Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, September 8, 2017
On September 9-11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
In Jeddah Mr Lavrov will be received by King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and hold talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
In Amman Mr Lavrov will meet with King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein and Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi.
During these meetings the sides will discuss in detail the current condition and prospects of consolidating Russia’s diverse relations with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We hope to jointly analyse the implementation of relevant decisions and agreements reached earlier at the top level and agree on further specific steps on upgrading bilateral cooperation.
We consider our common tasks the maintenance of regular political dialogue, expansion of trade and economic cooperation and implementation of joint projects in the energy, industrial, investment, scientific and technical, and infrastructure areas. In addition, we are planning to discuss the promotion of humanitarian contacts, including scientific and cultural exchanges and cooperation in tourism.
Current global and regional issues will feature prominently during the contacts, including support for Russia’s approaches and initiatives in the UN and other international agencies.
Considerable attention will be devoted to the Middle East and North Africa, with an emphasis on the need to settle regional conflicts and crises by political and diplomatic means, during a mutually respectful dialogue with due account of the balance of interests and concerns of all parties involved.
Naturally, during his trip to the Middle East, Mr Lavrov will focus on the situation in Syria, the formation of de-escalation zones there, in the framework of the Astana process, and the current efforts to establish a united delegation of the Syrian opposition for the Geneva talks with the Syrian Government under the aegis of the UN. He will also talk about the situation in Yemen, Iraq and Libya and the issues of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process.
As a follow-up to the Minister’s contacts during his visit to Kuwait City, Abu Dhabi and Doha on August 27-30, Mr Lavrov is planning to exchange views with partners on the ongoing disagreements between some Arab countries and Qatar. We are invariably urging all parties concerned to overcome this alarming situation at the negotiating table and achieve a compromise that will bring their relations back to a non-confrontational and constructive path and ensure their unity in the face of many current challenges, primarily the threat of international terrorism. We reaffirm our support for the mediation of Kuwait and Sheikh Sabah IV Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah personally.
We view Mr Lavrov’s forthcoming visits to Jeddah and Amman as an important part of Russia’s consistent efforts to enhance multilateral and mutually beneficial cooperation with all partners in the strategically vital region of the Middle East and North Africa. We believe this meets the long-term interests of ensuring peace and stability in this entire region.
On September 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a meeting with CSTO Secretary General Yury Khachaturov to discuss urgent issues related to CSTO activities.
In the run-up to the forthcoming sessions of the CSTO charter bodies, primarily the CSTO Collective Security Council, Mr Khachaturov is conducting consultations with the leaders of the CSTO member states. In particular, he visited Kazakhstan (August 23-25), Armenia (August 28-30) and Tajikistan (September 7-9).
Mr Khachaturov became CSTO Secretary General last May, as we have already announced.
The development of the military-political situation in Syria in the past two weeks was distinguished by the consolidation of the positive trends towards further normalisation, favourable conditions for the political settlement of the Syrian crisis, restoration of the economy and return to normal life.
The Syrian Government Army has achieved serious success with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces. ISIS units have sustained a crushing defeat in the eastern and central parts of Syria. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, in all during this time the Syrian armed forces freed from terrorists 4,800 sq km of land and thrown militants out of 59 cities and villages. They have won the battle with ISIS for Deir ez-Zor. As a result, about 200,000 people have received access to food and medicines and an opportunity to freely travel in the country.
A column with humanitarian relief entered Deir ez-Zor following the advancing units of the Syrian army.
We are urging our international partners to join Russia’s efforts to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria, primarily in the regions that were controlled by terrorists for a long time and in the de-escalation zones. The scale of destruction left behind by terrorists is appalling. Retreating, they mine residential areas to impede civilians from returning home.
The sixth international meeting on Syria is scheduled to take place in Astana on September 14-15. During this event, the guarantors of the ceasefire – Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the observers of the Astana process – the UN, Jordan and the United States are planning to discuss the formation and functioning of de-escalation zones in Syria. They will focus on consolidating the ceasefire, boosting humanitarian aid and facilitating mine clearing.
The situation in the de-escalation zones operating in southwestern Syria, northern Homs and Eastern Ghouta is stable. Armed clashes occur from time to time on the border of the southwestern de-escalation zone between units affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, on the one hand, and the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, on the other.
In Idlib, Jabhat al-Nusra’s alliance of Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham continues its attempts to consolidate its monopoly on power by force. Extremists captured a number of administrative institutions, including city offices in charge of electricity, water supply and transport. They are trying to gain legitimacy by declaring their readiness to cooperate with other “revolutionaries.” We would like to emphasise that all manoeuvres of militants from Jabhat al-Nusra and their unscrupulous collaborators are doomed to fail. Coordinating its actions with the legitimate Syrian Government, Russia will continue its uncompromising struggle against the terrorists that are still operating in that country.
The strengthening of the ceasefire regime and successes in the struggle against criminal terrorist units are creating a new reality in Syria. After six years of fratricidal conflict and the constant threat of terrorism, the people in the country are being given a chance to lead a peaceful life. But it has to be done on the ruins left behind by the terrorists when schools, hospitals and critical facilities were destroyed or looted. The task of rectifying the humanitarian situation in Syria takes on particular significance in terms of supporting the positive trends and as a result of successful implementation of the de-escalation zone concept worked out in the framework of the “Astana process.”
We are convinced that today the most vigorous efforts are needed to assist the Syrian people, humanitarian demining, restoration of vital civil and economic infrastructure facilities. Broad opportunities for this are opening up. Most importantly, the level of violence has dropped dramatically. Russian military police are ready to help secure access of humanitarian cargoes to the functioning de-escalation zones. In the course of the work of the local ceasefire committees, the needs of specific communities for food, medicines, school and medical equipment and instructional materials are being determined.
Russia delivers regular and significant amounts of humanitarian aid to the Syrians: food, medical supplies, blankets and basic necessities. The Russian military take part in mine-clearing of the territories liberated from terrorists, training local combat engineers, but the amount of work to be done is such that these efforts are not sufficient.
We expect that our regional and international partners genuinely interested in creating favourable conditions for a political settlement in Syria on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and the UN specialised agencies will decide to send additional humanitarian aid to the Syrian population. We call on the international organisations to make the most energetic efforts possible to rapidly improve the humanitarian situation in the de-escalation zones and on the whole territory of Syria.
Against the background of extreme politicization of the “chemical dossier” by the Western countries we note their utter indifference to clearing up the situation around the leakage of 220 tons of toxic chemicals from the Libyan chemical weapons storage facility Ruvaga.
We are consistently in favour of an early fulfilment by the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of the instruction of the OPCW Executive Council on an immediate and full-fledged inspection of Ruvaga in order to finally clear up the issue and to help that country to plan further work of assessing and clearing up the ecological damage due to possible spillage of chemicals.
The security situation in Libya has by now improved compared to the military-political situation at the time last year when chemical weapons were removed from that facility because in June the adjacent territories came under the control of the Libyan National Army. Its command has expressed readiness to ensure the safety of OPCW inspectors. We believe the OPCW Technical Secretariat, together with the Libyan authorities in Tobruk, must fulfil the instruction of the Organisation's Executive Council in the shortest possible time.
An OPCW inspection of the Ruvaga facility will rule out any chance of speculations on the topic of alleged disappearance of combat toxic agents and finally close the issue.
We have taken note of comments that came from the US State Department’s press service on bilateral relations and responses to what were, let’s face it, hostile actions by the US with regard to diplomatic property and Russian diplomats. I would like to quote from this statement. During the course of a briefing the US State Department explained the reason for the mayhem taking place on the territory of Russian properties, including San Francisco and other cities.
“The whole reason why it happened is that the Russian Government has demanded parity. They asked many of our staff to vacate our facilities in Russia, and we are trying to achieve parity here.”
I have a simple question to the US State Department: from what moment do you count the response measures as having begun?
We have also taken note that the press service of the US State Department has repeatedly said that the only aim the US really seeks is to establish normal relations with Russia and, of course normalisation of the whole range of bilateral ties and contacts. How does everything that is happening on the territory of the Russian Federation building, which used to house the Russian General Consulate in San Francisco, contribute to normalising the situation? Why are people whom we do not know and whom no one has invited there engaged in who knows what? Do they also “contribute to the normalisation of bilateral relations”? Who sent them there? For what purpose? What are they doing there? Why do they feel like they can make themselves at home there? It is the property of the Russian Federation. What are US citizens doing there?
This week a good deal has been said about the searches which, we understand, were instigated by the FBI. Incidentally, perhaps this is the core of the problem. Perhaps the US State Department really seeks normalisation of relations with the Russian Federation and what we hear at the US State Department briefings are quite sincere statements. Perhaps it is the case that the Unite States simply does not have a single and comprehensive agenda with regard to the Russian Federation. Because from our information and, as we understand it, everything that is taking place with regard to Russian diplomats, perhaps behind it all are, among others, members of the American special services and specifically the FBI. In effect, the property of our diplomatic agency has been raided and seized.
I would like to touch upon the legal and moral aspect of the issue.
Diplomatic immunity and inviolability of diplomatic premises are, of course, the rules of the game, enshrined in international law, which enable states, even at a time of very acute crises, to be able to interact in a civilised manner. The key phrase is, even at the time of the most acute crises, wars and ruptures in diplomatic relations. This was the whole point of creating and introducing the concept of “diplomatic immunity.”
But how does one conduct a dialogue and build relations if the partner violates the agreements it has recognised as a subject of international law? This phrase should also be pondered, not passed over but looked into more deeply.
The United States felt it could afford to ignore the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 – two fundamental documents of diplomatic law.
The United States as the host state is obliged to respect and protect the consular premises and consular archive and not try to use these documents for its own purposes. Even to just enter the territory of the General Consulate the US authorities had to get the consent of the head of the Mission. The FBI did not bother to do this, and what’s more, the agents said in so many words that they would force their way through the entrance door. What was their aim? Was it not an attempt of the American special services to stage an anti-Russian provocation and perhaps plant compromising materials in the building and then find them? Because we haven't the faintest idea of what they are doing now. Special equipment and technology have been brought in, some kind of work is going on and, of course, nobody informs anybody about it.
In September 2012, Islamist extremists attacked the US Consulate in Libya. They broke into the building and set it on fire. This caused the death of four US citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Ten Libyan policemen also died. At that time, in 2012, US President Obama described the illegal intrusion into the territory of the country's Consulate as a violation of the very ideals on which the UN was founded in its time. Why is it that today it is not representatives of rebels, revolutionaries or some mercenaries, but the representatives of the US law-enforcement bodies that are violating the same international legal norms as were violated by the Libyan militants? When did the US establishment cross that “red line” not only from the legal, but also moral point of view? Perhaps when it first blocked the condemnation by the UN Security Council of another in a series of mortar attacks on the Russian diplomatic mission in Damascus or perhaps when out Embassy in Kiev was attacked? Perhaps these are links in the same chain? When no measures of political protection through the reaction of states and international organisations were taken with regard to Russian diplomatic property and the facilities covered by diplomatic immunity? At the time all this was blocked. Earlier we said that the blocking was done by Western colleagues, today we say openly that the US was behind it.
Some Western media say that Russia and the US are exchanging tough diplomatic measures on a tit-for-tat basis. It is important to remember who kicked off this string of events. It was not Russia but the United States.
Commenting on the forcible closure of Russian diplomatic institutions, the press service of the US State Department declared that these are “symmetrical actions in response to the cut of the American mission in the Russian Federation.” True, the US State Department press service chose to ignore the fact that it was the US that initially expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country and deprived our country of two facilities that were under diplomatic immunity.
Still earlier, in 2016, the US State Department cancelled the accreditation of five of our honorary consuls in various states. You forgot? It never happened? Yes, it did happen. I am a hundred per cent sure that those who work today at the US State Department have no idea what happened a year ago. I am sure no one knows about the honorary consuls. But I would like to remind you that their accreditation was cancelled by the US. And yet at the time Russia refrained from retaliatory measures – talking about parity which the US State Department press service is playing up. It was only a new round of sanctions and Washington's decision to refer Russia to the world “axis of evil” that prompted the Russian side to revise the size of the American diplomatic mission in the country. And again, speaking about parity, I would like to remind you that the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN is functioning on the US territory. How about parity? They didn't count it either?
A new tonality of relations is being imposed on us, this is being done now, practically every day – going backwards, rejecting cooperation, including at the level of contacts between our peoples.
The search incident is not the first instance when the US crudely violated international law. Such behaviour does not behoove a subject of international law, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which was among the founders of the modern system of international relations. Unfortunately, it threatens to become not just a precedent, but a new American tradition. We believe that in this way the United States is not only destabilising the Russian-American relations, but the whole of global international order.
We have taken note of a Novaya Gazeta story citing the mother of Viktor Ageyev, a Russian citizen who was taken prisoner in Ukraine. We have repeatedly commented on this situation. In particular, Ageyev’s mother says a representative of the consular service has not met with her son yet. An email was sent to the consular services in Kharkov but there was no response. I would like to publicly clarify the situation and give a complete account to the media, the general public and, of course, Ageyev’s mother, of what is going on.
Since Mr Ageyev was detained by the relevant Ukrainian agencies, the Russian Consulate General in Kharkov has been doing all it can to help him.
Because of the Ukrainian authorities, who are violating norms of international law and the bilateral consular convention between Russia and Ukraine of January 15, 1993, Russian representatives have so far been unable to meet with Russian citizen Viktor Ageyev.
I would like to restate the facts and say what action has been taken and what has been done.
On June 6, right after receiving the relevant notification from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, the consular agency sent a request to the Ukrainian Security Service Directorate for the Lugansk region (the Russian citizen is being held at a pretrial detention centre in the town of Starobelsk) for a meeting with Mr Ageyev. On July 14, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service Directorate denied the Consulate General’s request for a meeting with the detainee, explaining that it could only take place after the investigation process was completed. Since July, the Consulate General has submitted follow-up requests three times, citing the relevant provisions of the Consular Convention between Russia and Ukraine of January 15, 1993. Applications in writing were followed up with applications by phone.
The Consulate General has established contact with the detainee’s lawyer in order to organise the prompt and effective protection of his rights and interests.
However, the lawyer, who was hired by Mr Ageyev’s mother, stated that he had been denied access to his client on the grounds that the detainee had purportedly turned down his services and preferred to stay with the state defence counsel who had been earlier appointed for him by the investigation.
For his part, the public counsel said in a telephone conversation that he had last met with Mr Ageyev during an investigative procedure on August 21. He assessed his client’s health as satisfactory. At the same time, he denied a Consulate General officer’s request to help provide certain items [of clothing] and food to the detainee. In addition, he said that he could not help organise a meeting between consular officials and his client. According to the public defence counsel, in September the investigating team intends to send the Russian citizen’s case to court.
We have checked this information and will continue doing so in the future. The Consulate General keeps Mr Ageyev’s mother informed about the steps that are being taken. If this information is not sufficient or if this is being done in a form that she finds unsatisfactory, we will work on this and ensure that she receives exhaustive information and that this is done promptly.
We hope that the Ukrainian side will honour its obligations.
For its part, the Russian Foreign Ministry is doing its best to defend Russian citizen Ageyev’s rights and interests.
We regret the decision of the Finnish authorities to refuse the Kruzenshtern sailing training ship permission to call at the port of Mariehamn on the Aland Islands (September 18-20) despite an invitation from the city administration. This totally unsubstantiated decision looks more than strange considering that just a few weeks before, this ship called at the Finnish ports of Kotka and Turku as part of the international Tall Ships Race.
The residents of the Aland Islands have been denied an opportunity to see for themselves the legendary four-mast bark that invariably draws a large number of people at sea ports all over world, who wish to see it, and that has a really big public response.
We are closely watching the developments in Myanmar’ Rakhine province. We are concerned by reports of casualties among civilians and government law enforcement and security personnel, as well as the sharp deterioration of the situation in the region.
At the same time, in our assessments of the events in Rakhine, we seek not to rely on report in foreign media outlets and on social media, which are clearly being used in an effort to disseminate information that does not correspond to reality. We pass judgment and draw our conclusions on the basis of objective reports from reliable international sources and, of course, from our embassy in Yangon.
Once again, we urge all parties to the conflict to refrain now and in the future from any actions that can lead to the further deterioration of the situation and begin a constructive dialogue as the only possible way of achieving a comprehensive settlement of the multi-dimensional and challenging problem of the Muslim minority in Myanmar. We act on the premise that official Naypyidaw will take all possible measures, without delay, to prevent the escalation of violence, restore law and order in this territory, ensure normal socioeconomic conditions and resolve the refugee problem. In the present situation, considering the Myanmar authorities’ evident readiness to follow the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, any pressure on Naypyidaw alongside unsubstantiated accusations of violence made against Muslims can only aggravate the situation in and around the country.
We will keep watching the situation. Corresponding statements were posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website regarding planted and fake news stories on this topic. Please use only verified information.
Recently, militants of the Boko Haram extremist group have stepped up their activities in northeastern Nigeria and northwestern Cameroon, carrying out a series of terrorist attacks, using suicide bombers, including women and children, against civilians. There have been increasing attacks on refugee camps and humanitarian convoys. According to some estimates, the civilian death toll at the hands of terrorists has already reached several hundred in the past half a year.
We express serious concern over the growing threat and the worsening humanitarian situation in the region. We strongly condemn Boko Haram’s criminal ideology and practice. We are convinced of the need for further coordinated efforts by both the Africans themselves and the international community in fighting terrorism. We consistently support the efforts of the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments and subregional organisations to eliminate the terrorist threat.
According to reports, 44 people were killed in floods caused by continued rainfall in the Republic of Niger since June. Over 77,000 people were affected and rendered homeless. Hit hardest was the country’s capital, the city of Niamey, where 17 people (mostly children) were killed and over 8,000 houses were destroyed. Serious damage was caused to the backbone of the Republic – its agricultural sector.
Niger regularly experiences floods. The last time a natural disaster of this magnitude took place was in 2016. Back then, almost 50 people died, and over 14,500 people were rendered homeless. Serious damage was caused to the transport and telecommunications infrastructure. The situation is made worse by the fact that floods in this part of Western Africa are often followed by epidemics of malaria and other dangerous diseases.
We offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
On September 1, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya, upon hearing the plea filed by the opposition, ruled that the August 8 presidential election in that country were invalid, cancel its results (the incumbent President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta was proclaimed the winner) and hold a repeat election within 60 days.
As follows from the Supreme Court’s ruling, the election of the head of state was organised by the Independent Electoral Commission not in full conformity with the country’s Constitution and was accompanied by violations.
The opposition has welcomed the ruling of Kenya’s highest judicial authority. President Kenyatta said he is prepared to respect the Supreme Court’s decision irrespective of his personal opinion of this verdict.
We believe that what is happening in Kenya is an internal matter for that country. It is important that all procedures should stay within the constitutional framework and comply with national legislative norms. Moscow hopes that in the interests of the future of the friendly nation of Kenya and the stability of its democratic institutions, all political forces of the country, including candidates for the top government post, will approach the issue of the legitimate completion of the election process in the most responsible manner so as to avoid destabilising the internal situation and prevent a fierce political standoff and heightened social tensions in Kenyan society.
We are aware of the complicated dynamics in the internal political situation in Guatemala, which is due to tense relations between the local government and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, set up under UN auspices.
We are interested in maintaining stability in Guatemala with which we maintain good and constructive relations and carry out economic cooperation projects.
We hope that this situation will be resolved in compliance with the current laws of that country. We hope Guatemala will enjoy internal political stability, which is an important element of the positive political climate existing in Central America as a whole.
We welcome the signing in Quito, Ecuador, on September 4 of a temporary ceasefire and cessation of hostilities agreement between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel organisation. The agreement was reached through the mediation of Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Norway, Chile and Ecuador as guarantor countries of the peace process in the friendly nation of Colombia.
We regard this agreement as an important step towards a permanent ceasefire and hope that it will pave the way, along with the successful progress of the reconciliation process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for the final settlement of the long-standing internal conflict and the establishment of civil peace in that country.
We, for our part, reaffirm our readiness to continue to provide comprehensive assistance to the intra-Colombian peace process, including within the UN Security Council framework.
Hurricane Irma, the most powerful in decades (Category 5) in the Atlantic Ocean, made landfall in the northeastern Caribbean on September 6. As of September 8, 13 people were dead and more than 20 injured. The overseas territories of France (St Barthelemy and St Martin), the island of Barbuda (Antigua and Barbuda), the British overseas territory of Anguilla, and Puerto Rico were the hardest hit with many houses destroyed, streets flooded, roads damaged, air traffic interrupted, and power supply cut.
A state of emergency has been introduced in the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, 17 provinces of the Dominican Republic, and in the state of Florida, where the hurricane is headed. Local residents and tourists are being evacuated. We recommend that anyone staying in the area not leave enclosed spaces.
With regard to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the hurricane passed more to the north of these nations than expected, and they were not affected in a major way. Reportedly, air traffic with the Dominican Republic will resume on September 8. An additional flight by Rossiya airline will take home the Russian tourists who were unable to leave the Dominican Republic as flights were cancelled. Two more flights by Rossiya and AZUR Air airlines were transferred from September 7 to September 8.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall on the northern coast and the eastern regions of Cuba. An emergency situation was declared in the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguin, Las Tunas, Camagüey, Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara. Severe weather warnings were issued in Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus and Matanzas. The probability of tourist infrastructure getting destroyed on the islands of Cayo Coco and Santa Maria is high. The local authorities are evacuating tourists to safe areas. It is reported that the international Jose Marti Airport in Havana will operate as usual on September 8 without any changes in its arrival and departure schedule. The Russian Embassy has opened a crisis headquarters. Measures are being taken to ensure the safety of Russian nationals. The situation is being monitored at all times in coordination with the Cuban authorities.
The Russian Foreign Ministry promptly and timely informed Russian citizens about the impending threat, including through its Foreign Assistant app (don’t forget to use it). In response to the raging weather, the Russian embassy in Washington and Caracas posted recommendations for the Russian citizens on their Facebook accounts. The Russian embassy in Venezuela published emergency telephone numbers in the Dominican Republic. The Russian Embassy in Cuba opened a 24-hour hotline to update Russian citizens about the approaching storm and measures to minimise damage.
We also note that two more Atlantic storms, Jose and Katya, have been upgraded to hurricanes. We are monitoring the developments and will provide updates accordingly.
Again, I’m asking Russian nationals in that region, and tour operators, to use all the information resources provided by the Foreign Ministry and our embassies.
The situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula sharply escalated after a “thermonuclear explosive device” test was announced by Pyongyang on September 3. The apparent neglect of the global non-proliferation regime and respective UNSC resolutions by the PDRK is disappointing.
We consider the ongoing speedy militarisation of the region by both the sides, under the pretext of ensuring their own security, extremely dangerous. This regional “arms race” will inevitably result in a full-scale military conflict, which the years-long “endless circle” of reciprocal threats, military drills and missile and nuclear tests is leading to.
We are actively working on different levels with all sides in search of a peaceful solution for this set of problems on the Korean Peninsula. We are confident that the policy of “maximum pressure” on the DPRK, including sanctions, has exhausted itself and we have said that a number of times. Apparently, its end result will be either a military disaster in the North East Asia, or a humanitarian disaster in the DPRK.
It is crucial to prevent further development of either of these unacceptable scenarios. We call on the world community to use maximum efforts in order to encourage the sides involved in the conflict to start the process of dialogue. In this respect, we welcome any peace initiatives by the interested countries, their readiness to render mediating services or provide a venue for holding such negotiations.
We stress that the joint Russia-China initiative – the Korean settlement roadmap – is open to new proposals and amendments. At present, no other alternatives to it are within view.
Increasingly frequent reports of civilian deaths resulting from US airstrikes in Afghanistan have drawn our attention. Three US bombing attacks were registered, which led to civilian casualties in Afghanistan, within several days after US President Donald Trump’s “new policy” was made public.
On August 28, US Air Force planes bombed Bakhtabad, Shindand District in Herat Province, where there were no hostilities. Apart from the 16 killed and four wounded Taliban members, according to some reports, houses next to the target were also damaged, with 13 civilians dead and eight, including women and children, wounded.
On August 30, US Air Force attacked the city of Puli Alam in Logar Province, killing 28 people, 13 of them civilians and 11 more people were wounded. Media reports indicate that there were no rebels and no military activity in the region.
On September 6, US aircraft fired at a wedding ceremony in Qarabagh District, Kabul Province. According to some reports, two people were killed and three wounded.
Attempts by the command of the US forces to hush up the facts of civilian casualties resulting from these bombings cause concern. It should be noted that in the follow-up to the Pentagon’s investigations of some earlier incidents, including the bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz in October 2015, when over 70 people were killed or wounded, nobody was brought to criminal justice, while the perpetrators were only disciplined.
We call on the Afghan authorities to thoroughly investigate each incident and give a public evaluation of actions that cause civilian deaths.
Since 2016, the investigative service of the Australian Armed Forces has been conducting an investigation in connection with the information on the alleged murder of Afghan civilians, including children, by its service personnel from 2005 to 2016. Some cases involve cover-ups or fabrication to appear that soldiers acted in self-defense.
Up until present, the Australian military have refused to provide any information about the events, arguing that reporting the data may “impede current operations.”
We shall follow up on the investigation. This topic is of relevance, particularly in a situation where strikes by the US-led coalition in Syria are accompanied by mass civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Russia is still being reproached for its “indiscriminate use of weapons.”
We are closely following the Slovak authorities’ investigation into the desecration of the monument to Red Army soldiers in Kosice, which we already mentioned during the briefing on August 24. We were surprised to learn that the vandal, who was detained by the police on August 30 during an attempt to repeat the unlawful actions, had been released. This happened after the personal intervention of Slovak President Andrej Kiska, who believed his placement in custody to be an “excessively strict” measure. Such actions, despite how obvious the criminal act is, are puzzling. Actually, this is an encouragement for the offender, who insulted the memory of the Red Army heroes who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Slovakia from Nazism.
We hope that the Slovak law enforcement and judicial authorities will investigate this crime and fulfil their duties in an objective and impartial manner and that the culprit will be duly and fairly punished.
We have learned about new cases of denying entry into Georgia to Russian citizens of Ossetian descent – those from the Kazbegi district, specifically the village of Kobi. Through Switzerland, which represents the interests of Russia in Georgia, we are trying to get an intelligible explanation from the Georgian authorities in regard of this prohibitive practice that prevents people from visiting their homes and landed properties, visiting their ancestors’ graves and performing religious rites.
We were pleased to hear about the statement by Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos made on 6 September. It states that an investigation conducted by the website’s administration identified a group of 470 fake accounts, which spent about $100,000 to promote their Facebook posts in 2015-2016.
We are glad that Facebook is at last beginning to take the issue of fake accounts seriously. They should have done it long ago. We could not get the attention of this social network’s administration when fake accounts appeared, and not just some incognito structures but those that presented themselves as official agencies and claimed to be the only official accounts of, for instance, a Russian embassy in some country. We tried everything – publishing our Ministry’s comments, drawing attention to this in social media, making official statements during briefings – but there was no reaction. And, finally, a breakthrough! We hope that now when we publicly mention fake accounts posing as Russian foreign missions, these accounts will be promptly blocked.
Moreover, I have mentioned this many times during briefings, interviews and media comments, let alone in social media, we tried to draw attention to attacks by Lithuanian fake accounts and bots on the social media accounts of Russian foreign missions and the Foreign Ministry. Unfortunately, once again, no reaction from the Facebook administration followed.
We see that this discovery by Facebook security experts has expectedly turned once again into an element of the anti-Russia information campaign. Allegedly, these accounts were managed from Russia and, again, were directly connected with the US elections. I have just one recommendation or a proposal to the administration, the management team, the owners: let us coordinate the efforts of the social network’s administration and the relevant Russian government authorities (law enforcement agencies, oversight bodies), and all other agencies that should be involved in this matter. Provide us with your information, and we will make our information readily available to you too. Why should we always operate through third parties? Why should these things always turn into information campaigns? We have a great opportunity here to launch a constructive dialogue. You will hear us and we will hear you, and this will turn into a normal exchange of information as it should be. If we encounter any issues or problems on this path, we can share these problems with the media. Today, in order to block a fake account of a Russian embassy, we have to come to a briefing and speak from the rostrum in a conference room. Unfortunately, there is no normal communication between us and Facebook administrators. This is a problem not just for us, but also for many Russian government agencies that cannot get the attention of Facebook and other social media in their attempts to get the fake accounts blocked. Now the social network itself has faced the same problem. To reiterate: Russia is open to cooperation at the level of relevant agencies.
Question: Protests against the deployment of the new US missile defence systems took place in South Korea. Protesters say that by doing this Washington has put their country at risk. Why is Russia against the deployment of these systems in South Korea?
Maria Zakharova: Because this decision impairs the strategic stability in the region, without giving it the long-awaited tranquility or any prospects for a politico-diplomatic settlement of the issues at hand. It, in fact, aggravates them. Our position is widely known. We have stated it many times and provided the relevant facts.
Question: I would like to repeat my question from last week regarding the note delivered by the Polish Foreign Ministry to the Russian Ambassador in Warsaw regarding the fact that access to the crash site of the Polish president’s plane near Smolensk is being limited. Could you comment on this topic?
Maria Zakharova: We do confirm the receipt of such a note. Now experts are examining it, and, probably, a response will follow. Every country has the absolute sovereign right to choose its form of communication. We have always advocated normal working dialogue on this matter. The information in the note is now being double-checked to prepare a response to the Polish side.
Question: Recently, the Russian-Turkish Business Forum took place in the Turkish city of Izmir. It was attended by ministers and representatives from Russia and Turkey. Could you comment on that?
Maria Zakharova: I think you mean Russia’s participation in the 86th International Fair that took place in Izmir on August 18-27 and the bilateral contacts made in its framework.
This year, Russia participated in the Izmir International Fair as a partner, at the invitation of the Turkish side. Our delegation, which included representatives from several Russian regions, for example, the Republic of Tatarstan, as well as the Vladimir, Lipetsk, and Tula regions, was led by Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak, who is the Chairman of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation.
The Russian display featured samples of products produced in our country and in line with the main topic of the exhibition, which was dedicated to energy and innovations. Russian special economic zones were presented to Turkish investors.
The Russian delegation held a number of bilateral Russian-Turkish events on the sidelines of the Fair, including a meeting of the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Commission, a business forum entitled “New Stage of the Russian-Turkish Partnership in the Trade and Economic Area,” as well as consultations on the reciprocal lifting of the remaining restraints in bilateral trade.
I would recommend that you apply to the relevant ministries for more detailed information (Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Economic Development, and Ministry of Industry and Trade). I have given you the Foreign Ministry’s assessment.
Question: Some European countries are against the anti-Russia sanctions. Despite this, the EU has decided to extend them for another six months. How resistant is Europe to US pressure? What is your opinion?
Maria Zakharova: I believe your question contains part of the answer. The United States put pressure not only on the EU but also on others to adopt sanctions against Russia. These sanctions are damaging European producers and the European economy. These sanctions are not doing any good to anyone. In the Long-term they won’t benefit the mutually beneficial partnership between Russia and the EU or Europe as a whole. Europe has shown that partnership is not just possible but can also produce very good results.
Question: You have commented on the wrangle with the US Department of State on the [Russian] consulates. You said that the United States has a new tradition, which is aimed at undermining international order. US President Donald Trump speaks positively about Russia. How does Russia interpret US foreign policy, considering what the US State Department says and what President Trump says?
Maria Zakharova: This is what I have said. I asked whether the United States has a general line, or whether different agencies take different stands. We have questions about this. Various statements are made. There are the lawmakers, the US State Department, the security services and the Trump administration, and all of them make widely different statements and take different actions. Sometimes we see a more streamlined variant, when they say and do one and the same thing. But this only concerns negative words and actions regarding Russia. We asked the question you have asked, that is, whether the United States has a general agenda regarding Russia. The State Department, its senior officials and official statements, including those made by the US Embassy staff in Moscow, all say that the United States wants to normalise relations with Russia. Good and fine; we want this too. However, in practice we see the adoption of new sanctions, the extension of old sanctions and actions that are incompatible with normal relations and are also evidence of degradation in Russian-US relations. Worse still, all of this looks as if we are in the active phase of a conflict.
I have provided concrete examples. Diplomatic property and diplomatic agencies have always been left alone even at the acute phase of a conflict. Property and infringement on property have never been an issue in the context of normal relations – not at the stage of normalising, which means improving, relations. Property is seized by bandits. This is it. We proceed from the assumption that we are dealing with a law-bound state, or this is what we have always thought. I believe that the United States should begin by deciding on the concept of relations with Russia and also on compliance (or non-compliance) with the law.
Actually, I don’t understand how unidentified persons can enter the property of others without court rulings or without any other documents, or if they have why they have not shown them to Russia or the US public? Is this possible in the United States? I have always thought this impossible. But now we can see that this is possible. It was not a drug cartel or a child porno studio that were raided. But even in that case you need a decision or a court ruling – some kind of a document. What we are talking about here is that one wonderful day unidentified people entered the premises of the Russian Consulate General – the Russian Federation is the rightful owner of the building and the land on which it stands. And these people remained there, doing something, walking on the roof, moving equipment around, bringing and removing items, and controlling the building’s entrance and exit. What kind of parity is this? But the US State Department officials are talking about parity. Have you ever seen this happen to US diplomats or US diplomatic or any other property? Have you seen this happen anywhere in the world? I haven’t.
Question: Does this affect, among other things, Russian-US relations on the North Korean issue?
Maria Zakharova: An interesting parallel. This affects the bilateral agenda as a whole at the international interaction level. We have repeatedly said as much.
What strikes you most of all is that words and statements are at odds with concrete actions. I do not believe that educated adults do not understand that the statements about normalising relations come into conflict with the seizing of property owned by the country, with which you want to normalise relations.
When parity is mentioned, one would like to hear an example of Russia’s identical treatment of the US side anytime anywhere. I can’t remember anything like this. Where is the parity? Has it been up till now? Has anyone walked on roofs with special equipment (I am not sure about weapons, this needs to be double-checked), or pried anything open, or cut into wiring? Have you seen a similar treatment of the US here? I know you haven’t.
When our colleagues say they want to achieve parity, it’s basically unclear what they are talking about. What parity? If they want to achieve this, then, “be careful what you ask for,” as the saying goes.
Question: Director of the Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov reported that his meeting with a US representative for Afghanistan was being planned in New York before the end of September. Is there any information about topics and issues to be discussed at the meeting? What does Russia expect from this?
Maria Zakharova: We have responded promptly to the US side’s interest in a bilateral expert dialogue in this area. After several months, when the matter was handed down to the executive level, the US side began dragging its feet. Today, regrettably, this is normal.
I know the intention is to hold a meeting of this kind on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. We, for our part, are ready for it. If the Americans confirm it, it will take place. To reiterate: it was the US side that was interested, and the parties will be able to discuss the entire range of issues related to both the situation in Afghanistan and regional security in the context of developments in that country.
Question: Earlier this week, the US submitted a UN Security Council draft resolution on tightening sanctions against the DPRK. The new document provides for a ban on the supply of oil and oil products, the import of North Korean textiles, and employment of North Korean workers. The United States plans a vote on this document on Monday, September 11. How will Russia vote and how does it assess this document as a whole?
Maria Zakharova: Russia will vote on the draft document that is currently in the works. I mentioned today the principles that underlie the Russian approach.
Question: Channel Zvezda journalist Alexey Yegorov has been denied accreditation at the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition, similar to Russia’s Army Forum, in the United Kingdom. Russian forums receive foreign journalists, but the British side has turned down a Russian journalist’s accreditation request without any explanation. Can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: This trend is about the Zvezda television channel and other Russian news agencies, television companies and publications. We are talking about a purposeful policy of pressuring Russian media outlets. The main reason journalists are not accredited, are expelled or detained is formulated in the format of accusations dealing with propaganda and even national security risks, depending on various situations. All this directly contradicts the norms of international law that have been signed by the states now displaying this attitude towards Russian media outlets.
First, we are recording these cases, and we send them to the appropriate OSCE institution that deals with freedom of the press and journalist rights.
I would like to recall what I have noted several times over the past two years. Regarding the EU countries, we sent a diplomatic note to the Delegation of the European Union in Moscow and requested explanations for the procedure for accrediting foreign journalists in EU countries. We requested a comprehensive document so we could gain insight into the accreditation procedure, including specific recommendations that we can issue to Russian journalists.
Quite often, Russian media representatives have faced the following attitude: they have been told that they have violated national law and have failed to comply with it. We sent a note to the Delegation of the European Union in Moscow, and then we sent another one after failing to receive a reply to the first and, later second, notes. We heard an interesting phrase that different norms for accrediting foreign journalists are effective on EU territory. Actually, each country stipulates its own norms and procedures for accrediting foreign correspondents. It appears that we will act in the following way. Now that the EU has no standard procedure for accrediting foreign correspondents, we will send the appropriate notes to all EU and European country embassies where we have had problems with Russian correspondents. We will request official explanations as to how foreign correspondents should be accredited in these countries, how journalist visas are obtained and for how long, and whether journalists can be denied accreditation on the basis of any media outlet’s news contents or journalists’ reports.
I repeat, we have been maintaining a dialogue with the Delegation of the European Union on this issue, and nothing is happening.
Question: A Polish media outlet has published an item claiming that Russia illegally holds several properties in Poland, including the trade representation and the buildings where embassy staff lived. The publication claims that Polish authorities have been trying in vain to receive the right to use comparable properties in Russia. Will you comment on this, please?
Maria Zakharova: We’ve seen this and also several other publications on this subject. Regrettably, the matter concerning Russian diplomatic property in Poland is one of the irritants in bilateral relations.
At this point, only three out of the nearly two dozen facilities that belonged to the Soviet Union have been officially re-registered. Our right to use the other facilities has been contested under various pretexts.
It is regrettable that the Polish side has gone to court in an attempt to tip the balance in its favour, insisting that this property must be returned to the Polish Ministry of Treasury, or that we owe Poland money for using this property without a contract, and the like. We cannot recognise the legality of these verdicts because they disregard the diplomatic status of this property and the fact that they were acquired in a perfectly legal manner. It is a fact that we own this property on the basis of bilateral agreements between the Soviet Union and Poland, under which Poland could request to have commensurate property in the Soviet Union. However, Poland has not made use of this right.
Contrary to what the media write, we continue holding consultations with Warsaw on this question, even though they are proceeding slowly and painfully due to the differences in the sides’ approaches to the matter. We also analyse this complicated subject within the national interdepartmental framework, trying to find a mutually acceptable solution, including by satisfying Poland’s realistic property requirements in Russia.
We would like to point out again that certain complications, such as the problem of diplomatic property, can be only settled through talks and that unilateral decisions are absolutely unacceptable. In this context, I would like to remind you that compensation for the abuse of Russian property will be an integral part of the final settlement.
Question: This week The Guardian published a fake story about Azerbaijan’s “secret” payments to Rosoboronexport allegedly for Russian weapon deliveries to Baku. Both Azerbaijan and Rosoboronexport have denied these allegations. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about the growing anti-Russia campaign and Western media attacks on Azerbaijan and Russian-Azerbaijani trade? Can this mean that the West is increasing pressure on Russia’s allies?
Maria Zakharova: It can and it does. Powerful information pressure has been mounted through several channels. They are putting pressure on Russian journalists, trying to squeeze them out of the information space. This pressure can take different forms, such as denial of accreditation or access, shutdown threats, termination of broadcasting licences, including for cable and satellite networks. Of course, this is being done through the publication of a great deal of fake news. We try to promptly react to this.
Question: Can you comment on Canadian media reports about a programme under which gay Chechen men and women are being brought from Russia to Canada?
Maria Zakharova: I have seen these reports, but I have not seen any official Canadian statements that would confirm these reports. Have there been any? I think that you should ask the Canadian authorities, possibly the Canadian Embassy in Moscow, or maybe Canada’s Foreign Ministry will react to these publications in one way or another, that it will either confirm or deny them. This is what you should start with.
Question: There were interviews with gay people from Chechnya who moved to Canada. They said they came under this programme.
Maria Zakharova: So it will be no problem for Canada to confirm this officially. We need an official confirmation from the Canadian side to be able to work with this information. As I said, at first we must understand whether there are official confirmations of these facts by Canadian government bodies. I believe we should first send an inquiry to Canada and then start working with this information to make sure it is not fake. After all, it is very easy to send a relevant inquiry to the Canadian side. As soon as they say whether this information is true or not, we will be able to comment on it. This is logical.
Question: There are organisations that declared they helped Chechens to come to Canada.
Maria Zakharova: All the more so Canada has every reason to confirm or deny this.
Question: Are you waiting for government confirmation?
Maria Zakharova: What we suggest is that we should receive Canada’s official comment on this matter. And once this is done we will be able to understand whether this is true or not. Doesn’t that make sense? Do you have any certainty as to whether this is a fake or not?
Question: Our correspondents talked with Chechens who came recently.
Maria Zakharova: Did you talk with the Canadian side?
Question: I think so but I’m here in Moscow, so I cannot say.
Maria Zakharova: There is the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. You can ask them to specify this. How come you do not check your facts? I can’t believe this.
Question: But we have already talked to Chechens…
Maria Zakharova: But have you talked with Canadians? Talk with officials. This is a strange story. You have to start by checking the facts. Talk to the Canadians. They should either confirm that such a programme exists or deny it.
Question: What is Russia’s response to the planned referendum on independence in Catalonia? The Spanish authorities are trying to stop this process. What is Russia’s attitude to this?
Maria Zakharova: We have already commented on this issue. Our position remains unchanged.
Question: Let’s suppose that Mark Zuckerberg has heard your appeal. Whom should he address to establish cooperation? Should he call the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco? Or should he write a letter to you?
Maria Zakharova: This question should be addressed to him. We said we have relevant government agencies that are ready to answer Facebook’s questions but we also have many questions regarding the fake accounts – not mythical ones but those that exist today. We discovered recently that there are two fake Facebook accounts just in the context of Eastern Europe and Russian foreign offices there. These ostensibly “Russian embassies” were very active. They attracted users and conducted dialogues “on behalf” of Russian diplomatic missions. We spent weeks on trying to convey this to the company.
As for the Foreign Ministry, you are fully aware of our quick response. There are telephones, email and chats. We are ready to meet and start acting promptly. But we are not the only agency that is facing such problems in Russia. My colleagues from many other agencies tell me how they counter fake accounts that are duplicating the work of their departments or subordinate organisations. It is up to the company to decide on the best course of action. We are open to cooperation.