Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 22, 2017
Day of Memory and Grief
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation at the opening of the 14th Russian-German conference of partner cities
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov takes part in the second Primakov readings “The World in 2035”
Developments in Syria
Latest reports about unidentified aircraft sighted in Afghanistan
Lack of European agencies’ response to Estonia’s closure of the case on Russian citizen Ganin’s murder
Developments around the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre
Investigation into Ambassador Andrey Karlov assassination
Robbery of Rosoboronexport chief delegate Sergey Kornev in Paris
The so-called Lisa case
Visit by OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairs to the region
Meeting of US and Chinese foreign and defence ministers
Statement by IOC President Thomas Bach
Cancellation of Russian-US consultations
The upcoming Putin-Trump meeting
Creation of the Riyadh negotiating platform
Russian list of terrorist organisations
The expansion of US sanctions against Russia
The façade of the Russian Foreign Ministry building
US comments on the downed Syrian aircraft
Question from Al Jazeera
The Russian Foreign Ministry building
Today, June 22, is one of the most horrible dates in domestic history – the day of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. On this day we recall all those who were killed in action, tortured in Nazi captivity and died of hunger and privations at the home front. We remember all those who fulfilled their sacred duty defending their Motherland at the cost of their lives. The memory of those who died for the sake of the Fatherland is sacred for all of us. We will remember all those who gave up their lives serving their Fatherland.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening of the 14th Russian-German conference of partner cities in Krasnodar on June 28. Vice Chancellor and Federal Foreign Minister of Germany Sigmar Gabriel is expected to attend the event from the German side.
The conference is called upon to further promote cooperation between the twin cities, which in some cases exists for several decades. Thus, St Petersburg and Hamburg have had a partnership since 1957. Moscow has close bilateral ties with Berlin, Dusseldorf and Munich. In all, about one hundred twin cities in Russia and Germany have official partnership agreements.
The conference will also launch the Russian-German cross year of regional and municipal partnerships in 2017-2018 under the patronage of the two countries’ foreign ministries.
Under the plan, Mr Lavrov and Mr Gabriel will hold talks to discuss urgent bilateral and international issues. This will be the continuation of the discussion started with the newly appointed German Foreign Minister in Moscow on March 9.
On June 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the Second International Forum Primakov Readings.
The holding of this event under the aegis of the National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) has already become a good tradition. It stands out for its intensive programme and respectable foreign and domestic participants – prominent scholars, politicians, diplomats and essayists. In the current international situation that is far from being simple it is hard to overrate the importance of such intellectual forums aimed at a search for the best ways of overcoming common problems.
The Foreign Ministry appreciates that the readings are inseparably linked with the wealthy heritage of Yevgeny Primakov, an outstanding state, political and public leader of our times. Mr Primakov made a priceless contribution to the elaboration of key provisions of modern Russia’s foreign policy doctrine, did much for the comprehensive apprehension of sophisticated processes in the post-bipolar world and, of course, did all he could to promote a multi-polar world concept.
Mr Lavrov will describe his views on the main trends of world development in the foreseeable future and answer questions from the audience.
We are pleased to note the generally steady positive momentum in the way the military and political situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has been developing since the May 4 signing of the Memorandum on the Establishment of De-Escalation Zones in Syria by the guarantor countries of the Astana process – Russia, Turkey and Iran.
The Syrian Armed Forces are fighting their key battles against jihadists in the provinces of Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa and a number of the suburbs of Damascus. Militants of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated terrorist groups continue to be eliminated across the country.
The Syrian army is mounting vigorous offensive operations near Palmyra. The Syrian Armed Forces are closing in on the last remaining ISIS stronghold in the east of the Homs province – the town of Al-Sukhnah. After liberating the town, government forces will be able to launch an offensive to unblock the besieged garrison at Deir ez-Zor. Army units gained control of and liberated from jihadists the Al Talila Nature Reserve south of the village of Arak. The Syrian military drove jihadists out of several villages at the junction of Aleppo and Raqqa provinces, advanced towards the city of Tabqa and are pushing towards the Sufyan and Rusafa oil fields.
Meanwhile, terrorist units in the Aleppo province have seized the opportunity offered by the ceasefire to promptly regroup their forces, rotate militants, rush in food and ammunition supplies, and repair hardware.
Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are storming the ISIS stronghold in Syria – the city of Raqqa – from the west and east and have taken control of a third of the city. The 4,000-strong Tribal Army formation fighting alongside the SDF in Raqqa has been actively supporting operations by the Syrian army at the junction of Raqqa and Aleppo provinces. The volunteer corps formed by the Bedouin clans intends to fight its way alongside government forces up to Deir ez-Zor. According to some media, ISIS leaders have reportedly engaged in talks with the SDF command about the evacuation of jihadists and their families from the so-called ISIS capital and about the terms of safe corridors in the direction of Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra. Counterattacks attempted by jihadists have on the whole been unsuccessful.
The Syrian government has been stepping up multiple efforts to restore areas liberated from illegal military groups' militants to peaceful life. Eight new police departments have opened in eastern Aleppo. A batch of school textbooks has been dispatched to East Ghouta and East Harasta. According to offciials from the Syrian Ministry of Education, similar aid will be provided to all state educational institutions, including those located in the terrorist-controlled Idlib and Raqqa provinces.
A UN evaluation mission has reported, following its earlier visit to the Al-Waer district in the Homs province, that life there is returning to normal. The UN officials have confirmed the completion of the demining process. Humanitarian access is available and transport communications have been put into service. Refugees and internally displaced persons are returning to their homes. The Syrian authorities have allowed the Aleppo-Qamishli motorway to be used for humanitarian needs. In cooperation with the Syrian Red Crescent Society, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN humanitarian relief agencies, humanitarian aid has been brought to Harasta, Modira and Misraba in the Damask province – 37 truckloads of food and medicine.
Considering all that, one cannot but feel outrage at the destruction on June 18 the Syrian airspace in the Raqqa province by the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition of a Syrian Su-22 fighter jet performing a combat mission against ISIS militants near Rusafa. The Russian side views such incidents as blatant violations of international law and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity for Syria and as disrespect for the UN Charter. Given the fact that at the time of the strike on the Syrian fighter jet, the Russian Aerospace Forces were also flying combat missions in Syrian airspace, we regard this incident as our American partners' deliberate non-compliance with their commitments under the memorandum on the prevention of incidents and ensuring air safety during operations in Syria, which was signed on October 20, 2015. For that reason, the Russian Ministry of Defence has been forced to temporarily suspend cooperation with our American partners in the sky over Syria within the framework of the aforementioned document. We are demanding a thorough investigation by the American command into the aforementioned incident and the necessary measures to prevent a repetition of similar situations in the future.
We have been dismayed by reports about the delivery to the so-called anti-ISIS coalition’s base near Al-Tanf of HIMARS high mobility artillery rocket systems and the deployment of an additional American contingent at Az–Zaqf 70 km north-east of At-Tanf. This is evidence that the Americans have been actively building up their military presence in southern areas of sovereign Syria in violation of international law.
On June 19, aircraft of the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition carried out yet another attack on ISIS positions, this time in Tal al-Shayer area in the Hasaka province, killing 12 civilians, all from the same family.
As part of efforts to create de-escalation zones in Syria and bolster and consolidate the ceasefire, Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantor states are conducting preparations for the next round of the International Meeting on Syria in Astana, which is scheduled for July 4-5, as we have already reported. At present, the guarantor countries are drawing up a package of documents on the implementation of the May 4 memorandum. The Russian side is confident that the upcoming meeting in the Kazakh capital will become an important step towards a political settlement in Syria.
We’ve taken note of new reports about unmarked helicopters ferrying the fighters of ISIS Afghan branch, as well as weapons and munitions for them, in eastern Afghanistan.
On June 14, ISIS captured a large part of Tora Bora, a strategic cave and tunnel complex in the Pachir Aw Agam District of Nangarhar. Some reports say that shortly before this, unmarked helicopters delivered over 50 armed extremists to reinforce the fighters who were preparing an offensive on Tora Bora, as well as a container full of weapons and munitions.
MP Zahir Qadir, the lower house representative of the tribes whose fighters are defending the cave complex, has said publicly that these unmarked helicopters belong to the United States. He also said that the Tora Bora defenders had not received any real support from the Afghan government and its Western allies for nearly a week before the ISIS offensive.
It is symptomatic that neither the Afghan authorities nor the US and NATO military contingent officials in Afghanistan have offered a rational explanation for the increased number of flights made by unidentified helicopters providing support to ISIS fighters in many Afghan provinces. Silence in this case is becoming increasingly conspicuous.
I would like the Western media, including American journalists who have published so many reports about Russia’s alleged assistance to the Taliban and extremists in Afghanistan, to take note of this information. We have repeatedly denied these reports as ungrounded and have outlined Russia’s firm stance on this matter.
We would like these unidentified helicopters to appear not only in Afghanistan but also in the Western media. Dear colleagues, you have the opportunity to ask these questions in the Pentagon, the White House and the US State Department. I know that you are looking for Russian hackers, but you can now shift your attention to the helicopters. It is said in Afghanistan that these are US helicopters and that they deliver assistance not to moderate fighters or extremists, but directly to ISIS.
We’ve taken note of the lack of European officials’ response to Estonia’s decision to close, due to the statute of limitations, the case on the murder of Russian citizen Dmitry Ganin during the defence of the Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn in April 2007.
We have commented on this situation before. However, this time we would like to draw your attention to the lack of any reaction from Brussels, which is not only the capital of a European country but also the capital of the European Union. We are surprised by its silence. The EU, some of its officials and many of its agencies actively comment on developments in Russia, closely monitor the investigation of high-profile cases in Russia and also demand that we regularly update various international organisations on the progress in these investigations. I would like to remind you that we regularly submit such reports in keeping with our obligations within these organisations. We don’t understand why nobody at the EU has issued a statement or requested that Estonia explain why the case of Dmitry Ganin, which is a high-profile case concerned with the protection of human rights, democracy, the freedom of expression and media on a global scale, has been archived.
As I said before, the EU has always claimed to defend the law and fight lawlessness and has never been shy to tell other countries how they should live and what they should do. We know this very well because we have always been in the focus of this organisation’s attention. But it has never been equally active when the matter concerned the human rights situation in EU countries. The EU is a union of countries with different legal frameworks, traditions and levels of democracy. It wouldn’t hurt Brussels to see what happens in this sphere concerning the new EU members and possibly issue recommendations to them to improve their behaviour. As we used to say in the past, it wouldn’t hurt Brussels to take them in tow.
Regarding Ganin’s case, the EU has probably decided to turn a blind eye to the Estonian authorities’ obvious intention to wash their hands of this embarrassing case by closing it due to the statute of limitations.
Likewise, it is surprising that the OSCE institution concerned – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) – has not reacted either to a murder that was committed during a demonstration that was held by locals to protect their rights and historical truth and to express their views on flagrant violations and attempts to rewrite history. We keep returning to this issue and pay so much attention to this case, including in the context of the OSCE, because it concerns an OSCE country that is neglecting its obligations on the rule of law and fair trial. By failing to see the clearly political nature of this case, ODIHR has yet again shown that it cannot work objectively without bias.
We urge ODIHR, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and personal representatives of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on fighting intolerance and discrimination to provide an objective assessment of Tallinn’s unfair decision and to demand that the Estonian authorities respect the memory of those who fell in the war against Nazism and stop any discrimination against Russian speakers in the country.
We paid attention to a number of statements by US officials, including Department of State official Hoyt Brian Yee, which are aimed at discrediting the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre (RSHC) in Nis (Serbia). They made absolutely unthinkable, absurd accusations in the worst traditions of the Cold War. They alleged, for one, that Russia has all but created a spy nest on the Balkans to threaten the US contingent in Kosovo. Take a map and find Nis and Kosovo on it. Of course, the US Department of State may not know where Nis and Kosovo are located. If they believe that Kosovo had a referendum, why should they know where it is located? Not to mention the RSHC in Nis.
The RSHC project has been designed and implemented as a joint humanitarian mission with Serbia for work in the Balkans in cooperation with all interested parties. It was registered as an international organisation. The centre took part in responding to emergencies in Serbia, Greece, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We wish US diplomats had found out what these states and their public organisations think about the work of the RSHC before making such absurd statements. Specialists from various countries underwent training in the centre and its facilities were visited by representatives not only of individual countries but also international organisations – the UN and OSCE – who repeatedly invited their colleagues from various countries and multilateral agencies to cooperate with the centre. Incidentally, the US Ambassador in Belgrade was also invited to visit the centre more than once but neither he nor his subordinates wished to take advantage of this opportunity. Why bother? This elegant tactic has been used in many places. If you see something with your own eyes, you will not be able to let your imagination run wild but will have to continue producing fake news.
It is absolutely impossible to understand how four civilian experts from the Russian Emergencies Ministry, several fire vehicles and employees of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior’s emergency response department can threaten the security of 600 US soldiers in Kosovo, 150 km away from the centre. Mr Yee said the centre was a threat to security and, in principle, the US contingent in Kosovo. So, four experts, fire vehicles and a couple of employees of the local Ministry of the Interior versus 600 Americans. What’s wrong with them? Are they so badly trained that they can’t take care of themselves?
We are again urging Washington not to speculate and spook itself, or look for Russian spies in Nis. It would be best to send its experts to the RSHC and draw the appropriate conclusions. It would be great if they could go on record with their account.
Turkish law-enforcement authorities are continuing to investigate the murder of Russian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Turkey Andrey Karlov. The inquiry is being conducted in close cooperation with the Russian operative investigation group. Several people, including colleagues of police officer Mevlut Mert Altyntash who committed the crime, have been detained on suspicion of involvement in this act of terror.
It would obviously be premature to elaborate on some of the versions and details of the inquiry.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Turkey are keeping up with the investigation.
Last night, we received many questions about an attack on the car of Rosoboronexport chief delegate Sergey Kornev in France. There has been extensive media coverage, and the French media are providing only unclear reports. Let me clarify some things.
A car hired for the Russian delegation that arrived for the Le Bourget air show was attacked in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny, which is known for its criminal situation. The attackers stole the purse of the driver, a woman who is not a Russian citizen. She had money and documents in her purse. I’d like to point out that these were only her personal belongings.
A Russian delegation member who was in the car managed to neutralise the situation but, unfortunately, he sustained a minor injury as a result. The police were summoned to the scene, and a Russian Embassy consular department representative quickly arrived as well. According to the police, four suspects were detained shortly after the incident.
The Russian Embassy has sent a note to the French Foreign Ministry, requesting a thorough investigation into the attack.
A preliminary inquiry has shown that the assailants’ only goal was to steal the driver’s handbag that was lying on the car seat. These are the facts.
I’d like to tell you something we never mentioned before on the record. A similar incident took place a few years ago. One of the buses that was part of the Russian delegation’s cortege escorting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, came under a similar attack in Paris. The attackers had the same intentions but luckily no one was hurt.
There were Russian journalists travelling on the bus – the ministerial pool that was covering the Foreign Minister’s visit. Let me say again – on that occasion, it was an attempted attack. Nothing was stolen, nobody was injured. But honestly, it was enough to be concerned about.
That time, the attack took place on the central motorway that connects the airport and the city centre. The time of day was also a strange choice – it was broad daylight. When we mentioned this to the local authorities, we were told that this happens often. Moreover, we have seen similar incidents from our car windows when bikers approached cars trying to steal something, also on the roads linking the airport and the city. It is of course unpleasant.
At this point, we have a story where an attempted assault became a real crime that caused an injury to a Russian citizen, an official delegate. This is of course unacceptable. It is hard to believe that the situation cannot be taken under control.
In this respect, I’d like to say a few words about our embassies, and the consular departments of Russian embassies in EU countries and also Russia’s general consulates in European countries that have been helping Russian citizens who have suffered similar attacks and robberies, not in extreme circumstances, not in remote places, not in the dark or at night, but in plain daylight. Money, documents get stolen. People are left without passports, IDs, keys or money, and they are left completely incapacitated – they cannot pay for their accommodation or to move elsewhere. This happens on a daily basis.
We have even tracked the trend. Such crimes typically take place at tourist attractions and in major shopping centres, and our tourists arrive and spend their time at such places and in city centres, in shops. It is next to impossible to believe that the police in these countries cannot take more control of the city centre, especially the sites attracting vast crowds of tourists.
This problem does not merely affect Russian tourists. I heard a story where such attacks were not spontaneous but part of a standard routine. Our citizens went to the police to fill out the forms and found other theft victims from various countries with the same problem already sitting there – they had been robbed almost at the same place too.
Let me say this again that it is hard to believe that the police in these countries, in this case – the French police, cannot take the situation under control.
We receive signals from different European countries every day about how things are going here. But I would recommend that they first resolve their own problems, and then we will report on ours. This is of course very unfortunate.
On June 20, a criminal district court in Berlin closed the books on the so-called Lisa case.
As you’ll recall, the case involved possible criminal acts committed against a 13-year-old girl, at the time a Russian citizen, which led to spontaneous unrest, including among the Russian-speaking diaspora of Germany. The matter received widespread coverage in the media. The situation was influenced by the January 2016 events in Cologne and other German cities, when hundreds of German women were assaulted, including sexually, by groups of migrants, made possible by the negligence of the authorities.
The Russian Foreign Ministry then turned to our German colleagues with an absolutely concrete, clear-cut and lawful request – to verify the reports and inform us about the course of the investigation and its conclusions. However, instead of a normal dialogue, we were accused of disinformation and of attempting to discredit the German government. Russian journalists in Berlin and members of the Russian diaspora came under severe pressure.
Leading German media and representatives of the German political establishment were hyping the matter, presenting it as a “product of Russian propaganda.” They alleged that no offence had been committed against the girl and that the whole story from beginning to end had been forged by Russia.
So what do we have in the end? A German citizen, who was charged with committing a crime against the aforementioned female Russian citizen under Article 176A of the German Criminal Code (sexual acts with an underage person) and Article 184 (the manufacturing and distribution of child pornography), was found guilty.
Such is the outcome of the alleged Russian propaganda. He received a suspended sentence of one year and nine months and was fined 3,000 euros. It’s amazing how humane German justice is! But the investigation, in the opinion of participants in the case, was objective and unbiased. This is most important of all. This is what the Russian side has insisted on from the very start. If, from the very beginning, German law enforcement treated the matter the way it has been treated now, there would have been no such fuss. All the fuss began after German law enforcement refused straight away to provide information and pay attention to that situation.
The sentence handed down by the Berlin court shows that the Russian side had reason to express concern. As a result of the investigation, a criminal case was opened and the criminal received real punishment. There’s your alleged Russian propaganda.
In the German media, which, of course, covered this guilty verdict, I read materials on the issue. And once again, everything was turned upside down. The main idea is that the investigation was under way and that everything would have been normal, if Russia had not turned it into a political show. Let me repeat, there would have been no show if, straight from the start, the Russian side and, most importantly, the parents, the family, the relatives of the child, had been given information, and law enforcement had been doing what they were supposed to do – investigate.
I would like to remind you that humane as the punishment for the criminal might be, Russian journalists, too, were virtually threatened with prosecution for bringing the matter up, to give you a little understanding of how it all works there. In other words, people who began digging into the case, conducting a journalistic inquiry, which is their professional duty, were threatened with prosecution, deportation and prison sentences, despite being right. It is a paradox.
Question: What do you think about the recent visit by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to Nagorno-Karabakh and the fact that tensions on the Line of Contact between Azerbaijan and Armenia have escalated in the past few days?
Maria Zakharova: The statement by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs includes Russia’s position and views on the recent developments in the region. This statement is available on the OSCE and other websites. You can read it. As I have said, it fully reflects Russia’s position on this issue.
I was asked at the previous briefing whether the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was discussed at a meeting of the Russian and French foreign ministers. No, this issue was not discussed in detail.
Question: Could you comment on the current tensions on the Line of Contact between Azerbaijan and Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is always on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s agenda.
Question: During their meeting yesterday, the foreign and defence ministers of the United States and China agreed that their companies would not cooperate with North Korean businesses on the UN sanctions list. Is Russia monitoring this issue? Do Russian companies maintain business relations with these North Korean companies? Do you plan to introduce a control mechanism?
Maria Zakharova: Russia is committed to UN Security Council resolutions, including those on sanctions that are based on international law. We fully honour our commitments under these resolutions. As for cooperation [with North Korea], it is only maintained within the legal framework. We strictly comply with our obligations.
Question: IOC President Thomas Bach has said that Russia will not stave off IOC sanctions no matter how enormous the pre-emptive measures in combatting doping it may take. Is this a sports or political decision?
Maria Zakharova: The doping scandal regarding Russia is a political case from beginning to end. I believe that everyone can now see the reasons behind it. As we predicted, no evidence to prove the allegations against Russia has been provided. This is a political affair designed to deliver a blow against Russian sports. What is the reason for this affair? I believe that is part of the isolation policy launched by the United States under President Obama. It was a political put-up job. We have to hand it to them: they never made a secret of their intentions. They called for isolating Russia in all areas openly and publicly. Russia has huge sports achievements, which we have confirmed at the Sochi Olympics. And so sports have become a target for this political offensive.
Not that the doping problem does not exist in Russia. It does, but it exists everywhere, in all countries. This is why they create special organisations to deal with this problem jointly and find solutions to this problem. But instead of using these special organisations, they have decided to make it a political affair. As you remember, decisions were based on the principle of collective responsibility and evidence-free allegations. They used every trick in the book, and so we wouldn’t be surprised at anything now. We have been working to combat doping, as Russian leaders have said. We are doing this at home and at the international organisations concerned.
Question: It was announced yesterday that the bilateral Russia-US consultations at the deputy foreign minister level were cancelled after Washington expanded sanctions against Russia. Does this mean that this format was abandoned completely? The US has said that it was open to working with Russia, despite its stand. What steps should the US take for Russia to resume the work and contacts in this format?
Maria Zakharova: In principle, Russia did not withdraw from this format. The Foreign Ministry released a comment by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov yesterday, clearly stating that the atmosphere created by our US partners was not conducive to holding this round of talks. The statement lays out our position very clearly.
As for the US being open to working with Russia, it is our duty to ask them whether the sanctions are part of their foreign policy work. If so, they have to honestly state that the sanctions are an official element of their foreign policy doctrine. This way, we will all be aware of it. Our US colleagues used to say that sanctions are adopted as a response to specific actions that they could not support or felt their duty to oppose. At least there is some logic in this stance. The latest sanctions defy any logic. Are we seeing renewed attempts to isolate Russia? Or maybe the sanctions were expanded by inertia which is beyond the control of the US Department of State? It may also be explained by the specific nature of domestic politics in the US. This is hard to understand. What is clear is that the decision was not driven by a willingness to promote cooperation. A country cannot be ‘open’ to cooperation with another country, while also trying to isolate it. This is absurd.
Question: How will the downing of a Syrian aircraft by the US and the incident with the airplane of the Russian Defence Minister affect the atmosphere of the meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump that is expected to take place in Hamburg?
Maria Zakharova: Questions on the meeting between the two leaders should be referred to the Presidential Executive Office, which comments on all issues related to summits, bilateral meetings and top-level contact.
If we are talking about the general atmosphere of bilateral relations, as I said when answering the question on sanctions, there is no positive momentum with decisions of this kind, since even for the US these sanctions can hardly be justified.
As for the actions in Syria, the Foreign Ministry just commented on this issue, and statements to this effect were released earlier as well. We are committed to taking action. What matters the most is that Russia’s efforts in Syria are bearing fruit. These are not just empty words with nothing to back them. I am talking about foreign policy and international initiatives that really help bring about concrete results and promote normalisation in the country. Of course, there is still a long way to go before the situation in Syria gets fully back on track. This is a very lengthy process that involves not only external players but most importantly the Syrian people. The Syrian people have suffered for many years from attempts to divide them. Russia’s efforts in Syria have proven their value and yielded concrete results.
For what reason and why did the US as the leader of the so-called anti-ISIS coalition take such unilateral action that obviously had nothing to do with fighting terrorism? Their strikes are targeting those who are fighting the terrorists. Perhaps just as in previous years there are many people in Washington who still think that through local media they can create an illusion within their country of the legitimacy and effectiveness of their action. Remember when former US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a UN Security Council meeting that he thought he was living in a parallel reality? He was one hundred per cent right. They created this parallel reality, and they live in it. However, with the development of the media and the emergence of a globalised information space, it is no longer possible to sustain a lasting impression that the US-led coalition in Syria is accomplishing something. Everyone understands who the real target is. This is obvious. What everyone also understands is that efforts to remove Bashar al-Assad from power, overthrow his regime, change the constitution of this country are now discredited, have resulted in massive casualties, made innocent people suffer, destroyed civilian infrastructure in Syria, and thrown its economic, financial, cultural, humanitarian and educational indicators many years into the past. And all this because the tactic did not work. It is impossible to understand why these mistakes should be repeated. It may be that some in the US political elite have this illusion that by owning media outlets (usually directly), by controlling or influencing the media, they can present counter-terrorist efforts as positive and effective. This is not the way things are, and everyone understands it. These actions are simply ridiculous, while also being tragic. It is absurd to strike those who are actually fighting terrorists, while continuing to operate under the label of an anti-ISIS coalition.
Question: The media reported last week that Saudi Arabia is planning to set up a new negotiating format for the Syrian opposition in Riyadh, and that this venue will not include pro-Qatar supporters. Do we need this format at a time when the Astana and Geneva formats already exist? What do you think about this?
Maria Zakharova: First, as we said two years ago, every opposition group is supported by specific countries, and no one even bothers to conceal this fact today. Earlier, we said that any opposition group had its own external sponsors, and now we can see how these countries are simply dividing their spheres of influence within these opposition groups. They no longer have any apprehensions about losing face, to say the least. In fact, they are already hampering the efforts of certain opposition groups to join the Astana process.
Officials in some capitals claim that the Astana process is on the verge of breaking down. It was or could have been on the verge of breaking down, but not because it has become irrelevant but precisely because certain states or vested interests supporting some opposition groups virtually hampered this process or prevented them from taking part in it. However, trends within the Syrian opposition are obvious. People who sincerely believe that Syria is their homeland and that it is necessary to save the Syrian state comprehend the topical nature of the Astana process.
We believe that relations between regional states are very complicated. This amounts to mutual relations between these countries and to their history. As we see it, these countries should not hamper the process of launching dialogue, including that under the Astana format, while squaring accounts. In this case, we can see that they are already unable to conceal some rather dirty games, even while controlling virtually all major regional media outlets. Everyone understands that earlier stories portraying the armed Syrian opposition as the so-called “fighters for democracy and justice” in Syria and about alleged democratisation were quite funny. All these armed “fighters” conducting extremist activity were backed by certain financial resources and vested interests.
It is our opinion that all countries should consolidate their efforts because terrorism will eventually spare no one, including its own creators; and we know about such historical examples. They need to improve relations for this purpose. In addition to this, the political process, including the Astana and Geneva formats, should not become affected, while the concerned countries are busy squaring accounts. Syria, including the opposition and official Damascus, will receive a historical chance to chart the state’s future foundations on a consolidated basis.
Question: Do you have any information that the United States is planning to set up a certain security zone on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Maria Zakharova: Our military experts should comment on this issue because this amounts to the situation on the ground. I believe they will do this.
Question: It was announced in connection with the June 17 incident that any flying objects, including those of the international coalition, will be tracked as air targets in areas where the Russian Aerospace Forces are accomplishing their military objectives. Does this Russian stance remain unchanged, and does this mean that any US aircraft might be shot down?
Maria Zakharova: You should address these issues to our military experts. Please address them to the Defence Ministry.
Question: Yesterday the media reported on Russia forming a full list of terrorist organisations for the new UN body. Can you clarify which terrorist organisations in Afghanistan will be on the list?
Maria Zakharova: The UN Secretariat and the Secretary-General personally are building a new body that will specifically deal with counterterrorism-related issues. How this body will operate is yet to be seen.
Yesterday, it was reported that a new UN Deputy Secretary-General was appointed to supervise this new area. He is a Russian diplomat, Vladimir Voronkov, who is currently Russia’s permanent representative to the UN International Organisations in Vienna.
It is a question of what happens in the future and of the specific work. Vladimir Voronkov represents Russia right now. After he joins the UN, he will represent the UN Secretariat and the UN will be in charge of his information support. While we are still providing him with information support, we can ask him to meet with journalists shortly and talk about his vision of this effort.
Question: What was the Foreign Ministry’s reaction to the expansion of US sanctions against Russia? Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov announced that the consultations with Thomas Shannon were cancelled. Is the Foreign Ministry preparing additional retaliatory measures to this, yet again, act of political aggression against Russia? What is the ministry’s opinion of the escalation of these provocations against Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I cannot say that the consultations were cancelled in response to the new sanctions. These are two different things.
It is customary to respond to sanctions in a mirror-like fashion. As Sergey Ryabkov said, the Foreign Ministry was working on a response. Unfortunately, there has to be a response.
Question: There is still a Soviet coat of arms on the façade of the Foreign Ministry building. Why has it not been replaced with the coat of arms of the Russian Federation?
Maria Zakharova: I think the outside appearance is less important than what is inside, and the inside has definitely changed. I think you can see that yourself. At the same time, we have maintained the best traditions inherited from the past, including the Soviet era, because Soviet diplomacy was in many respects truly outstanding as demonstrated by the post-war world order. The Russian Federation completely abandoned the policy of ideologising its foreign policy and introduced new elements in line with the current state of things. I assume you have noticed the changes in foreign policy and its development, as well as the fact that we gave up on the aspects that were unacceptable for the new Russia, and, on the contrary, added new elements that adequately corresponded to the new reality. This is reflected in our Foreign Policy Concept, in the ministry’s work and generally has become a good modern tradition.
Regarding the building, it is historical and directly reflects the history of the Soviet era. As you know, the construction of the building faced many difficulties. The famous spire was not originally planned and was later installed, as directed by Joseph Stalin or Lavrenty Beriya (historians differ in their theories). When Nikita Khrushchev was in power, there were attempts to remove the spire but eventually it was decided to keep it, as the building had already become quite well known and, to a certain extent, symbolic. Even the elements that were not originally planned or perhaps did not completely represent the architect’s vision, reflect the course of history, and this is important. I believe this is the right approach. Russian history has many good and some difficult pages but we cannot just renounce it. Knowing, understanding and accepting one’s history is very important. Rejecting or rewriting it is not just useless but dangerous. For those who do not know their history, who try to rewrite or renounce it, history tends to come back in its negative aspects.
This is a historical building that has its own well-established appearance. Thanks to modern technology, it has been updated and presented again. The work on the façade continues. The renovation includes several stages. The renovation of the right wing is nearing completion, while the left wing was revamped in the early 2000s. In 2011, the new Foreign Ministry building was opened. It is Building No. 1 where we are now and where the Press Centre is. The work has been extended over time.
We have received many requests to show the new spire and we are ready to do so. We can arrange tours for those journalists who are interested.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asked for explanations after the US Air Force shot down a Syrian aircraft. Have you received any comments about this?
Maria Zakharova: No, noting other than public statements. We have made our reaction to this clear: this is unacceptable.
We maintain contact with the United States at various levels, including through talks with the US Secretary of State and between the experts who deal with bilateral relations and Syrian issues. Washington is fully aware of our position. We say that such actions are absolutely unacceptable.
Question: The memorandum on air safety in Syria has been suspended because of this incident. What other diplomatic instruments can Russia use to influence the United States?
Maria Zakharova: Talks and diplomacy.
Question: A question from Al Jazeera…
Maria Zakharova: By the way, how is your network doing? Are you working alright?
Maria Zakharova: Is the situation in the region normal? What about your headquarters?
Question: Everything is fine.
Maria Zakharova: Good, because there’ve been reports about attempts to shut your network down.
Question: Everything is fine at the moment.
Maria Zakharova: Everything is fine. This is very good. You sometimes want to get first-hand information. It’s good that you are not being shut down.
Question: Yes. Do you have proof that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed as a result of a strike by the Russian Aerospace Forces?
Maria Zakharova: No, I have no information to this effect.
Question: Many people have expressed interest and even are surprised at the new, unusually bright façade of the Russian Foreign Ministry. What can you say about this?
Maria Zakharova: This is the result of the stone cleaning technology. We didn’t paint the building but only cleaned the stone. I think that many people are surprised because the colour of the upper stories has changed. Those who often come to Smolenskaya Square can see that the colour of the left- and right-wing annexes has changed following repairs: it has become a lighter shade. But the overall colour will even out with time due to the effect of rain, snow and wind.
No new parts have been added to the ministry building. Only the spire is completely new. It has been made of modern alloys and is therefore stronger and yet lighter.
The lining of the part of the building under the spire is the same. It has been only cleaned and restored. The stone tiles have been additionally protected, but their colour will gradually even out for natural reasons.
Question: In other words, am I right in thinking that it will gradually become the same as the rest of the building?
Maria Zakharova: I could prepare a thorough report on this matter – the stone, its colour and the restoration work involved – for the next briefing. But as I have said, we worked very accurately and have preserved the building’s former look, including the smallest details. The only item that has been replaced entirely is the spire. When the initial spire was installed – many of you are now the happy owners of small parts from it – this was done in haste, because the spire, which is some 70 metres tall, was not stipulated in the design. The architectural plans for the building did not include calculations for the spire, and so the architects had to consider the structure and materials which the building would support. This was back in the 1950s.
New materials have been invented since then, and we have decided to use them. But outwardly the spire is the same as the original one. It’s a carbon copy. I can request information from the engineers and developers, so as to be able to tell you every detail regarding the form and the colour.
Question: Could you answer a question about air tracking in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: This is a question for the Defence Ministry, which also holds briefings and regularly meets with the media. The defence and foreign ministries have different spheres of responsibility.
Question: We are unable to do this.
Maria Zakharova: We’ll phone our colleagues, and I think this issue will be settled.