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26 April 201819:42

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 26, 2018

805-26-04-2018

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides
  2. Trilateral ministerial meeting on Syria in the Iran-Russia-Turkey format
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
  4. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s upcoming visit to Russia
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan
  6. The developments in Syria
  7. French Foreign Ministry’s allegations of Russia’s “information manipulation” regarding the alleged chemical incident in Douma
  8. Criticism of US and its allies’ strikes against Syria
  9. The use of US “smart” missiles against Syria
  10. Briefing on the April 7 chemical incident in Douma, Syria, at the OPCW Technical Secretariat headquarters in The Hague
  11. Results of the conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”
  12. The situation in Yemen
  13. Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme
  14. US Department of State Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-Proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments
  15. US officials seize the residence of the Russian Consul General in Seattle
  16. Heather Nauert comment on Russian Consulate General in Seattle
  17. Prospects for Russia-Cuba relations in view of the April 19 changes in the top leadership of Cuba
  18. French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Euro-integration of West Balkans
  19. Politicisation of sports
  20. Dutch writer Alexander Munninghoff’s words about Russia
  21. Situation around Yury Mel
  22. Head of Volunteers of Victory movement’s regional chapter Yelena Odnovol arrested in Ukraine
  23. Plans to establish so-called united local Orthodox church in Ukraine
  24. The Foreign Ministry’s report “Neo-Nazism: a Dangerous Challenge to Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law”
  25. Events to mark the 73rd Victory Anniversary

From answers to media questions:

Russia-Armenia relations

Iran’s nuclear programme

Statement on the Astana process by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura

The Frode Berg case

Nagorno-Karabakh settlement

Russia-Azerbaijan relations

The situation in the Korean Peninsula

Russia-Montenegro relations

Russia-Turkey relations

Autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Russia-Bulgaria relations

Resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea

The situation in Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh settlement

The situation in Afghanistan

Syria crisis settlement

The situation in Armenia

Determining the number of diplomats in host countries

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides   

 

On April 27, Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides will pay his first visit to Russia in this capacity. While in Moscow, he is to hold talks with   Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The officials are to discuss the current status of bilateral cooperation and its prospects, to exchange opinions on the Cypriot peace settlement and on a wide range of global and regional matters of mutual interest, including Russia-EU relations, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean region as well as some other topics.

 

Trilateral ministerial meeting on Syria in the Iran-Russia-Turkey format

 

On April 28, Moscow will host an extraordinary meeting between Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey as countries, guarantors of the Astana process to facilitate the Syrian peace settlement. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is to hold bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the event.

The diplomats will review Syrian developments and will discuss possible joint steps that might help promote intra-Syrian contacts based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and with due consideration for the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

They will focus on the humanitarian situation in Syria, including in the context of implementing provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2401. We are confident that a more active role of humanitarian agencies could help normalise the situation more quickly. At the same time, efforts to assist the people of Syria should not be linked with achieving any political goals.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

On April 28, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is to have a meeting with Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the trilateral ministerial meeting.

There are plans to discuss a wide range of subjects concerning the traditionally friendly and rapidly developing bilateral relations, including in the field of political cooperation, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties in the context of implementing agreements between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani.

They will exchange opinions on topical regional and international affairs, including the deteriorating situation as regards the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme.

 

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s upcoming visit to Russia

 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ayman Safadi’s working visit to the Russian Federation is scheduled for May 3.

During their talks in Sochi, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi will exchange views on a broad range of current international and regional issues and discuss the state of and prospects for bilateral Russian-Jordanian cooperation.

The situation in Syria is expected to be at the focus of discussions, particularly the developments in the south, where a de-escalation zone coordinated by Russia, the United States and Jordan is located. They will also focus on prospects for the advancement of Middle East settlement, including with regard to a dangerous exacerbation of the situation in the Palestinian territories, primarily in Gaza.

We note the intense nature of dialogue between the Russian and Jordanian foreign ministers. It is characterised by a high degree of trust and the two countries’ similar or identical approaches to many key international and regional problems.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan

 

Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a short meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia Eduard Nalbandyan. Among other things, the officials discussed the situation on the line of contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

 

The developments in Syria

 

During the past week, the situation in Syria continued to be affected by the aftermath of the April 14 US-British-French massive missile and bomb strikes. Regrettably, the radicals and extremists have intensified their operations in the wake of the Western Troika’s actions, which gave them an opportunity to catch their breath and get reinforcements.

Jabhat al-Nusra militants resumed their shelling of populated localities in the Homs province. ISIS attacks on the Syrian government army’s strong points in the area of Mayadin and Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor province, have become more frequent. On April 19, the Syrian armed forces launched a large-scale counter-terrorist operation against ISIS forces entrenched in the Palestinian Yarmouk Camp and the adjacent territories after they turned down a “pacification” proposal.

But some positive trends persist as well. Militants continue to be evacuated from Eastern Qalamoun, with 10,000 of them with families leaving for northern Syria. This area is expected to be entirely liberated from illegal armed groups after another 5,000 or 6,000 irreconcilables leave Eastern Qalamoun. The militants have surrendered their heavy weapons, including several dozen tanks, Grad multiple rocket launchers, US antitank missile systems, over 60,000 units of small arms, and huge stores of ammunition.

The Syrian authorities are working hard to deliver aid to residents in areas liberated from illegal armed groups and to restore infrastructure. According to the Healthcare Directorate of the Damascus area, over 86,000 refugees from Eastern Ghouta have been given medical aid since early March. The Syrian Health Ministry is planning to inoculate 2.9 million children as part of the national inoculation campaign. According to a statement by the Syrian Electricity Minister, electricity supply will be restored in Deir ez-Zor province by mid-May.

The OPCW team, which arrived in Douma on April 21 and visited the site of the so-called chemical attack on two occasions, is continuing its work. For its part, Russia is giving the mission maximum support, primarily in providing security. Russia expects the OPCW inspectors to carry out an impartial investigation into the circumstances of the incident and present a report at their earliest opportunity. 

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French Foreign Ministry’s allegations of Russia’s “information manipulation” regarding the alleged chemical incident in Douma

 

We have noted French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s statements accusing Russia of “permanent manipulation” regarding the alleged chemical incident in the Syrian city of Douma. The French side claims that Russia is spreading videos with children while “45 people lost their lives.” However, the facts are completely different.

The materials presented by the Russia side (unlike those you, Mr Le Drian, relied on in Paris as you were taking the decision to join the US punitive action) feature real witnesses of the events in Douma. As we all know, witnesses have already arrived at the OPCW in The Hague so as to give first-hand testimony to the representatives of the Convention states parties. These are not some video clips and materials from social networks and blogs, some of them anonymous, that you, Mr Le Drian, distribute as evidence of the need to launch strikes at the capital of a sovereign nation. People in person came to The Hague and will speak, they will tell what they experienced, how fake videos are shot and how the roles are distributed. It’s going to be interesting.    

It has proved impossible so far to find the victims or injured people that French Foreign Minster Le Drian spoke about, or even traces of the alleged use of chemical weapons. You will agree that the difference in the evidence base is obvious.

It is not improbable that French Foreign Minister Le Drian’s emotional interview was triggered by the weakened positions of the advocates of the illegal aggression against Syria. Could that be the case? Representatives of the French political parties doubt the credibility of the video and photo materials that were used to fabricate accusations against the Syrian authorities. During the parliamentary debates on April 16, they said there was no solid proof of the fact that the Bashar al-Assad regime had used chemical weapons in Douma, whereas some MPs directly pointed to the staged nature of the incident.

I would like to say to our French colleagues that 15 years ago France managed to evade the trap set by Washington as it spoke of Iraq’s chemical weapons. What has happened to France over the period of the last 15 years?

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Criticism of US and its allies’ strikes against Syria

 

I would like to draw your attention to the April 14 statement by the Bundestag Research Services (a research unit of the German Parliament) containing an assessment, from the point of view of international law, of the air strikes  against Syria by the USA, Great Britain and France in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack in Eastern Douma.

The findings, based on analysis of the strikes’ compliance with international law, are highly revealing. “The retaliatory strikes” against any state are declared by the experts to be inadmissible and in contradiction of the principles of the non-use or threat of force, in accordance with Clause 4, Article 2 of the UN Charter.

Moreover, according to the experts, the CPCW has legal mechanisms for bringing the culprits to justice. Therefore actions outside the framework of CPCW decisions look very dubious in terms of international law.

The doctrinal explanation of the operation by its authors comes in for separate analysis. For example, London openly explains the reason for its participation in the action as based on “humanitarian intervention.” Analysts are asking why this so-called chemical attack in Douma triggered such an operation when it was not the most cruel and certainly not the most massive in terms of the number of casualties. The operation comes after the loss of hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, in seven years of war, during which the West stoically endorsed the actions of many criminal bands and militants, with the explanation that it was part of the struggle against the regime.

Bearing in mind that the concept of the duty to protect, underlying the idea of “humanitarian intervention,” refers to the protection of the population and not the punishment of a state for violating international law, the Bundestag experts qualify the attack by the USA and its allies as an overt return to military counter-measures under “humanitarian guise.”

Berlin’s official reaction to the report is symptomatic. Deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer told a press conference on April 23 that although “note had been taken” of the report, the government’s official position remained unchanged: the reaction to the chemical attack was “necessary and proportionate.” This is paradoxical. Although the analysis cannot be called a document,   nevertheless, the material prepared by the German Government  experts has not been disavowed and no counter-arguments have been given. At the same time, solidarity is expressed with the USA, which delivered the strikes together with Britain and France.

On the eve of the press conference by the deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer, the German government channel ZDF described the Douma chemical attack as a fake. At least this was said in a live broadcast by correspondent Uli Gak, who visited the scene of the alleged carnage and spoke extensively with the local residents. “People are sure that the whole thing was staged, and there have been several such provocations. People were exposed to chlorine during “exercises” and this was filmed on video. The footage was later published as “evidence.”

Earlier, we asked who would answer for these endless provocations involving alleged humanitarian organisations, civil society and ordinary people? The question should now be put differently: when will the organisers of these provocations be brought to account? As for who masterminded these provocations, there is no longer any question. We have all seen how these fakes were concocted, how quickly they were taken up by the Western establishment, what was done immediately after the release of information on these provocative actions and what this led to. It resulted in increased activity by illegal armed groups. That is all there is to this production of fakes.    

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The use of US “smart” missiles against Syria

 

I would also like to remind French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and our American colleagues, the main addressee, that, on April 26, the Defence Ministry held a briefing (I think that many of you were there) for Russian and foreign media. Briefing participants analysed the results of illegal US air strikes against sovereign Syria and showed numerous slides of air-strike targets, serial numbers of cruise missiles as well as the attack’s consequences. These are not some obscure metal fragments. All of them are numbered. Now that US President Donald Trump says that he had called someone, and that he was told that all the missiles had hit their targets, nothing apparently prevents everyone, including journalists, from sending an inquiry to the Pentagon and the White House and asking what happened to the missiles with certain serial numbers. Also, these numbers help establish the date of manufacture, subsequent deliveries and use.

They showed images of fragments of cruise missiles with tell-tale holes from guided surface-to-air missile warheads. And we were told that all the missiles had hit their targets.

The Russian side is being groundlessly accused of permanent falsifications. Each time, we provide convincing evidence, including diagrams, facts, arguments, statistics, etc.

And now, we would like to hear what our US colleagues will tell us in response to all these facts. This is material evidence, rather than mere words. This implies a military aggression against a sovereign state, and one will have to answer for this.

I would like to recall a statement made by British Minister of Defence who said that Russia “should go away and shut up.” In response, we are saying: “Come here and explain yourselves.”

 

Briefing on the April 7 chemical incident in Douma, Syria, at the OPCW Technical Secretariat headquarters in The Hague 

 

Today, the Russian delegation is holding a briefing on the April 7 chemical incident in Douma, Syria, at the OPCW Technical Secretariat headquarters in The Hague. It involves Syrian eyewitnesses and people whom the Western mainstream media tried to pass off as victims of chemical attacks. They will say how the situation really developed.

The briefing aims to shed light on what really happened in that city. And the best way to clarify the circumstances is to give the OPCW floor to those whom our Western colleagues tried to “defend” so hard.

I believe that they will say many interesting things there because, apart from the briefing at the OPCW, another briefing for media is scheduled.

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Results of the conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”

 

On April 24−25, Brussels hosted the EU-organised conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”. Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the EU, attended the conference. The objective of the event was announced to be the assessment of fulfilling political and financial commitments taken on at the Brussels conference a year earlier, and ensuring that potential sponsors take on new commitments of this kind.

First of all, we would like to stress that we believe it to be the wrong decision on the part of the conference organisers not to invite the Syrian government. It is not clear whom are they going to assist if the official Damascus is not engaged. We proceed from the assumption that it is essential to interact directly with representatives of the state and the people when a decision is made to assist a country and its population. In this regard, inviting various NGOs, with most of them acting outside Syria, as its representatives seem illogical, to say the least.

The position of some countries that provide assistance to Syria contingent on regime change is generally counterproductive. Even now these countries are focused on helping individuals and structures in the areas outside the Syrian government control. Such selective support of some of the country’s regions to the detriment of the rest of Syria does not help overcoming the split in Syrian society, and restoring Syria’s unity and territorial integrity. All of us know that a number of western countries have set a course for solidifying the division of Syria rather than restoring the country’s integrity. 

In this connection we call on all potential donors to establish a close interaction with the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as with international humanitarian agencies cooperating with them. Only this approach will help improve the humanitarian situation in Syria and normalise the situation in the country as soon as possible.

 

The situation in Yemen

 

The negative scenario continues to develop in the Republic of Yemen, which for four years has been engulfed in hostilities involving the “Arab coalition.”

According to information that has been confirmed by the leadership of the Houthi Ansar Allah movement, Saleh Ali al-Sammad, president of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council (SPC), which was self-proclaimed in August 2016, died in a missile and bomb strike on April 19.

It has been reported that his successor is another leading Ansar Allah member, Mahdi al-Mashat. The Houthi authorities in Sana promised to avenge the death of their leader, which is fraught with intensified armed clashes along the entire front, including Yemeni areas bordering on Saudi Arabia, and stepped-up rocket attacks on the Kingdom’s cities and districts.

Meanwhile, there are reports that civilians have fallen victim to indiscriminate attacks by the so-called “coalition,” with 56 people killed and dozens injured during the past few days alone. The most recent example is the tragedy in Yemen’s Al-Hajjah province, where over 20 people, including women and children, were killed during shelling of a wedding procession in the early hours of April 23.

Against this alarming background, we think it necessary to reaffirm our principled position that it is counter-productive to attempt to solve the existing problems in Yemen by military force. The reliance on force can only exacerbate the situation, lead to even greater suffering among ordinary Yemenis, and delay the prospects for a political settlement of the crisis which, we are deeply convinced, is the only possible solution.

We again call on the participants in the intra-Yemeni conflict to strictly adhere to international humanitarian law, refrain from further escalation of hostilities and to finally listen to the opinion of the Yemeni people, who are tired of war and numerous hardships. As before, we proceed from the assumption that the Yemeni protagonists should break this vicious circle of violence as soon as possible and sit down at the negotiating table to reach agreement on their country’s future political system, based on reciprocal regard for each other’s interests and concerns. It is only in this way that durable peace and national accord can return to Yemen.

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Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme

 

Recent statements by US and French presidents regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme raise serious concerns.

Russia has said on numerous occasions that there is no possibility of renegotiating, amending or supplementing the JCPOA. The deal establishes a balanced mechanism that takes into consideration the interests of all parties. Destroying this fragile balance of interests as set forth in the JCPOA would have serious ramifications in terms of international security and non-proliferation.

We believe that it is important to remind everyone that this document emerged from agreements reached by official national delegations. The deal required hard work over long periods of time. This document was a compromise and a political agreement.

Russia will not be bound by any separate agreements between the US and the EU Three. We will look at the outcomes of these talks in terms of compliance with the JCPOA and, most importantly, with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. If the US and the EU Three agree to interpret specific provisions of the JCPOA in a particular way, Russia reserves the right to do likewise.

Russia will continue to honour its commitments under the JCPOA as long as other parties to the deal do the same.

 

US Department of State Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-Proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments

 

The Foreign Ministry took note of the annual report made by the US Department of State on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-Proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, released recently.

Inspired by the self-instilled idea of its exceptionalism, including in terms of adherence to international law, year after year the US takes on the role of a “global gendarme” and pronounce categorical verdicts on who complies or fails to comply with multilateral agreements and in what ways. At the same time, the US completely ignores monitoring, verification and settlement mechanisms set forth in these agreements, which shows to what extent Washington respects international rules of behaviour and interaction among states. To put it in simple terms, it is absurd for the US Department of State to release material on the way other countries adhere to their international commitments, while the US simply ignores verification and compliance mechanisms stipulated by these instruments. This is absurd, but this is the way things are right now.

This year’s report was no exception, joining a string of documents that present content in a formalised, uniform way. Just as before, it dogmatically blames Russia for a series of “violations.” In doing so, the US still does not see any need in providing any evidence. It may be that Washington believes that the lack of arguments can be compensated by assuming a mentoring attitude and making categorical statements.

At the same time, releasing reports of this kind is particularly cynical taking into consideration the numerous violations made by the US of its international commitments, including in arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament, let alone what has become of an all too common practice of using military force at its sole discretion against sovereign states without a UN Security Council mandate, while not acting in self-defence, which is a blatant violation of the UN Charter. This is today’s reality.

Today it is not my intention to provide a detailed list of all the violations committed by the US. You can find all the relevant material on the Foreign Ministry website. On April 24, Russia’s assessment of the US Department of State’s Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-Proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments was published on the Foreign Ministry’s official website. I recommend that you all take a look at it.

I call on Washington to renounce making groundless accusations against other countries, especially taking into consideration the way the US acts in this area. All this activity can be viewed as clumsy attempts to mislead the international public opinion. We hope that Washington finally realises that it would be preferable for the US to opt for a more civilised way of settling differences through professional, mutually respectful dialogue instead of relying on public rhetoric and power play.

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US officials seize the residence of the Russian Consul General in Seattle

 

Yesterday you could follow the events unfolding at the former Russian Consulate General in Seattle on the social media accounts of the Russian Foreign Ministry. We describe the Consulate General as former because the US authorities have withdrawn their permission to its operation. However, this has not cancelled our ownership of that building.

We have said before that the US authorities were planning to seize yet another Russian property in the United States. We were referring to the residence of the Russian Consul General in Seattle. You could watch this online in real time yesterday. This video is still freely available.

You remember that the US authorities announced their decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats and to close the Russian Consulate General in Seattle on March 26. That decision was part of a policy launched by US President Barak Obama to undermine bilateral relations.

The Russian Consulate General vacated the leased premises on April 1. The consulate’s employees left Seattle on April 24, as stipulated in the US decision. After that, US secret service agents seized the residence of the Russian Consul General. “Seized” is the only word that correctly describes what they did.

Our American colleagues claimed that it was not seizure. However, the building is Russian property that has been paid for and for which we also made the requisite maintenance payments. Therefore, it was seizure.

The fact that the US authorities have officially withdrawn their permission for the operation of the Russian Consulate General in Seattle has not terminated and cannot under any circumstances terminate Russia’s right to the ownership of this building, as it does not terminate the ownership rights of any other country to which this may happen in the future.

US agents entered the building in the absence of its owners. They broke into the building without asking for permission and thoroughly searched it. A special agency has been used for this. It should be said that the building has been mothballed by the Russian party. The Americans have now changed everything to their own liking and have made themselves at home in the building.

They acted likewise in late 2017 with regard to other Russian properties, including the buildings at the disposal of the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York, as well as the two buildings of the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco and the head office of the Russian trade mission in Washington last autumn. As of now, the US authorities have seized six Russian diplomatic facilities. I repeat that we are talking about Russian diplomatic property.

This is an absolutely outrageous, ugly and unprecedented situation. Nothing like this had ever happened in Russian-US relations before. This is yet another flagrant violation of the fundamental norms of international law by the United States, including the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the 1964 Bilateral Consular Convention. We have not commented on this issue, but there is not a single US law that could be used to justify these US actions as legitimate. There are no such laws. It was a decision taken exclusively by the political part of the US administration or its military departments. We have a question for the American party: What decisions and decision-making mechanisms are applied in cases of illegal state seizure of others’ property? We don’t want words or emotions. Just show us this document or give us its name. What is the basis for the seizure of property that does not belong to the United States but is property of a foreign state?

As you know, we had to reciprocate to Washington’s hostile actions. On March 29, we declared the same number of American diplomats persona non grata and withdrew our permission for the opening of the US Consulate General in St Petersburg. The consulate’s personnel are packing up and should leave the city by April 30.

I want to stress that the United States does not own the building of the US Consulate General and the residence of the US Consul General. The Americans leased these municipally-owned buildings from the city of St Petersburg. In other words, we have not seized any property the Americans own in Russia. Moreover, we have not conducted any searches in the buildings that are not our property. These were exclusively reciprocal actions.

At the same time, we demand the return of the six Russian properties that have been seized in the United States. We are not allowed to enter them even for maintenance purposes. Moreover, we know, and I show this to you today, that the US authorities are making use of these utility systems. On top of that, US officials urged us more than once to sell these properties. In addition to advising us to sell these buildings, they have offered assistance in the sale of our own property. They have told us that they are ready to provide practical assistance to us. It is a highly conspicuous concern.

We hope that the international community will take note of the fact that US standards have plunged to the reprehensible level of state-sponsored robbery.

I would like to draw your attention to some fact-based materials. Have a look at these slides, please.

Seattle, April 25. Please note that this is not staged photography but a video recording. Look at the blue sheet on this photograph. What could it be? I can tell you that this “blanket” was used to cover an American agent who broke open the door of the Russian Consulate General. You may wonder why he did this, and why they needed the blue sheets, and why they shielded the man who broke down the door. We wonder too. He could be a US secret agent or a hired man. It’s difficult to say which. But we have never seen women holding up a sheet while someone behind it could be heard sawing something. Judging by the sound, he was sawing something made of metal. And here you can see them installing a new lock. For some strange reason, nobody is holding up the blue sheet now. This is absurd. Why did we think that absurd things only happened on the international scale? Look at this local-scale absurdity: a new lock is being installed, possibly by someone from the US Department of State.

And these are US officials on the premises of the Russian Consulate General. They approach the building, breaking down doors, and go to the central entrance. I would like to say that all these people, who have entered the territory of the Russian Federation, have made history. The man who was fiddling with the lock probably knew this, which is why he asked for the blue sheet protection. I think that many years later these people will recall their illegal actions that violated their own fundamental laws. I cannot imagine what could inspire them to take part in this action, because these videos will also be available many years later, too. They will probably tell their children how they walked around someone else’s property. And this is breaking and entering through the other door. Yes, they did enter the building through that door as well. And here they are working on the infrastructure I have mentioned before. The building was mothballed and water was shut off. This was done by Russian officials to leave the building in such a way that you can reopen it again in the future. But these people barged in, turned on the water and did something with the sewage system. Why are they doing this? I cannot understand it. Once again, the rightful owner of this building is not the United States but Russia. If I had to name this photograph, it would be entitled, Lawfulness Incarnate. (The photographs and video material of this presentation are available in the Video section of the briefing.)

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Heather Nauert comment on Russian Consulate General in Seattle

 

I would like to say a few words about the comment made by our colleagues from the US Department of State in their internet resources. “Today, @StateDept officials walked through the property [Consulate General] in Seattle to confirm it had been vacated.”

Let’s face it, it had been seized, not vacated.

“We will secure and maintain it in keeping with our responsibilities.” It is unclear which responsibilities and to whom. The US has a responsibility to Russia as a party that hosts its foreign missions. You have violated and defied all your responsibilities. So what sort of responsibility are you talking about?

 “No ‘invasion,’ just a firm, lawful response to Russia’s continuing outrageous behaviour.” It means that everything you have seen now is an illusion. I have several questions in this connection. If this is about lawful actions, as we have been told, show us the law that authorises the seizure of someone’s property.  If you say Russia has been behaving outrageously, we would like to see facts and evidence. As of today we are facing yet another manipulation of information by the US side regarding its unlawful strikes on a sovereign state.

If our colleagues from the State Department publish these materials and claim that it is normal and lawful, should we do the same? Then we will see their reaction as to whether such acts are lawful or not.

 

Prospects for Russia-Cuba relations in view of the April 19 changes in the top leadership of Cuba

 

On April 20, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the new President of the State Council and Council of Ministers of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez had a telephone conversation, during which they reaffirmed their commitment to the policy of deepening multifaceted ties between Russia and Cuba in all areas.

Russian-Cuban ties passed the test of time, and are consistently advancing as a strategic partnership. Moscow and Havana share deep-routed friendship, sympathy and understanding. Our countries have always maintained a trust-based and open political dialogue. We act as allies in international affairs.

Cuba is undergoing a momentous change. The country is reviewing  its socioeconomic development model, with the proactive involvement of Russian economic operators. A number of major long-term projects in the key industries of the Cuban economy are underway – in power generation, metallurgy, agriculture and infrastructure. Among them are advanced projects, such as the construction of four power-generating units at the Cuban thermal power stations, upgrading of the Jose Marti (Antillana de Acero) steelworks, railway network, and so on. Cooperation is stepped up in innovative areas including medicine and biopharmaceuticals, as well as in information and communication technologies. All this is a clear sign of a solid foundation for practical cooperation. Clearly, there is great potential for the future, which allows us to positively assess the prospects for developing our relations.

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Euro-integration of West Balkans

 

We have taken note of the French President’s remarks about the Balkans during the session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 17. The French head of state believes that the European Union should continue to draw in the Balkan countries in order to prevent them from drifting towards Russia or other partners. The French President described such a drift as a geopolitical risk for the EU. I have a question: Emmanuel Macron said that the Balkans’ drift towards Russia and other countries worries France, but is France worried about Britain’s drift? Has it asked itself in what direction Britain is drifting? What geopolitical risks does it create for the EU? The Balkans are, after all, a geographical part of a common continent while Britain is an island.

Alas, these statements demonstrate that even members of the leadership of the founding states of the European project are not ready to see the Western Balkans as equal partners with their own legitimate interests and well-established, pragmatic and mutually-beneficial international ties. We consider it to be grossly illogical and mistaken to confront the countries in the region with an artificial choice between Russia and the European Union. Have they not learned anything from the negative experience of applying this formula to another EU initiative, the Eastern Partnership? We believe that by using this “zero-sum game” rhetoric, the European Union is at risk of stirring up the festering wounds of the armed conflicts of the 1990s.

Make no mistake, Russia does not view the Balkans as some kind of a geopolitical test range. We have no intention of engaging in rope pulling with the European Union. However, Brussels and other EU capitals ought to be interested in finding a way of enabling the region’s countries to combine the process of Euro-integration with the preservation of ties with Russia and other traditional partners.

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Politicisation of sports

 

I feel obliged to revisit the situation in world sports where the fundamental principle of “sports is outside politics” is being increasingly eroded. I have to say that the massive campaign against Russia unleashed by a number of Western countries has not spared that aspect of our life. The most salient of the recent examples of politicisation of sports, as far as our country is concerned, are the doping scandal unleashed against Russian athletes and the ban of absolutely “clean” Russian athletes from the PyeongChang Olympics. Voices have been heard calling for a boycott of the 2018 World Football Cup which our country is to host. It’s the same old story: Russia is a country to stay away from. The arguments are purely political and have nothing to do with sports.

There was an outrageous episode with our freestyle wrestling team recently. The USA, the host country of the World Cup held in early April, simply refused visas to all the members of the Russian team, preventing them from taking part in the tournament. Incidentally, the Iranian team was similarly “honoured.”   In effect, a country hosting international events has come to decide, based on its political preferences, which states can and which states cannot be allowed to take part. This is an egregious precedent and a gross violation by the host state of the rules for conducting a sports tournament. To prevent such things happening again, it is probably high time for a tightening of the relevant rules of the international sports federations. Resolutions on sports, passed by international organisations, should guarantee foreign athletes unhindered access to competitions.

On the whole, we call for an end to the untenable practice of bringing sports into politics. Sports is meant to bring countries and peoples closer together. This is very important. And politics should tear down the obstacles which people, unfortunately, have created, including in sports.       

 

Dutch writer Alexander Munninghoff’s words about Russia

 

I cannot but comment on the statements made by popular Dutch writer (his book Heir and Successor about the life of his family during WWII is an international bestseller), former correspondent with Dutch media in the USSR and Russia Alexander Munninghoff in the Dutch television programme Buitenhof. He spoke about the groundless Western criticism against Russia.

Alexander Munninghoff believes that the negative development of relations between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance is the latter’s fault. From the very beginning, Russia made efforts to reach a compromise with the West in international relations, but the NATO countries responded with an expansion to the east, violating their promises given to the Soviet and Russian leaders.

He also noted that the West has carried out a policy towards the post-Soviet republics that contradicts its public statements. It is obvious that after the collapse of the USSR, certain forces tried to drive a wedge between Russia and these countries, which resulted in conflicts in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Munninghoff also mentioned the events in Crimea. He said you can talk all you want about the so-called annexation of Crimea and the violation of international law, but you cannot deny that it was a pure formality that Crimea became part of Ukraine as was decided by the Soviet leadership when Ukraine was part of the USSR. Crimea has always belonged to Russia.

Munninghoff said that the accusations in cyber-attacks and interference in the domestic affairs of other countries were nonsense. He cited several examples on how the United States attempted to influence elections in Russia, including the one held in 1996. He said that Russia is under constant cyber-attacks itself.

This is the opinion of a man who worked in Russia for many years and knows it as an insider and not from fake video clips.

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Situation around Yury Mel

 

We are seriously concerned over the unacceptable situation with Russian national  Yury imprisoned in Lithuania on charges of taking part in the “events of January 13, 1991.”, who remains in a Lithuanian prison for his alleged involvement in the events of “January 13, 1991.”

We are particularly worried about his health since he suffers from a serious chronic condition and also because he has been illegally detained on trumped-up charges for over four years now. We urge the Lithuanian side to display a humane attitude and to mitigate his measure of restriction before it is too late.

On the whole, we view the trial on “the January 13, 1991 case” initiated by Vilnius as a disgrace and a continuation of vicious attempts of revanchism as well as the falsification of history. Considering this absolutely politically motivated trial, the unacceptable arbitrary interpretation of international law by the Lithuanian Prosecutor-General’s Office and efforts to manipulate the trial in favour of the Lithuanian leadership’s ambitions, we believe that these developments seriously impact the judicial system of Lithuania as a member of the European Union and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

We will continue to press the Lithuanian authorities to ensure strict observance of Yury Mel’s legitimate rights and interests. We hope that Vilnius renounces politicised judicial manoeuvring and finally honours its international commitments in the sphere of human rights and the rule of law.

 

Head of Volunteers of Victory movement’s regional chapter Yelena Odnovol arrested in Ukraine

 

On April 23, head of the Volunteers of Victory charity movement’s regional chapter Yelena Odnovol was arrested at Chongar checkpoint in the Crimean sector of the Russian-Ukrainian border and charged with “high treason and subversive activity against Ukraine.” She faces between 12 and 15 years in prison. For example, Ms Odnovol is charged with being an authorised representative of the President of Russia during the March 18, 2018 presidential election. This is a false allegation. Any person understands what kind of Ukrainian claims we are talking about.

It is impossible to access this case’s material because crimes against the Ukrainian national security are classified and are not listed (or are concealed) in the joint register of pre-trial investigations.

Understandably, Kiev is not interested in justice. All it needs is another scandal linked with Crimea and its residents. It appears that Kiev authorities hate and, maybe, even fear the people of Crimea for their 2014 choice so much that they are obviously ready to do anything to punish people either collectively or individually. It is probably no coincidence that President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko suggested the other day that all Crimea residents be deprived of Ukrainian citizenship.

This incident happened on the eve of the Day of Great Victory, and, of course, this circumstance causes special indignation. This may not be a coincidence, and people glorifying Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevich also hate those who see May 9 as a sacred day.

Doubtless, Ms Odnovol was arrested precisely for her interest in heroic pages of the Great Patriotic War’s history, for disagreeing with attempts to rewrite its history, for her striving to help war veterans and to give them their dues for their battlefield and labour feats and to involve young people in this work.

Russia resolutely denounces the actions of the Ukrainian side, demands an end to arbitrary treatment of Ms Odnovol and her immediate release. The Russian Embassy in Ukraine is focusing on the situation around the arrest of the head of the Volunteers of Victory movement’s regional chapter Yelena Odnovol.

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Plans to establish so-called united local Orthodox church in Ukraine

 

We could not pass over the recent appeal by President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko to the Patriarch of Constantinople asking to support the initiative to establish some kind of a local autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine. In effect, the incumbent Ukrainian authorities want to establish a “pocket” church, which would be completely controlled by them and which would mostly comprise dissenting organisations that are not recognised by anyone. Obviously, attempts to act along these lines have caused a lot of controversy among the clergy as well as the believers, and obviously run counter to the interests of the people of Ukraine, and could further complicate an already tense situation in the country as well as provoke a deeper social split.

Hiding behind slogans of a “struggle for independence,” the Kiev regime with its all-out Ukrainisation strategy clearly seeks to sacrifice interfaith peace in the country for the sake of its rampant Russophobia, commit a direct violation of the constitution and abuse the rules accepted by the global Orthodox community. They would stop at nothing. As they say, the appetite comes with eating.

 

The Foreign Ministry’s report “Neo-Nazism: a Dangerous Challenge to Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law”

 

The Ministry will shortly publish on its website a report “Neo-Nazism: a Dangerous Challenge to Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law”, prepared by our Ministry. Its aim is to alert the international public opinion to the growing manifestations of Nazism, Neo-Nazism, xenophobia and the accompanying intolerance in a number of countries. The report refers to modern and extremely dangerous manifestations of racism that need to be opposed at the national and international levels.

The report notes the glorification in some countries of the Nazi movement and the former members of the Waffen-SS, including by erecting monuments and memorials and holding public rallies aimed at glorifying the Nazi past, the Nazi movement and Neo-Nazism.

We stress that such actions represent not an exercise, but a clear and overt abuse of the right of peaceful assembly and association as well as freedom of conviction and freedom of expressing convictions, and may be covered by Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which makes it incumbent upon the signatory states of the Convention to prosecute them as criminal offences. Therefore the arguments of some states to the effect that the above actions of Waffen-SS veterans and honouring of various kinds of Nazis and collaborationists, the erection of monuments to Nazis and other such manifestations are no more than the exercise of these rights hold no water.  Special mention should be made of the cynical and blasphemous war on monuments to those who liberated the world from Nazism unleashed in some countries.

In our opinion, mature democracies should combat such disgraceful phenomena rather than try to justify them by citing the allegedly unlimited freedom of expression.

We encourage everyone to read the text of the report and the countries mentioned in it to draw conclusions and perhaps to adjust their policies.    

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Events to mark the 73rd Victory Anniversary

 

In accordance with tradition, this year, as part of the celebration of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, a series of events will be held outside Russia. On the initiative of Russian compatriots and with the support of Russian institutions abroad, the Immortal Regiment marches will take place in more than 80 countries and St George Ribbon campaigns will be held in more than 90 countries. The Candle of Memory campaign will also be organised. In China, the Republic of Korea and Mongolia “Thank you for the Victory” flash mobs timed for the Immortal Regiment marches will take place, symbolising the unity of generations, countries and peoples. Wreaths are to be laid at the graves of those who died fighting against Nazism, veterans will be honoured, and requiem meetings, concerts and festivals of wartime songs will be held. It is heartening that the organisers of the celebrations put their imagination and their hearts into these events inventing each year some new events that are important for the citizens of various countries. Thus, in some countries compatriots plan to hold thematic photo exhibitions, organise motor rallies, events for children and roll out soup kitchens.

We expect that this year, like last year, Victory Day events in a number of countries will be joined, along with our compatriots, by local citizens, veterans and members of anti-Nazism groups. I would like to note that in many countries these events are organised by our young compatriots. 

On the occasion of Victory Day, the Military History Society and the Ministry of Culture will organise a screening of the film Sobibor in the United States, the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Serbia and other countries.

I would like to tell you about the Victory Songs events initiated by the Russian music group Turetsky Choir. A news conference this morning was devoted to this event. Last year the concert had colossal resonance in the media and among the people to whom it was dedicated. A year ago it was held in Berlin, where it drew a 20,000-strong audience. The geography will be broadened this year; it will be like a marathon. Shows are scheduled in Paris (May 3), Ljubljana (May 4), Vienna (May 5), Berlin (May 6), Minsk (May 8), Moscow (May 9), Tel Aviv (May 10) and New York (UN headquarters building on May 11 and Battery Park on May 12).

Residing abroad veterans of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, survivors of the Leningrad Siege and child inmates of Nazi death camps will get personal greetings from President Vladimir Putin.

On May 3, a delegation of veteran diplomats and current staff of the Ministry will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall. On May 8, during a ceremony at the Ministry’s central building, the Minister will lay flower baskets at the memorial plaques immortalising the names of the workers of the USSR People’ Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and the USSR People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade who died during the war as well as members of the Ministry staff who died while performing their duties and victims of political reprisals. By tradition, the Minister and the Chairperson of the Council of the Foreign Ministry’s War and Labour Veterans will make brief speeches. In the afternoon a gala meeting devoted to Victory Day will take place for the veterans of the diplomatic service, members of the central apparatus and invited guests, with the top Ministry officials present.

On May 9, the traditional military parade in Red Square will be watched by the heads of foreign diplomatic missions and the offices of international organisations accredited in Moscow. It is notable that it has become a good tradition in a number of countries, including the former Soviet Union countries, as well as in friendly Syria, for the main channels to broadcast the Red Square military parade live. Our compatriots have a chance to be immersed in the atmosphere of the great holiday.

We are confident that all the celebrations will be marked by a special feeling of joy and lack of formality, attracting all the people who cherish historical memories and seek to prevent the resurgence and glorification of Nazism.

We hope that the authorities of the countries where these gala and commemorative ceremonies will be held will provide assistance and will themselves pay tribute to those who defeated Nazism.

On the eve of Victory Day we would like to reiterate Russia’s position that the results of WWII, which underpin the present world order, are not subject to revision. We believe that distortion of the historical truth about the most destructive war in human history and the events preceding it, attempts at creeping rehabilitation of Nazism and absolution of the Nazis and their accomplices for the crimes they perpetrated, belittling of the decisive role of the Soviet liberator soldiers in defeating Nazism, and the campaign to demolish monuments to heroes may have dire consequences for the situation in the world. All this is extremely dangerous because of the negative consequences this may lead to. We come out against new dividing lines in Europe and for building a common European home without dividing its residents into friends and foes. This year, which marks the 80th anniversary of the ignominious Munich Pact of 1938, which became a prelude to World War II, is an occasion to ponder that the tragic events that happened in Europe in 1938-1945 must not happen again.  

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Answers to media questions:

Question: You said that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan discussed the situation on the line of contact. Did they discuss future interaction and cooperation between the two foreign ministries, given the events in Armenia?

Maria Zakharova: This question is both weird and scary. We maintain contact with Yerevan, communication has not been interrupted. Embassies continue to operate, both in Moscow and in Armenia’s capital. I cannot really understand what made you ask this question.

Question: Probably the changes in the Armenian leadership.

Maria Zakharova: We proceed from the fact that diplomats serve the people of Russia and the people of Armenia, for their benefit and well-being. It is not the people who have to adjust, but we, diplomats of all kinds, must think about how our countries and peoples live and develop, build a common future, given the historically friendly ties that we have.

Russia has done everything that it can to develop such ties for the benefit of the future. I think that we have nothing to be reproached of. We have fulfilled our obligations and continue to proceed on the basis of these obligations, in connection with the development of bilateral relations and also the regional problem, which is an open wound, for both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Question: We would like to hear your detailed comment on the French-German-British proposal to introduce some amendments to the nuclear agreement with Iran against the background of Iran’s missile programme, as well as on certain Middle East issues.

Maria Zakharova: I have commented on this subject in sufficient detail. Regrettably, over the last few years and even decades, we have repeatedly seen our Western partners’ fluctuations. The fluctuation of their position with regard to Iran is of a global nature. This is not just about the Iranian nuclear programme, as you know, but also, in principle, the attitude towards this state. We heard different assessments coming from Washington, and from certain European capitals. Their amplitude was huge, starting from the need to deliver a strike by smart missiles (perhaps they were less smart at that time), moreover, our Western colleagues tried to  justify this, providing a necessary background, to evolving a concept for talks.

Thank God, common sense prevailed at a certain point. Possibly, the memories of events in Iraq, Libya and other hot spots were still very much alive at that time as an illustration of what this Western “surgery” can lead to. The negotiating mechanisms were used at that moment and the agreement, or “deal,” to use the Western term, was signed. Following the deal (I would like to remind you that the United States explained the reason for building its European missile defence system by an alleged threat emanating from Iran), Moscow asked whether all these issues could be considered closed if the nuclear programme was under control? We were told “No”, because even though the European missile defence system was indeed motivated by the Iranian threat, the deal did not cover this, that it was a different matter.

There is a saying: When a magician does a trick, watch his hands. This is like that. You should keep your eyes open and follow closely what our Western partners say, because, speaking of the deal, the position, the attitude to Iran, we constantly face cheating, changes in position, changes in motivation and the reasons named as motives for actions.

Imagine what would have happened if missiles had been fired at Iran. The very same people, who, incidentally, are returning to the political and even the official circles in the White House, told us about the need to deliver such a strike. They also insisted that Iran was threatening international stability. Meanwhile, regrettably, it was being threatened by countries other than Iran and now we can see the outcome of this policy – from Syria to Libya, it is clear. These are the examples of attacks launched by the United States, Britain and France.

It must be understood that, regrettably, this is reality: the United States and a number of other countries have repeatedly changed their positions over time.

Less than a year ago, when the UN General Assembly opened its session in the autumn, there was a meeting of countries that were behind the concept and the negotiating process on this deal. The US proposals to revise or change this document were categorically rejected and harshly criticised by France, Germany and EU representatives. What has happened during these six months? As you know, nothing negative has happened in Iran in terms of implementing this programme. The experts who monitor its implementation would invariably say that Iran is implementing the terms of the deal in good faith. Things that give rise to questions are clarified and jointly settled. So, what has happened if the deal and Iran that is implementing it have not changed? What has happened to those countries, specifically the European countries, to make them change their position? What arguments has Washington found to make them change their mind? Clearly, these are not arguments arising from analysis and expert assessment. There are different arguments. Analytical arguments would have been presented to everyone. They would consist of claims that Iran is breaching the deal and does not reply to questions. Iran is doing nothing of the sort. Accordingly, they have found new arguments, but what arguments – I think you should address this question to other parties.  

Question: UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, believes that the Astana process has run out of steam and fails to make any progress, making it impossible to squeeze anything out of it. What would be your comment?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the statement by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura that the Astana process has reached its limits, let me remind you that Staffan de Mistura was in Moscow just a few days ago, on April 20, and spoke about the Astana process in very different terms. This is quite perplexing for us. This situation begs a question: could it be that the same oscillations in approaches happen in Geneva, when government representatives are told one thing through the mediator, while opposition representatives get a different message? Maybe this could explain the lack of progress at the talks for so long? That said, this is only a hypothesis. We were really surprised to learn that the perspective on the process could vary to such an extent. We discussed the process in great detail with Staffan de Mistura, whose opinion was quite the opposite.

Question: Frode Berg, a Norwegian national, has been held in Lefortovo prison for almost five months now. He has now admitted to his lawyers that he visited Russia several times at the instructions of Norwegian intelligence. Could you provide an update on Frode Berg’s case? How will Norway and Russia deal with this situation?

A few weeks ago former Foreign Minister of Norway, Borge Brende, met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. During the meeting, Sergey Lavrov promised to look into Berg’s case. Has he been able to do so?

Maria Zakharova: We cannot access the file because of the ongoing investigation. This case is being dealt with by law enforcement agencies. All we can do is examine requests from Norway and pass them on to the relevant bodies.

You referred to a statement by the lawyers. I followed the statements that were made and got some clarifications. According to the information we have, Norwegian consular staff can access Mr Frode Berg. Russia has not received any complaints from Norway and there are no outstanding issues. The consul and consular staff are able to visit him.

The investigation is underway, so there is no politics here. If you have specific questions on the conditions of detention, we can put you in touch with the press service of the relevant law enforcement agency.

Question: Could you specify whether the Foreign Ministry sees any prospects for settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the near future?

Maria Zakharova: We have released a comment to this effect, and it remains relevant. Just like many countries in the region and across the world in general, we continue to follow closely the developments in Armenia. As I have already said, our two countries share a long-standing tradition of friendship, have large-scale cooperation in many areas as well as an allied relationship.

It is our sincere hope that the situation remains entirely within the limits of the law and the constitution, and all the political forces act responsibly and show readiness to engage in a constructive dialogue. Russia strongly believes that it would be in the vital interests of brotherly Armenia and its people to ensure that the situation in the country returns back to normal and social accord is restored as quickly as possible.

Taking into consideration that in today’s information space people can learn and see how the world lives, what happened over the past few years in various countries, we must act on this knowledge. We must draw conclusions from what is happening around the world and where it is leading.

Question: Does Russia believe that the situation will stabilise and the two sides in the conflict will resume negotiations?

Maria Zakharova: We sincerely hope so, and believe that this would be the right way to go.

Question: This May is the 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the basis of the modern Azerbaijani state.  Alimardan Topchubashov, one of the republic’s former leaders, is still considered the leading figure in Azerbaijan’s diplomacy. What can you say about your southern colleagues with regard to the anniversary? What is distinctive about Azerbaijan’s diplomacy?

Maria Zakharova: I gave a detailed description of Russia-Azerbaijan bilateral relations in a briefing on April 19. To avoid me repeating myself, please visit our website where you can find the video recording and the text of the briefing. If there are any additional questions, we, of course, will answer them, but I spoke about our full-scale cooperation with Azerbaijan in detail.

Question: The inter-Korean summit will take place tomorrow. We would like to ask you to comment on the initiative by President of South Korea Moon Jae-in, aimed at signing a peace treaty with North Korea. If the parties are successful and the treaty is signed, this will mean the end of war between the two Koreas? Will it have a positive influence on the situation in the region? What expectations does Russia have from this summit?

Maria Zakharova: We have already given our assessment and it is still relevant. It is based on the fact that the two Koreas have waited for a long time for this political process to begin. We fully support the diplomatic efforts in this area.

Taking into account the history of international mediation in connection with this matter, we sincerely hope that the true goals of all the international players involved are aimed at a solution, not aggravation. We wish this summit every success. We will give our assessment after the Korean states share the outcome of the meeting.

Question: Could you comment on the statement made by the newly elected President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic on his intention to improve the ruined relations with the Russian Federation? Will the fact that he denied Russia’s participation in the coup d’etat help Milo Djukanovic?

Maria Zakharova: Relations need not have been ruined.

Question: Can you elaborate on relations between Russia and Cyprus?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, we plan to publish relevant material on the Foreign Ministry’s website today.

Question: The Cypriot public opinion shows that people are worried about the rapprochement of Russia and Turkey, in particular regarding two projects: the sales of S-400 and the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power station. Would you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: We never improve relations with a country in order to worsen our ties with another nation. I understand that the matter worries the Cypriot public. Let me reiterate an absolutely clear and distinct position regarding bilateral relations: we value relations with Cyprus as they are. They are progressing in many fields. That said, we are also developing ties with other countries, especially those that are close to us geographically and that share a fairly long although complicated common history with us.

Let me reaffirm that our economic, financial and international cooperation with Turkey will not affect our relations with Cyprus in any way.

Question: You mentioned that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is seeking autocephalous status. According to the Greek media, US diplomats are displaying a special interest in Orthodoxy related topics. Thus, the US Ambassador to Greece (former Ambassador to Ukraine) recently visited Mt Athos. Do you see some part being played by US diplomacy in the stance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the emergence of the autocephaly matter?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, these things should be addressed by the Church itself. Our  comment today is not an attempt to interfere in church affairs but rather an attempt to caution against it. The aim of the comment is to draw international public attention to the active interference by the Ukrainian government in church affairs, which have their own postulates and canons. By so doing, the Ukrainian leaders are not even concealing their political aims.

Secondly, concerning Washington’s possible influence, among other things, on Orthodox affairs, I think we are witnessing US attempts to affect domestic affairs in a number of countries and among them, of course, countries with an active Orthodox congregation. This isn’t a secret either.

Regarding the Kiev government, much has already been said about the fact that there are political forces and figures behind it, in particular, from the United States. I believe they impact not only financial, economic and political matters but are also aggravating issues connected with societal life. Everything is geared up towards one goal (unfortunately, we register that) – forcible Ukrainisation, an attempt to tear off all the relations (not only their ties but those of their population) with the outside world, and do it crudely, disregarding all that is at odds and in total contradiction with their own constitution.

Question: Recently a Bulgarian delegation visited Crimea. The members of the delegation raised voices against the sanctions and suggested that a ferry service be launched. What do you think of this idea?

Maria Zakharova: This is an infrastructure issue which should be addressed by the local authorities in cooperation with the respective departments. You know that politically we stand for enhancing the cooperation of that region of the Russian Federation, its international ties. In this respect we wholeheartedly support any activities in Crimea targeting the development of its economy and infrastructure. As to any specific details, they must be addressed by respective agencies.

Question: We have been to Crimea a number of times and we see that the infrastructure facilities are developing. However, Sberbank and Russian Post are not there – not a single government agency.

Maria Zakharova: There are many more government agencies there than you can imagine. Progress is evident. There are some problems though, and you are aware of them. Actually, this is the reason we keep inviting you there. These issues are also gradually being resolved.

Question: North and South Korea are meeting tomorrow. What does Russia expect to come from the meeting?

Maria Zakharova: I just commented on that in my answer to your colleague’s question.

Question: You said you’d rather comment following the meeting. Are there any expectations?

Maria Zakharova: I also spoke about expectations.

Question: Do you think it is possible to resume the six-party talks on the DPRK this year?

Maria Zakharova: I think we should wait for the political agreements (if there are any), at least, the results of the meetings, and then we should look at what was achieved and, in view of the outcome, to figure out how to proceed.  

Russia has been active in this area (meetings and consultations are being held), and is willing and able to do everything possible to contribute to the peaceful political settlement of this very old problem. But plans should be commented on after the meeting takes place.

Question: Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of the “velvet revolution” in Armenia, recently met with Russian Ambassador to Armenia Ivan Volynkin. Mr Pashinyan said after the meeting that the protests in the country are not directed against any other nation, including Russia. At the same time US Ambassador Richard Mills met with Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan where the US diplomat in fact repeated Mr Karapetyan’s words that the Armenian prime minister may not be elected in the streets, as constitutional mechanisms must be used. Can we say that at present the great powers’ preferences are taking shape with regard to Armenia? In particular, does Richard Mills’ statement suggest that they are placing their bets not on the opposition and the demonstrators, but on the current authorities?

Maria Zakharova: Asking who the great powers are betting on is insulting to Yerevan, Armenia and its people.

This is a people with a very ancient history, with a culture and state dating back many centuries. I think we have stated unambiguously that the people of Armenia should overcome this political and social crisis themselves. Such situations regularly occur in different countries. The question is whether the people, and also those they have empowered to represent them, show wisdom and peacefully resolve the crisis without bloodshed, or turn it into a lengthy process with an unpredictable result.

We believe this is an internal matter for Armenia, and in accordance with all laws – international law, the laws of life and logic – Armenia should reach a consensus and public accord as to who is going to govern the country and how, which course to choose. We reiterate that it should be based on the laws of the country.

Contacts are ongoing. This is absolutely normal, it is international practice. We do not see anything improper in it. As I said today, contacts are being held at the level of embassies and ministers. It is, of course, the responsibility of the people of Armenia, those who created the country, its culture and history, to find the strength to achieve a wise political settlement of this situation on the basis of the law and the constitution.

Question: Several important meetings have been held recently, including between Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev [in Baku] and between Ilham Aliyev and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. Is this situation precarious? Could it spin out of control? I am referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Maria Zakharova: We don’t think the situation will deteriorate.

We have put forth our position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict many times. It must be settled through peaceful political talks and agreements. No complications, including those you mentioned, should be allowed, because this would only worsen the situation. Peaceful negotiations are the only solution to this problem.

Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the SCO summit that the SCO countries were concerned about the growing number of ISIS terrorists in Afghanistan and would do their best to put an end to terrorism and the war there. Could the United States cooperate with the SCO to end the war in Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: The SCO comprises states that are Afghanistan’s neighbours or are otherwise involved in a settlement. The organisation was created in part for dealing with this and other similar problems.

Counterterrorism is a strong part of the SCO’s efforts. It has a counterterrorism centre, which not only holds theoretical discussions or looks for analytical answers to problems, but is also involved in practical and pragmatic cooperation conducted with the member states on a daily basis. This involves a package of measures.

Cooperation within the SCO can be directly connected to normalising the situation in Afghanistan and cutting short the current trend that involves the transfer of terrorist groups from the Middle East and North Africa to Afghanistan. The SCO is highlighting this issue. As I said, this is being worked on.

Question: In Afrin, the Free Syrian Army is giving the buildings, that have been vacated by the Kurds because of the war, to Arabs, which is changing the demography of that district. Does Russia have any information on this?

Maria Zakharova: I do not have this information. I can request an update and will then comment on it.

Question: It is possible that the Syrian conflict is ending?

Maria Zakharova: I would approach this question from a different angle. We explained our position. Our Western partners’ chaotic and seemingly illogical actions, such as the missile strikes on Syria and the endless hue and cry over the alleged chemical attacks, are evidence that Syria has entered a solid path towards settling the crisis. They are grabbing at straws to prolong the Syrian crisis, creating chaos and doing other strange things, even though they know that there are no facts to prove their claims and the material they use to justify the missile strikes is falsified. I believe this answers your question.

Question: Has Moscow formulated its position on the developments in Armenia, which resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan? The Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin only express the hope that the situation will be settled under the law. But what does Moscow think about the resignation of the prime minister because of large-scale opposition protests?

Maria Zakharova: I believe we have said absolutely clearly that all this is Armenia’s internal affair. You may have overlooked this statement.

Question: Does this mean that the actions [that resulted in the prime minister’s resignation] were legitimate?

Maria Zakharova: This issue concerns the social development of a sovereign state. This issue should not be discussed officially, but by political analysts and historians who follow these issues and who can assess the trends and the reasons behind them. This is the internal affair of Armenia. I said this today, and I can say it again. Of course, we are urging all sides to show wisdom and to take a responsible attitude to settle this problem based on the constitution.

Question: You say this is the internal affair of Armenia? They just held elections as a result of which…

Maria Zakharova: It would be fair and logical to ask the Armenian government about its views on the issue. As for us, we witnessed a situation where Yerevan announced the resignation of its prime minister. This problem must be settled in accordance with the constitution. This is an extremely clear position that does not leave room for misinterpretation. It is an absolutely clear-cut position.

Question: As reported by Interfax today, in addition to Foreign Minister of Armenia Edward Nalbandian, Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan came to Moscow as well. You said that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Armenia. Was Armen Gevorgyan present during the meeting? If not, whom did he meet with?

Maria Zakharova: I have no detailed information about this meeting. I only have the information that I already shared with you. Surprisingly, this meeting led to conclusions which are nothing short of a conspiracy theory. It’s very strange. We never hide anything in terms of contacts. But I do not have any details. I can make inquiries and answer you later.

Question: It’s just that a source in Interfax said that the internal political situation in Armenia will also be discussed at the meeting in addition to bilateral relations.

Maria Zakharova: Again, I commented on this in the first part. I don’t believe we have ever let you down in this sense. I can clarify who was present at the meeting.

Question: Is there any limit to the number of diplomatic personnel in each particular country? For example, today you demonstrated the raider attack by the United States with regard to Russian property. The diplomatic mission in Armenia is one of the largest with over 1,500 diplomats. Are there any limits to that number?

Maria Zakharova: This is a matter of bilateral agreements. Each country agrees with another country about the number of diplomats to be sent to that country. It’s a matter of mutual agreement. If there are complications in relations similar to the ones we now have with the United States, there is a form of parity, where one country, seeing unfriendly steps and lack of respect and in order to somehow let the other country know that such an approach is inappropriate, offers parity, so that no one has any advantages. This was the case with us and the United States. They had a clear prevalence in the number of diplomats. They had several times more employees than other embassies. No other country has as many embassy employees as they do. In particular, in the wake of these expulsions and rude behaviour with regard to Russian property, diplomatic sites and diplomats, parity was proposed and the numbers are now even. This is also a conventional arrangement, because we have a Permanent Mission to the United Nations which, by virtue of history, functions on the territory of the United States. It has its own symbolism. Traditionally, the countries agree on the number of diplomats on a bilateral basis. Actually, opening consulates general and the format of an embassy are also the subject of mutual agreements based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and on the 1963 one on consular relations. This is the legal basis, while the details are agreed by the parties.

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