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1 June 201815:00

Briefing by Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department Artyom Kozhin, Moscow, June 1, 2018

1075-01-06-2018

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Rwanda
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting
  3. Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s working visit to Moscow
  4. International Children’s Day
  5. Russia’s priorities during its Presidency of the UN Security Council
  6. US Department of State representative’s statement on Russia’s role in Korean settlement
  7. Developments in Syria
  8. Humanitarian situation in Syria
  9. Developments in Nicaragua
  10. The Skripal case
  11. British parliament’s anti-Russia report
  12. Situation with Marshal Konev Monument in Prague
  13. Historic Catholic church in Sevastopol to be handed over to believers
  14. Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski denied entry to Russia
  15. Extending the deadline for 2018 World Cup accreditation applications at city press centres

From answers to media questions:

Situation with head of RIA Novosti Ukraine Kirill Vyshinsky

Developments in Syria

Developments in Afghanistan

Russia’s reaction to the new name and date for celebrating Victory Day in Armenia

Russian-Azerbaijani relations

Situation with journalist Arkady Babchenko and investigation into the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Rwanda

 

On June 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will make a working visit to the Republic of Rwanda. He will meet with President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, who chairs the African Union this year, and with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community Louise Mushikiwabo.

The agenda of Sergey Lavrov’s visit includes discussions on a wide range of bilateral issues, primarily trade and economic cooperation. Opportunities are available for strengthening ties in exploration and mining, energy, information technology, agriculture, medicine and training of personnel.

The officials will hold a detailed exchange of opinions on global and regional affairs, including the fight against terrorism and extremism. They will also discuss peacekeeping in Africa and the search for solutions to conflicts in Africa’s troubled areas, primarily in the Great Lakes area, the Central African Republic and the Sahara-Sahel region.

They also plan to discuss the current state and the future of political, trade, economic and cultural cooperation between Russia and the African Union.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting

 

On June 4, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting in Pretoria.

The meeting will focus on a broad range of the most urgent issues of maintaining international peace and stability, supporting the world economy and coordinating BRICS cooperation in the difficult conditions of global political turbulence. The ministers will conduct an in-depth exchange of opinions on the situation in hot spots and common tasks of countering new challenges and threats, primarily, in fighting international terrorism and ensuring international information security. They will pay special attention to the preparations for the 10th anniversary BRICS summit on July 25-27 in Johannesburg.

One of Russia’s foreign policy priorities is to deepen BRICS strategic partnership. In the past few years, the association of five large states with emerging economies and developing nations has turned from a “hobby club” into a full-fledged mechanism of versatile strategic partnership. Every year, the leaders of the association hold two summits – the main one, and a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 session, and about 100 official events, including some 20 at the ministerial level. There is a broad network of industry-specific cooperation between the BRICS countries – their business circles, scientists and other representatives of civil society.

The five nations are committed to promoting indivisible security and international stability, using collective methods of settling crises by political and diplomatic means, and practicing multilateralism. They reject armed interventions, unilateral economic measures of coercion, protectionism and dishonest competition. The BRICS countries jointly support upholding the foundations of a multilateral trade system and the WTO’s role as the only universal venue for drafting rules of global trade.

The BRICS countries are jointly searching for new sources of economic growth. They played a major role in promoting the IMF reform. They established a New Development Bank and a Contingent Reserve Arrangement, which are designed to facilitate the upgrading of the global system of management and financial security.  The five nations are advocating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris climate agreement.

The BRICS countries are focusing on consolidating and diversifying mechanisms of multi-industry cooperation, and an innovative search for new areas of partnership. Being open to the outside world, BRICS is consistently expanding cooperation with interested countries and integration associations.

 

Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s working visit to Moscow

 

On June 7, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan will pay a working visit to the Russian Federation.

During talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, there are plans to discuss a wide range of bilateral cooperation issues in the context of the May 14 meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan in Sochi. The sides are to focus on international issues, including integration processes in the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Commonwealth of Independent States, the coordination of bilateral efforts at the UN, the OSCE, the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and other influential international and regional forums.

The sides will exchange opinions on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement where Russia plays an active mediatory role together with the other co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group.

 

International Children’s Day

 

International Children’s Day has been observed since 1950. Today, over 60 countries hold official events marking this day.

Efforts to promote and protect the rights of children, as well as to create favourable conditions for the safe and full-fledged development of children, remain important for global development.

For almost 30 years, the entire international community has seen the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as the main guideline in the area of promoting children’s rights. This is the first comprehensive international agreement recognising that children are independent individuals entitled to human rights and freedoms. The Russian Federation is a state party to the Convention and two of its optional protocols: the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

Russia is committed to unfailingly honouring its international legal obligations in this area. The May 22, 2018 consideration of the Russian Federation’s initial report on the implementation of the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child during the 78th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva is proof of that.

In September 2019, the Russian Federation will present its consolidated sixth and seventh periodic reports on fulfilling the Convention’s provisions and those of its two optional protocols.

Russia’s socially-oriented domestic policy is focused on encouraging and protecting children’s rights.

Child issues are included in most national projects. The 2012−2017 National Children’s Strategy is a key document in this sphere. While implementing this strategy, national authorities moved to improve family legislation, to reduce poverty among families with children, to establish a safe and comfortable family environment for children, to provide affordable and high-quality education, to prevent violence against minors and to rehabilitate child victims of violence.

Considering this strategy’s implementation results, the President of the Russian Federation issued Executive Order No. 240 of May 29, 2017 proclaiming the years 2018−2027 the Decade of Childhood. The programme aims to further streamline state policies in this area. The action plan for 2018−2020 is currently being finalised.

Childhood issues and ways of resolving them are also reflected in the Russian Federation’s Long-Term Socioeconomic Development Concept until 2020, the Russian Federation’s Demographic Policy Concept until 2025, as well as the Russian Federation’s Family Policy Concept until 2025 and its National Security Strategy.

 

Russia’s priorities during its Presidency of the UN Security Council

 

Starting today (June 1), Russia holds the Presidency of the UN Security Council, the main body responsible for maintaining international peace and preventing conflicts.

The central event of Russia’s Presidency will be an open session entitled Maintaining International Peace and Security: A Comprehensive Survey of the Situation in the Middle East and North Africa, which is scheduled for June 25.

The importance of this topic is beyond doubt. During the session, we expect to analyse the underlying causes of conflicts in the region and discuss collective ways of addressing them. The hot spots in the Middle East and North Africa have a deep destabilising effect not only on the military and political situation in this part of the world, but also on international relations in general. In addition to the long-standing conflicts, above all, the Arab-Israeli conflict, other crisis situations have emerged – in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq – which feed each other and create the risk of instability spilling over into neighbouring countries. All this poses a challenge to international peace and security, dialogue between civilisations and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Real and long-term solutions require a comprehensive approach rooted in international law, without double standards and with respect for the UN Charter.

The situation on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip has remained a source of alarm for several successive months. It certainly influences the UN Security Council agenda. A planned session on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been envisaged. However, we do not rule out extraordinary sessions.

As usual, a number of events will be devoted the Syrian issue and its various aspects. These include a political dossier, where we expect certain shifts in light of the Syrian Government’s decision to submit its candidates for the Constitutional Committee that will work under the aegis of the UN. These are also humanitarian issues, where discussions should focus on plans to increase humanitarian aid to areas to which refugees and displaced persons are returning. Also on the agenda are progress in eliminating the Syrian chemical warfare programme and the situation in the zone of responsibility of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights.

The Council will consider the situation in Yemen in terms of a political settlement and ways of resolving humanitarian problems that assumed disastrous proportions.

The situation in Afghanistan remains one of the Council’s focal points. During debates on June 21, the Council will examine the full range of Afghan settlement issues with an emphasis on the importance of combating terrorism and illicit drug production and drug trafficking.

In the coming month, the UN Security Council will discuss the work of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) that we regard as a complex political tool to improve dialogue in the region. We think that the UNRCCA should be more broadly involved, including through interaction with the CSTO, the SCO and the CIS, in cooperation on Afghanistan, given the threats coming from its territory.

Also scheduled for June are debates on resolutions on the extension of sanctions against Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There will be separate sessions devoted to UN peace-building activities and the work of the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. Many African topics are on the programme, including the Central African Republic, Sudan and South Sudan. A total of more than 20 sessions of the Council will take place in June.

We will do our best to make the work of the UN Security Council as smooth and effective as possible through constructive cooperation among all its members.        

 

US Department of State representative’s statement on Russia’s role in Korean settlement

 

We noted a media report that a representative of the US Department of State had called on Russia to cooperate with Washington on Korean matters instead of acting against the US on that threat. If this remark indeed reflects the position of the US foreign policy agency, this can only raise eyebrows.

During Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on May 31 and his meeting with Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, the Russian side announced its support of Pyongyang’s and Washington’s efforts to normalise bilateral relations and expressed hope for a successful North Korea–US summit. In addition, the roadmap that Russia and China proposed for a settlement between the two Korean states stipulates direct North Korea-US dialogue.

It is clear that the process of rapprochement between the US and North Korea and the decision to abandon hostilities and mistrust, without which it would be impossible to reach any sustainable agreements, will take a long time and require well-calibrated steps towards each other. This is why we are calling on [the sides] to refrain from unreasonably high expectations and impossible demands that could torpedo the negotiation process. We hope that a sensible approach will prevail and Washington will start looking for compromises aimed at establishing a lasting peace in Northeast Asia instead of “a black cat that isn’t there.”

 

Developments in Syria

 

In the past week the following developments took place in Syria: the terrorist presence in the capital region was fully eliminated; the legitimate Syrian authorities restored control over the southern suburbs of Damascus Al-Hajar al-Aswad, Tadamun and the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk. From 800 to 1,500 remaining ISIS militants fled to desert areas located at the junction of the provinces of Homs and Deir-ez-Zor. Their family members were evacuated to Idlib Province.

Syrian national flags have been raised in the liberated areas, mine clearing has been started, and municipal services and law enforcement bodies have resumed their work. Repair teams are clearing rubble and streets. Thousands of refugees from these areas are striving to get home without waiting for the end of the clean-up operations and mine clearing.

At the same time, the security situation is deteriorating in the north and north-west of Syria. Over 50 civilians were killed and wounded in the terrorist acts staged near the headquarters of Jabhat al-Nusra in the cities of Idlib and Al-Dana. In addition, over 20 militants were killed during the internecine shootouts between illegal armed formations.

Jihadists operating in the Idlib de-escalation zone conducted provocative shelling of the Syrian Government-controlled territories. In the first three days of this week, they fired 105 bombs and shells at Aleppo residential neighbourhoods.

ISIS militants staged a number of new daring raids on government strongholds in the area of the cities of Abu Kamal and Mayadin in the east of Deir-ez-Zor Province. At the same time, four groups of ISIS militants were intercepted when they attempted to get to the south-west of this province from the country’s east.

 

Humanitarian situation in Syria

 

The general background of the UN Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, held in New York on May 29, was the fact that conditions for normalisation were created by the actions of the Syrian army in many regions of the country, which were previously controlled by terrorists and extremists, including Eastern Ghouta, the nearest suburb of Damascus.

In UN estimates, in the past two weeks, over 10,000 internally displaced persons returned to Eastern Ghouta, where 200,000 people require aid. The UN is rendering this aid, including supplies of food and medicines. It has allocated $16 million for these purposes alone.

Characteristically, the Western donors that patronised regions when they were controlled by the “opposition” seem to have lost interest, as if on cue. They are cynically explaining that recovery assistance will be provided only after a “trustworthy political transition,” which suggests the removal of the current government.

On the whole, the recent debates convincingly demonstrated for the umpteenth time now that humanitarian issues are being shamelessly exploited by the opponents of the lawful Syrian authorities in order to brazenly pressure Damascus. Unilateral economic sanctions illegally imposed by Western capitals had catastrophic consequences for civilians, but they are being cynically ignored.

The grave humanitarian problems created by the Washington-led “international coalition” are being swept under the carpet with great diligence, while Raqqa still lays in ruins, destroyed by US air strikes. These ruins are packed with mines and unexploded shells. Not even basic conditions are in place for the return of residents and resumption of work by international humanitarian agencies although the number of people returning home is growing all the time and has already reached 135,000.

It has been impossible for months to deliver humanitarian aid to the Rukban camp for internally displaced persons, which is located in At-Tanfa that is illegally controlled by the US. The situation in the Jabal at-Tuveihina camp in the area of al-Tabqah is extremely grave.

Meanwhile, Damascus is faced with new grievances. For example, recent steps by the Syrian authorities to streamline property rights of citizens are being heavily criticised. The best illustration of the critics’ ideological bias is the fact that they are refusing to discuss these steps in a direct dialogue with the authorities, which we consider the only way of settling all inconsistencies and misunderstandings.

                                       

Developments in Nicaragua

 

We positively assess the launch in Nicaragua on May 16, through the mediation of the Catholic Church, of a national dialogue designed to work out an algorithm for addressing the existing problems, without outside interference, in order to promote the stable and sustainable development of that country.

We support the efforts of the Sandinista Government to resolve the situation and hope that all Nicaraguan political forces will consistently move forward towards constructive and respectful cooperation at the negotiating table. Calls for a show of force and confrontation are unacceptable and will only lead to unjustified human casualties and an escalation of tension.

Russia stands and has always stood for resolving internal differences in friendly Nicaragua through peaceful means, proceeding from the rich experience of that Central American country in protecting its sovereignty and democratic values.

 

The Skripal case

 

We have been closely watching the latest developments in the Skripal case. Last week’s video address by Yulia Skripal is certainly reassuring in the sense that she is alive and in good health. We are glad that Yulia intends to return to Russia, her native country. We are ready to give her all necessary assistance.

But even that short video raises many questions, above all, how freely our compatriot is speaking in her statements.

It remains unclear in what conditions Yulia Skripal is currently living and whether she can freely communicate with the outside world. So, with all due respect for her private life, being unsure of whether her actions and statements are independent, we are not withdrawing the request of Britain’s mandatory compliance within its international obligations in terms of granting consular access to our fellow citizens.

We would also like to note that the state in which we saw Yulia Skripal in the video, the fact that she was obviously uneasy may be due to a large unfulfilled need for moral and psychological support from her relatives. At the same time, as is well known, the British authorities have twice, under invented pretexts, refused to issue a visa to her cousin Viktoria, who wanted to come to Britain to visit and support her relatives.     

We cannot and will not put up with London’s utter disdain for human rights and disrespect for fundamental civil liberties, when it comes to unjustified restrictions on the contacts and movements of people, all the more so as it concerns close relatives.

Statements by doctors from the Salisbury hospital in British media have not clarified the situation. Apart from failing to give answers to our former questions to official London about details of the treatment the two Russian citizens were receiving, they clash with earlier published information about the incident.

All this confirms our conclusions about deliberate efforts by the British authorities to mislead the public, for which purpose new “facts” are periodically injected into the media space.

As they do so, the British authorities continue to evade direct contacts with the Russian side, leaving our requests to cooperate in the investigation unanswered, creating an atmosphere of secrecy around the investigation and dosing out information through the media.

We will continue to demand exhaustive answers from London to all our questions that we put to the British side in connection with the Salisbury provocation inspired by it. Among other things, Britain must clarify the following key points:

– Was work on chemical warfare agents of the Novichok type or its analogues conducted in Britain?

– What features (markers) led to the conclusion about the alleged Russian origin of the substance used in Salisbury?

– Does Britain possess control samples of the substance that the British call Novichok?

The absence of answers from the British side to these and many other questions convinces us still more of the unseemly role of London in this provocation that affected Russian citizens.

 

British parliament’s anti-Russia report

 

A recent report published by the UK House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, “Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK”, invites quite a few questions.

In essence, this report is yet another element of the British authorities’ anti-Russia campaign timed for the final stage of parliamentary debates on a bill that should provide a legal framework for the UK sanctions policy by the country’s exit from the EU in March 2019.

The adoption of this bill could greatly complicate multifaceted Russian-UK cooperation within the framework of international organisations. Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) exchanges information with the UK Financial Intelligence Unit under a 2003 interdepartmental agreement on cooperation against money laundering. In addition, the multilateral ties of Rosfinmonitoring include working ties with the UK delegation at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In this context, populist publications such as the above report can damage the effectiveness of these important efforts of international organisations.

It is also evident that London’s self-righteous policy is based on double standards, considering that the UK has provided refuge to dozens of Russian citizens who have been accused of crimes and has refused to extradite them so that they are called to account in their home country. Although many of these persons claim to be political refugees, nearly all of them have been charged with larceny, large-scale fraud, murder or extremism.

Overall, we see this attempt by the British Parliament to combine good intentions in the fight against money laundering with Russophobic statements and self-assertion at our expense as fresh evidence of the Conservatives’ long-term but short-sighted Russia policy that will damage bilateral relations.

 

Situation with Marshal Konev Monument in Prague

 

According to information from Prague, including from the Czech media, the city authorities intend to mount a new plaque on the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev, which was installed in one of the city districts in 1980. This new plaque will provide “historically correct explanations” of some facts from the marshal’s biography. We must say that this new text has nothing in common with historical facts, if only because its authors claim that Ivan Konev was involved in reconnaissance operations before the deployment of Warsaw Treaty Organisation troops in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Marshal Konev had no connection to this whatsoever, because he retired from active service in April 1963 and died in 1973.

We have provided numerous comments at our briefings regarding the situation with the monument to Marshal Konev in the Czech capital. It is distressing that the Czech authorities have not put a stop to or offered any moral and legal censure against such regrettable initiatives.

The very idea of adding information to old monuments is absurd. Explanations that do not correspond to the initial intention of any monument are nothing but double-speak and deliberate distortion of facts designed to influence and stir up people, usually for narrow political goals.

We hope that historical justice and a sense of gratitude towards a man whose role in fighting Nazism and liberating Europe can hardly be overestimated prevail in the Czech Republic.

 

Historic Catholic church in Sevastopol to be handed over to believers

 

On June 3, a ceremony will be held in Sevastopol to transfer a historic Catholic church to the believers and to publicly sign a directive On the Transfer of a Historical Place of Worship to the Local Religious Community, St Clement Parish of the Roman Catholic Church. June 3 marks the 235th anniversary of the city and laying the first buildings and facilities of the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The church was built in 1911 for Catholic sailors of the Black Sea Fleet on voluntary donations, including those made by the Russian Royal family. During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, it was destroyed by the Nazis and later rebuilt and used as a children’s cinema. The issue of transferring the church to believers was repeatedly raised by the Sevastopol Catholic community when the Hero City was under the administration of Kiev, but to no avail. Only now, after Sevastopol and entire Crimea have returned to Russia and thanks to an agreement reached in August 2017 during a working visit by Cardinal Secretary of State of Vatican Pietro Parolin to Russia and his talks with President Vladimir Putin, historical justice can be restored. It is also proof of the constructive and fruitful development of relations between Russia and Vatican City, an important part of which is the growing mutual understanding between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

 

Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski denied entry to Russia

 

In response to the Polish Press Agency’s request for comment on the situation regarding Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski being denied entry to Russia, I would like to say the following.

It is true that Slawomir Debski has been included on the list of people who are denied entry to Russia. This move came in response to the unfriendly actions of the Polish authorities toward Russian political scientists who were denied entry to the Schengen area at the initiative of Warsaw some time ago.

Such retaliatory measures are a common practice in relations between states based on the principle of reciprocity. There is nothing outrageous or surprising about this. It should be noted that this situation was provoked entirely by Poland, not Russia.

 

Extending the deadline for 2018 World Cup accreditation applications at city press centres

 

I would like to say a few words about the final chords in preparations for a major sporting event, which will kick off very soon.

It is important to note that due to the increased interest and numerous requests from Russian and foreign journalists, a decision was made to extend the deadline for 2018 FIFA World Cup accreditation applications at city press centres until June 20.

The city press centres were specially created for media representatives who do not have official FIFA accreditation, as well as for independent journalists and bloggers who intend to carry out professional activities in the territory of the Russian Federation to cover the World Cup. Such press centres will open in each host city.

The routine work of the city press centres will involve news conferences, briefings, and video conferences, and journalists will have the opportunity to attend guided tours and workshops. An important part of the press centres will be the presentation area on each region, where all visitors can learn more about its features and achievements. Direct video broadcasts of matches are also planned.

The accreditation badge for the city press centres will provide an opportunity to carry out professional journalistic activities in 17 Russian regions (in the regions where 11 World Cup host cities are located, as well as six regions where the training camps of national teams are located).

The media accreditation regulations, as well as the press centre’s addresses and working hours are available on footballcitymediacenter.ru, as well as on the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

We would also like to inform our guests that during the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Belarus, an agreement was signed between our countries on some issues related to the entry of foreign citizens and stateless persons for international events. The document regulates the procedure for the entry of certain categories of foreign citizens into the territory of the Union State during the preparation and holding of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2nd European Games (Minsk, 2019).

In particular, clause 1 of Article 2 of the Agreement states that foreign citizens and stateless persons who arrive to attend an international sporting event during the period of its holding in the State of one Party, may enter, leave, stay and transit through the territory of the State of the other Party without visas, only holding a valid identity document and a document for attending an international sporting event (FAN ID).

It is also worth recalling that the Republic of Lithuania agreed that its territory would be crossed daily by four additional trains running to the Kaliningrad Region, during the World Cup. Transit crossing of the Lithuanian border is possible when holding a Lithuanian transit or Schengen visa.

 

From answers to media questions:

Question: Could you comment on the situation regarding the head of the RIA Novosti-Ukraine news portal Kirill Vyshinsky? He has said he wants to renounce Ukrainian citizenship and, as a Russian citizen, has asked Russia for help. Will the Russian side provide support and assistance to him? Can any exchange be considered?

Artyom Kozhin: I would like to say that Russia always provides assistance to its citizens. As known, we do not leave our people behind. Naturally, we will act according to international law. The situation itself is very concerning. It is outrageous that such things happen to media representatives. We hope very much that specialised international organisations respond to this accordingly. I will also note that we have spoken much on this topic. Everything has been posted on our website.

Question: President of Syria Bashar al-Assad recently told Russian media that a military operation was being planned to gain control of Syria's northern territories, which are currently controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Will Russia support this operation by Damascus? Will this aggravate the crisis?

Artyom Kozhin: We have always supported Syria's territorial integrity. The territory belongs to the Syrian government. We will see how the situation will progress. But we will obtain more information and give you a detailed answer.

Question: Are there any talks between Russia and Turkey on deployment of Russian military in Afrin, where there is a difficult situation in connection with the presence of the families of militants relocated from various parts of Damascus?

Artyom Kozhin: I do not have any information on this. I will clarify and get back to you on this.  

Question: Some media have reported today that at yesterday's talks in Pyongyang, an agreement was reached on a Russian-North Korean summit meeting this year. Can you confirm that such an agreement was reached? Is there information on more precise dates of the meeting?

Artyom Kozhin: I would like to remind everyone that comments on meetings of heads of state do not fall within the competence of the Foreign Ministry. They are within the competence of the press service of the Russian President’s Executive Office.

Question: Speaking at the high-level conference Countering Terrorism and Preventing Violent Extremism in Dushanbe, Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said that Afghanistan was turning into a support base for international terrorism. At the same time, Pentagon representatives claim that Russia criticises the countries helping Afghanistan fight terrorism but does not do enough to reduce the number of individuals from Russia and CIS countries recruited on those countries’ territories. How could you comment on this?

Artyom Kozhin: As a responsible member of the international community, Russia does enough with regard to Afghanistan. I have already mentioned that the Afghan problems will be among the priorities during Russia’s presidency in the UN Security Council. Be on the lookout for information based on the results of our work at the UN Security Council, including this month.

Question: In one of his recent interviews, the Armenian prime minister said that talks on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are impossible without the participation of “the illegal regime established on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” How much do such statements complicate the settlement process and prevent the two sides from finding common ground?

Artyom Kozhin: Bold statements that run counter to the principles laid down by the OSCE, among others, are probably non-constructive.

Question: One of the first executive orders signed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who came to power through street and social network protests, was the cancellation of the Victory Day holiday. He renamed Victory Day as Remembrance and Reconciliation Day, though Armenians also lost many of their people during World War II. Is there any response to cancelling the Victory Day holiday and shifting the holiday to May 8, like in the West?

Artyom Kozhin: The celebration of victory in the Great Patriotic War has been and remains a sacred holiday for all peoples of the former Soviet Union. Everyone remembers the price that the USSR paid for the victory over Nazism.

As for renaming holidays, there are small differences in different countries but this does not change the essence of the celebration or people’s attitude to this sacred date.

The Armenian people, who also paid a large price to gain a common victory, have always celebrated this holiday with us and will continue celebrating it.

Question: There is a rumour about secret Iran-Israel talks in Jordan. It is also said that fighters within 25 kilometres of the border with Jordan could be withdrawn into Syria. Has the agreement on the pre-June 4, 1967 borders been abandoned?

Artyom Kozhin: Russia never forgets its international commitments. As you have said, it is a rumour. Everyone knows that we do not comment on rumours. Let us wait for facts, and then we will comment.

Question: Mikhail Bocharnikov has recently been appointed ambassador to Azerbaijan. What does the Foreign Ministry expect him to achieve? What goals have been set for him regarding the strengthening of strategic partnership between Russia and Azerbaijan?

Artyom Kozhin: You have answered your own question. We have the most positive expectations. He will work to further develop and strengthen strategic partnership between Russia and Azerbaijan. Our ambassador is an experienced diplomat and a respected person. We have no doubts that he will accomplish his mission.

Question: A representative of the UK Foreign Office said they were happy that Arkady Babchenko was alive but they also condemned Russia for persecuting the staff of dissenting media outlets. Will you comment on this FCO statement, in the light of the fact that many European countries have condemned this staged operation? Does the Russian Foreign Ministry think there is a connection between the so-called Skripal case and the Babchenko case?

The Dutch Foreign Minister has said that he could not “rule out anything” speaking about Kiev’s potential liability for the crash of the Malaysian Boeing. What is the likely outcome of this case, which has lasted for four years now?

Artyom Kozhin: We are glad that Arkady Babchenko is alive.

As for the rest, I can tell you that Kiev’s reports about a special operation by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), involving prominent journalist Arkady Babchenko and, according to the latest information, exclusively SBU agents and staff, has destroyed the last remnants of trust for Ukrainian sources of information, including official ones.

It is now clear, not only to us, that information from Kiev must be checked and rechecked because it could be fake news, of which we have seen many examples, or it could be an “ingenious” SBU operation.

Regarding the investigation into the crash of the Malaysian Boeing, we are convinced that everyone will eventually see the truth. People will find out sooner or later that, just like the Babchenko and Skirpal cases, the tragedy of the MH17 flight is part of an anti-Russia campaign.

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