight against militants of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated terrorist organisations. The main hostilities are taking place in Deir ez-Zor, Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Deraa and a number of suburbs of Damascus. The units of the Syrian Government army continue their offensive in the south and east of Aleppo Province. They have extended their zone of control to include vast territories in the area of the Jabal at-Tuveihina, and freed from terrorists a number of towns including Maskanah, Al-Azizia and, Radda Al-Kabira.
Jihadi fighters are fiercely resisting the Syrian forces along the entire contact line and are trying to destroy as much infrastructure as they can. Fighting against ISIS terrorists has been going on in the southern outskirts of Deir ez-Zor for several days. There are many foreign mercenaries among the neutralised militants, about which we have regularly informed you. We have mentioned more than once that terrorist formations are getting not only moral and financial support from abroad but also manpower replenishment – new militants recruited by international terrorist organisations. Embittered by the failed attempt to launch a counteroffensive, ISIS militants subjected to sniper and mortar fire a number of residential areas in Deir ez-Zor, killing and wounding over 50 civilians. The most horrible thing is that jihadists continue mercilessly killing people during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Disputes between jihad groups are growing against the backdrop of the successes of the Syrian Government army. Bloody clashes involving heavy weapons continue in Eastern Ghouta between Jaysh al-Islam on the one hand and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and Faylaq ar-Rahman, on the other. Regrettably, the protracted squabbles are resulting in the death of civilians apart from terrorists, causing growing discontent among local residents.
Jabhat al-Nusra has already established a so-called “Islamic emirate” in Idlib Province. Having subordinated many illegal armed formations, al-Nusra fighters concentrated their efforts on forming government bodies. They set up special departments that monitor different spheres of economic activities and public life.
The units of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that are drawing a noose around ISIS’s informal capital of Raqqa have started receiving weapons and munitions from the United States. Recently SDF fighters blocked the city from the west, north and east and now they are expanding their bridgehead on the southern bank of the Euphrates River, trying to complete the encirclement of the “caliphate’s capital.” Persistent fighting continues near the Al-Baath hydropower station and the towns of Ganid and Mansur where large groups of terrorists are blocked. Thousands of people continue fleeing Raqqa, moving up the Euphrates towards Al-Tabqa.
The humanitarian situation is substantially improving in the “pacified” regions of Syria. We welcome this trend and can’t help but mention it. The country’s authorities are restoring the water supply system, electric generation facilities and the social infrastructure in these regions. Local residents are returning home. The Syrian leaders intend to continue its policy toward local truces. The southern districts of Damascus – Tadamonm, Al Hajar and Al Aswad, and the Palestine refugee camp Yarmouk – are next in line.
We are again calling on the leaders of the US-led “anti-ISIS” coalition to be more responsible in planning air strikes on position of jihadists in Syria. As we have emphasised repeatedly, ill-conceived actions are increasing the suffering of Syrian civilians and the number of victims among them is growing every day. Everyone is alarmed primarily by this situation. The effectiveness of such actions is dubious. Thus, as a result of the coalition’s air attack on Raqqa on June 3, 43 civilians were killed, mostly women and children and dozens were wounded. On June 5, the coalition’s air force launched missile attacks on a group of refugees who were trying to get to the southern bank of the Euphrates on boats. Over 30 people were killed as a result. In all, about 200 civilians lost their lives due to the coalition’s actions in Raqqa and its suburbs in one month. I would like to emphasise that these are preliminary and tentative data for one month alone. Such irresponsible military tactics should be unacceptable to the “anti-terrorist” alliance, all the more so since it is acting in circumvention of the UN Security Council resolution and without the consent of the legitimate Syrian Government.
As part of our diplomatic efforts, we are holding active contacts with our partners for the implementation of the Memorandum on the Creation of De-escalation Areas in Syria, which was signed in Astana. The main burden to carry out this memorandum is shouldered by guarantors – Russia, Iran and Turkey. At the same time, Moscow is open to a sincere exchange of views with all players that could make a constructive contribution to the ceasefire regime, reducing violence, alleviating the suffering of Syrians, and creating conditions that would foster a political process.
Latest debunking of Western propaganda about Syria
In the context of the situation in Syria, I’d like touch on an issue that is directly related to the journalistic profession. Time and again we have exposed fake stories that players in and outside the region use in a desperate attempt to translate into reality their obsessive idea about regime change in Syria. This idea has nothing to do with the efforts that at this moment should be the focus of everyone’s concern. This refers to the fight against terrorism. By playing on public sentiments and emotions, they condition the international community in a bid to formulate not a genuine but a misleading agenda, completely forgetting the principles of morality, objectivity and impartiality. And of course, the Syria conflict has become a good case in point. Loads of lies and dirt – from minor fantasies to the global manipulation of public opinion – have been thrown at the Syrian regime, which is definitely not a model of state governance (there are many questions about it, but I’d like to stress that it’s a legitimate government that is recognised by and represented at the UN), and when the Russian Aerospace Forces joined the antiterrorism campaign in Syria, also at Russia (actually, even before the Aerospace Forces became involved). We will be working on these revelations for a long time yet, exposing lies. Today I’d like to tell you about one fake story of this kind.
Everyone remembers the well-known photo of Omran Daqneesh, the boy from eastern Aleppo whom “rescuers” from the pseudo-humanitarian organisation the White Helmets pulled from the rubble, coated with dust and encrusted blood, after an alleged Syrian government airstrike. They liked the story also because before rendering the boy medical aid they began taking photos of him without permission from his parents, who at that time were busy rescuing other family members from the rubble. You remember these sentimental photos. The boy is sitting in the back of an ambulance. In August 2016, that image went viral online, among all media outlets and the social media of human right groups, becoming a symbol of the fight against the “bloody regime,” of Russia being always “in the wrong” and of “Aleppo’s suffering.” We previously talked about this, but I’d like to remind you that the photos were taken by Mahmoud Raslan, a member of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement that became “famous” for the video footage of a Palestinian boy’s beheading execution.
We said at the time that by using Omran’s photos, Western media outlets were in effect starting a game that was imposed by militants, to put it mildly, but in reality, by extremists and terrorists. Our voice was ignored as the photos spread rapidly. We drew attention to the fact that the story was not as simple as might have seemed at first glance and that it was important to wait before exploiting the child’s image for political purposes. We were ignored again. Remember how Christiane Amanpour, a leading journalist (she is not simply a correspondent but also an analyst and political expert) brought that photo to an interview with Sergey Lavrov, which was recorded just before the US [presidential] election. It was supposed to have become an important argument for the forces that at the time were vying for the top spot in the country and engaged in a bitter dispute with Russia over approaches toward a settlement in Syria and the situation in Aleppo, blaming everything on Moscow. She pulled out the photo and asked the minister what he would say to the boy’s family. All of that was captured on video and is now available on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
Over six months have passed since the interview and almost a year since the boy’s photo was published. During this time, despite fierce resistance from terrorists on the ground, as a result of enormous efforts by both Syrian and Russian militaries, life has been gradually returning to normal in the streets of eastern Aleppo. Now we were able to find out the whole truth about that story. Reporters, including from the Russia Today television network, found the boy’s family. We were able to see that boy. Omran’s father, Mohammed Daqneesh, has a lot to say to Christiane Amanpour and other pseudo advocates, those who allegedly defended the boy’s rights but in reality gleefully built their political concepts with his blood.
As it turned out, Omran is alive and well. Indeed, he was injured but his entire case was completely distorted by pseudo rights advocates and “journalists,” including Christiane Amanpour. She simply manipulated public opinion. His father, a former serviceman, says that the boy happily plays with his brothers. In fact, the family is not in opposition to the regime, as Western reporters made out. They live in Aleppo, which, contrary to the Western wishes, has been freed and peace is returning there. Step by step, amid great difficulties, the process is moving forward.
In several interviews, the boy’s father said he had heard no aircraft noise at the time of the incident. Remember what the White Helmets’ allegations were based on. They claimed that those were Syrian government or Russian airstrikes. He also said that the building had most likely collapsed as a result of an explosion. After Omran’s photo went viral, his family had to take measures to protect the boy and finally defend his rights in some way or other. After all, those who exploited his image did not care about his fate or his future. He is in a country that has for years been torn asunder by the fight against terrorists, who, in their ideological fervour, will stop at nothing. Did anybody think about the boy’s future as they exploited his image? Did Christiane Amanpour think about that? She was only concerned about helping the Democratic Party and their candidate become the US president. Anything could be used to that end, even the boy’s photo.
The family had to work on the boy’s appearance, alter his hair style and give him a different name in order to hide him from militants: After all, this was happening at a time when the situation in Aleppo was at its worst. Despite the repeated proposals, promises and offers of money (and the opposition actually offered serious money to the boy’s family), they refused to level false charges against the Syrian authorities or give false interviews. Today, the family constantly receives threats of execution. That is obvious not only to those who are now in Aleppo and are in contact with them. Look at social media: Advocates of the radical opposition who, by the way, are not blocked, in contrast to the accounts of Russian embassies, call the Daqneesh family “infidels” that deserve death. Where is Christiane Amanpour?
Since Christiane Amanpour started the story in the public domain, came to Moscow, made colour prints of that image and showed it to Sergey Lavrov, maybe she will have enough courage, professional ethics as a journalist and simply human conscience to finish it? Maybe she will go to Syria, to Aleppo, find the boy’s family and do a really honest interview. Not a fake one, something that CNN is famous for, but a really honest interview. Maybe before the interview, she should ask herself some difficult questions and do a real report on the boy and the way US media outlets have manipulated his image and his fate, as well as the fate of his family and his country.
We have repeatedly invited our Western colleagues to go to Syria and we are ready to do all we can to put them in touch with the Syrian authorities. We often hear from Western reporters that they cannot accept Russian offers for some ethical considerations. However, for some reason, they do not go there on their own, either. They can show Mr Lavrov the boy’s photo and make up the entire story but they cannot go to Syria, for example, to Aleppo. This is hard to understand, but we try to and we respect Western journalists’ position. Therefore, I’m extending an invitation, in particular to Christiane Amanpour, to take advantage of Russia Today’s capabilities. They have contacts and they can provide assistance as journalists to a journalist – as long as Christiane Amanpour calls herself a journalist – in organising a trip. I don’t think the network would object to that, and I believe that they should be able to agree and organise this kind of a trip and interview. I understand the reluctance and that it’s so easy to play up this fake story on CNN. But folks, you’ve been caught and you have to answer for this. Of course you will not answer for everything but you have to answer for this. Christiane Amanpour, we are waiting for you in Aleppo.
The situation in Mosul
There is documentary evidence that Iraqi servicemen, who are conducting an assault on Mosul, commit acts of cruelty against locals residents in the areas liberated from ISIS and use torture on mere suspicion of assisting terrorists. Reporters got hold of photos and video footage showing the maltreatment and killing of civilians. Those who saw these materials can tell that Abu Ghraib was a walk in the park. The footage was provided by a renowned Iraqi photographer, Ali Arkady, who has spent many months side-by-side with an elite division of the Iraqi army and was present during the torture. The Iraqi army began checking the facts presented in these materials.
A number of human rights organisations sharply criticised the Iraqi military, and some of them demanded to convene a special UN session to discuss torture in Iraq based on materials made available, in particular, by Russia Today TV channel.
Saad Al-Muttalibi, a member of the Iraqi commission which oversees the investigation of war crimes, said, in particular, that the Iraqi command has in no way sanctioned such actions, and that everyone involved in this crime was identified and taken into custody. He also confirmed that the facts of gross violation of human rights occurred in the Iraqi army before, but the troops who were caught red-handed were most often under the supervision of the US command, which is beyond the jurisdiction of the Iraqi authorities. Again, look at this in the context of the reporters’ focus on the potential threat emanating from Russia and the allegedly unlawful actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria which violate human rights. Here's a concrete story for you. Deal with it. Go ahead and get to the bottom of it. I have strong doubts that this will ever be done.
I really want to hope for an appropriate response on behalf of international human rights organisations, specialised UN institutions and, of course, the United States, which enjoys meddling in other nations’ affairs. Go take care of your own issues.
The referendum on self-determination of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq
We noted the statements made by the leaders of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq about holding a referendum on the self-determination of Iraqi Kurdistan in September. I would like to remind everyone that this issue did not arise yesterday, but has been discussed for quite a while now.
In this regard, we would like to note once again that Russia supports the unity and territorial integrity of the Iraqi state with unconditional respect for and observance of the legitimate rights of all its ethnic and religious groups, of which the Kurds are the largest.
In any case, we operate on the premise that all the known issues in relations between the Kurdish authorities and the federal centre in Baghdad, including the format of their co-existence, should be resolved through constructive talks and with account taken of their common priorities, primarily, fighting international terrorism represented by ISIS and other extremist groups.
In accordance with an earlier agreement, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs will be in Armenia on June 10 to meet with the country’s president, foreign minister and defence minister. They intend to find out details about the situation in the conflict zone. Current issues related to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement are to be discussed, including in view of the late April meeting in Moscow of foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. A trip to Nagorno-Karabakh is also planned. Russia will be represented by Ambassador-at-Large and OSCE Minsk Group co-chair Igor Popov.
A week later representatives of the three countries will fly to Baku.
According to established practice, a corresponding statement will be posted on the OSCE website afterwards.
Allegations against the Russian Federation by the Polish Prosecutor’s Office
The Prosecutor’s Office of Poland has alleged that in the process of transporting the remains of the victims of the Polish President’s aircraft crash near Smolensk, the remains were mixed in the coffins.
I would like to reiterate that such allegations are absolutely groundless.
It is common knowledge that the remains of the Smolensk crash victims stayed in Russia from April 10 to April 12 only, and the idea of a complete investigation by Russian experts was not even raised. Let me stress that the Polish side itself insisted that the remains be handed over as soon as possible and rushed the Russian side on that issue. In fact, forensic experts in Moscow did a quick examination of the remains on April 11 and 12 only.
Besides, and this is crucial and I’d like to draw your attention to it, the identification of the bodies was done by Polish representatives and the victims’ relatives. Where identification was impossible, the remains were transferred to the Polish side marked by numbers.
It is equally important that the bodies were placed in coffins in the presence of Polish officials. They were not even washed before they were placed in coffins as the Polish side insisted, as they were planning to conduct further forensic studies, and it was essential for them to preserve as much material as possible for potential examinations.
To emphasise, the Russian authorities and experts did whatever was possible in that situation. And everything they did was done in closest coordination with the Polish side.
Russia may not be held accountable for what happened to the remains in Poland, that is a matter for the Polish side.
I would like to add that we want to offer documentary evidence of the facts I mentioned today. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official accounts on social media will post a screenshot of the Protocol “Issues Related to Identifying the Bodies of the Victims of the TU-154 Flight 101 Air Crash of April 10, 2010.” The document was signed by Russian and Polish representatives. In particular, the Protocol states that “in the course of investigatory actions to identify the bodies, the Polish side did not voice complaints or statements to the Russian side regarding the actions taken and their results.” The Protocol was signed from the Polish side by Piotr Stachańczyk for the Ministry of the Interior and the Administration, and Jacek Najder for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From the Russian side it was signed by Tatyana Golikova for the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development, and Vladimir Titov for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Washington Post article about Russian diplomatic property
We have already commented on this. There were questions in connection with the widely disseminated report by The Washington Post on May 31 that the Trump administration may decide to return the retreats of the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York seized last December, however without restoring their diplomatic immunity. The US Department of State has not yet provided any information on this account.
Russia’s position on the confiscated Russian property is clear. We consider the US authorities' actions absolutely unacceptable, as they grossly violate the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. We demand the immediate return of that which was taken away from us in a completely unlawful manner.
Notably, if Washington fails to restore the diplomatic immunity of our property, our response regarding US property in Russia will be identical. The US Embassy in Moscow has already been notified about this.
Russian tourists in the Republic of Turkey
The holiday season is about to begin. Many people plan their vacations abroad, which, of course, requires relevant documents, such as passports and visas. This is a mandatory package, as everyone knows. However, there’s also health insurance. As is customary, we remind our tour operators and companies specifically and without fail to make sure that their clients are aware of the importance of buying health insurance, as it guarantees you and your loved ones peace of mind during vacations, and makes it more likely that various crises which may befall vacationers have good outcomes.
I will give you an example concerning the situation concerning Russian tourists in the Republic of Turkey. With the tourist season picking up, the number of Russian citizens calling consular offices has increased significantly. In May alone, the Consulate General of Russia in Antalya recorded dozens of major incidents involving Russian citizens, including fatalities and severe bodily injuries sustained by our tourists as a result of various accidents, including traffic, extreme sports, alcohol abuse, and flare-ups of chronic diseases, to name a few. None of our citizens were left stranded. The Russian Consular Office, in conjunction with local authorities and law enforcement agencies, took necessary measures within its terms of reference and physical capabilities.
According to Russia’s Consulate General in Antalya, the insurance companies and their regional service centres, which service Russian tourists in southern Turkey, over 30 Russians were hospitalised for various medical reasons in moderately severe and grave condition in the provinces of Antalya and Mugla.
In some cases, emergency measures were taken with the organisational and advisory support of the Russian Embassy in Ankara, the Consulate General in Antalya, and Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department. On May 27, a special flight by the Emergencies Ministry with the support of the Zaschita All-Russian Centre for Disaster Medicine and the Healthcare Ministry carried out medical transport evacuation of four Russians who were in hospitals in Antalya and Alanya in critical condition. This is the second medical repatriation operation in May organised at the request of insurance companies on a reimbursement basis.
As of June 1, three more Russian citizens in grave and extremely grave condition, and in need of repatriation, remained in the medical institutions within that consular district.
Frequent cases of Russian tourists being hospitalised should serve as a reminder for our citizens who plan their vacation abroad, particularly in Turkey and other countries, of the need to purchase a health insurance policy. Once again, I would like to point out that this is not just up to the vacationers, many of whom are walking on air in anticipation of joyful times away from work, but is the responsibility of tour operators as well. They should cite concrete examples, which abound, in order to convince tourists to take precautions. A basic insurance policy covers medical expenses (outpatient and inpatient treatment) in case of illness or injury, including prescription medications, ambulance services and repatriation, if needed.
Notably, health insurance for children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, pregnant women, and extreme sports enthusiasts going abroad have their own peculiarities. Keep in mind that the insurance policy does not usually apply to events that took place as a result of an insured person violating the law or alcohol intoxication. Importantly, tourists are supposed to cover all their medical expenses in full unless they have taken out a voluntary health insurance policy. In case of severe injuries, affected persons may not have sufficient funds to cover the treatment, and they may ask their friends and relatives in Russia to help them out only to run into a problem of money transfers.
I’m sorry to have to remind everyone about it, but this is truly important. To reiterate, taking out the right kind of medical insurance policies must be part of routine travel preparations.
To avoid emergencies, we strongly advise following guidelines and practical tips for Russian tourists planning their vacations abroad which are posted on the website of Rostourism and the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department. We posted them several months ago and purposefully included several curious cases for spreading online. I would like everyone to pay attention and learn this lesson. Please spread it using your media resources. A mobile app, Foreign Assistant, which was developed and implemented by the Foreign Ministry’s Situation and Crisis Management Centre Department, provides important recommendations in case of emergencies, and can be a good reference for those travelling abroad.
Answers to media questions:
Question: I would like to ask about the Korean Peninsula again. It takes a missile only a few minutes to fly from this site to the Amnok River on the border. It is therefore logical that local residents are concerned about future developments. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry doing to defuse this explosive situation? Is it advocating the resumption of the six-party talks? Or has it invited Kim Jong-un to visit Russia, as it invited Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il?
Maria Zakharova: You are not the only one to know how long it takes missiles to reach a target and that the Russian Far East is located in direct proximity to the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, our federal authorities and Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN, which is involved in UN efforts on Korean issues, also know this very well. Analysts are not simply working on this issue on and off, but constantly. They work at it routinely, not just when North Korea conducts another test or when sanctions against North Korea are discussed. Special representatives are charged with monitoring this issue.
We maintain permanent contact with our Chinese and, of course, with North Korean and South Korean partners, as well as with our American colleagues. We would like to hold more intense discussions on this issue with our American colleagues, but considering what is going on in Washington now, you know that this issue is not among its priorities now because they don’t have the capability, for example, in the Department of State, to address it comprehensively. Sharp statements have been made, but these are political statements made in the spirit of election promises rather than practical diplomatic work. We have noted these statements and have responded to them, but what we need to do now is use the available mechanisms, which, although not fail-safe, helped smooth over tensions before and outlined the prospects.
Therefore, we firmly believe that any use of force is a path to nowhere, including for the reasons you mentioned. There is no, nor can there be any military solution to this problem for a number of reasons, from military to humanitarian. After all, we are talking about nuclear weapons here. This means that the issue can only be settled politically and diplomatically. Once again, this issue cannot be settled overnight and so it is on the regular agenda of our analysts in Moscow and on the bilateral and international plane.
Question: I know that the Foreign Ministry, in particular the department which you head, routinely monitors media outlets, including those published in the Asia Pacific region. What do they write about the Primorye Territory in light of the federal laws on priority development areas and the Vladivostok Free Port? What do they think about them?
Maria Zakharova: My department does not do such in-depth subject-oriented monitoring. This is the task of Russian embassies in the countries concerned, including in China, Japan and other countries. They have professionals who speak the language of the host country and who monitor local media reports about Russia.
I am unable to provide a detailed analysis, but I know that the laws you mentioned provide favourable conditions for using this region’s investment opportunities and hence encourage interest. I know this for sure, because I personally monitor this issue in the Chinese media. This is how I know it. However, it depends on which media outlets, federal or regional ones, you have in mind. Of course, media outlets – newspapers, television channels and magazines – in the regions that are located in direct proximity to the Russian Far East give more attention to this issue, because it concerns the daily life of the local people, their money and the local economy, in short, everything that forms the basis of their life. It’s no wonder they closely monitor this. Visa facilitation decisions and more convenient conditions for getting a visa have received a positive response.
I can also provide an example from my attendance at the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum. China sent a representative delegation there, which included business and financial leaders and also representatives from the Chinese embassy. They took note of the great potential of Russia and its regions, which the media have reported.
You probably know that the leading media outlets in China and Russia have launched several joint projects. For example, RT worked with its Chinese partners to shoot films about Russia and China, which were shown in both countries. Our news agencies are also cooperating. We have held Years of Russian and Chinese Media. We are doing our best for the people to know more about Russia. I am talking about China now. I believe that the example of the media contact between Russia and China is worth emulating in other regional countries.
Question: Does Russia have positive expectations of parliamentary election results in the UK?
Maria Zakharova: This is the UK’s domestic matter. We can have neither positive nor negative expectations. We act on the premise that this is a landmark event in the country’s domestic political life. We are ready to cooperate with the UK in various areas, including parliamentary diplomacy, parliamentary contacts. It is another matter that, unfortunately – and I often talk about that, citing examples, and this also concerns the British parliament – all contacts are being scaled back even though there is almost nothing left to scale back now. These contacts are also minimal between our foreign policy agencies. To reiterate, contacts between intelligence services and defence agencies have been scaled down unilaterally by the British side. This raises many questions because we are seeing a series of terrorist attacks that have swept the UK recently. These are terrible, heinous terrorist attacks, because they involve children. It would seem that considering Russia’s experience in countering terrorism, including against children, and Russia’s antiterrorism efforts in the international arena, we have something to talk about. It could be information sharing or antiterrorism cooperation between intelligence services and foreign policy agencies. We wonder why the British are not using the information and the potential for cooperation that the UK has with Russia. I realise that there is the wish to save face given that the UK was a co-sponsor of the idea of isolating Russia: it is very hard to admit one’s own mistakes and get over oneself. But people’s lives are at stake. For the sake of preventing possible terrorist attacks in the future and investigating those that have already occurred, it should be possible to get over oneself. We don’t need them to admit their mistakes and put on sackcloth and ashes. We need them to begin cooperating normally, at least in critical areas that threaten human lives. There was a bizarre situation at the parliamentary level, when a number of Russian public figures and journalists, including myself, received an invitation from British members of parliament to come, talk about Russia and participate in some discussions, but then they received so many phone calls and were subjected to such pressure from British government agencies that the event was cancelled. They did not withdraw the invitation. They simply “postponed” the event and never mentioned it again. The British parliament is under the effective control of government agencies. In particular, there were reports in the British media suggesting that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed indignation over the parliamentary hearing on Russian participation, Russia Today representatives and so on. We would have done nothing bad. We would simply have talked and presented an alternative point of view. All of that was called off. We are open to cooperation in different areas. We hope that the fog over the Albion will clear up.
Question: You said a Japanese delegation will visit the Kuril Islands in late June. Is there a specific date and what particular islands will they go to?
Maria Zakharova: The dates and the itinerary will be coordinated and announced later.
Question: Could you comment on the importance of developing Russian-Japanese relations in this area?
Maria Zakharova: I think I’ve said enough about that. We believe in developing both interstate relations and regional ties with Japan. Here is an example. Under pressure from our American partners, several years ago, Tokyo began unilaterally to scale back and eventually froze a number of areas of contact with us. We said it was a wrong step and our relations should develop comprehensively. By the way, much to the credit of Tokyo and our Japanese colleagues, they in fact acknowledged the harm and futility of such silence and mutual or unilateral ostracism. They realised that this was counterproductive even for Japan itself. That was done not even out of some high-minded political motives but simply because it was detrimental at the practical level. Paradoxically, having declared an isolation policy towards Russia, the US has in fact expanded trade ties with our country. At the same time, EU trade and domestic production have collapsed, and countries that had listened to Washington and joined the sanctions or attempted to follow an isolation policy began to suffer. When they realised that they were only making things worse for themselves, hurting their businesses, while those who had called for that action were building up their economic capability, corresponding decisions were made. Our dialogue resumed and there have been repeated contacts and talks at the top and very high levels. Issues that were presented to Japanese society as painful and insoluble, which Russia refused to address, are moving forward. Today I have given you some specific examples.
We believe in the comprehensive development of relations in all areas.
Question: It was announced in Kazakhstan today that the next round of the intra-Syrian talks, which were scheduled for June 12-13, has been postponed. Is this true?
Maria Zakharova: The date for the next round of the Astana talks is being coordinated. We’ll update you as soon as we know.
Question: Is it true that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov will meet with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon on June 23, as the American media report?
Maria Zakharova: We said that this meeting is on the agenda. We can’t confirm the date so far, although it was indeed planned for late June.
Question: All of the recent news and reports about newsworthy events by the Russian and other foreign ministries produce a negative impression or are evidence of tension. Could all these points of tension clash and result in a new world war one day?
Maria Zakharova: Surely, you understand that news and reports are only a reflection of the international situation. You can imagine a virtual reality and try to live in it, disregarding real life, but there have been periods in Russian history when we refused to take note of global trends, pretending that everything was fine, refusing to see any problems.
First, we now react to developments like we should. And second, we certainly cannot be accused of creating these points of tension. These have been created or engendered by others, and we only provide diplomatic and informational responses to them “on the ground.”
I fully agree with you that this is a negative trend. Unfortunately, this is the rule by which you are playing, because bad news sells better. Tell me I’m wrong. Something has to be done about this, but then again, this is your concern, not ours. You know that you get more attention when you report explosions, collapses and murder. When some new project is started or goes as planned, everyone thinks that this is how it should be and so there’s nothing to report.
As I hold these weekly briefings, I am aware of the proportion of your reaction to negative, shocking or tragic news and the amount of positive information I can provide. I would be glad to tell you more about Russian Seasons or cooperation, but I have to adjust to reality.
I wholeheartedly support our and your desire and intention to give more attention to what we have been neglecting as mundane. However, we must not allow ourselves to sink into virtual reality too deeply, because we have to stay aware of this complicated world.
Question: The visa rules for Vladivostok allow foreigners to stay only in the Free Port of Vladivostok for eight days. How is it possible to monitor the movement of foreigners since it is easy to buy a bus ticket without a passport and leave for another region or simply beyond the bounds of the free port?
Maria Zakharova: Physically it is possible to violate these rules, but such
violators may be denied a visa when they apply for it again. Violating the visa rules gives grounds for the denial of an opportunity to enter the country again. People who receive visas know this perfectly well. There are agencies and organisations that are called upon to protect us from people who are abusing visas. I believe these agencies and organisations are on the alert in Vladivostok as well.
Question: There are 45 foreigners studying at Vladivostok’s International Linguistic School. They are South Korean children whose parents send them to us to receive an education and learn Russian. Having come to Russia, these children absorb the Russian language and culture under the guidance of experienced teachers. As a result, many of them enter Russian universities, for instance Moscow State University. Is it possible to launch a state programme on soft-power diplomacy, that is, organise exchange programmes for schoolchildren, for one?
Maria Zakharova: It would be better to address this question to the Ministry of Education. It either has or elaborates such programmes.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, including the Federal Agency for the CIS, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), helps conduct Russian language contests abroad, facilitates the arrival of Russian language school students in Russia via its embassies, and provides assistance in launching humanitarian, cultural and educational projects. The question about educational programmes should go to the Ministry of Education.
I would like to remind you or tell you – we have such a wonderful place for children as Artek International Children’s Camp. Foreign children, especially those who study Russian, are very welcome there. Talented kids who win academic contests may well go there. I would strongly advise you to contact them for potential cooperation. You can do this via the Foreign Ministry. We will be happy to give you contacts. This is part of Artek’s work, considering that they have tremendous potential for dealing with children, including kids from different countries.
If you give me your contact information, we will get in touch on this issue.
Question: I have always thought that there is no winning without waiting, but for some reason patience is missing in relations between Russia and Ukraine. There’s a sense that more resolute action on this issue is needed. Or should we just wait out this uneasy period in our relations with Ukraine?
Maria Zakharova: Don’t you think that this is exactly what they are after by provoking us and wearing out our patience? They are taking steps that are inhuman and devoid of logic – they are introducing language quotas, banning symbols that used to unite us, endlessly shelling Donbass from their territory and brazenly shirking its commitments under the Minsk agreements under various artificial pretexts. They have even stopped concealing it. In the past they claimed that something was being done but now it is clear to everyone that laws are not signed, the economic blockade is becoming tougher and assuming perverse forms, and no banking system has ever started working despite the guarantees of Germany and France, which were given in the presence of top-ranking officials. One gets the impression that everything is being done to provoke us and wear out our patience. However, we should clearly understand the consequences of haphazard, abrupt moves that might have seemed correct at some point. It is necessary to get back to reality and realise that the Minsk agreements are not going anywhere.
I receive many letters, both electronic and on paper, which claim that we have allegedly forgotten about Donbass, that we are not helpful and that if we really wanted to help, everything could have been resolved in one day. This is absolutely unfair. Just think about how many humanitarian convoys have been sent to this territory, how much diplomatic effort has been and is still being exerted to defuse this situation. Financial and humanitarian, including moral support has been provided. Consider how many people, including children, are admitted for medical treatment, how many representatives of government agencies and NGOs are going there to render support on the spot. This situation should be analysed comprehensively.
But I absolutely agree with you that they are dragging out everything, wearing out our patience and trying to hit us where it hurts the most.
Question: Maybe it is time to overcome this roguish attitude, to take a more active position?
Maria Zakharova: I have told you about everything that is being done. An active position should not be confused with actions that are outside the legislative realm and may escalate tensions even more. Believe me, a lot is being done. Some results are apparent and we talk about them. Some things remain a daily routine exploit of those people who are providing medical aid, collecting humanitarian relief and delivering it, making reports. They are focused on this subject in a practical way and do not consider the people of Donbass to be foreigners but treat their misfortune as their own. I understand that sometimes it seems that all problems may be resolved immediately but I believe it is essential to analyse this situation in a comprehensive manner and see what is being done, which is a lot.
Question: So there is no winning without waiting…
Maria Zakharova: It depends. It is possible to sit back and do nothing, wait by the sea for the weather – we have many sayings for this. But it is also possible to wait and be active, prevent these people from dying, help them survive in this predicament and support them. What strikes me most is that Ukraine’s news and social media have even stopped writing “Russia,” “Moscow” or “the Kremlin.” Now they simply write “the Aggressor” with a capital “A”. It is always tempting to remind them of who was the first to send tanks there. The point is that tanks were sent not by the legitimate authorities that were elected by the people (even if this was a wrong decision militarily and morally but at least the authorities would have been legitimate). But tanks began to move following a coup d’etat in Kiev. These are outrageous Rafferty rules. Moreover, we are brazenly called “the aggressor” after all this. This “aggressor” gave them food and water, provided medical aid, sent back those who wanted to go home and received those who wanted to stay as family and gave them accommodation. How many people are still coming here to make money! Probably, this is not so obvious in Vladivostok as in Moscow and major cities in central Russia. These are builders, construction teams and people in services – a vast number of people who come to “the aggressor” to earn money. From time to time, their authorities scare them with the prospect of introducing visas with Russia. This is absurd. No logic at all. This is clear hatred for their own people, who they divide almost genetically into those that are talented and capable of doing great things and those who have no talent or understanding of anything.
It is possible to wait in different ways. I believe we are waiting actively, taking vigorous steps in many areas.
Question: It was said here that there are very many negative events in the world. Can the current developments in Qatar be described as positive?
Maria Zakharova: I believe you should read about the history of the region and bilateral and multilateral relations of its countries. There are RT journalists here who are native Syrians. You can talk with them.
It is not the first time that we see such complicated steps and attempts to sort things out. The events you mentioned are nothing other than Gulf countries sorting things out. It’s another matter that the time is not good for this, considering the terrorist activities of extremist groups. What we need now is not divorce and score settling but unity and consolidation. Of course, Sergey Lavrov has pointed this out. We should look for points of contact in the fight against terrorism rather than make a show of settling accounts at this difficult time.
It is a very difficult time. Regrettably, it is above all international terrorists who will benefit from differences between countries, when they see that we don’t create coalitions, that some Western countries stand in opposition to some regional and other countries, and that world powers are unable to join forces against the threat of terrorism. They are using all of this, primarily the moral factor to their advantage. They are using our differences to show that the world’s leading powers are disunited and claim that their so-called Islamic State, the worldwide caliphate they are trying to create, offers a unifying agenda, which attracts a growing number of people to them. This is a bad time for quarrels. Of course, all sovereign countries have a right to an independent foreign policy and bilateral relations. But current realities call for consolidation rather than disunity.
Question: Mr Lavrov is a heavy smoker, and talks sometimes last for hours. How does he manage?
Maria Zakharova: I believe it’s not a secret anymore. The Minister once said in an interview that he used to be a heavy smoker. But he has since cut down to smoking just a few cigarettes a day. It is now more of a custom than a necessity for him. Following official talks with his colleagues, he can continue the conversation while having a smoke. But as I said, the time when he puffed away is over.