Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 23, 2017
- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s visit to Russia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet with Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in the General Meeting of the Russian International Affairs Council
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the annual meeting of the Supervisory Board of the Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the joint meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Council of Defence Ministers, and the Committee of Security Council Secretaries of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Italy
- International Narcotics Control Board mission in Russia
- The situation in Syria
- Euronews coverage of the tripartite meeting in Sochi of the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran on the Syrian settlement
- Prospects of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism
- Developments in Lebanon
- Developments in the Republic of Zimbabwe
- ICTY hands down guilty verdict for Ratko Mladic
- Statement by Gen. Ben Hodges, commander, US Army Europe
- Remembering the victims of the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union
- Denial of entry to a Moscow delegation that went to Moldova to develop region-to-region ties
- New form of Russian entry visa
- Developments in connection with the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague
- Developments in connection with the Soviet memorial heritage in Poland
- Lithuania inquest regarding monument to Red Army soldiers in Vilnius
- “Kuril diplomacy”
- BRICS project Dance Overture of the World involving Russia’s Kostroma National Ballet
- Statement by Google officials regarding Russian media outlets
- Answers to media questions:
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Korean Peninsula crisis
- Russia-Armenia relations
- Syrian crisis settlement
- Russia-Bulgaria relations
- Dayton Agreement
- Results of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Azerbaijan and Armenia
- Manipulating search results for media
- Russia-North Korea relations
- Syrian crisis settlement
- Russia-Japan relations
In accordance with earlier bilateral arrangements, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono will visit Russia on November 23-25.
During his stay in Moscow, Mr Kono will participate in a meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Issues co-chaired, from the Russian side, by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.
On November 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his Japanese colleague.
We will post additional information on the upcoming talks on the ministry’s website.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the corresponding comments were provided by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who confirmed this meeting. Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura will also be received at the Defence Ministry.
The General Meeting of nonprofit partnership, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) will be held on November 28. Its members will discuss and approve a report on RIAC performance in 2017 and plans for next year.
As is customary, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the meeting and will speak. The Minister will talk about the priority areas of Russia’s foreign policy in current international circumstances, our approaches to certain key issues on the international agenda, and take questions from the participants in the meeting.
The Ministry highly values effective expert and analytical interaction with RIAC. As a reminder, last year the council marked its 5th anniversary. Along with other international nonprofit organisations, the council prepares high-quality analytics and materials for the Foreign Ministry, develops important practical recommendations, and focuses on developing innovative ideas and proposals.
On November 28 a regular meeting of the Supervisory Board of the Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad will take place under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. As you know, this issue is monitored by the Foreign Ministry and considered a foreign policy priority.
The participants plan to review the foundation’s performance in 2016-2017 and map out the main areas of activity for 2018 with consideration for international realities and the state of affairs in the communities of our compatriots.
I would like to say a few words about the foundation’s activities and goals.
The foundation is a non-profit organisation that was established by Presidential Executive Order No. 678 of May 25, 2011.
The foundation conducts its activities in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the standards of international law, the Civil Code, federal laws and other legal standards of the Russian Federation.
Outside the Russian Federation, the foundation works within the legislation of the relevant foreign states.
The foundation’s goal is to provide comprehensive legal and other support to Russian compatriots living abroad in accordance with universally recognised principles and norms of international law on human rights in cases when their rights, freedoms and lawful interests are being violated.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the joint meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Council of Defence Ministers, and the Committee of Security Council Secretaries of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation
On November 30, Minsk will host a joint meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Council of Defence Ministers, and the Committee of Security Council Secretaries of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation CSTO.
The Russian side will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
The participants plan to exchange views on the implementation of the decisions of the previous meetings of the CSTO Collective Security Council and discuss practical aspects of cooperation in the CSTO format. The ministers will review a number of documents drafted for the forthcoming CSTO summit and will submit an agreement on cooperation within the CSTO on ensuring information security to the heads of state to sign.
On December 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Italy, during which he will hold talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy Angelino Alfano.
The ministers will continue political dialogue with a view to promoting the further development of multifaceted Russian-Italian cooperation.
Particular attention will be paid to the implementation of agreements reached during meetings between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Italy Sergio Mattarella in Moscow in April and between President Putin and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Sochi in May.
The foreign policy agenda will highlight ways to address the crises in Syria, Libya, Ukraine and the Korean Peninsula and encourage interaction with Italy in multilateral formats, including the UN and the OSCE.
In addition, Mr Lavrov will attend the 3rd Rome MED – Mediterranean Dialogues international conference. The aim of this forum is to ensure a broad exchange of opinion on a complex of problems facing the Mediterranean amid signs of increased regional instability, posing an ever greater challenge to international security.
A mission of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is currently visiting Moscow to monitor Russia’s compliance with the international narcotics control conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988.
Previously, the INCB sent missions to Russia in 2001 and 2005. The present delegation includes INCB President Viroj Sumyai (Thailand) and Beate Hammond, Drug Control Officer of the INCB Secretariat (Germany). This is the INCB president’s first visit to Russia.
Mission members met with Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov, Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Sergey Tsyb, Interior Ministry Main Drug Control Administration head Andrey Khrapov, senior officials and experts from the Industry and Trade Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service and the Moscow Endocrine Plant, as well as the National Anti-Drug Union, an NGO.
The meetings and discussions focused on international narcotics-control policy, Russia’s recent legal regulatory measures to combat drug trafficking, the role of civil society in this context, the main trends in drug consumption and ways of responding to the challenges of illegal cultivation, production and circulation of internationally controlled drugs.
Today, the INCB mission will hold a meeting at the Ministry of Health with State Secretary, Deputy Health Minister Dmitry Kostennikov and will also visit the Moscow Narcology Research and Treatment Centre. Discussions will consider national measures to prevent the prescription-free availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, as well as the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts.
In its contacts with INCB representatives, the Russian side is stressing the inviolability of the three UN narcotics-control conventions, noting the unacceptability of reviewing the existing international legal mechanisms in fighting drug trafficking, as well as the unacceptability of drug legalisation initiatives.
During the meetings, representatives of Russian agencies expressed their concern over the increase in global narcotic drugs production and trafficking in synthetic narcotics and new psychoactive substances. Especially disturbing is the catastrophic worsening of drug trafficking in Afghanistan, where, according to the 2017 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the area under opium poppy cultivation has increased by more than 60 percent to 328,000 hectares and opiate production has increased by 87 percent to 9,000 tons.
The importance of taking prompt and effective action to stop drug trafficking from Central Asia was highlighted, as was the need to identify and close the channels of illegal supply of synthetic drugs of European, Ukrainian and Asian origin.
I would also like to point out that in addition to the meetings with state agencies and official representatives of the executive branch, there were also consultations with nongovernmental organisations, in particular the National Anti-Drug Union.
The final stage of eliminating the military and political ISIS hotbed of resistance continues in Syria. With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian Armed Forces are mopping up towns, which the Russian Defence Ministry regularly informs you about.
The Syrian army, with Russian air support, is conducting offensive operations along the western bank of the Euphrates River.
The flag of Syria was raised over the city of Al-Qurayya in the province of Deir ez-Zor south of the town of Mayadin. Government troops liberated the towns of Subaykhan, Dablan, and Ghariba south of Asharah, as well as Jadla, Safsaf, Ajarja, the Vardi deposit and the Dura-Europos ruins west of al-Salihiya.
On a separate note, I would like to emphasise that the Syrian military organised the delivery of medicines, water and food to the towns liberated from the militants.
Eliminating terrorists, creating and ensuring proper operations in the de-escalation zones as part of the Astana process have contributed significantly to improving the situation there. However, these positive changes need support on the political settlement track as well as increased international humanitarian supplies, assistance in demining, and rebuilding socio-economic infrastructure. This is the only way to ensure irreversible and long-term stabilisation in Syria.
I would also like to inform you that preparations are underway for implementing the Russian initiative to convene the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. As agreed, we will provide updates about specific details as they become available.
Once again, I would like to remind you about the meeting that was widely covered in the media yesterday and today. On November 22, a meeting was held in Sochi, during which the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran called on the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition who are committed to sovereignty, independence, unity, territorial integrity and the non-fractional nature of the Syrian state, to participate constructively in the congress.
Frankly, we were surprised by the minimal coverage by a number of Western media of the talks that took place in Sochi yesterday, and which are of critical importance to the future of Syria.
We were quite surprised that, for example, Euronews TV channel devoted just 90 seconds to this item. It was the summit of the leaders of the three countries fully devoted to a Syrian settlement, the participants of which discussed further steps to ensure normalisation of the situation not only in Syria, but the entire region as well. The situation in the region has direct impact on the situation in Europe, which Euronews mainly focuses on in its broadcasts and news blocks. Euronews devoted less than two minutes of air time to this key topic covered by Russian and other international media providing a minimal and very superficial coverage of the nature of the talks and the adopted statements.
It is regrettable that Euronews reporters, usually so willing to cover hostilities (occasionally, one can’t help feeling that they savour them), and the bloodshed there, provided just a superficial outline of the process of peaceful settlement and the positive developments which the international community has been looking forward to for so long. We very much hope that this scant coverage of a fundamentally important event is not so much a manifestation of the political bias of the channel, but is due to some technical problems.
The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations formally ceased to exist on November 16 due to the expiry of its annual term of authority extended by the UN Security Council in 2016. The draft of the UN Security Council resolution on strengthening this mechanism and prolonging its mandate prepared by Russia and China and put to a vote by Bolivia was blocked by the United States and its allies. By so doing they finished off the JIM that has already discredited itself too much.
Under the circumstances it is senseless to try to resuscitate a mechanism that failed for two years of its existence to create expert potential and a set of technical tools for professional and unbiased investigations into cases of chemical weapons use in Syria and proved unable to resist unprecedented political pressure from Washington and its Western partners.
At this point it would only be possible to discuss the creation of a fundamentally new entity that would be strictly guided in its investigations by the rules and procedures of the Chemical Weapons Convention, its appendix on verification and other OPCW normative documents. Needless to say, this would by all means require visits to the sites of chemical incidents and observance of the fundamental principle of the chain of custody. We have been talking about this throughout the JIM’s existence. We urged this manner of investigation.
Obviously, an upgraded investigative mechanism would have to work on the already made mistakes, notably, conduct additional inquiries into at least two chemical accidents – in Khan-Shaykhun last April and in Sarmin in March 2015, but this time in full conformity with the high OPCW standards and without the political prejudice that was typical of the work of this mechanism during its existence.
We would be ready for an engaged and constructive dialogue on this issue with our partners in the UN Security Council if our requirements are duly considered.
On November 22, the day the Lebanese Republic celebrates its national holiday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned back to Beirut.
The festive events resulted in the manifestation of solidarity of the Lebanese people who again displayed their resolve to uphold the sovereignty and independence of their country against any attempts of external pressure. Unprecedented consolidation of the Lebanese society for all of its political, ethnic and religious diversity during the absence of the Prime Minister for three weeks has become a kind of a national vote of confidence to the coalition Government he heads.
Calibrated steps by Lebanese President Michel Aoun that were approved by all leading Lebanese politicians allowed Lebanon to win additional support of world capitals, including Moscow. Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Gebran Bassil visited Moscow and, as we reported earlier, held talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Moscow hopes that the domestic political balance achieved in Lebanon after the election of President Aoun and the appointment of Mr Hariri as Prime Minister, will be preserved. This domestic Lebanese agreement that Russia welcomed at one time allowed Lebanon to overcome “the vacuum of power” in Lebanon and resolve many urgent matters, including the elimination of the hotbed of international terrorism in the area of the Lebanese-Syrian border. The intra-Lebanese mutual understanding achieved at that time remains a major stabilising factor that is enhancing the unity of the country.
We are sure that the continuation of the effective performance of the Hariri cabinet would meet the interests of security and stability in Lebanon as well as ensure the normal functioning of state institutions and the preparations to conduct parliamentary elections in May next year.
After Robert Mugabe resigned as the President of Zimbabwe on November 21, the ruling party appointed former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take his place. His inauguration is scheduled for November 24. We hope to continue our diverse cooperation with Harare both at a bilateral as well as an international level.
We note the constructive efforts of Zimbabwe’s neighbours, members of the subregional organisation – the Southern African Development Community – that helped settle Zimbabwe’s recent domestic problems.
We have to say once again that the guilty verdict for Ratko Mladic, former commander in chief of the Bosnian Serb Armed Forces, delivered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is a continuation of the politicised and biased course that has dominated the tribunal’s activity from the outset. Far from being conducive to the application of the fundamental principle of the inevitability of punishment for war crimes, the tribunal’s contrived, one-sided anti-Serb interpretation of the tragic events of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia in fact erodes the process of restoring mutual trust in the Balkans.
The Hague Tribunal objectively failed to cope with the main task of impartially holding accountable all those responsible for the heinous atrocities committed during the period of the conflict under consideration. Moreover, the ICTY’s “selective justice” that acquitted them contrary to the evidence against them gave a number of persons a start in political life and granted them freedom that innocent victims will never have.
Tellingly, the ICTY – and after it, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, copying its mistakes – saw no crime in the actions of the notorious Bosnian “field commander” Naser Oric, whose militants took shelter in Srebrenica between 1992-1994, from where they attacked Serb civilians. The Tribunal’s faulty logic also shows through in that while declaring Ratko Mladic guilty of holding UN personnel at defence facilities to protect them against NATO bombing, the ICTY makes no mention of the illegal nature of NATO’s military operations in the Balkans. It may be recalled that those unlawful actions, operations and attacks carried out by the North Atlantic Alliance resulted in civilian deaths, as well as in large-scale destruction. Nobody in the West has answered for these barbarous actions.
The Tribunal also fell far short of the generally accepted standards regarding compliance with duration standards for the judicial process, as well as ensuring the fundamental rights to life, health protection plus medical aid. We have to reiterate that in May, the ICTY Trial Chamber turned down a petition for Mladic’s temporary release for medical treatment in Russia despite the exhaustive guarantees provided by the Russian side.
We expect the termination of ICTY activities before the end of the year, as we have repeatedly stated. We hope that in considering all cases passed by the Tribunal, including a possible appeal of Mladic’s verdict, the “residual mechanism” will show maximum efficiency, as well as professionalism and impartiality, which are so badly needed for ensuring peace as well as stability in the Balkans.
We took notice of a commentary in Serbian media outlets by Gen. Ben Hodges, commander, US Army Europe. It repeats the worn-out allegations against the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre (RSHC) in Nis: “That's the facade, but that's not what it's for.” The US general said he would like to visit the centre.
It may be recalled that recently a deputy military attaché from the US Embassy in Belgrade was invited to the RSHC and given the opportunity to look around the centre and see for himself that its activities are of an exclusively humanitarian nature. After this, any attempts to tout espionage allegations in the context of the RSHC look absurd, to say the least.
Nevertheless, we would be willing to welcome Gen. Hodges at the RSHC. Given our openness, we expect that the US side – by way of reciprocity and elementary politeness – will invite Russian and Serbian representatives to Camp Bondsteel, a military base in Kosovo. Although this facility was established in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, our US partners are less than enthusiastic to shed light on its real purpose. Frankly, not only we but also all those who are keeping an eye on what is going on in the region have this question: Isn’t this a reason for the information campaign around the RSHC in Nis?
Holodomor Remembrance Day is marked in Ukraine on November 25 to remember those who died of starvation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Kiev’s representation of that tragedy as “the genocide of Ukrainians” is politically charged, contradicts historical facts and is not aimed at restoring justice. In our opinion, this representation only aims at sowing discord between the people of Russia and Ukraine.
I would like to say that the famine caused by a severe drought and forced collectivisation in the early 1930s hit Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Volga region, the North Caucasus, West Siberia and the South Urals. The number of victims is estimated at between 2 million and 8 million. That famine was a common tragedy for Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakh and other Soviet peoples and the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the country. Therefore, the representation of these events as a deliberate policy to destroy the Ukrainian nation contradicts historical facts and is a cynical speculation on the memory of the millions of victims for political reasons.
Russia and the international community have provided their assessments of this tragedy. I would like to note that the UN General Assembly and UNESCO adopted joint documents on this tragedy, in addition to a statement adopted by the State Duma in memory of the victims of the famine of the 1930s in the Soviet Union. Regrettably, the Kiev government continues to provide a false representation of this tragedy.
It is also regrettable that our colleagues from the US State Department have recently posted a statement on the Ukrainian Holodomor that distorts history. It says, in part, that it was a “Soviet-manufactured tragedy” designed to destroy Ukrainians. By issuing this statement, Washington has disparaged the memory of the victims of that famine who belonged to other ethnic groups of the Soviet Union, a fact we have pointed out more than once over the years. We can see now that the tragedy of these people is of no concern to the authors of these statements.
We urge our American colleagues to study historical facts more accurately. I would even say that they should start studying historical facts. This has nothing to do with accuracy. The authors of these statements do not know their facts. Such absurd statements that have no connection to reality can be avoided if our colleagues from the US Department of State start reading historical documents, or at least accounts of historical events.
We view the increasing number of cases when Russian journalists, political analysts, officials, peacekeeping personnel and ordinary people have been denied entry to Moldova as openly provocative and unfriendly actions taken by the Moldovan authorities under far-fetched pretexts or, very often, without any explanation of reasons for denial. Regrettably, the number of such cases has not decreased but is becoming more numerous.
The most recent cases include the denial of entry to a Moscow delegation that went to Moldova to develop region-to-region ties, a policy which the Moldovan partners seemed to advocate, in particular, in the economy. Prominent Russian political analyst Mikhail Delyagin, historians Grigory Shkundin and Dmitry Surzhik, Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist Darya Aslamova and editor-in-chief of Argumenty i Fakty Igor Chernyak have been banned from entering Moldova. Similar sanctions have been adopted against aides to the head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs and many other Russians from various walks of life.
These actions are causing growing incomprehension and a negative public reaction in Russia. They are damaging bilateral relations and endangering economic, business, cultural, research and people-to-people ties.
It appears that Chisinau is doing its best to demonstrate its loyalty to its Western partners, hoping for political and financial payback. This seems to be the logic behind Moldova’s actions.
It is especially regrettable that these actions by the Moldovan authorities have been taken up at the regional level. The other day, a completely outrageous incident took place in the central park of Falesti, where a monument to Alexander Pushkin was vandalised. I would like to say that the name, work and life of this outstanding Russian poet were closely associated with Moldova. It is unclear what Pushkin had done to displease Moldovans.
We resolutely condemn this act of vandalism and urge the Moldovan authorities to do more than just pay lip service to promoting relations with Russia. We urge them to investigate this act of vandalism and to restore the monument.
On the other hand, it is good that this outrageous act has provoked a strong reaction on the part of several public associations and, of course, among the overwhelming majority of the Moldovan people.
I would like to inform you that Federal Law of June 7, 2017, No 111-FZ On Introducing Amendments to Federal Law On Procedures for Entry to the Russian Federation and Exit from the Russian Federation and to Article 6 of the Federal Law On the Legal Status of Foreign Nationals in the Russian Federation has introduced amendments to Federal Law of August 15, 1996, No 114-FZ On Procedures for Entry to the Russian Federation and Exit from the Russian Federation, which regulate, in particular, the issuance of visas to foreign nationals and stateless persons, with respect to whom the regional office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia has approved a positive resolution on issuing a temporary residence permit to live in Russia.
As before, Russian Consular Posts Abroad (RCPA) will issue relevant visas for 4 months, while the regional offices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia will extend the old or issue new visas to said category of persons for the duration of a temporary residence permit (TRP). The only difference is that the RCPA will execute visas for applicants applying for a temporary residence permit, while the Ministry’s regional offices will execute temporary residence visas as they issue TRP’s.
But the form of the visa has not changed. Under Clause 52 of Russian Government Resolution of June 9, 2003, No 335 On Approving the Procedure for Establishing the Form of the Visa, the Procedure for and Terms of Execution and Issue, Extension of its term of Validity, Recovery in Case of Loss, and the Procedure for Revocation, it remains a visa on a scannable visa form.
We are grateful to the Czech leaders and the people of the Czech Republic for their solicitous attitude to the memory of Red Army soldiers who liberated Czechoslovakia from the Nazi invaders. This stance was clearly displayed at the November 21 rally in the Czech capital dedicated to the 120th birth anniversary of Marshal Ivan Konev. The rally was attended by prominent Czech politicians, representatives of regions and municipalities, and veteran and public organisations. All of them urged preserving the monument in its original form, that is, without any “information plaques” that have nothing to do with historical events, in connection with which this monument was installed. We hope that common sense, historical justice and gratitude for the man whose role in liberating Prague from Nazism cannot be overestimated, will prevail in the context of these developments.
The situation surrounding our memorial heritage in Poland remains unfortunate despite our repeated appeals to the authorities to come to their senses and stop waging a “war on monuments.” At Warsaw’s instigation, efforts continue to rehash the historical and architectural landscape in order to erase from the public space and Poles’ memory the objective picture of WWII events. This state of affairs compels the city authorities to adopt decisions on tearing down monuments and encourages local vandals to act accordingly.
We are outraged by the Stargard administration’s intention (Stargard is a city in West Pomeranian Voivodeship) to start dismantling the Victory Monument installed as a sign of gratitude to the Red Army for its contribution to routing Nazism and liberating Poland from Nazi occupation.
We resolutely condemn yet another outrage committed by vandals, who desecrated a monument to Soviet and Polish paratroops in Gmina Lubasz (Wielkopolskie Voivodeship).
As is evident from these examples, the campaign against our military-historical heritage in Poland is shifting into high gear. Regrettably, this is happening with the blessing of the Polish authorities or is at least encouraged by their complete inaction.
We still regard this policy as ruinous for bilateral relations. If Warsaw ever intends to change its destructive course with regard to Russia, it should remember that this will be a problematic thing to do on the ruins of our monuments. I would like to stress that when we say ‘our’ monuments, we mean soldiers who saved Polish lives and monuments installed in honour of both Soviet and Polish soldiers.
This is by no means the first incident linked with a legislative ban on using Soviet symbols and emblems in Lithuania. This time, the Lithuanian authorities have found fault with a five-pointed star on a gravestone in Vilnius’ Antakalnis Cemetery at a site where seven Soviet soldiers, killed while liberating Lithuania from Nazi invaders, were reinterred.
We have also noted a Russophobic demarche by the head of the local Culture Ministry’s Department of Cultural Heritage who has called the installation of this gravestone “an information attack against Lithuania.”
Such statements cannot help but cause indignation. An unbefitting attitude towards the memory of soldiers-liberators and the continued attempts by Lithuanian authorities to rewrite our common history and to distort the truth regarding the events of those years, rather than the gravestones, symbols and emblems, is the main problem. Unfortunately, this situation is now becoming something of a routine matter, rather than an exception from the rules, for Lithuania whose leaders are displaying open hostility towards Russia.
We are somewhat dismayed with this interpretation by some media outlets, and we are ready to assure you that we are not engaged in any so-called “Kuril diplomacy.”
Regarding the implementation of top-level Russia-Japan agreements on launching joint economic activity on the South Kuril Islands, the sides continue to discuss specific parameters of projects in areas that have been coordinated by the leaders of both countries, including mari-culture, wind power, construction of greenhouses, waste recycling and organisation of package tours . For these purposes, two working groups dealing with commercial and procedural-visa issues have been established at the level of deputy foreign ministers within the main negotiating format. Their members are to hold initial meetings before the year is out. We will also brief you on this issue.
Therefore this wording is not being used by us, and I don’t think it is justified in any way. We are not engaged in any “Kuril diplomacy.” We are engaged in cultural diplomacy.
On November 24, Russia’s Kostroma National Ballet will give its first performance at Beijing’s Grand Theatre, a major local theatrical facility, as part of the international project Dance Overture of the World. The event is sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Culture and the Administration of the Kostroma Region. It is called on to expand cultural and humanitarian cooperation, the organisers said. The event is part of intra-BRICS cooperation.
According to media reports, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet (which owns Google), has said at the Halifax International Security Forum that they are working to give less prominence to RT and Sputnik websites on Google News. Responding to a question about Sputnik articles appearing on Google, Mr Schmidt said they “are working on detecting and de-ranking those kinds of sites.”
We would like to say in this connection that this artificial grading of news provision or de-ranking (this new word will be used very often soon) amounts to censorship and violation of the fundamental principle of the freedom of expression. This practice, if its use is approved, will contradict common sense and the right of free access to online information. Moreover, it will deliver a blow to the absolutely normal and healthy competition in the media field, considering that competition is the basic element of democratic societies and the guarantee of their further development.
If they tell us again that this should be an independent decision of private companies, I will reply that everyone should listen once again to the “grilling” Google, Facebook and Twitter representatives received at the US Congress. I think that after they watch these videos again they will know how private companies take decisions. In addition to this, information at our disposal shows that these decisions were taken under strong political pressure.
Google has said it does not manually assign rankings to individual websites. This looks like the Good Cop Bad Cop game, and we need to understand which cop is good and which is bad.
I would like to remind you that Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, which owns Google, has said openly that they do this. Who should we believe? Why are two different pieces of information given to different audiences, when it is so easy to check and compare quotes? Make your own conclusions.
We have taken note of this, of course, and we interpret this as a global offensive against freedom of the media and freedom to provide information.
I would like to say that private companies, yielding to political pressure, are moderating official media outlets, which have a legal platform for operations and are respected as professional, open and free media outlets, and which have journalists going to trouble spots to provide really important information that is crucial for understanding what is going on in conflict zones. Moreover, these journalists have been doing this for years. A new kind of selection has now been applied to these outlets. Their operations are being scrutinised under a magnifying glass. They are being denounced, and every possible attempt is being made to push them out of the information market.
As you remember, I said last time that the notorious Mirotvorets site has moved from a Ukrainian to an American server. This site posts the personal data (including home addresses and mobile phone numbers) of the Ukrainian, Russian and other journalists who cover developments in Donbass, interview Russian officials and in general report news about the internal Ukrainian crisis not as the Kiev government would like them to, and who subsequently receive threats.
I would like to say that we have sent a note to the US Department of State in which we provide the description of this website and request that it be denied hosting services because the operation of this allegedly peacekeeping website has harmed many journalists. We have not received an official reply yet. But we will keep this matter in focus.
Feel the difference between close attention and nearly global-scale spying on every step taken by Russian media outlets and the information they publish, the efforts to create an atmosphere of intolerance with regard to Russian media outlets on the one hand, and total inaction regarding a site whose operation contradicts every norm of corporate ethnics, on the other hand.
Question: Some regional media in Baku and Yerevan reported the existence of a “Lavrov plan” for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, reports that have been repeatedly denied, including by the Minister himself. This time around, some Azeri media outlets report that Lavrov has brought a “Putin plan” to the region for the settlement of the conflict. Can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: We always recommend to all the media, while reporting news creatively, to draw on the information from the primary source, and do it as frequently as possible.
You were right that the topic has been repeatedly commented on before, during, and after the visit. The answer to the question was unambiguous. We have a working Foreign Ministry website, a big portal. We hold briefings and press conferences. We always give specific answers to questions asked, down to the minute details. We are happy if our position is mentioned at all. Sometimes a reporter’s flight of fancy is so fast that it can’t be stopped, and maybe it is unnecessary to stop it. However, if only for the sake of decency, these publications should mention the Russian position, which we set forth in a perfectly clear manner.
Question: After nine years the US has again put the DPRK on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Will that have a negative impact on the chances for a North Korean dialogue with the US and South Korea?
Maria Zakharova: Those in the US who made that decision had their motives. Such actions inside the US are known to be followed up by some steps and actions. I find it hard to comment on this. You should direct the question as to why they did this to our American counterparts.
Speaking about the significance of this step not for internal, but for external consumption, it looks more like another act of intimidation, an information PR move. In this case what is needed is diplomatic work on the ground aimed at settling the situation and lowering tensions.
The answer to the question whether or not such actions bring down the level of tensions is obvious. They do not. There are possibilities for diplomatic talks in bilateral and multilateral formats. The US and other states can do many things to not allow the situation to reach the limit where some politicians are actively pushing it. We have repeatedly set forth our approach. Handling matters like this, “pushing things to the brink” could end up in a major catastrophe not only on a regional level but also on the world scale. This is our take on the situation.
Question: How does the Russian Foreign Ministry see the upcoming signing of the Agreement on the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership of Armenia with the European Union countries at the Eastern Partnership summit? What are the implications of Armenia’s association with the EU for Russian-Armenian ties?
Maria Zakharova: We promote our relations with countries, including Armenia, on a mutually beneficial basis and with full understanding that each country has its own foreign policy interests, goals and tasks. We respect that.
We have carried out a wide range of foreign policy measures in our interaction with Yerevan. You have seen the range of talks at the highest level, at the level of foreign ministers, and exhibitions have been opened, and statements made. But each state has its own foreign policy measures and concepts for the development of their own foreign policy doctrines.
Question: The Russian President Vladimir Putin, after his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, called all the leaders of the countries which play key roles in Syria, including US President Donald Trump. They talked for an hour and reportedly agreed on many things. Yesterday and today the US State Department said the US has the final word and that it is going to create its own protectorate in the northeast of the country. How can you comment on the US’ ambivalent position?
Maria Zakharova: Concerning the protectorate, I would like to say that this is a strange position. As US representatives have repeatedly said at all levels and on behalf of all the administrations, the US is in Syria for only one reason, to fight terrorism. No one has ever talked about any other goals – be it a protectorate or being there on a cultural-humanitarian mission. It has invariably been said that the sole purpose of the US presence on Syrian territory, although this presence is unlawful and has no legal grounds, is Washington’s implacable struggle against terrorists and extremists. These statements were made publicly. Similar explanations were given in the course of bilateral negotiations and at the UN Security Council. We have all heard them. When the American defence or foreign policy establishments begin to introduce nuances into that line, it can only cause surprise. But there are many things over there that raise eyebrows, so I don’t think one should comment on every word even though it may be billed by the Americans as “the final word,” and then there are other “words.” We have seen this more than once.
We proceed from the official statements made at the level of Presidents and US Secretaries of State to the effect that the only aim of their forces’ presence in the region is to fight terrorism. We have repeatedly called on the Americans and the coalition they have formed and are leading, to concentrate on this particular objective. This is also our position.
Question: Several days ago the British Embassy in Jordan hired a cat to keep their Twitter account. The UK’s Foreign Office also has a cat that runs their Twitter with tens of thousands of followers. Due to the appearance of “media kitties,” is the Russian Foreign Ministry planning to response symmetrically or asymmetrically?
Answer: We have enough diplomats to conduct information work.
Speaking about the revealed tendency regarding Great Britain, it seems fairly precarious – first cats are appointed as junior diplomatic staff, yet they can rise to the top positions in Office and will be coming on visits …
Question: Crimea was recently visited by a Bulgarian delegation comprising Bulgarian President’s representative, Crimean Bulgarians, MPs, including from the ruling party which has recognised Crimea as part of Russia. What would you like to say about this, and also the fact that the Bulgarian President opposes lifting anti-Russia sanctions?
Answer: You know our stand regarding sanctions. We do not understand the motifs and the meaning of their imposition, we do not hold talks on lifting them because it was not us who imposed them. They were imposed without our involvement, whereas explanations for the reasons were very confusing (not in terms of motifs behind the sanctions but in terms of what specific aims our opponents wanted to achieve). I will not comment on the matter of sanctions because in the years since the sanctions were imposed by the EU nations and countries which sided with them, there appeared specific figures reflecting the relevant losses, the impact the aforementioned states inflicted on themselves by cutting and minimising cooperation with Russia and facing counter sanctions as our response. I will not comment on our traditional position at length.
Regarding Crimea, we once again call on everyone to go there and see with their own eyes, through contacts with people who have lived there for decades, to make sure in some cases, or to confirm or dispel their suspicions in other cases regarding the true situation in Crimea. We are welcoming this and will do our best to help you with such trips. If assistance by the Foreign Ministry is needed, we will give it. If there is a wish to visit Crimea without Russian representatives of the executive and other branches of power, this can also be done. We can only welcome such direct contacts.
Let me repeat, our main objective is to let representatives of the world community who, as we see it, are concerned about the situation in Crimea, have a chance to see for themselves what is going on there, how the economic situation is progressing, what the situation is with the implementation of a whole package of laws ensuring Crimean residents’ additional very important rights and guarantees in the human rights area, to see how matters stand with freedom of speech. They could see the situation with their own eyes and ears, and make their own conclusions that could be used as a foundation for reports made for their respective countries and for international organisations. What we have now and what the criticism of the Russian Federation is based on is, as a rule, far removed from reality, done remotely, without reference to people living there, yet with references to those who have never lived there or have been away for a long time. Facts are used, which may not even be called unconfirmed because they are not facts at all but rather some data courtesy of some organisations.
Let me repeat, we call for direct contacts. If the Foreign Ministry’s assistance or collaboration is required, we are ready to offer them.
Question: It was 22 years since the signing of the Dayton Agreement the day before yesterday. President of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that Bosnia and Herzegovina was a non-functional state, adding that the Dayton Agreement is not complied with in its original form. How do you assess this document’s practical application 22 years after it was signed?
Maria Zakharova: This question has a historical tinge. We will certainly reply to you by providing detailed information.
As for Milorad Dodik’s comment, it is common knowledge that Russia’s relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina develop in various areas and therefore we will set aside any estimates as to whether Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state or not, because the Russian Federation has been developing relations with that country in different formats.
Question: It’s not a question of whether Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state, because it is internationally recognised. We are keen to know your assessment of compliance with the Dayton Agreement.
Maria Zakharova: I’ll ask experts to promptly supply you with this information.
Question: There has been a surge of activity in connection with Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in the last couple of weeks. Could you sum up the results of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visits to Azerbaijan and Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: Sergey Lavrov already summed them up in Baku and Yerevan, with relevant explanations. This information is available on the Foreign Ministry’s website. I can only add that the activity you see on TV screens or at news conferences would not come to fruition within two weeks. It is preceded by extensive ongoing work. It is conducted constantly. When this work yields results, there is activity you see on the screen.
For us, Nagorno-Karabakh settlement is a priority, because it is related to two friendly states and nations, with which we are developing relations. We are eager to have this problem solved at last – and the sooner the better – on the basic principles we have repeatedly outlined.
Question: Three weeks ago, we focused on Google blocking the Federal News Agency. Today, we are talking about manipulating search results for media. Can we regard Google’s last aggression as a preparatory stage in its strategy of information selection of the Russian media?
Maria Zakharova: I can’t say we have specific assessments that I would call identical to yours. We saw that the problem was solved in no time; Google representatives offered explanations directly to your outlet.
The problem is that we hear different estimates from Google representatives. If we take for granted what we heard about your outlet’s case, the company gave assurances that it had solved the problem: it was technical in nature and had no political underpinnings. But if such cases multiply, then, of course, we’ll have to talk about the company’s systemic approach and its general censorship with regard to all Russian media, which we wouldn’t like at all.
Given Google’s scale, technological level and capabilities, this creates a direct threat to all global media. Foot-dragging on information dissemination and a selective approach based on an artificial use of technological tools for news selection are categorically unacceptable. This is censorship pure and simple – certainly one on a new technological level, but censorship all the same.
We mentioned Russia Today and Sputnik earlier in the briefing. What Google is doing towards them is part of the general Western picture, part of a big puzzle, a small fragment of Western states’ onslaught on Russian media (I am referring to the United States and France).
Question: The North Korean citizens, who came to Russia for employment in September, are threatened with deportation because of the UN Security Council sanctions. It is reported that Russia somehow is dealing with this issue. Can you comment?
Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this issue directly for your outlet. The presence in our country of North Korean citizens or nationals of other states, specifically under work quotas or visas to perform a certain type of activity, is regulated by the laws of the Russian Federation. We have repeatedly stated that this is done legitimately. I don’t see any reason to doubt or search for conflict here.
Question: Everyone has announced a victory over ISIS: the Russian Federation, the United States, and Syria. But who played the decisive role in winning this victory – the coalition, Russia, or the national forces?
The Washington Post reports that the US administration has decided to extend the presence of US forces in Syria to support the Syrian Democratic Forces in creating local self-governments that will not report to the Assad Government. How will Russia respond to this, given the statements on supporting Syria’s integrity, made by the Kremlin and the White House after the Putin-Trump telephone discussions? How can this influence the intra-Syrian peace talks?
Maria Zakharova: As you may know, the telephone conversations by our head of state are within the purview of his Executive Office.
As for the Washington Post publication (as I understand it, we are talking about the article published in its November 22 issue), we also had questions and we asked for comment. Referring to unnamed sources in the US administration, the paper claimed that the US was not planning to withdraw its forces from Syria after the rout of ISIS and had a plan to install a new administration in the north of the country.
I would like to say that it is unclear why the paper is referring to some “unnamed” members of the administration, when the Secretary of Defence, James Mattis (I mentioned this today), told journalists in plain language on November 13 that the US military would not leave Syria, I quote, “before the Geneva process has cracked,” and the US will obviously interpret the terms of political settlement as it sees fit.
We have repeatedly drawn Washington’s attention to the fact that statements of this sort generate a lot of questions about the true aims of American and coalition military presence in Syria.
I mentioned this today and will repeat it: From the point of view of international law, the US presence in Syria is illegal. The United States is doing this not only without the relevant permission or invitation from the Damascus government, whose ambassador is in the UN on the daily basis representing his country, but also against the will of the legitimate Syrian government. The US is present there without any additional or other legal grounds. To call things by their proper names, they are behaving in a way that borders on occupation. If armed forces are present in a territory of another state and are waging active warfare without its explicit permission, while international institutions, namely the UN Security Council, are not delegating the relevant authority either, it is called occupation.
We commented on this recently. Contrary to statements by US military representatives to the effect that the UN has allegedly authorised the United States, there is no UN Security Council sanction on their presence in Syria. [It will be recalled that] the UN Security Council is the only United Nations agency authorised under the UN Charter to approve decisions on the use of military force by the international community. No such decisions have been approved. Accordingly, the United States has no right to be there.
We are particularly concerned about plans to establish certain bodies of power independent from Damascus in areas controlled by the Washington-sponsored armed groups. This is being done without the consent of local residents. We have said this repeatedly and would like to stress it again: this is a direct path towards splitting the country. One part of the world community – you saw this in Sochi yesterday – is holding summits and trying to consolidate the public in some way or other. They are doing their best to provide a venue and the potential for dialogue between different representatives of the opposition, former extremists, who are laying down arms, and official Damascus. They are seeking to create the right atmosphere for talks on Syria’s future, which would be held by the Syrians themselves. On the other side, we hear statements like this, statements coming from Washington, which, regrettably, are backed by moves on the ground. To reiterate: From our point of view, this is a direct path towards splitting the country. In this connection, we have to remind our US colleagues that in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that defines the parameters of Syrian settlement, the United States, like the international community as a whole, has committed itself to unconditionally comply with the basic principle of respect for territorial integrity of Syria and do this in theory and in practice.
Question: I would like to continue the subject of the intra-Syrian dialogue. In their November 22 joint statement after the trilateral talks in Sochi, the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey said that the date of the talks was being discussed. Should we expect the talks to begin this year or should journalists book tickets to Sochi next year?
Maria Zakharova: We will notify you in advance when to book tickets to Sochi. Above all, we want you to arrive there on time, so that you can be welcomed and accommodated in comfort. Don’t try and guess anything, you should calmly plan your life, and you should know that we will notify you well in advance, and you will have enough time to prepare and to book tickets. Is my reply sufficiently diplomatic and transparent at the same time?
Question: As it is difficult to coordinate specific lists, can we expect a group from Riyadh to take part? With due consideration for Mr. Erdogan’s position, can we expect Kurdish representatives to attend this event?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that this large-scale event should encompass all representatives of all opposition groups, including the constructive opposition and the former armed opposition which is ready to switch over from violent methods to peaceful methods for building a future new Syria. This is exactly what would guarantee the meeting’s results. Not only will this be a successful, spectacular and well-organised event for journalists and film crews, but it will really be able to produce specific and constructive results capable of creating a reliable foundation for building a new Syria that we have already discussed so many times: a united, territorially integral and secular country guaranteeing equal rights for representatives of various denominations, ethnic groups and public associations.
Indeed, the lists of organisations and groups that can receive invitations and with which the relevant work can be launched were first published. And practical work to prepare for the event began on the basis of replies to these invitations.
Question: I would like to ask you about the upcoming talks between the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers. What topics does Mr. Lavrov plan to touch upon during the meeting?
Maria Zakharova: In general, he will certainly focus on bilateral affairs. They will also review the international situation, the situation in the region as well as on the Korean Peninsula, matters concerning the Syrian peace settlement and many other topical subjects on the international agenda. This is basic information, and we will soon post more detailed information on the Foreign Ministry’s website.