Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 11, 2019
- Talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono
- Update on Maria Butina
- Dmitry Makarenko detained in the United States
- US charges against Natalya Veselnitskaya
- US violations of international law
- Progress of Andrei Karlov murder trial
- Syria update
- Investigation into the chemical incident in Aleppo
- The White Helmets pseudo-humanitarian organisation
- The Somalia’s government decision to declare UN Special Envoy Nicholas Haysom persona non grata
- Torchlight processions in Ukraine
- Regarding Ukrainian visa issuance
- Bellicose statements by British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson
- Presentation of British State Awards
- NATO countries violating Swedish borders
- Hacker attacks on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
- Rospotrebnadzor’s donating mobile laboratories to partner countries
- 23rd St Petersburg International Economic Forum
- Russia’s position on UN reform in the context of the Aachen treaty between Germany and France to be signed on January 22
- Answers to media questions:
- Statements in US Congress regarding countries supporting the Syrian Government
- Violence following Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s inauguration
- US withdrawal from Syria
- Update on Paul Whelan
- Talks between Damascus and Syrian Kurds
- Negotiations on a peace treaty between Russia and Japan
- Russian military police in Syria
- De-escalation zone in Idlib
- US withdrawal from JCPOA
- US blocking sale of Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft to Iran
- Murder of Russian journalists in the Central African Republic
- INF Treaty
- Alexander Lukashenko’s statements about compensation due to Minsk
- Upcoming visit of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to Moscow
- Malaysian MH 17 Boeing crash
- Ethnic Armenians denied entry to Azerbaijan
According to the agreements reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in Singapore last November and in Buenos Aires last December, the first round of Russia-Japan talks on the peace treaty between the two countries will take place on January 14 in Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Taro Kono will head the parties’ delegations.
The ministers will also discuss practical aspects of developing bilateral ties as well as a number of topical issues on the global and regional agendas.
We are closely following the situation around Russian national Maria Butina who was arrested in the United States on fabricated charges six months ago.
Recently, diplomats of the Russian Embassy in Washington paid another consular visit to Maria Butina. The Russian national is holding up well, spending a lot of time reading and exercising.
She was finally transferred into the prison’s general population. Previously, as is known, she was held in a section for dangerous offenders where she was allowed to leave her cell only for two hours per day and only at night.
On our part, we will continue to provide support to Maria Butina and will make further efforts to secure her speedy return home.
We are closely following the situation with Russian national Dmitry Makarenko who was detained by the FBI on December 29 on the Northern Mariana Islands which are subject to US jurisdiction.
We would like to stress once again that the Russian Embassy in Washington did not hear about the incident from American law enforcement but heard about it from Mr Makarenko’s family. In violation of the bilateral Consular Convention, US officials did not notify us of his detention within the prescribed three days. The subsequent attempts to justify it by stating that the notice was sent to our Consulate General in Seattle – which Americans themselves shut down last March – do not hold up.
On January 9, our diplomats finally managed to get in contact with the Russian national. He is about to be transferred to Florida but at that time had been taken only as far as Honolulu, Hawaii. He is being held in a local prison. He said that he feels well and did not voice any complaints.
Naturally, we will be closely monitoring developments in Dmitry Makarenko’s case. We insist that his rights be fully respected by US officials.
At the same time, we would like to remind Russian citizens that they should thoroughly consider all risks when planning travel abroad, especially if there is reason to believe they may be subject to action by American law enforcement. This mainly concerns travel to the United States and the countries bound by extradition agreements with Washington. The list of these countries can be found on the US Department of State website (www.state.gov).
We took note of the latest twist of the anti-Russian campaign in the United States. This time, US law enforcement agencies made a number of statements shot through with traditional Russophobic sentiment in connection with our compatriot Natalya Veselnitskaya, a practicing lawyer. She is accused of obstructing an investigation into alleged money laundering by Prevezon in New York.
Opening criminal cases with unclear accusations against Russian citizens has become a habit with the United States. We provide regular comments on this. We are not going to put up with this, so we expect Washington to provide clear and intelligible clarifications regarding the accusations against Ms Veselnitskaya. All the more so as court proceedings involving the aforementioned company have long since ended. The US authorities tried to build a case against this company based on the notorious Magnitsky Act and tie it to his tragic death in a Moscow detention centre in 2009, but their case fell apart.
It all looks as if US prosecutors are simply striking back at private lawyer Ms Veselnitskaya who used to represent Prevezon’s interests. In particular, she exposed the false assertions made by the notorious financial scam artist, William Browder, which were used by Washington politicians as the basis for the anti-Russian Magnitsky Act.
It is becoming plain for all to see that the US law enforcement system is being used to settle personal scores, including on clearly political orders.
Let’s take a brief historical detour. What we keep hearing from Washington politicians at various levels, including those holding official executive positions, are never-ending accusations that our country allegedly has violated and disrespected international law.
The start of the year is a good time to jog memory and think back to all the instances in history where the United States – without a doubt the most “peace-loving” nation in the world – committed acts of intervention and military aggression around the world throughout its recent history, grossly violating international law, but every time finding excuses, including legal, for its actions.
True, at first, the US politicians did not bother with the now routine juggling of phrases and concepts, and made no bones about calling things for what they were. In particular, following his inauguration in March 1913, President Wilson unashamedly talked about how he was going to “teach the South American republics to elect good men.”
Over time, the professional lexicon evolved, apparently in the wake of human rights activism, and in 1922 US Secretary of State Robert Lansing, justifying the military occupation of Haiti, said it was necessary to “protect American and foreign lives and property.” Soon, this particular thesis becomes a favourite phrase intended for “wide use.” In the same vein, in his state of the union address in August 1945, President Truman claimed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified by military necessity. Historians do not agree on the military expediency of these terrible actions. However, the fact is indisputable that this is the only case in the history of humankind when atomic bombs were dropped on populated urban areas.
During the Cold War again, without the least embarrassment, the Americans began to justify their military aggression in the international arena by pointing to various factors that are incompatible with the norms of international law, and mostly come from the realm of ideology. For example, commenting on the upcoming operation to overthrow the Castro government in Cuba, President Eisenhower in March 1960 openly stated that Washington would not allow the creation of a regime in the Western hemisphere which would be dominated by “international communism.” The US leaders used similar motives to cover up their actions in 1961, as they were gearing up for a bloody military intervention in Vietnam. This is reflected, for example, in the Memorandum of November 8, 1961. Later, though, in the so-called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 7, 1964, the Americans rather “elegantly” justified the use of military force with the objective of “promoting international peace and security in Southeast Asia.” The United States also used ideological slogans that do not rely on any norms of international law for overthrowing the leftist government of Francisco Caamano in the Dominican Republic in April-May 1965.
It should be noted that the UN General Assembly has repeatedly condemned such actions by the United States as illegal. For example, in its Resolution 38/7 of November 2, 1983, the Washington military operation in Grenada in October 1983 was unequivocally qualified as “gross violation of international law,” although President Reagan, for example, in his televised address to the nation, justified the aggression by the need to help small peaceful nations and protect American citizens. Similarly, the UNGA in its Resolution 41/38 of November 20, 1986 condemned the US military attack on Libya in April 1986, qualifying it as a “violation of the UN Charter and international law,” although US politicians tried to explain their actions by their “right to self-defence.” The invasion of Panama by US troops, too, allegedly in self-defence, as indicated in the letter by the US Permanent Representative to the President of the UN Security Council on December 20, 1989, in accordance with UNGA Resolution 44/240 of December 29, 1989, was qualified as flagrant violation of international law.
Once the 1980s were over and the Cold War was history, Western countries led by the United States achieved excellence in casuistry, justifying their actions in violation of international law by citing international law itself. One can make entire dictionaries with the terms they invented and which they used to cover and justify violations of international law. In particular, explaining the bloody and destructive operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which lasted from March 24, 1999 to June 10, 1999, US President Clinton spoke of the need to restore peace, degrade military capabilities, etc. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush used the mythical “threat” that Saddam Hussein allegedly represented to the world as cover. Already at this stage, in April 2017, under the far-fetched pretext of defence against proliferation and the use of deadly chemical weapons, an order was issued to deliver illegal strikes on Syria.
The unlawful seizure of Russian diplomatic property and the expulsion of diplomatic representatives also qualify as a violation of international law, which US politicians justify with arguments rooted in international law. It would be naive to believe that this sentiment in the American political establishment may change in the foreseeable future. As the recent events show, unfortunately, Washington is increasingly trying to replace the concept of international law with the so-called rule-based order. The White House may have different administrations that can change the strategy regarding migration policy, healthcare or taxation, but they remain constant in their deep conviction of the “exceptionalism” of their own nation. This exceptionalism has for more than one century granted them “license” to violate the rules underlying the international order.
I cite these historical parallels not so much because we love history, which we do, but because lately we’ve been hearing numerous accusations that our country is engaged in the very actions committed by those who are accusing us.
On January 8-10, a preliminary court hearing on the murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was held in Ankara. The case is against 28 defendants; ten of them are on the international wanted list.
As is known, the indictment prepared by Turkish law enforcement agencies was submitted to court in November 2018 following an investigation. At the same time, the materials received from Turkish officials are being studied by Russian investigators as part of their own investigation in Russia.
We continue to monitor the progress of the trial. We presume that, as a result, all those involved in this atrocity will be identified and duly prosecuted under the law.
The situation in Syria has been changing rapidly.
As a result of successful actions by Syrian government forces, with a decisive role by the Russian military, terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra and other radical groups have been confined to Idlib and some areas east of the Euphrates River.
We reaffirm our commitment to the implementation of the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of Understanding on Stabilisation of the Situation in Idlib's De-escalation Zone of September 17, 2018. At the same time, an increase in the number of ceasefire violations is of major concern – there have been more than 1,000 such cases since September 2018. The ceasefire must not be disrupted and all radical groups and heavy weapons must be fully withdrawn from the demilitarised zone. At the same time, this should not serve as a pretext for the Idlib de-escalation zone becoming a refuge for thousands of Nusra terrorists. We presume that the establishment of the demilitarised zone, as well as the de-escalation zone itself, is temporary.
As you know, at the end of December 2018, US President Donald Trump announced the US forces’ pullout from Syria. We believe that the fulfillment of the plans announced by Washington would be a step in the right direction. We proceed under the premise that the US and other foreign military units now deployed illegally in Syria must eventually leave the country. We believe it important that the territories vacated by the Americans should come under the control of the Government of Syria. In this regard, the establishment of a dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus is of particular importance. The Kurds are an integral part of Syrian society. The return of official authorities’ control over the territories populated by the Kurds should also neutralise the security risks for Syria’s neighbours.
Also as part of a political settlement, we continue working to launch the Constitutional Committee in Geneva based on the progress made by the Astana format guarantors. The efforts of Russia, Iran and Turkey to set up this committee will help launch a sustainable and long-term political process. The Syrian parties – both the Government and the opposition – have approved the membership of the committee, thereby confirming their intention to participate in this work. Any other enforced decisions could lead to a breakdown of the negotiations. In this regard, we reaffirm our focus on constructive work with the new special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Geir Pedersen.
Providing humanitarian assistance to all those in need and creating conditions for the refugees and IDPs’ voluntary and safe return home are equally important issues on the Syrian agenda. In the context of efforts to rectify the humanitarian situation in Syria, we are providing the appropriate assistance to the country's civilian population directly, as well as through various international mechanisms, including the UN system. Since September 2015, the Russian military has implemented over 2,000 humanitarian projects (delivering a total of more than 3000 tonnes of products).
With regard to the Syrian refugees’ problems, we are making efforts to facilitate the process of Syrians returning to their homes. We are carrying out consistent work to provide them with the necessary assistance in coordination with the Government of Syria, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other interested parties. Thanks to the measures taken, the repatriation of the Syrians is gaining momentum. Since September 30, 2015, more than 320,000 refugees (over 90,000 of them after mid-July 2018) and about 1.3 million IDPs have returned to their homes from abroad. We believe that this process should not be complicated by any artificial conditions or politicised. Russia's principled position is that all refugees have the right to return to their homeland. This is the fundamental right of the citizens of Syria.
It is with satisfaction that we can state, following repeated requests by the Syrian and Russian sides to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that experts of the Fact-Finding Mission to establish facts regarding chemical weapons use, finally arrived in Syria on January 6 to investigate the incident with the use of chlorine, which took place in Aleppo in November 2018.
The OPCW specialists are reportedly planning to visit the hospitals and medical centres where the injured were given aid and to question witnesses and eye-witnesses of that chemical attack. We hope that the OPCW experts will also visit the scene of the incident in the very near future.
Aware of how much time has passed since that chemical incident, we urge the OPCW Technical Secretariat to speed up the investigation and submit a corresponding report to the organisation’s Executive Council.
According to our information, a group of so-called activists of the White Helmets pseudo-humanitarian organisation are still located in Jordan. The White Helmets are actively involved in provocative actions on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and in collaboration with terrorists.
In the middle of the summer of 2018, the While Helmets, through the active support of their Western masters, hastily fled the areas that were being liberated by the Syrian Government in the south of the country. It is well known that the patrons of those pseudo-humanitarian workers promised to provide them with shelter in European countries within a short time. You saw reports how, for example in the European Union, the possibility of granting them asylum, temporary residence, citizenship, protection and infrastructure was discussed. But months later, the matter still remains unsolved.
Evidently, the West is reluctant to accept those who were involved in the most serious crimes or, at a minimum, closely cooperated with the most notorious terrorists. The promises given to the Jordanians are simply not being fulfilled. It is one thing to patronise the provocateurs in another country, using geopolitical motivation, and quite another thing to host them in one’s own country, creating threats to one’s own citizens by giving all those people all the rights as guests or in some cases, probably, as citizens of those countries. Besides, it is quite likely that some White Helmets, once they find themselves outside the Middle East, might, for various reasons, be ready to talk about what they were really up to in Syria. Of course, their sponsors are not interested in that.
On January 3, the Federal Government of Somalia declared Nicholas Haysom, appointed Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on August 17, 2018, persona non grata.
We confirm our support for the UN activities in Somalia, including the work of the UN Assistance Mission and the UN Support Office aimed at strengthening peace and stability as well as sustainable development in that country.
We call on the Federal Government of Somalia and the United Nations to continue their fruitful cooperation for these purposes.
We point out the need to implement as soon as possible the June 2018 agreements between Mogadishu and the regions on sharing revenues from oil and other mineral production and promoting national dialogue on such pressing domestic issues as preparation of a new constitution, judicial reform and holding general presidential elections in 2021.
We underscore the key role of the African Union and its Mission in Somalia in combating the Al-Shabaab terrorist group and raising the Somali National Armed Force’s (SNAF) potential.
We reaffirm our respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity of Somalia.
We have commented many times on the blasphemous decision of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to include the date of birth of notorious Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera – January 1 – on the list of the country’s official holidays for 2019 and the Lvov Region administration’s decision to declare 2019 the Year of Stepan Bandera. I spoke at length at the previous briefing about the frightening trend to glorify Nazis in Ukraine and to rewrite history, which is driven by short-term motivations. Beyond juggling historical facts, the Kiev regime seems to be trying to replace the Ukrainian nation’s heroic past in the memory of the Ukrainian people with quasi-heroes who in reality were involved in the massacre of innocent people. Further evidence of this is the decision by the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science to delete any mention of Roman Shukhevich’s collaboration with the Nazis during World War II from history textbooks.
Instead of supporting their Great Patriotic War [1941–1945] veterans, Kiev and some other regions in the country held nationalist party torchlight processions on January 1. Ukraine has entered this year with the official celebration of the birth of a criminal who took part in murderous acts. Several years ago when we were pointing out the emerging trends in the incumbent Kiev regime’s policy we were told that we were overdramatising things. It turns out that we did not overdramatise things but provided realistic predictions of how the situation would evolve. And it did evolve precisely as we said.
What do we hear from Western countries defending “democratic values” while we are sounding the alarm over the continuing exacerbation of the situation and growing neo-Nazi sentiments in Ukraine which are starting to receive support at the official level? We hear nothing. Where is the reaction of the European Union, international and human rights organisations that condemn any manifestation of Nazism? There is none. As far as I remember, a couple of years ago, in particular, in 2017, the leader of the Polish Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said that the glorification of Stepan Bandera in Ukraine might obstruct the country’s aspirations to integrate into the European Union. Glorifying him is now a matter of the past, and what we have is his birthday declared a national holiday. I wonder what those in the EU think about this now.
The Western international community’s silence not only shows disrespect for the victims of Nazism but it is also an attempt to remain blind to what is happening in Ukraine in order to achieve their own ends. It is terrible to think where this hypocritical non-interference could lead to.
We have taken notice of an interesting visa issuance practice adopted by the Ukrainian Embassy in Mexico. It turns out that in addition to the set consular fee, those wishing to visit Ukraine have to make a voluntary contribution to the Ukrainian armed forces. This was reported by a Ukrainian TV channel, referring to the complaints of two Mexicans who faced this kind of a scheme when they applied for visas at the Ukrainian Embassy’s consular office.
According to the Mexicans, after they completed all the necessary formalities and paid the consular fee, they were forced to write a letter about an alleged voluntary contribution of a certain amount of money, which, by the way, was not much less than the visa fee. This way, judging by media reports, the Embassy has managed to raise 5,000 US dollars.
How can it be? Is it a normal practice?
As far as we understood from media reports, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has failed to see any violations in the actions of its employees. It appears that the scheme involving alleged donations has been in effect since 2014. An interesting story.
We have taken note of the recent statements by senior officials of the British Ministry of Defence on plans to build up their military presence in different parts of the world. Indicatively, not only is London using this bellicose rhetoric to demonstrate support for certain allies (like solidarity with Kiev during the Black Sea incident), it is also attempting to present the UK as a “truly global player” in the international arena after Brexit. This will be reflected, in part, by new military bases in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.
Statements by British Defence Secretary Williamson in favour of the further militarisation of British policy are perplexing, to say the least. Naturally, like any other country, Britain has a right to independently plan its military development. However, against the backdrop of growing general military and political tensions in the world and the efforts of the more responsible international players to achieve peaceful settlement of crises, these statements on building up military presence in third countries are counterproductive, destabilising and often provocative. The main point is that they run counter to Britain’s constant accusations against the Russian Federation of aggressive expansion. We are not engaged in this. Britain is open about its aspirations, and we consider this an obvious contradiction.
Of course, we reserve the right to respond to any measures that pose a threat to the security of Russia and its allies.
On December 29, the traditional list of New Year Honours for British citizens presented with UK state awards was published in Britain. This is an annual event, but this time it is noteworthy that the British authorities emphasised the contribution of Foreign Office employees in the “formulation and delivery of the Government’s policy towards Russia.” Thus, UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow was appointed Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. During the past year we have spent much time discussing his provocative quotes at our briefings (his famous statement on Moscow’s involvement in many crimes committed on government orders, including those in Britain in response to which we had to update the knowledge of the British diplomat on the history of his own homeland, stand out). His Deputy Lindsay Skoll received the same order; Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) Eastern Europe and Central Asia Directorate.
Charlotte Louise De Warrenne Waller — Deputy Director Russia Policy of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office received the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), as did First Secretary of the British Embassy in Moscow Emma Jill Nottingham, while officer of the department on strategy on Russia, S. Anthony, became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). For what strategy have these orders been given? Our bilateral relations with Britain are practically deadlocked, which is their fault, and now orders are being given for this achievement. Have you ever heard of this before? I haven’t.
Let’s be straight and objective. These awards were conferred on those who, in the UK Government’s opinion, made the biggest contribution to the British line on the Skripal case. As we see it, this is what they were awarded for, rather than for developing bilateral ties, something that is not really happening. Any progress in bilateral ties that promote Russian-British cooperation is not talked about, not through any Russia’s fault.
Recently, Russia has been endlessly accused of all manner of violations and interference in the affairs of other states. As is known, North European countries specialise in phobias of aggressive Russian intentions and alleged repeated violations of their borders. Sweden is one of these countries. Of course, propaganda does exist but it is difficult to argue with official statistics.
So, at the end of last year, the Swedish armed forces published the final statistics of illegal crossings of the national border. According to the report, part of which was published in open access, foreign state (mostly military) vehicles crossed into the country 13 times illegally last year. Without exception, all of the violations were committed by NATO member countries, but only Russia was accused of such violations.
At the last briefing I informed you that the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry is regularly subject to attacks by hackers. Today I would like to share with you the available summary data, based on which you will be able to understand the volume of information attacks directed against our Ministry.
Between January 1 and September 30, 2018, more than 77 million attacks on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website were recorded. According to our specialists, hacker attacks were carried out from IP addresses registered in Japan, the United States, Ukraine, Romania, Germany, Denmark, Italy, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Turkey and China.
On April 20, 2018, a massive DDoS attack was recorded not only on the official website but also on all public online resources of the Ministry. Its total impact amounted to more than 150 gigabytes per second, which briefly took down the official website of the Ministry and the sites of Russian foreign missions located in the domain mid.ru.
Nonetheless, all the information attacks were successfully repelled and did not damage the integrity of the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the information resources of Russian foreign missions.
In this regard, I would like to once again draw the attention of our Western colleagues, who so often accuse Russia of hacker attacks without any evidence, to the issue of cyber security and the need to jointly combat threats in cyberspace.
We are ready to interact with these countries on cybersecurity issues, provide data, and conduct consultations. If interest is expressed in the data indicated, we are open to interaction.
Last year, Russia’s Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) donated its mobile anti-epidemic laboratories to partners from the Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Uzbekistan and Mongolia. This January, Rospotrebnadzor is planning to deliver these complexes to the Republic of Guinea and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
These mobile laboratories are unique modern Russian developments for carrying out diagnostics in epidemic sites, hard-to-reach regions and emergency zones. Twelve similar systems that Rospotrebnadzor previously donated to post-Soviet countries are now used for carrying out urgent examination of epidemic sites located near the Russian Federation border, as well as for conducting diagnostic studies and ensuring biosafety of the entire Eurasian region.
Apart from providing material and technical assistance, Rospotrebnadzor's programmes also include carrying out joint research with experts from partner countries that is aimed at studying the characteristics of infectious diseases’ epidemiology and further development of Russian test systems, diagnosticums and vaccine formulations.
Rospotrebnadzor’s scientific organisations regularly host training courses on sanitary control, laboratory diagnostics and infection prevention, and responding to outbreaks of dangerous diseases for foreign employees.
Donating Russian developments to partner countries and introducing them to national sanitary and epidemiological welfare systems serve as a prime example of Russia’s contribution to combating epidemics by means of strengthening the potential of countries abroad.
According to the decision of the President of Russia, the 23rd St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2019) will be held on June 6-8, 2019 in St Petersburg.
The forum has taken place since 1997, and since 2005 it has been held under the patronage of the Russian President in order to discuss topical issues related to the Russian and global economy as well as a wide range of international problems. The forum has earned international acclaim as one of the most important political and economic events of the year in Russia.
With each year the forum is held, its popularity grows as a globally recognised, prestigious and politically neutral platform for businesses and government to have an informal dialogue, forge personal business contacts and engage in an open exchange on current global problems, with the participation of government officials, academics and representatives of the business elite and civil society from various countries.
The number of Russian and foreign participants grows each year.
We invite you to attend the discussions at SPIEF 2019 and take part in its busy agenda.
Details about the forum and its events are available at the forum’s official website www.forumspb.com.
The Aachen treaty the parties plan to sign is a bilateral French-German document drafted in a closed process. It is difficult for us to comment on a document that has not been published yet based on some “excerpts.”
Speaking about Paris’s general support for the German aspiration to acquire a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, there is nothing new here: France has declared it many times before. In particular, a paragraph on this was included in the joint declaration made by President of France Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister of Great Britain Gordon Brown in March 2008, which later the French delegation often used during intergovernmental talks on reforming the UN Security Council in New York.
The issue of the permanent status of Germany in the UN Security Council will not be addressed in the bilateral French-German format. Such a decision must be made by the UN General Assembly following intergovernmental talks held in New York with the participation of all UN members.
Russia calls for continuing the search for a reform model that would win as much support from the member states as possible during the intergovernmental talks: much more than two thirds of votes needed according to the UN Charter. Consensus is the best option. It is important for the talks to be comprehensive and transparent and to consider all the proposals without setting any deadlines.
Russia’s principled position on UN Security Council reform is to expand the representation of developing African, Asian and Latin American countries. We have no doubt that there are many countries among them that can make a significant contribution to supporting international peace and security. In the current Security Council, including its permanent members, we can see an obvious inclination towards certain regions; above all the regional group of Western European and other states, including the US, that exists within the United Nations.
In any case, we cannot allow efforts to make the Security Council more representative affect its effectiveness and performance. Whatever form the reform takes, the UN Security Council must respond to challenges and threats swiftly and adequately. This means that it is necessary for the new council to remain quite small.
We will not deny that we are skeptical of the idea of limiting the veto, as advocated by France and several other countries. We see this mechanism as an important element of searching for balanced and calibrated decisions and protecting the interests of the minority. It is no secret that the Western group could easily mobilise the necessary votes to block unwanted projects without the veto.
Russia consistently speaks in support of a harmonious system of international relations, whose key principles include the political resolution of all crises and an end to violent regime change. If everyone followed these principles, the polemics around the veto right would not be so heated.
Question: Statements have been made in the US Congress about US plans to impose sanctions against countries that would in any way support the Government of Syria. What do you think about this?
Maria Zakharova: You know our position on the sanctions policy: we insist that sanctions are the competence of the UN Security Council and its agencies. Only their decisions are legitimate. In our understanding, if we are talking about building peace on legitimate grounds, no unilateral sanctions should be involved.
Question: We know that the Russian Foreign Ministry has already published a comment on developments in Venezuela. Unrest began in front of Venezuelan embassies in other countries after elected President Nicolas Maduro took office. Is there any chance that the UN Security Council will consider these circumstances? Will Russia be able to assist in this?
Maria Zakharova: We commented without delay on the situation that followed Nicolas Maduro taking office as President of Venezuela. A detailed commentary is available on the Russian MFA website.
As for raising this issue in the UN Security Council, any state, in particular Venezuela, is entitled to include its problems on the UN Security Council agenda. Therefore, in the commentary I mentioned, Russia reaffirmed its determination to work closely with friendly Venezuela, its people and the legitimate authorities.
Regarding the rallies in front of the Venezuelan embassies in various countries, we know how they are organised. We have repeatedly talked about the funding of such “performances.” Do you recall the performances, worthy of a modern art museum, staged in the context of the Syrian settlement, in particular, in the UK? It turned out they were funded by sources, including those from the state budgets, with direct information support from Brussels. We know very well that Western countries know how to organise these protest actions outside various embassies, who finances them and how.
We have repeatedly said that what is happening in Venezuela is the internal affair of Venezuela, and urged everyone not to interfere but to allow the people of Venezuela to resolve their problems by legal means based on their own laws, and on respect for the constitution and history of their country. We assume that this position has not lost its relevance.
Question: According to CNN the United States has started the first shipments of its materiel from Syria. What are Russia’s and Turkey’s plans in Syria, given that the United States is withdrawing from that region?
Maria Zakharova: It’s good that they started taking out their materiel. Sometimes they take someone else’s. Do you know how much of someone else’s property was taken from Iraq? It is being auctioned still.
As for your question, you are speaking about US plans with such confidence as if you know them. We are judging, first, by tweets, then by the comments that appear in Twitter right after the publication of new portions of such Twitter messages.
To date, we have a feeling that the Americans are leaving the region, as the favorite film goes, to stay.
We said on many occasions that we would like to learn more about their strategy. It seems to me that the world community is in the position to know what the United States is going to do in Syria and on its borders and within what time frame. I can remind you that we also made similar statements regarding Afghanistan. We asked questions all the time, including in this room, as to what is the strategy and time limit of the US troop presence in Iraq, then in Afghanistan and now in Syria. Many times we heard from the US political establishment that they are pulling out from somewhere but sometime later the numbers and quality of their forces were even higher.
I cannot share your assurance that the United States is withdrawing from Syria because we have yet to see their official strategy. What we see is a patchwork of statements, messages in social media, adjustments, remarks, repudiations and reconfirmations – all this stuff over the past two weeks.
This is about the world’s biggest and mightiest state in military terms being illegally present on the territory of another sovereign state for many years. The presence of US forces in Syria does not help to remedy the situation but only aggravates it. At least this is the trend that was demonstrated by the presence of the US force in Syria over the recent years. It was engaged in fairly selective warfare against terrorist groups. We have not got from them any assistance in arranging the political process. We only heard a regularly repeated message about the need to change the political regime in the country.
Given the totality of the above facts and factors, it seems to me that the world community has the right to know what the United States is going to do in Syria and in the region: go in, pull out, increase or reduce its forces? The question remains open. This is why I cannot confirm the assertion contained in your question.
If US intentions are confirmed, we think that the withdrawal of troops from Syria is a step in the right direction because their presence in the country was illegal. Indeed, there is always the possibility of dialogue with the official authorities, in particular with respect to counterterrorist activities. It is common practice. If the United States has such intentions, why not enter into dialogue with official Damascus?
Question: What stage is the Paul Whelan legal investigation at? Who will have access to him, considering that it is rather complicated to get access to the Lefortovo prison? Can he be remanded on bail? Is there a chance he can be exchanged for Maria Butina?
Maria Zakharova: I can provide you with updated information. Let me remind you that during the New Year holidays the Foreign Ministry repeatedly commented on the situation with Paul Whelan detained in Moscow on December 29. He was caught while carrying out an act of espionage.
He is being held at the Lefortovo Detention Centre. If in the past we could definitely say that an individual was a US citizen or a British subject, when commenting on the current situation, we can only call this detainee a foreigner, given the number of passports he has at his disposal. He has been charged with a crime under Article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which is espionage.
Paul Whelan entered Russia on a US passport. In this connection, US representatives received consular access to him under the bilateral Consular Convention signed in 1964. This was done without delay, on January 2, even though that was a holiday period in Russia.
During the investigation it was found that the detainee was a citizen of three other countries including the UK, Ireland and Canada.
The embassies of these countries were promptly informed of this and in turn requested permission to visit him, in this case, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963. They will be granted this permission by mutual consent at a mutually convenient time. I would not like to make comparisons but when we are asked how promptly these countries will have access, I would like to draw your attention to the practice in the countries that have applied for access to their citizen.
I would like to specially emphasize that at this point we are not talking about exchanging Paul Whelan for anyone kept in prison abroad. There are plenty of materials in this respect. There are assumptions, outright speculations and fakes. I have expressed Russia’s official position now. I would like to emphasize that the versions put forward and discussed in the media are no more than their authors’ guesswork. The detainee is facing a court trial.
Question: Can you elaborate on how talks are proceeding between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds? Is Russia playing any role in these talks?
Maria Zakharova: I already commented on Syria today, and a large part of my comments was devoted to the Kurdish issue. Certainly, we are paying close attention to the situation with the Kurdish population in Syria because we consider it an inalienable part of the political settlement “on the ground.” The current internal talks are the sphere of responsibility of Damascus; nevertheless we express our position, bring it to Damascus officials and regularly share it with you publicly.
Question: At the end of last year, the leaders of Russia and Japan agreed to step up the negotiating process on the signing of a peace treaty based on the 1956 Joint Declaration, under which the USSR was ready to transfer two islands of the Small Kuril Ridge after the peace treaty was signed. Will it be right to say now that there is a certain set of conditions that if fulfilled by Japan, it may be able to get back those islands? Russia will hand them over. Could you specify these conditions?
Maria Zakharova: For all my respect for you as media representatives, I am surprised to hear this question, considering how many materials we already spelled out during our briefings and published on the Foreign Ministry website. It is not clear why you are asking such questions, all the more so on the eve of the meeting.
We have heard so many statements by various representatives on the Japanese side during the holidays that we had to invite the Japanese ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, something that we announced yesterday. The Japanese media are in no small part to blame for creating this strange information atmosphere ahead of the beginning of the negotiating process. We outlined the Russian approaches to the issue openly and clearly. They are all available from our official sources. Nevertheless, we notice that after each official statement, after each round of talks, preliminary talks, attempts are made to find discrepancies and unravel inconsistencies in the approaches of the sides or the position of one side.
It seems to me that the best thing for the moment would be to give the experts, especially of such a high level, and the leadership of the two ministries an opportunity to start this specific work, and then listen to comments on it.
I also noticed how the Foreign Ministry of Japan reacted to the questions asked after the Japanese ambassador had been invited to the Russian Foreign Ministry. It was said that the talks needed a calm atmosphere and silence. That is the way it was formulated. I am not proficient in Japanese, but in translation it sounded as though it was necessary to create a certain atmosphere of silence to enable the experts to do their work. It was not us who disturbed the work of the experts. In large part, we heard inappropriate and strange statements from the Japanese side. So, I can only agree with the opinion of Japanese Foreign Ministry representatives in that it is time to create a normal constructive atmosphere, free of speculation and disinformation, for the work of the heads of the diplomatic departments who are scheduled to meet and hold talks very soon.
Again, Russia’s official stance is available on the Foreign Ministry website.
Question: Why is the Russian military police patrolling Manbij in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces rather than the Syrian Army?
Maria Zakharova: I think it is better to address this question to Russian military experts.
Question: I would like to clarify the situation in the de-escalation zone in Idlib. What is the strategy with this? How can terrorist groups be eliminated without conducting military operations and compelling Turkey to fulfil its promises?
Maria Zakharova: I have already talked about this in great detail today. In theory, there are many methods of countering the terrorists in non-active, non-combat ways: the disarmament of the militants, the voluntary surrender of weapons in exchange for amnesty, and negotiations on achieving disarmament.
This regularly takes place in Syria and we regularly report on it. The methods may be different, but of course this is a subject for military experts, and I have already described today the specific situation on the ground.
Question: Tehran declared the other day that the time for talks with the EU is over. More than seven months ago US President Donald Trump cynically walked out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. Trying to save face, the EU first announced its intention to create its own financial mechanism for further trade and economic relations with Iran. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has repeatedly spoken about the need to develop a mechanism for protecting European companies from US sanctions and for reimbursing them for potential damages. Recently she said such a mechanism would be launched before the end of 2018, but it was announced just the day before yesterday that it is unclear when this will be done. President Emmanuel Macron of France declared that, as regards cooperation with Iran, they will never decide to exacerbate relations with the US and that they will not reimburse European companies that are affected by the sanctions.
Maria Zakharova: You can see for yourself what a bold and resolute statement he made.
Question: EU sovereignty is undergoing serious tests. Could Russia as a co-sponsor of the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear deal, that were conducted for 10-12 years and considered the highlight of world diplomacy, somehow affect the position of the European countries with a view to making a decision?
Maria Zakharova: If you are talking about a test, I think Russian diplomacy has passed it. As you noted, this was a long-term test on preventing the aggressive development of the situation and on searching for a mutually acceptable solution. The EU should be given credit for the art of high-level diplomacy. The test took place after the signing of the agreement on implementation and after the US decision to withdraw from it.
As for Russia’s potential influence, we are regularly raising this issue before our European colleagues in Brussels and in the EU member states. As for the consequences for international law, it is necessary to consider that this is not simply a commercial or bilateral deal, but a multilateral agreement that was approved by the UN Security Council and became a binding document. We raise these issues, and we do discuss the different aspects (not just politics, but also the economy and finances). After all, if we are talking about protecting business and developing world economic relations, what should we do about the trends that took shape many years ago when the international business community was inspired and oriented towards developing relations with that region and that country? How quickly should it react now to the changes on the political agenda?
We know what this redistribution of capital and deals on futures are about. We know very well what investment means. If the international community represented by the biggest powers maps out an area as an excellent opportunity for business, provides a political legal foundation for it and business goes into action, the following question suggests itself: how quickly can large companies learn to change their strategies if the whole thing is rapidly falling to pieces before their eyes? The point is that it is falling to pieces not because the deal was bad but because someone does not like it anymore.
For our part, we have undergone a multi-level test and are working in different areas. You are right that this is a very serious test for our European colleagues, for Brussels. I don’t think there is a question as to whether they passed the test on their own foreign policy sovereignty. I believe we all know the answer: no, they haven’t, and not only in the context of the deal you’re talking about.
Look at what happened with Cuba – it endlessly followed in the wake of US policy without understanding the deep-seated motives. Look at the triumphal arrival of the huge delegation led by US President Barrack Obama in Cuba. Big business was reoriented as well. How many entrepreneurs did he bring? Hundreds of big ones came to make deals. This is what business was oriented to. I think everything was rolled back within half a year. Everything was backtracked. As for Europe’s policy, it first started to follow the US course but then found itself confused for the umpteenth time now. But this is not a question for me. Address it to the EU representative in Moscow.
We have been saying all along that it would be good for the EU and the European states to think about preserving their foreign policy sovereignty and their own independent role in international affairs.
Question: Recently, the US made another anti-Russia move blocking the sale of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft to Iran and the supply of euro-composites for MS-21 aircraft. Is there a way out of this situation?
Maria Zakharova: I have already answered this question in other contexts. We are working on ways to maintain economic relations with various states in this very strange geopolitical situation, when certain countries block third countries’ financial and economic contacts for the sake of their own geopolitical interests.
Question: Have Russian Foreign Ministry specialists studied materials on the murder of Russian journalists in the CAR last year, as published in various media including CNN and Novaya Gazeta?
Maria Zakharova: I saw messages on this matter and answered questions from your colleagues yesterday. We have an investigation underway, which is not yet completed. It is necessary to raise questions, including for law enforcement agencies, in particular, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. Given that your media source is committed to not circulating fake news, but publishing objective information, please note that while the investigation is underway, no materials containing direct accusations can be published without comment from the official investigating authorities. How do you generally approach such cases in your company, or in the many others who reprint it? The investigation is underway. Does nobody know about this? Amazing.
Question: Russia received an ultimatum over the alleged non-fulfillment of the INF Treaty – a so-called last chance. It expires on February 2, 2019. Can we expect decisive action by the United States and NATO countries after this deadline? Is it possible to save the treaty? Are there any negotiations on this?
Maria Zakharova: We are exploring the possibilities for contact with the American side on this matter. As Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on December 9, Moscow would like to resume a meaningful dialogue with the United States on arms control in the near future.
Question: How does the Foreign Ministry see the statements by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko that if Moscow refuses to compensate Minsk for losses from the tax manoeuvre in the oil sector, Russia could lose an ally? Is this possible?
Maria Zakharova: We have received several requests to comment on the statements by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus is our reliable ally and partner. The policy of expanding strategic cooperation with Minsk is beyond doubt. This is codified, in particular, in our country’s Foreign Policy Concept.
We believe that a lot can still be done within the Union State to increase the effectiveness of this integration format. A Russian-Belarusian working group has been created for this purpose.
As for the specific issues raised by President Lukashenko (supply of agricultural products, tax manoeuvres, motor transport services, etc.), there is a dialogue underway between the relevant national agencies.
Question: Will you please comment on Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s forthcoming visit to Moscow. If the visit has been postponed, until what date and for what reason?
Maria Zakharova: I have seen these reports and had questions on the subject. At the moment I have no definite information to give you. We wonder about the source of those reports, considering that we did not make any announcements.
Question: Information appeared in the media before the New Year that the Netherlands allegedly is not satisfied with Russia’s response to the proposition to hold talks on the crash of the Malaysian Boeing in Ukraine in 2014 and will explore the possibility of submitting this case to an international court. Is it true that Russia rejects dialogue with the Netherlands?
Maria Zakharova: We have seen reports that Russia refuses to cooperate. This is absolutely incorrect. As is known, the Dutch government regularly reports to the country’s parliament on the investigation of the Boeing catastrophe. As the investigation is stalled, there is a temptation to lay the responsibility at Russia’s door, as usual. The plane crashed over four years ago but the investigation has not been completed yet and important circumstances of the accident have not been cleared up. In May last year, the Hague and Canberra, obviously forcing events, officially accused Russia of being involved in the crash of Flight MH-17, without providing any proof. In addition, those two countries, Australia and the Netherlands, proposed holding trilateral talks in this regard.
We have been actively corresponding about consultations on the “MH-17 case” through diplomatic channels since May 2018. The resulting meeting has not taken place yet, also due to differences in how the sides approach the subject. The Netherlands and Australia are interested only in discussing Russia’s legal responsibility and the ensuing consequences. They demand that we admit our responsibility for the crash of the Malaysian Boeing and repent. Russia definitely cannot accept this ultimatum. The Joint Investigation Team has not concluded its work, the guilty party has not been identified and the prospects of this case going to trial are dim. We still have many questions for the investigation team, including the fact that the air space was not closed to civilian airliners over the area of combat operations in Donbass. In addition, we would like to receive explanations how the data, that Russia has provided and keeps providing in considerable amount to the Netherlands, is used and taken into account in the investigation. I would like to mention that Russia always responds to all enquiries it receives.
There is still no clear response to the materials of the briefing carried out by the Russian Ministry of Defence on September 17, 2018 about the Ukrainian origin of the missile that hit the Boeing. They could also be instrumental in carrying out an unbiased and professional investigation of the reasons for the crash of Flight MH-17. This is only part of the questions to which we would like to have answers. We have been regularly asking them without getting a response.
The dialogue on organising a meeting is still going on and the first contact in the trilateral format can take place in the next few months, if the Netherlands and Australia stop employing ultimatums and evidence-free political accusations and agree to a meaningful and professional dialogue about key issues of the Boeing crash. We welcome the prospect of such a dialogue.
I would like to note that Russian and Dutch Foreign Ministers discussed the issue of consultations on the “MH-17 case” early in December 2018, during a brief interaction on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan. It is unlikely that the Dutch Foreign Ministry has a short memory.
Question: Complaints and reports about ethnic Armenians being denied access to Azerbaijan appeared after the New Year. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: We have indeed seen a lot of reports about this, including in social media. There were also some incidents during the New Year holidays. We were keeping track of them even earlier and regularly raised this question with Azerbaijan and said that such cases were unfortunately becoming a bad and wrong tradition. A large and detailed story was published in social media just a couple of days ago. This was not the first instance of discriminatory treatment on ethnic grounds of Russian citizens. As for statistics, last year we learnt about at least 16 cases of denying Russian citizens entry into Azerbaijan on ethnic grounds. The Russian citizens were detained at the airport for many hours and later forcibly removed from the country without giving a formal reason.
These occurrences constitute a gross violation of Russian citizens’ rights and run counter to the letter and spirit of the Russian-Azerbaijani Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security of July 3, 1997, the intergovernmental agreement on visa-free travels for the citizens of July 3, 1997, and the Declaration of Friendship and Strategic Partnership between Russia and Azerbaijan of July 3, 2008.
The Russian Foreign Ministry repeatedly emphasised in conversations with the Azerbaijani side that the present situation is unacceptable and demanded the end of the practice of detention and expulsion as incompatible with the friendly relations between the two countries, which we also regularly mention.
During recent contacts with the Azerbaijani leadership we received assurances that the situation would be resolved. We very much expect it to be.