Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 22, 2017
- Death of Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad of the Republic of Niger Ibrahim Yacoubou
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of El Salvador Hugo Martinez
- The situation in Syria
- Eastern Aleppo: Mass graves, booby-trapped buildings, infrastructure
- The anti-Russia campaign in Montenegro
- Upcoming changes to Armenia’s entry requirements for Russian citizens
- Drug trafficking in Hong Kong and Macao
- Launching a special section dedicated to fake news on the Foreign Ministry’s official website
- Answers to media questions
- Russia-Azerbaijan relations
- Kim Jong-nam murder
- Upcoming talks in Geneva
- Situation in Yemen
- US plans on establishing safe zones in Syria
- Results of Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s visit to Russia
- Anti-fake news section on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website
- Pavel Klimkin’s suggestion to strip Russia of veto power in the UN Security Council
- Vitaly Churkin’s death
- Russian-Armenian relations
- Montenegro Procurator Katnic’s statement
- Situation in Afghanistan
- Fake news
- Kim Jong-nam murder
- Situation in Syria
- The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
As you know, Vitaly Churkin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and an outstanding diplomat, died suddenly on February 20, a day before he would have turned 65.
Vitaly Churkin was born in Moscow on February 21, 1952.
He graduated from MGIMO University of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and devoted his life to diplomatic service, rising from an assistant at the ministry’s translations department to Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York.
Churkin held various posts at the Soviet Embassy in the United States, the international affairs department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee and the Foreign Minister’s Secretariat. He was Head of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department in 1990-1992 and Deputy Foreign Minister in 1992-1994.
He was Russia’s Ambassador to Belgium in 1994-1998 and to Canada in 1998-2003. In 2003-2006, he had the rank of Ambassador at Large and was appointed Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York in April 2006.
Vitaly Churkin had many state decorations, including the Order of Honour, the Order For Services to the Fatherland (4th Class) and the Order of Alexander Nevsky. The President of Russia has awarded Vitaly Churkin the Order of Courage (posthumously).
We will always remember Vitaly Churkin as an outstanding diplomat and speaker and a consummate negotiator. Throughout his long diplomatic career, he protected Russia’s interests brilliantly in all areas of his difficult job, doing this with unmatched ingenuity and demonstrating the ability to reach compromises in the most critical situations. He represented Russia at the UN for nearly 11 years, working at the forefront of foreign policy events and showing all of us an example of selfless service to the nation. His openness and sincerity earned him the respect of diplomats, politicians and everyone else who had the good luck to work with him or make his acquaintance.
We are mourning the death of Vitaly Churkin together with his family and loved ones.
I would like to tell you that as soon as the news about Mr Churkin’s death became public knowledge we started receiving condolences at the Foreign Ministry, the Permanent Mission to the UN and other Russian offices abroad. We are receiving hundreds of letters from Mr Churkin’s former colleagues, heads of country missions to the UN, ambassadors, politicians, business people and journalists who knew or worked with him. Thousands of people who did not know Vitaly Churkin personally have sent us their messages of condolence and published commemoration posts in the social media. We are grateful to everyone who is mourning our loss as their own. I would like you to know that all information, letters and other support messages sent to the Foreign Ministry will be forwarded to Vitaly Churkin’s family.
On February 20, members of the UN General Assembly observed a minute of silence to honour Vitaly Churkin. On February 21, all Council members with the exception of the Ukrainian representative spoke at the first part of the UN Security Council’s open session that was devoted to the memory of Vitaly Churkin. The UN General Assembly plans to hold a special session in memory of the late Russian Representative to the UN. A condolence book will be available at the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN from February 21 to 23. The first entries in this book were made by the CIS ambassadors and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Today, on February 22 the personnel of the Permanent Mission and senior officials of the diplomatic corps and the UN Secretariat will pay their last respects to Vitaly Churkin. Later the same day, the body will be sent to Russia by a regular Russian aviation flight and will be accompanied by his relatives. The plane will arrive in Moscow on February 23.
It has been tentatively planned that the funeral ceremonies in Moscow, during which the Russian people will be able to pay their last tribute to Vitaly Churkin, will be held on February 24. We will update you on the precise timeframe and venue.
Also, I would like to say a few words about the media leaks in the United States regarding investigation into the causes of the Russian ambassador’s death, about which we learned late at night by Moscow time yesterday. We believe that this information should be provided to the Russian side primarily through official channels, for subsequent delivery to the family of the deceased. The family must be able to learn about the post mortem results before anyone else.
As I said, we hope that our American partners will fully honour their obligations and we will not have to learn such information as this from media leaks. We will update you on the official information we receive from our partners.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad of the Republic of Niger Ibrahim Yacoubou will pay a working visit to Russia from February 28 to March 2, 2017.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him on March 1. It is planned to discuss the priorities in the development of Russia-Niger political, trade, economic and humanitarian ties. The ministers will focus on promoting practical bilateral cooperation, including in such promising areas as the development of mineral resources, energy and infrastructure.
They will also hold a detailed exchange of views on important global and regional issues, including the prevention and settlement of crises in Africa. There are plans to consider problems related to the fight against international terrorism, given African states’ efforts to oppose this threat in the Sahara-Sahel zone.
On March 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of El Salvador Hugo Martinez, who will be paying a working visit to Russia at the head of a large Salvadorian delegation.
The ministers will exchange views on a wide spectrum of bilateral, international and regional issues.
El Salvador is one of Russia’s promising partners in Central America. On June 3 of this year, both countries will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Much positive experience of productive partnership in various areas has been accumulated over this period. We have maintained a trusting political dialogue, expanded inter-parliamentary ties, established practical cooperation between regions, promoted cooperation in personnel training, including for law-enforcement agencies, and consolidated the legal framework for relations. Russian companies are involved in developing El Salvador’s energy sector.
On August 27, 2016, the Intergovernmental Agreement Renouncing Visa Formalities in Reciprocal Travel came into force.
We are united by similar or identical approaches to fundamental issues in world politics, something that creates an auspicious foundation for expanding constructive international cooperation.
El Salvador facilitates Russia’s contacts with the leading integration unions in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which El Salvador is chairing in 2017, and the Central American Integration System (CAIS).
The second international meeting on a settlement in Syria took place in Astana on February 15-16. One of its main outcomes was the signing of a document on creating a Joint Group at the level of experts with the participation of Russia, Turkey and Iran as part of a trilateral mechanism to monitor and ensure full compliance with the cessation of hostilities established on December 30, 2016.
We note with satisfaction that the meeting in Astana helped make headway in identifying the ceasefire conditions, including dividing terrorist organisations such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra from armed opposition groups, as well as confidence-building measures and other tasks that contribute to the launch of intra-Syrian talks based on UNSC Resolution 2254.
We highly appreciate the fact that due to the Astana process, the armed opposition groups, which have signed ceasefire agreement and were represented at two meetings in Astana, have become part of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva under UN auspices. We are confident that the positive experience gained in Astana will be used in the future.
We hope that the Geneva talks starting this week under UN auspices will pull the intra-Syrian dialogue out of a dangerous drawn-out pause. Proper representation of the Syrian opposition in compliance with UNSC Resolution 2254 is a recipe for the success of such a dialogue. Any attempt to cheat, focusing on the interests of those who do not want peace and unity for Syria, will adversely affect the stability and functioning of the political process.
Speaking of hostilities, the situation in Syria has not changed much. The military-political situation in the provinces of Aleppo, Homs and Daraa remains complex.
Four Russian servicemen were killed and two wounded when a radio-controlled land mine exploded under a vehicle that was part of a convoy of military equipment heading from the vicinity of the Tiyas airbase towards Homs on February 20. We express our deep condolences to the families and friends of the deceased and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.
The Russian armed forces will continue to provide assistance to the Syrian government army as it confronts ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Russian military engineers have completed the demining of Aleppo. In addition, they have trained the first group of Syrian specialists to demine the regions in question.
The situation in the town of Daraa in southern Syria remains complicated. The groups, which operate under the umbrella of the Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant led by the former Nusra do not stop trying to drive the Syrian government forces from Manshia neighbourhood. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) shelled residential areas of Daraa using rocket and mortar fire. There are casualties reported. The local hospital was significantly damaged.
We are concerned by the reports on the plans announced by the Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant to create, within a month, in southern Idlib province and northern Hama province, their own second caliphate after that established by ISIS in Raqqa. They plan to create or announce such a territorial unit under the guise of “the teachings of Islam.” We are all aware that these attempts have nothing to do with Islam, but, unfortunately, very disturbing processes are unfolding under the guise of lofty goals. Such a territorial unit, as I have mentioned, which is being formed under the guise of “the teachings of Islam,” would, in fact, become another stronghold of those who profess an ideology of terror and violence in Syria.
We have repeatedly told our Western partners publicly, via bilateral channels and at international forums, that those who held eastern Aleppo until recently were not the moderate opposition but mostly terrorists and militants. Unfortunately, our words largely fell on deaf ears.
Today, new evidence is coming to light.
After eastern Aleppo was freed from terrorist groups, mass graves of Syrian servicemen and militia members and local civilians were discovered at terrorist command posts. The largest number of bodies (60) was discovered in the basement of a school in al-Muqaddas, the Suhari district, on December 23, 2016, including 21 with signs of torture. Some of the victims were beheaded and some were shot execution-style.
On January 17, 2017, specialists at the Russian Armed Forces' International Mine Action Centre discovered male bodies in civilian clothes and handcuffs in the courtyard of a mined school building in the al Qilyas district that militants had used as a base.
During the mine-clearing operation in eastern Aleppo, Russian servicemen discovered a large number of mined routes to residential buildings and civil infrastructure facilities, including with booby-traps disguised as toys.
Furthermore, illegal armed formations set up ammunition depots, as well as workshops where explosives and toxic agents were manufactured, mostly in the basements of schools and residential buildings. As you understand, if the explosive devices planted by terrorists had exploded, that could have led to considerable casualties.
As of February 7, 2017, specialists of the mine-clearing centre had checked 2,780 hectares in Aleppo and demined 4,253 buildings, including 248 important social facilities (schools, hospitals, mosques, water supply installations, electrical power substations, etc.). A total of 35,412 explosives were deactivated, including 20,174 improvised explosive devices.
This information will soon be sent to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
We have received a lot of questions about the anti-Russian information campaign unleashed in the media, in particular in Montenegro, some of which were commented on at different levels, including by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
This campaign is nothing new. It is simply going through a new round. Naturally, the Montenegrin authorities are behind it. We understand that Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković was unable to restrain himself from becoming involved in allegations that have been widely used in the US and the EU of late, accusing Moscow and some Russian “special services” of interfering in the country’s electoral processes. Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic went even further, suggesting that an “FSB [Federal Security Service] special task force” was present on Montenegrin soil. All of these allegations are absolutely groundless. Unfortunately, they are being disseminated in the media without the Russian position being taken into account, and even if it is mentioned, it’s done in passing and disproportionately to the volume of information that is reported. All of this, naturally, is picked up and channeled into English-language and Balkan media outlets, leading to the information carousel that we have talked about so much. Naturally, as we have repeatedly stressed, neither Montenegrin officials nor Western reporters bother to produce even a shred of evidence to back up their accusations.
We note that this disinformation campaign is aggravated by the growing number of unsubstantiated publications. Quotes from officials are used to confirm the assertions that were made a month or two ago, while the position of Russian officials is effectively ignored. All of this is causing serious damage to Russian-Montenegrin relations.
This began with Podgorica’s “tilt” as it seeks to “push through” its NATO membership. All of this is being done without taking public opinion into consideration. In violation of basic democratic norms – and this is precisely how such issues should be decided (for example, in a referendum) – Montenegrin citizens have no say. It came to the point of disparaging remarks being made about the Russian embassy in Podgorica, personal attacks against its staff and allegations of their involvement in special operations. We believe that this behaviour and this information campaign are unacceptable.
We stress that the destructive anti-Russian course of the Montenegrin leadership runs counter to the interests of the Montenegrin people. As you know, we are linked by centuries-old traditions of close Russian-Montenegrin ties.
On January 24, the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Armenia signed an agreement to amend the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Armenia on Mutual Visa-Free Travel for Citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia dated September 25, 2000.
Under the amendment to the Agreement, Russian internal passports were included on the list of documents Russian citizens can use to enter Armenia, during their stay there and for leaving the country.
Consequently, the amendment simplifies entry into Armenia for Russian citizens.
At the same time, the Foreign Ministry emphasises that, according to the Agreement of January 24, the option to enter Armenia with a Russian internal passport will become available to Russian nationals once the two sides implement a number of procedures. Specifically, on the date when the Russian Foreign Ministry receives a note from the Armenian Foreign Ministry about Armenia’s implementation of the intrastate procedures necessary for the Agreement to come into force.
The Foreign Ministry will announce the introduction of the new entry procedure at a later date.
Some useful information for Russian citizens visiting other countries. According to our information (we have received a large number of questions from citizens and tour operators), drug trafficking in Hong Kong and Macao is becoming more common. Often drug dealers use airline passengers for their purposes; unfortunately, our compatriots are no exception.
Please note that drug traffickers in Hong Kong and Macao face from 15 to 30 years in prison, up to a life sentence, and large fines of up to 40 million roubles.
We strongly advise Russian nationals to not accept any parcels to deliver to Hong Kong and Macao. Criminals take advantage of people’s naivety; passengers do not know what might be stored in these parcels.
We ask Russian tour operators who work in this region to pass on this information to their clients – Russian citizens who visit or plan to visit these countries.
To develop the initiative I mentioned during the press briefing on February 15, I direct your attention to the new section of the Foreign Ministry’s official website, which will feature examples of published materials that contain false information about Russia. Today we are launching this section, which will be available on the website.
The first collection of such “news” has already been published. You can read them on the website in the Press Service section – Articles and Rebuttals – Published materials that contain false information about Russia. The section will feature bogus propaganda stories by various media sources and provide links to them.
Unfortunately, this section will be updated regularly. Of course, not every fake news story will be published there. The objective is to show the main trends in publishing fake news about our country and to try to stop their spread.
We work with foreign correspondents on a permanent and regular basis. You know where to find us and how to reach us by phone or email. If foreign correspondents have any suggestions for this section, or if they want to provide proof of their news stories so that they are removed from the website, please send us your additional materials. Please call, write, visit. We will address the information you publish.
Question: Diplomatic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan were established 25 years ago on April 4. How does the Foreign Ministry view this period in bilateral relations, considering the unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, on the one hand, and positive relations between the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan, on the other hand? What are the main achievements of this period? Does the Russian Foreign Ministry plan to celebrate this date in any way?
Maria Zakharova: We plan to celebrate the event, and we will also publish a long piece on this issue. There is no simple answer to this question, but I don’t want to leave it like that. Detailed information about Russian-Azerbaijani relations will be available on the Foreign Ministry’s website soon. We will also prepare other materials. In other words, we will devote considerable attention to this date.
Question: Can the murder of Kim Jong-nam have a negative effect on the situation in Asia, for example, by heightening tensions? South Korea has pointed the finger at the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. Has Russia done anything to encourage interaction in this issue?
Maria Zakharova: As I said at the previous briefing, I am surprised when this question is addressed to Russia. We believe that you should seek information on this issue from the parties that are involved in the process one way or another. Regarding the investigation and its aspects, the case is in the hands of the authorised Malaysian agencies.
Question: Has there been any contact at the ministerial level?
Maria Zakharova: As I said, this is not an issue in which the Russian Foreign Ministry is involved.
Question: At which level will Russia be represented at the Geneva talks?
Maria Zakharova: I can tell you definitely that Sergey Vershinin, Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department, will be there. If any other senior ministry officials go to Geneva, we will inform you accordingly. At this point, I can only tell you definitely about Mr Vershinin.
Question: It has been reported that Yemeni rebels have called on Russia to join the group of international intermediaries on the settlement of the conflict in Yemen. The group includes the United States, Great Britain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. How can Russian diplomats contribute to the settlement process?
Maria Zakharova: Russian diplomats are involved in the efforts to settle the crisis in Yemen during regular bilateral contacts and at international organisations. We regularly update you on this issue.
Question: What do you think about the US plans for safe zones in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently spoke on this issue. I have nothing more to say at this point. Our position on this issue has been put forth by the Foreign Minister.
Question: Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström visited Russia yesterday. She met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was the first Russian-Swedish contact at this level in the past two years. What can you say about it?
Maria Zakharova: I hope you don’t want to disrupt the unity of our ministry. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov provided a detailed assessment of our views on all aspects of this visit and its results yesterday. We have identical views on the results of this visit, and these views were made public at a news conference yesterday.
Question: Why has the Foreign Ministry decided to create an anti-fake news section on its website?
Maria Zakharova: First, we have to speak at nearly all briefings about materials that include or promote unreliable information or information that is published again and again even though we have refuted it some time ago. Second, in addition to making comments on the situation at large, we consider it necessary to say that this or that topic is an example of stovepiping as part of an anti-Russia information campaign and to cite concrete materials in this respect. I believe the public must know its “heroes”. It is one thing to comment on a situation, but it is quite another matter when we provide the names of media outlets and journalists who are involved.
We fully respect media freedom. It was a choice of principle made by our country. We have a legal framework regarding this, and we not just respect media freedom but also journalists’ opinions even when we do not agree with them. Unfortunately, it is a fact that information campaigns are waged to promote false information planted for this purpose. There were elements of information warfare and information aggression last time I checked. Fake news has become a global trend. Paradoxically, Russia is regularly accused of engaging in this. I am referring to government agencies and media. All international media outlets use the same method when providing unreliable information about Russia – they do not provide facts. This is the saddest and probably the most paradoxical element. A great deal of information is published, but never concrete facts.
On top of everything, a focus on entirely anonymous leaks represents a new component of this narrative. We are unaware of who is behind them, so no one can be held accountable. Meanwhile, the media tend to make major and far-reaching conclusions based on this information.
There’s another angle to it. Look at what’s happening: first, some information is put out there in the form of leaks coming from unnamed high-ranking sources, or they even go as far as publishing official opinions without providing any reliable information. All of that trickles down from major to smaller media, and from print media to television. After that, everything spreads across the internet at breakneck speed. Public opinion is formed. Two to three months later, a correction is published. However, the damage caused by this unverified information or misinformation is enormous, because the information has reached everyone through print and online media. The correction is therefore pointless.
I often cite an example that you are familiar with regarding Russian submarines in Northern Europe. This is a very similar approach where information is published citing anonymous sources in several countries about Russian submarines surfacing someplace and threatening to do something awful, and so on. No data or facts are provided, and no one can be made accountable for that. Six months later that same publication, in order to legally absolve itself of responsibility, publishes a one-line correction to the effect that it was not a submarine, but a fragment or the debris of a ship or a regular boat. However, no one is interested in the news any longer. No one is anxious to spread it. Probably, only Russia is interested in it telling everyone that they are issuing a correction now. But the effect is zero. All of that goes on and on. This submarine scare has lasted for decades. Talk about a sustained trend.
We started this section in order to provide specific examples. We're not pioneers in this regard, nor have we come up with anything new. I reiterate that we are open to a dialogue. If a publication, an editorial board, or reporters decide that their article was posted there without grounds and provide us with the information which would corroborate their assertions, we will certainly take it into consideration. We are open to communication. However, things like what happened in Montenegro simply cannot be. After all, we are constantly refuting the information. With more planted stories making their way to the press, our rebuttals, which we made many times, were not even noticed.
Question: What do you think about Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin’s proposal to strip Russia of its veto at the UN Security Council?
Maria Zakharova: With regard to the proposal by Mr Klimkin to strip Russia of its veto at the UN Security Council, I would like to give him a piece of advice. First, you need to make things right at home and resolve all your problems, before you take up the task of improving international mechanisms. So far, the international mechanisms have been working perfectly well without Mr Klimkin. So, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine would be better served by tending to matters at home. As soon as the problems in Ukraine, which the international community is now forced to deal with, have been resolved, then we can listen to what he has to say on other issues.
Question: Has the fake news section been launched already? When can we expect the first posts?
Maria Zakharova: Today.
Question: Allow me, on behalf of the newspaper Novoye Vremya, as well as the Armenian community and intelligentsia, to join in the condolences conveyed to the Foreign Ministry concerning the death of Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Vitaly Churkin. Have you noticed that an additional autopsy to determine the cause of death apparently must be held, which may take several weeks? At the same time, you said that the body of Vitaly Churkin will arrive in Moscow tomorrow. Could that be a case of fake news which you mentioned?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that as planned, on February 23, the casket with the body of Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Vitaly Churkin will arrive in the Russian Federation. In order to prevent the spread of fake news and leaks with regard to the investigation, or any speculations, we made a forceful appeal, including publicly, to the American side to have all the information on this matter supplied, in the first place, to the Russian side through official channels. We believe that this corresponds to legal practice and the human dimension of this matter. Family and close relatives do not deserve to learn about such thing from tabloids or some obscure websites. It’s undignified. To put it mildly, such moves do not do any good for the American side. The entire world paid respects to this man. You can be a fan of his, or an implacable opponent, but he was genuinely respected. This issue has a clear legal aspect. However, based on respect shown to Vitaly Churkin by the entire world, we expect the US side to strictly adhere to its existing obligations, so that we never again learn about the details of the investigation from unverified tabloid sources, or even respected publications, which use leaked information. Again, it is undignified behaviour and undermines the credibility of the media. In addition to the Russian side and the surviving family, there’s also the media, which have their own reputation. I believe the media themselves should realise that spreading such things undermines their reputation, because trust in the media is, unfortunately, waning. It takes decades to earn a good name, and it can be undermined in just a few short hours.
I hope everyone uses only verified information and sticks to the rules. In this situation, we operate on the premise that the American side will honour its obligations and will inform the Russian side first through available channels to prevent the spread of false information.
Question: What expectations do you have regarding today's meeting of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian? Do you expect any breakthroughs in promoting Armenia-Russia relations?
Maria Zakharova: I will leave the issue of breakthroughs for the foreign ministers to decide upon. But I will tell you that some interesting things have been planned.
The talks will begin in about 30 minutes, so please be patient and you’ll find out the details.
Question: On behalf of the Bulgarian agency, we would like to express condolences on the passing of Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Vitaly Churkin. We remember him as the Russian President’s Envoy to the Balkans.
Maria Zakharova: Thank you very much.
Question: The Prosecutor of Montenegro Milivoje Katnic named one specific name – E. Shishmakov. This person is still listed as an employee of the Russian Embassy in Poland. Could you confirm or refute this assertion by Prosecutor Katnic that there is such a person?
Maria Zakharova: The Prosecutor of Montenegro and Poland have nothing to do with one another, how can these things be connected? I just gave an assessment of what Montenegro's prosecutor had to say. If you have a specific query regarding an employee, I will certainly be able to confirm whether he is an employee of our foreign mission. I repeat that this is not the first time we are dealing with matters associated with Montenegro. We kept denying fake news and leaks regarding Russia’s involvement in the domestic developments in that country. We covered it, but our refutations are ignored, and each time new information is thrown in, the story starts all over again.
Question: The US authorities believe the situation in Afghanistan is very tense and the number of US servicemen there should be increased. What is your opinion of that? Will the enlarged military contingent help to improve the situation in Afghanistan?
Maria Zakharova: We keep returning to the situation in Afghanistan practically at every briefing. The situation is indeed complicated, we are witnessing terrorist activities, and we call for the necessary political process in that country. Apart from declarations, intense diplomatic work is being done in that direction by the Russian Foreign Ministry, meetings were held recently on this issue, including expanded format meetings. This shows the situation is undoubtedly complicated. We gave an assessment of the US role in ensuring Afghanistan’s security and combating terrorism in that country. We cannot assess the role the US has played for many years, as they say, in establishing peaceful life in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism, as successful. We also voiced our direct complaints. Unfortunately, there is also a clear tendency present here. In the past decades we have seen the same picture over and over again, when Washington would declare plans to democratise certain regions or to bring order there, or establish peace, or to fight terrorism, and afterwards, without resolving the designated tasks, Washington would just abandon those regions and countries to their fate while it was addressing new tasks it had set forth.
You know that the UN force has been operating in Afghanistan. A UNSC mandate was issued for everything that was going on there. Just recall how many times the Russian Federation used to call the forces that stayed there under the UN mandate to report to the UN Security Council on the accomplished work. As you know, our calls remained unanswered. Throughout all those years that were spent by the coalition to bring order to Afghanistan, the UNSC, which issued the mandate, was never informed and notified of the results of that work.
This is how we view this problem. We will regularly give our assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, while also dealing with this issue within the existing formats.
Question: Will the Russian Foreign Ministry’s site post Russian articles, for example, about a boy crucified in Slavyansk, in its “fake news” section? There are frequent situations when the positions of our, your and other correspondents differ a lot. For example, three years ago I was told in Crimea that the “green men” are Russian troops but the official stance was different. Or, for example, that a Russian Buk shot the Malaysian Boeing.
Maria Zakharova: When were you last in Donbass? Tell me, who has ever been to Donbass? You are speaking about the situation in the south of Ukraine, but those foreign colleagues who were there can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Question: I’ve been there many times, as long as I was allowed to enter. Alexander Zakharchenko promised that if I called him, they would let me in. I called him three times and they didn’t.
If there’s a report that has me stating our opinion and proving that this is indeed the case, but you say that it isn’t, that it’s fake news, what about it then?
Maria Zakharova: Look how everyone has sat up. Frankly, I didn’t even expect this kind of furore. This only goes to show that we’re doing everything just right. I didn’t even think that everyone would be so concerned. If you don’t publish fake news, why then does it worry you so? This means you have no chance of winding up there. I don’t see what the problem is.
As for reports in the Russian media, as you understand, the Foreign Ministry is involved in foreign policy. We are the agency that, under Russian law, works with foreign correspondents. We issue accreditation and actually work with foreign reporters. Our task is to refute information that is published in foreign media outlets. This is part of our job description. I can tell you – maybe you were not present in this room – it’s a subsection of a large section that is related to rebuttals. If you click on it you will see that we regularly refute materials that, in our opinion, in one way or another are untrue and were published in Russian media outlets. Don’t worry about your Russian colleagues. An appropriate spot is always allotted to them there.
Now you’ve taken this news too close to heart. Tell me, did you react in the same way to the reports that such sections were launched long ago in the media resources of European agencies that are overseen by Brussels? Do you ask them the same questions when they post information about the Russian media? Have you asked them about the criteria they use in selecting materials for publication? We asked this question and were told there are no criteria. We asked them to provide information or to substantiate these sections, materials and conclusions with concrete information. We received nothing. I can tell you more. It’s unfair to rebuke me over the fact that Mr Zakharchenko did not respond to your call three times in a row. However, I believe that when they hear today about your difficulties in communicating with people in Donbass who are in charge of contacts with the press – and we are live on the air – they will pay attention to you. So come more often and get it off your chest. You’ll be heard.
How responsive everyone always is to foreign correspondents’ concerns! How sensitive they are! In particular, yesterday a question was asked regarding the investigation into the case involving Swedish reporters. Foreign Minister Lavrov provided exhaustive information. The Information and Press Department could have provided all details to the Swedish correspondent but she decided to do so at the news conference, not in the regular course of work, as is common practice with many. How acutely this pain is felt when foreign correspondents are concerned! Don’t put it into the “fake news” section. Don’t strip them of accreditation. Of course, investigations are necessary. Why are you not just as sensitive and responsive to these problems where your Russian colleagues are involved? You don’t consider them your colleagues? You don’t regard people who have worked for years in Syria, where there is not a single Western correspondent, as professionals? Do you think all of this is fabricated? Every time we report on what we find in Aleppo. Why is this information reported only in the Russian media, but does not get through to you?
And another point. Look how many Russian correspondents were expelled from European countries. They are denied admittance to events they plan to cover. They have accreditation problems. A large number of TV channels in a number of countries were blocked due to their disagreement with the official position in these countries. Is this information reported in your media? No? Why? These are your colleagues. This is still about freedom of expression. It’s indivisible. There can’t be more of it or less of it. If you judge us, why don’t you judge yourselves?
Finally, a very important aspect. Today we sent a letter signed by the Information and Press Department director to OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović enumerating and specifying our concerns related to the infringement on Russian media rights. We not only lodge complaints but we also provide her and her institution with information about her concerns. For example, she asks us how the investigation of a particular case is proceeding, and we provide her the required information.
I’d like to give you one example. More than a year ago, we sent an official note from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the EU permanent mission in Moscow requesting information about the procedure for the accreditation of Russian correspondents abroad. Do you think we received an answer? No. When Russian correspondents are expelled or denied entry to European countries, we are told that they violated accreditation rules. We officially requested information about the accreditation procedure and visa requirements for foreign correspondents, in particular from Russia, so that they could work in EU territory. There was no response. And there is a whole foreign mission working here! How’s that? We constantly hear and there’ve been a number of materials written by your colleagues alleging that Russia has a non-transparent and undemocratic accreditation system for foreign correspondents. Well, well! All documents on the accreditation procedure are posted on our website. This law has been “at work” for many years. It was signed under President Yeltsin and has not been amended once. It’s available. What’s more, we reply to all questions practically in manual mode. Only once did we request the necessary documents from the EU to know the accreditation procedure for our correspondents so that they are not expelled. You see what I mean? These are not even double standards. This is simply playing on another chessboard.
I will say for the third time today what if some media outlets, which find their materials in the new section, have any questions and they provide us the relevant information, what problems can there be? We will look into their situation. The problem, however, is that the exact opposite is happening. When we see fake news (it is not our term; we did not make it up; we did not launch this campaign; it was a “mainstream” word in the presentations of all of our Western colleagues at the Munich conference), we write or try to get in touch with a corresponding media outlet and state our position. Unfortunately, very often no one wants to reflect Russia’s official line. Let’s try doing it in reverse. If you have complaints, write and we will simply change something. Let’s swap places and you will see how hard it is to prove that you’re right.
Question: Will you please repeat that. If a journalist or correspondent says he thinks the Malaysian Boeing was shot down by a Russian Buk, will the journalist be posted on that site section or not?
Maria Zakharova: You are perfectly aware that journalists and media outlets are responsible for what they publish. This is not something seen in a dream. Surely, if you claim something, there must be some materials and data to support the claim. We are not speaking about social media accounts owned by individuals, we are speaking about the media. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that such an article will come out and there will be no arguments. Can this happen?
We have already launched the section of the website. We are awaiting your response. Please write, call, provide information, we are ready to work with you.
Question: The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) would like to join in the condolences over the death of Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN Vitaly Churkin.
I would like you to go back to Kim Jong-nam’s murder because the issue is getting a lot of coverage. The United States is considering whether to add the DPRK to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and some are saying that the case may be considered by international courts. How closely is the Russian Foreign Ministry following the situation and how much attention does it pay to it?
Maria Zakharova: I can only repeat what I have already said. The situation has not changed in the past fifteen minutes.
I would like to go back to a point regarding the anti-fake project. You see, when we face wrong, unreliable information, our task in this case is to get the message across to the particular media outlet that published the information. Of course, we presume that journalists investigate, they have their materials. We respect even the most critical publications. The point is that in most publications the Russian position is totally disregarded, and if it isn’t, it is disproportionate to the bulk of the material. I have already given very many examples, you can see them on our site in the previous briefing transcripts. That is why our task is not so much to disclose or publicly condemn but rather to draw attention to the fact that the Russian position should be reflected in the media. If you are writing about Buks and accuse Russia, it probably makes sense to have the position of the other side reflected in the pages of your publication, or to insert a respective section in the narrative, to allocate time to it.
Do you realise how bad it’s become? I remember the work in the 2000s when the Ministry leaders gave interviews to Western TV channels. An interview would last from thirty minutes to an hour or more, and only one or two minutes of it would be aired. When we enquired where the rest of the material went, we were told that it was irrelevant. For example, at the height of the Syrian crisis anything Russia said about Syria would be edited out. We asked why the comments about Syria were cut out, and we were told that they were irrelevant. How can this be? Or one part of what was said about Ukraine remained whereas the second part, which was really essential and contained the facts and data, would be cut out. What can be done about it? We have found a way out: now we set up our own camera, we record the interview ourselves and then publish the complete transcript and video. We have been through everything. Another round of information aggression is just a new round for us. We have long been observing an unfair, biased attitude towards us regarding the presentation of information. You see for yourselves, there are no other problems in the world save Russia. Russian hackers have been found everywhere, yet there are no data, nothing is presented at all. Actually, our project has been launched largely for this reason.
Question: What do you know about the new US administration’s plans to get Saudi Arabia involved in the fight against terrorism in Syria? Could you comment on the possibility of [US-Saudi] actions being coordinated with Moscow?
Maria Zakharova: I believe that bilateral relations between the US and Saudi Arabia should be commented on by representatives of those countries. As for the situation in Syria, we have the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which includes the US and Saudi Arabia. At least, it used to include them. This group has met and worked both in an expanded format, including all of its founding member countries, and in a more compact format. So all of the member countries are well known to you. Regarding the relaunch of efforts on the Syrian track – rumours to that effect are circulating in the US (it’s hard to say “talk” because the strategy has yet to be enunciated), we’re awaiting the formulation of a new approach or an old approach and are willing to cooperate. As you know, Syria was discussed during the meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Rex Tillerson in Bonn. So we are willing to work together and discuss formats and multi-format participation. However, we need to wait until this concept is formulated and enunciated.
Question: What is the Foreign Ministry’s view of the results and prospects of the Russia-Turkey-Iran format in the resolution of the Syria crisis? Could other countries in the region be involved in this effort?
Maria Zakharova: We certainly consider this format effective because it’s working, as is evidenced by the recent and upcoming meetings. I spoke about these meetings and their results in detail today. The format is working and we’ll continue to use it.
Question: On behalf of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, I’d like to join in the condolences to the family of Vitaly Churkin over his untimely death. It feels like an entire era in international diplomacy went with him. Are any drastic changes being planned in Russia’s foreign policy and diplomacy abroad – not only following his death but also in connection with the rapidly changing geopolitical situation in the world?
Maria Zakharova: I’d like to remind you that the foreign policy concept is approved by the Russian president. A new concept was approved and published not so long ago. The Foreign Ministry proceeds from this document in pursuing its foreign policy course. It was updated and approved, and it’s our guideline.
Question: It so happens that the “fake news” issue got many in this room worried.
Maria Zakharova: You’ve got nothing to worry about.
Question: Are there any other consequences except the rebuttal of articles, “fake news”, for their authors, media outlets and reporters, including those accredited in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: Are you suggesting that repression be used?
Question: Maybe some sanctions?
Maria Zakharova: The stick is not our way. Only the carrot.
Question: Russian officials, including Sergey Lavrov, have repeatedly asked why Western correspondents do not go to Donbass. I spent a lot of time there during the war. It was a matter of principle for me to show the other side. Now, for two years in a row I’ve been denied accreditation in Donetsk. There’s no explanation.
Maria Zakharova: I believe that today people in Donetsk will hear you as well, something tells me.
Question: Of late, the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers have regularly visited Moscow. Are there any new approaches toward the Nagorno-Karabakh talks?
Is there any news regarding the case of blogger Alexander Lapshin?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding Mr Lapshin, I gave the latest information on him at the previous briefing. I’ll bring you up to date on the situation at the next briefing.
As for new approaches, diplomacy is a process, so contacts are designed precisely to find points of agreement.