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19 April 201818:03

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 19, 2018

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Table of contents

  1. Crimea’s accession to Russia 235 years ago
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura
  3. Meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers
  4. German citizen’s letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry
  5. Developments in Syria
  6. Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson’s remarks at the 58th Special Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council
  7. Evidence that the “chemical attack” in Douma was faked
  8. Response of French experts to “evidence” provided by French authorities that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Douma
  9. Developments in Libya
  10. BZ nerve agent found in Skripals’ biomedical samples
  11. Political crimes committed by the UK
  12. A statement by UK Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce
  13. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung publishes articles by former prominent German politicians in its April 12 edition
  14. US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman’s answers to social media users
  15. US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker’s public activity
  16. Statement by former FBI Director James Comey
  17. Status of Russian citizens and their children at Iraqi penitentiaries
  18. Russia-Azerbaijan relations
  19. Developments in Armenia
  20. Investigation into the crash of the Polish president’s plane near Smolensk on April 10, 2010
  21. Foreign citizens crossing the Russia-Belarus border during the FIFA World Cup


From answers to media questions:

Azerbaijan’s decision on the Skripal case

Inter-Korean summit

OPCW experts’ access to site of alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria

Highly Likely Welcome Back initiative by Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) and MGIMO University

Meeting between DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov  

New US sanctions

Syrian opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra actions

Moscow−Havana relations

Russian Investigative Committee’s Skripal case investigation

United States’ statement on actions in Syria

 

Crimea’s accession to Russia 235 years ago

 

Today it is 235 years since the accession of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia. On April 19, 1783 Empress Catherine the Great issued a Manifesto on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Empire and the formation of the Taurida region to be governed by Prince Grigory Potemkin who received the title of Potemkin of Taurida for his services.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura

 

On April 20 2018, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The officials will discuss in detail the status of the Syrian settlement process and its prospects, in particular, in the context of the consequences of the aggressive action by the United States and the countries that supported its illegal measure against Damascus on April 14.

 

Meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers 

 

On April 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the member-countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Beijing.

In the context of the preparations for a regular meeting of the SCO Heads of State in Qingdao, China on June 9-10, the ministers will discuss the further development of SCO activities. They will also exchange views on urgent global and regional issues.

Mr Lavrov will hold a number of bilateral working meetings on the sidelines of the event.

 

German citizen’s letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry

 

I have just read a letter we received from Germany not via e-mail, but via traditional postal mail. I cannot help citing it, because this is not the only letter: we receive hundreds of similar ones from all over the world.

The header reads “Apologies.” Quote: “Mr Lavrov, I would like to apologise for the hostile behaviour of my German government as well as other European countries that have official relations with you and Russia. I consider this behaviour dishonest, false and cowardly. Please continue with your clear policy. I wish you success. I am 54 years old, and I am a real German, man and Catholic. Best regards.” The letter also contains personal regards.

This speaks volumes.

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Developments in Syria

 

The act of open aggression on April 14, when the US together with Great Britain and France carried out a massive missile strike on Syria, was the central event in the country over the past week. I do not wish to repeat my assessment of this gross violation of the UN Charter and fundamental principles of international law in general, committed under an absolutely falsified pretext of alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in Douma, as it has been given in statements by President of Russia Vladimir Putin as well as the Foreign Ministry many times.

In the early hours of April 17, Tuesday, media began reporting another attack on Syria: a missile strike at the Shayrat base, but soon Syria announced that it was a false alarm and there was no new attack.

However, the negative consequences on the ground were felt immediately. Our suggestion that the actions of the three western countries were aimed at giving radicals and extremists some time to recover and prolong the bloodshed in Syria, thus complicating the political settlement process, were confirmed.

The irreconcilable fighters remaining in Douma began to act and on April 18 attacked the UN Department of Safety and Security officials who were assessing the situation and developing plans to provide the OPCW experts with access to the place of the alleged chemical attack. It is no accident. The fighters and extremists are probably concerned about the OPCW experts and members gaining access to the spot.

The resisting fighters shelled the Syrian troops as well as the closest airfield from Grad multiple rocket launchers in Eastern Qalamun, where Dumayr city council announced the local illegal armed groups’ decision to give up their weapons and return “to the state.”

Hostilities between the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIS were recorded in Hasakah Province for the first time in several months.

Tensions remain on the western bank of the Euphrates, in Deir ez-Zor Province. Diversionary attacks by ISIS terrorists against Syrian troops located between the cities of Mayadin and Abu Kamal have been increasing in frequency.

However, there also are some positive trends. The situation in Eastern Ghouta remains stable in general, and peaceful life is being restored. For example, over 400 civilians returned to their homes in this area on Tuesday, April 17, alone.

The Jaysh al-Islam group has almost left Douma. Over 12,000 people – fighters and their families – have been relocated to the north of Syria since the beginning of April. Another illegal laboratory to produce toxic agents such as sulfur and nitrogen mustard gases as well as a weapons manufacturing factory were discovered in the Douma districts vacated by the terrorists. In total, 1.5 tonnes of explosive substances, 250 landmines and 25 kilogrammes of TNT were withdrawn from their storage facilities.

On April 17, the Jaysh al-Islam fighters began to surrender their weapons in Dumayr located northeast from Damascus. As expected, about 1,000 militants will leave the city for the north of Aleppo Province.

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Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson’s remarks at the 58th Special Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council

 

On April 16, the Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson gave a speech at the 58th Special Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council.

Several days ago the notorious White Helmets organisation issued an official statement on the alleged chemical attack in Douma. A large number of fake materials were spread in social networks – photos and videos allegedly from the incident site. Indeed, the site can be identified. In many cases, the situation and circumstances of the developments in the distributed materials are all made-up. In his presentation, the Defence Ministry official gave a detailed account of the so-called “exclusive” report and clearly revealed not only obvious photo and video edits but also what seems to be laughable carelessness when those stories were cooked up, with children forced to pretend to be wounded, dead, poisoned with a deadly gas. Among other things, this is a concoction of hastily made materials, ignorance and incomprehension of what they are speaking about.

Video footage which appeared after reports of chemical attacks feature whole families that were allegedly killed. Footage was taken in flats on different floors of the same residential building. In one of the videos a boy in a striped sweater with a mark on his temple is lying in the corridor whereas in another clip the same boy is lying on a carpet in another room.

In the video, a girl in a red sweater lies under a striped blanket whereas in posted photos the same girl lies in the center of another room among numerous dead bodies of adults. This is a pure fake.

An appropriate question arises as to how the allegedly dead children could move around different rooms. Why such manipulations when the main goal of those videos was to confirm the fact of a chemical attack? Apparently, they were needed so as to promptly spread a huge amount of video evidence. What mattered was not reasonable but rather prompt actions so as to convince the viewers by playing on emotions, to distract attention from the large number of inconsistencies, it was the emotional colouring that was needed. 

Similar manipulations using children were used by the White Helmets in staging an alleged chemical attack in Khan-Shaykhun. I remember an image of a small girl in different places and conditions which was used in a number of video clips – in one video the girl was depicted as dead, in others she was suddenly alive.

The alarming fact about this whole story is that the fake materials are immediately picked up and spun by prominent western media resources and media outlets such as The Guardian and Euronews which posted the videos where medical help is rendered to the victims of a chemical attack with bare hands while the people in the background keep on eating shawarma.  

How do such staging decisions and ideas come to mind at all? This terrifying disinformation was followed by bombs falling on Damascus launched by those who are avidly looking for any, even most crude and ludicrous, signals for action.

What could be more awful than that? There is something, if you can believe it. Syrian government forces in the liberated territories of Eastern Ghouta found chlorine containers from Germany and smoke grenades from Salisbury, UK. I am sure everybody is now aware where Salisbury is. This fact is hard to comment on, it is so scary and it undermines your belief in the humanity of some states. Of course, we are not referring to states as a whole but to those politicians and leaders who give such orders and make such decisions.

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that back in January 2013 the British newspaper the Daily Mail published an article disclosing information on the White House’s consent to stage a chemical attack in Syria by the United States and its allies to be subsequently blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in order to step up international military activities in that country.

Russia and Syria stated a number of times that they have information on militants plotting provocations using chemical weapons, the discovery of underground workshops to manufacture chemical weapons of all kinds in the liberated areas of Eastern Ghouta. All this information was sent, is being sent and will be sent to the OPCW. Unfortunately, it remains unnoticed both by countries and western mainstream that are doing everything possible for it to be ignored.

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Evidence that the “chemical attack” in Douma was faked

 

Next, about the so-called evidential base of the chemical attacks allegedly committed by the Government of Syria in the city of Douma and the fictitiousness of most of the evidence.

As you know, the West accused the Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma on April 7. As far as the evidence is concerned, it cited, above all, the media and social networks, where there is quite a lot of materials that cannot be interpreted other than as crimes by the Syrian leadership. It was precisely that “fake production” video, filmed by the White Helmets organisation, that prompted the decision to carry out missile strikes on the territory of a sovereign country and a UN member state – Syria.

But, as we always say and as it actually always happens, the truth gradually comes out. There emerges more and more proof that the chemical attack committed, as we were all told, by the Syrian Government, in the city of Douma never took place. While experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are only just beginning to work in that city, facts are coming to light, confirming that the so-called “chemical attack” in Douma was nothing more than a performance and a dangerous media provocation. Let me repeat that earlier the Russian Defence Ministry published video testimony by two Syrian medics. According to those Syrians, none of the patients admitted into their hospital had any symptoms of poisoning by toxic agents. Yesterday, Russian military correspondents Yevgeny Poddubny and Alexander Kots, visited the city of Douma, where they managed to find a Syrian boy, who was used in those fake videos.

“We were in the cellar,” Khasan Diab recalls. “My Mom told me that we have nothing to eat today, that we will only eat tomorrow. We heard shouts in the street. They were shouting to us to go to the hospital. We ran to the hospital. As soon as I entered, they grabbed me and began pouring water on me. And after that, they put us on beds next to other people.” That is a quote from that very report by Yevgeny Poddubny that he sent yesterday from Syria. Those were the boy’s words.

Khasan’s father was not at home at that time, he was out, working. “When I learnt that my child was in hospital, I got permission to leave work for a while and immediately ran there. There was no chemical weapon. I was smoking in the street and I felt nothing. I entered the hospital and saw my family. The militants gave them dates, biscuits and rice for taking part in that video and let them all go home. My child was fine,” Khasan’s father said.

Our journalists also managed to talk to medical staff of the hospital in the city of Douma. “Not a single patient with any symptoms of poisoning by any toxic agent was admitted to our hospital on April 7. True, people came, who began dousing themselves with water from this hose. But there were no corresponding symptoms. On that day, several buildings were destroyed and fires erupted. Many had breathing problems due to construction dust and smoke. They were brought here and we were helping them, when somebody ran in and shouted: “Chemical attack! Chemical attack!” And people started dousing themselves with water. Actually, there were no reasons for that,” a hospital employee said.

We believe that, with time, the whole truth behind that grim spectacle, that dangerous provocation, will become known to us. Much, of course, depends on the results of the OPCW mission and on you, journalists. Unfortunately, the decision to punish the Syrian authorities for the supposed use of chemical weapons has already been made and, moreover, it has already been carried out.  

I would like to recall a 2016 situation when, in an interview with Minister Lavrov, CNN’s leading political commentator Christiane Amanpour produced a photo of a Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh as she accused Syrian troops and the Russian Aerospace Forces of torturing Syrian children. Several months later Russian journalists found this boy again. You remember the picture of his almost lifeless body in a chair that perhaps the entire planet has seen. This child was tracked down by Russian journalists. His father said that what happened then was a horrible fake and appalling manipulation of the public. The boy was not caught up in attacks of the Russian Aerospace Forces or some Syrian government forces, but extremists and terrorists that were active in the district during that time.

But the situation repeats itself, the fakes continue. The very same Christiane Amanpour appears on CNN each week. You cannot imagine how many letters we have sent to that US television channel demanding an explanation or at least an apology from Ms Amanpour for using the interview with Minister Lavrov to manipulate the public by broadcasting this photo for the entire world to see. We never received a response.

The most cynical fact is that several days ago I received an invitation from Christiane Amanpour to appear on her show. No, Ms Amanpour, I don’t do shows. I am waiting for you to officially apologise and, being a journalist, a political commentator and therefore a person politicians cite, to find the courage to apologise for manipulating the public, as I said. It is strange that you have not received word of our letters, because we wrote a lot of them. In addition, the CNN news office in Moscow replied to us regularly. We would like to specify whether it was due to them or Ms Amanpour’s aides.

In order to be fair and honest, using the photo of Omran Daqneesh back in 2016, it would have been right to show the previous photo of another Syrian boy, Khasan Diab, that you have seen, for example, to former British Prime Minister David Cameron whom Christiane Amanpour interviewed yesterday (maybe even earlier, but it was on air yesterday) and ask him: “Mr Cameron, what do you have to say about the White Helmets’ manipulations, who use a Syrian child to stage a video that later motivates our countries, the US and Great Britain, to attack a sovereign state?” I would like to see the former prime minister’s reaction. I am sure he would have found something to say. These people always do.

And another thing. If anyone must be the main speaker at the UN Security Council, I believe it should by the Syrian boy Khasan Diab as well as his parents, who should tell the Security Council what the White Helmets are and how they cook up their fakes. I believe Khasan Diab’s family will know what to say and what questions to ask of the Security Council. By the way, I noticed that today his family stated they were ready to testify at any international organisations about what happened to them in Douma. What do you think, if the family were to decide to go to the US, especially to New York City, would they be able to obtain visas? Let us hope that this question will not be rhetorical in all senses.

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Response of French experts to “evidence” provided by French authorities that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Douma

 

Following up on the story of fabricated photographs and videos from the Syrian city of Douma, I would like to tell you about an interesting and, in our view, very relevant response to a report released by French intelligence services. I will quote the French media. In addition to us, French experts and journalists had reason to receive the report with skepticism.   

Even some of the most influential media that normally remain loyal and toe the official line had to admit in their reports that the document was not based on samples taken for analysis at the sight of the alleged incident in Douma. Now and again, the so-called “evidence” is circumstantial or is based on material from social networks – we have just examined these materials – which cannot be verified. However, the truth that all of them are fabricated keeps coming out.    

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on April 16, opposition members said that there was no conclusive evidence that the authorities had really used chemical weapons in Douma. Many of them directly said that the incident had the appearance of having been “staged” and wondered why the strikes on Syria had been carried out before the OPCW Mission completed its investigation, to say nothing about France’s participation in the operation. A legitimate question was asked about why the bombing of the Syrian stock of chemical weapons, say, chlorine, had had no impact whatsoever on the environment.

We have also asked these questions. Many are asking themselves the same kinds of questions. Now, members of the French political elite, among others, have started to ask these questions.   

Why was no one poisoned? Could it have been just production facilities rather than chemical stockpiles that Syria did not have, after all?

This emotional debate was provoked by Frederic Pichon, a political scientist and expert on Syria, who is known for his reputation for being independent.   

Comparing the French report and the OPCW report of March 23, he points out the following – I would like to repeat that these are not Russian or pro-Russian experts but a French expert. The OPCW report said that the analysis of the samples taken during inspections on November 22, 2017 at the research centres in Barzeh and Jamrai did not reveal any prohibited chemical substances. The inspections did not detect any activities violating the Chemical Weapons Convention. Frederic Pichon is confident that it is impossible to resume chemical weapons production within such a short space of time. Consequently, the bombing of Barzeh was a “real farce” staged by “three members of the UN Security Council who decided to carry out a strike no matter what, in order to save face.”   

Also, the French report says that it was only in 2018 that Syria announced that it had divisions of the Syrian Research and Development Centre in Barzeh and Jamrai. This begs the question as to how OPCW experts were given access to them in November 2017.

This is only the beginning. There is every reason to believe that eventually, not only will the number of skeptics among experts and journalists increase but that we will be provided with facts that will refute the arguments that were allegedly adduced as evidence.

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Developments in Libya

 

During the previous briefing, I was asked about the health of Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar as well as for an assessment of the possible impact on the political situation in the country.

We have monitored the situation carefully. During the past week, since the first reports about Khalifa Haftar’s “hospitalisation,” we have received mixed information about the commander’s health. However, the concerns about his “critical condition” voiced by some media were not confirmed. According to our contacts at official Libyan agencies in eastern Libya, including senior officers in the Libyan National Army, the rumours were exaggerated and the related “prognoses” did not come true.

Speaking about the general situation in Libya, it remains complicated, to put it mildly. Despite the efforts to launch a serious intra-Libyan dialogue with UN mediation, the political process has stalled. Resolving key issues on the current intra-Libyan agenda is still impossible. This complicates the implementation of the Libyan settlement action plan developed by Ghassan Salame, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, which envisages a nationwide conference to draft constitutional, legislative and institutional reforms as well as to prepare and organise presidential and parliamentary elections.

However, Moscow firmly believes that there is no alternative to the negotiation process. We reaffirm this position. The Libyan people must continue the dialogue in the spirit of openness and be ready to compromise. This approach is the only way to resolve the main task, which is to restore Libya’s unity, taking into account the interests of all political forces as well as tribal and regional groups, and create conditions for the further sustainable development of the country.

We hope that the Libyan people will be wise and find the strength to overcome the differences and come up with mutually acceptable solutions to all disputes in the framework of the Skhirat Political Agreement. In the end, it is Libyans who are most interested in turning the current “black” page of their history.

As for Russia, during the entire crisis in Libya we proactively supported the efforts to launch a broad intra-Libyan dialogue under the auspices of the UN to end the civil war in that country. We plan to continue helping Ghassan Salame, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, in his work to achieve the desired result together with our regional and international partners as well as all Libyan parties.

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BZ nerve agent found in Skripals’ biomedical samples

 

An emergency meeting of the OPCW Executive Council was held at Britain’s request in the Hague on April 18. I would like to remind you that it was a closed meeting to discuss the classified report of OPCW experts who visited Britain to provide technical assistance in investigating the Salisbury incident. Nevertheless we would like to share our assessments to the extent that a classified report can be discussed. But the situation is so complex, the accusations are so serious and the claims made by some countries are so absurd that we deem it necessary to share with you all available information.

The Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat said that the presence of BZ agent in the victims’ biomedical tests has nothing to do with the Skripal case. The chief of the head lab (Rejswijk, Netherlands) also said that a precursor of BZ was found in the samples, but that it had been deliberately added to the samples by OPCW experts to ascertain the competence of the lab, that is to say the materials pertaining to a case of world significance are sent to the lab whose competence needs to be confirmed by adding some other substances out of interest. This was said to be standard OPCW practice.

The Russian delegation challenged this approach. The Salisbury incident is exceptional and has a huge international profile. Questions on this case are asked upfront.

As you know, a month and a half ago a crime was perpetrated in Britain against two Russian citizens. Britain still denies Russia access to any materials or information concerning this case and the investigation. For reasons known only to the Brits they are putting forward an absurd claim that Russia has “used chemical weapons” on British territory. London continues to belabour what appears to be the only argument it has at its disposal, “highly likely,” which has already become legendary in Russia.

Be that as it may, the process has been launched and is under way. Samples have been tested and continue to be tested. This was done at certified OPCW labs which have a proven record. That is why any tests-related measures in the Skripals’ case, considering the odious character of the situation, look strange and continue to mislead everyone. The OPCW Technical Secretariat has also failed to explain on the basis of which OPCW documents it has chosen this approach.

In this connection, the list of Russian questions continues to grow.

Thus, the reports says that the labs were set only one task, and that was to check whether  a nerve gas found by Britain was present in the biomedical tests. It called for a yes or no answer. The labs were not tasked with looking for other poisons.

Furthermore, the report says that Yulia Skripal’s blood tests revealed a toxic chemical in an unchanged form, strange as it may seem. And this two weeks after the poisoning. I would like to repeat so that there is no speculation: we proceed from the data available in the public domain. If we speak about Yulia Skripal’s blood test we have no confirmation that it is her blood test, that it is Yulia Skripal. I repeat, we only use the data that are in the public domain.

Let me note that even a lay person knows that any substances that get into the human body become immediately exposed to biochemical processes that lead to their decomposition (this is part of school curriculum). Why this did not happen in this particular case is a mystery.

In any case our experts will need time to study the report thoroughly to draw their own verified conclusions. Even so, it is already clear that considering the controversial nature of the whole range of questions, we need to have at our disposal all the available information without any omissions, and not just excerpts from the report, much less tweets that support them. We try to bring this message home to the OPCW Technical Secretariat and to the British side. We count on getting comprehensive answers to our questions and the actual materials.

I would like to stress once more that the Russian side is ready to cooperate actively with Great Britain in order to clarify this case which was confusing from the start and has now become still more confusing. We urge London not to be in a hurry to destroy evidence. 

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Political crimes committed by the UK

 

And now I am asking everyone to fasten their belts. During a briefing on the OPCW report held for the international diplomatic community on April 13, UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow said that “the Russian state has a record in state-sponsored assassinations including in the UK.” It is not the first Russophobic statement made by a UK official, or, for that matter, not the first UK statement that is an offense to law, standards of decency or any morals. But it’s not the main point. Let’s put aside morals and the law and talk about something different. Maybe the UK Ambassador does not know his own country’s history, role and involvement in processes that took place in other countries over the past centuries. I don’t think Mr Bristow is to blame for absence of law in the UK. He probably just doesn’t know his country’s history. British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie wrote that the “trouble with the new Englishness is that their history happened overseas, so they don’t know what it means.” And so the island status that motivated Britain’s imperial story in the first place has helped them distance themselves from all aspects of that story. I think now is the time to fill this cognitive vacuum and tell the world something about Britain’s history and its international activities and their consequences. Let us talk about state contracts, assassinations and Britain’s reputation.

Let’s start with modern history. It is not a common subject, but Britain was one of the most ruthless metropolises in terms of the repressive actions it took in its colonies and dependent territories. On November 22, 2017, British journalist and writer Afua Hirsch wrote in The Guardian that “from the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century, the English began imagining themselves as the new Romans, persuading themselves they were as duty-bound to civilise ‘backward’ tribes as they were destined to exploit their resources, land and labour.” The British see “Britain’s empire as a great moral achievement and its collapse as an act of casual generosity.”

This accepted view of Britain’s history completely overshadows some inconvenient facts. If the motive is what matters most of all, nobody wants to know the details. But today we will be speaking about details. The establishment of concentration camps in the Boer War that later inspired the Nazis’ death camps, the cultural annihilation of kingdoms and palaces from Ashanti to Beijing, British army massacres in Ireland and the devastation of Bengal, the industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources and the slave trade. These are only the most glaring facts.

The impact of colonial rule in India was extremely devastating. In 1930, American historian Will Durant published a book about the history and life in India, The Case for India.  His study of India brought him to the following conclusion: “The more I read the more I was filled with astonishment and indignation at the apparently conscious and deliberate bleeding of India by England throughout a hundred and fifty years. I began to feel that I had come upon the greatest crime in all history.”

Britain has left fault lines across the globe, which is most acutely felt in the South Asian subcontinent, where a single nation was forcibly split into two in 1947. Today each of these parts is overcoming the consequences of the British colonial “legacy” on its own. Member of Parliament, former UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor, an astute statesman who once ran for UN Secretary-General and deservedly enjoys respect the world over has repeatedly stated that the British authorities suffer from “historical amnesia” as regards their imperial atrocities. One has to agree.  Speaking at Oxford on July 22, 2015, he said: “India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23 per cent. By the time the British left it was down to below four per cent. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.”  According to Dr Tharoor, in fact, Britain’s industrial revolution was actually premised upon the de-industrialisation of India. Britain repeatedly provoked famine in India, which killed between 15 million and 29 million people. The best known famine was that in Bengal in 1943, when four million Indians died. You could think this to be just journalistic speculations. But no. Addressing Speaker’s Research Initiative on July 24, 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed that the discourse by Dr Shashi Tharoor met the aspirations of his country’s citizens. I am saying this to you, Mr Bristow.  

In his book Inglorious Empire released in 2017, Dr Tharoor cited the atrocities of the British Empire, stating that the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, should be regarded as one of the cruellest dictators of the 20th century. This is what Churchill said in a conversation with Secretary of State for India and Burma Leopold Amery: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.” This is not what we are saying, nor are these our inventions. It’s a fact.

The Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin has a famous picture, “The Devil’s Wind.” This is not a symbolic comparison. The canvas shows a type of execution invented by the British to crush the 19th-century Sepoy Mutiny in India. A victim was tied to a gun with his back to the muzzle and blown to pieces by a gunshot. This was one of the most barbaric punishments in the history of civilisations aimed not so much at physical extermination or intimidation. Even without it, the British had so many infernal instruments of torture and execution that this option doesn’t seem so original and, honestly, was rather costly for the Brits. But from the religious and caste point of view this method of putting to death is absolutely unacceptable for Indians. Their bodies were blown to pieces and the dead were buried together regardless of caste, which is radically at variance with the Indian tradition. 

Yet another episode of the same kind occurred in Amritsar, Punjab, on April 13, 1919, when 50 British troops under Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer fired their rifles without warning at pilgrims celebrating Baishakhi, the Punjabi harvest and New Year festival, at the centrally located Jallianwala Bagh public garden. The gathering was mostly made up of women and children. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that these British subjects were acting on direct orders of the British authorities. According to the British government, 379 people were killed and over 1,000 wounded. The Indian National Congress said 1,000 people were killed and 1,500 wounded. Regrettably, millions of Indians were to fall victim to the acts committed by the British authorities, including mass executions by a firing squad, during at least several decades after these sad events.  

Africa has also suffered its share of British abuses. Some 13 million Africans have been removed from the continent as slaves. This has to do with Britain’s reputation and the UK Ambassador’s allegations regarding Russia. The number of Africans who died in that period is three or four times larger than the number of those who were removed from the continent. In other words, the overall number of victims runs into tens of millions of people. It is notable that English philosopher John Locke, who advanced the theory of civil society and whose works influenced those who wrote the US Constitution, was a major investor in Britain’s slave trade. It is a fact.

The British were among the first to invent concentration camps for civilians in the Boer War of 1899-1902. These camps were created for the civilians who were suspected of sympathising with the rebels or who could help them. The British torched their farms and fields and slaughtered their cattle. Women and children were separated from men. All this happened long before WWII. The men were taken to outlying regions or Britain’s other colonies, such as India or Ceylon.

When the world learned about this horrible invention of British military commander, Lord Kitchener, the British government published an official statement saying that the camps had been created to keep the peaceful population of the Boer Republics safe from harm’s way, and the camps were renamed “refugee camps.” This is remindful of the story of the White Helmets: take militants, extremists and terrorists, put white helmets on them with “Peace” written on these helmets, and then use them to stage provocations and present mobile phone footage of their crimes as evidence of the plight of the civilians who must be saved. Centuries have passed, yet nothing has changed. Prisoners are now called “guests of the Crown.” Overall, 200,000 people or half of the white Boer population was herded into the British camps, where about 30,000 of them died from disease and hunger.

There were British camps in Cyprus and in Palestine between the late 1930s and 1948, where Jewish refugees were sent and many of them were executed.

Another dark page from Britain’s history concerns the notorious Special Air Service (SAS) of the British Army, which have been used in over 30 local conflicts, mostly former British colonies, including Kenya and several South African countries.

In particular, about 50 former SAS servicemen were included in the Rhodesian regiment that was to play a key role in the coup staged during the transfer of power to the indigenous population of Rhodesia (renamed Zimbabwe).

Historians believe that Britain is the world’s leader when it comes to genocide, given the millions of innocent civilians that have been killed in British colonies.

According to different estimates, between 90 and 95 per cent of aborigines were exterminated during the colonisation of Australia. Indigenous Australians were not only killed but also used for experiments. The British deliberately infected them with various diseases, primarily pox.

The armed conflict between the British colonisers and the indigenous people of Tasmania known as the Black War all but exterminated Tasmanians in the early 19th century. Some British historians consider the war to have been a genocide. The British colonisers had official license to kill Tasmanians, with a bounty put on every person killed. That’s talking about an international reputation. They were poisoned, driven out into the dessert, where they died from hunger and thirst, they were hunted like wild animals. By 1835 about 200 of them survived. They were simply moved to neighbouring islands.

In the 1870s, on the orders of the British authorities, a genocide of Zulus was perpetrated in the Cape Colony and in 1954-1961 of the Kikuyu people in Kenya. In retaliation for the killing of 32 white settlers by the local rebels, the British authorities massacred 300,000 Kikuyus and sent 1.5 million to work camps. An account of these events is given in the book by Caroline Elkins titled The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. The Western media are reluctant and embarrassed to talk about it, but the personal story of the former US President Barack Obama speaks volumes. We have read that his father was tortured by the British during the Kenya rebellion. Or is that story untrue?

Remembering the notorious Opium Wars would not come amiss. London was poisoning Chinese people with drugs for decades. Britain organised a supply of opium to China making fabulous profits. The operation also pursued the military-strategic aim of demoralising the Chinese army and people and depriving them of the will to resist. In a bid to save his country, the Chinese Emperor in 1839 launched a massive operation to confiscate and destroy opium stocks in Canton. London retaliated by unleashing the Opium Wars. China was defeated and had to sign a crippling peace with Britain.

“As long as China remains a nation of opium-smokers there is not the least reason to fear that she will become a military power of any importance, as the habit saps the energies and vitality of the nation.” This was how Richard Hurst, the British Consul in China, ended his speech to the Royal Opium Commission in 1895.   It was not until 1905 that the Chinese authorities managed to adopt and start implementing a programme to gradually ban opium.

And now for instances from recent history, when London was already vocal in upholding human rights calling itself a bastion of democracy and freedom.

We have already described the suffering inflicted on India. This is not our question, this is common sense. Think of the suffering inflicted by the British authorities in the Middle East. One needs hardly go to any length to argue that Britain seeking to retain as much influence as possible in the region as it saw the colonial system crumble, made some moves which created a deep rift between the Arabs and the Jews. One need not go into historical details, it is enough to open the world map and look at the borders in the region as they were redrawn by the British after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Nobody thought about borders as something more than lines drawn with a ruler. But it concerned lives of whole nations. As a result, tribes, ethnic and religious communities and peoples were divided. The world is still reaping the fruit of that policy in the Middle East today. Yet Britain is still very active on this issue.

One more interesting fact. According to the British national archives declassified in 2014, the British authorities made wide use of chemical weapons to put down the Arab rebellion in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in the spring of 1920. Winston Churchill as Britain’s Secretary of State for War supported “the use of gas against uncivilised tribes.” According to archives, Churchill ordered the use of thousands of mustard gas shells against the rebels. The anti-British rebellion in Iraq claimed between 6,000 and 10,000 lives, according to various sources, a negligible number from London’s point of view compared to other regions.

The Greeks, too, got their share of British brutality. In the spring of 1944, Britain crushed a revolt in the Greek army in Egypt. Many historians believe that the suppression of that revolt paved the way to and was a prelude to the British invasion of Greece in December 1944 and the Civil War of 1946-1949. Of the 30,000 Greek officers and men in the Middle East between 20,000 and 22,000 were imprisoned in British camps in Eritrea, Egypt, Sudan and Libya.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the British authorities evicted 1,500 indigenous people from the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. At the United Nations, the British diplomats passed off the indigenous Ilua people as “contract workers.” The reason was the US wish to set up a military base on one of the islands. It was that simple.

Moreover, the whole archipelago was declared to be a marine reserve. In 2009, Wikileaks reported that the British government had backed the project to make sure that the continued attempts of deported islanders to return to their home island would fail. Ironically, the American military base on Diego Garcia Island was called Camp Justice. Sounds great.  

Here is another example from recent history. The secret service of the British Armed Forces intentionally falsified reports on military crimes committed between 2010 and 2013 so as to conceal information on killings of civilians in Afghanistan. Unarmed Afghan civilians, who were regarded as potential Taliban militants, were killed, not detained as per the reports, during raids on their homes.

Launched in 2014, the investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan committed in 2010-2013 was codenamed Operation Northmoor, with investigators establishing that the secret service in question had forged documents to shift the blame for killing unarmed civilians to the Afghan army. This is apropos international reputation, Mr British Ambassador. The investigators got hold of drone footage, the so-called Kill TV, which clearly shows that it was the British rather than their Afghan colleagues, who were firing at unarmed Afghans. According to The Times (July2, 2017), the UK Defence Ministry intended to conceal these war crimes from the media, because it believed that the publication of the investigation’s details could cause damage to national security, public confidence and collaboration with the allies. At the same time, the UK top army brass described the evidence of mass killings that had been discovered during the investigation as reliable, very serious and disastrous for the government. But no disaster ensued. The British authorities always have something to distract the attention of esteemed journalists.

On November 19, 2017, The Sunday Times published another story on SAS killings, specifically an admission by Major Chris Green, who testified to a SAS unit killing in cold blood three peaceful Afghans in the courtyard of their house at the village of Rahim, Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand Province. The civilians had no connections with the Taliban.

Now to Iraq. According to information from open sources, 326 criminal proceedings were instituted in connection with British military abuses during the Iraq war in 2003-2011, with charges brought against 1,500 persons and the compensations paid to the injured parties adding up to ₤20 million. It could be said that these are just isolated occurrences unrelated to the official state strategy. After all, there is always an investigation following any wrongdoing. Well, there are investigations, of course, and people get punished. But the British government, which sanctions all these things, never suffers any punishment and, what is most important, all of this keeps happening again and again, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.     

The media focused on an episode that happened in Basra in 2003, when the British military detained two Iraqis for an alleged killing of two British snipers. They were kept in prison without charge or trial for several years. They were charged with murder only in 2006. But Iraq’s Supreme Tribunal dropped the charges as unsubstantiated.

To minimise the number of lawsuits against the British military for crimes committed during military campaigns, the Tory annual conference in Birmingham held in October 2016 was presented with a government plan to grant British servicemen involved in conflicts abroad immunity from prosecution by the European Convention on Human Rights.     

Now let’s move on to espionage operations and pinpoint sabotage and subversive acts. From time immemorial, representatives of Great Britain have been avid fans of various kinds of covert operations and targeted subversive acts against specific individuals as a way to secure political benefits for Great Britain. This predisposition is richly represented in their art, things like the James Bond gold collection. This may sound ridiculous unless you know that the author of the series, Ian Fleming, had searched through the archives, so Agent 007 in fact has real prototypes. This anthology of crime, artfully described by writer and part-time naval intelligence officer Fleming is a light version for those who are not interested in historiography, who see archive work as boring or believe that materials there may have various interpretations and require additional checks.

Indeed, the Bondiana is a very symptomatic example of the British government’s love of such things. Fleming died in 1964, but what he described lives and thrives. New James Bond episodes are regularly released, as everyone is used to the superhero. Times change, the actors and sets change, but the idea remains unchanged – a British agent, in the service of the Kingdom, gets nothing less than  ‘license to kill.’ Once again I repeat, this is not a fictional invention, but a result of work with archival materials. What we see in the Bondiana is actually taking place under the cover of MI5 and MI6.

Thanks to the films, people have a basic understanding of the license to kill concept – a term denoting the permission granted by the official government or a state agency  to a secret agent who serves this authority to independently make a decision on the necessity and expediency of murder to achieve a certain goal. Once the mission is completed, the agent always returns to the base. We have seen that as well.

It is a pity that in normal life, to which we will now return, things are not so beautiful and dignified. Fleming did something brilliant: he took facts and packaged them beautifully. What we see is a very beautiful picture.

And now getting back to reality. The following historical episodes are not fiction, they are facts. Some of them are proven whereas others are highly likely hypotheses put forward by historians. But the key is that while as far back as a month and a half ago we did not use materials which are just hypotheses in official statements, with a helping hand from Theresa May who introduced the “highly likely” phrase to level an accusation of a most grave crime, why should we deny it to ourselves?

Scotland Yard historians also maintained the British authorities’ complicity in the murder of Grigory Rasputin. Michael Smith, a historian of the British intelligence, writes in his book SIX: A History of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service that at the height of World War I in 1916, the resident agent of the British intelligence in Petrograd heard rumours that Grigory Rasputin was trying to conclude a separate peace treaty with Germany through the Tsarina. This fact worried the British a great deal. Captain Oswald Raymer of MI6 was dispatched to Petrograd to get information about the talks from Rasputin and eliminate him, if necessary. According to Michael Smith, the third, security shot in Rasputin’s head (the “official” murderers’ testimony does not say anything about that) came from a 455 Webley, a British revolver, whereas the plotters’ memoirs indicate that Yusupov fired a pocket-size Browning and Purishkevich – a Savage pistol. The following is a striking admission from the declassified correspondence of British intelligence agents. A friend of Oswald Rayner’s wrote a letter to a British intelligence officer, John Scale, on December 24, 1916: “Although matters have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has been achieved … Rayner is attending to loose ends and will certainly contact you.” A number of historians are convinced that the message refers to Rasputin’s murder. In 2004, the BBC aired its documentary “Who Killed Rasputin?” According to British journalists, the “glory” and the plot of the murder belong to Great Britain, whereas the Russian conspirators were just the actors or the instruments.

By the way, there are similar versions regarding the murder of Russian Emperor Paul I, but I think this is a question to be addressed to historians.

Historians also write about the so-called Lockhart Conspiracy organised in 1918 by the heads of the diplomatic missions of Britain, France and the USA to Soviet Russia in order to overthrow the Bolsheviks. The conspiracy involved the chief of the British special mission, Robert Lockhart, French Ambassador Joseph Noulens, and US Ambassador David Francis.

Robert Lockhart tried to bribe the Latvian Riflemen who were guarding the Kremlin. You know the rest of the story. The Latvians were supposed to be sent to Vologda to join the British troops who would be landed in Arkhangelsk, so as to assist them in their advance. This is just a brief summary. You can read more on that.

In 2013, information was made public indicating that the MI6 intelligence service was the mastermind of the assassination (now we are moving to another continent) of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister the Congo.

A Labour member of the House of Lords said that Baroness Daphne Park of Monmouth had confessed to him a few months prior to her death in March 2010 that she had been behind the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba, because she feared that the new democracy would forge an alliance with the Soviet Union.

In a letter to the London Review of Books, Lord Lea reported that Daphne Park made her confession as they were having a cup of tea. From 1959 to 1961, she was the consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, the capital of the Belgian Congo, which was renamed Kinshasa after the country gained independence. Lord Lea writes, “I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. ‘We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it.’” 

As time went by, official London and its diplomatic missions continued to actively meddle in the domestic affairs of other states and to influence their political regimes. Suffice it to recall 20th century events when British secret services “took part” in staging a coup d’état in Iran in 1953. Since the early 20th century, British capital controlled the Iranian oil industry via a concession agreement that appropriated most of the country’s oil revenues. This situation provoked social and political tensions in Iran, which became more pronounced by the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh was appointed Prime Minister of Iran and started implementing an independent foreign and domestic policy. His policies were mostly aimed at eliminating foreign monopolies operating in the country on highly unprofitable terms to the detriment of Iranian interests. A movement for the nationalisation of Iranian oilfields became the main symbol of Mossadegh’s independent policy. At that time, oil export revenues were allotted disproportionately in favour of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now called British Petroleum, with British government acting as its main shareholder. With the support of the Majlis (Parliament), Mossadegh passed a law on the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry. This hit British interests hard. After that, official London launched subversive operations against the Iranian government, imposed an international embargo on Iranian petroleum products and thus caused a major economic crisis in Iran.

British diplomats working in Moscow are probably listening and recording all this. They will have to send their report to London today. I have done my best, and this statement is 17 pages long. I have one question: Are you proud of your history? Then you need to make a choice: either you advocate human rights, international law and democracy, or you are proud of what you did in the past and continue to do today.

In August 1953, the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service staged their joint Operation Ajax to overthrow the government of Mossadegh. A new Iranian government signed another agreement on establishing a consortium of US and British companies that obtained part of Iranian oil revenues and the right to develop oilfields in that country.

Although we were members of the Anti-Hitler Coalition, the UK’s behaviour during World War II can also hardly be called equivocal, due to a number of factors. Some historical episodes give rise to major questions about the essence of the UK’s policies on the international scene. This includes, for example, Rudolf Hess’ mysterious flight to the UK on the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The history of every country has some unpleasant facts, for which future generations will have to pay the price and assume moral responsibility. But the British secret services have classified all the documents on this case for 100 years, and this deadline is being extended. During the Nuremberg Tribunal, Hess tried to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding his visit, but the British prosecutor, presiding over the court, promptly stopped the hearings. During the break, representatives of British secret services visited Hess, and he later started feigning amnesia. Under the court ruling, Hess was transferred to Spandau Prison to serve a life sentence but he died there under mysterious circumstances in August 1987, pending his possible release three months later. All relevant documents were classified. The situation remains unclear. Certain facts exist but the full circumstances remain classified.

Volume Five of Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence mentions another extremely curious episode of World War II. A joint British-US plan for a military attack against the Soviet Union was declassified in October 1998 and the relevant files of the UK’s National Archives were published. In all, ten German divisions, as well as 47 US and British divisions, were to have attacked the unsuspecting forces of the Soviet Union, then an ally of Washington and London. Intelligence officers received information about Allied military preparations, launched after the surrender of Germany. The plan’s codename, Operation Unthinkable, truly reflected its ambitious concept, which involved forcing Soviet Russia to submit to the will of the United States and the British Empire. But, after analysing the balance of forces and equipment, the new Allies decided that it would prove impossible to achieve a rapid limited success, and that they would be dragged into a protracted war against superior forces.

Another example of subversive operations can be found in Kim Philby’s book “My Silent War”, which contains some interesting evidence. In April 1951, London hosted a meeting of representatives of the British and US intelligence services regarding both countries’ use of Ukrainian nationalist organisations. Again, everything ties up.  By that time, the secret services had supported Stepan Bandera’s Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) for many years and used them to recruit agents and obtain intelligence on the USSR. Cooperation between OUN and the Intelligence Service grew steadily. In 1949 and 1950, several OUN saboteur squads were para-dropped to Ukraine. In the early hours of May 15, 1951, British secret services para-dropped three reconnaissance-saboteur squads. Everyone knows about the atrocities committed by Bandera’s supporters, including mass executions of civilians, hundreds of thousands of men and women, old people and children, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Yugoslavs, the Volhynia massacre, the murder of Polish professors, the Khatyn tragedy, punitive operations in Slovakia, Warsaw and Prague. 

The British authorities actively recruited professional criminals during their subversive operations. Remember, they told us that Russia is a criminal state with which there should be no cooperation? But the British authorities cooperate nicely with criminals. We are not even talking about White Helmets and people recruited into this organisation who are supported all the same. Let’s talk about “mundane” things. In 1973, Her Majesty’s Government officially admitted that Kenneth Littlejohn and his brother Keith had robbed banks in the Republic of Ireland for over 12 months in order to discredit the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA). This amounts to classic tactics. Kenneth Littlejohn claims that he was instructed to kill Sean Mac Stíofáin, the former chief of staff of the IRA.

And here is another example: Howard Marx, an Oxford graduate who became a drug dealer, was recruited for the purpose of obtaining information about the IRA’s weapons supply chain. In return, the authorities promised not to prosecute him for drug-related crimes. These are isolated examples.

By the way, the British government is known to have created comfortable conditions in the UK for criminals from other countries. According to the UK Home Office’s information for a period between 2005 and 2012, there were over 700 war crime perpetrators living in Britain.

The British authorities also like to use prohibited methods for treating prisoners, especially when they need to get information from them. And, of course, nobody has called off the licence to kill.

A recent case in point is the story of Libyan field commander Abdelhakim Belhaj, who was arrested by US special services, after a tip-off from the British, in 2004. After his release in 2009, Belhaj accused London of organising his abduction and of taking part in his interrogation and torture. He has been fighting for a formal apology from the British government since 2011. He has brought the case against former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and several MI6 officers, including former Director of Counter-Terrorism Mark Allen, whose correspondence with members of Libya’s special services was made public after Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow. We also remember how Gaddafi was removed and that London applauded the execution of the head of a sovereign state.

In December 2013, the High Court of England and Wales concluded that Belhaj’s claims cannot be settled in the UK. In July 2016, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed its decision to release the MI6 officers involved in the case.

On January 17, 2016, the UK Supreme Court ruled that “claims that the rendition and torture of Abdelhakim Belhaj breached rights enshrined in the Magna Carta should be put before an English court.”

It was reported in February 2018 that the next hearing of this case would not be held sooner than 2019. While history is history, claims have been lodged and are being investigated. And the latest news: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office insists that the hearings be held behind closed doors for national security interests, which is another classical pretext.

In 2015, a non-fiction book titled The Third Bullet: The Political Background of the Assassination of Zoran Dindic (Djindjic) was published in Serbia. The authors blame the murder of the Serbian prime minister in 2003 on the British intelligence. They claim that the MI6 agent in Serbia, Anthony Monckton, who was connected with the alleged killers, the Zemun criminal clan, was also involved in this crime.

God knows in how many other such cases the UK government is involved. On March 21, 1985, a Soviet engineer working at the Indian nuclear power plant, Valentin Khitrichenko, was assassinated in New Delhi by members of an Afghan terrorist group. What makes us think that the UK special services were involved if Khitrichenko was killed by Afghan terrorists? Those who maintained contact with that group knew about the planned terrorist attack but did nothing to prevent it.

In conclusion, I will provide the “deadly list” of the prominent and talented people who died a strange death in the UK in the early 21st century.

November 2001: Vladimir Pasechnik, a Soviet microbiologist and former head of the Institute of Highly Pure Biochemical Preparations in Leningrad, dies in Salisbury, allegedly of a stroke. Pasechnik worked at a secret military chemical laboratory at Porton Down. You know about that laboratory at Porton Down. Well, he worked there. While on a trip to France in 1989, he asked for political asylum in the UK and subsequently told the British intelligence service about the alleged biological weapons programme in the Soviet Union.

July 2003: a UK authority on biological warfare David Kelly was found dead in Oxfordshire. The inquiry concluded that he had committed suicide. I would like to remind you that David Kelly criticised the Tony Blair government and claimed that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on falsified data. A decade later, the UK government admitted that the data was indeed falsified.

2003: Lawyer Stephen Moss died of a sudden heart attack. He was hired by Boris Berezovsky and his partner Badri Patarkatsishvili to sell the assets of their Devonia investment company.

2004: Dr Paul Norman, who succeeded David Kelly at the Porton Down laboratory, died in an air crash in Devon. He was a leading chemical and biological weapons expert in the UK.

March 2004: Lawyer Stephen Curtis died in a helicopter crash near Bournemouth Airport. The UK media allege that he feared for his life. Several weeks before his death, he allegedly told his friend, “If anything happens to me in the next few weeks, it will not be an accident.” According to the media, Curtis was the managing director of Menatep Group and a lawyer of Boris Berezovsky and Nikolai Glushkov. He was also an independent witness at the hearing of their lawsuit against Forbes in the UK Supreme Court.

Some deaths I will not even mention. Let’s just list the major cases. In November 2006, former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, Alexander Litvinenko, died in London. I will not go into details, everything is top secret. In January 2007, one of Yukos founders, Yury Golubev, died in London. In February 2008, Badri Patarkatsishvili died of a heart attack in his mansion in Leatherhead, Surrey. In August 2010, former employee of the Government Communications Headquarters (electronic intelligence) Gareth Williams died under suspicious circumstances. He was found dead in a sports bag zipped from the outside. Investigators concluded that his death was an accident (allegedly, he got into the bag himself, zipped it and could not get out). Why are you laughing? This is not funny. This is the official data from the British investigation report.

In April 2012, Richard Holmes, who had worked at a secret military chemical lab in Porton Down, died in Salisbury. The investigation determined that one month before his death, Holmes quit his job for unknown reasons. Forensics found that he died of a stroke. However, his colleagues claimed the scientist had been in great physical shape and had no health problems. Perhaps it has something to do with Porton Down. Maybe it is the toxic environment.

In November 2012, Russian financier Alexander Perepilichny died in Weybridge, Surrey. This case is also very mysterious. In December 2012, millionaire and real estate tycoon Robert Curtis died in London. According to the investigation, he jumped in front of a train. In March 2013, Boris Berezovsky died in Ascot. There is nothing to comment on here. Nobody has established what exactly happened there to this day. In December 2014, a close friend of Berezovsky, businessman Scot Young, died in London after he fell out of the fourth floor window. It does happen that people sometimes fall out of the fourth floor windows but it was not the only such death at the time.

In 2016, prominent British scientist and radioactive substance expert Matthew Puncher died in Oxfordshire. He had been a key expert on the Alexander Litvinenko death probe. His death was ruled suicide. Law enforcement agencies promptly closed the case.

I want to say that this smear campaign that the British government is waging against Russia is Britain’s stock in trade. This is talking about the reputation at the international scene. And boy, they are constantly talking about our reputation! I gave you a short list. There are volumes written about what the British government and those who report to it have been doing around the world over centuries, including the 20th and the 21st century. This is nothing new for the people who are aware of this. But the point is that many people are not aware.

Spanish historian Julian Juderias described the British establishment’s habit of badmouthing its competitors since the 16th century very well. He gave a definition to this act by the British government (“Black Legend” is a special term used to mean smear campaign by Britain): “The environment created by the fantastic stories about our homeland that have seen the light of publicity in all countries, the grotesque descriptions that have always been made of the character of Spaniards as individuals and collectively, the denial or at least the systematic ignorance of all that is favourable and beautiful in the various manifestations of culture and art, the accusations that in every era have been flung against Spain” “which are based on depictions of events that are exaggerated, misinterpreted or indeed entirely false, and finally the claim found in books that at first sight seem respectable and truthful, which is repeatedly reproduced, commentated upon and magnified in the foreign press, that our fatherland should be seen as a lamentable exception among the group of European nations.” Once again, this was written by a Spanish historian about the purpose of Black Legend.

But enough of poetry, let’s move on to facts. Speaking about the motives suggested by London in the Skripal case and considering the long-standing policy conducted against us by British Ambassador in Russia Laurie Bristow, it is highly likely that the provocation against the Russian nationals in Salisbury was to the advantage of and perhaps even organised by the British secret services to compromise Russia and its political leadership. Historically, Britain has practiced this on a regular basis. This measure fits in with the general anti-Russian course of the conservative government seeking to demonise our country.

The UK’s national security strategy and Prime Minister Theresa May’s banquet speech late last year indicate the same.

The outright refusal to cooperate with Russia in the Salisbury poisoning investigation, London’s violation of its obligations under the Consular Convention, avoidance of cooperation with the OPCW and concealing source documents essential for an objective investigation are quite illustrative of this.

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A statement by UK Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce

 

British officials are constantly quoting from literary classics when they talk to us. During the UN Security Council meeting on April 19, UK Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce mentioned the literary knowledge of Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya, noting that she had already decided on a Christmas gift for him saying that she would buy the Russian ambassador a subscription to the English Literature Club when Christmas comes.

Of course, we are thankful to Ms Pierce for this interesting idea and, I think, Mr Nebenzya, too, will find the right words when he speaks at the UN Security Council next time. As you may be aware, we never leave a favour unanswered. Why wait another eight months for the New Year or Christmas to arrive? We can see what difficulties the British government is running into when it comes to history based on a statement made by British Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow.

Recently we signed an agreement on cooperation with the Russian Military History Society. In this regard, we can put in a word for Ms Pierce and the entire British government to have them accepted as honourary members of the Russian Military History Society. This status will not only provide them access to the society’s vast archives, but also allow them to take part in developing key areas of scientific research in the field of history. That’ll give us a chance to at least work together. 

 

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung publishes articles by former prominent German politicians in its April 12 edition

 

Amid the bullying campaign started by London in connection with the Skripal case in Salisbury, which was supported by the West, and continued in the context of the US-led coalition strikes on Syria, one would assume that isolated common sense voices will drown in the choir excoriating Russia, but, fortunately, this is not the case. A publication carried in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on April 12 of a collective appeal by former German politicians is a case in point. Ex-Minister President of Bavaria Edmund Stoiber, former Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and foreign policy adviser to German Chancellor Horst Teltschik, as well as other prominent political figures of the country rightly note the purposeful erasure in the mass consciousness in the West of the historical memory of the two world wars and the confrontation incited against this background. Notably, the representatives of this clear-headed part of the German political establishment hold the German authorities largely accountable for inculcating fear of an imaginary Russian threat in Europe. The authors note the strategic dimension of Russian-German relations and propose resuming the discussion on building a “common pan-European home” and returning to the Russian President’s proposals on long-term and comprehensive cooperation which he mentioned in his speech in the Bundestag in 2001.

We would like to hope that the official circles are receptive of this article.

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US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman’s answers to social media users

 

We learnt with interest of US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman’s answers to questions from social media users. We are happy that Mr Ambassador calls for the normalisation of bilateral dialogue. However, we were surprised at his premise that to have a better relationship between our two countries Russia must “become a more responsible partner” in solving problems standing in the way of their improvement.

In fact, Russia has always been extremely responsible towards its relationship with the US. Unfortunately, this does not apply to our US partners. Attempts to pressure us with sanctions and military potential, constant media publications propagating the official narrative, obvious slander, calling our country the biggest threat in the US National Security Strategy and even fixing the status of “adversary” in last year’s sanction bill – all that does not look like a commitment to constructive dialogue and a responsible approach to global stability. It rather shows Washington’s desire to hamper Russia’s development in every possible way and to assert US dominance in the global arena.

The Ambassador’s statement invites obvious questions. For example, what do the US missile strikes on Syria and the actual severance of its eastern regions have to do with international law? And where was the “responsible attitude” Mr Huntsman spoke about when the US actively supported a coup d’état in Kiev with subsequent violence from the radicals that took power there and plunged Ukraine into civil confrontation?

We are also unable to understand why Washington is insistently refusing to restore the activities of the Russia-US working group on fighting terrorism. Could it be related to the fact that the US has long been trying to exploit terrorist groups in Syria – to forcibly bring down the legitimate government in Damascus, which amounts to another coup?

Many US politicians and the media have been spreading tales for two years of some “Russian hackers”, who nearly broke the overall election system in the US. At the same time, Washington refuses to set up a bilateral working group on cyber security which could discuss the complaints in essence and in a professional way. As we have told you, in February the Americans even derailed holding a one-time consultation on the issue.

The US officials’ refusal to engage in direct dialogue on cyber matters once again showed that despite loud public accusations, they do not have any evidence of our alleged guilt that they would not be embarrassed to present to experts. In other words, all that is just bashing and propaganda.

“Responsible behaviour” is also missing in the clandestine arrests of Russian nationals by the US special services in third countries:  Viktor Bout, Konstantin Yaroshenko and many others. Rather than cooperate in a normal way with the Russian law enforcement agencies, and we are ready for that, the Americans started a real hunt for Russians around the world. They are simply kidnapping people. There are over 40 cases like that.

Yet another irresponsible step was the US decision on March 26 to expel 60 Russian diplomats and to shut down the Russian Consulate General in Seattle. Let me remind you that one of its premises – the Consul General’s residence – is Russian property (the office was rented). We were ordered to leave the building by April 24, after which it will be added to five other diplomatic premises that have been illegally taken over by the US authorities since late 2016 in contradiction with immunity and property rights. All that is also irresponsible.

We recall no such precedents of lawlessness in the history of our bilateral relations. We are expelled from the buildings that are not only housing diplomatic missions but are also property of the Russian Federation. This is the same as evicting a person from their own home. Naturally, the US has to give all our property back to us. We assume that, and they know it.

Unfortunately, these are not the only instances of significant US debt to Russia. Let me stress again our openness and a constructive approach, the will to work jointly on all the issues I mentioned before. But Washington should display the same commitment. Otherwise we will not be able to overcome the stormy atmosphere in our relations.

We hope the esteemed US Ambassador will be able to play a part in stopping Washington from continued efforts to destroy the foundations of the Russia-US collaboration so that Washington will finally show a responsible approach. A question to Mr Ambassador: If he advocates a responsible approach, how can he read what the US Department of State publishes as a statement on Russia?

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US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker’s public activity

 

We noted US Ambassador Kurt Volker’s intensive public activity. If we understand it correctly, the US leadership assigned him specifically to deal with resolving the crisis in southeastern Ukraine. Perhaps, bored of his job – which has not given him many plus points by the way – the respectable US representative decided to instead engage in a wider “educational activity” beyond the scope of his Ukrainian brief. Travelling all over the place and making appearances on talk shows as well as  at conferences, he is making rather confrontational public statements, giving advice to countries on how to behave in their relations with Russia and demanding that the sanctions be tightened and  bilateral cooperation with Moscow, advocated by the US Ambassador to Russia, be curtailed. 

In our opinion, this kind of “diplomacy” runs counter to his official duties as a mediator in Ukrainian crisis settlement. This also cannot but affect the effectiveness of the ongoing Russia-US consultations in the Volker-Surkov format.

We call on US Special Representative Kurt Volker to take a more serious and responsible approach to his job (even more so because it is our common cause) and focus his efforts not on statements like the ones I already mentioned but on a calm and constructive search for mutually acceptable solutions to various aspects of the settlement, including the parameters of a possible UN peacemaking mission in Donbass.

As far as it concerns the latter, we believe that the draft UNSC resolution on modalities of the UN mission to protect OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observers submitted by Russia in September 2017 is the most optimal  and realistic option for launching a UN operation in southeastern Ukraine. We call on the United States and its partners to approach this document in the most pragmatic manner and present their written arguments and amendments, which we requested a long time ago. A positive solution to this matter would enable a  a major advance in implementing the Minsk Agreements, certainly with mandatory regard for  the views and with the  consent of the  parties to the internal Ukrainian conflict - Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.

 

Statement by former FBI Director James Comey

 

We noted that on April 15, former director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey, in his interview with the ABC network marking the release of his book A Higher Loyalty, allowed himself to mention certain issues related to the US-Russia bilateral agenda, which are not true to fact. 

It is not surprising that, in response to the question about Russia allegedly having information that would cast a slur on Donald Trump, James Comey, who clearly resents the President for firing him, eagerly assumed this as possible. Let it be between the former American counter-intelligence agent and his conscience, because the first impression of his book is that his only activity was to diligently collect damaging information on his former boss. So, if there is any damaging material on Donald Trump, perhaps it should be looked for at James Comey’s? It is more puzzling that Comey is clearly lying about the format of the official meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US President Donald Trump on May 10, 2017. Comey is surprised that the Russian delegation was even allowed in the White House (“What are the Russians doing in the Oval Office?”). What exactly is wrong with that? Many people go there. He is even using some exclamations, which I don’t know how to better convey in Russian. For example, he is using expressions like “Wow!” and “That’s crazy!” So, receiving the Taliban is okay but receiving Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is “wow.” James Comey acted indignation with the fact that, allegedly, nobody besides the President represented the US at the meeting. You are the former FBI director, so let me tell you.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was accompanied by four other Russian representatives, including Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Donald Trump was accompanied by five US officials, including three high-ranking representatives of his administration and two members of the US National Security Council.

By the way, according to the White House protocol, the meetings between Minister Lavrov and George W. Bush and, later, Barack Obama followed the same format.

So, these claims raise a lot of questions. Moreover, it is very hard to say that the meeting was private or confidential for American secret services. Therefore, we have to refute Mr Comey’s statement. We believe it is unacceptable to plant knowingly false information in the media, with a clear purpose of instigating more animosity, in the current situation between Russia and the United States which is already extremely tense.

This is based on the information published by ABC News. If it is a mistake, fine, they should release a denial.

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Status of Russian citizens and their children at Iraqi penitentiaries

 

The BBC has asked us to comment on the status of female Russian citizens and their children at Iraqi penitentiaries.

According to the Russian Embassy in Baghdad, an Iraqi court found two Russian citizens guilty of assisting terrorists April 17 and sentenced them to life. Under Iraqi legislation, they will have to serve 20-year prison terms and will subsequently be deported from the country. We are talking about Alisa Ismailova (Magomedrasulova), born March 19, 1992 in Makhachkala, with four children, and Elvira Magometkhanova, born July 13, 1997 in Derbent, with two children. This verdict is not final, pending its examination by a court of appeals, all the more so as both women have pleaded not guilty. Three female citizens of Azerbaijan and one citizen of Kyrgyzstan were sentenced to death during the same court hearing, and a French citizen was sentenced to life.

Officials of the Russian Embassy in Baghdad attended the court hearings and were later able to meet with the defendants.

The sentence is the first result of investigating circumstances as regards the status of Russian citizens from among the wives and widows of ISIS militants in Iraq. Local investigative agencies launched this process in 2017 after the defeat of this terrorist organisation’s main forces in Iraq.

Participants in the next court hearing, scheduled for April 29, are to review the cases of 11 other female Russian citizens.

The Russian Embassy in Baghdad and the Russian Consulate General in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, closely followed the situation of Russian citizens together with their children in Iraq after the first reports of their arrest by local law enforcement agencies were received in the summer of 2017. They established working contacts with all Iraqi agencies dealing with this matter, and these contacts made it possible to understand the essence and scale of this issue in general.

According to the available reports, between 50-70 women, presumably Russian citizens, and over 100 children are currently in the Central Criminal Court prison in Baghdad. The parents of many of these children, born in Iraq and Syria, are not known. Foreign diplomats were denied access to the arrested women during the investigation. Therefore it will be possible to start identifying persons who have stated their Russian citizenship in late April and early May, that is, after the investigation comes to a close, and after the first verdicts are passed.

The detained and arrested persons are charged with illegally crossing the Iraqi border, with terrorism or with facilitating terrorist attacks by ISIS militants. If they are found guilty, the women would face the death penalty, be sentenced to life or they will have to serve lengthy prison terms. This is proved by previous trials with regard to 50 women, reportedly citizens of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Out of this number, 32 were eventually sentenced to death, with 15 more getting life. The Iraqi counter-terrorism law contains some tough-worded provisions, and persons, accomplices to ISIS crimes in Iraq, can hardly expect any clemency.

In a broader context, we would like to confirm that, if the Russian citizenship of these women is established, the Russian Embassy in Iraq will guarantee their rights to defence by involving local lawyers and by appealing their verdicts. This was done during the April 17 trial. But it is very difficult to identify these women. Some of them have deliberately destroyed their documents, and they misinform the Iraqi authorities on their citizenship. Still others have, indeed, lost their passports during the hostilities. It is even more difficult to determine the ethnicity of children under the age of three because they don’t speak any language yet.

As our experience of cooperation with the Iraqi authorities shows, they don’t object to returning the children back home, provided that the relevant documents are duly formalised in Russia, and that the Russian Embassy in Baghdad transfers these to the concerned courts making the final decision. The Iraqi side is voicing its readiness to meet Russia halfway, provided that the Russian citizens whose activities are being investigated or those who have already been sentenced will independently initiate the transfer of their children to relatives in Russia.

The Foreign Ministry’s work in this field hinges on close cooperation with Deputy Chair of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Ziyad Sabsabi. Since the summer of 2017, Mr Sabsabi has helped repatriate 73 children and 24 women from Iraq and Syria to Russia. We will continue active diplomatic efforts to return Russian citizens, not involved in the crimes of ISIS militants, home. 

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Russia-Azerbaijan relations

 

During the previous briefing, the Trend news agency asked about the development of Russia-Azerbaijan relations and the priority areas of interaction. This is what I have to say in this regard:

Russia and Azerbaijan enjoy relations of strategic partnership based on equality and neighbourliness, as well as centuries-long friendship, common history and culture and intertwined lives of millions of people. Very intensive, mutually beneficial, warm and trust-based contacts are maintained at the level of heads of state and government, relevant ministries and agencies, as well as representatives of scientific, cultural and civil societies. In 2017 alone, our presidents met four times. The relations between our parliaments are also very close.

Interregional cooperation is also very active: 17 Russian regions have agreements on trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation with Azerbaijan; companies from 70 Russian regions are engaged in export and import operations with that country.

The situation in the trade and economic field is improving. In 2017, bilateral trade grew by 28.58 percent as compared with 2016 and amounted to $2.63 billion ($2.04 billion in 2016).

Investment cooperation is on the rise as well. Over 600 joint Russian-Azerbaijani companies operate on the Azerbaijani market; some 200 of them have 100 percent Russian capital. Russia’s direct investments in Azerbaijan amount to some $1.5 billion. The two countries share a mutual interest in the implementation of large-scale bilateral projects in energy, transport, innovative technology and agriculture.

Cultural and humanitarian cooperation is traditionally a priority. We are satisfied with the development of cooperation in education. Russia accommodates between 11,000-15,000 students from Azerbaijan (both using government grants and studying on a paid basis). Branches of Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University are operating in Baku. The opening of more branches of Russia’s leading universities is being discussed. The two countries agreed to resume the time-tested tradition of holding bilateral Years of Culture.

I cannot omit an event of special importance that will take place in Baku on May 10. I am talking about the opening of the joint Russian-Azerbaijani historical and documentary exhibition, Heydar Aliyev: Personality, Role, Mission, dedicated to the 95th anniversary of the birth of the prominent statesman who played a key role in the establishment of Azerbaijan as an independent state and who laid the foundation of strategic partnership with Russia. Such a return to the beginning of our relations is quite symbolic. It is a reminder of all the joint work to strengthen and promote friendship between our countries and our peoples that has been conducted by our presidents, which Russia considers to be one of its foreign policy priorities.

We are confident that Ilham Aliyev’s recent confident victory in the early presidential election in Azerbaijan guarantees that this course will continue.

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Developments in Armenia

 

Prior to the briefing, we received a request to comment on the situation in Armenia in light of the ongoing protests.

We are convinced that the situation in the friendly nation of Armenia will be settled democratically and within the legal framework.

 

Investigation into the crash of the Polish president’s plane near Smolensk on April 10, 2010

 

At our most recent briefing, Polish colleagues asked us about progress in investigating the plane crash that killed the president of Poland near Smolensk on April 10, 2010 and also when Russia could return the wreckage of the Polish presidential airliner to Poland.

We receive these questions on a regular basis, and we regularly answer them. The situation hasn’t changed much recently. The Russian law enforcement agencies continue to thoroughly investigate the Smolensk tragedy causes, and to work through the Polish side’s inquiries regarding provision of legal assistance. The Polish National Prosecutor's Office has not yet completed its investigation and keeps moving the deadline, because our Polish colleagues still have doubts about what really happened.

We operate on the premise that no stone should be left unturned in investigating this complex matter.

As for returning the wreckage to Poland, the debris collected at the site of the crash constitute material evidence. In accordance with our procedural rules, they must remain in Russia until all the necessary investigative measures are completed.

Question: Commenting on your latest briefing, the Polish Foreign Ministry said that the issue of assistance remains unrealised. What can you say to this?

Maria Zakharova: This is not a matter of public debate. Why would the Polish government respond to my comments when there’s a Polish Embassy in Russia, and its qualified employees can come to the Russian Foreign Ministry and ask for all the help they need?

Question: We received a statement from a representative of the Polish Foreign Ministry saying that there are four inquiries that remain unanswered. How can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: If the inquiry includes a request to release wreckage, then I already covered this. As far as I know, everything we were able to provide at the request of the Polish side was effectively provided. I will look into that. This is the law enforcement agencies’ area rather than the Foreign Ministry’s. We will issue a request to that effect.

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Foreign citizens crossing the Russia-Belarus border during the FIFA World Cup

 

During the previous briefing, I was asked about the arrangements involved in foreign citizens crossing the Russia-Belarus border during the FIFA World Cup. Here’s what I have to say about that.

The success of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is very important to us, as is the problem-free entry and stay of guests of this event in our country. Currently, the arrangements for crossing the state border between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus by foreign citizens and stateless persons who are holders of photo Fan IDs is still being worked on by competent Russian agencies in collaboration with Belarus.

In particular, this matter was on the agenda of the meeting of the Interstate Interdepartmental Working Group on Developing Recommendations for Conducting a Harmonised Migration Policy, which was held today. We are waiting for its decisions to be released.

Soon, the fans will be broadly informed about all matters related to the procedure of crossing the Russia-Belarus border.

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From answers to media questions:

Question: Recently, Azerbaijani parliament members supported Russia in the Skripal case by calling it a provocation, a course continuing the sanctions policy and an attempt to isolate Russia. They stressed that they are against such actions. Could you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: I have not seen the document but if it contains words like ‘provocation’ it completely reflects Russia’s stance. We are glad that there is still objectivity in the modern world and in Azerbaijan, in particular.

Question: Please comment on the inter-Korean summit planned for April 27.

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly said that we always support the two Korean states’ efforts to establish a dialogue and develop contacts. We hope that the upcoming inter-Korean top-level meeting will help to improve the situation on the Korean Peninsula and to resolve the entire scope of problems in the region, including the nuclear one.

As for the potential agenda of the summit, specifically, the prospects for resuming inter-Korean cooperation in practical fields, we would welcome such agreements and would be ready to facilitate their implementation should our Korean partners turn to us for assistance. We confirm that our initiatives with respect to the trilateral cooperation between Russia, South Korea and North Korea in the railway industry, electricity and gas remain in effect.

The UN Security Council’s sanctions against North Korea are, of course, a subject to be considered by this international body in due course.

Question: The West has repeatedly accused Russia of preventing OPCW experts’ access to the site of the alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma. Are these statements true? What is your response to these accusations by Western politicians?

Maria Zakharova: We’ve provided an extensive commentary which is available on the Foreign Ministry’s official website. I have also given my verbal comments on this topic. This is complete nonsense, a lie, falsehood and any other synonyms possible. Where on Earth is all this coming from? Are they presenting any specific facts or arguments? We have no knowledge of them. We were immediately and sincerely interested in sending OPCW experts there and made respective public statements. Moreover, we urged the Syrian side to issue any necessary documents, including visas, to the inspectors as promptly as possible. We used our bilateral channels to ask Syria to be as prompt and constructive as it can be regarding this matter. On top of everything else, we are not organisers of the trip. It was organised by the UN, the OPCW and Syria. However, we offered to give a helping hand every time, even when it came to providing security.

There is one nuance. We are used to being accused of every little thing. So even when we offered our assistance in providing security, honestly, there was no guarantee that we would not be accused of trying to get involved in the arrangements for this mission and, God forbid, somehow affect its findings. Only because the UN expressed concerns, for obvious reasons, because terrorists attacked the area once again, Russia did everything it could in terms of security. Why the French Foreign Ministry claims that Russia allegedly prevented access, we don’t know. Considering that they published the chemical attack report with such glaring errors, perhaps the place was not shown to them properly. It is hard to say.

Question: Dozens of Russian media outlets and public organisations are enthusiastic about the Highly Likely Welcome Back initiative by the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University). The initiative is aimed at encouraging the return of Russian students studying at British universities and helping them continue their studies at Russian universities. We would like to ask about the Foreign Ministry’s official position in this regard. Will the ministry support this initiative?

Maria Zakharova: This is indeed a Rossotrudnichestvo programme, so I think this agency can comment on it. I can say that Rossotrudnichestvo has had business and cultural ties with compatriots living abroad for many years. Now they have added dialogue with experienced and skilled experts, in particular, in digital economy, to their traditional agenda. Last year, Russia adopted a large-stale digital economy development programme, which is aimed at changing the majority of  areas of our everyday life, starting from education and healthcare to transport and payment systems. Personnel training and placement is an important part of this work, which is carried out jointly by the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Education and Science. The agency sees its role in serving as a communication venue for students, graduates, young specialists, education centres, secondary schools and universities, and, of course, potential employers. Its partners abroad include associations of Russian-speaking students and compatriots as well as proactive Russian citizens.

According to Rossotrudnichestvo, this project will become the first step in creating a digital economy ecosystem in Russia. I believe it is also noteworthy that, unfortunately, representatives of Russian diasporas in various countries, especially in Great Britain, are closely watched by state authorities. Sometimes this means special attention during various formal procedures, including visa issues.

MGIMO’s Faculty of Management and Policy, the Information Society Development Foundation, Aktum Platform and Rossotrudnichestvo are working to prepare a foundation for compatriots from Great Britain and other countries who want to continue studying and find employment in leading Russian companies or those who face an unfriendly attitude where they live. As we understand it, the programme covers much more than quotas, a list of professional areas, some regions or a list or educational institutions or employers. Every highly qualified specialist in the Russian regions or in the countries where compatriots live will be approached individually to find a deserving career route.

I think you could ask Rossotrudnichestvo about this. I have summarised their position. Russian students at foreign universities can ask their questions if they join a specially created group on Facebook. You have mentioned its name. The moderators are ready to answer all the questions. Ask Rossotrudnichestvo for more detailed comments.

Question: A week ago, DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho had a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Did North Korea express any intention to resume six-party talks? Is there any new information provided by diplomats about the preparations of top-level talks between Russia and North Korea?

Maria Zakharova: Everything related to top-level talks are in the competence of the Russian Presidential Executive Office.

As for six-party talks, we state (and you can see it) more active bilateral contacts with the six countries you are talking about.

Question: The Interfax news agency reported that the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC has received a letter from the White House saying that there will be no more new sanctions in the nearest future. Can you confirm this?

Maria Zakharova: This is not today’s news but that of the beginning of the week. We confirmed it on that same day.

Question: Today Interfax published information with a reference to a Russian military and diplomatic source saying that the Syrian opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra are expanding their operations in southern Syria with a view to establishing an autonomy there with US support. Can you go into this in more details or provide some official information?

Maria Zakharova: I saw these comments. We have this information. It is true and we are monitoring the trend.

In the past few weeks, the situation in southern Syria has aggravated. Despite the statements made by the United States, not only the Free Syrian Army, but also Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS militant groups are playing the main roles in the Yarmouk River valley. At the same time, convoys with alleged humanitarian aid are arriving there regularly through the Jordanian border. But in fact, the goods delivered by these lorries are far from being humanitarian cargo. It has yet to be discovered what kind of cargo it is. All deliveries of so-called humanitarian aid are controlled directly by the Americans.

As part of the operation of a monitoring centre in Amman, Jordanian and American representatives receive information on a regular basis about militants’ attacks on the government troops in these districts. However, nobody has taken any measures to stabilise the situation or destroy the terrorists. So the militants are actively expanding areas under their control.

In early April, the joint operative headquarters of Jabhat al-Nusra in Daraa urged the command of other militant groups in the provinces of As-Suwayda, Daraa and Quneitra to coordinate efforts to start a joint offensive against the Syrian government troops.

I would like to note that Jabhat al-Nusra and the units of the Free Syrian Army have over 12,000 militants, as well as hundreds of military vehicles, dozens of field guns and multiple rocket launchers received via corridors controlled by illegal militant groups on the border with Israel and Jordan.

As usual, militants’ statements about the alleged violation of the de-escalation regime by the government troops serve as casus belli. To amplify the effect, they can stage provocations against civilians. Then the militants will be able to begin a joint offensive against the government troops.

The ultimate goal of the operation is the seizure of some territory and the creation of a territorial entity there with the capital in Daraa, under the auspices of the United States, which will be independent from Damascus, similar to the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeast of the country.

Question: How will political changes in Cuba and the announced resignation of Raul Castro affect relations between Moscow and Havana? What is Russia’s position? 

Maria Zakharova: I will ask our experts for materials on this issue and offer you a more detailed report.

By the way, we have been approached a number of times by US journalists who asked if we know anything about some “acoustic attacks” on US diplomats, and, I think, on Canadian ones, too. Just recently I learnt that the Canadian government cannot confirm that “acoustic attacks” took place against their diplomats. They see that something happened, but they are unable to understand the nature of the processes. They have shrugged off the issue of “acoustic attacks.” However, recall how long this had been the number one issue in relation to Cuba. Is anybody going to make a denial? I understand that the materials were put together in a cunning manner – the “highly likely” scenario again, but one way or another, Cuba and its leaders suffered great damage. Moreover, I think they were trying to involve Russia in the controversy. Whereas now the government of Canada quietly and calmly declared that it had nothing to do with acoustics. Well, this is just a side note.

Question: Since the Russian Investigative Committee is reported to have also started an investigation into the so-called Skripal case, will response measures follow if Russia manages to prove the UK’s guilt in this?

Maria Zakharova: This question should be addressed to law enforcement agencies whereas we give a political assessment and speak about the facts that are available to us. Regarding the investigation, charges and statements of the nature you are referring to, it is the responsibility of the investigative and law enforcement agencies. You have rightly said that a case was opened. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia regularly comment on the data they have.

Question: Will the findings of the Swiss laboratory in Spiez that also conducted the tests be made public?

Maria Zakharova: We have already spoken about that today. Taking into account that we see one lie bumping into another (all right, call it withholding information in this case, which is a very odd explanation nevertheless), we would like all the data to be provided, not published, probably, but at least be made available. You understand there is such a tremendous amount of lies in this story that we are unable to figure out what there is in those samples that cannot be revealed, among others, to the Russian Federation.

Question: President Trump said that a month ago there was a fierce fight in Syria between US and Russian soldiers whereby many of them were killed.

Maria Zakharova: As far as we understand, this is not related to regular troops of the Russian Army. The Defence Ministry promptly comments on anything regarding the regular forces of the Russian Army at your requests and on their own initiative. What was Donald Trump talking about? Probably, about something which is not related to the Russian Aerospace Forces? Again, this is not within our competence.

Question: Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov has met today in Baku with NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Scaparrotti to discuss various cooperation issues, including regional security and the Syrian crisis. We would like to know how you see Azerbaijan’s role in these discussions in view of the fact that it was Baku that was selected to host the meeting?

Maria Zakharova: All the comments have been given by the participants in the meeting. This question does not concern the Foreign Ministry. I think you should address a respective body.

Question: Who will represent Russia at the exhibition Heydar Aliyev: Personality, Role, Mission to be unveiled in Baku in May? Has Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a slot for a visit in his schedule?

Maria Zakharova: At present, Sergey Lavrov does not have a visit scheduled. I will find out who is going to represent Russia.

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