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22 February 201917:07

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 22, 2019

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the People’s Republic of China
  4. Meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, India and China
  5. Update on Syria
  6. Update on Afghanistan
  7. Update on Venezuela
  8. Our assessment of US President Donald Trump's remarks on Venezuela and US views on Latin America
  9. The New Cuban Constitution and the Inter-American Democratic Charter conference at the headquarters of the Organisation of American States
  10. Developments in Haiti
  11. Implementation of the Minsk Agreements
  12. Persecution of the clergy and the congregation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
  13. Ukraine outlaws more Russian books
  14. The Estonian Parliament denies entry to Federation Council Member Alexey Pushkov and three other Russian representatives
  15. New media plants regarding Salisbury and Amesbury incidents
  16. Attempts of US NGOs to intimidate Russian businesses interacting with Iran
  17. Hiroshima and Nagasaki mayors’ statement on the INF Treaty
  18. Statementsby Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Albania Edi Rama on the Real Story show on Albanian television channel Vizion Plus
  19. Russian Book Days in Paris
  20. The opening of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society’s office in the United Kingdom
  21. Situation in Libya
  22. Russian Gold in Japan

Answers to media questions:

  1. Withdrawal of US troops from Syria
  2. Possible talks between representatives of Russia, the United States and Jordan on Rukban refugee camp
  3. Meeting between leaders of the United States and North Korea
  4. Refusal of the UK, France and Germany to retain their military personnel in Syria after withdrawal of US troops
  5. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s statement
  6. US President Donald Trump’s statement on transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia
  7. Russia-UK relations
  8. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic’s proposal on Kosovo demarcation  
  9. Lazarev Club meeting on March 5-6 in Moscow
  10. Russian sailors arrested in Cape Verde
  11. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev’s executive order to remove Russian signage from Kazakhstani tenge banknotes
  12. Peace treaty between Russia and Japan

 

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

 

On February 24-25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to take part in the conference entitled “International Cooperation in a Troubled World” (Ho Chi Minh). This event is organised by the Valdai International Discussion Club and the Diplomatic Academy of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry as part of a cross-year programme: the Year of Russia in Vietnam and the Year of Vietnam in Russia.

The participants will discuss the prospects of the Asia-Pacific Region with emphasis on integration and forming a system of security and cooperation аs well as further promoting the comprehensive strategic partnership between Russia and Vietnam.

Mr Lavrov and top officials of Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry may have a brief meeting on the sidelines of the conference.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC

 

On February 25-26, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and hold talks with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

During the meeting, the officials will exchange views on the current status and prospects of Russia-Hong Kong trade, economic and financial cooperation, as well as humanitarian cooperation. They will also discuss ways of further improving the bilateral contractual foundation

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the People’s Republic of China

 

On February 26, Mr Lavrov will hold talks with Member of the State Council and Foreign Minister of the PRC Wang Yi in Wuzhen, Zhejiang on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting in the Russia-India-China (RIC) format.

During the meeting the participants will focus on main political events in bilateral relations this year, primarily President Vladimir Putin’s participation in the One Belt, One Road second high-level forum on international cooperation in Beijing this April and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia this coming June. The foreign ministers will exchange views on the current status and prospects of Russia-China strategic cooperation.

The ministers will discuss ways of further deepening bilateral cooperation and coordination in world affairs with an emphasis on cooperation in the RIC format in view of the results of the second meeting of the leaders of the three states on November 30, 2018 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. In addition, they will review international issues, including arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, developments around Venezuela, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the settlement process in Syria, the state of affairs in Afghanistan, and the problem of preserving the multilateral agreements on the Iranian nuclear programme.

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Meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, India and China

 

The 16th meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) will be held in Wuzhen (Zhejiang Province, China) on February 27 under China’s chairmanship.

The foreign ministers plan to exchange views on the most pressing international and regional matters, in particular, resolving the situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Syria, Libya and Yemen, the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, and to discuss fighting terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking, as well as ensuring international information security.

Practical RIC cooperation with respect to the institutional and functional strengthening of this format will be prioritised in the discussion.

The agreed-upon approaches of the parties will be included in the final joint communiqué.

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Update on Syria

 

Isolated hotbeds of tension remain in the province of Idlib and east of the Euphrates River against the background of continued stabilisation in Syria.

In the de-escalation zone, Idlib continues to show an increase in the number of ceasefire violations. Residential neighbourhoods in Aleppo and other towns come under shelling on a daily basis. The Syrian armed forces have to respond to these provocations.

On February 6-14, humanitarian aid from the UN and the Syrian Red Crescent Society was delivered to Rukban refugee camp located in the area outside the town of Al-Tanf, which is illegally occupied by the United States, and distributed among its residents. Upon Russia’s insistence, the UN Secretariat is preparing a detailed report on the delivery. However, even now it cannot be ruled out that some of the humanitarian supplies ended up in the hands of local illegal formations. Interestingly, according to available information, the majority of the camp residents seen by the humanitarian personnel did not look emaciated. No one among them had typical symptoms of diseases caused by extended exposure to desert conditions without means of subsistence (despite the gloomy picture provided to us at the stage of coordinating the convoy). Most importantly, most of the camp residents, as follows from preliminary estimates based on a survey, want to leave it.

That is why we consider it a top priority to start moving the people from the camp without delay. This is what Russia’s initiative says, according to which, two humanitarian corridors were opened on February 19 to provide a way out for the civilians in that camp. We are deeply concerned that the US troops are blocking the departure of IDPs from the camp along these corridors in violation of the well-established humanitarian principles of the UN.

Once again, we would like to draw everyone’s attention to the situation in another refugee camp, Al-Hawl, located in northeastern al-Hasakah Governorate. Dozens of people there have already succumbed to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and shortages of food and medicine. A case of leprosy in the camp was reported.

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Update on Afghanistan

 

The military-political situation in Afghanistan remains tense. We noted increased activity of the armed opposition, including the Taliban and other extremist groups, as the number of areas controlled by the Afghan authorities continues to shrink. A forecast by US intelligence agencies has it that the stalemate on the “battlefield” will remain unchanged. Also, the US military acknowledged the serious nature of the threat posed by ISIS in Afghanistan. We have been talking about this for more than one year now, but our Western partners began to publicly admit it only recently.

In this regard, the need for a collective search for political and diplomatic solutions to the conflict in Afghanistan that has lasted for many years now is becoming even clearer.

We firmly believe that the positive results of the intra-Afghanistan dialogue in Moscow on February 5-6 with the participation of a broad range of political forces of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement, as well as the talks held by US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad with the Taliban delegation are opening the door to achieving the common goal of launching an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan.

In this context, we consider it important to coordinate the efforts of major international and regional partners. A meeting between Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov and Zalmay Khalilzad is scheduled to be held in Ankara today, February 22. We are convinced that the continued trend towards establishing interaction between our countries in Afghanistan can give an additional impetus to international efforts designed to resolve the conflict in that country.

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Update on Venezuela

 

Developments in Venezuela have reached a critical point. A dangerous large-scale provocation is scheduled for February 23: the crossing of the border by the so-called “humanitarian convoy” that is being incited and led by Washington. It is fraught with a clash of the supporters and opponents of the current government and provides a convenient pretext for removing the current legitimate President from power by force.

Washington is preparing this provocation in line with the rules of military science. All information is available and you can find it online. It registers the transfer of US special forces and equipment closer to Venezuela.

There is information to the effect that companies from the US and its NATO allies are considering the purchase of a large consignment of weapons and ammunition for their subsequent transfer to the Venezuelan opposition forces. These include models and analogues of large-calibre machineguns, under-barrel and automatic grenade launchers, mobile air defence systems, and ammunition for small arms and artillery weapons of different designation. This is called preparations for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Under the plan, the cargo is to be delivered via the territory of a neighbouring country in several consignments in early March by transport aircraft of an international freight company.

Regrettably but not surprisingly, Ukraine is also going to take part in this unseemly operation. As far as we know, the Antonov state enterprise will be involved in it.

Special attention is paid to propaganda. No doubt, it is necessary to explain everything to the region’s residents but this is, of course, not a priority. It is also important to report to US voters on what is going on. Truly global forces are involved in these efforts. The US administration is deliberately escalating tensions everywhere. The world is being persistently told to believe that there is no way back. Once again, the same phrase is being used: “He must go.” As we see it, Washington is ready to go the whole way in its plans.

US President Donald Trump’s recent direct appeal to the Venezuelan military to ignore the orders of the legitimate head of state is extremely cynical. Imagine if someone appeals directly to the US Armed Forces not to obey their commander-in-chief? And this is against the background of quite a few US politicians and lawyers considering diplomatic contacts to be interference in the internal affairs of their country.

Let me repeat once again that the President of one country appeals to the Armed Forces of another independent state with a demand not to obey the legitimate leadership of that sovereign country. I think that after this the US, at least its politicians who approve of all this, either in public or tacitly, have no right whatsoever to speak about the legitimacy or the lack of legitimacy of anything in this life. The military of a foreign country have been blackmailed and, against any normal logic, threatened with the loss of everything if they do not break their oath.

On February 18, we explained in detail Russia’s attitude to such dangerous plans. The responses we are getting show that many have heard us and share our views. Some people are strong enough to say this out loud whereas others understand this but cannot openly express their views by virtue of many circumstances.

In our assessment of these plans, we speak frankly and do not conceal our concern. Naturally, this is all about Venezuela but there is more to it. This is not about the difference in assessments of the developments in the Bolivarian Republic but about responsibility for a choice between the preservation and violation of peace.

If the plans of the organisers of this provocation materialise, this would mean the rise of US aggressive foreign policy to a new level – the road of military venture. But this is downward path that will trigger a sharp escalation of tensions and confrontation in the world. What will come next?

We can see that even those who initially supported Washington’s line towards the formation of dual power in Venezuela understand the danger of this turn of events and the threat of direct involvement in them. Having recognised the self-appointed, so-called interim president as an option without any alternative, they have deprived themselves of the opportunity for a diplomatic manoeuvre. Our contacts point to the beginning of the understanding that the world as a whole, and primarily Latin America have much to lose as a result of following in the wake of this blunt and brazen policy of the United States.

This is reflected in the increasing number of ideas and international initiatives aimed at supporting what seemed immutable before: the UN Charter and its principles of international law, including respect for sovereignty, non-use or threat of force, and non-interference in internal affairs. The activities of a representative group of like-minded people from all continents in defence of peace, goals and principles of the UN Charter in the UN are of major importance in this respect.

As for those who are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela we could advise them to follow the example of the countries that are cooperating in implementing humanitarian programmes with the relevant UN bodies and agencies and the country’s government. A large consignment of medications and medical equipment has been delivered recently to Caracas Airport via WHO with Russia’s assistance.

Returning to the date of February 23, I would like to emphasise once again that we believe in the wisdom of the Venezuelan people. No matter how serious a split in society may be, it has only one country. And its future can only be built together. I would like to stress that Russia has been consistent in this position.

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Our assessment of US President Donald Trump's remarks on Venezuela and US views on Latin America

 

On February 18, in Miami US President Donald Trump made a speech dedicated to Venezuela and US views on Latin America in general.

His speech was full of ideologically charged clichés. He talked about “the twilight hour of socialism,” and not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and Cuba as well, and also about an impending, in his opinion, formation of a uniform political landscape in Latin America.

One got the impression that it wasn’t US President Donald Trump speaking but “President of the Western Hemisphere” James Monroe, and we are not in 2019 but in 1823.

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” These are the words of US President Donald Trump, but he said this in his inaugural address. A legitimate question: when was he saying what he really thought and what does Washington believe now?

I would not like to comment on a speech that was full of disregard for the right of other nations to shape their destiny independently, without interference, sanctions and outside pressure, in conformity with the universally accepted norms of international law enshrined in the UN Charter. Such a gross disrespect for other nations’ rights certainly has nothing to do with peace, to paraphrase the great Mexican politician Benito Juárez.

And the point is not that US President Trump’s foreign policy narrative was meant primarily for the domestic audience in Florida representing those born to the south of the Rio Grande, whose votes are critical in all elections that are important for the White House. Regrettably, Washington’s Latin American agenda is also drawn up by an ultraconservative lobby in Miami.

We can see how arrogantly they attempt to devalue all the political achievements of Latin American and Caribbean countries in establishing a new style of interstate communication in the Western hemisphere.

Indeed, this region was the first nuclear-free area in the world and was just recently declared a Zone of Peace, where all its countries seek a harmonious coexistence combined with respect for the social and political systems chosen by them. The unique concept “unity in diversity” was formulated in Latin America and the Caribbean. How far it is from Washington’s concept of political uniformity! Just think, political uniformity or unity and diversity. There is a fundamental difference.

Now such unity is supposed to be replaced by what seemed to become a thing of the past: an unquestioning conformity with those who see themselves as the rulers of the region.

I hope that today’s politicians who are shaping the region’s destiny know that the façade of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bogota displays a quotation from another great Latin American, Simón Bolívar: “Each nation has the right to choose its government at its own discretion and the others must respect this choice.”

How relevant it is today.

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The New Cuban Constitution and the Inter-American Democratic Charter conference at the headquarters of the Organisation of American States

 

We have noted the holding of an expert conference on the new draft Constitution of Cuba, which took place on February 12 at the Organisation of American States. On February 24, Cuba will hold a nationwide referendum on the draft Constitution.

Normally, such an event would not deserve any comment, since we are talking about a regular, almost routine “meeting” of anti-Cuban-minded experts, held at the organisation that suspended Cuba’s membership in 1962. In 2009, this decision was reversed, but Havana is not overeager to return to the OAS fold.

If, following the conference, the OAS Secretary General had not spoken about the “dictatorship” in Cuba, “the non-democratic nature of the constitutional process” in the Republic and had not called the draft Cuban Constitution “an ideological pamphlet”…

If this discussion had not taken place in parallel with the dramatic developments in Venezuela…

If US President Donald Trump had not openly declared on February 18 in Miami his wish to see a different political system in Cuba...

The whole set of factors testifies to the trends taking hold in the region. We see that a new model of colour revolutions is being tested in the Western Hemisphere. The cornerstone of this model is the external recognition, based on politically biased judgements, of some aspects of purely internal political processes contrary to the generally accepted norms of international law enshrined in the UN Charter, in particular, the principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.

In this particular case, the OAS, pandering to Washington’s ideological beliefs, has unreasonably taken on additional functions of assessing legal and legislative processes that are exclusively the internal political competence of the Cuban state, thereby trying to discredit the Cubans, who were directly involved in drafting their Constitution, in the eyes of the international community and Cubans themselves.

We firmly believe that the holding of a referendum in Cuba and the adoption of the Basic Law are an inalienable sovereign right of the country and its people. The use of any pressure on the Cuban Government and Cuban citizens is absolutely unacceptable.

We hope that Latin America and the Caribbean will  properly assess the danger of this precedent.

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Developments in Haiti

 

Recently the media have been paying special attention to the situation in the Republic of Haiti, where an outbreak of social tensions has been accompanied by civilian riots resulting from people’s displeasure with the government policy and an aggravation of the social and economic situation in the country. According to available information, the current situation in Haiti is gradually improving and returning back to normal.

According to the Russian Embassy in Venezuela, which concurrently supervises Russia’s relations with Haiti, no Russian citizens were harmed during the above-mentioned manifestations, and the earlier reports about the detention of a Russian citizen in Port-au-Prince have received no confirmation.

We noted Washington’s call to settle the conflict by way of an inclusive dialogue between all political forces. As you can see, in respect of Haiti this is a good idea, which for some reason has a chance for success in Washington’s opinion, while in relation to other countries such recommendations are not made.

A reasonable question comes up in this connection: while calling on Haitian citizens not to go beyond peaceful protests and the Haitian government to take steps aimed at reaching a national consensus, why then do Americans deny this opportunity to the lawful Venezuelan authorities and the opposition? Most likely double standards and a desire to steamroll their own decision at all costs are at play here. In this situation, they are not bothered with standards. Instead it is necessary for them to prove that they will go through with their declared policy.           

In addition, I would like to note that all necessary recommendations from the Foreign Ministry to Russian citizens currently staying in the Republic of Haiti are posted on the Crisis Management Centre information portal.

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Implementation of the Minsk Agreements

 

February appears to be a somewhat fateful month in the history of present-day Ukraine. On February 21 and 22 of 2014, the country experienced a coup, which resulted in radicals and nationalist-minded forces taking over the government in Kiev, a development that was counter to agreements that had been guaranteed by the international community, represented by some European countries. Almost a year later, on February 12, 2015, the Contact Group agreed and signed a “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” which was endorsed by the Normandy Four leaders, UNSC Resolution 2202, and was supported by the June 6, 2018 statement of the Security Council President.

This document has global significance in the sense that the entire world, and not simply the parties involved in the settlement of the situation in Ukraine, says there is no alternative to it.

The document is acknowledged by all the parties in the conflict as the only way to settle the conflict in Donbass. It calls on Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk to make reciprocal steps in politics and security, as well as in humanitarian and socioeconomic areas.

On the anniversary of the signing the Minsk Agreements, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker, a person who has absolutely nothing to do with the document’s drafting or its implementation and who is not a member of any group, published in his Twitter account a table of sorts to show how Russia has failed to meet its obligations. Stupidity alone is bad but stupidity coupled with initiative is even worse. This, I believe, is the case here. Because if Kurt Volker had placed the thing he was talking about in front of himself, he would have understood that it actually says nothing about Russia. It speaks of the obligations of the parties, Kiev on one side and Donetsk and Lugansk on the other. Apparently, this has been kept hidden from the US Representative. I think, we shall fill in the gaps for him.

There were very many questions from the media representatives regarding Washington’s announcement that it will launch an Internet resource that will track Russia’s non-compliance with its obligations and its violations. We understand the reason why this is being launched exactly now. We just saw a tour of presidential hopefuls across the US, and some elements of their election programmes. Please just give us a reason. We have plenty to say in response. Today we will also provide you with tables and other materials.

Russia does not bear any obligations under the Minsk Agreements. Attempts to juggle with the facts or to shift the blame on Russia for the lack of progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements do nothing but trigger off new shady undertakings on behalf of the Ukrainian leadership, making the prospect of an actual settlement even more distant, and dooming Donbass residents to new suffering.

1. Immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine and its strict implementation starting from 00.00 AM (Kiev time) on the 15th of February, 2015.

While active combat activity has ceased, the ceasefire regime is not being complied with. The Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) reported over 29,000 ceasefire violations between January and February 10, 2019, including about 5,000 explosions. The Ukrainian Armed Forces “have taken the lead” in terms of the number of shelling incidents, whenever the side that opened fire can be determined according to SMM reports with 784 cases for the Ukrainian Armed Forces against 421 cases for militia fighters.

The Ukrainian security forces are carrying out a creeping offensive in the grey zone along the line of contact and are taking over settlements (in late December Yury Biryukov, Adviser to the President of Ukraine, reported that the Ukrainian Armed Forces occupied almost all of the grey zone). Since 2015, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have entered Shirokino, Vinogradnoye, Pavlopol, Pishchevik, Gnutovo, Travnevoye and Gladosovo. In 2018, they entered Novoluganskoye, Avdeyevskaya industrial zone, Zolotoye-4, Yuzhnoye and Rassadki. The Ukrainian side remains in breach of its ceasefire recommitments, as agreed within the Contact Group. There were a total of 14 ceasefire announcements, including the current New Year and Christmas ceasefire that was declared on December 29, 2018. Kiev balks at agreeing on additional de-escalation measures, including a ban on sabotage activity.

2. Withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides on equal distances in order to create a security zone at least 50 km wide from each other for the artillery systems with caliber greater than 100mm and more, a security zone of 70 km wide for MLRS and 140 km wide for MLRS “Tornado-C”, “Uragan”, “Smerch” and Tactical missile systems “Tochka” (“Tochka U”):

- for the Ukrainian troops: from the de facto line of contact;

- for the armed formations from certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine from the line of contact according to the Minsk memorandum of September 19, 2014.

The withdrawal of the heavy weapons as specified above is to start on day 2 of the ceasefire at the latest and to be completed within 14 days.

The process shall be facilitated by the OSCE and supported by the Trilateral Contact Group.

Donetsk and Lugansk announced that they completed the withdrawal of heavy weapons ahead of schedule, and Kiev did so with a certain delay. However, they are often reported as missing from their storage facilities (in 2018, the Ukrainian Armed Forces accounted for a larger share of these incidents). It is Kiev’s fault that the Framework Agreement on the Disengagement of Forces and Weapons of September 21, 2016 was de facto derailed (the Normandy Four leaders unanimously supported this arrangement at the Berlin Summit on October 19, 2016). Having boycotted the obligation to disengage forces in Stanitsa Luganskaya, the Ukrainian Armed Forces returned and strengthened their positions in Petrovskoye and Zolotoye, where the disengagement had been successfully completed.

 

3. Ensure effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime and the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE from day 1 of the withdrawal, using all technical equipment necessary, including satellites, UAVs, radar equipment, etc.

SMM monitors the developments in Donbass (with more than 600 monitors from the Mission on the ground). They face obstacles in their operations on both sides of the contact line. Between January and February 10, 2019, the Ukrainian Armed Forces accounted for more incidents when SMM UAVs were prevented from operating with 10 cases against five for militia fighters, including seven counts of jamming SMM long-range UAVs on territories controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and three for militia fighters. The Ukrainian Armed Forces hinder the monitoring efforts near railway stations in Donbass that are used to deliver heavy weapons (Konstantinovka, Khlebodarovka). Entire districts within the territory controlled by Kiev where closed off to the SMM under the pretext of “mine contamination.” Since the beginning of 2019, the SMM visited checkpoints on the Russian border 31 times.

 

 

4. Launch a dialogue on day 1 of the withdrawal on modalities of local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” as well as on the future regime of these areas based on this Law.

Adopt promptly, by no later than 30 days after the date of signing of the document a resolution of the Parliament of Ukraine specifying the area enjoying the special regime, under the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions,” based on the line of the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, 2014.

Kiev avoids direct dialogue on political matters with Donetsk and Lugansk within the Contact Group and refuses to compromise on election modalities in Donbass, insisting on favourable terms that would de facto grant Kiev control over political processes and their outcome in Donbass. Using various pretexts, Kiev and the West regularly raise the question of deploying international peacekeepers or police forces in certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions with the right to organise and administer local elections.

 

5. Ensure pardon and amnesty by enacting the law prohibiting the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that took place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada adopted on September 16, 2014 the law “On preventing persecution and punishment of participants of events on the territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions,” but it has yet to come into force. Kiev refuses to grant amnesty to Donbass militia fighters as was the case for Maidan “revolutionaries.”

6. Ensure release and exchange of all hostages and unlawfully detained persons, based on the principle “all for all.” This process is to be finished on day 5 after the withdrawal at the latest.

The exchange has yet to be completed. The last exchange that was also the biggest in scale took place on December 27, 2017 (231 people returned to Donetsk and Lugansk, and 73 people to Kiev). There were more people on the exchange list, but Kiev struck out more than 70 names at the last moment, including 23 Russian nationals (all these names were agreed directly with Petr Poroshenko), one of whom died from being tortured in December 2018 in a prison camp near Lvov. Ukrainian representatives are refusing to agree within the Contact Group on an exchange based on the principle “all identified persons for all identified persons.”

7. Ensure safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need, on the basis of an international mechanism.

 

This is prevented by the all-round transport, economic, food and social blockade of Donbass by Kiev. Russia delivers humanitarian assistance to the region to prevent a humanitarian disaster (humanitarian convoys of the Emergencies Ministry: 84 humanitarian convoys carrying a total of 78,000 tonnes were sent as of February 2019). Ukrainian border control and customs officers take part in inspecting these convoys, as confirmed by the OSCE monitors at the Russian checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, who were invited there by Russia as a goodwill gesture. The SMM monitors the movements of convoys and the distribution of humanitarian assistance in Donbass.

ICRC also delivers humanitarian cargo to the region from Ukrainian territory controlled by Kiev (through the Novotroitskoye checkpoint).

8. Definition of modalities of full resumption of socio-economic ties, including social transfers, such as pensions and other payments (incomes and revenues, timely payments of all utility bills, reinstating taxation within the legal framework of Ukraine). To this end, Ukraine shall reinstate control of the segment of its banking system in the conflict affected areas and possibly an international mechanism to facilitate such transfers shall be established.

 

On March 1, 2017, the Ukrainian authorities tightened the socioeconomic blockade of Donbass that was de facto installed back in 2014, and enshrined it into law. On March 15, 2017, Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council imposed a transport blockade against Donbass. The region’s banking system is still not functioning. An international mechanism to facilitate such transfers was not created. The idea proposed by France and Germany to launch mobile banking services along the line of contact did not go any further.

Ukraine refuses to transfer pensions and social benefits to people living in Donbass. People can receive these payments only on territories controlled by Kiev subject to registering as internally-displaced persons (IDPs). Donbass residents are forced to wait in huge queues at the line of contact in order to visit branches of the Ukrainian Pension Fund. Since December 21, 2018, 13 senior citizens died while queuing in such lines.

9. Reinstatement of full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area, starting on day 1 after the local elections and ending after the comprehensive political settlement (local elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions on the basis of the Law of Ukraine and constitutional reform) to be finalised by the end of 2015, provided that the paragraph has been implemented in consultation with and upon agreement by representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.

Ukraine evades specific steps based on direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk to achieve a comprehensive political settlement, thus undermining prospects for restoring full control over the border.

10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under the monitoring of the OSCE. Disarmament of all illegal groups.

Ukraine has not ensured the withdrawal of foreign armed mercenaries and military equipment, and has not carried out the disarmament of the so-called nationalist battalions that were de facto legalised and incorporated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces and other security structures. In February 2019, a former battalion of this kind, now known as regiment Azov within Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, returned to the line of contact. Ukrainian Armed Forces use foreign military equipment it has purchased (in January-February 2019, SMM reported the presence of British armoured personnel carriers Saxon). NATO experts provide Ukrainian Armed Forces military training at centres in western, southern and central Ukraine.

11. Carrying out constitutional reform in Ukraine with a new Constitution entering into force by the end of 2015, providing for decentralisation as a key element (including a reference to the specificities of certain areas in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, agreed with the representatives of these areas), as well as adopting permanent legislation on the special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in line with the measures as set out in the footnote until the end of 2015.

 

The special status of local self-government in Donbass (the special status of Donbass) has not been permanently implemented in legislation. Although a law to this effect was adopted in September 2014, it has a defined term that expires on December 31, 2019. Moreover, the law has not come into force and is not applied on a permanent basis.

Kiev has not honoured the agreement reached by the Normandy Four leaders at the summits in Paris on October 2, 2015 and in Berlin on October 19, 2016 on enacting the law on the special status for Donbass following the “Steinmeier formula” (temporarily on the day of local elections, and permanently after the publication of the final report by OSCE/ODIHR.

On February 24, 2018, Ukraine enacted the law on so-called reintegration of Donbass, recasting a security operation as a military operation, and all but making a political settlement impossible.

On January 22, 2019, Petr Poroshenko said that “there will be no autonomies or special statuses” in Ukraine.

Statutory instruments were adopted and enacted to limit the right to self-determination in terms of language (legal restrictions regarding the use of the Russian language, including the law On Education). The Verkhovna Rada is reviewing laws creating additional language-related restrictions (“Providing for the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language,” etc).

12. Based on the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions”, questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group. Elections will be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by OSCE/ODIHR.

Kiev avoids direct dialogue with Donbass representatives on the modalities for holding local elections, fails to take into consideration proposals made by Donetsk and Lugansk to this effect that were transferred to Ukraine within the relevant subgroup of the Contact Group.

13. Intensify the work of the Trilateral Contact Group including through the establishment of working groups on the implementation of relevant aspects of the Minsk agreements. They will reflect the composition of the Trilateral Contact Group.

Four subgroups have been created and are working (security, political, economic and humanitarian matters). At the same time, Ukraine is clearly seeking to marginalise mechanisms offered by the Contact Group and to undermine the work of its subgroups.

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Persecution of the clergy and the congregation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

 

The assault on the canonical Orthodox Christian Church continues in Ukraine. News feeds contain almost daily accounts of the seizure of church buildings belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Over thirty such cases have been registered in 11 out of 24 regions of the country since the beginning of the year. Various nationalist and ultra-right organisations take an active part in these acts of violence. The militants, in the presence of the local administration and police, break open parish buildings, change locks on the doors and gates and throw out the priests and parishioners, depriving them of the right to conduct services and prayers. Many people are not allowed to enter their parish churches. As a result, people have to conduct services outdoors in any weather. This can only be described as humiliation. However, we cannot expect a different attitude to its citizens from the Kiev regime which showers praises on inhuman acts perpetrated by criminals like Stepan Bandera or Roman Shukhevich.

Apparently, the Kiev authorities decided to move beyond this. Recently, priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been frequently called to the Security Service of Ukraine for “persuasive talks” when pressure is put on them to “willingly” join the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was recently established by order of Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko with support from the US and the Patriarch of Constantinople.

All attempts made by clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to tell the world the truth about persecution of the canonical church trigger off a violent response from the authorities. Here is one example. On February 13, a Ukrainian citizen who is a vicar of the Metropolitan See of Kiev and Father Superior of the Monastery of the Tithes, Bishop Gedeon Makarovsky (Haron) was detained at Kiev Airport after his return from the US and later actually deported from the country. His “crime against his motherland” was taking the liberty to write a letter to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and to have several meetings at the US Capitol to discuss the religious situation in Ukraine. So this is a symptom of democracy. In the meantime, as you understand, all other public figures, received at the US Capitol and the Department of State, are Ukrainian patriots.

We would like to hope that another priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Bishop Viktor Baryshevsky (Kotsaba), head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Representation to European International Organisations, will not get into trouble for posting an open address to officials from the UN, OSCE, EU and foreign countries on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church information portal on February 18, due to facts of mass violations of human rights in Ukraine and a real danger of escalating religious conflicts. This document emphasises that “persecutions of Christians never remained unpunished for the rulers who committed them, as we know that God cannot be abused.” I understand that this is a clergyman’s view and I repeat that he addressed devout people. In my opinion, these are very true and wise words. Those for whom these words are meant should stop to think about them.

Due to all these events, I have to read a lot on the subject. In one of the newspapers I saw an indirect quotation, already translated into Russian, of Metropolitan Christopher of Karpasia, who commenting on the situation in Ukraine said that
“this can result in religious heresy which would take deep root in the life of the church.”

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Ukraine outlaws more Russian books

 

Here comes another piece of shocking news. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new to it. This story fully fits into the logic of Russophobia which now prevails at all levels of the Ukrainian government. We are talking about Ukraine’s systematic ban on and the withdrawal from shops of books written by Russian authors. What is surprising is not the titles that were included on the fresh list, but why they were ordered to be immediately taken away from the shops.

I’ll give you some examples, such as a book by business consultant Sergey Bekhterev, How to Work During Business Hours: the Rules for Overcoming Office Chaos, or a book by Igor Namakonov, CrossFit Training for the Brain: How to Prep Yourself for Dealing with Unconventional Challenges. It appears that all things related to intellectual abilities are subject in the first place to being blocked out, because they will make their readers think analytically. Clearly, there’s no need for this. They accounted for this decision by claiming that, allegedly, the author used the analysis of work practices at the Russian government, and Namakonov’s book promotes the thesis that “Russia is an amazing and surprising country, and we, its citizens, are amazing people.” This can be more or less understood. But what's wrong with the cooking book by Nino Bilikhodze Georgian Cuisine. The Taste of Love. This is a mystery shrouded in darkness. There’s one more book that was included on this sad list. I find it hard to say it out loud, but I have to. It’s Notes by a Practicing Witch by Natalya Malinovskaya. I’m not sure what they are so concerned about. They have the Tomos of Autocephaly now, after all. Clearly, a jinx and an evil eye can get them spooked, if they don’t let such literature in.

A number of children's books were banned as well. Ukrainian experts are keeping close tabs on what children and young adults read. They are the future of the country. Before that, they banned chemistry textbooks. Not because there was any chance they contained a formula for making chemical warfare agents. They said that, even though formally, the textbook does not contain any hidden historical implications, the bibliographic data shows that it was printed in Russia. The Greater Encyclopaedia for Secondary School Pupils (Russian Grades 5 to 11), which replaced the Soviet Encyclopaedia, is not allowed in Ukraine even though Ukraine has nothing to replace it with, but this matters little.

By the way, the school curriculum has been mopped up as well. In particular, many Russian literature classics were withdrawn, such as Ivan Krylov’s fables. Even though back in 2016, in an open debate with People's Deputy and member of Petr Poroshenko’s Bloc in the Rada Sergey Leshchenko, who said that the Interior Minister could seize power using his subordinate security forces, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov used a quote from Krylov’s fable to retort: “To bark at Elephant this Pug must be a real strong mug!” The leaders still remember Krylov’s work and use quotations from his fables, but children no longer need it, they believe. Then, they will probably tell their children that Krylov was a great ancient Ukrainian writer and poet. This is scary. The world has been there already. It is terrible to think that this is happening in Europe.

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The Estonian Parliament denies entry to Federation Council Member Alexey Pushkov and three other Russian representatives

 

We consider the decision taken by the Estonian Parliament to deny entry to Estonia to Federation Council Member Alexey Pushkov and three other Russian representatives for being “involved in the Kerch Strait incident” is a hostile move which, courtesy of Estonian Russophobic politicians, has become another stitch on the canvas of anti-Russian politics.

Everyone is aware that such moves invariably trigger off corresponding countermoves.

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New media plants regarding Salisbury and Amesbury incidents

 

In the run-up to the anniversary of the Salisbury and Amesbury provocation, which was inspired and hyped up by the British, we are witnessing the growth of new speculation about the story, through the efforts of UK spin doctors. Controlled leaks are a widespread practice.  The media are publishing stories about some “Bulgarian connection” and alleged new “suspects” linked to the Skripal poisoning, unearthed in an investigation by the infamous Bellingcat.

Fantasy is out of control. All fake news is produced for quite definite political purposes and is based on the notorious “highly likely” principle.

We have seen a lot of such false reports aimed at misleading the public. We regard this as part of the general political line of the UK authorities, involving the classification of the information, which could shed some light on what really happened in Salisbury and Amesbury.

Despite our repeated requests, the UK authorities cannot provide us with any reliable and official information on the so-called Skripal case. By all appearances, the reason is simple: either there is something to hide, or there is no real evidence to support the accusations against us.

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Attempts of US NGOs to intimidate Russian businesses interacting with Iran

 

We consider it necessary to draw your attention to the outrageous cases of pressure exerted on Russian companies by United Against Nuclear Iran, a US NGO.

The actions of this obviously biased and uninfluential structure that is nevertheless headed by a certain Ambassador Mark Wallace, go far beyond the usual view of what NGOs do and how they should behave abroad.

For some time the already mentioned Mr Wallace has been threatening Russian companies that are completely legitimately interacting with Iran in various fields. It is not our fault that the US position on Iran is constantly changing like the weather. One day it is allowed to cooperate, on another day it is not, and on still another day it is necessary to cooperate. It is very difficult to keep track of all these changes. People and businesses do not operate in this manner. There are notions of mid-term and long-term planning, as well as investments and projects. Moreover, he dares demand a written report on the character of their relations with their Iranian partners within a period of two weeks and threatens them with sanctions for their failure to abide by US law.

We consider such actions of the US NGO unacceptable and a cause of great concern for us.

The attempts to exert pressure and intimidate Russian businesses are nothing more than a continuation of the unseemly line started by the current US administration. In its anti-Iranian frenzy it has lost the perception of reality and started threatening the UN and IAEA and their member states due to the fact that they continue to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The fact that poison-pen letters sent out by United Against Nuclear Iran are signed by a man who calls himself an ambassador is only further aggravating the position of US diplomacy that in the JCPOA case (regrettably far from being the only one) demonstrated its opportunism and inability to fulfil the signed agreements and honour its international commitments.

I would like to recall that US laws and regulations are not valid on Russian territory. Russia is totally resolved to continue its mutually beneficial cooperation with Iran in full, including when it comes to using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, regardless of Washington’s pressure and illegal sanctions.

We urge all countries to unite and prevent Washington from misappropriating the right to determine the expediency and parameters of international trade and economic cooperation and scientific and technical exchanges. The US is part of the international community but it is not above it. In turn, in its decisions and actions Russian businesses must be guided by the norms of domestic legislation rather than notorious goals of various political organisations and lobbyists from abroad.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki mayors’ statement on the INF Treaty

 

 

The United States’ deliberate action to bury the INF Treaty has engendered a series of appeals to Moscow and Washington to save the treaty. The public is coming to see that this treaty is necessary in order to maintain stability and prevent an arms race. There is general concern that the termination of the Treaty would create additional obstacles on the path towards nuclear disarmament.

For example, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sent a letter of request along these lines. They wrote on behalf of the international organisation Mayors for Peace to express the hope that Russia and the United States would overcome their mutual distrust and resume a constructive dialogue aimed at achieving a world without nuclear weapons.

Everything is so complicated, though. You have probably read in the Japanese media that the country’s authorities have proposed nominating the US administration for the Nobel peace prize. It is hard to understand how these two different views can exist in one country and one political system.

We can well understand civil society’s concern. The demise of the INF Treaty could deliver a heavy blow to international security and global stability by drawing whole regions into a multilateral arms race. This would rapidly erode the arms control architecture and have a negative impact on the prospects for nuclear disarmament as well as possibly destabilising the NPT regime. We have made numerous efforts to draw the attention of the United States and its allies in Europe and the Asia Pacific, who unconditionally support Washington’s destructive policy, to this matter. We have proposed practical solutions that could allow the sides to resolve mutual concerns, to keep the INF Treaty and to continue dialogue on nuclear arms control and reduction. We deeply regret that all our initiatives have been either disregarded or categorically rejected under pretexts, some of which are really ridiculous. We would like the mayors and people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to know this.

Washington is not willing to conduct an objective and equal dialogue on the INF Treaty. Moreover, no agreement has been reached on the resumption of a systemic bilateral dialogue on strategic armaments. Neither has Washington replied to our proposal to jointly reconfirm the commitment of Russia and the United States to preventing a nuclear war, which would give an important positive signal to the international community. Instead, the United States focused on making every possible effort to whitewash its intelligence services, which provided wrong or fake information about the Russian missile whose identification number is known across the world.

I would like to add that we have not withdrawn our proposals; they are still on the table. Russia is not going back on its proposals, which is very important. We hope that the United States will eventually come to see that dialogue is the best way and that it is futile to try to attain military superiority by destroying the fundamental structures that form the backbone of international security.

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Statements by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Albania Edi Rama on the Real Story show on Albanian television channel Vizion Plus

 

 

We have noted the statements made recently by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Albania Edi Rama on the Kosovo settlement. Mr Rama said in an interview with an Albanian television channel that for him, “Kosovo is part of Albania” and that “the union between Albania and Kosovo is not Plan B, but Plan A.” Have his statements been translated incorrectly? No, we checked several times. The Albanian Prime Minister linked the implementation of “Plan A” with a revision of the province’s border within the framework of talks and with Belgrade and Pristina reaching an agreement to this effect.

We consider such rhetoric absolutely unacceptable. In fact, it amounts to an infringement of the territorial integrity of Serbia and the status of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. We hope that the West, including NATO and the EU, will respond accordingly to these statements and geopolitical plans.

Such statements undermine stability, erode the atmosphere of trust in the Balkans and complicate the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

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Russian Book Days in Paris

 

On February 16-17, the 10th Russian Book Days traditional annual literary festival took place in Paris.

The event was very popular with the public and attracted the attention of both Russian and French publishing houses, industry professionals and the general public interested in Russia and Russian culture.

As in the previous years, the City Hall of the 5th arrondisment of Paris provided a free venue for the festival, for which we are grateful. Talks by Russian authors took place simultaneously at four different platforms.  The public at large was impressed with the range of the writers’ opinions and was interested in hearing objective information about Russia.

Nineteen publishing houses and four book shops had stands. Former French ambassadors and diplomats, who used to work in Russia, participated in the festival.

The programme included meetings with publishers, Russian and French Slavonic scholars, philologists and teachers of Russian as a foreign language. There were presentations, exhibitions and translation workshops. The Russophony award was bestowed for the best French translation of contemporary Russian literature.

Nine young French translators received a special award on behalf of the Trianon Dialogue civil society forum. They will take a two-week trip to the Sirius educational centre in Sochi.

Over the two days of the festival that took place in one of the most visited student and tourist districts of Paris there were around 4,000 visitors.

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The opening of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society’s office in the United Kingdom

 

At one of the previous briefings, we told you about the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society (IOPS), our oldest international NGO, and the opening of its office in Jordan. We are delighted to inform you that yesterday another office of the Society opened, this time in London, UK. The London office will be involved in cultural and educational projects to eternalise the memory of Venerable Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, as well as to assist in the Orthodox Christians’ pilgrimage to the world’s Christian shrines.

Now that our partners have done everything to completely stall the political dialogue at the official level between London and Moscow, IOPS members are trying to prevent the erosion of cultural and spiritual relations between our peoples, which are based, among other things, on historical community.

The opening of the IOPS office will give British subjects an opportunity to become acquainted with the fundamental aspects of this country s and people’s spiritual life and get a better understanding of our basic principles, goals and aspirations.

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Situation in Libya

 

Question: In 2018, the Russian Defence Ministry officials received Khalifa Haftar’s delegation in Moscow. Palermo subsequently hosted a conference, with the Turkish delegation leaving it to protest alleged covert talks between a number of parties and Haftar’s representatives. As of late, we have not received any information about any public contacts between Moscow and representatives of the Government of National Accord. Does this mean that Russia now prioritises contacts with Khalifa Haftar?

Answer: I would like to note that Russia consistently establishes balanced relations with the current centres of power in eastern, western and southern Libya.

I would like to recall that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with Prime Minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj in Palermo on the sidelines of the international conference, mentioned in your question, and presented him with an invitation to pay a working visit to Russia. In January, the Director General of the National Oil Corporation in Tripoli paid a working visit to Russia. The Minister of Economy and Industry and the Minister of Healthcare from the Government of National Accord are also expected to arrive. On the other hand, the Russian State Duma received Chairman of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives Chairman Aguila Saleh Issa in December 2018 in Moscow. Therefore it would be incorrect to speak about any biased attitude in our ties with the parties in the Libyan conflict.

One of our priorities consists of helping the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya Ghassan Salamé involve all the main Libyan protagonists in implementing the “roadmap” of the peace settlement and eventually establishing joint state-power agencies through nationwide electoral procedures.

Question: Haftar’s forces recently established control over the El Sharara oil field in southern Libya. After that, a number of forces in Libya, including representatives of the Toubou ethnic group, accused the marshal of genocide. What is Moscow’s position on this matter? Does this operation aiming to establish control over El Sharara meet the spirit of the peace talks and the peace process?

Answer: We are receiving conflicting reports about the developments in southern Libya. However, one can say with all certainty that this region has been a source of dangerous challenges for a long time. As you know, ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters, crime rings specialising in illegal drug trafficking, arms and slave trade, as well as armed opposition groups from neighbouring Chad and Sudan operate there.

It goes without saying that it is necessary to rectify this deplorable situation. Obviously, it will be impossible to do without the use of military force. As we understand, the Libyan National Army has launched the current military operation in an effort to expel various gangs from this zone. We believe that this task meets the interests of all Libyans, regardless of their political sympathies.

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Russian Gold in Japan

 

Russia has repeatedly raised the issue of Russian gold in Japan through diplomatic channels, relying on the available documents. In response, Japan said it had no Russian valuables ​​to return: “The gold was partially returned and partially used by the interested parties.”

Currently, the tsarist-era gold in Japan is not the subject of any diplomatic negotiations between the two countries. However, if any further relevant information comes to light, we will be ready to raise this topic again with the Japanese side.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Last December, US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. However, we found out yesterday that the US is keeping 200 troops in Syria as a a so-called peacekeeping force. Frankly, it is not entirely clear what is meant here by the term peacekeeping force. Is there any information on this?

Maria Zakharova: Yes. Such statements cannot be trusted, whoever issues them, because the next day other political forces will disprove them. It is a phase they are going through: some authorities make statements that are then refuted by others.

As far as we understand it, there is no unanimity among the various US government agencies as to how to act in that region. At least, there is no well-presented concept with a clear timeframe or quantitative indicators, goals or objectives.

We know perfectly well that even the most innocent issues have been debated in the US for months, let alone among the military, engaged in a mission very different from ensuring US national security. They are clearly getting very different tasks, considering that they are being pulled in and then pulled out. These issues, as we understand, also require a nationwide discussion.

In my opinion, building some protective barrier is a smaller-scale issue than deploying a large military contingent in a country so far from home. Yet, it occupies the minds of leading American politicians for over a year. Why aren't there the same heated debates about sending troops abroad? This is their internal affair of course but it also affects the internal affairs of other states. There is a serious reason to hold a real nationwide discussion, at least so that the people of the United States have an understanding of what their fellow citizens are doing in Syria, how long they will be there, how many of them are there, whose orders they obey, and whether they should be guided by Twitter or receive instructions from their generals.

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Question: In January 2019, Foreign Minister of Jordan Ayman Safadi spoke about the possibility of holding trilateral talks in the near future between representatives of Russia, the US and Jordan on the situation in the Rukban refugee camp in Syria. Have they been held or are preparations being made for them?

Maria Zakharova: At the expert level, such contacts are maintained regularly. If you mean talks at the level of foreign or defence ministers, then, as you know, such information is always published on the website. There were no contacts in the format you mentioned.

Question: What do the Americans say about Al-Tanf?

Maria Zakharova: I see no point in commenting on the US representatives’ statements, especially if they are not directly related to Russia. We have enough to discuss that is addressed to us.

The US position has not been shaped as a global approach. It is impossible to comment on endless leaks, articles, Tweets, refutations, and reposts with comments.

In our opinion, if we are talking about the US global responsibility before the international community on maintaining peace and stability (as they defined their own global role), as Washington puts it, we would like them to introduce the world to their concept – which would, in particular, explain the continued presence of their troops on the territory of the sovereign state of Syria.

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Question: The leaders of the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are to meet next week. The media has published information that Russia, China and South Korea are planning to send a joint proposal to the UN Security Council to lift some of the sanctions on North Korea. Could you comment on this? What are Russia’s expectations from the above-mentioned summit?

Maria Zakharova: I would call them wishes, rather than expectations. We would like all the promises and ideas, expressed before the US partners approached athletic equipment, to come true. It was mentioned that the long-standing difficult international problem would be solved quickly and efficiently. Maybe it has not been resolved as quickly as we would like, but hopefully it will still be resolved. We can wish success to our US partners and all those involved in the negotiation process.

On the other hand, we remain realists and we know perfectly well that it is impossible to solve international problems at such a pace. In the past, people were also resolute, wise, capable and had resources in various fields but, for some reason, they still failed to achieve the goal. Not only because there was no political will but because any agreement is a search for a compromise.  When you feel that you do not want a compromise but to use only the resources you have at your disposal, you do not necessarily reach the desired result.

Undoubtedly, we would appreciate implementation of everything that the US side in particular mentioned, namely a settlement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. I believe that everyone will share this opinion. Everyone is eager for our world to have one less conflict, through dialogue and political talks.

For our part, we will assist in finding mutual understanding between the parties using diplomatic tools.

With regards to the Russian, Chinese and South Korean joint proposal, I will enquire about it.

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Question: It was reported that the UK, France and Germany will not keep their troops in Syria after the US pull-out. How will this complete or partial withdrawal of the coalition forces from Syria influence the settlement process?

Maria Zakharova: Russia’s position is consistent and principled. When we learned from the social media that Washington plans to implement its decision to withdraw troops from Syria, we said that this is a step in the right direction, if the report is true and this decision is implemented. This would be returning to the legal framework that will help stabilise the situation and will also strengthen Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

I would like to remind you that Damascus did not consent to the deployment of US forces in the country.

We will react likewise if the other states, which have illegally deployed their troops in Syria, follow suit.

We would like very much all these endless “ifs” to be eradicated by a streamlined concept of the US-led coalition. We hope that this concept is eventually presented and we will learn about the US administration’s real plans for Syria.

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Question: Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the other day that Russia’s plans for Belarus include war and annexation and urged Belarus to launch democratic reforms to prevent such an attack. What can you say on this score? Does anyone among the NATO elite share Rasmussen’s opinion?

Maria Zakharova: There are no words in the diplomatic vocabulary for commenting on such statements. The best option is trolling. As for those at NATO who share this opinion, they are not the elite.

Efforts are being taken to promote such sentiments, with a proper ideological and propaganda basis. Millions of dollars have been allocated for this purpose, and instruments have been created for psychological and other kinds of influence. The people are encouraged to see Russia as an aggressor. There are no examples to prove this, but the idea is being enforced. Everyone who thinks so and who makes such statements is involved in illegal activities that violate the UN Charter and international law, which provide definitions of such activities, starting with invasion and ending with interference in the internal affairs of states.

At the same time, they accuse Russia of such activities. Just take a look at the NATO position when it comes to Venezuela. Those who support the opposition forces led by Juan Guaido, who not only justify but also offer moral reasons for justifying this support, as well as the split of the country and dual power, have no right whatsoever to talk about international law or legitimacy. When somebody incites a situation in a foreign state that is damaging to the people, can we expect them to talk differently in other cases?

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Question: The Washington Post and Al-Jazeera have simultaneously reported that President Donald Trump intends to advance the sale of US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. How dangerous is this intention, considering what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said about Saudi Arabia’s desire to have nuclear weapons?

Maria Zakharova: There is the global mechanism of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, from which the United States has not yet withdrawn. States must comply with their commitments under this treaty.

On the other hand, I have not seen these news items and so cannot say if they concern military technology or nuclear power generation. If the former is true, the guideline is the NPT. If it is civilian technologies they are discussing, there are proper mechanisms and solutions as well.

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Question (retranslated): Since it is the anniversary of Sergey and Yulia Skripal’s poisoning, I would like to ask you about your views on Russia-UK relations. What are the prospects of improving the situation? If Russia is ready to make steps in this direction, what steps should they be?

Maria Zakharova: Unfortunately, we are witnessing the deterioration of the bilateral relations that was initiated by the United Kingdom. It did not start a year ago, nor did it start with Salisbury and Amesbury or the Skripals.  It started a long time ago. Little by little the United Kingdom has been tearing the canvas of the bilateral relations in various fields, from political cooperation and contacts between security services to visa policies. Deterioration was obvious. We have publicised many incidents and demonstrated many examples. I think there is no other country with a similar case. Russian diplomats working in London cannot simply enter the country after obtaining visas through a regular procedure, after filling out forms and providing necessary documents. Instead, it takes months to have lists of their names approved by the UK. There is no other country in the world with which a similar practice would exist while the UK has been doing it for many years.

At the same time, recently all this went one step too far. I gave you just one example and there are plenty. And there is no case when it would be Russia trying to aggravate the relations. I would not be able to give you any examples because they do not exist.

Question (retranslated): But it was because of the Salisbury incident that the relations with the UK were brought down to this level.

Maria Zakharova: The British political establishment is among the parties behind the incident in Salisbury. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is fully responsible for how it started and developed. This is an absolutely absurd story that developed without any transparency and was from the start designed and moderated by Downing Street. The entire arsenal of propaganda methods was employed despite the fact that London constantly denies propaganda and allegedly fights it abroad. But in their own country, the British clearly built propaganda based on anti-Russian sentiments. We heard constant accusations, aggressive statements and saw an anti-Russian coalition being forged. Therefore, Salisbury, Amesbury and the Skripals are all part of the UK’s bizarre attitude towards our country.

The question why the United Kingdom, unlike many other countries that are developing relations with us in many spheres (financial, economic, energy), constantly making these relations worse should not be addressed to us. We are not responsible for the deterioration of these relations. Why would we be? We have always been in favour of developing links with the EU in general and individual countries on a bilateral basis. We did not have any reason to completely ruin the bilateral relations. But on behalf of London, we see this approach in every action. The blocking of the bilateral relations, step by step, was initiated by London.

Question (retranslated): If we compare Russia-UK and Russia-US relations, which are in a worse shape?

Maria Zakharova: Why would I compare the relations between London and Moscow with the relations between Washington and Moscow? If we start with discussing the relations between London and Washington, many things will become clear.

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Question: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dacic suggested delimitation of Kosovo the other day. How does this idea correlate with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which we have already discussed today? Will Russia support any delimitation agreement? In that case, will Moscow change its attitude towards the resolution?

Maria Zakharova: Our position remains unchanged and stands out among others because it is both permanent and logical. And this logic is very simple: The question as to how this situation will be resolved is primarily determined by the way in which the interests of this decision meet the interests of the people of Serbia. It should also unconditionally hinge on the framework of international law and meet domestic Serbian legislation. On the one hand, we voice a multi-component position; and, on the other hand, our position provides a clear and unequivocal approach towards resolving this matter.

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Question: According to our information, Moscow will host the second meeting of the Lazarevsky Club on March 5-6. First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee on CIS Affairs Konstantin Zatulin initiated this event. The forum will involve representatives of the Armenian and Russian public at large. The leaders of the separatist regime, established by Armenia in occupied Azerbaijani territories, are also expected to attend. Can you comment on the fact that this event is being held in the capital of Russia that co-chairs the OSCE’s Minsk Group? 

Maria Zakharova: What is the link between the fact that Russia co-chairs the OSCE’s Minsk Group and this forum? Your question combines things that should not be combined.

Certainly, Russia co-chairs the OSCE’s Minsk Group and officially complies with all its obligations. At the same time, as you have aptly noted, Moscow hosts hundreds of forums dealing with varied subjects every day. Civil society and NGOs hold these events; and I believe this is one of them.

If you have any information that officials are involved in some way in this forum, please give it to us. I have no such information.

I repeat, civil society and NGOs have the right to hold these events under Russian legislation. I will be ready to comment on specific data that representatives of state bodies are participating in any such event in an official capacity, but only if there is specific data.

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Question: Twelve Russian sailors, imprisoned in Cabo Verde for over three weeks now, are suspected of transporting and smuggling 9.5 tonnes of cocaine. As we know, their situation has deteriorated considerably in the past seven days. Without any explanation, they were put in cells alongside local inmates. It turned out that a private lawyer, rather than a state legal counsel, was defending their interests. The sailors’ relatives were told to pay a sum higher than a sailor’s annual wage. The Embassy explains that the sailors and their relatives were briefed on the matter and gave their consent. According to our data, this is not so. In any event, representatives of four sailors said they did not give such consent. Can they count on the Russian Embassy’s support? Can a state legal counsel be appointed if no agreement is reached on a private lawyer? Can the Russian side finance the services of a private lawyer, at least in part, all the more so as, according to the trade union of Russian sailors, the arrested persons have nothing to do with this contraband? Most likely, the charges are false.  

Maria Zakharova: The Russian Embassy is fully involved in giving assistance to Russian citizens who have found themselves in difficult situations. I hope that you are following the Russian Embassy’s comments. We have also repeatedly commented on this situation. Russian diplomats visit the sailors and actively help carry out their families’ requests. This includes, for example, the question of the sailors’ health, which you have just mentioned. Therefore, we are carrying out our official duties to the full.

If there are any complaints on the part of relatives or if anything has come to light during your investigative reporting and if there are any special requests, please give us the details. We will certainly look into them.

I can also say that Russian diplomats regularly inform the Foreign Ministry’s senior officials about the situation, virtually every day, because we prioritise any situation involving Russian citizens.

With regard to the lawyer and payments, I believe this is not within the Foreign Ministry’s remit. In this event, we are guided by Russian legislation.  

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Question: President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed an executive order that will remove all Russian text from future tenge banknotes, even though Russian is a state language in Kazakhstan. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about this de-Russification policy?

Maria Zakharova:  We believe that the decision you have mentioned is an internal affair. However, we do maintain contacts with our Kazakhstani partners on the civil rights of those citizens of Kazakhstan for whom Russian is the main language. We see that the Kazakhstani authorities are taking considerable efforts to preserve the Russian language. These are not just empty words, but words that are backed with practical actions.

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Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on February 21 that Russia could be ready to draw up and sign a peace treaty with Japan right now. The 1956 Declaration stipulates that the islands of Shikotan and Habomai are to be turned over to Japan upon the signing of a peace treaty. In late 2018, our leaders agreed to accelerate talks on the peace treaty based on the 1956 Declaration. Does this mean that these two islands can be turned over to Japan if all the conditions set by Russia are met?

Maria Zakharova: I will answer this question frankly: Don’t ask provocative questions when we know that what you want is not to receive answers or clarify anything, but to launch a new propaganda campaign. So much has been said on the question you have asked that there is nothing more to add. We provide detailed information on everything we discuss with our Japanese colleagues. You know Russia’s position on this subject. Any attempts to turn up the heat when nothing important is happening appear strange. On the other hand, I know about several statements recently made by Japanese officials. For example, Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi believes that there is no need to change the terms “original Japanese territories” and “illegal occupation” by Russia, which our Japanese partners use in certain official documents concerning these islands. I think that it is the Japanese side that is stirring up discontent. I believe they should comment on how such statements fit in with Tokyo’s plans for an early settlement of this problem. The Russian side has not given any reason for asking it to clarify its position.

 

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