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31 January 201914:06

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 31, 2019

164-31-01-2019

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Kyrgyz Republic
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Tajikista
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Turkmenistan
  4. Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand Don Pramudwinai to pay a working visit to Russia
  5. Diplomats’ Day events
  6. Syria update
  7. Developments in Venezuela
  8. Historical parallels related to states refraining from interference in each other’s internal affairs
  9. Delay in issuing US visas to Viktor Bout’s family
  10. Events involving Russian media in Germany
  11. Ineffective and counterproductive Western sanctions on Russia
  12. Answers to media questions:
    1. Developments in Venezuela
    2. Statements by Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov
    3. Statement by Director of US National Intelligence Daniel Coats on the war in Afghanistan
    4. Alleged US training centre for opposition leaders
    5. Official plans to support Nicolas Maduro
    6. Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
    7. Disappearance of the Nord fishing vessel’s captain Vladimir Gorbenko in Ukraine
    8. Meeting between the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference
    9. Possible visit to Japan by Sergey Lavrov
    10. Unmarked helicopters over Afghanistan
    11. Venezuela update
    12. Legitimacy of the Prespa agreement
    13. Detainment of Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik in Greece
    14. Mandate extension of UN peacekeepers in Cyprus
    15. Meeting between the Russian and Japanese special representatives
    16. Release of Russian sailors in Nigeria
    17. Russian aircraft in Venezuela
    18. 10th anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill
    19. Article published by the UNIAN Ukrainian news agency
    20. Syria update
    21. Statement on the INF Treaty by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini
    22. Ukrainian President’s visit to Israel
    23. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in US affairs
    24. Report by Director of US National Intelligence Daniel Coats
    25. Dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds

 

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Kyrgyz Republic

 

On February 3−4, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to Bishkek, where he will meet with President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbay Jeenbekov. He will also hold talks with Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aidarbekov. The sides will focus on preparations for the state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kyrgyzstan in 2019.

In addition, they will exchange opinions on key aspects of Russia-Kyrgyzstan cooperation and the sides’ participation in Eurasian integration associations, including in the context of Kyrgyzstan’s chairmanship of the CSTO and the SCO in 2019. There are also plans to discuss items of the international agenda, including cooperation at the UN.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Tajikistan

 

On February 4−5, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to the Republic of Tajikistan. He will meet with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rakhmon and will also hold talks with Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Sirodjidin Aslov.

The sides will discuss preparations for bilateral top-level and high-level meetings that are planned to take place in 2019. Considering Tajikistan’s important role as a member of the CSTO that has the longest border with Afghanistan, the discussion will focus on matters of maintaining regional security and helping Russia’s ally strengthen its defence capability and guard the southern sector of the CIS border.  Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart will sign a programme of cooperation between the two countries’ foreign ministries in 2019.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Turkmenistan

 

On February 5−6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Ashgabat. While there, he will have talks with President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov.

The sides will review the main items of the bilateral agenda, a number of international and regional matters, touching upon the interests of Caspian littoral states. They will focus on intra-CIS cooperation, with due consideration for priorities of Turkmenistan’s chairmanship of this organisation in 2019. A programme of cooperation between foreign ministries of Russia and Turkmenistan in 2019−2020 will be signed during the visit.

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Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand Don Pramudwinai to pay a working visit to Russia

 

On February 7−8, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand Don Pramudwinai will pay a working visit to Russia. He will hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as have a working meeting with Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, who chairs the Russian section of the Joint Russia-Thailand Commission on Bilateral Cooperation.

The sides will discuss the current state of bilateral political, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation in great detail, focusing on the implementation of top-level agreements that have been reached over the past two years, as well as approaches to pressing international and regional matters.

After the talks, the sides will sign a plan of consultations between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Thai Foreign Ministry for 2019−2021.

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Diplomats’ Day events

 

On February 10, the Russian Foreign Ministry will celebrate its professional holiday. The main events will be held the day before, on Friday, February 8.

To mark the Diplomats’ Day, a flower laying ceremony will be held at the memorial plaques in the Russian Foreign Ministry to pay tribute to the memory of the ministry workers who died in the Great Patriotic War while doing their duty, as well as victims of political repressions.

At the Novodevichye cemetery, flowers will be laid at the burial sites of prominent Russian diplomats: former foreign ministers, extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

According to the established practice, representatives of the ministry’s leadership, former and current employees as well as young diplomats will take part in the ceremony.

A historical exhibition devoted to anniversaries of prominent Soviet and Russian diplomats marked in 2019 will open in the lobby of the Foreign Ministry building.

A traditional ceremonial meeting will be held to mark the Diplomats’ Day.

At 7 pm on February 7, the Council of Young Diplomats of the Foreign Ministry and the Association of International Tchaikovsky Competition Prize Winners will hold the first official meeting with young members of the Moscow diplomatic corps and the Young Talents - Peace Ambassadors project presentation at the Main Administration for Service to the Diplomatic Corps (GlavUpDK) cultural centre.

For accreditation to the event, please contact the Information Service of the Council of Young Diplomats at 7(916)487 4354.

The festive events will be held at all Russian foreign missions.

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Syria update

 

Tension persists around the Idlib de-escalation zone. Militants from the al-Nusra alliance known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) shell the neighbouring towns and villages on a daily basis and are also building up forces on the line of contact with the Syrian government troops.

We are alarmed by the reports that the terrorists continue to stage sham chemical weapons attacks against civilians. According to the information available to us, active members of the pseudo-humanitarian White Helmets group have accumulated equipment for shooting footage of such provocations in several Idlib hospitals.

We have taken note of the odious item published by The New York Times on January 26, according to which the HTS is allegedly running the province almost liberally. A leading American newspaper is presenting the terrorists as a constructive force allegedly capable of restoring order and reducing the level of violence in Idlib. It is notable, though, that the author of the article does not mention the regular shelling of the Syrian government positions. We provided the relevant figures at last week’s briefing, but I am willing to repeat them.  Over the past five months, the terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zones have violated the ceasefire over 1,000 times. I would like to remind American journalists and their audiences that the HTS is on the UN Security Council’s list of terrorist organisations and that it has been also recognised as such in the United States.

The UN Security Council resolutions encourage all members of the international community to work together to eradicate terrorists. Unfortunately, there are no coordinated efforts in this area or a broad counterterrorism front, which Russia has been advocating. Meanwhile, the jihadists continue to kill innocent civilians in Syria. Between December 21, 2018 and January 21, 2019, at least 10 people have died, including two children, and dozens have been wounded in terrorist attacks around Syria.

I would like to say a few things about the humanitarian situation in Syria.

First, UN data point out a positive trend on the humanitarian track. According to this worldwide organisation, humanitarian access in Syria has greatly improved over the past year. As of January 2019, about one million Syrians were living in difficult to access regions. This represents a decrease of nearly two thirds compared with the figures reported by the UN in late 2017 (nearly 3 million).

Second, we would like to remind the world about the plight of the people in the Rukban camp for the internally displaced persons that is located within the 55-km security area around Al-Tanf. Responsibility for the deplorable situation at the camp rests squarely with the United States, which has illegally taken over that area for a military base and has organised regular logistic support to it. At the same time, the Americans are not doing anything to facilitate the delivery of food and medicine to those in the Rukban camp. Emergency measures must be taken to relocate these people. Until this is done, we will continue to believe that the US is responsible for creating normal living conditions at the camp. We urge Washington to withdraw its troops from the Al-Tanf area without delay and to hand over control over it to the Syrian government, which will take care of the Syrian citizens.

The UN is preparing to send a second humanitarian convoy to Rukban. The parameters of this operation are being coordinated with the Syrian government. We hope that the UN’s humanitarian aid agencies will preclude a repetition of the mistakes made when they sent the first convoy in November 2018. More precisely, we hope that they will ensure a safe route and transparent delivery and distribution of aid. It should be said in this context that Russia has not changed its principled position on dealing with the humanitarian problems of the Rukban camp.

In light of a rapid normalisation around Syria, the number of Syrian refugees willing to return back home has increased considerably. The largest groups of returning Syrians are moving from Lebanon and Jordan. Since July 2018, when Russia launched the initiative to help Syrians’ repatriation, some 120,000 people have returned home.

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Developments in Venezuela

 

The situation in Venezuela remains extremely tense. To be fair, the latest protest rallies were much more modest. Still, they showed that the opposition is unwilling to engage in dialogue, while the official government is ready to do so. Instead, The New York Times opened its pages to the current leader of the Venezuelan opposition with his calls to overthrow the legitimate government. He is openly inciting the Venezuelan armed forces to carry out a government coup. The fact that he uses a US newspaper to issue these calls is intriguing in itself. Anyone who ever tried to publish an op-ed piece in this US newspaper knows that this is quite challenging, but there is always a page for the right people to squeeze in their message.

We see Western sponsors publicly encourage this destructive stance by all possible means. It seems that there are no boundaries for Washington anymore, neither national, nor economic, nor moral.

Unfortunately, the threat of a large-scale military conflict is still there. The note by White House National Security Adviser John Bolton on sending 5,000 US troops to a country neighbouring Venezuela was extensively covered by the media. It provides direct evidence that all options remain on the table, including direct foreign interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country. Judging by the reaction from the government of the country mentioned in the note, this matter was not even discussed with them. At least this country commented on this situation, unlike the US officials. The international community cannot get the US to answer a direct question concerning what is going on with these 5,000 troops who are to be deployed or placed on combat alert in some other way in a country that neighbours Venezuela. Washington is evading this specific question. In my opinion, what this means is that all Washington’s decisions in recent years resulted from court intrigues rather than democratic procedures.

We welcome the firm resolve by regional countries not to follow in the wake of the US militarist policy. We call each and every partner of Russia in Latin America and the Caribbean to consider very seriously what the actual role is that Washington wants them to play in preparing and unleashing a scenario in the region based on using military power, as had already been the case in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine. What will be the scale of the humanitarian and migration crisis if these plans are executed? If the concept that is being imposed on the world materialises at the end of the day, in a year or two you will be reporting from international conferences on saving Venezuela. Unfortunately, our forecasts on matters of this kind often come true. The international community will be looking for sponsors and donors to restore this country and its statehood, including through UN resources and in other international formats. Regional countries will be asking global powers questions like: What is there to be done? How can this fire be put out? All this will happen if the scenario backed by the US triumphs yet again today. Over the past years it has not triumphed everywhere, as you know. If this time what is being presented to the entire international community as the only option for Venezuela is implemented again, there will be immediate consequences.

We see that not everyone is ready to blindly follow the so-called recipes for settlement in Venezuela, as promoted by Washington. A considerable number of countries stand firm in their commitment to independence and national sovereignty, and strictly abide by the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of this country. They stand for a peaceful resolution and promoting dialogue between the legitimate government and the opposition as a way of preventing further escalation of the crisis.

The UN Security Council meeting on January 26 was telling in this respect, since it marked the failure of Washington’s attempt to convert the Security Council meeting into a rigged trial against the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro. It is worth noting the position adopted by participating countries that are part of the Non-Alignment Movement. They made it clear that interference into Venezuela’s domestic affairs was unacceptable.

Examples of a balanced approach of this kind include the joint declaration by the heads of government of the CARICOM member states adopted on January 25, as well as the January 28 statement by the Latin American and Caribbean Parliament (PARLATINO) published on its official website, and the joint initiative by Mexico and Uruguay on the need for all forces within the country to engage in a dialogue.

Despite the questionable ultimatums put forward by some European countries, the rejection by the EU of the infamous Monroe Doctrine is apparent. The US administration has been very vocal lately about resuscitating this doctrine. All reasonable political forces understand very well that a broad dialogue within the Venezuelan society is the only way out of the crisis. As far as Russia is concerned, we are ready to contribute to the mediation efforts or offer advice for overcoming the crisis. We welcome the fact the President of Venezuela is ready to engage in such a dialogue.

Let me say a few words about a new package of US sanctions as yet another part of the plan by the White House to bring about a government coup in Venezuela. It could be that the effect from these sanctions will be felt far beyond the Venezuelan borders. We urge the international community and especially Latin American and Caribbean countries to be mindful of the possible consequences of this move. This is not just an act of intimidation against the free people of Venezuela who have chosen their own path of development and faced political and economic aggression for doing so. We often hear about the country’s performance, including economic, financial and social statistics, while invariably failing to mention the external impact on this country and where it comes from. This has a direct bearing on the country’s economy, among other things. If adopted, the proposed package will be a direct path to a catastrophe, including an environmental disaster that could cause irreparable harm to the people in other regional countries and their development.

You can ask experts what will happen if downstream operations are brought to a sudden stop, whether this is possible or not, what needs to be done to carry out this plan and what will be the consequences? Very soon oil that Washington does not want anyone to buy from the Maduro government could just begin spilling into the sea. Has anyone asked this question? Did anyone come up with any technological options? While pursuing its political objectives and momentary ambitions, Washington has been unable to take into consideration even the most basic consequences that are obvious to anyone more or less aware of how petrochemicals are made. All this appears to be a large-scale sabotage effort that covers not only the political dimension but is also damaging for international relations and, in particular, has direct environmental consequences for an entire region.

It has to be said that the “voices of reason” are increasingly making themselves heard even in the United States. The Washington Post quotes Rohit Khanna, a Democratic Congressman from California, who said that the White House policy on Venezuela shows that there is no respect for the UN Charter. I am aware of the fact that the publication of articles of this kind is underpinned, among other things, by domestic politics in the US. But maybe this time the opponents should be heard?

We call on all reasonable forces both within and outside Venezuela to use their efforts to promote de-escalation in this country.

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Historical parallels related to states refraining from interference in each other’s internal affairs

 

In the early 1860s, two countries with very different political systems, the Russian Empire and the United States, found themselves facing grave domestic and external challenges caused, among other things, by mounting pressure from foreign powers.

Russia was suffering from the consequences of the Crimean War, while the United States, gripped by internal conflict, was on the verge of disintegration, which resulted in the Civil War. The leading West European powers were not averse to taking advantage of the situation in order to strengthen their own positions in the Western Hemisphere.

Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov’s June 28/July 10, 1861 dispatch to the charge d’affairs of the Russian embassy in the US, Eduard de Stoeckl, which was endorsed by Emperor Alexander II (it has “So Be It” written on it by the Emperor), clearly expressed Russia’s stance that consisted of keeping the United States united and supporting the legitimately elected President, Abraham Lincoln. Gorchakov instructed Eduard de Stoeckl to communicate the message to Lincoln and, if possible, have it published in the local press. President Lincoln was deeply moved by the document and asked the charge d’affairs to convey his sincere gratitude to the Emperor.     

To compare: today’s closest US allies, the British and the French, did just the opposite. While formally remaining neutral, they were seriously considering whether they could recognise the Confederacy and intervene on its side, although they eventually gave up this idea.

In 1863, US Secretary of State William Henry Seward remarked in a conversation with de Stoeckl that his government had declined any intervention in their internal strife and therefore had no right to intervene in other states’ affairs. The Russian charge d’affairs reported this to Gorchakov in his letter of April 29/May 11, 1863. Alexander II wrote on the document: “Bravo!”

Lincoln said that both countries’ identical interests, namely the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, were in agreement again. This principle formed the basis of the North’s national policy and, despite the crisis they were experiencing at the time, they decided to abide by that principle.

These are golden words. Why can’t the Americans remember these words today? It would not be a bad thing if they recalled what was said by one of the recognised fathers of democracy, the 16th US President, the winner in the war between the North and the South, and a man revered in US history.

When US officials tell us about the reasons for their decision to grossly interfere in Venezuela’s affairs, they usually claim that they want to restore democracy, that a considerable portion of its people do not accept the country’s course and the policies conducted by the legitimate president, that people are unhappy because they cannot be heard, etc. Does this remind you of anything? I mean the current situation in the United States, where a considerable portion of the people do not accept their president’s course and are unhappy with the changes and the policies he is pursuing at home. Do you remember the situation in the US right after the 2016 election? As a reminder, the candidate who lost the race actually won the majority of the vote. I think a pretext could have been found to support the majority of the Americans who refused to agree with the election results. Why wasn’t this done? Isn’t democracy about constitutional law and a resolve to follow the dictates of the constitutional system that prevails over the opinion of the many? I understand that the two situations differ greatly, but they also have much in common.     

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Delay in issuing US visas to Viktor Bout’s family

 

We are outraged by the six-month long delay in issuing US visas to the family of Viktor Bout convicted in the United States on a dubious charge: his wife Alla Bout and their daughter Yelizaveta. They planned to see their husband and father for the first time since 2012. Let me remind you that Bout was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 at Washington’s request and extradited to the United States, where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison after he refused to plead guilty.

Alla and Yelizaveta filed documents with the US Embassy in Moscow back in July and had an interview in September 2018. However, no progress has been made since then. As an explanation US diplomats have given their traditional excuse that the visa application is undergoing “further administrative processing.” I don’t understand – are they “processing” the purpose of the Bout family’s visit to the United States? In view of this, the Foreign Ministry sent a relevant note last week demanding that the matter is settled.

So what we have is that first Viktor Bout was charged with arms trafficking and sentenced to a huge prison term without any clear evidence, in fact on the basis of agent-provocateurs’ testimony alone, an now he is denied meeting with his family after seven years of separation.

This situation vividly demonstrates the unprecedentedly bad situation with obtaining US visas in Russia when Russian citizens’ travels for business, cultural, humanitarian, scientific and sports purposes are disrupted because of Washington’s actions.

I would like to hope that US authorities will stop severing links between our countries and peoples and harming their own people and citizens of both countries. I remind that many people have passports and residence permits of both countries. They have relatives who want to visit them and to continue to live normally.

We hope that even though they have been holding our citizen Viktor Bout for over ten years, they will at least give his wife and daughter an opportunity to visit him.

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Events involving Russian media in Germany

 

We note an increase in the campaign in the German press to discredit the Russian and Russian language media in Germany.

The RT Deutsch TV Channel and the Sputnik Germany agency are the hardest hit. They broadcast in German and enjoy no small popularity among the local audience. Recently, the publication Bild, that has long made Russophobia part of its editorial policy, staged a fit of hysteria over the RT Deutsch plan to receive a licence to broadcast on cable networks. The German tabloid subjected former MDR Editor-in-Chief Wolfgang Kenntemich to harassment when he was offered the opportunity to join the channel’s consultative council. He was branded a “lobbyist for the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.”

Bild was joined by the German Journalists’ Union (DJV). The union’s head, Frank Überall, publicly urged the authorities not to issue RT Deutsch a licence. He said in a press release that the channel was a “propaganda tool of the Kremlin” and that it spreads disinformation. What if we produce a copy of this press release but with German journalists working in the Russian Federation?

In December last year, the DJV refused to talk to Sputnik about the scandal involving the infamous journalist of Der Spiegel, Claas-Hendrik Relotius, who was caught inventing his materials. DJV spokesman Hendrik Zorner said that his organisation exists “for journalists whose mission is to inform and educate the public rather than propagandists working for authoritarian states that harass independent journalists and eliminated freedom of speech at home.” Have you heard anything like this from non-Germans on the situation in Ukraine? Everything he said applies to the situation in Ukraine – journalists are barred from entering the country, freedom of speech has been eliminated; there is no alternative view, and mass disinformation is published regularly.

To clear up the situation for the German colleagues who work at home and do not often visit Moscow, I would like to say that German journalists in Russia enjoy all the advantages of freedom of speech. If you doubt this, you are welcome to come and see for yourself.   

Nationally funded Deutsche Welle has also been making peremptory assertions as regards the Russian media. At a recent media conference, its head, Peter Limbourg, devoted his entire speech to the problem of “Russian disinformation” and the loss of trust in authoritative German media, and urged law enforcement and the Prosecutor’s Office to more thoroughly monitor compliance with the law in social media.  

Recently, we have seen attempts to defame different associations of our compatriots and the Russian language press in Germany. Thus, a major German news website «T-online.de», notorious for its fake exposures of RT Deutsch and Sputnik Germany, and the ARD state TV Channel produced a series of totally unfounded pseudo-investigations into the activities of some compatriot organisations and the Russian language website Russkoye Pole, accusing them of imposing “alien values” on Germans and representing a “diverse network used for Moscow’s influence.”

I would like to say that we intend to forward all materials in this campaign to the OSCE as soon as possible, because the OSCE is interested in countering fraudulent news stories. The above will be sent as an example of disinformation in Germany by the German media, a number of which are sponsored by the German state.

We see that a large-scale attack on Russian news resources is being conducted in Germany and not without state participation. This is an obviously well-orchestrated campaign aimed at discrediting the Russian press. As we see it, the motivation behind this is the establishment’s demand to suppress the voice of the Russian media. Once again, we will report this situation in Germany to the relevant international organisations.

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Ineffective and counterproductive Western sanctions on Russia

 

Since at least 1974 until now, there has not been a single day when some kind of US restrictions weren’t imposed on our country. Clearly, for decades our country has been considered by the US establishment as a state that is normal to impose sanctions on.

In 1974, the United States adopted the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which prohibited the provision of the most-favoured-nation trade status, government loans or loan guarantees to the Soviet Union. 

In 1980, it was the boycott of the Olympic Games by more than 60 countries, including the United States and other Western states, which was a way to show the West’s disapproval of the Soviet Union sending troops to Afghanistan. No one has ever asked: What happened next? Why did the United States not impose sanctions on itself? It would be interesting to know, though.

In 1981, there was the blockade of the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod gas pipeline's construction, which led to an embargo on supplying high-tech US-made equipment to the Soviet Union.

Then, there was a short pause, which absolutely didn’t mean that previous sanctions were lifted – it was just that no additional sanctions were imposed during that period in history. It was in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Now, in retrospect, we know what this respite was due to.

In 1998, there was the research-related black list of organisations that allegedly violated anti-Iran sanctions (i.e., sanctions for sanctions).

In 2012, the Magnitsky Act was adopted.

The era of sanctions associated with the Ukraine crisis began in 2014, and the sanctions over the Skripal poisoning, which we have discussed with you on many occasions, were imposed in 2018.

To date, the number of waves of US sanctions has reached 65. Were our US colleagues successful in achieving their goals? No.

This is not the most interesting aspect of it, though. It turns out that sanctions hurt the international trading positions of their initiators. Here are objective figures: in 2013-2017, EU exports to Russia decreased by almost $50 billion, which, according to the European Parliament’s estimates, led to a loss of about 400,000 jobs in Europe. The funny part is that this damage is asymmetric in nature, because US exports to Russia decreased by only $4 billion over the same period of time. The Europeans have to pay a high price for delegating the right to determine their foreign policy goals to their North American colleagues. Perhaps, they can afford doing so.

However, sanctions are also harmful to the United States, mainly because of the deteriorating long-term prospects for US companies in Russia. According to the US Chamber of Commerce in Russia, 84% of such companies noted a negative impact, one in four froze their new Russian projects, and more than a third said that the sanctions had created an unlevelled playing field for them as compared with companies from other countries. A couple of years of pursuing an energetic sanctions policy which banned the US companies from operating on the Russian market, they took note of China’s fantastic growth rates, including in its business with Russia. Now, they are imposing sanctions on China to stop this growth.

Clearly, the sanctions, coupled with the trade wars started by the United States, have a significant impact on the global economic system and undermine the foundations of the international economic order. In essence, international economic relations have departed from the legal framework. Instead, the United States is taking a heavy-handed approach to resolving economic issues that involves aggressive protectionism and pushing its own interests. We can see in the media the US ambassadors’ correspondence with the public in the countries they are posted to. It involves direct threats to major, medium- and small-sized businesses and, as a matter of fact, to the people. Blackmail is now being widely used to resolve issues arising from the sanctions imposed by the United States.

Despite the political meandering of their states, Western business circles remain interested in contacts with Russian businesses. Realistically assessing the prospects for developing their business with their Russian partners, companies from many European countries continue to participate in international exhibitions held in Russia. For example, a 550-strong business delegation from the United States attended the SPIEF-2018 (St Petersburg International Economic Forum), and was again one of the largest at the forum.

Investment cooperation between Russia and foreign countries is going from strength to strength. Direct investment amounted to nearly $28 billion as of the end of 2017.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recently said that there is an assassination plot against him and if he gets killed US President Donald Trump will be to blame. What is Russia’s reaction?

Is there a possibility of international mediation support to resolve the crisis in Venezuela?

Maria Zakharova: Today I spoke about Russia’s ability and intention to participate as a consultant and intermediary in the dialogue between the opposing domestic political actors in Venezuela. Russia can only play this role if both parties agree to it.  

As concerns our stance that it is unacceptable to not only interfere with but, at this point, to moderate the internal Venezuelan crisis and coup, we have been making very active efforts in this regard at the international platform of the UN Security Council and in bilateral contacts. These efforts will be continued very soon.

We are also very positive about the regional countries’ attempts to help resolve the situation, attempts to develop an analytical basis and provide assistance to Venezuela on behalf of regional actors who are acting not under Washington’s pressure but understand that they will be the first to reap the outcome of the Venezuelan crisis and nobody will help them find a way out of their own problems. We see examples in the Middle East and North Africa. It is all the same. It started with the so-called Arab Spring, “fighting for democracy” and helping the population to “gain freedom” – and ended with many years of stubbornly searching for the answer: what to do with Libya, for example? And it is not so much Libya that is searching for this answer and even not its neighbours as it is Italy that has been holding conference after conference and raising the issue at all international platforms. This experience is not two hundred but only a few years old. It has not been a decade since the situation in Libya unfolded when they were looking for democracy there and trying to bring freedom back to the people. Eventually, both democracy and freedom were taken away from them. Now the Libyans have nothing but misery and a lack of prospects for the future.

Regarding Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s statement about his fears for his own safety, what else could it be if representatives of US security services have officially and directly stated that he must be ousted and they do not recognise him as the president of Venezuela and do not recognise his immunity, status and decisions. People are being sent an unambiguous signal that he is no longer the president of the country. And since he is not the president he has nothing, no immunity and no security. How else can this be interpreted?

Moreover, we can see that Washington is staking almost everything to force through its own solution to the Venezuelan issue. Considering that the United States is not enjoying foreign policy success in other parts of the world, perhaps this is yet another attempt to distract us from the failures in other problematic areas.

Let me remind you that the United States promised to achieve a lot in the Middle East. We are still waiting for the “deal of the century” which nobody understands or knows about. We are still waiting for the promised “total defeat” of ISIS, promised global solutions, for example, to the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Nothing globally positive is happening anywhere.

Perhaps the situation is similar to what happened in Cuba when a huge contingent of American businesses under former US President Barack Obama’s flags landed in Cuba and a great number of agreements were drafted (to solve, among others, the “Cuban problem”) – in order for the United States to score foreign policy points for its irreplaceable efforts in the international arena. And then everything turned out to be bluffing and deceit. Maybe this is something similar and we really do not want this situation to repeat itself.

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Question: There has been much speculation concerning the statements made by Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov about the deployment of ISIS fighters on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Would you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: We have seen these reports. I believe it was just a common slip of the tongue. The movement of ISIS fighters has been reported in Afghanistan, as we have already said many times. This is what was meant, I think.

As for Pakistan, we have developed close interaction with our colleagues there in the sphere of counterterrorism and Afghanistan. The strengthening of ISIS in Afghanistan and foreign encouragement of the group’s expansion are matters of concern for Russia and Pakistan.

Overall, our allies at the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and our partners at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are working together to bring down the level of threat created by the crisis in Afghanistan as much as possible. We regularly monitor and analyse the factors and risks which our countries must not underestimate. We are doing this in the interests of our nations.

Russia is resolved to carry on joint efforts in this area so as to preclude any attempts to destabilise Central Asia and the CIS countries.

I would like to once again point out the great contribution of the countries that directly border on Afghanistan. Working in the spirit of strategic partnership with each of them, Russia has provided and is willing to increase its support in security and border protection. It should be said in particular that the CSTO and the CIS are working to support the efforts of Tajikistan, which is our main partner in border security. It is for this purpose that we maintain the 201st military base in Dushanbe and the Kant Air Base [in Kyrgyzstan]. These facilities operate in the interests of all CSTO countries to guarantee security and stability in the region.

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Question: Director of US National Intelligence Daniel Coats said the other day that “neither the Afghan government nor the Taliban will be able to gain a strategic military advantage in the Afghan war in the coming war year, even if coalition support remains at current levels.” Has the US finally admitted the impossibility of a military victory over the Taliban?

Maria Zakharova: When I hear people use the words “final,” “the US” and “Afghanistan” in one sentence, I always reply that, regrettably, Washington’s decisions on this track cannot be described as consistent or strategic in terms of concepts and forward-looking analysis. The US has been recently changing its strategy every 18 months or thereabout. Therefore, I recommend caution regarding the words “finally admitted” when applied to Washington’s operations in this area.

I believe that at this point in time Mr Coats’s statement should be regarded as a private opinion.

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Question: Your Chinese colleague Geng Shuang has said that the United States is responsible for the disastrous plight of the people of Venezuela. In 2007, Juan Guaido studied at Andres Bello Catholic University [in Caracas] and George Washington University in the United States. Mikheil Saakashvili also studied at American universities. It appears that the United States runs a centre for training opposition leaders. Could the Foreign Ministry organise a conference to study and discuss this matter in greater detail?

Maria Zakharova: Much has been written on this subject. Actually, there is nothing to study here. It was possible to study and collect some data and facts before the internet era. Today, we know everything down to the smallest detail, with photos. This is not the issue. The issue is that although everyone knows everything, some people and political forces in Venezuela don’t understand that this beautifully wrapped offer is alien to their country, and no one cares about what lies in store for this country. Quite possibly, it is human nature not to be able to learn from past mistakes and look at things objectively, and to be taken in by nice words and promises, for the most part. It is hard to say. In this particular case, there is nothing new about the political leader you mentioned. Everything is well-known, clear and obvious.

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Question: What actions does the Foreign Ministry plan to take to officially support Nicolas Maduro, as part of its functions?

Maria Zakharova: We have already discussed this matter. This includes support for the constitutional system of Venezuela, this state’s sovereignty, actions at international venues ranging from the UN Security Council to bilateral and multilateral contacts, as well as our statements. Believe me, this is quite a lot. We have done a lot to help Venezuela resolve this situation (which is not about a domestic standoff, but endless outside support for the opposition and efforts to aggravate a domestic crisis), so that this situation would not deteriorate as quickly as had been expected. It appears that the United States wanted long ago to change the situation in Venezuela very quickly. But for domestic resistance, but for the principled rejection of this plan by major players and powers and their resistance, the situation would have escalated in a negative direction long ago.

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Question: Ilham Aliyev said three days ago that Azerbaijan was equipping its army with the latest weapons because the country is in a state of war. What preparations for peace can one talk about? Don’t you think that it is impossible to achieve success in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, unless Artsakh residents are directly involved in the talks?

Maria Zakharova: Our position on this matter remains the same and has not changed. The first part of your question certainly should not be addressed to Russia.

We conscientiously fulfill our mediatory function in a high-quality manner. We praise the latest political contacts between Baku and Yerevan at various levels. We have heard constructive assessments made by both capitals on this matter. We believe this is the right way to move forward.

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Question: Can you comment on the disappearance of Vladimir Gorbenko, captain of Russian vessel Nord, in Ukraine? Could the Ukrainian Security Service be involved?

Maria Zakharova: At this stage I can only say that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Ukraine are looking into all the circumstances of that situation. As you know, cases where Russian citizens find themselves in a difficult situation abroad always receive priority attention.

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Question: A meeting between the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers is expected to take place on the margins of the Munich Security Conference in mid-February 2019. In what phase are the preparations for the meeting now?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding your first question about possible contacts: as you know, pursuant to the understanding reached at the meeting between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in Moscow on January 22, 2019, the possibility of further meetings between the foreign ministers is being considered. Indeed, one such possibility is the upcoming Munich conference. Such contacts may take place if the conference is attended by both countries’ delegations at the level of foreign ministers. But formally we have yet to announce the Foreign Minister’s participation in the conference, which is also being considered.

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Question: Japanese media, citing government sources, reported several days ago that Sergey Lavrov may travel to Japan in March or April. Is Russia contemplating such a visit?

As for the subject of negotiations: the Russian side, in particular Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, is insisting after meeting his Japanese opposite number that Japan still has to recognise the outcome of WWII in full, including Russia’s sovereignty over South Kuril islands. Japan cannot accept this demand for a variety of reasons.

Maria Zakharova: It seems to me that Russia has a consolidated position. It really reflects the opinion held by the executive authorities, the public, the academic community and historians, and is based on clear-cut principles. There are no diverging interpretations.

As for Japan, I would be more nuanced and I understand that Japan has different “schools of thought.” In this case I simply had to correct you.

Question: Nevertheless, it looks like negotiations are stuck. What is the way out, in your opinion? Are compromises possible? Can Russia somehow alter or soften its position?

Maria Zakharova: As for your question on Japanese media reports about a possible visit by Sergey Lavrov to Japan, including dates even, at this stage such a visit is not on the agenda. In case of any changes I will keep you informed.

As for the idea that negotiations have stalled: I do not share this point of view at all. The work continues. We explained what we are not happy about in that work, specifically those public statements which are at odds with the negotiations and understandings reached at the top level and which were rather undiplomatic and provocative. It looks like the Japanese side has understood us.

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Question: You have said many times that NATO controls the airspace over Afghanistan. Are there really unidentified helicopters flying around there and who is controlling them?

Maria Zakharova: Who is stationed in Afghanistan? Who has, for many years, been conducting operations in Afghanistan, authorised by the UN Security Council without reporting to it? They are in charge. These movements are indeed happening. We talk about them. We understand that, one way or another, there is a connection with the militants. Nobody can say clearly what helicopters these are, where they fly and what they are related to.

But this is not Russia’s issue but an issue that Russia has been raising, including publicly.

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Question: It was mentioned here that an intra-Venezuelan dialogue, as Russia believes and as common sense advises, would be the most efficient way out of the crisis. But the opposition stubbornly refuses to participate in a dialogue. In your opinion, why are the self-proclaimed leader and the people surrounding him so categorical? Why are they not at all interested in a dialogue and openly demonstrate this position?

The Russian Foreign Ministry has already stated that it is willing to be an intermediary, but under the current circumstances a dialogue seems “highly unlikely.” Is Moscow considering alternative ways to assist in overcoming this crisis?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding why, as you said, this self-proclaimed leader is not ready for negotiations, it is because he is not self-proclaimed but “proclaimed” as such by outside powers. This endeavor is receiving full support – financial, technical, moral and political.  

I would like to remind you that earlier stakes were made on another opposition leader who, for some reason, did not justify expectations. Now all the support is given to this political leader. It is all very simple: orders from abroad must be followed.

There is no doubt that Venezuela has its problems that need to be resolved. As there is no doubt that the scenario to prevent an internal consolidated dialogue is coming from outside. These are two components of a classic scheme. If you take any country – big or small, developed or developing, with long-standing traditions of democracy or a monarchy – it will have its own problems. And any problem can be resolved through an internal dialogue or stalled and kept unsolvable.

This scenario was going to be carried out in Syria, for example. As we have repeatedly said, it has been carried out in many other countries as well. This is why the leaders who were trained abroad (as was just mentioned) and who are leading the protest movement now, were banned from participating in any internal dialogue, in order to prevent any opportunity for Venezuela to overcome its own problems with its own resources.  

As concerns Russia’s alternative approaches, I represent Russia’s Foreign Ministry and I offer my comments within the scope of my competence. If you have questions regarding other departments, perhaps you should address them.

We believe that the possibilities for diplomatic assistance to Venezuela in resolving a very complicated crisis (because it has drawn the attention of foreign states) have not been exhausted. As we understand it, the countries in the region share this opinion. This is exactly why several countries have declared the necessity to urgently convene an international conference.

Question: You said Russia could act as a mediator on Venezuela. A mediator must have good relations with those whom it plans to reconcile. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry have enough resources to ensure a dialogue between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido? Is it in contact with Uruguay and Mexico as regards their proposal?

Maria Zakharova: As for the second question, this proposal was made yesterday. Diplomats will still have to discuss and specify the parameters.

As for your first question, it doesn’t matter whether we have good relations with the parties to the conflict. What matters is that one side of the conflict is banned from saying or doing anything that is aimed at a dialogue with the other side. This is the root of the problem. The leader and the representatives of the opposition are simply prohibited from conducting a domestic dialogue. In addition, as you see (we are seeing this together), many Western powers have started proclaiming the opposition leader as ostensibly the lawful head of state. If this is being done, if these countries and their leaders are publicly saying this, what domestic dialogue can we talk about? The conditions and the rules of the game that prevent the opposition leader from conducting a domestic dialogue have been created. In addition, now external circumstances are being created to make this dialogue altogether impossible.

Russia has potential and experience. Look at the Syrian crisis – communication with different representatives from the political field (let’s call it that). There are many such examples but let’s talk about Syria only. We had wonderful relations with representatives of the authorities and we maintained a very important dialogue – one of the most valuable contributions to the launch of the political process involving both the domestic Syrian opposition and the opposition abroad. Isn’t this a graphic example of Russia’s experience and ability to work on developing an internal dialogue? Meanwhile, Syria is a very complicated entity because of the variety of its political forces, as well as religious and ethnic views. Even holding  exclusively political views that are different or similar in nature, political associations inside Syria and beyond sometimes occupied diametrically opposite positions. But they were eventually united. An unprecedented example of our potential in this area was the holding of a forum of different Syrian political forces in Sochi. Everyone told us it was impossible, that it would go nowhere. Why not? Everything was done, everything worked out. Here’s an example of potential for you. The point is, just like with Syria, if dialogue is prohibited and the political forces in Venezuela are motivated to separate rather than seek a domestic way out, a dialogue will certainly become impossible. But again, we have been through this in Syria.

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Question: The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed certain doubts as to the legitimacy of the Prespan agreement. Do you still have these doubts? Will you recognise North Macedonia? Will this issue be discussed at the UN Security Council?

Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly expressed its opinion on the Prespan agreement and published its comments on its website. They are all current. As you know, Russia recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name. Moscow has always believed and continues to believe that the disputed issue on the name of this country should be settled in a way that is acceptable both for Skopje and Athens.

We have to state, with regret, once again that serious violations of domestic law by one of the sides and of international legal standards were made under strong outside pressure in the process of approving the agreement.

We believe no one should have any doubts that the Western countries were motivated by the geopolitical interests of involving Skopje in NATO as soon as possible rather than by a striving to facilitate the settlement of what is essentially a bilateral dispute.

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Question: Are there any developments concerning the detention of Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik in Greece?

Maria Zakharova: We are monitoring the situation with Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik, who was arrested in Greece in July 2017 on a warrant of the US Justice Department. Since late November 2018, Vinnik has been on a hunger strike, which is obviously cause for serious concern.

Russian diplomatic representatives in Greece are insisting that the detained Russian citizen’s personal safety and his legal rights are ensured. In our contacts with the Greek side at every level we always point out that we expect the Greek authorities to extradite the citizen to his country of nationality, which is Russia.

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Question: The UN Security Council voted to renew the mandate of the Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. There is an attempt to revive the negotiations. Will the Foreign Ministry support this attempt?

Maria Zakharova: Let me check and get back to you.

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Question: This February, apart from the meeting between the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers, there also will be a meeting between these two countries’ special representatives. Do you have the meetings’ dates and locations yet?

Maria Zakharova: This question is currently under consideration, too.

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Question: How are the Russian sailors released in Nigeria doing?

Maria Zakharova: A message concerning them was posted to the Foreign Ministry’s official website. We congratulate them on their successful return to their homeland. I do not have any additional information on the topic.

I cannot but recall that back in early January, a week after these dramatic events took place, numerous so-called specialists gave us recommendations that included the options of bombing, sending troops and taking military action. Thank you all very much for the advice. We address similar situations based on our own experience and assessment of the situation on the ground, the conditions and circumstances. I would like to assure you that each and every situation like this is under the Foreign Ministry leadership’s direct supervision.

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Question: This week, there have been reports of empty Russian planes flying to Venezuela. Please comment.

Maria Zakharova: I already did while answering questions received in the normal course of business. I cannot comment on flights carried out with any other than official purposes. The only thing to say is that this has nothing to do with the evacuation of Russian diplomats, their families, Russian citizens or employees of foreign institutions or companies; I can say that for sure. But when it comes to flights, please address these questions to those who charter and direct these planes, pay for them, and so forth.

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Question: Tomorrow we will mark the 10th anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill. Is religion and foreign policy linked in the Russian Federation?

Maria Zakharova: This will take five hours if I keep it brief. This is a historical question. Politics and the state in its executive capacity should not interfere in the affairs of the Church, unless there is an appropriate format for it such as international or interaction platforms. The state has no right to shape or moderate the affairs of the Church. If we talk globally about foreign policy and church affairs, this is a big subject. Maybe later you can somehow detail your question – what exactly do you want to hear?

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Question: We have seen a publication by the UNIAN information agency that Russia is starving and hungering for delicious cheese.

Maria Zakharova: It was a publication by an UNIAN correspondent in another media outlet. Whether he expressed his own personal opinion or the opinion of UNIAN – you need to check with him. Indeed, he said that we have nothing to eat in Moscow and in Russia. He did say this, but I see you are not starving.

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Question: You spoke about the growing tension in Idlib. Turkey, one of the three guarantor countries in the Astana process, took on the responsibility for the stability of that province and was expected to establish stability back in October. But, as you noted, tension there has become even more threatening. Is a military operation being prepared that had been planned prior to the agreement on the de-escalation zone? Will Russia support such an operation launched by the Syrian Government?

Having failed to ensure stability in Idlib, Turkey is preparing for another operation to create a de-escalation zone in northern Syria. Will Russia support this initiative?

Today a delegation of the Turkish Ministry of Defence is arriving in Moscow. Will these issues be discussed during the talks?

Maria Zakharova: The entire series of your questions should be addressed to our military specialists. Political evaluations were made after President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The heads of state discussed this issue in detail. The Russian side has publicly presented its views. They are also reflected in the numerous comments by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. I have nothing to add here.

As for aspects of military operations, they are the competence of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

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Question: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said Europe benefits from the INF Treaty. She expressed the hope that there is still a way to preserve it and fully abide by it. Considering the EU’s position, will the attempts to preserve the treaty have a chance to succeed?

Maria Zakharova: A wonderful statement but the problem is that nobody listens to Europe in the US. We are doing all we can to emphasise the need to preserve the treaty. Recall Russia’s initiatives in the UN General Assembly and look at whether Brussels supported them. This will answer your question on what practical steps the EU is taking to preserve the INF Treaty. One of the ways of doing this is to work actively in the UN General Assembly.

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Question: Last Sunday, January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed. During his official visit to Israel several days earlier, Ukraine's President Poroshenko visited Yad Vashem, the National Memorial of the Holocaust and Heroism. At the same time, a bas-relief to Semyon Petlyura, the head of Ukrainian nationalists during the Civil War and the initiator of the barbarous Jewish pogroms, was unveiled in Kiev. What could you say about this?

Maria Zakharova: I think this is a medical diagnosis. Assessing this politically, I can say that this is a very strange position based on the desire to please everyone at once. Nobody has ever succeeded in doing this and it has always led to very sad consequences. After all, people who do not simply engage in political activities, but run a country and have at least declared their intention to settle a very difficult crisis that is rooted in history, should take a principled position on matters of principle.

World War II – the Great Patriotic War – is a matter of principle and therefore, compromise assessments are unacceptable in this respect. It is necessary to proceed from positions of principle and the search for ways of the state existence on the basis of a unifying agenda. There is a difference between “compromise” and “unifying.”

In Ukraine everything went exactly opposite: there were no principled assessments but rather compromise-based manoeuvres, while positions of principle were not maintained. This has never ended well.

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Question: What could you say about reports that Russian hackers gained access to data of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in US affairs and published this data to discredit his inquiry?

Maria Zakharova: This sounds a bit absurd. I think that since this is the investigation by the Special Counsel, a high-ranking US official, which captivates public attention not only in the US but in the rest of the world, it would be appropriate to establish who these hackers are and their names, as well as the dates and materials instead of leaking again some anonymised information with an obvious political agenda. I think it is time to put to rest the Russian hackers meme and cite specific names, passwords and secret addresses.

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Question: A report by US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was published on January 29. We noted an interesting phrase that sounds like an announcement of the escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. It was also suggested that Russia will step up its military, political and other pressure during the presidential elections in Ukraine. Could this be an information campaign for a future provocation?

Maria Zakharova: I haven’t seen any materials from this report. Regardless of whether this report was published or not, we can affirm that the presidential election campaign in Ukraine has started. Indicatively, it started not with some politicians declaring their candidacies but with provocations, including those at the geographical points you mentioned. Provocations are designed to influence a certain segment of the population with Russophobic motives. We also noted that these activities enjoyed broad support and were largely organised (at least the prerequisites) abroad.

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Question: At what stage is the dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds?

Maria Zakharova: At all stages of the events in Syria we spoke about the need to involve representatives of Kurdish groups in all settlement processes. We conducted this work not only with Damascus but also with other world powers.

 

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