Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 5, 2018
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to chair joint meeting of the MGIMO University Supervisory Board and Board of Trustees
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend seminar for heads of state legislative (representative) bodies of Russia’s regions - members of the Council of Legislators of Russia’s Federal Assembly
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend meeting of the Foreign Ministers Council of the eleven member states of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC)
- Update on Maria Butina
- Update on Syria
- Developments around the UN-designated Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon
- Update on Ukraine
- Restriction on Russian nationals’ entry to Ukraine
- INF Treaty update
- Plans to deploy US military infrastructure in Cyprus
- Outcome of the Fourth Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention
- Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius's anti-Russian invective
- Article in Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad
- Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s statement at the European Parliament
- Russian journalists injured during Paris protests
- “Spy” scandal in the UK
- Answers to media questions:
- Russian-Japanese relations
- Russian-Estonian relations
- Russian-Chinese relations
- Situation around the provocation in the Kerch Strait
- US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey’s statement on the Sochi and Astana processes
- US State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s statement on the INF Treaty
- Top-level meeting in the Russia-India-China format during the G20 summit
- US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker’s statement on strengthening or introducing new sanctions against Russia
I said at the previous meeting that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would take part in the OSCE Ministerial Council, which will take place in Milan on December 6−7. Today I would like to tell you in more detail about the minister’s meetings on the sidelines of the upcoming event. As you know, the coordination of such multilateral meetings’ programme continues to the last possible moment. Changes are still possible, but we will try to update you on them.
As of now, we are coordinating a meeting of the CSTO countries’ foreign ministers. Sergey Lavrov may have talks with High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President George Tsereteli, Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher, and foreign ministers Ine Marie Eriksen (Norway), Heiko Maas (Germany) and Chingiz Aidarbekov (Kyrgyzstan).
Last week you also asked me about the upcoming meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan plan to meet today, ahead of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan, to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement with mediation from the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, the United States and France). Russia will be represented at this meeting by Ambassador at Large Igor Popov. The parties involved issued an announcement on this meeting on December 3. A statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement may be adopted at the meeting in one of two possible forms: either by the co-chairs or in the 3+2 format together with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
On December 10, Sergey Lavrov will chair a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad.
The participants will consider the foundation’s performance amid the deteriorating international situation and increased pressure on members of the Russian diaspora in some Western countries. They will also discuss the foundation’s tasks for the near future and new forms and methods of its activities.
On December 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a joint meeting of the Supervisory Board and Board of Trustees of Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (MGIMO).
The members of the Supervisory Board and the University’s Trustees will hear a report from MGIMO Rector Anatoly Torkunov on the results and main activities of the University, and will consider projects for its future development. Special attention will be paid to events marking the 75th anniversary of MGIMO in October 2019.
On December 13, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a seminar for heads of state legislative bodies of Russia’s regions - members of the Council of Legislators of Russia’s Federal Assembly, where he will deliver a report, “The International Situation: Current Challenges and Trends”.
The programme also includes presentations by Government members, representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and experts from Russia’s leading research centres. The event, organised by the Federation Council and the Russian Academy of Sciences, is held annually starting in 2016.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov will take part in a meeting of the BSEC Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (BSEC) on December 14 in Baku.
The participants will summarise the six-month Azerbaijani Chairmanship-in-Office of the group under the motto of “Boosting Trade through Connectivity” in the Black Sea region. A wide range of issues of the regional economic cooperation agenda will also be discussed, including relevant sectoral issues such as transport, energy, agriculture, science and technology, and healthcare.
Russia will use the forthcoming Ministerial Meeting to promote a unifying agenda and proposals in support of the BSEC strategic objectives, including the coordination of the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry-initiated framework for the development of e-commerce and Single Window projects. We will work to help strengthen the BSEC as a depoliticised platform for intergovernmental dialogue in the interests of expanding mutually beneficial economic cooperation in the region, enhancing economic ties, making them more sustainable and increasing the practical benefits of ongoing projects.
Russia is actively involved in the BSEC activities aimed at enhancing the prosperity and progressive development of the Black Sea region, and acts as a donor for the BSEC and a shareholder in the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank affiliated with it. In 2016, a project cooperation development mechanism in the Black Sea region was launched on the initiative of and with the financial support of Russia, and is steadily gaining momentum.
We are outraged by the pressure that the American authorities are exerting on Russian citizen Maria Butina, who was arrested in the US last summer on trumped-up charges.
Once more, her detention terms have been toughened. She is in solitary confinement for 22 hours per day. Ms Butina is not receiving proper medical care. We consider this an attempt to intimidate and break her down ahead of the court hearing - I should note once again on a fabricated case - scheduled for December 19.
Russian diplomats in Washington take every effort to support Ms Butina, visiting and calling her on a regular basis. They have sent a resolute protest to the prison officials, demanding that this degrading treatment stop. A note containing a harsh demarche in this connection has been sent to the Department of State.
We will continue demanding the release of Ms Butina, who is a victim of this blatant outrage. Meanwhile, we have heard numerous statements and comments by US officials as regards the detained Ukrainian sailors. No such measures have been imposed on any of the detained Ukrainian sailors. If our American partners think they can comment on the detention of people who violated Russia's state border, they should start by commenting the situation around the political prisoner held in their country.
The parties continue implementing the Memorandum on Stabilising the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Zone that President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan coordinated in Sochi on September 17. Turkey has been making efforts to disengage the “moderate” opposition from the terrorists. Despite this, not all extremists obey the requirement on creating a 20-kilometre belt of the demilitarised zone. Thus far, it has been impossible to stop the militants’ daily provocations aimed at disrupting the joint Russian-Turkish activities.
According to information available to the Russian military, violations of the ceasefire regime are still recorded. Shells were fired at the residential areas of Zellakiyat in Hama province and Jub-al-Mgara in Latakia province, as well as at Hai al-Ansari district in Aleppo. As a result of the Zellakiyat shelling, one Syrian serviceman was killed and another wounded.
As is common knowledge, President Putin and President Erdogan, meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on December 1, confirmed the existing agreements on Idlib and coordinated further steps for their implementation.
The dubious activities of the US-led “coalition” in Syria are a source of growing concern. The Americans continue their illegal occupation of the 55-kilometre zone surrounding the Al-Tanf military base, where they behave as if they were its rightful owners. In the night of December 3, several missile strikes were launched from there at the positions of the Syrian government forces deployed outside the zone in the Al-Gurab area. The US side claims that the attacks were directed at ISIS deployment sites, but the official Syrian media deny this.
We believe that these US actions speak to an unwillingness to ensure at least minimal stability in this part of Syria, which is needed for organising regular humanitarian aid deliveries to the Rukban refugee camp located inside the zone.
In the larger scheme of things, the aim of the illegal US presence, as we see it, is to try and play the “Kurdish card” in the area beyond the Euphrates River and steer towards a banal division of sovereign Syria, despite official claims about their alleged commitment to its unity and territorial integrity.
The Western coalition forces achieved a “major” success in southeastern Syria, where they at last managed to win from ISIS northern Hajin. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Syrian government forces managed to mop up ISIS on 380 square kilometres of the Al-Safa plateau, Suwayda province (92 kilometres from Damascus), within a much shorter timeframe than the six-month-long US operation. In so doing, they seized a lot of weapons from the militants, including US-made anti-tank guided missiles.
Positive developments include the fact that by December 3, over 1,000 refugees had returned to Syria from Lebanon and Jordan within a 24 hour period. A special focus is on creating favorable conditions, including legal conditions, for the repatriation of Syrian nationals. Specifically, the Syrian authorities continue the work to formalise amnesty for evading military service, including among refugees and former members of illegal armed groups, as part of the effort to implement President Assad’s executive order of November 9, 2018. As of December 1, over 14,000 persons went through the procedure.
Media have reported on the Israeli military's intention to launch Operation Northern Shield. The operation aims to destroy the tunnels allegedly built by Hezbollah in the area of the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon and in the northern part of the Golan Heights to send infiltrators to Israeli territory.
To this end, the Israeli army has reinforced its forces in the northern part of the country. According to the statement made by Israeli military officials, the operation will take place solely on the territory controlled by the Israeli army.
Israel's right to defend its national security and prevent illegal entry into the country is indisputable. Yet, we express hope that the actions taken will not go against the provisions of UN Security Council’s Resolution 1701, which defines the rules for the parties' conduct in the Blue Line area, which - it should be noted - is not an internationally recognised border. We expect that the contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, deployed in the territory, will carry out its monitoring mission and prevent any violations.
We call for all sides to show necessary responsibility and restraint, and avoid any provocative acts and strong statements that could escalate tensions in the Middle East.
At the November 30 briefing, we already mentioned that martial law in Ukraine is part of a well-devised plan with clear domestic political undercurrents. In order to retain its grip on power, the Kiev regime is ready to do anything, even to unleash a new blitzkrieg in southeastern Ukraine.
Unfortunately, recently, we have been hearing about ongoing preparations for possible military actions by the Ukrainian armed forces in Donbass. Again, the Kiev regime is trying to use the cover of information noise to direct the international community’s attention to its own provocation in the Kerch Strait which it tries to pass off as aggressive actions taken by Russia. Substantial offensive forces are being redeployed in that region and dispersed along the contact line. The other day, photos of tank units redeployed to Mariupol were posted on social media. In addition, airborne assault and mechanised brigades of the Ukrainian armed forces are being redeployed in the conflict zone. In November, the personnel of these brigades underwent training at the training ranges in the Zhytomyr and Lvov regions overseen by the US, Canadian and British instructors.
Exercises in the Zaporozhye, Kherson and Chernigov regions, as well as training for reservists, were announced. Members of foreign private military contractors were spotted on the contact line as well. They trained Ukrainian spec ops personnel with an eye towards carrying out, I stress, offensive operations. The defence industry and the repair and maintenance capacities for the Ukrainian army are being switched to a wartime mode of operation.
In a word, martial law is a disguise or a screen, if you will, behind which Poroshenko’s regime is clearly trying to conceal its plans to stage another provocation in Donbass. Today, I will provide specific figures and facts to back this up. Again, we think this will be presented as hard evidence of “Russian aggression.”
We also noted the piece of news carried by the British media about sending to Ukraine the 77th brigade of the British armed forces, the main tasks of which include conducting special cyber operations, as well as psychological and information warfare.
Such information is indicative of London’s continued provocative policy aimed at destabilising the situation in Ukraine and can be interpreted as a direct attempt to provoke a new round of military confrontation in Donbass and to disrupt the peace process. Such actions are absolutely unacceptable.
Now, on to the specific examples which I mentioned above. Clearly, Kiev is openly sabotaging the Minsk Package of Measures. This causes concern on our part. To reiterate, martial law imposed by President Poroshenko on November 28 in 10 Ukrainian regions, including Donbass, is at odds with not only the letter and the spirit of the Package of Measures, but is also fraught with a major threat of resuming hostilities. I would like to note once again that, to date, an offensive group of the Ukrainian armed forces has been formed in this zone, which is capable of unleashing large-scale hostilities along the contact line at any time. In November, the OSCE SMM monitors recorded over 50 units of military equipment of the Ukrainian armed forces in violation of paragraph 2 of the Package of Measures and more than 150 units of weapons deployed immediately behind the withdrawal line. They spotted a BUK anti-aircraft system in Donbass near the town of Shevchenko on November 12, an S-300 anti-aircraft system outside the village of Nikolskoye (formerly Volodarskoye), R-934B/BM radio suppression stations outside Prechepilovka, and other weapons.
In addition, in violation of the Package of Measures which prohibits UAVs along the contact line except for those used by the OSCE Monitoring Mission, the Ukrainian armed forces are using UAVs, including warfare-grade, in Donbass.
Mimicking the ISIS terrorists in their tactics of using UAVs, the Ukrainian military uses drones to drop hand grenades and mines on civilian targets thus causing civilian casualties. For example, a resident of the village of Mineralnoye was wounded on November 7 by a Ukrainian army-operated UAV equipped with hand grenades, and residential buildings were damaged in Staromikhailovka following such an attack.
According to our information, last month alone, the military of the people's republics destroyed nine Ukrainian army’s UAVs, which in itself is indicative of their wide use by Ukraine. When I say Ukraine, I mean the Kiev regime.
In this regard, the incoming information about the possibility of all sorts of provocations by the Ukrainian military in Donbass, including the use of chemical agents, cannot but cause our concern. Such actions can cause civilian casualties and are at variance with not only the Minsk agreements, but international agreements on the prohibition and restriction of weapons of mass destruction.
We urge the OSCE SMM to step up its activities in Donbass. What is needed is not fragmentary information, but a comprehensive look at the military preparations by the armed forces of Ukraine. All the more so as we not only made these facts public today, but passed them on to our colleagues at the OSCE as well. It is not enough to record the direction of fire or be limited to recording instances of shelling. What is needed is a detailed analysis of incidents and the adoption of appropriate measures. Each civilian casualty or injury resulting from shelling must be included in a separate detailed situational report, and the perpetrators must be punished no matter what including through international courts.
Now, the continuing anti-Russian hysteria of the current Ukrainian leadership. Recently, it was announced that Kiev decided to impose restrictions on Russian nationals’ entry to Ukraine.
The restriction concerns Russian men aged 16 to 60. Without any solid grounds, they are now banned from crossing the Ukrainian border. Crossing the border has become almost impossible. The restriction has already affected prominent Russian performers, cultural workers, to say nothing about ordinary Russians who were travelling to Ukraine to visit their relatives and loved ones in connection with humanitarian cases.
It is absolutely ridiculous of the Kiev officials to claim that Russian nationals may form squads of private armies in Ukraine and, therefore, their entry must be restricted. This is absolutely absurd.
The actual motive behind this decision is quite obvious. It is very mundane. No imagination is necessary here. The incumbent Ukrainian leadership is desperately trying to keep its falling rating afloat at the expense of ordinary people, by making advances to nationalist-minded voters. We see the Kiev officials’ absolutely Russophobic initiative as an intention to harm ordinary people in everyday life. We believe that within several months, Ukrainians will duly assess the actions of the current Kiev leadership.
In addition to political statements and political analysis that exist, I think Ukrainian citizens must ask themselves and their leaders “enthroned” in Kiev some very simple questions: “Why do you need this? Why is this measure being implemented at such a scale and speed? Where is this going? What are we getting from this? Is our life becoming better because of this?”
I would like to repeat the statement made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. On our part, we do not intend to impose any restrictions against Ukrainian nationals who are currently staying in or planning to visit Russia. We are not going to create unnecessary problems for anybody.
Almost daily, we hear dramatics from Ukrainian officials regarding the number of agreements, treaties and legal acts with Russia that they have already terminated or are in the process of terminating or will terminate in the future.
One does not have to be too smart to make such statements, first of all, and, second of all, to terminate what they should not. The question is how they will go on. Do they have a legal alternative – not for Russia but mainly for their own citizens – that would regulate the relationship important for the peoples of the two countries?
A number of bold statements on the INF Treaty came yesterday from Brussels where the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting took place. Let me update you on the situation.
In the evening of December 4, the US Embassy in Moscow delivered an official note to the Foreign Ministry notifying us that the US intends to suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty within 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance. We accepted these documents for further consideration.
This notice reproduces groundless accusations of alleged violations by Russia without any evidence to back these claims.
Today, I would like to take this opportunity to stress that Russia has repeatedly said that these are far-fetched allegations. We have yet to see evidence confirming the position of the US. If this evidence was presented to NATO members, why is the US not willing to share it with Russia? Let me emphasise that Russia has never received any materials, data or facts from anyone proving that Moscow was in breach of this treaty or failed to comply in good faith with its provisions.
We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the INF Treaty as one of the cornerstones of strategic stability and international security. Russia is categorically opposed to the breakdown of this framework. We are ready to continue dialogue in the relevant formats on all matters related to the treaty. Of course, this must be a mutually respectful and professional dialogue free from groundless accusations or ultimatums. Our proposals to this effect are well known and remain on the table.
A number of sources have reported that the US is proactively exploring a military build-up in Cyprus, making little secret of the fact that this effort is designed to counter Russia’s growing influence in the region in light of the progress in the Syrian operation by the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Specifically, a delegation of US experts has recently inspected military and strategic sites on the island with a view to setting up a forward deployment base for the US Armed Forces. Washington is actively discussing with Nicosia ways to expand military-technical cooperation.
Russia has pointed out to the leadership of the Republic of Cyprus on numerous occasions that further efforts to militarise the island and draw it into US and NATO plans for the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East regions would inevitably lead to dangerous destabilisation effects for Cyprus itself. Moscow cannot turn a blind eye to the anti-Russia nature of these plans and, should they materialise, will be forced to take retaliatory action.
First of all, I would like to express our deep regret over the failure of the participants of the Fourth Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took place in The Hague on November 21-30, to coordinate the final document even though they were so close to reaching a consensus.
That document could have been coordinated thanks to the goodwill and readiness for compromise shown by the majority of delegations. During consultations, Permanent Representative of the Republic of El Salvador to the OPCW Vasquez Gomez who presided at the conference managed to coordinate a largely acceptable document. Its adoption would have shown that there are chances for improving the situation based on consensus, despite the split in the OPCW over the so-called Syrian file, the Skripal case initiated by the UK and, recently, over the attribution initiative.
Regrettably, the United States and its closest allies have buried the almost finished consensus-based document. At the last possible moment, they deliberately added provisions about which the member sides have intractable disagreements. We have to say that this approach has become the norm.
When the issue concerns politics, it is extremely important to discuss not only outcomes or the external aspects of foreign policy activities, but also aims. In this particular case, the US delegation and its supporters did not aim to restore the OPCW’s unity or to enhance its efficiency. They had completely different goals in mind.
Because of their destructive actions, the conference only ended with the publication of a non-binding report of the conference chair. This pathetic result points to a growing disunity within the OPCW. This certainly has a negative impact on the organisation’s work and, consequently, its prestige.
Moreover, the idea of giving attribution functions, that is, the right to assign blame for chemical attacks, to the Technical Secretariat of this essentially technical organisation, which a small group of countries have forced through, will not do this organisation any good. This actually amounts to direct interference with the exclusive authority of the UN Security Council and runs contrary to the CWC and international law.
We have noted the article by Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevicius, which has been posted on the Delfi news website. In the article, he made derogatory comments about Russia and it leadership in connection with the recent incident in the Kerch Strait.
This is not the first time official Vilnius has made rude attacks, with the Lithuanian authorities pursuing a policy of straining relation with Russia to divert attention from the numerous problems in their country. Such an approach goes against the interests of the Lithuanian people who, we are confident, would like to maintain mutually beneficial, neighbourly cooperation with Russia. To say the least, this is impolite on the side of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.
We also must comment on the latest attempt by western journalists to once again exploit the topic of Russian spy mania. This time, it was the seemingly well regarded Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which posted a lengthy verbose article under the catchy but hardly fresh title, “Putin's spies in the Netherlands."
In the article, journalists went even further and called the Russian Embassy in the Hague the “think-tank of espionage” and half of its staff members spies. They listed the names of former and current staff members of the diplomatic mission and the defence attache office, naturally, without giving any factual information. This is speculation, false stories and well-worn cliches, and there is no evidence that can be used in any way, as always.
These allegations are not surprising. What is surprising is the fact that they appeared in a respected publication. We see that the official Hague has been making every effort to ruin bilateral relations with Moscow. We also noted another thing: the article was posted just following the statements by the Dutch ministers of foreign affairs and defence, who highly assessed the Netherlands' security services which allegedly managed to obtain their own “evidence” of Russia's violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Earlier, they praised the achievements of the Dutch counterintelligence services, which had prevented a cyber attack on the OPCW headquarters allegedly planned by Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate.
Let’s be realistic and look at the facts to see why this has been done. This was done to make the Dutch think that more budget spending is required to maintain the special services. These are the blunt methods our Dutch partners employ, using truly democratic institutions and mechanisms to address entirely pragmatic issues.
We could not overlook the statement Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen made in the European Parliament on November 28. In particular, he mentioned that his mother witnessed the bombings of Bornholm by the Russians after Denmark regained its independence in May 1945. She saw a burning fire when bombs fell from heaven, he said. Any mockery or sarcasm with regard to the memories of eyewitnesses of those events would be blasphemous. You know how we feel about this. But this is not what we are talking about now.
These statements by the head of the Danish Government are a classic example of distorting historical truth for propaganda purposes.
Let us recall what actually happened and what Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s mother could have seen at that time. We are talking about the Soviet troops’ operation to liberate Bornholm from the Nazi invaders.
Allow me to remind you the chronology of those events. At the end of World War II, the island of Bornholm was vigorously used by the Germans as a rear transshipment base for its troops in the Baltic States and East Prussia. A 12,000 strong garrison was stationed there. On May 7−8, 1945, after the German commandant refused to capitulate, Soviet troops carried out air strikes on German units in the ports of Ronne and Nexo and landed on the island. The Danish side was informed that the Soviet troops were there temporarily until military issues were resolved in Germany. Bornholm remained under the control of the Danish administration.
On March 16, 1946, the Soviet government notified Denmark that the troops would be withdrawn from the island within a month. On April 4, an act transferring Bornholm to representatives of the Danish authorities was signed, and on the next day, the commander of the Soviet units on the island, General Alexander Yakushev, left it on a military ship, thus completing the withdrawal of Soviet troops.
There are numerous testimonies of contemporaries of those events, documented in Soviet and Danish sources. Here are some examples.
Foreign Minister John Christmas Moller said on the radio on May 10, 1945: “The Danish people express their gratitude to Russia for assisting in the liberation of Denmark, and send their wishes for a happy recovery period. We also hope that in the future, the Soviet Union and Denmark will build their relations on the basis of the friendship that arose between our peoples during the difficult days of the war. ”
The Danish newspaper Politiken wrote at the time: “Russian troops have left the best impressions, as their discipline was exemplary. They came as friends and brought with them liberation. We will never forget it.”
A memorial has been installed at the mass grave of Soviet soldiers who died during the landing on the island, with the words, “Eternal glory to the Russian heroes who died in the battles of Bornholm” written in golden letters.
The current head of the Danish government has distorted historical truth citing the Red Army liberation operation on Bornholm as an example of WWII horrors rather than the Nazi invasion, which brought death and destruction to Europe.
One naturally wonders if he paid enough attention in his history classes in school, as he doesn’t seem to know the history of his own country, let alone of other countries and peoples. Or, maybe he did it on purpose, despite knowing the history of his own country quite well? Then it is a crime. In any case, such statements further aggravate the negative atmosphere that the official Copenhagen has been recently shaping in Russian-Danish relations.
I would like to address the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, personally now: Please, stop disgracing your mother.
We were concerned to hear the news from Paris about the Russian journalists who were injured while covering the protests. According to RT, a total of eight RT France employees, two RT International journalists and two Ruptly video agency stringers were injured during the mass protests, with one of employees shot by a rubber bullet and another hurt by a tear gas canister launched by the police. Another correspondent, VGTRK employee Darya Grigorova, suffered a leg injury and gas poisoning.
We call on Paris to refrain from excessive use of force, and, of course, refrain from using any kind of force towards journalists, bearing in mind the norms of respecting freedom of speech and ensuring that media representatives can go about their work safely, which Paris has committed to doing, as well as to enforce the law while adhering to the principles of humanism. We demand that France provide the completely safe working environment necessary for journalists. They must not be targeted by the police. I would like to remind you that this is what our colleagues from the French Foreign Ministry kept lecturing us about. Do not forget what you have been teaching us.
We noted another scandal in the UK focusing on two Russian employees of the Channel One TV station, namely, correspondent Timur Siraziyev and cameraman Dmitry Volkov. On November 21, the journalists were filming next to the 77th Army Brigade in Berkshire, in other words, they were doing their routine journalistic work. They never entered the grounds of the military unit, and presented their papers to a guard at the checkpoint to avoid a possible misunderstanding.
However, this caused a stormy reaction from the British media, which instantly called our reporters spies. Almost all leading UK print media stated that Siraziyev and the cameraman were covertly filming on the grounds of the “top secret army unit” that works with British intelligence services in “electronic and psychological warfare.” This is despite the fact that information about the supposedly “top-secret” 77th brigade is readily available online. There is even an article on Wikipedia with photos of military facilities and their coordinates.
It is also noteworthy that the BBC film crew, which later arrived on the scene to make a report about the incident and was filming literally from the same spot that our journalists used for their filming, got away with no questions asked.
Of course, this episode is another case of discrimination, political pressure and an atmosphere of toxicity with regard to our media in the UK. The position adopted by the "independent" British media is stunning. I would like to say a few words to the British media: you should change a thing or two in the carbon-copy materials that are being passed on to you (by we know who) or add your own words to them. Clearly, you are doing someone’s bidding, which is reflected in the articles published by the so-called independent UK media.
I would also like to remind the British authorities about their obligations to ensure a proper working environment for the press as part of existing international agreements, including the need to observe such principles of international law as freedom of speech and equal access to information for all.
We demand a stop to the policy of stoking intolerance and hostility with regard to Russian media. British media work in our country under the most favourable arrangements. Yet not only they, but other foreign correspondents as well, violate these rules. Nobody is calling them spies, persecuting them or publishing their personal data. We have all the information about the number of times British correspondents did their so-called reports while breaking Russian law, in what circumstances and even for what purposes. If this situation continues, we will come up with a reciprocal response. For example, we will publish information about British journalists and tell everyone how many times they have actually violated the rules of accreditation. Notably, these are not the rules invented by the Russian Foreign Ministry, but a well-known legislative act that has been in effect in our country for many years.
Question: On November 29, the Sakhalin Regional Duma adopted an appeal to the Russian Foreign Minister with a request to exclude the territorial issue from the agenda of the discussion of peace agreements with Japan. On November 3, the Foreign Minister of Japan declared that their basic position is to conclude a peace treaty after solving the territorial problem. The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stated that Russia’s sovereignty over the southern Kuril Islands is beyond doubt. What is Russia’s position in the negotiations with Japan? If Russia’s sovereignty over the southern Kurils is beyond doubt, then what provisions of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Declaration are taken as the basis of the negotiation process?
Maria Zakharova: We so extensively and frequently comment on and state our approach to talks with our Japanese colleagues, that I just cannot accept any questions or reproaches that the Russian approach is unknown or not stated. If you visit the Foreign Ministry’s website and look through the texts of our briefings, speeches, answers to media questions, and the Foreign Minister’s interviews, you will see that this topic has recently received a lot of attention. Also, the steps taken by the Russian side are presented in detail.
We saw the appeal from the regions that you mentioned. By virtue of the current legislation and the organisation of work of our ministry, we take into account such an appeal as an expression of the will of a certain group of citizens. These can be individuals, groups of legislators, and representatives of political parties and public movements. For us, this is also part of the job. Of course, their opinion is not just acknowledged by the Foreign Ministry, but is also taken into account in our work, and answers are given. In this case, we carry out the same procedure. The applicants will get answers on an individual basis.
As for the Russian approach, once again I would like to say that it is fully and completely stated on the Ministry’s website. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that on November 14, at a meeting in Singapore, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to speed up the negotiation process based on the 1956 joint declaration. In the postwar period, this document served as the legal basis to build relations between the USSR, the successor state of which is Russia, and Japan. The declaration was ratified by the parliaments of both countries and registered with the UN Secretariat. This concerns the question of whether anyone wants to add or withdraw elements from the negotiation process. In this case, the negotiation process is based on the existing legal framework. It was developed, ratified by the parliaments of both countries, and registered with the UN Secretariat. It formally declares the end to the state of war and restores diplomatic relations between the USSR and Japan.
As such, references to the declaration and the political dialogue with Japan are justified and natural. Of course, the Russian side proceeds from the need to take into account, within the framework of the negotiation process, all the existing bilateral documents and diplomatic correspondence, including memoranda of the Soviet Government of January 27 and February 24, 1960. Here is an additional brief summary on this subject. But once again I want to say that the Russian position in this case, despite the intensive dialogue with the Japanese side, is based on a very solid legal foundation. This position did not come about spontaneously but on the basis of current law.
Question: The other day, a draft resolution on the possible refusal to ratify the Russian-Estonian border agreement was submitted to the Estonian Parliament for consideration. A few days before this move, the Estonian MPs condemned Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait and suggested introducing new sanctions on Russia. How Russia can respond to these statements and initiatives?
Maria Zakharova: These initiatives are not designed to improve relations between the two countries, far from it; they are not even designed to maintain normal relations between them.
As for concrete statements by Estonia’s official representatives regarding the situation in the Kerch Strait, I can assure you that if they are asked about the details of this incident, about what really happened there, they will not be able to give even a rough answer – this will be something very different from a detailed answer based on facts that were presented, recorded and posted on the internet by Russia. They will not even be able to provide a general description of what has happened.
First, this is indicative of their political bias. These statements have been made not to diffuse the situation but only in order to toe the line that is currently being peddled, that is, to criticise everything that Russia is doing and blindly accuse it of everything without taking the trouble to produce facts to support their accusations.
Second, this shows that this country lacks a strong and sovereign position in international affairs. This is a repetition and copying of someone else’s utterances. Alas, this is becoming normal practice, in particular, for the Baltic states when they address various issues. This is a cause for much regret.
I believe the Estonian people should think about this because these statements are being made on behalf of their country. They should ask their politicians, their incumbent leaders if they have closely looked into the matter and if they have asked Russia to provide the details of the incident. Might they have had any additional questions about what happened? What information were they basing the decisions in question on?
Question: During his meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Argentina Chinese President Xi Jinping accepted the offer to attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2019 and invited Vladimir Putin to take part in the second One Belt, One Road Summit in April next year. What do you think about new progress in relations between Russia and China? What opportunities are these forums likely to offer?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to remind you that the Presidential Executive Office normally comments on the presidential agenda.
I cannot agree with you that it is new progress. In this case it is a sign of the progress achieved so far and a manifestation of the high point that relations between Russia and China are currently at.
It is good that these invitations have been made and accepted. These are not isolated instances. Our leaders regularly exchange visits, attending historical and economic events in Russia and China, have telephone conversations and delegate representatives of their countries’ executive and legislative branches to hold talks on expanding cooperation in various areas and take part in the events which they are unable to attend due to their demanding schedules.
We attach special importance to the development of ties with China in all areas. In addition to our relations being as valuable as they are and not dependent on the international situation and the situation in other regions around the world, we are neighbours. We are connected by a common border, geography and history, as well as our nations’ interests. It is evident that in today’s world that is lacking any movement toward stability, it is important to have a close dialogue with countries who are responsible global players. Moscow and Beijing have demonstrated these qualities many times.
Question: One of the persons detained in the Kerch Strait, Vladimir Varimez, is an ethnic Bulgarian. Can the Russian Foreign Ministry grant us the opportunity to go where he has been detained to do a story on him?
Maria Zakharova: This is a question for law enforcement agencies. They deal with the press without our help. But we will try to help you get in touch with them since you represent foreign media.
I never knew that ethnic origin is taken into consideration in such cases. I am not sure about the ethnic origin of other detained Ukrainian sailors. Never thought about it. We will help make your request known to law enforcement agencies.
Question: Russia has shown magnanimity in all its wars. Can it release all rank-and-file soldiers who were captured in the wake of the Kerch Strait incident?
Maria Zakharova: First, there are not only rank-and-file soldiers, but also members of the security service. Second, an investigation is underway. From the public rhetoric that we are now witnessing, they were clearly acting upon an order, which was part of a pre-planned provocation. President Putin said that it was imperative to establish all the details. An investigation is underway.
You said that Russia has always shown humanism. We were also called upon to respect the law, and we embarked on this path with respect and gratitude.
The state border of the Russian Federation was violated. The way in which the border was defended – and the amount of patience shown by Russia with regard to the people who, upon an order by the Kiev regime, had to perform these provocative actions – is precisely an example of such humanism.
I also want to draw your attention to the history of incidents similar to the Kerch Strait. There are hundreds or even thousands of them. You are well aware of how they are usually resolved. No one spends hours asking the perpetrator to stop acting crazy and beg for recognition signals to be given. Nobody spends hours in an attempt to stop the provocative actions. Russia, as you rightly said, did not forget about humanism, and acted as I described. Every other country, including Bulgaria, whose media you represent, knows what the protection of the state border is all about. Check the history, including the latest, and look at how countries carry out the legitimate activities to protect their state borders. No country would be too soft in such circumstances. Moreover, no country would even try to stop this madness by putting its own citizens at risk for so much time.
I realise that these are completely different stories, but every week, every day, publicly and in closed diplomatic format, we discuss the situation with Maria Butina, who did not violate any borders and had a legal right to reside in the country in which she arrived. She did not threaten anyone, was not engaged in subversive activities, and did not pose a threat to anyone. However, she has been victimised and been the object of psychological experiments for a long time now. Where are you, representatives of Western media, why don’t you write about her on the front pages of your publications? Why don’t you ask questions at the State Department briefings about when Maria Butina will be released, and when Washington shows some humanism?!
Let me remind you about Kirill Vyshinsky, a journalist who did not threaten anyone and was not engaged in any kind of terrorist or subversive activities, or any other activities that could be construed as a threat to anyone in Ukraine. What about humanism in his case?! He’s a journalist who simply wrote his pieces. Someone may have not liked them, to be sure. But just think of how long he has been behind bars!
Let us think about Nadezhda Savchenko. How many people and international organisations were acting hysterically in order to have her released despite the fact that she was provided with everything she required at her first request at a time when she was facing very serious charges that were later upheld.
Do you remember that the whole story about humanism and calls for Russia to display it ended the moment Savchenko crossed the Ukrainian border? Her name was taboo after she was arrested in her home country. What about humanism in all these situations?
Let us standardise our approaches and operate on the basis of law and respect for law.
Question: Official Kiev does not deny crossing the border into Russia’s sovereign territory but insists that it had notified Russia of that step. Does the Foreign Ministry have information about those notifications? What were the information channels that Ukraine should have used?
Maria Zakharova: There is a Transport Ministry regulation on the procedure of foreign vessels navigating in that sea area. Not only has this regulation been made available to our Ukrainian partners, but it has been published and is available to everyone interested in this subject, especially those who navigate in that region. According to this regulation, there is a clear navigation procedure, which does not change from day to day or depending on Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s mood.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are talking about Ukraine as a state in which some very specific events have been going on for the past few years. For example, coups, complete rewriting of the legal foundation for the state structure and replacing the political elite. All these are facts and not emotions. Moreover, this was not the first coup in Ukraine. Ukraine is a state where other countries, such as the United States and EU countries, directly interfere in internal political processes. They not only moderate but also model them. You understand that in these conditions the situation in the region is rather delicate. Accordingly, clear rules regulating the navigation procedure are a guarantee, as we see it, that such incidents will not occur.
Earlier, in September, Ukraine followed these regulations with no questions asked. What was inconsistent in these regulations? What elements did they contain that encroached on Ukrainian sailors’ honour, pride and national dignity? Or maybe there was something that contradicted the international maritime law? What was wrong?
Maybe Ukraine sent us a note with a suggestion of setting up a working group to organise easier navigation for its vessels? No, it did not.
What we are dealing with here is a provocation. So there is no point in discussing what was wrong in that particular situation: it had been planned in advance for things to go wrong.
Ukraine decided to carry out a full set of certain actions with a predetermined result. This result is obvious now: introducing martial law to resolve internal political problems, in particular in the run up to the elections.
Look at the instruction and regulation of the Russian Transport Ministry. It is easily accessible and we have cited it repeatedly. It contains the notification procedure. In this case it was not even that it was violated: the Ukrainian ships did not take it into account at all while navigating in that water area.
Question: The US has threatened Russia with “consequences and pain” for its detention of Ukrainian sailors in the Kerch Strait. This was reported by a senior State Department official at the recent North Atlantic Council meeting. What will be the Russian Foreign Ministry’s response?
Maria Zakharova: Do you remember someone say “hurt me?” I think this expression it is from the same batch.
I saw the original and, honestly speaking, I am not pleased with the translation made by many Russian media. In fact, the original phrase is more involved than it was rendered. It was shortened in the process of translation. I think it has a complicated and clumsy structure. The question is, of course, what precisely our US partners wanted to say?
Statements of this sort – and there are a lot of them coming from Washington – resemble the rhetoric of a mad doctor, a Dr Evil of sorts. The US actions are aimed at making the situation worse, not better. It’s like a horror film scenario. I would put it that way.
I again urge everyone to be more accurate translating things. I know this can be very difficult. We were thinking, too, how this could be rendered. But this absurd phrase is untranslatable and in any event it will remain what it is – an absurdity.
Question: What is your comment on a recent statement by the US State Secretary’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement James F. Jeffrey, who said that Washington suggested phasing out the Sochi and Astana processes unless they helped to form Syria’s Constitutional Committee by mid-December?
Maria Zakharova: These are fairly strange statements. First, we repeatedly identified Washington’s hints at “consequences and pain,” if Russia implemented the political settlement projects in Syria that did not benefit the United States. Now they are saying this openly.
Second, we also invariably stressed that any timeframes that would be imposed as a prescription are out of place in this case because they are not only ineffective but also destructive. This is a subtle and difficult process of creating a future government system for the multi-faith and multi-ethnic nation of Syria that has many different political movements. Moreover, the latter are not the movements that figure in political science analysis but parties that were at war with each other just recently. And it was the Sochi process that made it possible to bring them to the negotiating table. Not so long ago, these people fought among themselves and looked at each other through gun sights. The “broad” statements like “if it doesn’t happen in December, it won’t happen at all” are out of context, while for experts they show the lack of professionalism of those who make this sort of assessments.
Of course there is a third aspect in this case. These statements are not made for the good of the peace process and play into the hands of those who are against it. They are an added argument for the remaining extremists and militants: if there is no obvious progress on this track by December, then all peace initiatives have failed to materialise.
In their totality, we regard these pronouncements as, mildly speaking, unconstructive. The political settlement process, aided, among others, by Russia, is edging forward, if with difficulty. Our experts and their colleagues are working on this every day, something that we regularly highlight.
Question: I would like to talk once again about US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements on the INF Treaty. You mentioned the word “ultimatum”, which is how Russia interprets these statements. We know that Washington under the Trump administration leaves hardly any time for negotiations and has already pulled out of several major international agreements, such as the Iran deal and the Paris climate agreement. Maybe there is still enough time left for holding top level consultations on the INF Treaty?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the “ultimatum”, this is how the matter has been presented by our colleagues, including in the media. We have only reacted to this.
The thing is that a careful analysis of the text must be conducted to see if there is a provision on suspending the treaty. Let’s get back to the legal aspects. Hybrid schemes such as a 60-day deadline, suspension, freeze, defreeze and partial freeze are all part of the political vocabulary. There are legal experts who must analyse the text, in particular the subjects that directly concern suspension, withdrawal or termination of the treaty. A decision to suspend the treaty or the conclusion that the text only stipulates its termination can be made only based on the analysis of the treaty that both sides have signed.
At this point, as I have already said, the document we have received from the US side is being analysed for compliance with the text of the treaty. Our lawyers are doing this.
As for the contacts, they have not been suspended. We remain in contact with the US Embassy, which has sent the note. Our embassy in Washington is communicating with the US Department of State.
Question: A Russia-India-China summit meeting was held within the framework of the G20 summit. Before that, such meetings were held at foreign minister level. What is the reason for holding it at the top level this time? What are the prospects of this format?
Maria Zakharova: Its prospects are very positive. As for raising the level of this meeting, this is a rhetorical question. This was done because we needed to do it, because our countries have made considerable progress over the past years in politics, diplomacy, international relations and other spheres, which can be discussed at the level of heads of state.
In addition, it was clear proof of the multipolarity of the world, which Moscow and Beijing have long been discussing as a reality that other countries refuse to accept, arguing that we live in a unipolar world and there is only one decision-making centre and no other centres are possible. We kept saying that there are many such centres. They are very real centres of power based on their economic development and geopolitical factors. [Such meetings are] a practical format used not only for adopting political statements but also for the purpose of applied diplomacy and for discussing matters that directly concern the three countries, as well as the international agenda.
Question: Can you comment on the statement made by US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker regarding the new measures or sanctions against Russia if it refuses to release the Ukrainian sailors? He said that Russia should release them by Christmas or “before the new year.”
Maria Zakharova: I would like to remind you that Kurt Volker’s job, as his mandate probably says, is to facilitate a settlement in Ukraine. This should be his number one mission. However, it looks as if his mandate instructs him to aggravate the situation in Ukraine and the region as a whole. It is actually shocking how little all of his statements, interviews and articles have to do with the accepted diplomatic practice and his official mission, which is to promote a settlement in Ukraine and help harmonise the situation in the region.
Second, it is surprising to hear a US representative demand the immediate release of persons who have been criminally charged, who have been not been arrested on trumped-up charges but for violating the state border. We would like to hear Mr Volker make an equally impassioned comment about Maria Butina. We look forward to this.