Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 14, 2017
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a ceremony to unveil a memorial plaque for Vasily Kuznetsov
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with participants in the Fourth Young Diplomats Forum
- Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Samura Wilson Kamara
- The situation in Syria
- The White Helmets’ activities in Syria
- Status of Russian-US relations
- Political situation in Venezuela
- Transnistria settlement update
- Entry to Armenia for Russian nationals
- Hacking attack on the Foreign Ministry’s email
- NATO video on “forest brothers”
- US Embassy representative’s visit to the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre
- Answers to media questions:
- Return of Russian diplomatic property in the United States
- Status of the Ukhov family
- New UN Security Council resolution on the DPRK
- Death of Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo
- Agreement to transfer Afrin to the Free Syrian Army
- Liberation of Mosul
- Reciprocal measures in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats and the seizure of Russian diplomatic property
- Russian-US commission on cyber security
- Negotiations on the issue of the Korean Peninsula
- Restoration of Russian-US relations
- Special communication channels with Pyongyang
- Influence on the DPRK
- Cyberattack on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s server
- Visa-free travel to Japan
- Agreement with Ankara on delivery of S-400
- Approval of the candidate for the new Russian ambassador to the United States
On July 17, a regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) will convene in Moscow.
The ministers will discuss current international and regional security matters, development trends in the regions adjacent to the CSTO area of responsibility, as well as the fight against current challenges and threats such as international terrorism and extremism, in particular in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa.
The CSTO Foreign Ministers Council will compare notes about cooperation among the member states on the international arena and also approve a plan for consultations on the subjects pertaining to foreign policy, security and defence. Their agenda also includes discussions concerning documents on the further development of their military and technical cooperation, the symbols of the collective security forces and equipment, as well as the improvement of the system for the creation of task groups on the CSTO’s spheres of activity.
At noon on July 18, a commemorative plaque in memory of Vasily Kuznetsov, an outstanding government official and diplomat, will be unveiled at 19 Spiridonovka Street, where he lived in the closing stages of his life.
The ceremony will be attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, veteran workers and current personnel of the Foreign Ministry, Kuznetsov’s family members, as well as representatives of the Moscow Government and the public.
The plaque was designed by Alexander Mirianashvili, full member of the Russian Academy of Arts.
Media are invited to attend.
Diplomats from the CIS countries, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will attend the Fourth Forum of Young Diplomats, which will be held on July 20-21.
The main theme this year is Information Technology in Modern Diplomacy. The forum’s agenda includes a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, remarks by Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky, as well as presentations by experts.
During the forum’s panel meetings, the participants will discuss the use of information technology and information security in diplomatic work and will exchange experience in these spheres. They will adopt a declaration as an outcome document of the forum.
Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone, Samura Wilson Kamara, will come to Moscow on a working visit on July 20-22. He will have talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on July 21.
The ministers will focus on reforming the UN Security Council, since Freetown is currently presiding over the African Union's Committee of Ten. The countries of the continent are playing an increasingly important role in all major areas of the UN activities. We would welcome the expansion of the UNSC membership through adoption of the developing countries, including, of course, African nations, if the United Nations supports it.
Notably, Africans have a clear consolidated position on reforming the UN Security Council, which has become part of the diplomatic lexicon as the Ezulwini Consensus, which was confirmed at the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa in early July. We believe that the African interests should not be ignored and, certainly, should be taken into account in the course of reforming the UN Security Council.
During the talks, the ministers will also exchange opinions on the agenda of bilateral relations and ways to increase their potential, as well as on a number of important pan-African issues and ways to overcome acute crises on the continent.
The situation in Syria remains tense. We continue to monitor the positive trends that give hope for reversing the Syrian crisis and achieving a lasting political settlement and restoring peace and order throughout the country. Currently, work is underway to improve the mechanisms of functioning and controlling the de-escalation zones designed to reduce the level of violence in Syria, and to improve the humanitarian situation of the affected Syrian population.
The seventh round of intra-Syrian talks under the auspices of the UN takes place in Geneva this week. Russia, urging its regional and international partners to do the same, is assisting the Syrian parties in seeking for compromise solutions to resolve existing contradictions and to initiate the process of restoring stability and the country’s economic recovery.
As you may be aware, as a follow-up to the Astana process, experts from Russia, Jordan and the United States reached an agreement on the Memorandum on Creating De-Escalation Zones in Southwestern Syria – the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Suwayda – in the Jordanian capital of Amman on July 7. The ceasefire came into effect there on July 9 starting noon Damascus time. Moscow and Washington committed themselves to ensuring compliance with the ceasefire by all groups present in the area, and to provide humanitarian access and establish contacts between the oppositionists in this region and the Russia-US-Jordan monitoring centre, which will be created in Amman.
The ceasefire in southwestern Syria is of paramount importance. Creating a de-escalation zone there should be an example for other areas in Idlib province, in the areas north of Homs and Eastern Ghouta. Work on their functioning and control mechanisms continues. At present, the situation in the above areas is assessed as steady.
In the east of Homs province, the Syrian army took control over a larger part of the al-Hail oilfield, having dislodged ISIS fighters from the main heights. The government forces are now within 15 km of a large jihadi outpost in the town of al-Sukhnah.
In Eastern Ghouta, fierce clashes between Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq Ar-Rahman and Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) continued outside the towns of Beit Sawa, Mesraba and al-Asha’ari. The rival groups lost dozens of militants in the hostilities.
This continued infighting among the terrorists persists in other Syrian provinces. Thus, a mine explosion in Ahrar ash-Sham’s headquarters in Idlib, the village of Binnish, killed two and wounded 10 militants. Reportedly, the al-Akhrar members believe that Nusra is behind this terrorist attack. On another occasion, also in Idlib, two suicide bombers attacked the headquarters of the Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham group in Sarmin. At least 12 militants were killed.
Social media cite official representatives of Akhrar ash-Sham saying they are aware of the Nusra plans to carry out a large-scale attack against a number of groups in Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Notably, jihadists from Ahrar ash-Sham are preparing to rebuff their “brothers in terror.”
The Syrian armed forces continue the Great Dawn operation, which began in May. During its first stage, they managed to dislodge the jihadists from a number of key strongholds in the Syrian desert, and to liberate dozens of settlements in Homs and Palmyra. Plans are in place to drive out the militants from the southwestern regions of the desert during the second stage of the operation, which began in the Damascus province.
The Kurdish-Arab self-defence units are engaged in fierce fighting in eastern Raqqa districts. They are gradually moving deeper into the city. Syrian government forces have taken control of over 50 square km in the province of Raqqa.
I would like to ask myself again about the nature of activities pursued by the pseudo-humanitarian organisation known as the White Helmets. This group has access to areas controlled by Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham and other jihadist groups. Let me stress that these areas are off-limits even to Western, let alone Syrian or Russian journalists. This rules out any objective verification of data that the White Helmets supposedly collect where the government forces and the Russian Aerospace Forces have delivered strikes.
The White Helmets are funded through a human rights group, Syria Campaign, coordinated by one Anna Nolan, a US citizen. This group is within the focus of various, primarily Western, media and operates in a highly coordinated and well-orchestrated manner.
There are a growing number of questions about the White Helmets. We know full well that many chemical attacks on civilians in Syria were targeted by the media thanks to the White Helmets’ efforts because the group frequently “warned” them in advance about an upcoming chlorine bomb attack. And the footage portraying the resuscitation of alleged child victims of poisonous agents cannot but take one by surprise as displaying clear disdain for, if not ignorance of, the basics of rendering first aid. We still have fresh memories of another internet video showing these sham humanitarian activists videotaping preparations for yet another staged episode involving a man rescued from under a whole lot of house debris. We remember well how that organisation was nominated for various, quite prestigious, international prizes, such as an Oscar.
During the hostilities in Aleppo, the White Helmets ran stories, on a daily basis, about “numerous victims,” as they alleged, due to Syrian and Russian air attacks. But none of the videos showed the actual shelling or air strikes. Let me remind you again that their materials serve as the basis for media reporting, with the media borrowing it without any verification because it is impossible to prove any of this data. Therefore, this is an example of yet another media merry-go-round.
Generally speaking, we regard the White Helmets as a part of a large-scale information campaign to besmirch the Syrian Government. For our part, we believe that currently efforts should be made to support the so far fragile military and political stabilisation processes in Syria, to create conditions for the restoration of peace there, and to crush the terrorist threat emanating from ISIS, Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, and similar groups.
Honestly, we were surprised by the tone of comments we have heard at recent briefings in the US Department of State. They probably think we cannot speak in such a tone or comment on bilateral relations – the Americans spoke about some rushing around or Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov running ahead. They have displayed incomprehensible audacity in dealing with information. Such rhetoric is not our choice but we can use it too, and now I will show you how.
Recently we received many questions about consultations of Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon regarding diplomatic property. There were many leaks; some things were a far cry from the truth, whereas other statements were based on some facts. This is why I would like to comment on this issue.
Indeed, a regular round of Russian-US consultations on bilateral relations was scheduled for July 17 in Washington to be held by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.
Initially, this round was scheduled for June 23 but it had to be postponed because the United States was not ready for a meaningful discussion.
We hope that after the Hamburg summit on July 7, the US side will display a more constructive approach. As we all understand, the previous US administration left for the current one numerous problems and irritants it had created in relations with Russia, up to and including the abduction of Russian citizens in third countries and the acquittal of Americans who were guilty of the death of their adopted Russian children. There were many problems. Naturally, if such practices are not discontinued it will be hard to develop fruitful cooperation.
This also applies to the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats half a year ago (you remember how this was done) and the illegal seizure of Russian property that is protected by diplomatic immunity. Indicatively, as distinct from public statements made in Washington at the time, the notes of the US Department of State that announced on December 29 the decision to block our property, have no references to “Russia’s interference in the US election” or some invented cyber break-ins. There is no direct or indirect mention of them. The reasons for the decision were not stated. Apparently, our colleagues from the Department of State were afraid to put down an obvious lie on an official document for fear of having to answer for it.
Regrettably, neither problem has been resolved. The seized property has not been returned. Far from reversing the decision to expel our diplomats, Washington is refusing to issue visas to those who are supposed to replace them. Moreover, they are trying to make absolutely unacceptable linkages that have nothing to do with these problems and are quite a different matter. There is a great deal of rambling on. If there is no progress we will really have to take reciprocal measures, as we have warned more than once through bilateral channels and on the record.
We have something to say in response. The numerical strength of the US Embassy in Moscow far exceeds the number of our employees in the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC. Hence one of the easy options is to even out the personnel, apart from a symmetrical expulsion of Americans. This is all the more urgent since there are too many employees of the CIA and the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency under the cover of the US diplomatic mission, whose activities are glaringly at variance with their status. You have heard and seen what they were doing – there is open access to their adventures with wigs, changes of clothes and other installations and performances. We can refresh everyone’s memory.
We are ready to take reciprocal measures regarding property. By blocking our access to Russian facilities in the United States, its authorities crudely violated not only the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations but also our 1979 bilateral agreement under which we granted the US Embassy in Moscow two plots of land – for a summer house and a storage facility.
Let me repeat (we have said this and explained this many times) that we would not like to go to extremes. We never rush on such matters. As you know, there was a very long pause that has obviously lasted for too long. If our American partners do not understand it in a different way, at some point we will have to take steps in this direction.
We are monitoring the developments in Venezuela. Russia’s position on a settlement of the political crisis there is well known and has not changed. We stand exclusively for a peaceful dialogue held within the framework of the Constitution to reach compromises between the conflicting sides without any destructive external influence.
However, the events of the past few days and even hours have shown that the authorities’ hope for a downturn in the radicals’ aggressiveness has not materialised. We regret to say that both sides have opted for the logic of head-on confrontation with elements of violence, which has provoked fresh clashes that have led to bloodshed and fatalities, including among minors.
We strongly condemn the absolutely unacceptable, barbarous and inhuman practices of the radical opposition forces, which have used children as live shields. In this connection, we would like to highlight a recent statement made by UNICEF, which is Russia’s important partner in promoting international development. We want to draw the attention of the international community, and above its overzealous members who call for an early change of government in Venezuela, to the unacceptability of using such methods for self-seeking political purposes.
We point to the danger of the radical anti-governmental forces’ attempts to push the political struggle towards an armed confrontation. We are concerned about the radical opposition scenarios of destabilising the situation by holding the so-called never-ending protests designed to paralyse the economy and disorganise life in the country.
The political opposition interprets the Venezuelan Constitution very loosely, which contradicts the position of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, in a bid to justify their protests against the legitimate government and also the planned establishment of parallel government agencies following the legally questionable plebiscite that will be held by the opposition on July 16. We consider it very dangerous that some members of the opposition have publicly appealed to military personnel to disobey their commanders and to join the protest movement against the government.
It is also alarming that the fighters the radical opposition has been attracting are rapidly expanding the arsenal of military methods. Not long ago seven members of the Venezuelan National Guard have been severely injured in a roadside explosion in the protest zone in Caracas. It is shocking that some journalists, who knew about the planted bomb, did not notify the police but instead arranged to be at the site, at a safe distance from the bomb, to film the explosion. You can watch the footage on the internet. It appears that the protest organisers are doing their utmost so as to be able to collect effective, if biased, footage for the foreign media. This is something happening not just in Venezuela.
We call for the early resumption of responsible talks between the government and the opposition aimed at reaching a compromise, ending the violence and preventing the country from sliding into an armed conflict.
We welcome the decision of the Venezuelan authorities to release opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from prison and to put him under house arrest. This clear signal of the authorities’ readiness for compromise should have been reciprocated by the opposition. Unfortunately though, it was not.
As for international mediation, a framework can only be created at the proposal or with the agreement from both sides. Any attempts to enforce settlement formulas or put pressure on either side, let alone meddle in Venezuela’s domestic affairs, are unacceptable.
I would like to remind you again that Russia does not want the internal developments in Venezuela to deteriorate into an uncontrollable conflict. We see no alternative to a peaceful dialogue as a way to stabilise the situation. We believe that the efforts taken by some external forces to apply colour revolution scenarios and formulas in Venezuela will not help settle the crisis but will further undermine the constitutional order and increase the suffering of the people.
The situation regarding the Transnistria settlement continues to deteriorate.
The positive potential created by two meetings between Moldovan President Igor Dodon and Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky last January and last March is basically being wasted.
Talks in the international format are stagnating. The work of the only internationally recognised negotiations platform, the Permanent Conference [for Political Questions in the Framework of the Negotiating Process] on the Transnistrian Settlement (the 5+2 format), is basically stalled. The Permanent Conference’s resumption after a two-year break, with active support of international mediators, mainly Russia and the German Chairmanship of the OSCE, which was a serious recent achievement, unfortunately, never went any further.
The OSCE Austrian Chairmanship’s proposition that every 5+2 meeting must bring a tangible result such as the signing of specific agreements is unjustified. If the parties to the conflict could agree between each other, international mediation would not be necessary. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.
We hope that during the remainder of its mandate, the Austrian Chairmanship will review its approach to the Permanent Conference.
We also expect that sectoral working groups of representatives from Chisinau and Tiraspol will intensify their efforts to find a solution to the issues agreed during the meetings between the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria which, it seems to us, are not gaining the necessary momentum.
Under a bilateral intergovernmental agreement, Russian nationals may enter Armenia with either their foreign or domestic passport. It should be noted, however, that entry to Armenia with domestic passports is only allowed through international airports in Yerevan (Zvartnots) and Gyumri (Shirak).
Under Russian law, domestic passports are first issued at the age of 14. Therefore, exit from the Russian Federation and entry to Armenia for children under 14 is only possible with a foreign passport. Birth certificates cannot be used for this purpose.
I would like to ask the media outlets specialising in tourism and Russian nationals’ travel abroad and their respective departments to take special note of this information. I would also like to ask travel companies and other tourist service providers to communicate this information to our citizens through their channels.
Recently, the Foreign Ministry email was subjected to a massive hack with major consequences.
The investigation into the circumstances of the attack on the information resources of the Foreign Ministry headquarters, its representative offices in Russia and missions abroad revealed that in the morning of June 29, around 138 fabricated emails were sent to mid.ru accounts via an earlier compromised account of the Russian Embassy in Iran. The attack was tracked back to an IP address registered in Hungary. The emails contained a link to a downloadable information bulletin while the Foreign Ministry Press Service email appeared to be the sender. The link would open the Foreign Ministry’s account authorisation page. Using a number of manipulated steps, hackers would gain access to the emails of the users who opened the link as well as some other Foreign Ministry’s information resources.
Action was taken to eliminate the consequences of the attack. All compromised accounts were blocked. Between June 30 and July 3, access to the mid.ru accounts and the ministry’s internal portal was temporarily closed for maintenance. According to the rules of information security cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Security Service, the latter received evidence and the necessary data to assist with the investigation.
We are developing additional measures to enhance security of the ministry’s accounts.
We have noted that NATO’s official account on Twitter and other social media published a video with different comments on “the guerrilla struggle of ‘forest brothers’ against the Soviet regime.” Regrettably, this is not the first time we are witnessing Western attempts to revise historical realities linked with events of World War II. In the past, these attempts were masked and made through political scientists, historians or the publication of books, whereas now they are made directly by international organisations via official resources.
It would appropriate to recall in this context that the hands of “the freedom fighters” as they are called by NATO, are up to their elbows in blood. They are to blame for tens of thousands of civilians. In the last years of the war “forest brothers,” many of which were Nazi accomplices, offered fierce resistance to the Red Army – a component of the armed forces of the anti-Hitler coalition, thereby impeding Europe’s liberation from Nazism.
Heads of NATO declared on the record more than once that their bloc is not just a military-political alliance but also a “community of values.” This cynical concoction of NATO propagandists illustrates what these values are.
NATO posted this eight-minute video online to show how actively it is fighting against so-called Russian propaganda. This video is propaganda pure and simple. It does not amount just to selective presentation of materials. It would be possible to understand NATO to some extent if it launched a discussion or started debates with users by publishing documents. But this is not the case – this is pure propaganda. There are no documents and no debates. This is not even a scholarly conference but the artistic execution of a relevant political order. It is vital to point out (and NATO knows this better than others) that this is a mechanism for exerting influence on public opinion by artistic means. This amounts to the development of a machine for producing fake news and creating artistic images of pseudo-history. And they say they are fighting Russian propaganda! Pure fantasy!
On July 12, Assistant United States Defence Attaché in Serbia Hyrum Lowell Garvin, a representative of the US Embassy, visited the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre in Nis.
The Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre’s Co-Director Vyacheslav Vlasenko and its Serbian employees informed the guests about its history, structure and the legal framework of its operations.
They discussed the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre’s substantial contribution to disaster prevention and relief in Serbia and other Balkan countries over the past few years, providing emergency humanitarian relief aid, boosting the efficiency of Serbia’s emergency response system, including by training Serbian experts at educational institutions of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry and the Centre’s training grounds, conducting various exercises and training sessions and by delivering modern firefighting and rescue equipment to Serbia.
The US Embassy’s representative received exhaustive answers on all questions of interest to him, including those regarding the draft Russian-Serbian intergovernmental agreement on the terms of the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre’s deployment, privileges and immunities of its personnel. He was able to conduct an onsite check of the Centre’s equipment and technology. He was particularly interested in how its crisis management facility makes it possible to quickly obtain updates on the regional climatic and industrial situation and to predict its development. This allows local authorities to take the required effective action.
The US Embassy representative’s visit once again highlights the Centre’s absolutely transparent activities. Its employees only respond to emergencies and provide humanitarian relief in Serbia and other Balkan countries. The US visitor voiced no remarks in this respect.
The US visitor was also told that the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre’s humanitarian mine disposal unit would start removing explosive devices on Serbian territory this July, and that the first batch of Russian equipment and technology would be delivered for replenishing the Centre’s reserves and for expanding its personnel training capacity.
Delegations from some other foreign embassies in Belgrade are to visit the Centre next week. On July 18, representatives of Austrian, Swiss and Polish embassies are set to arrive at the Centre.
I would like to repeat that, if someone is making any comments and voicing concerns with the actions of Russian agencies or those created with Russian assistance, then we are ready to answer all questions. This is a specific example. The same concerns hackers and all the other nonsense that they are saying about us all the time without providing any evidence. It would be our pleasure to discuss any facts or any unconfirmed reports and to provide the required information, to conduct checks and investigations.
Question: Could you provide more details on the US terms for returning Russian diplomatic property?
Maria Zakharova: This is why we need consultations. This meeting should be more than just a protocol meeting. We have already had a lot of them, and there were also contacts between the embassies. We need a specific discussion. We are expecting the United States to come up with detailed proposals and a deep rather than superficial discussion on how to move past this situation.
I will not speculate on possible solutions. Let's first the experts do their work. I can say with complete confidence that the experts on the Russian side are high-level professionals, people who have engaged in bilateral relations in all their aspects for many years, and they know how things work first-hand. Consultations come first, followed by comments and possible solutions.
Question: Could you comment on the situation with Svetlana Ukhova and her two children who tried to cross the Turkish-Syrian border and, according to her relatives, were detained? They are now allegedly kept in a detention centre at the Migration and Passport Service of the Syrian Interior Ministry. What does the Foreign Ministry know about this? Are Russian diplomats doing anything to resolve this situation?
Maria Zakharova: The Russian Embassy in Turkey released a commentary to the effect that the embassy already asked competent Turkish authorities to confirm whether the said persons are on the territory of that country and, in the event of a decision to deport them, to deport them to Russia. Our embassy is actively working on this issue. Once they have additional information, they will let us know. For our part, we will also follow the developments.
Question: Has Russia received a new draft UN Security Council resolution on the DPRK for study and approval? Word is out that the new resolution may include sanctions, including a ban on oil supplies to North Korea and a ban on using North Korean labour. Will Russia support this draft resolution?
Maria Zakharova: As far as I know, at least yesterday, taking into account the time difference between us and New York, we did not have such a draft resolution yet.
Question: The prominent human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo died in China yesterday. I would like to hear your comments, as a specialist on China, on his life and death.
Maria Zakharova: I do not have any comment.
Question: Turkish media have spread a story that Russia and Turkey reached an agreement on transferring the town of Afrin to the Syrian Free Army controlled by Turkey. Is there really such an arrangement?
Maria Zakharova: This question should be addressed to our military specialists, who deal directly with the situation on the ground. I think you should ask them. For my part, I will try to clarify the information as well.
Question: How does Russia assess progress of the operation to liberate Mosul? There is still the unresolved Sunni question, in which many see the origins of the ISIS problem. Iraqi Kurdistan announced plans to hold a referendum on independence on September 25. Will this lead to a resolution of the Iraqi crisis? What is Russia’s perspective on the future of Iraq?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly commented on the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan.
With regard to liberating Mosul, literally this week as well as last week, Minister Lavrov made detailed comments on this matter. The Foreign Ministry’s Press Service has also made statements. We have repeatedly said that we welcome the fight against international terrorism in every possible way, but we also urged our partners to think about the price paid for these victories, especially since we were regularly reminded of the operation in Aleppo. We do not really understand why the people who reproached Russia for the methods it used to conduct the operation in Aleppo totally ignore the methods used to liberate Mosul. It just doesn’t work that way. Either everyone provides an objective assessment of ongoing operations and sticks to uniform standards, or, again, unfortunately, we will be forced to attribute all this to propaganda and disinformation campaigns. So, in this regard, we clearly, regularly and unambiguously made our point of view known at various levels, including publicly.
Question: Sergey Lavrov and you spoke of possible reciprocal measures in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats and the seizure of Russian diplomatic property. When should we expect a decision on those reciprocal measures?
Maria Zakharova: I have spoken at great length on the issue today. I can repeat that at the time we did not come up with reciprocal measures straight away, being aware that it a was a “cache”, using a military term, made by the outgoing administration and intended to disrupt the normalisation of bilateral relations under the new government. That was obvious and clear. Speaking in plainer language, it was a provocation. We were all perfectly aware of that and we gave the new administration time to sort out this disgusting “legacy” and start building our bilateral relations on a normal and mutually respectful basis to our mutual benefit and with due regard for the interests of both sides. More than half a year has passed. We see no concrete steps, although nothing is preventing the new administration from showing its independence and doing this. We have repeatedly brought up this issue during our bilateral contacts and were ready for consultations, talks and the exchange of possible scenarios, some proposals, in written form. That was not the case either. Therefore, at a certain point, we started saying that more than enough time has passed for the matter to be looked into and addressed.
At present, we have a date for consultations on the issue and our clear-cut position is that time is running out.
Anyway, nothing at all has been done to unblock the situation. During all this time, one might at least have allowed Russian diplomats into the area, started issuing visas to persons who are to replace those expelled, done things that would have not been so categorical in terms of undoing the “legacy” inherited from Barack Obama, but would have made it possible to start acting on a working level, or in other words, simply start unblocking the situation. Nothing of the sort happened either.
So, there is no exact timing. Everything depends on how the American side will react, its concrete moves and the results of consultations that are due to be held in Washington now.
Question: I would like to return to the death of Chinese human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo.
Maria Zakharova: I have already commented on this. I see no reason why we should return to it as I cannot add anything new on the matter.
Question: This week, there has been much speculation about the creation of a Russian-US commission on cyber security. Sergey Lavrov said it will happen. When will it happen? Who will represent Russia in the commission? How is it supposed to work?
Maria Zakharova: I can assure you, when we have the relevant information we’ll share it with you. So far, there is a framework decision in the form of our intention to work towards this objective. Experience has shown the necessity and importance of this move. Hacks happen everywhere. We’ve been recording the increasing number of hacking attacks in the last three years.
Today, the United States is exploiting the issue of cyber threats. We aren’t exploiting it – unfortunately, we have been living with this threat since 2014 when the number of hacking attacks, in particular, on the Foreign Ministry’s resources, increased dozens of times and, maybe, even hundreds of times. At a briefing a couple of months ago, I cited statistics that showed what pressure Russian information resources had to deal with in cyberspace. I can repeat them. Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for the hackers, some of their attacks led to our resources being compromised. We believe that this issue is very important. We can exchange information, build relations, make proposals and write them down on paper, instead of just constantly leaking information to the media without providing any facts whatsoever to prove it. Most importantly, not a single person is held responsible for the leaks. It’s all just empty talk. This commission is an invitation to engage in concrete work. We had similar structures under the presidential commission that were involved in addressing roughly similar issues. You know what happened to it – on the Americans’ initiative, its work was terminated and the commission was disbanded. As soon as we have something we can share with you, we’ll do it.
Question: Could you provide more details about cooperation between the foreign ministers of the United States and Russia on the problem of the Korean Peninsula, given the upcoming top-level talks?
Maria Zakharova: We see dialogue with our American colleagues, which is being held not just between the embassies and representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, but, certainly, at the UN Security Council, where this issue is being actively debated. As you know, we have both differences and points of convergence. At least, we are currently engaged in dialogue.
We believe that it is necessary to work out political solutions that could lead to a settlement or at least prevent the situation in that region from worsening any further.
Question: If Russian-American relations ultimately cannot be restored, does the Russian Foreign Ministry have any scenario, should this negative possibility occur?
Maria Zakharova: You are too pessimistic. Let us think about good things.
Question: Yesterday, commenting on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia does not have any special communications channels with Pyongyang, though it is a close neighbour of Russia. Given the traditions established under the new leader of North Korea, does not Mr Lavrov think that someone already has stable channels of influence? We would like to have a more detailed commentary on the issue, if possible.
Maria Zakharova: And what is unclear here? What else can be added? What exactly has not been covered, in your view? It seems to me that the matter has been fully covered.
Question: Can Russia, as one of the parties to the six-party talks and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, influence North Korea?
Maria Zakharova: We have international law, which stipulates in what way countries can use political influence and participate in regulating both internal and international processes in a particular region.
Within the framework of international law, we are using all available opportunities. There are bilateral contacts and multilateral formats that we are trying to reanimate and engage. There are also international organisations, above all, the UN Security Council, as this is precisely where the issue is being discussed. And of course, there is our cooperation, established on a legal basis, with countries in the region, which are equally concerned about the situation on the peninsula. These are the opportunities we are talking about. There has been more progress on some points and less on others, and something, unfortunately, remains blocked.
We believe that the six-party talks are a very important tool. This is normal international practice, which, let me repeat, is based on the UN Charter and international law and is, on the whole, mutually respectful and offers a large number of tools and ways for solving complicated international issues.
Question: Was your personal user account affected during the attack by hackers against the Foreign Ministry’s resources?
Maria Zakharova: I said clearly that the hackers attacked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in particular, the information resources linked with the ministry’s server and named this server – mid.ru. This is what it was about. My user accounts are not on the ministry’s server. I have an active account on the social network site Facebook. This site stated more than once that it is very meticulous about cyber security. As you know, its headquarters is located on US territory, and this is where the relevant information is stored. Draw your own conclusions.
Question: The Sakhalin authorities have again asked Japan to allow Russian citizens to stay in Japan without visas for up to three days. Are there any talks on this issue?
Maria Zakharova: All Russian regions coordinate their foreign policy activities with the relevant federal agencies. The Foreign Ministry is playing a coordinating role in this respect. So, all such issues are discussed with the ministry. Our ministry and our foreign mission in Tokyo know about this issue. As for Japan’s response or a specific stage of the relevant talks, I will clarify this information and present it next time.
Question: Quoting a Turkish official, Russian media reported about the signing of an agreement with Ankara on the delivery of S-400 missile systems. I think the sum of about $2.5 billion was mentioned. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: S-400 contracts fall within the competence of the Defence Ministry and relevant military experts.
Question: You said Russian diplomats that are supposed to replace those that were expelled from the United States have encountered some problems with receiving visas. Are there any problems with the approval of a candidate for the new Russian ambassador?
Maria Zakharova: You know well that we do not comment on the ambassador’s appointment until the President’s executive order on the replacement of an ambassador in a country is issued. The order deals with either recalling the ambassador, or terminating his functions or sending a new one. Commenting on the decisions of the President of Russia, if they deem it necessary, is the prerogative of the Presidential Executive Office. We comment on the appointment and present relevant information after the executive order is published. We also organise an interview of newly appointed ambassadors and a news conference. Incidentally, this is our new practice. Newly appointed ambassador to Turkey Alexey Yerkhov met with the press not so long ago. We will do the same with respect to other ambassadors, but first the executive order, the President’s decision on the appointment of an ambassador must be published. We simply have our own traditions that are based on our regulations.