Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 29, 2017
- Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Speaker of the Knesset of Israel Yuli-Yoel Edelstein
- Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit to visit Russia
- Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Paris
- Sergey Lavrov’s participation in an OSCE Informal Ministerial Meeting
- Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Belgium
- The situation in Syria
- Russian diplomatic property expropriated in the United States
- An article in Iceland’s Morgunbladid newspaper about the anti-Russia hysteria in the United States
- Vancouver events marking 80th anniversary of the Chkalov crew’s first non-stop flight from the USSR to the United States
- Japanese business mission in the South Kuril Islands
- Progress of political settlement in Colombia
- Internal political developments in Venezuela
- Dismantling of a memorial plaque to Georgy Zhukov in Odessa
- Another anti-Russia news leak in Ukraine
- The restoration of the Foreign Ministry’s high-rise office building
- Supplying Arab schools with Russian textbooks
- Search for missing US citizen Steven Beare
- Answers to media questions:
- Allegations of a planned chemical attack in Syria
- Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum
- US strategy in Syria
- The Friendship Award bestowed posthumously on Andrey Karlov
- Alleged international isolation of Russia
- Preparations for a Putin-Trump meeting
- Response measures to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States
- The flights of unidentified helicopters in eastern Afghanistan
- Emmanuel Macron’s statements on the Ukrainian crisis
- Russian-Japanese relations
- Unauthorised entry into Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States
- Detainment of the alleged Russian military in Donbass
- Zakharova’s song performed at the opening of the Moscow International Film Festival
Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet at the Foreign Ministry with Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset of the State of Israel, who is visiting Moscow at the invitation of the Speaker of the Federal Assembly’s Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko.
Mr Lavrov and Mr Edelstein are expected to discuss a broad range of issues related to the situation in the Middle East, joint counter-terrorism efforts, and topical matters on the bilateral agenda.
Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit will pay a working visit to Moscow on July 4-6. On July 5, he will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for in-depth consultations.
Our political contacts with the leaders of the Arab League, which is an influential Pan-Arab organisation, are steady and regular in nature, which allows us to exchange views on important issues of regional and international agenda in a constructive manner as partners. This year, Sergey Lavrov and Ahmed Aboul Gheit met twice: first, on the sidelines of the fourth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum held in Abu Dhabi on February 1, and then in Cairo on May 29 during a joint visit by Russia’s Foreign Minister and Defence Minister to Egypt.
Moscow greatly values the substantive dialogue between Russia and the Arab countries, and is committed to promoting it. The swiftness of the transformational processes in the Middle East, the commonality of global challenges and threats dictate the need to strengthen interaction between the Russian Federation and the Arab League in the interest of ensuring peace and stability in this region and the world in general.
During the upcoming consultations, the sides will discuss in detail the situation in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the crisis surrounding Qatar, and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. In the context of persistent security turbulence, it is assumed that special attention during the talks will go to coordinating the steps taken, including in a collective format, to counter international terrorism and religious extremism.
Promoting cooperation between Russia and the Arab League in the economic, humanitarian and cultural spheres will also come under review. The sides will analyse the implementation of the Action Plan to implement the principles, goals and objectives of Russian-Arab cooperation for 2016-2018 adopted during the third ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum held in Moscow on February 26, 2016.
Sergey Lavrov will have talks with Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French Republic Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris on July 6. The meeting will be held as a follow-up to the agreements reached during the talks between President Putin and President Macron in Versailles on May 29, and at the working meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Moscow on June 20.
A thorough dialogue will continue on the issues related to fighting terrorism, resolving crises in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, and other important issues on the international agenda. It is also planned to touch upon certain aspects of bilateral cooperation between Russia and France, including the creation of a permanent entity for interaction through civil societies, such as the Russian-French Trianon Dialogue.
On July 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the OSCE Informal Ministerial Meeting in Mauerbach, Austria. The event is being held at the initiative of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, in his role as OSCE chairperson-in-office. No documents will be adopted at the meeting. It aims for an exchange of views on the situation in the OSCE area of responsibility and a discussion of the preparations for a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna (December 7-8). We hope for a frank and unpoliticised conversation on current topics on the European agenda.
The discussion will focus on a search for ways of resolving the current European security crisis. Russia is open to dialogue. We believe that the OSCE, which has great potential as a forum for discussion on an equal footing and for making decisions on security issues, can and should be used to that end. Our common long-term goal is the 2010 OSCE Astana Summit’s resolution on creating an undivided security community, and our current task is to restore trust.
There will be an exchange of views on the so-called structured dialogue on security challenges that was launched within the framework of the OSCE this year. We hope that it will make a substantial contribution to de-escalating the military-political situation and reducing military confrontation in Europe. The success of the dialogue hinges on renouncing confrontational rhetoric and recriminations, as well as on the long-awaited transition to a conversation based on respect, without any attempts to impose one’s will and values on others.
The security situation in Europe is compounded by growing transnational threats – terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime and the migration crisis. Special attention at the meeting will be devoted to the OSCE’s contribution to countering current challenges, primarily terrorism and terrorist ideology. We believe that this evil can be effectively fought only on the basis of international law with respect for the equality and sovereignty of states.
For our part, we also intend to promote at the OSCE priorities for the peaceful resolution of ongoing conflicts in the existing formats, the protection of traditional values, including the rights of Christians and Muslims, and the harmonisation of integration processes.
On July 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in Belgium on a working visit at the invitation of the Belgian side and will have talks with Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs Didier Reynders.
The two foreign ministers intend to discuss in detail the status of and prospects for the development of Russian-Belgian cooperation, as well as a number of current issues on the international agenda, in particular the situation in the Middle East and Africa, including in the context of fighting international terrorism.
During the talks, the two officials plan to coordinate their approaches towards the prospects for Russia’s relations with the European Union and NATO, as well as with the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
Before the talks, on July 11, Mr Lavrov will have a meeting with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, within the framework of the Russia-EU political dialogue.
On July 13, Mr Lavrov will pay a visit to Germany, as he said yesterday at a joint news conference with his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel. We will duly inform you about the events planned in Germany.
We note a positive trend in the development of the military-political situation in Syria. We see this as a direct result of implementing the May 4 Memorandum on Establishing De-Escalation Zones in Syria and consolidating the ceasefire regime.
Ceasefire monitoring continues. The Russian Defence Ministry regards the situation in de-escalation zones as stable. The overwhelming majority of violations are reported in areas controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS militants. The Russian centre for reconciliation in Syria conducts regular humanitarian operations, delivering basic necessities to affected areas. Towns continue to join the ceasefire regime: As of now, their number has reached 1,832. In particular, in the Latakia province, there is not a single town that has not joined the regime. Talks are under way with armed opposition groups in the Aleppo, Idlib, Damascus, Hama, Homs and Quneitra provinces on joining the ceasefire.
Eastern and southeastern parts of the country have become the main theatre of operations by the Syrian Armed Forces against terrorists.
The Syrian Army continues to advance toward the Iraqi border. For the first time during the five-year conflict, government forces have crossed the administrative border of the Deir ez-Zor province. Forward-deployed units are several kilometres from the T2 oil pumping station, 80 km from the city of Abu Kamal and 100 km from terrorist-besieged Deir ez-Zor.
Near Palmyra, Syrian Army units expelled ISIS militants from a gas refinery and expanded their zone of control near the Arak gas field.
In the northeast of the Hama province, Syrian Army fighters took Al-Abjar Hill not far from the town of Ithriyah. The military are advancing further along the Salamiya-Raqqa road to block ISIS militants near the town of Uqayribat, who have not managed to retreat to the east.
The terrorists are trying to reverse the course of events. On June 24, al-Nusra attacked Syrian Army positions in the city of al-Baath in the northwest of the Quneitra province. The militants took control of several strongholds in the city, including a local council building. Dozens of civilians were hurt as a result of militants shelling attacks on residential districts. Closer to evening on the same day, the Syrian Army recaptured practically all of the positions lost previously.
The successes of government forces are punctuated by bloody conflicts between the terrorists themselves. Thus, al-Nusra militants tried to take control of the town of Salqin in the northwest of the Idlib province, but encountered opposition from local groups supported by Ahrar al-Sham followers.
As part of national reconciliation efforts and to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the Syrian Government has amnestied 672 people, including 91 women, who were detained on suspicion of being connected to illegally formed armed groups.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by the US and its anti-ISIS coalition allies, have freed the town of Mustajid Naqib south of Raqqa on the right bank of the Euphrates River, thereby closing the circle of the blockade around the ISIS capital. Fierce fighting in the city continues.
Unfortunately, new allegations against the Syrian authorities, who are purportedly “planning a new chemical attack,” have come from Washington. We took note of these allegations and commented on them. We also know that no evidence has been provided to substantiate them. We do not know the basis for these allegations. The situation that has evolved as a result is reminiscent of a large-scale military and informational provocation that is directed not only against the Syrian authorities but also against Russia.
These accusations and threats sound cynical against the backdrop of the openly illegal actions by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition with regard to sovereign Syria, such as the missile strike against the Shayrat airfield on April 7, the bombing of government forces in Deir ez-Zor and al-Tanf and the shooting down of a Syrian jet bomber. On top of that, a large number of Syrian civilians were killed as a result of bombing and shelling by coalition forces in Raqqa and other cities. According to AFP, during the Ramadan period alone, 500 people who had nothing to do with terrorists were killed as a result. Forty-two civilians were killed and dozens injured as a result of a missile and bomb attack against the town of Mayadeen in the east of the Deir ez-Zor province during celebrations after the Muslim fast.
Moscow has repeatedly stated that we regard such unilateral acts of aggression as blatant violations of international law and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, and disrespect for the UN Charter.
Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantors of the Astana process are actively preparing for the next round of the International Meeting on Syria in Astana, set for July 4-5. Russia sees the upcoming meeting in the capital of Kazakhstan as an important stage toward a peaceful settlement in Syria.
I would like to talk in detail about the chemical provocation that is unfolding right in front of us. Today we have an opportunity to see how the entire scenario to carry out a Syria plan based on allegations regarding weapons of mass destruction was planned and acted upon, a plan that we very much hope will not be implemented. We know numerous examples when countries that consider themselves civilised have taken criminal actions on those grounds. Not just thousands but millions of people, including civilians, have suffered as a result. Nobody knows, and nobody has taken the trouble yet of counting civilian casualties in Iraq: hundreds of thousands of peaceful, innocent people at the very least.
As for the current situation, the information campaign regarding “the Assad regime’s preparations for a new crime against its own people with the use of chemical weapons,” which has been launched by Washington with support from London and Paris, as I said previously, it is nothing new. It is developing in accordance with the traditional scenario, which was written for Syria. In other words, the traditional scenario that had been tested on a number of countries in the region was developed specifically for Syria back in 2013. At least that was when it was made public but it may have been developed even earlier. In 2013, a provocation involving the use a chemical agent in eastern Ghouta (it is still unclear who used it) almost caused direct intervention by Western countries against Syria. At that time, not only the region but also the entire world was saved from a major war with absolutely unpredictable regional and global consequences by the decisive position of Russia, which proposed a plan for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles. However, in April 2017, [civilians in] the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun fell victim to an alleged chemical attack that, according to the West, was launched by official Damascus. The current US administration did nothing unexpected. It only dusted off the playbook prepared by its predecessor (this refers to the 2013 scenario), which it recently criticised, and launched a strike against a sovereign state, Syria. By all indications, the information attack that is unfolding now, these days and these hours, is a forerunner to new intervention.
The reiterate, the scenario will be the same. Some incident occurs in an area controlled by militants, resulting in civilian casualties; the so-called opposition (i.e., jihadists, who do not in any way differ from ISIS or al-Qaeda but who receive aid from the US and its allies) will report the regime’s latest crime, as they usually do. Importantly, at that moment no one will count the number of people who have died at the hands of these same jihadists, the so-called moderate forces; everyone will forget about the thousands of civilians killed by extremists but will only focus on a specific situation that will be highlighted in every possible way by extremists, who do not differ from terrorists in any way. Just as the last time, purported evidence will be demonstrated to the Western public: [explosion] craters and some murky footage and photos of dead bodies allegedly made during the incident will go viral online. Then it will be proved that it was all staged in the same way as some well-known organisations demonstrated before. Militants posing as the opposition concerned about Syria’s future and as eyewitnesses will go on camera. No effort will be spared to persuade the regional community to work for the Western TV and social media audience, providing firsthand accounts of the attack.
On the other hand, the scenario will be enacted as follows. Representatives of US intelligence services will claim to have airtight evidence proving the [Assad] regime’s responsibility. You know what the response to the request to present that evidence will be. They will say that this is classified information that cannot be disclosed. What’s more, as previously, they will say that the disclosure of this information would affect the situation and security in the region. They will argue that Western intelligence services, in particular US intelligence services, do not disclose their sources. This is classic. The motivation and explanation will be very simple: certain sources, witnesses, people who are in possession of real facts are in dire danger from the regime.
The 2003 aggression against Iraq has already demonstrated that simply anything can be used as evidence: detergent powder or some cleaning agent in a vial passed off as “sarin” or some student paper as a classified report. Eventually, everyone will learn the truth but it will be too late. There will be an intervention, civilians will be killed and conditions for founding even more extremist organisations will be created. This was the case with Iraq. Ten years later, as you remember, Tony Blair apologised. What about those apologies? Who needs them? An entire generation was not born during these 10 years. It is not that people were killed and children and young men who lived in those countries were physically and psychologically scarred for the rest of their life, but simply, new people were not born. This massacre continued for 10 years, expanding from the active phase into the phase of fighting terrorists who had never existed in that region. Then people in nice expensive suits appear on camera, apologise and bear absolutely no responsibility. They do not risk their freedom, let alone their life; they do not even risk their positions or official status. They can simply say, “We are sorry” but many do not say even that.
All objections by a legitimate government, which for some reason the West has described as a regime for so many years, all evidence from independent sources, issues related to the quality of sources or the expediency of citing terrorists and militants [in the media] will be simply ignored.
The provocation in Khan Shaykhun on April 4 bore all the hallmarks of this scenario. Such scenarios were developed on a small and large scale alike. Their organisers and those who called for punishing the regime have ignored not only the refutation of the chemical attack by Syria’s legitimate Government and by Russian experts on the ground, but also objective data. In April 2017, the Syrian Army was successfully advancing on the militants’ positions. A question arises: what was the point of using chemical weapons in a territory that the Syrian authorities intended shortly to take control of? Most average people who watch and read news do not bother to think what chemical weapons really are. Yes, these are horrible weapons of mass destruction, but these are also weapons that remain in the soil. It turns out that the Syrian authorities themselves make their own land, environment and country unfit for habitation. After all, Syrian Army units should be deployed there, civilians should return to their homes there and people should live, work and study there. This most obvious and simple logic is ignored.
One hundred per cent of chemical weapons that were under the Syrian Government’s control were destroyed in 2013-2014 under international oversight. This is a fact that is obvious to everyone. What’s more, this fact was confirmed by the OPCW and it even won a Nobel Prize for that. It would seem that everything goes to show that what they are trying to portray to us as a reason, as the main explanation for attempts at an intervention and regime change is refuted by the obvious facts. But no, the power of the media and propaganda, as well as the high-quality scenarios and time-proven methods of conducting these campaigns convince many people in the West that these measures are very effective.
There are also incontrovertible facts that everyone should know, remember and recapitulate. On the one hand, all the chemical weapons that were under the control of Syria’s legitimate authorities were destroyed. To reiterate, this is a fact that was confirmed by international experts, for which they received a Nobel Prize. On the other hand, nobody took the chemical weapons from the militants, and it’s also a fact that militants, extremists and terrorists have these weapons. They periodically use them against government forces, in particular Kurdish detachments. However, international agencies investigate these incidents very slowly. The investigation of these incidents is dragging on and nobody in the West is in any hurry or insists that it should ever be finished. Likewise, for some reason mainstream media outlets are ignoring these facts.
The video footage that was purportedly made during the incident cannot be recognised as fully authentic or meeting the standards of documentary footage. It is simply impossible because this footage is full of incongruities and inconsistencies. So-called doctors give confusing evidence: they talk about chlorine and then they talk about sarin. Then the people on camera say they are experts and doctors. Either they are not doctors or they have no objective information. Rescuers (to be more precise, people who say they are rescuers) work without any protective gear or equipment. Imagine this: rescuers at the epicenter of a chemical attack have absolutely no protective equipment and easily talk on camera about what just happened there. As a general rule, there are only men and children among the casualties but for some reason no women. There are people involved in the activities of extremist, in particular jihadist groups among the “witnesses” and “experts.” Nobody pays attention to a report by the Center for Citizen Initiatives, a US NGO, which has published an appeal from CIA veterans to President Donald Trump on the Khan Shaykhun incident. According to these veteran experts, in Khan Shaykhun, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on the ammunition depot of a local Al Qaeda group where the noxious agents were in fact stored. A gust of wind created a cloud that rose as a result of the explosion, spread to a nearby village and led to numerous casualties. The Conflicts Forum, an online resource run by former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke, published a series of materials by US investigative bloggers who are also critical of the US administration’s version of the Khan Shaykhun events. On June 25, German Die Welt published an article by Seymour Hersh saying that the Trump administration has ignored US intelligence services’ report that there is no evidence of chemical weapons being used in Khan Shaykhun. As for the symptoms of chemical poisoning, they were probably caused by the cloud of the chemical substance that was stored at the target of the attack. None of this is taken into consideration or analysed.
Let’s go back to the goal of the provocation that is being prepared right in front of you now; you can see all of its components for yourselves. The goal is obvious – to reanimate the issue of so-called regime crimes, derail the political process launched in Astana and return the situation in Syria to the impasse into which it was led by Western rhetoric to the effect that Assad should go. That said, the information attack launched by Washington is in effect provoking militants into committing crimes involving mass casualties.
This information attack will most certainly include components such as the use of photos of children by leading commentators, journalists and correspondents. Just as before, it will take not decades but months (half a year at the most) to acknowledge that these are either fake or staged photos. However, the most important thing is that the entire power of mainstream channels (CNN and its commentators will play far from secondary role there) will be aimed at creating a gruesome picture designed to prove the regime’s crimes. Then action will begin. According to some reports, highly creative footage of this kind of provocation has already been made.
We again have to comment on the matter of Russian diplomatic property expropriated upon President Obama’s instructions six months ago. This case took an unusual turn several days ago. Some US media outlets, including The Washington Post, reported that when FBI agents entered the abandoned facilities in Washington and New York, they found that they had been stripped of antennas, electronics, computers and other “sophisticated eavesdropping equipment.”
We know all about this spy mania and spying equipment, which is nothing but lies and fake news, which are becoming the accepted norm even from national US television networks and print media. But the story about FBI agents is interesting. There are two alternatives: either these media outlets are lying and there were no FBI agents at our facilities, or FBI agents did enter these facilities. If so, this is a bad case of self-exposure. Since no official US agencies have refuted this information (which can be considered circumstantial evidence in favour of the latter version), this means that US security agents have indeed entered facilities that are Russian property located in Russian territory and hence enjoy diplomatic immunity. This is a gross breach of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
A year or six months ago, they kept talking about – and this was later used as the reason for US action against Russia – the alleged harassment of American diplomats in Moscow. Nobody explained what this meant. Which US diplomats were harassed, and who did it? No, American diplomats were free to do what they wanted. We never even considered doing to US property in Russia what Americans have done to Russian property in the United States.
This is what happened to Russian diplomats in the United States. Shortly before New Year 2017, the US administration gave us 24 hours to evacuate two Russian facilities. We were not just to evacuate but also mothball these facilities, considering that this happened in winter and winters in New York and Washington are comparable to winters in Moscow, and so the heating systems at these facilities were running at full capacity. You can see how our diplomats were treated in the United States. Moreover, the children’s camps, which opened there during holidays, were shut down. The children of embassy staff, diplomats and Russian compatriots were deprived of the possibility of having a good rest, which should concern Washington with its positions on humanitarian issues.
At the same time, they continue to assure us that the abandoned Russian property is completely safe. This is a paradox. The media could be lying and these media reports could be fiction, but if so, why haven’t US security agencies refuted these reports? Indirect evidence shows that certain people in the United States have access to the facilities that must be only open to Russian diplomats. We don’t have the details, but available information indicates that somebody has entered our facilities. This is why we think so.
The obvious comparison comes to mind from reading what the US media write: our facilities have been occupied. Having failed to occupy Wall Street, they probably decided to occupy Russian property in the United States. It cannot be ruled out that some secret service agents could stage a provocation and set up “evidence” to prove that intelligence equipment had been installed at these facilities at some point. These agents have unattended access to our facilities. As I said, there was no such equipment at our facilities. US media claim that the equipment was dismantled, but our diplomats had less than 24 hours before their departure. Is this sufficient time to dismantle complicated espionage equipment? But there was indeed a great deal of household and other equipment that was dismantled to mothball these facilities.
And while Russian diplomats were removing their belongings and mothballing these facilities, they were closely watched by the police and FBI agents. They not only looked on but used a powerful searchlight to better see what went on in our territory.
My colleagues, who witnessed this arbitrariness, later said that the operation could have been a Hollywood movie. And there definitely were elements of intimidation.
Since then, we have not been allowed to enter our facilities even once. The US Department of State has not granted any of the 15 Russian requests for a single visit by maintenance workers to check the infrastructure in order to prevent possible accidents.
This means that the US authorities will be held accountable for any possible damage to expropriated Russian diplomatic property, as we have said more than once. Are we supposed to break into our property in case of fire or collapse? How should we respond? These are our facilities; we paid money for them and have the deeds to prove it. The US administration and security services have never questioned our ownership of facilities before, not even during the Cold War.
We have also told our American colleagues that the only way to dispel our suspicions that an anti-Russian provocation involving “espionage equipment” is being prepared there is to let us see for ourselves, which means that we need to enter the facilities. Or better still, give us our property back. Otherwise, we will have the grounds for a similar response with regard to US property in Russia. As we said before, and as I can confirm today, we are working on these response measures.
Once again, we are compelled to talk about the lack of professionalism and the biased approach of certain US media outlets.
Yesterday, we sent an official letter to the CNN office reminding them of the need to clarify the case of manipulating public opinion by the leading columnist of this television network Christiane Amanpour during an interview with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov taken in the run-up to the elections in the United States.
As you may remember, a couple of weeks before the presidential elections in the United States, CNN interviewed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. During the course of the interview, Ms Amanpour produced photos of a Syrian boy that she brought along saying that the child had been killed in a bombing raid. Later, this US TV channel posted on its website this interview and the materials to the effect that this boy was a victim of Syrian and, primarily, Russian air strikes.
We believe that this is a case of manipulating public opinion, and that CNN and Christiane Amanpour owe us a response. It’s up to them to decide on the form of such a response, but they must explain themselves to the public.
We mentioned that we are prepared to help CNN contact the Russian reporters who found the boy's family, or to have our onsite experts help Ms Amanpour communicate directly with this family in order to correct the gross mistake that took place in late 2016.
Given the size of the CNN audience, this, of course, was a case of mass manipulation of public opinion. We look forward to getting their response.
I’d be remiss to let go unnoticed an op-ed colourfully titled “Scum and Smoke” published by Icelandic Morgunbladid in its June 15 edition. It is not only the title that is colourful, but also the adjectives chosen by its author, former Prime Minister David Oddsson, to describe the erratic anti-Russian election-related attacks going on in the United States.
According to Mr Oddsson, the search for traces of Russia and the Russian leadership’s involvement (the notorious “hand of the Kremlin”) in the victory of a presidential candidate and generally in the US elections is becoming increasingly bizarre.
The serial allegations about information leaks, always quoting unnamed sources and individuals, and the propaganda-infused materials about Russia's involvement in the elections turn out as sheer nonsense if you just scratch the surface. The article’s author also lamented the fact that major publications and popular television channels allow this blatant misinformation to spread all over the world.
The author noted that just before Barack Obama left the White House, his people announced the involvement of some Russian diplomats and hackers in unlawful interference in the presidential elections. Now, it has become a hodgepodge of allegations whereby the Russian leadership, allegedly taking the victory away from Hillary Clinton, was also trying to take the victory away from Donald Trump. It’s a senseless mix-up of propaganda talking points.
Please take note of this article, as it is very revealing and indicates that not only here in Russia, but also in Europe people are beginning to get tired of this scum and smoke.
Last week, we celebrated an outstanding event in the history of Russian-US ties, the 80th anniversary of the legendary non-stop trans-polar flight of the Valery Chkalov from the Soviet Union to the United States.
As you may remember, the Chkalov’s crew, including copilot Georgy Baidukov and navigator Alexander Belyakov, took off from Shcholkovo airport on June 18, 1937 and flew towards the North Pole. On June 20, over 63 hours later, the plane landed safely on Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington.
On June 17, the Moscow Region’s Shcholkovo District hosted a celebration of this event. A Russian interdepartmental delegation headed by Alexander Radkov, Deputy Head of the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation, visited Vancouver, Washington, at the invitation of our US partners, including the National Park Service that manages Pearson Field.
On May 25, 2017, participants in the first meeting of the Foreign Ministry’s interdepartmental working group for preserving Russian historical and cultural heritage in the United States made the relevant decision.
Members of the Russian delegation and representatives from the Russian Consulate General in Seattle attended an official ceremony at Pearson Field on June 24, laid a wreath at the monument dedicated to the flight and visited the upgraded Chkalov Gallery, opened last year with the assistance of the Russian Foreign Ministry, at Pearson Air Museum. Delegation members also met with Washington State Senators and Russian compatriots living there.
Members of a public-private Japanese delegation, currently visiting the South Kuril Islands, plan to study opportunities for joint economic activities there.
President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reached the relevant agreement during their April 27, 2017 meeting in Moscow.
On May 30-31, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk hosted the first stage of the Japanese business mission’s visit. This time, during the second stage, the members will visit the islands of Kunashir, Iturup and Shikotan.
During the current visit, the parties are to focus on the practical aspects of mutually beneficial economic projects in the most promising areas, including fish-breeding, fish processing, infrastructure upgrades, the geothermal power industry, construction, environmental protection and tourism.
The implementation of these projects would help promote the socioeconomic development of the South Kuril Islands.
The results of this work will be discussed at a regular round of bilateral consultations, at the deputy foreign minister level, on launching joint economic activities in the South Kuril Islands.
We welcome the important result achieved in the political settlement in Colombia: the completion of the surrender of arms by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas to UN observers, which paves the way to their full reintegration into peaceful life and national reconciliation.
We would like to highlight the coordinating role of the UN in the process of disarming the rebels, to stress the contribution made to its success by the guarantor countries (Cuba, Norway) and the countries which have assisted the process (Venezuela, Chile).
Russia will continue its efforts, including through the UN Mission in Colombia (UNMIC), to support the Colombian people and government in building a durable peace and in post-conflict development.
Unfortunately, the pitch of political confrontation in Venezuela is rising.
The increasingly aggressive protest rallies organised by the opposition and claiming human lives continue to give cause for concern.
We have to note the obvious harm caused by the attempts to form parallel government structures ignoring established procedure and the calls of the radical forces not to recognise the current judiciary and legislative bodies and to boycott their decisions.
Sometimes one gets a feeling that many, including in Venezuela, under the guise of improving the situation, are simply trying to destroy the state. Improving life in the country should not entail dismantling the state.
The helicopter attack on the building of the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court of Venezuela is nothing if not a provocation aimed at further destabilising the situation.
We are deeply surprised at the stern rejection and the stubborn commitment of an influential part of the opposition to disrupting the efforts of the Government and representatives of the international community to bring about a resumption of the intra-Venezuelan dialogue, serious and responsible negotiations aimed at a mutual compromise and at restoring peace in the country.
Let me note that the search for peaceful solutions to the current political conflict has the support of an overwhelming majority of Venezuelan citizens, according to opinion polls.
Russia invariably comes out for a settlement of internal conflicts by political means on the basis of the primacy of law and without outside interference. We are convinced that these three pillars should form the basis for a successful solution to the difficult situation in the friendly Venezuela, unless one seeks to make it hopeless.
On the night of June 25, “unidentified persons” in Odessa dismantled the plaque commemorating Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov on the avenue that bears his name.
I would like to note that it was put up there not during the Soviet times, but in independent Ukraine, in 1995, with the approval of the local authorities. The people of Odessa saw this as a tribute to the outstanding military commander, one of the architects of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Georgy Zhukov was directly involved in the liberation of much of Ukraine and some European countries from Nazism, and after the war contributed to bringing back peaceful life to Odessa.
What happened in Odessa is not the first act of vandalism against commemorative markers to Georgy Zhukov set up in the city. Judging from the reaction in the social networks, the first to “break the news” were the local nationalists from the Freedom group and other right-wing radical movements. This leaves no doubt as to who is behind these actions, who instigates the vandals to commit such actions and whose interests are backed by the authorities which openly connive at radicalism.
Many in today's Ukraine are unhappy about everything that reminds them of the Victory of the Soviet people over Nazism, and in general of the fact that Nazism was defeated in the Second World War.
Most paradoxical of all, I have heard many statements, and not from the radicals, but from the people who are trying to build a new Ukraine and lead it to a bright future, who accuse Russia of claiming all the credit for Victory and all the merits in the Great Patriotic War.
We have always stressed the contribution of the Soviet people, have always said that this is the heroic feat of the people of various nationalities, we have never forgotten anyone and the memorials put up in our country have never been pulled down. We hold sacred everything associated with the contribution of the people, cities and villages that fought during those years.
However, I address my question to the people who accuse us of appropriating some kind of laurels: if you condemn us for this, why do you look on as monuments that seal the common victory of the Soviet people during the Great Patriotic War are being dismantled? You should be the first to say that the dismantling, among other things, of the memorial plaque to Georgy Zhukov means, in fact, the return of our heroes to Russia. In other words, you voluntarily cede to others your own participation and the participation of your people in the victory over Nazism. This is strange, disrespectful and amounts to rewriting history.
The dismantling of the memorial plaque to Georgy Zhukov is clearly part of the current Ukrainian policy of rewriting the past and challenging the historical truth. A graphic illustration of all this is the “anti-communism” laws and bans of the symbols of Victory over Nazism, including the St. George ribbon, adopted on April 9, 2015. In his time, seeking to play up to the present-day Ukrainian leadership, Mikhail Saakashvili, the former Governor of the Odessa Region, issued, back on May 21, 2016, an executive order to dismantle the markers to the “communist totalitarian regime”, including the memorial plaque to Georgy Zhukov.
At the end of the day, we may have many differences with the people of Ukraine and its individual representatives, we may also have much in common, but, after all, who are you listening to? You can't listen to Saakashvili. It's a disgrace.
In accordance with recent practice, no one asked the opinion of the local people in Odessa. Saakashvili came to Odessa, thought something up, was then chased out of Odessa, but his “legacy”, unfortunately, has remained.
All such actions are deplorable. We are confident that the fight against monuments, and I stress, against one's own past (because Marshal Zhukov is part of the heritage not only of Russia, but also of Ukraine) is futile. History, of course, will put everything in place.
I would like to comment on another news leak in Ukraine.
In the past few days, Ukrainian media outlets have been discussing another news leak from the Security Service of Ukraine on the arrest of a man named Igor Tkachenko, suspected of some illegal activity, in Odessa.
At the same time, provocative accusations were made with regard to the Russian Consulate General in Odessa and its officials. These accusations are based on this man’s completely unconfirmed statement. As we understand it, the Security Service of Ukraine believes this man is a “Moscow spy.” According to his statements, Russian diplomats allegedly supervise his actions. This is absolute nonsense!
We are urging the authorities in Kiev to take the necessary action to thwart purposeful actions that interfere with the normal operation of Russian diplomatic and consular missions in Ukraine and the fulfilment of their employees’ duties under the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations of 1961 and 1963.
Russia reserves the right to respond in kind to unfriendly actions concerning its representatives in Ukraine.
At the last briefing, I was asked about the Foreign Ministry building’s restoration project, its colour hues and emblem. Our experts and analysts have prepared a report which I am ready to share with you.
The spire and decorative architectural elements of the façades of the central section of the Foreign Ministry’s high-rise office building will soon be completely restored. The metal structures and elements on the spire of the building have mostly been installed. The colour of the spire’s metal facing elements and restored façade sections where the USSR state emblem, an architectural element, is located meet the colour criteria of the Foreign Ministry building from the 1950s.
Work is now underway to reinstall roofs, assemble utility mains and completely restore façades and decorative architectural forms on the 21st floor and higher and to install facing materials on the sides on the 26th floor’s roof, including roof entrances and ventilation shafts. The entire project, including dismantling the scaffolding should be finished in late August.
Next year, there are plans to design, reconstruct and restore the building’s 16-story right-side extension and the façades of the central section of the building and to do so with the latest techniques and materials.
The building’s original image will be restored completely after this project is implemented.
After the project is complete, we will be ready to offer guided tours for you, so that you can see everything for yourselves.
During the briefing on May 31, 2017 Abdulla Haba, journalist from Iraqi news agency Al Mada, addressed the difficulties of studying Russian in Arab countries. He said that Russian cultural centres have been shut down in many countries of the region and that there were not enough Russian textbooks.
As I said, the issue of learning Russian abroad is complex, and its solution requires interaction with many Russian and local agencies. Also, each particular case requires an individual approach.
We did not waste our time but tried to respond as quickly as possible to the request made by the journalist, who expressed the shared opinion of our friends in Arab countries. With the help of Abdulla Haba, we are ready to send a batch of Russian language textbooks published with the support of the Russian Humanitarian Mission specially for Arab school students who study Russian as a foreign language. They will quickly learn the basics of the language through play and also learn more about our country.
We would appreciate it if Mr Abdulla told us later which schools and in which Arab countries were provided with these textbooks. We are ready to send more of them without the participation of the media if we receive relevant requests.
We are monitoring the search for US mountain climber Steven Beare. He went missing on June 16, after starting a solo climb up the southern slope of Mount Elbrus. A search and rescue campaign was launched by the Elbrus high-altitude search and rescue team of the Russian Emergencies Ministry when he failed to return to the check point in due time; two helicopters were deployed to search the slopes and the peak.
Unfortunately, harsh weather conditions are hampering the search. The team consists of professional rescuers who rescued a lost climber from Murmansk several days ago.
We are keeping in touch with the US Embassy and Steven Beare’s family. His friend is also at the site. We hope that our efforts will bear fruit.
I want to assure you that every effort is being made to find the climber.
Question: You have mentioned possible Western provocations related to the allegations about a planned chemical attack in the West. Do you have any new information regarding this?
Maria Zakharova: We do have new information. I tried to present it. We believe that a provocation involving a fake chemical attack is being prepared. More precisely, such a provocation cannot be ruled out in the towns of Saraqeb or Ariha. We will share more information on this matter when and if we receive it.
Question: The authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan have launched preparations for a referendum on independence. Russia and several other world powers, as well as regional countries, have a lukewarm attitude to this initiative. They have supported the territorial integrity of Iraq. The Erbil authorities have promised to hold a practical dialogue on a “civilized divorce” from Bagdad after the referendum. If they come to an agreement on this issue, would Moscow change its position on Kurdish independence?
Maria Zakharova: You know our position. It has not changed. At this point, I have nothing more to say on this subject.
Question: When a chemical provocation was staged at Khan Sheikhoun, the White House put the blame on the Syrian government and punished it. Now we hear that they are talking about a future punishment for a future provocation. Do you think we could see a repetition of the Iraqi scenario and Colin Powell’s actions?
Maria Zakharova: Do you know why they are talking of a “potential” attack? Because they know from what is happening at CNN that there could be leaks about the planned attack. This could be a face-saving action, but this could also be an attempt to prevent a scandal, because those who are preparing these scenarios may refuse to do this and decide to tell them the truth. Some journalists are now telling the truth about the preparation of fake material about Russia. Likewise, we may hear numerous – yes, this is quite possible – testimonies about the preparation of provocations, including in Syria. The tactic of warning about a potential threat could be used to prevent possible leaks from those who are involved in these preparations. This is a Mexican standoff. You can see what is happening in Syria, the number of casualties there. [The United States] should formulate a policy towards this region. They are not doing this, because the ruins of Obama’s strategy are a poor foundation for anything. It takes a powerful intellectual resource to develop a new strategy. The big question is whether they have it.
You can see what is happening in the region in relation to the main local players. No comprehensive strategy can be developed on the basis of these relations, but they need to show to the world that they are doing something. The worst thing is that they cannot accept the Astana process, which some forces are trying to derail. For many long years, we were told that the political opposition, the moderate forces and the extremists would never sit down at the negotiating table with Damascus. It turned out that they can and have. They are waging a dialogue, although it is not an easy one at all. The reins have been slackened, probably because they had more pressing concerns, did not provide resources or did not pressure the political opposition. Or maybe those who care about Syria’s future, even though they have no sympathy for the Syrian government and don’t support its policy, have come to see that the country has been pushed to the brink of collapse by their former sponsors. These people are ready to negotiate in order to save their country. This is what is vexing the opponents of the Astana process. They are ready to do anything to stop or suspend it. What can they do? They cannot just go to Astana to try to talk the parties out of holding these negotiations. They need a reason, something that would involve civilian casualties, the death of children and old people, something to demonstrate the impossibility of a political settlement and the parties’ “incompatibility” with President al-Assad. This is banal. It is not a complicated scheme. It is horribly primitive.
Question: If the US does carry out a strike on Syria this time around what will be Russia's response? Will it be political or military?
Maria Zakharova: You think I am going to tell you everything just like that?
Question: The Turkish-Russian Business Association recently awarded, posthumously, the Friendship Prize to the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov. Your reaction?
Maria Zakharova: This is not the only token of attention, respect and commemoration we have seen on the part of the Turkish public and on the part of the public in other countries. The reaction throughout the world was very powerful. Posthumous awards were conferred, reminiscences were written, letters were sent to the family of the Russian Ambassador who died at the hands of a terrorist on Turkish territory. This is not lost on us. We believe that our outstanding diplomat Andrey Karlov deserves such tokens of attention and to have his name immortalised, which is happening not only in Turkey and Russia, but in many other countries where he worked, where his colleagues are and where they know about his professionalism. Memory of him and his deeds will speak for itself given such public support. We have yet to assess the contribution he made to promoting bilateral relations and to settling the situation in the region. We are aware of that. We think it is important that the memory of him lives and will live on.
Question: In the wake of developments in Ukraine, we see some countries trying to isolate Russia. But Russia hosts international events and fora and Russian leaders meet with the leaders of other countries. Has the attempt to isolate Russia succeeded?
Maria Zakharova: Isolation was not announced until the events in Ukraine, but attempts to contain Russia began much earlier: the cancelling of the Russia-US summit speaks for itself. Those were the early signs. The campaign began long before Ukraine. It was obvious. You have only to read the statements of the US State Department, look at how the US Ambassador McFaul behaved. People behave like that if they are focused not on developing bilateral relations, but are tasked with destroying them. That, too, was long before the events in Ukraine. Just read and look and refresh your memory about what the US Ambassador said. I repeat, at the time there was no question of another Maidan.
Has isolation succeeded? I would rather not even talk about it. I am not sure isolation is possible unless it is based on international law and the actions of the UN Security Council, when sanctions are imposed and collective decisions are made to encourage certain processes or punish states for breaking international law. I am not sure that any other kind of isolationist policy is possible today in principle, considering that the world is undergoing globalisation. It is another matter that this should be guaranteed by the independent foreign policy of a state, its international role, its independent policy based on international law. This guarantees that a country can withstand various onslaughts. Isolation in the modern world is absurd. We have gone down the path of economic globalisation, unification of integration processes and open borders, and so it is simply absurd to try to put up little dams in this huge process.
We see that these attempts are being made with regard to other countries. Even the threat of isolation with regard to a number of countries influences their policies because they realise they will be unable to withstand this pressure. It is a very scary trend. But that merits a separate discussion.
Question: Do the current complications in Russian-American relations have an impact on the preparation of the meeting between the Russian and US presidents through diplomatic channels? Will it change the format of the meeting?
Maria Zakharova: These matters are commented on by the Executive Office of the Russian President. Such complications have an impact on events planned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You know that a meeting in which the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov was to take part has been cancelled. It was cancelled not because we decided not to go forward with it in principle, but because it would not have made sense to hold it under these circumstances. We are not shutting our dialogue window with the US. The circumstances must be ripe for dialogue. You cannot conduct talks on improving bilateral relations and solving difficult problems shortly after introducing further sanctions. The main reason for the postponement of the meeting was that our American colleagues had promised to send us reference materials and their proposals for the round of talks in advance. We assumed the timeframe would be reasonable. We did not set any special deadlines. We needed their materials in order to work on them and hold the meeting, not just laying out our respective positions but being thoroughly conversant with them, knowing each other's positions. This is necessary in order to put forward our proposals. They failed to keep their promise and we did not get any information in advance of the meeting.
Question: If I could return to the question regarding the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the US and the planned Russian response. Could you specify what measures and what timeframe we are looking at?
Maria Zakharova: We are working on response measures and the timing. We will announce them when a corresponding decision is taken. We have said it openly to our American colleagues, this is not news to them, they know about it. It is impossible to leave such things for a long time without reacting. The main thing is that Russia is willing to solve these issues although we believe that this was a totally illegal act running counter not only to the letter of the law but to the very spirit of American society. We were ready for dialogue. There is a reasonable timeframe, and if the deadlock is not broken, retaliatory measures will be taken, as has been repeatedly said. What measures is up to the Russian Federation to decide.
Question: At your previous briefing, you urged the Afghan authorities and the US military command to offer an explanation regarding unidentified helicopters that provide supplies to ISIS detachments in eastern Afghanistan. After that, a spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry said Russia should present official evidence to that effect because the Afghan authorities do not have such information. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t quite agree with the wording of your question, namely that Russia can or should present official evidence of what is going on in the independent and sovereign state of Afghanistan. The presentation of official information on helicopters is the duty of the Afghan authorities and foreign military inspectors who are directly involved in monitoring Afghan airspace.
That said, we would like to reiterate that in our comments we refer to public statements made by Afghan officials: members of parliament, governors of provinces and their press services. I can even give you the names of the people whose statements we have cited: for example, Islamic Republic of Afhanistan MPs Zahir Qadir and M. Mehdi, Sar-i-Pul Governor Mohammad Zahir Wahdat and Ghazni Governor Abdul Karim Matin. Also the statement by Jilani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat governor, on a foreign military helicopter landing in an insurgent stronghold in the Herat province in late May with “an inexplicable mission.” Are the statements of these high-ranking government figures not “official evidence”? Surely they are evidence. Just how detailed they are, that is a question for them, not us.
It is perfectly obvious to us that based on the helicopters’ technical specifications (for example, their maximum range), as well as by drawing on the capabilities of the coalition, which has advanced technology of tracking and registering air flights, it will not be difficult for military experts to identify the owners of these helicopters and their itineraries.
Therefore, we cannot rely on the statement by the Afghan Defence Ministry press secretary that there is no evidence of “unidentified” helicopters providing support to extremists in various parts of the country.
To all appearances, what we have here is the reluctance of certain representatives of that country and perhaps their Western allies to make such evidence public.
Question: Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron made allegations against Russia in connection with the Ukraine crisis. Is it your impression that all of this happens because our European colleagues cannot offer anything new in terms of conflict resolution and at the same time want to show that they are calling the shots?
Maria Zakharova: These statements by Macron have already elicited comment at a very high level in Russia. I don’t think it makes sense to revisit them.
Question: Thank you very much for the positive news from Japan at today’s briefing. We hope there will be more.
Maria Zakharova: If nobody stands in the way of our two countries there will be plenty of such news. There could be a lot of it if certain forces did not try to pressure Tokyo into freezing [our] relations, joining the isolation campaign and severing [our] ties. This is the reason – not because we don’t want to talk or maintain constructive engagement. As you know, unfortunately, we have seen Tokyo unilaterally halt this engagement. Now they have put this behind them because it became obvious that this approach causes financial and economic damage to Japan itself: There is no development with our country, which is Tokyo’s natural partner geographically and historically. Nobody says that we cannot have disagreements, and there are differences on a number of issues. However, these differences should not cast a shadow over the development of economic, financial and humanitarian cooperation. We have nothing against “churning out” such news but there should be substance behind it. The most important thing is that this cooperation is not artificially impeded.
Question: When you talked about [Russian] diplomatic property in the US you said there was evidence that these facilities were accessed. Could you specify the nature of this evidence – photos, witnesses?
Maria Zakharova: Witnesses, among other things. People who were nearby said there were evidence our territory was breached. No matter what, we are not allowed there.
Question: Was this information submitted as formal evidence?
Maria Zakharova: Naturally. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raised this issue with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and our embassy staff in Washington said this to their colleagues at the US State Department, as did Russian Foreign Ministry experts in contact with their counterparts. How much we have talked about this in public! Only a couple of months ago, I said we had information pointing to the territory being breached. At first, we simply said that we had certain direct and indirect evidence to that effect. Now articles are being published.
You cannot rely on what the American press says. If in the past you could take an article and go to the State Department saying, “look at what your journalists are writing,” today we know in advance what the response will be: They will tell us all of that is “fake news.” Therefore we are waiting for an official response, but there is none. Officials are keeping mum not only about the article in The Washington Post concerning the Russian diplomatic property but even about the chemical attacks. As you heard, they said they will not provide any evidence. We ask them about the “incontrovertible evidence” they say they have and they tell us they will not provide anything because this is “classified, secret” information.
They should either refute the articles in US media outlets (in particular in The Washington Post) or confirm that they did go there. So what if they did? They realise that sooner or later this will come out into the open. Let them say that they went there and everyone will know that we cannot enter our territory but they can. And then everyone will understand who is the hindrance.
I cannot say that this is a justification. Even now there is little that can justify this, considering what is going on in the US with its domestic political squabbling. However, perhaps there could be at least some understanding that not only our bilateral relations are in a bad way but that simply something [bad] is going on in their country.
Question: During his meeting with the French President, Ukrainian President Poroshenko said Russian military servicemen were detained in Donbass and that the Ukrainian military has testimony and certain documents.
Maria Zakharova: The Russian Defence Ministry has already commented.
Question: Thank you for the song you wrote, which was performed a week ago at the opening ceremony of the Moscow International Film Festival. Today’s the closing ceremony. Should we expect any more surprises from you?
Maria Zakharova: Nikita Mikhalkov has already said everything. I have to do what Nikita said.