Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 30, 2018
- Visit to Moscow by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem
- Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed’s working visit to Russia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with students and faculty of the MGIMO University
- International conference “Countering Illicit Arms Trafficking in the Context of Fighting International Terrorism”
- Update on Syria
- Pentagon’s attempted denial of Russian Defence Ministry’s report on an increase in US cruise missiles in the Middle East
- Syrian girl’s Twitter blog
- The OPCW Technical Secretariat’s report on progress in eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons programme
- Update on the arrest of Maria Butina in the United States
- Heightened tensions on the Afghan-Tajik border
- Attack on UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic
- High Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region
- Update on the investigation into Salisbury and Amesbury incidents
- US administration’s policy on Palestinian refugees
- NATO’s activity in Europe
- Chemnitz unrest update
- A possible alternative to SWIFT
- The Russian America. History, Culture, Diplomacy website
- Russia-Turkey agreement on consultations to simplify visa regulations for certain categories of people
- Termination of the probe into cyberattacks on Swiss arms maker RUAG
- Answers to media questions:
- Relations between Russia and Azerbaijan
- Angela Merkel’s statement on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Preparations for consultations on Afghanistan
- Meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and his Japanese counterpart Takeo Mori
- Demolition of monuments to Red Army soldiers in Poland
- Situation in the Persian Gulf
- Azerbaijan-Russia Interregional Forum
- Possibility of a Russia-US meeting at the level of foreign ministers on the sidelines of UN General Assembly
- Ukraine update
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem, who is also the Co-Chair of the Russian-Syrian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation on Syria’s side, will be in Moscow on a working visit on August 30−31.
The programme of the visit includes talks between Walid Muallem and a high-profile delegation of the Syrian Government, on the one hand, and with his Russian counterpart, the Co-Chair of the Russian-Syrian Intergovernmental Commission and Deputy Prime Minister, Yury Borisov, on the other hand. They will discuss ways to ensure the steady advancement of the mutually beneficial partnership in all the aspects of bilateral trade and economic ties. Priorities on the bilateral agenda include stepping up Russia’s assistance to restoring economic activity in Syrian regions that have been recently liberated from terrorists, facilitating the reconstruction of socioeconomic infrastructure, and creating conditions for the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to these territories, as well as enabling as many Syrian refugees as possible to return back from abroad.
Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to hold talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem. The two officials are expected to have a detailed discussion on the developments in and around Syria from a political perspective, as well as to outline specific coordinated steps on the corresponding political and diplomatic tracks.
The Russian Federation provides the Syrian Government effective assistance in its efforts to deliver on a number of essential and urgent objectives, including completing the effort to eliminate ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups, promoting a political settlement as per UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and in keeping with the resolutions of the Syrian National Dialog Congress in Sochi, rebuilding the country and enabling refugees and IDPs to return back to their homes in safety and dignity, as well as restoring Syria’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, will also review plans for achieving a settlement in Syria as part of the Astana process. They will focus on the follow up to the Syrian National Dialog Congress, primarily regarding the establishment and launch of an intra-Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva with assistance from UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The Syrian Government and the opposition nominated their candidates for this body.
From August 30 to September 1, Foreign Minister of the State of Eritrea Osman Saleh Mohammed will be Russia on a working visit. On August 31 in Sochi, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold in-depth talks with his counterpart on the entire range of bilateral relations as well as on the relevant international and African agendas.
The ministers plan to discuss the prospects for increasing investment partnership in trade and the economy, including joint projects in the energy sector and development of the mineral deposits in Eritrea, construction of infrastructure facilities in the country. They will also devote extended time on plans to train Eritrean professionals at Russian universities and to strengthen the legal framework necessary for multifaceted cooperation.
It should be noted that due to similar or matching views on the major international and African issues, Moscow and Asmara are actively developing a political dialogue. They are also engaged in close coordination within the UN and other multilateral formats. This being said, the talks in Sochi will focus on resolving the crises in Africa primarily through the efforts of the African countries themselves. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed will also focus on the situation on the Horn of Africa which has recently seen significant progress in resolving long-standing conflicts.
We expect that the upcoming visit by the Eritrean Foreign Minister will give the necessary impetus to joint efforts towards fulfilling the potential of the traditionally friendly ties between Moscow and Asmara.
On September 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with students and faculty of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This meeting has become a tradition marking Knowledge Day and the beginning of the new academic year.
I would like to point out that these meetings are a very helpful and useful practice. As in previous years, during his visit to the MGIMO University, Minister Lavrov will address students with welcoming remarks, answer their questions and talk to university students, postgraduates and faculty.
This interactive meeting will be broadcast on federal television networks as well as on the Foreign Ministry’s official social media pages.
Traditionally, senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and former diplomats will attend the meeting.
On September 3 and 4, the Foreign Ministry together with the relevant Russian ministries and agencies will hold a conference on Countering Illicit Arms Trafficking in the Context of Fighting International Terrorism at Moscow’s World Trade Centre.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will open the forum. Top officials from Russia’s Federal Security Service, Foreign Intelligence Service and the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring, as well as representatives of the State Duma and Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, are expected to attend. It is expected that Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov will address the conference.
Representatives from 21 countries and heads of counterterrorist units in 11 international organisations confirmed their attendance. The conference will include three thematic sessions that will offer the podium to respected experts, political scientists, researchers, and civil society activists.
Russia believes that Syria is on track for a major positive breakthrough, including completing the elimination of terrorists in the country and the launch of a real political process, economic recovery and the return of refugees and IDPs.
When a country reaches a tipping point of this kind, it is always easy to see the difference between those who are actually committed to facilitating a settlement and stability, and those who want to prevent it, being guided by their own geopolitical goals instead of the interests of the Syrian people.
Unfortunately, the clouds are gathering once again over Syria. The United States with its several thousand-strong military presence in Syria, together with its closest Western allies, threaten Syria with armed aggression. They are not at all embarrassed to follow models they had already used before. In fact, the same scheme was used in March and April 2018. It all started with preventive statements by officials alleging that “the Assad regime” intended to use chemical weapons and stressing the need to prevent any incident of this kind. As we all know, this is followed by what we call a chemical provocation, which either involves a real or fake chemical weapons attacks. Finally, in the closing stage, the Syrian military and other sites are shelled. This process has been launched, once again. We can expect this to be crudely orchestrated through a lurid media campaign, without inventing any new approaches or schemes, and by simply following tried and tested programmes and models.
Data coming from the Russian military and presented at the Defence Ministry briefing on August 27 prove that this hypothesis is not without grounds.
This is a matter of very serious concern for us and we wanted to share it with the international community and the media in the light of the aforementioned scenario. This would be a severe blow not only for the settlement in Syria, but also for global security. Playing with fire this way could have unpredictable consequences, since you cannot get away with it every time. On August 28, this matter was discussed at the UN Security Council at Russia’s initiative. Unfortunately, the participants in this debate expressed opposing views. It is regrettable that everyone decided to stick to their position, even though in fateful moments of this kind it is imperative that we at least try to hear each other, if not reach a consensus.
Let me reiterate that Russia views the use of toxic substances as totally unacceptable, just like staged chemical attacks intended to justify making deliberately misleading accusations against the Syrian government and military of carrying out chemical attacks. Damascus lacks the capability to do so, since Syria’s chemical stockpiles were completely eliminated under international supervision in 2014 and 2015 as part of a unique operation involving the US, among others. There is no need to add that this would be a glaring example of suicidal madness, which is something the Syrian government can hardly be accused of.
There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this situation: the West is not willing to accept the path toward settlement in Syria as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and is seeking to steer the course of events into greater alignment with the plans of Washington and its allies. This would explain the response by Western capitals to the Russian initiative on the return of Syrian refugees back home. This humanitarian project could have united the international community when carried out with active input from the UN and its specialised agencies, primarily the UNHCR. But this was not the case: the initiative designed to help millions of people return to their homes in safety and dignity instead of muddling along abroad as subhumans, and quite often facing extreme hardship without proper housing or work, was called “premature.” It is unfortunate that for some of our partners humanistic values were sacrificed to their determination to change the “undesirable” regime in Damascus.
I am embarrassed to say this, but we got hold of a questionnaire used by officials from a specialised UN agency who work in a Middle Eastern country with Syrian refugees willing to return to their homes. Instead of making arrangements for their return, these officials ask refugees a number of questions. Let me share them with you.
- What are your feelings regarding your return to Syria? Do you feel anxious about it? How cynical of them. People who were forced to leave their homeland fleeing what terrorists and fighters had done to their land are being asked whether they feel anxious ahead of their return home. Did anyone ask these questions during the Arab Spring?
- Do you understand that the security situation remains unstable there?
- Do you understand that you will be called up for military service?
It is also significant that, according to witnesses, spouses are interviewed separately, which exposes respondents to even more psychological pressure. After all, this is a UN-sponsored survey, not an interrogation.
Russia is consistent in its efforts to promote peace in Syria. We do not have any hidden agenda for this country. We will continue following this line for the wellbeing of the Syrian people and for the sake of preserving Syria as a single sovereign state, regardless of how many like-minded people we encounter as we move in this direction. Our hope to see more like-minded people is not underpinned by Russia’s interests, or the interests of Syria, the Syrian people and the world in general, or by regional and even global stability. This is what we need to do in order to ensure that in a couple of years from now we are not tormented by new confessions of being blind and short-sighted coming from those who promote this destructive agenda today. We want our partners to be bolder in their actions, including in matters that affect them directly, such as international and regional security, terrorism and refugees.
On Tuesday, August 28, the Pentagon attempted to deny reports by the Russian Ministry of Defence on an increase in US cruise missiles in the Middle East.
Indeed, the US destroyer Ross armed with 28 Tomahawks, has repeatedly entered the area in the Mediterranean Sea, from which missiles can be effectively fired on Syrian territory. Another US ship of the same class, the USS Sullivans, quickly left the area in the Persian Gulf, from which it could easily hit targets in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), following media reports that the US is building up its capabilities for a strike against Syria.
However, when the US military was refuting this information, they forgot to mention that they can build up US missile capacity for strikes against Syria within 24 hours.
At this point, the attack force of the US, France and Britain consists of strategic and tactical aircraft deployed on airbases in Jordan and Kuwait and on Crete and totaling around 70 delivery vehicles, around 380 air-borne cruise missiles, plus two US destroyers, the Carney and the Ross, each carrying 28 Tomahawks.
Within 24 hours, the US missile-carrying force in the Mediterranean Sea could be reinforced by two more destroyers, the USS Donald Cook and the USS Porter, currently deployed at a naval base near the Spanish city of Rota, as well as by submarines. Within the same period, the destroyer USS Jason Dunham could enter the Red Sea for a strike against Syria and the USS Sullivans in the Persian Gulf could return to the attack area.
In other words, at least four delivery vehicles carrying sea-based missiles with a strike capacity of more than 112 Tomahawks could join an aggression against the sovereign Syrian state.
For proof, during talks between Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia General Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, the US counterpart said that the US Department of Defence was considering strike scenarios on targets in Syria. Other coalition member states are ready to join them.
Strikes against Syria are being linked to the alleged possible use of chemical weapons by government troops in Idlib.
Russia’s Chief of the General Staff informed General Dunford that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army is out of the question. The Syrian government has no such plans.
Considerable government troops have been massed around Idlib. Given their combat experience, they can, if necessary, respond to the terrorist force in that province.
It should be noted that, according to the information that we have, on August 23 and 24 eight barrels of chlorine and shells for multiple rocket launchers, which will be filled with chlorine, were delivered to the Idlib de-escalation zone, specifically to the town of Jisr ash-Shugur. The so-called White Helmets with video equipment to film the simulated use of chemical weapons have also arrived there. Preparations for yet another provocation are taking shape.
In addition, according the Russian Reconciliation Centre, the White Helmets delivered a large amount of toxic agents to an arms and fuel depot controlled by the Ahrar ash-Sham group in the town of Saraqib in Idlib province. They were transported on two heavy trucks from the town of Afs.
In order to expand the scale of “rent-a-mob” scenes to accuse the Bashar al-Assad government of using toxic agents against civilians, part of the cargo in unmarked plastic barrels was transported to other militant bases in the south of Idlib. Let me point out the fact that all of this is factual material that can be verified and Western countries have every opportunity to do so.
So, active preparations are under way to stage the use of chemical weapons by government troops in the Idlib zone in the hope that the United States will carry out missile strikes against government troops.
Judging from US military preparations in the Middle East, new missile strikes on targets in Syria are not unlikely.
Let me point out once again that in so doing the United States will reverse all efforts on a Syrian peace settlement. This must be understood.
In addition, the situation at the Rukban refugee camp in the US-controlled Al Tanf zone remains unresolved.
The latter was also discussed during the talks between the Russian chief of the general staff and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US.
General Joseph Dunford suggested completely relocating the Rukban refugee camp under the auspices of the UN and asked General Gerasimov to coordinate the matter with the Syrian government.
In the US general’s opinion, it would be expedient to jointly submit this idea to the UN.
He also came up with a request regarding the Russian military’s cooperation with the Syrian government on the prospects of delivering humanitarian aid to the Rukban camp as soon as possible.
The Russian Ministry of Defence, for its part, supported the above proposals.
Practical implementation is currently underway.
About a month ago, another propaganda project using a child’s alias was launched on Twitter. It would seem that there are many such projects. Why this particular one is of interest, will be made clear. I am referring to the account allegedly run by a Syrian girl named Hala. (the description indicates that “Hala” is six years old, and she lives in Idlib). In her profile, the girl publishes videos from meetings with friends. Six-year-olds always do this when they are in zones controlled by militants, where hostilities are ongoing. They always meet with friends, film videos and post them on Twitter. Those who have children know that they do not play, they do not study, do not take photos, but upload everything to Twitter. She also writes how diligently she is learning English. Without learning English, what could you do on Twitter, how would you get in touch with the world from Idlib Province? She also tweets on everyday topics. Most importantly, the girl Hala calls on the world to “pay attention to Idlib,” to “stop killing children and stop the air strikes.”
The account has about 350 subscribers so far, but, interestingly, they include the BBC, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Radio Liberty. Much attention for a child. As if she is the only child in Idlib, and the entire international community’s attention has been focused on her. And they are lecturing us and accusing us of propaganda. Here's how this should work. That's what real propaganda is. The child has 350 subscribers, including five of the world's leading media outlets. Not every Russian Embassy account is being followed by such important subscribers.
I think it's obvious why this account has appeared now. We all remember many such stories that were invented and implemented by our Western colleagues with all the might of their campaign and propaganda tools.
We all remember the account of another Syrian girl, Bana al-Abed, that attracted attention in the midst of the operation to liberate Aleppo. The author also blogged in English, with up to 120 tweets from areas in which there was neither internet access nor electricity on some days.
How is this possible? How is it possible to keep buying this terrible propaganda story from month to month, from year to year? Now Hala is taking over Bana’s cause. She does not have a lot of posts yet, but I’m sure there will be more. For some reason they look like carbon copies of what Bana wrote. Some of her tweets use almost identical expressions and very similar topics. Do not be surprised if this account becomes a central platform if the scenario of provocation, staged attacks and further strikes is implemented. Apparently, it is being prepared precisely for this. We cannot rule out that Hala’s blog will be the one to share with the world the evidence of a “chemical attack” against civilians by the Syrian government.
We have seen this before. There was the 15-year-old boy, Mohammed Najem, who tweeted the hardships of his life in Eastern Ghouta and accused the President of Syria Bashar Assad of stealing his childhood. And how many children were used by the White Helmets in their productions?! The worst thing is not that this is happening, but the fact that it is happening systematically and that none of the Western media have investigated it and uncovered the truth.
Of course, making children suffer is unacceptable. I think this truth does not have to be repeated. This is the worst thing that can happen. But exploiting children to achieve selfish ends, using them in dirty political maneuvering is even more unacceptable. The war in Syria affected millions of children and this needs to be talked about; it must be reversed, children should be helped to forget about what they have gone through –not involved in new dirty provocations. This is the goal of those who create these accounts using children's names. Haven’t you wondered who really runs these blogs? Do you not care that you are being used when you quote these accounts?
We also want the suffering of the Syrian people and children to cease. To achieve this – and I feel proud when I say this – Russia is consistently fighting terrorist groups in that country, is actively helping to achieve a peaceful settlement, and assisting in the restoration of the country. We do not create fake accounts under the guise of young children. We are doing real work.
Yesterday a seven-year-old Syrian boy, Youssef, suffering from a severe form of leukemia, was airlifted to St Petersburg by the Russian Ministry of Defence. He is waiting for a bone marrow transplantation and a long period of rehabilitation – both physical and psychological. There are military actions in the drawings the boy makes, and lingering sadness in his eyes. But he is not running any accounts or trying to send meaningful messages to the international community. He just wants to live. Our country and doctors are making every effort to give him that chance. There are many such examples, more than dozens or hundreds. Syrian children come to Russia, get treatment, rest, and undergo rehabilitation. They are taking a sip of the childhood they were deprived of by Western “do-gooders”. They come to Artek and other Russian children’s camps, rehabilitation centres. They see our doctors who are there to help. These children do not have Twitter accounts, but they have the hope and the belief that someday they will be able to live a full life.
We have noted another monthly report on the progress in eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons programme, presented by the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
This fact-finding document reaffirms the full physical destruction of all 27 former Syrian chemical weapons facilities and all the chemicals that were declared and removed from Syrian territory in 2014. Apart from that, the Technical Secretariat deemed it its duty to report, once again, its plans to inspect the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) facilities in Barzah and Jamraya. The OPCW TS report again says not a single word about the SSRC having been completely destroyed by a joint US, UK and French missile attack on April 14 of this year. If this is so, what do the OPCW experts intend to inspect there?
We suggest that the Technical Secretariat accept the Syrian Government’s repeated invitations to visit these former civilian facilities to confirm the devastation that was brought about by the missile attack and finally accept the formal decision on discontinuing the inspections. They need, somehow, to return to reality.
We continue to monitor the situation with the imprisonment of Russian citizen Maria Butina, who has been detained by US secret services on far-fetched charges.
Russian diplomats in Washington are in constant contact with this Russian woman. They are focusing on ensuring that her rights, including the right to medical aid, are fully respected.
Disregarding the appeals filed by the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy, the US authorities have not provided any coherent explanations for transferring Ms Butina to a new detention facility last week, which was done without a warning.
We took note of the attempts by the DA’s Office to have her case reviewed in private. In all evidence, Washington is using this expedient to conceal facts that would clearly expose the trumped-up nature of the criminal case against Butina. Thus far, the Department of Justice has provided not a single, even indirect, proof of her guilt, with the exception of some scrappy social media messages.
We demand that the US authorities immediately stop putting psychological pressure on Butina and release her.
According to the State Committee on National Security of the Republic of Tajikistan, on August 26 at 3 pm local time, in the Farkhor District, a group of 10-12 Afghan militants attacked a Niva car carrying three local forestry workers. As a result, two Tajik citizens were killed and one wounded. Soldiers of Tajikistan's border unit were alerted to take prompt action to deal with the bandits.
The Committee stresses that Tajikistan’s air force is not engaged in any combat missions in northeastern Afghanistan as Dushanbe is not authorised to carry out air strikes on another country without prior consultations with CSTO headquarters.
We closely follow the developments on the Afghan-Tajik border, where service members of the Russian military base 201 deployed in Tajikistan are helping maintain security and stability.
We condemn the August 23 attack on the convoy of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the CAR in the village of Pavica of the Basse-Kotto prefecture, which resulted in the death of a Burundi peacekeeper. We are concerned that this is the sixth UN peacekeeper killed in the CAR since the beginning of the year.
We expect the CAR authorities to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. As a reminder, attacks on peacekeepers can be qualified as war crimes. We urge all belligerents to comply with international humanitarian law.
We support an early ceasefire throughout the country and the launch of a political process between the government of the CAR and armed groups.
We praise the international efforts aimed at normalising the situation around Lake Chad, in particular, the results of the donors’ conference held in Addis-Ababa in February 2016 and organised by the African Union Commission with the support of the United Nations to find additional financing and materials for its activities as well as the Humanitarian Conference held in Oslo in February 2017. The High Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region, which will be held in Berlin on September 3–4 at the initiative of the German, Nigerian and Norwegian foreign ministries, the UN Development Programme and the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, shares the same goals. Russia will be represented by Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev.
We support the decision to establish the Multinational Joint Task Force against the Boko Haram terrorist group adopted at the summit of the Lake Chad Basin Commission member states (Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon) and Benin held in Niamey in October 2014. The primary objective of the joint task force is to eliminate extremists in their territory, block their paths of escape and cut off supply channels for weapons, money and food.
We are confident that this conference will give an added boost to the process of mobilising political and financial support for the countries in the region.
We have read the recently released statement by the British police on the “cleanup” of Salisbury’s Queen Elizabeth Gardens. In reality, what we are facing is essentially a total information embargo on any facts that would shed light on the incident.
It should not go unnoticed that the Brits have not yet provided any information about Sergey and Yulia Skripal’s health or whereabouts. Diplomats from our consulate have no access to them in violation of international law. Let me say once again that we are ready to cooperate in the investigation and call on the Brits to respond to our requests for legal assistance that were sent many months ago.
We took note of the US administration’s decision to cut the aid package to the Palestinian National Authority by the $200 million intended for education and health costs at Palestinian refugee camps on the West Bank and in Gaza. Washington explains this by saying that further aid allegedly is at variance with US national interests, brings no benefits to US taxpayers and should be reassigned for other priorities.
This is clearly a political move, which is at odds with the humanitarian needs of about 2 million people in Palestinian refugee camps. If the aim is to bring additional pressure to bear on Ramallah and make the PNA authorities more “pliable” on the Middle East settlement, it is unlikely to lead to the desired effect. Washington must understand that this decision is fraught with the aggravation of the humanitarian situation, which is complicated as it is. Many US allies are saying as much, not just us.
We see in the same light the administration’s line for a dramatic reduction in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and its subsequent disbandment. Incidentally, it was the United States that was among the founding members of this agency that makes an important contribution to alleviating the plight of almost 5.3 million refugees and to stability in the region. This is something to add to the subject of national interests: the reduction in funding is explained by national interests, but so was initiating the financial aid. The adequate, effective and predictable financing for UNRWA operations serves to promote Middle East settlement based on generally recognised international law in the interests of implementing the concept of the two-state solution.
Russia’s voluntary contributions to the agency’s budget – $10 million in the period between 2017 and 2021 – is a recognition of its important role.
The decisions taken at July’s NATO summit in Brussels that built on and supplemented the meetings in Wales (2014) and Warsaw (2016) to “contain” Russia, confirm the US and other NATO member states’ intention to step up military activity near Russian borders, to continue building a European theatre of military operations and a springboard to exert pressure on Russia.
The policy of consistent increases in military expenditures by the NATO countries has also been approved, in particular, spending on the purchase of weapons. This, when their aggregate military spending is over half of the world's total spending for these purposes and exceeds Russia’s spending 14 times over.
An increasing number of large-scale military exercises are being held near our borders. The NATO Trident Juncture 2018 military exercises are planned for October-November in Norway, the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic – the largest in the last 16 years. The troops and equipment of the alliance members and individual partner countries will be used on land, at sea and in the air to improve the skills of defensive and, crucially, offensive operations in the northern latitudes in case of a “high intensity” conflict with a “comparable enemy.”
This demonstration of military potential will unfold in the immediate proximity to Russian borders and has a clear anti-Russian nature. The north of Europe and the Baltic Sea region, formerly calm in military terms, are turning into a testing ground for simulated large-scale combat operations, planting in public opinion the possibility of using the area as a real theatre for military operations.
We noted with concern the news of unrest in the town of Chemnitz (in Saxony in eastern Germany) in the past few days after the August 26 deadly knife attack during a street festivity.
We confirm that one of the victims in the Chemnitz incident is a Russian citizen. In this regard, separately, we note that the Consulate General of Russia in Leipzig is in constant contact with him. His life is no longer in danger.
We are certain that action will also be taken both to suppress the acts of violence by migrants against local citizens and to prevent crimes of a radical left or a radical right nature. In the absence of decisive actions on the part of the authorities, the attacks against foreigners, including our citizens and compatriots, will continue to whip up aggressive intolerance caused by migration bias.
We have noted a statement by Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas regarding the creation of an alternative system for transferring financial data similar to SWIFT, which he made during the opening of the Ambassadors’ Conference at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
This idea reflects mounting concern in Europe and worldwide over the American policy of sanctions and legislative measures of an extraterritorial nature being applied by the United States.
If this initiative materialises, it would undoubtedly be of interest to the Russian financial community as well.
We have completed a new website, Russian America. History, Culture, Diplomacy (located on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s portal: rus-amerika.mid.ru), which contains unique documents from the ministry’s archives on Russian historical and cultural heritage in the United States.
They describe the contribution made by Russian travellers to the exploration of the North American continent, the establishment of Russian settlements in Alaska, the Aleutian and Hawaiian Islands and in California, the destiny of Fort Ross and the direct support provided by Russia to a young American democracy during the War of Independence and the Civil War between the North and South.
The website contains research articles, information on the most important events on related topics, and an interactive multimedia map showing Russian historical and cultural heritage sites in the US. These include: the House Museum of Russian Cadets and Veterans of WWI and the Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco, the tomb and house of Sergey Rachmaninoff, the house of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Vermont, the tomb of a Civil War hero, General Ivan Turchaninov, the monument to Soviet pilots in Fairbanks, the tombs of Soviet pilots in Anchorage and orthodox churches and monasteries.
It should be noted that work on this internet resource began at the initiative of the interdepartmental working group set up under the Russian Foreign Ministry to preserve Russian historical and cultural heritage in the United States.
A case in point is the common heritage of both countries, which needs to be preserved through a cooperative effort. Now that our relations are experiencing an extremely difficult period, cooperation on the cultural and humanitarian track is assuming greater significance as an element in maintaining bilateral ties, promoting a rapprochement through civil communities, research and non-governmental organisations and business circles. We hope that the new website will contribute to promoting this activity.
Following talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu, it was agreed to create a mechanism for working out agreements to simplify travel regulations for certain categories of Turkish citizens on a reciprocal basis.
Bilateral expert consultations on consular matters scheduled for the autumn offer the most suitable professional platform for discussing visa-related issues.
We noted an August 27 statement from a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland about the termination of the investigation into the alleged 2016 cyberattacks against the Swiss government-owned weapon maker RUAG because the perpetrators could not be identified.
It looks like the Attorney General’s Office has thus confirmed the inconsistency of growing accusations against Russia. I think this should serve as a good lesson for everyone passing on unconfirmed information about the so-called hacker threat supposedly coming from Russia.
We are confident that only the development of a bilateral and multilateral expert dialogue on international information security will make it possible to reach any tangible results in preventing and investigating such incidents. We are ready to cooperate with Switzerland or any other interested states in addressing these challenges.
This interaction can be carried out at the interstate level, through the appropriate consultation mechanisms, but please bear in mind that Russia also has private agencies. We often hear our Western partners referring to some obscure private entities or individuals who they believe are involved in hacking. We, on the other hand, assert that we have private companies that investigate cybercrimes. If they are making references to our private sector, why don’t we use that resource and involve them in the investigation. Private businesses are active not only in Russia, but also in Eastern and Western Europe. We have repeatedly talked about these companies, not for promotion they do not actually need, but in response to Western countries’ claims about our private sector. Ask private companies from the Russian Federation to join the investigation. Why not?
Question: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev will soon pay an official visit to Russia. What would you cite as the most important achievement, the most positive aspect in relations between the two countries and two peoples?
Maria Zakharova: I would say the full-scale development of cooperation between the two countries. I know it is not a direct answer to your question, but it is impossible to single out the most important thing. The most important is that all aspects of cooperation are growing: humanitarian, political, economic – all dimensions. It is even difficult to list everything. I would say this is the most important thing. And reluctance to single out one component is actually a positive, an excellent trend.
Question: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently, during her South Caucasus tour, that Germany is ready to assist the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution and to take some political responsibility in this regard. How can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: I think it is up to the countries directly involved in the process, and it should be done with an awareness of the existing formats’ effectiveness. Such statements should be considered taking into account all these factors.
Question: Several Korean media outlets recently reported that President Vladimir Putin is planning to visit Pyongyang on September 9. Could you tell us if it is true? What are the prospects for a North Korea-Russia summit?
Maria Zakharova: I cannot comment on this for one simple reason: we do not comment on the President’s agenda, talks or meetings. It is the job and tradition of the Presidential Press Service and Executive Office. Honestly, I would hate to break this tradition.
Question: You did not say anything about preparations for consultations on Afghanistan. The event was scheduled for September 4, but Kabul asked to postpone the meeting. How are preparations progressing?
Maria Zakharova: We repeatedly commented on this on the Foreign Ministry’s website. It clearly states that in connection with the planned and ongoing reshuffles in the leadership of Afghanistan, the consultations will be moved to a later date. The Ministry clearly stated this and explained the reason. As for the new timeframe, it will be worked out when an agreement is reached with all interested parties. Then the dates will be announced.
Question: There was a brief report on the Foreign Ministry’s website yesterday about a meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and his Japanese counterpart Takeo Mori. It mentioned consultations on security in Northeast Asia and the US missile defence systems. Could you specify whether the case in point was the Aegis Ashore systems that are currently being deployed in Japan? What else was discussed?
Maria Zakharova: I can say that I saw Sergey Ryabkov’s comments that he gave to the news agencies. I would like to call your attention to them, because he commented on those talks as fully as possible. I have nothing to add, but as regards your practical question, its concrete part, I will specify.
Question: During your last briefing, speaking about the Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes! slogan, you drew a parallel with the German salutation and promised that this analogy would be in the briefing’s transcript. It was not. I looked through it very attentively and found nothing. Could you articulate what you meant? What is this slogan associated with by the Foreign Ministry?
Maria Zakharova: There are links in the transcript. We will provide them to you by all means and draw attention to them. Go to the transcript published on the website. There you can click-open the link and read everything. If it does not work on your device, I myself will open and show it.
Question: Polish authorities intend to dismantle a monument to fallen Red Army soldiers in the village of Starzynski Dwor in the Pomeranian Voivodeship, not far from Gdansk. This is a special monument – to Red Army prisoners of war who were driven into a barn and burnt alive by the Nazis in 1945. In the 1950s, the Poles put up a monument to the victims of that tragedy. Ten years ago, it was renovated. There is a plate on it with an inscription “To the tortured Red Army soldiers, prisoners of the Hitler regime in 1942-1945.” And now Polish authorities intend to demolish even this monument to Nazi victims. What do you think about this?
Maria Zakharova: We regularly comment on this topic, speak about the unacceptability of demolishing monuments to Red Army, Soviet Army soldiers. This is a concrete example of an attempt to rewrite history. Many people do not believe and are even ironic, saying that all this was, in fact, invented in Moscow. No, we did not invent anything. The things you are talking about, which we regularly talk about and so do many activists, veterans and representatives of historical societies – all this is part of a global strategy to change history one way or another, to rewrite it. This is a direct approach to what was unacceptable 30 or 40 years ago. These are the results of the Nuremberg tribunal, attempts to rewrite or revise which were utterly unthinkable for the generation affected by World War II and the Great Patriotic War.
We will make political statements on each such case, carry out diplomatic work and cooperate with public organisations and volunteers. Some projects have already been partly implemented. The case in point is preserving the historical memory and historical legacy in this context.
Question: You have said that according to the available information eight barrels containing chlorine were delivered to a place near Idlib. Where did you get such information?
Maria Zakharova: This is our information. We have our own sources. I believe the information we have provided on similar matters in the past has been repeatedly confirmed.
Question: This week, Saudi Arabian authorities voiced their readiness to launch hostilities against Iran if it blocks the Strait of Hormuz, provided that the UN Security Council agrees to this. What is Russia’s position regarding activities in the Persian Gulf? Can a war flare up between Tehran and Riyadh?
Maria Zakharova: It is terrifying to even think that this scenario may come true. We believe that all existing international laws and specialised international institutions are in place to resolve even the most acute issues.
Question: Azerbaijan’s Ganja is to host the ninth Azerbaijani-Russian interregional forum soon. How would this event help strengthen bilateral relations?
Maria Zakharova: All interregional forums between states are an important political and economic component for intensifying practical cooperation between countries. We will provide more detailed information about this event, and will also update you on how it proceeds and on its goals and format.
Question: Could you confirm that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly? What issues will they discuss?
Maria Zakharova: I was surprised to see breaking news reports by media outlets about their meeting yesterday. According to these reports, someone requested permission from someone else. This information was presented in a rather strange way. To be honest, I don’t understand why this event is being perceived as something sensational. As a rule, members of the Russian delegation hold several dozen meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The schedule of these meetings is now being compiled. Both sides are discussing the possibility of a meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State. It is still too early to discuss the meeting’s exact time and format because the schedule is only being drafted. Honestly, the sensational manner in which this news was presented yesterday surprised me. This was not done in the context of the UN General Assembly and, in principle, without prior confirmation by the concerned parties. In reality, there is nothing dramatic or sensational about this. We are talking about traditional contacts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The meeting’s contents, deadline and the list of experts who will take part are currently being finalised.
Question: On August 29, another “school truce” ceasefire entered into force in Donbass. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian side does not observe it. Recently, President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko gathered accredited foreign diplomatic representatives in Avdeyevka and made a statement to the effect that Ukraine will continue to reintegrate the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. That is, the war will continue. Can the international community somehow influence the actions of the Ukrainian side, which does not honour the Minsk Agreements?
Maria Zakharova: We are trying to convince the international community to pressure Kiev, so that it implements the Minsk Agreements. I understand that this phrase resembles an unrealised dream, but we are not losing hope. We realise that what is at stake is people’s lives, not just politics. For our part, we are doing everything possible: for example we regularly make extensive deliveries of humanitarian aid for the affected population in the areas you mentioned.