Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 26, 2018
- Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi’s visit to the Russian Federation
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's annual news conference on the results of Russia's diplomacy in 2018
- Syria update
- Update on Syria’s Rukban IDP Camp
- Investigation by the OPCW Technical Secretariat into the incident in Douma, Eastern Ghouta
- Update on Afghanistan
- The Verkhovna Rada discusses “violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation”
- New anti-Russia initiatives in Kiev
- Participation of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists headed by Stepan Bandera in war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis
- Dutch media reports on the glorification of Nazism in the Dutch army
- Russia’s interference in the affairs of foreign countries
- Hacking of the website of the Russian Embassy in London
- Tsunami in the Sunda Strait, Indonesia
- Answers to media questions:
On December 28, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi will pay a working visit to Moscow.
The two foreign ministers will exchange views on important current issues on the international and regional agenda, with a focus on the Syrian peace process. They plan to discuss ways to address pressing humanitarian issues regarding facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes. Special attention will be paid to the Palestinian-Israeli developments and current issues of bilateral cooperation.
The Russian-Jordanian political dialogue is rich and diverse. Our countries share a high degree of trust, and our approaches to many key international and regional problems are the same or similar.
By tradition, at the beginning of next year, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will sum up the results of Russia’s foreign policy over the past 12 months.
His annual news conference will be held on January 16 at the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Centre. We invite representatives of domestic and foreign media to attend.
Accreditation for the media will open immediately after the holidays.
The situation in Syria over the reporting period has not changed significantly.
The implementation of the Russian-Turkish memorandum of September 17 on the liquidation of terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zone is ongoing. The focus is on minimising civilian damage.
The Syrian Government is organising restoration efforts in the regions liberated from the illegal armed groups. Peace is gradually returning to these regions, without fear of surprise attacks and shelling by the militants.
Efforts are being taken to implement the Russian initiative to assist the repatriation of Syrian refugees. Since July 2018, over 70,000 people have returned to Syria from Lebanon and Jordan.
The Syrian authorities are working to create conditions for a safe, voluntary and non-discriminating return of refugees and internally displaced persons. In particular, they are implementing the November 9, 2018 Executive Order of President Bashar al-Assad on amnesty for military deserters and draft dodgers. This group also includes refugees and former members of illegal armed groups. As of December 23, over 20,000 persons have been granted amnesty.
We are closely monitoring the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s decision of December 19 to withdraw US troops from Syria. In our opinion, this decision is important in that it can promote a comprehensive settlement of the situation. We have pointed out more than once that the US occupation of a considerable part of Syrian territory is a major obstacle to such a settlement.
At the same time, the reasons for and causes of this decision remain unclear, as does a timeframe for the pull-out of US troops. So far, we are relying on media reports that suggest the US army can be pulled out of northeast Syria and the al-Tanf region in the south of the country within two or three months.
US officials have indicated that troop withdrawal from Syria does not mean the termination of the US-led international coalition’s operations against ISIS. We have not seen any clear statements by US officials regarding their strategy, apart from veiled hints. The conclusion we can make from these is that the counterterrorist operations have entered a new phase. Does this mean that the US will continue to deliver air strikes and conduct limited operations on the ground with reliance on their bases outside Syria? Surprisingly, this issue concerns a state that is prioritising respect for freedom of speech, the public and journalists. They claim to give free way to information, yet we do not see any clear position, assessment or strategy on a vital international issue such as the situation in Syria. The point at issue is not national US territory but the territory of a sovereign state. Since the declared actions will change US strategy, we would like to understand exactly what they have in mind.
The question of fundamental importance is who will assume control of the regions the Americans will vacate. It should be the Syrian government, yet we have no information about any contact on this issue between Washington and Damascus.
We believe that any positive change on the ground in Syria will produce a lasting positive effect only if it is backed by major improvements on the political track based on respect for Syria’s unity and territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The situation at Syria’s Rukban internally displaced persons (IDP) camp located in the US-occupied al-Tanf area near Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan remains critical.
Humanitarian activists, with varying degrees of emotion, are continuing to demand that humanitarian aid be delivered there as soon as possible. At the same time, the opponents to the legitimate Syrian authorities are saying that the position of the authorities in Damascus, who have not yet agreed on the passage of a UN aid convoy, is allegedly the only obstacle to this.
However, the obvious fact that these are Americans who are to bear the brunt of responsibility for the humanitarian situation at the Rukban Camp is, for some reason, being ignored. In turn, the Americans are continuing to insist that the illegal armed groups deployed in the area should ensure safe passage for aid convoys through the al-Tanf area. This, actually, means that militants will be given an excellent opportunity to lay their hands on some of the humanitarian aid. By the way, this is precisely what they did during the passage of the first convoy to Rukban last November. At the same time, the United States delivers tonnes of goods for their military stationed at al-Tanf, without taking the trouble to coordinate these shipments with anyone.
We understand the position of the authorities in Damascus, who oppose any support that the international community represented by the UN might provide to the militants and practically legalise the US occupation of the area. Of course, it is also unacceptable that militants are supplied with food and medicine at the expense of civilians who are bleeding white. The US approach that holds people at the Rukban Camp hostage appears absolutely cynical and unprincipled.
At the last briefing on December 19, we already expressed our concerns about the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) delaying the deployment of a special mission to investigate a chemical weapons incident in the Syrian city of Aleppo on November 24, 2018. It is gratifying that our signal was heeded, and the very next day, we received information that OPCW specialists were ready to travel to the site of the incident in early January. We will welcome concrete work in this sphere.
However, we do not see such progress on other similar cases. On the contrary, we express the deepest regret that the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW has for some reason failed yet to complete the investigation into the chemical weapons incident in the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, on April 7, 2018.
There was plenty of time and data to draw conclusions about this chemical incident. It is important that the experts of the OPCW special mission have visited the crime scene (for the first time during the entire period of their investigations), and were able to take samples (that is, the chain of custody principle stipulated in the CWC was observed) and also to personally talk to the witnesses.
I would also like to remind you that on April 26, Russia and Syria held a news conference at the OPCW with the participation of civilians who unwittingly became actors in the White Helmets’ production. Among them was a six-year-old boy, Hassan Diab. The victims of the provocation came to The Hague to give firsthand testimony to those who are really interested in hearing the truth about what actually happened in Douma on April 7. In the presence of dozens of delegations from the OPCW member countries, they spoke in detail about how the White Helmets filmed the video, what equipment they brought, how they were taught to fake asphyxiation, and so on. All those present in the room had no doubt that what happened in Douma was nothing more than a sloppy false flag.
It is noteworthy that the representatives of the United States, France, Great Britain, NATO and the overwhelming majority of the EU countries, as well as some of the Asian allies of the United States, failed to attend the briefing. They demonstratively boycotted this event, apparently out of shame for the Western trio that on April 14 used military force against a full member of the UN and the OPCW, in violation of international law, including humanitarian law.
It seems that Western countries are the ones dissatisfied with the progress of the investigation into the Douma provocation, because the evidence collected does not fit into their scenario. Apparently, now they are making every effort to ensure that the OPCW special mission’s report contain statements they need, not reflect the real facts.
We urge the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW to get down to its immediate work and complete the Douma incident probe as soon as possible, and do it independently, transparently, professionally and without regard for the political orders of any Western countries, even the most influential.
The situation in Afghanistan remains tense. The Taliban movement and other extremist organisations are stepping up their combat activities across the country, a fact that was corroborated by the high-profile terrorist attack on an administrative building in Kabul on December 24 which killed more than 40 people, mostly civilians. It remains unclear what extremist organisation is behind this barbaric attack. We are closely monitoring the developments.
Russia has repeatedly pointed out to the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan the mistake they are making by focusing on a military solution to the Afghanistan problem and the need to make use of political and diplomatic channels to launch an inclusive peace process in that country. Today, we see that reality has made Washington step up its efforts with an eye towards ending the armed confrontation and beginning a political dialogue between the opposing Afghani groups. I am referring to the talks recently held in Abu Dhabi with representatives from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and the Taliban Movement. In principle, we welcome these efforts and consider it important that they be transparent and take into account the interests of Afghanistan’s people, their neighbours and other states in the region that are directly affected by the threats coming from Afghanistan.
We also drew attention to a statement by the US on their plans to withdraw up to half of the US military contingent personnel from Afghanistan. We consider this a move in the right direction, which can bring the start of the peace process closer. It remains to see how it will be implemented in practice.
Recently, a roundtable discussion was held at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on existing, in the opinion of its deputies, “massive violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation, including freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, and education in their native language.” The Ukrainian deputies apparently have nothing better to do than discuss the situation with the indigenous peoples in Russia.
Clearly, Ukrainian lawmakers believe that the current Kiev authorities’ policy regarding ethnic minorities, which, in fact, boils down to denying them their basic rights, specifically, the right to live according to their culture, traditions and native language, can pass for a “model" of how this should be done. So, they are trying to teach other states and export their proven experience in suppressing ethnic identity. For the umpteenth time, the elected Ukrainian officials are resorting to a gross distortion of reality, incompetent evaluation and speculations under the pretext of protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
I would like to note that historically Russia has formed and evolved over centuries as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. The ethno-territorial autonomies in the form of the republics, granting official language status in these territories to more than 30 languages, ethnic minorities' self-governing in the form of ethnocultural autonomies, the availability of several dozen languages in the education system and the special legal status of the indigenous peoples of the north, Siberia and the Russian Far East who have preserved their customary types of economic activity - is far from a complete list of legislative and administrative measures in the area of interethnic relations in Russia, which provides preservation in the Russian Federation of both ethnocultural diversity and civilisational unity.
The practice of resorting to alleged violations of the rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples in order to denigrate Russia’s policy is not new. This is a common ploy used by those who, during the election campaign, are trying to gain political favour by looking for external enemies. As the saying goes, we’ve been there and know all there is to know about this. The cynicism of the Ukrainian legislators who are, basically, legitimising the assimilation policies of their country’s leadership, exceeds all conceivable limits. City leaders, government representatives and journalists cannot provide the Russian language, which is spoken by the majority of the country’s residents, with at least some status in a state whose culture was created, in part, with the use of this particular language. At the same time, they hold roundtable discussions regarding our indigenous peoples and their rights.
The Ukrainian deputies and politicians need to pay attention to their own problems and look for ways to address their complex socioeconomic issues and conflicts in their society, including those with an ethnic, linguistic and religious dimension.
We have noted yet more anti-Russia initiatives prompted by the current Ukrainian leadership.
In addition to the recent resolution approved by the Verkhovna Rada on including Stepan Bandera’s birthday in the list of 2019 public holidays, President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko has decided to once again cater to Ukrainian nationalists. Without any doubt or twinge of conscience, he signed a bill on awarding the status of military veterans to the militants of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Now there is no room for doubt as to who supported the arrival of the incumbent authorities in their posts and what serves as the basis for their election campaign. This is an event that must be appreciated by the nationalist and fascist elements, which are the target audience of the current Kiev regime. Now Hitler’s former henchmen have equal rights and benefits as veterans of the Great Patriotic War. Red Army fighters who liberated the world from the brown plague could never imagine that many years later, the Ukrainian authorities would be glorifying the accomplices of the Nazis and praising an ideology full of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
This is how the current Ukrainian officials, not even slightly embarrassed by their nationalist inclinations and promoting the slogans that glorify the Nazi sidekicks, are paving the way to the ‘common European house.’ It is sad to see that lately, this house has turned a blind eye to its supervisees’ rather dangerous play with the ideas of National Socialism.
With all this happening, Kiev continues to make provocative statements. Specifically, Secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council Alexander Turchinov announced for the entire world to hear that Ukraine is preparing a new provocative act in the Kerch Strait. This time, Ukraine plans to involve NATO and OSCE representatives as observers of their venturesome plans. Apparently, they did not learn their lesson from the recent incident with Ukrainian sailors who became hostages of the Maidan authorities’ aggressive politics.
We expect that Ukraine’s Western curators will not only refrain from participating in this insane initiative but will find ways to reign in the ruling regime in Kiev and make it drop any incautious steps that could lead to another escalation in the region.
As I have already said, just a few days ago the Verkhovna Rada included the birthday of the odious Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera (January 1) on the list of official celebrations in 2019. Earlier, the Lvov Region administration passed a resolution to declare 2019 as the “Year of Stepan Bandera” in that part of Ukraine.
Let me just take a moment to tell you whose name will be celebrated in Ukraine on January 1 so that you have a better understanding who this person was. In fact, many have no idea who this is all about.
The name of Stepan Bandera is used by the Kiev regime as a foundation for building the state ideology of today’s Ukraine by presenting him as a hero and patriot and imposing this image on Ukrainian society. At the same time, evidence of collaboration by Stepan Bandera and his acolytes with the Nazi regime and crimes against civilians are either denounced as fakes, swept under the carpet or derided. However, no matter what the Kiev regime does, the truth about Stepan Bandera and his Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists is well known. Let me remind you a few facts.
In the late 1930s, the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) maintained close cooperation with the secret services of Hitler’s Germany. In August 1939, the Abwehr (German military intelligence) created a 600-strong subversive operations unit, consisting of OUN members, code named “Bergbauernhilfe” (“peasant’s help”). It was tasked with engineering an anti-Polish insurgency in Western Ukraine and cleansing the territory of “unwanted elements,” meaning Polish and Jewish people. After the invasion of Poland, these members were assigned to police units in the eastern part of the occupied Poland. It did not take long before the OUN was granted a legal status by the Nazis, and its members were sent to guard industrial sites on the Polish territory. In the spring of 1940, the Master Plan for the OUN Insurgency Headquarters was prepared. It was aimed at staging an anti-Soviet armed insurgency in Western Ukraine, and was used as a guide to action by the so-called Krakow Krajowa Egzekutywa OUN, headed by Stepan Bandera. Guided by this document, OUN fighters operating in Western Ukraine compiled the so-called blacklists of people belonging to ethnic minorities “hostile to the insurgency” (Jews, Russians, Poles), as well as those who cooperated with the Soviet government, Red Army officers, members of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) and those who came from eastern Ukraine. This is what lies at the core of the ideology and policy currently promoted by Kiev. No one is even trying to hide this. So Stepan Bandera is viewed as a hero. The problem is that everything that was done within this framework in the late 1930s happened under the direct supervision of the Nazis. But now everything is done to conceal these links, so that no one remembers about it.
In April 1941, the OUN broke up when its most radical leaders followed Bandera to form the OUN-B, while more moderate members supported Andriy Melnyk and came to be known as the OUN-M. In May 1941, the OUN-B developed a new insurgency plan titled The OUN Struggle and Operation During the War. It contained special provisions on “neutralising” Russians, Jews and Poles as the main supporters of “the NKVD forces and Soviet power in Ukraine.”
Marching units were formed within the OUN-B even before the hostilities broke out. Their mission was to follow Wehrmacht’s advancing forces. A special unit headed by OUN-B leader Yaroslav Stetsko was sent to Lvov. In the morning of June 30, the Nachtigall (Nightingale) Battalion of Ukrainian nationalists, formed by the German Abwehr and commanded by Roman Shukhevych, followed by Yaroslav Stetsko’s group, entered Lvov. Posters of the local OUN-B branch appeared on the walls around the city. I will not quote word for word what these posters said, but the message was to call on the people to remember that Moscow, Poland, the Magyars as well as other ethnic groups were the enemy that was subject to extermination. The posters also said that the Ukrainian nationalists from the OUN were to take control, and declared Stepan Bandera as the leader of this force. This is a historical fact that must not be forgotten. This is not a monument that can be destroyed. This is something that will always remain part of the history of the Second World War.
The roughnecks under the OUN-B banners (the so-called “militias”) started Jewish pogroms in the city. At the same time, special groups were formed within the Nachtigall Battalion tasked with eliminating people on the blacklists that I have already mentioned. Within just a few days about 4,000 Jews were killed in Lvov by Ukrainian nationalists in cooperation with members of Einsatzgruppe B. German documents show that in addition to Lvov, the Ukrainian nationalists staged anti-Jewish campaigns in a number of other major communities. For example, a campaign comparable in scale to what happened in Lvov took place on July 2 and 3 in Zolochev (Złoczów), Lvov Region, where some 3,500 civilians were killed.
In August 1941, the Abwehr decided to stop supporting the OUN-B since Hitler saw no benefit in the emergence of an independent Ukrainian state. Nevertheless, the OUN-B continued to declare its allegiance to the Nazis. For example, Yaroslav Stetsko called on Ukrainians “to help the German army defeat Moscow and Bolshevism throughout the land.” In December 1941, the OUN‑B sent a memorandum to the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories Alfred Rosenberg, offering its assistance in fighting the “covert agents” of the “Bolshevik Moscow.” They did not come up with anything new. All they could think of was to use the old models and schemes.
In the autumn of 1942, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was formed from OUN-B’s paramilitary units. According to witness accounts, the need to fight Soviet partisans was one of the reasons that pushed the nationalists to create the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. It also declared the Polish population in the Volhynia region as its enemy. In the summer of 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army carried out ethnic cleansing in the Polish communities, killing 40,000 people, according to Polish historians, in what came to be known as the “Volhynian slaughter.” Jews, Roma and Red Army soldiers who had fled from captivity and were hiding in Ukrainian villages were also targeted.
When the Eastern Front reached a turning point at the end of 1943, the Nazi command revived the idea of making use of the Ukrainian nationalists and contacted the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. When the Nazi troops were pushed out of Ukraine, the Third Reich’s secret services continued to use the Banderovites in subversion and intelligence operations behind the Red Army lines. Stepan Bandera gave his go ahead to subversion operations carried out in the Red Army’s rear. He visited Abwehr’s training schools for intelligence officers to give instructions. An officer of the German military intelligence S. Muller confirmed during interrogation that in early April 1945 Stepan Bandera, acting on the instructions of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), formed Ukrainian nationalists into combat units as part of Volkssturm to defend Berlin from the Red Army offensive.
In 2007, Chairman of the Soviet Officer’s Union of Crimea Sergey Nikulin asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to help find data on the casualties suffered by Nazi troops from the OUN-UPA (https://ria.ru/20141015/1028407140.html). This request was forwarded to a number of major German research institutions, and the answer was that they did not have any information on the losses suffered by Wehrmacht’s combat units from the OUN-UPA. This is a telling example in the context of the attempts by the Kiev authorities to portray the Banderovites as fighters against Nazi occupation.
What conclusions can be drawn from all this? First, terror campaigns carried out by Ukrainian nationalists and Banderovites against the Jewish, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian population were planned in advance rather than spontaneous. This is what many prominent historians believe. Preparations for exterminating the unwanted elements were underway even before the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, as confirmed by the OUN’s internal documents. Stepan Bandera as the OUN’s leader was aware of and approved all the pre-war plans and instructions to liquidate the unwanted population in Western Ukraine and people on all the blacklists. For this reason, all claims that Stepan Bandera was not aware of these plans or, for example, did not sanction the massacres in Lvov and other cities in Western Ukraine in the summer of 1941, and all the crimes committed by his subordinates later during the war, are absurd. They are nothing but lies.
Second, from the very outbreak of the Second World War and until its very end in Europe Stepan Bandera and the OUN-B were obedient tools in the hand of Hitler’s forces, who used the Banderovites when they deemed fit. Even when the OUN-B was out of favour with the Germans, its leaders nevertheless continued to take their cues from Berlin and did not engage in any active combat action against the German occupants. Stepan Bandera later resumed his cooperation with the Nazis, which continued until the very last days of the Third Reich.
“The Year of Bandera” in Lvov is an insult to the beautiful city, where one of the worst pogroms in history was carried out at the orders of the leader of Ukrainian nationalists. Celebrating Stepan Bandera’s birthday is an insult to the people of Ukraine, since Banderovites killed thousands of their ancestors. All this mayhem is an insult to all those who liberated the world from the Brown Plague.
We have taken note of the recent Dutch media reports, including by the Telegraaf newspaper, about Dutch service members expressing support for the Nazi ideology. Journalists write that Dutch military personnel exchanged extremist views via a messenger, used the swastika and other Nazi symbols in their correspondence, and expressed interest in the ideas of Hitler and his collaborators and in Nazi literature.
Any attempts to glorify Nazism, which has brought incalculable suffering and pain to the European people, including the Dutch, are unacceptable and must be universally condemned. It is especially alarming that this time the Nazism virus has likely been revealed in the Dutch armed forces. In 2016, the Dutch Ministry of Defence carried out an investigation into reported radical sentiments among the military. This time, the ministry had to launch three investigations into the unacceptable behaviour of service members who presumably made racist and unacceptable statements in relation to Nazi Germany.
The Russian Foreign Ministry wrote in its 2018 report Neo-Nazism – a Dangerous Threat to Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law that the activity of right-wing politicians in the Netherlands is creating conditions for the spread of racism and xenophobic sentiments. In light of this, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance urged the Netherlands to draft a national strategy to combat racism in all walks of life. The Netherlands failed to produce such a strategy. The local authorities see no need for such a strategy because they have a 2010 action plan against discrimination.
We hope that this condonation of the spread of far-right radicalism in the Dutch armed forces will be promptly and firmly condemned not only in the country but also by the international community, in particular, by the states of the former anti-Hitler coalition.
This is especially important now that the Kingdom is preparing to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupiers.
During the outgoing year, Russia has been flooded with an inexhaustible stream of accusations of notorious interference. No one even bothers with specific facts anymore. The main goal is to form a stable stereotype: whatever global misadventures might befall, be it a rise in social tensions or centrifugal trends in integration associations, or the outcome of a referendum – Russia is to blame.
The geography of our alleged interference is vast, with supposed traces of Russian influence found in Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. We have allegedly interfered in the elections in South Africa and attempted to arrange a coup in Montenegro and to influence the referendum in Catalonia; we provoked the ‘yellow vests’ protests in France; supported anti-immigrant movements in Germany; in one form or another, Russia allegedly interfered in India and Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, Argentina and Peru, in the Middle East and in the post-Soviet republics.
From the most recent examples, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said during his visit to Skopje on December 18 that Russia supposedly opposes Macedonia’s accession to NATO and is trying to undermine the Prespa Agreement against “the clear will of Macedonian citizens.” The cynicism of this statement, considering the circumstances – the US Ambassador’s personal presence and active involvement in the shameful voting procedure in the Macedonian parliament – does not cause anything but disgust.
Actually, unsubstantiated accusations from Washington and London of interfering in electoral processes have long since become permanent background noise, notwithstanding the absence of arguments or evidence based on established norms. The ‘highly likely’ approach is certainly a novelty in international law, at least we all are being persuaded that this is so. By the way, the story has its own logic, one way or another. Western society is being zombied with this ‘highly likely’ phrase and the endless repetition of any absurdity in combination with it.
It looks like no major event in the US can take place without our involvement. Only recently, US intelligence allegedly discovered that Russia, China and Iran had interfered in the 2018 elections. If the US Attorney General confirms this, new sanctions will be imposed. This news easily caught on: in Washington, the hype still continues around the reports submitted to the Senate by a group of independent experts on the Kremlin’s “scope of influence operations” on the US election process.
While US congresspersons, politicians, journalists and analysts animatedly relished the details of the reports and their implications, it became known that one of the authors, Jonathon Morgan from the New Knowledge research group, was caught trying to influence the outcome of US elections. According to publicly available data, he was responsible for creating fake Russian troll accounts during last year’s special elections to the Senate in the state of Alabama. The idea was to help a Democratic candidate rally votes by replicating rumours of Kremlin support for his Republican opponent. As far as the experts behind these reports are concerned, this is certainly a worthy representative. The scheme was sponsored by billionaire Reid Hoffman, a supporter of the Democratic Party, through American Engagement Technologies, a company headed by Barack Obama’s former chief technology officer Mikey Dickerson. The Republicans even demanded a criminal investigation after the Alabama scheme was exposed.
However, this information is unlikely to be widely disseminated in the US media or in other Western countries. It is equally unlikely that we will hear high-profile statements or demands for nationwide investigations. This trend is different.
On December 17, the website of the Russian Embassy in London and the website of the Russian Mission to the International Maritime Organisation were subjected to a powerful hacker attack that completely destroyed their database. Access to the websites was blocked for almost a day.
We would like to draw the British authorities’ attention to this incident and note that I receive reports on efforts to hack the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website every month. By the end of the year, we will definitely compile a comprehensive report for you to understand from which countries the hackers actually operate.
We would like to recommend the British officials to stop spreading rumours about mythical Russian hackers and start paying close attention to what is going on in their segment of the internet, and also not to forget about the benefit and importance of cybersecurity cooperation.
On December 22, at about 9.30 pm local time, a devastating tsunami hit the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Sunda Strait with waves up to 20 metres high. According to the latest data, a total of 429 were killed, 1,485 were injured and 154 more have gone missing. The tsunami destroyed some 1,000 homes and businesses.
There is no available information on Russian citizens in the disaster zone, and Russians have not sent any requests in connection with the tsunami to the diplomatic mission, the Russian Embassy in Indonesia reports. Relevant warnings and recommendations for our compatriots were posted on the embassy’s website.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sent condolences to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Question: At the end of the outgoing year diplomatic activity on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has gained momentum. In recent days Azerbaijan has been positive in its statements on the prospects of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in 2019. Armenia on the whole also assesses the developments positively. Azerbaijan continues putting forward initiatives: the Azerbaijani community in Nagorno-Karabakh suggested renewing contacts with the Armenian community and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry pointed out that Azerbaijan is ready to guarantee security for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh during the settlement of the conflict and grant them the right of autonomy at a high level within internationally recognised borders. How can Russia as a co-chair of the Minsk Group evaluate the trends and the likelihood of a settlement in 2019?
Maria Zakharova: We do not set any time frames. Still, if we talk about time we are certainly always in favour of an early settlement and measures aimed at achieving it. Unfortunately, this is a protracted conflict. Russia will do everything on its part as a co-chair of the Minsk Group and as a country that shares a common past and a common history with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Question: You have been talking for a long time about a new provocation on Kiev’s part which would be an excuse for extending martial law in Ukraine. Today, incidentally, the current martial law expires. When will this provocation take place and will Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko extend the martial law?
Maria Zakharova: If you deal with political analysis you should be aware of the reasons for such declarations. They are made to take every possible effort to prevent acts of provocation. When we make public the information about the pending plans that we have at our disposal, in plain terms, attracting the attention of the Ukrainian regime’s sponsors, who are concerned, as we understand it, about the situation in the region, we do not engage in aggressive rhetoric but take practical steps to prevent provocations. Specifically, all these actions were aimed at thwarting this provocation.
To answer your question when to expect provocations, we hope very much that we will not have to go through one again. Russia’s unprecedented tolerance and a very friendly attitude towards Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are not without limits. We spent many hours minimising the aftermath of that provocation. It was a very serious issue. Many people were involved in preventing the situation from becoming catastrophic.
As for martial law, it is a question for Kiev. It is like in a well-known film: they do the breaking and they do the mending.
Question: Information is emerging in the media about the arrival of a great number of military instructors from Great Britain, as well as other Western countries, to Ukraine. Some believe this is a way of secretly increasing NATO presence in the country. How does Russia view this threat?
Maria Zakharova: As for specific details concerning what these people are and what structures they represent, I think you’d better address our military experts.
The political assessment remains unchanged: we see this as actions aimed at escalating the intra-Ukrainian conflict, not at settling it, sadly. The current authorities set a goal to ensure peace; it is perplexing what military advisors and deliveries of various armaments have to do with that. For some reason, the West does not send advisors for human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, humanitarian issues, restoring economic ties, setting up bank payment systems, or any other issue. No one is rushing to help solve the main task that the authorities face, which is restoring peace.
Question: Yesterday, for the first time since the beginning of the war, people were celebrating Christmas on the main streets and squares in Syria. Let me show you photos of these celebrations. This was possible thanks to the Syrian army and the Russian Armed Forces that provide assistance to the Syrian people.
Maria Zakharova: Thank you for these photos. I saw news videos, including on the RT accounts, and interviews by people who were saying that at long last Christmas celebrations returned to their lives and pushed away the war and terror. Just watching this brought me to tears. The joy of these seemingly ordinary things is like a miracle for people, many of whom never thought that something like this could ever be possible.
Question: What is Russia’s position on the withdrawal of US forces from Syria and US President Donald Trump’s decision to shift the responsibility for fighting ISIS to Turkey? Are any contacts in the Astana format planned for the immediate future?
Maria Zakharova: I have spoken in detail on one of your questions, about these plans. We have seen statements regarding this, and we would like to see Washington’s official reaction regarding its strategy and plans. Regrettably, there is none. As I have already said, we believe that if the US troops pull out of Syria after all, this will promote positive and constructive developments. We would be glad if this did happen. I have provided our arguments regarding this today.
We said more than once that US military personnel, as well as the military of some other countries, have been deployed in Syria without any legal grounds. These countries’ repeated declarations on respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria as a UN member state sound unconvincing. People see something different. They see that occupation forces have been deployed and are acting correspondingly in Syria without any legal grounds.
We believe that the Syrian government is equipped to maintain stability through dialogue and interaction with all the national patriotic forces. This dialogue in the interests of all Syrians can help complete the routing of the terrorists and preclude their reappearance in Syria. It is important not to interfere with the Syrian society’s efforts on the political track.
As for fighting ISIS, it is the responsibility of all members of the international community to fight Jabhat al-Nusra and all the other groups associated with al-Qaeda and ISIS, which the UN Security Council has declared to be terrorist groups. Russia has long been urging the creation of a united international anti-terrorism front. You probably remember the statement and the relevant proposals the President of Russia put forth several years ago. This initiative remains topical, and its implementation rather than the shifting of responsibility to individual countries would create conditions for delivering a really comprehensive and effective blow at the terrorists not only in Syria but in all other trouble spots around the world as well. The international community has the necessary international mechanisms at its disposal to legalise such action or interaction. What all of us need is the political will to do this.
As for the Astana format, we have stated repeatedly that the three guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey – maintain very close ties on Syria. A recent meeting has proved this once again. I am referring to the ministerial meeting in Geneva. The main thing is that our joint efforts have produced practical results. The efforts of the three Astana countries have made it possible to maintain the cessation of hostilities, which has helped end the violence and has started to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. It was thanks to the Astana format that the composition of the Constitutional Committee has been coordinated in the form that is acceptable to all Syrian parties, both the government and the opposition. The coordination of the list of Syrian constitutional committee members with the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Geneva on December 18 has shown that the launch of the Constitutional Committee early next year is a landmark achievement on the path towards a political settlement in Syria.
I would like to remind everyone that the three guarantor countries of the Astana format maintain intensive contacts via different channels. Of special importance in this respect are the meetings of the heads of state, as well as foreign and defence ministers. The parties maintain cooperation at both the bilateral and trilateral levels. I can tell you that new meetings are planned for the near future, including in Moscow. As soon as we know the details, we will share them with you.
Question: Recent reports suggest that another meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement is to take place. Does Moscow plan to organise this meeting?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information on Moscow’s involvement as an organiser [of this meeting]. These meetings have generally been held under the agreements reached by the two countries. I can clarify the format of a meeting but, of course, if there is a meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, you should ask them.
Question: 2018 is a special year for the Caspian countries. After 20 years of talks, the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea was signed. How has Russia’s foreign policy on the Caspian changed? What is the outlook for closer integration in this region?
Maria Zakharova: The signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea at the Fifth Caspian Summit in Aktau is expected to enhance the stability in relations between the five Caspian countries and make them more predictable, as well as create conditions conducive to expanding mutually beneficial cooperation and generally help shape a clear legal framework in the region.
The five countries’ exclusive rights and responsibilities for the future of this unique water body are built into the convention. The convention regulates navigation issues and specifies a procedure for the collective use of the Caspian Sea; it lays down the principles of the non-presence in the region of the armed forces of countries other than the Caspian states and the use of the water area only for peaceful purposes; it regulates the establishment of the borders of the territorial waters and fishing zones; delimits the bottom of the Caspian Sea and its mineral resources for the purpose of managing mineral resources; as well as other matters that are of vital importance for the littoral states.
We believe this document will promote economic cooperation and increase the appeal to investors and the competitiveness of the five Caspian countries, as well as facilitate the implementation of joint projects to accelerate the development of the most advanced national industries and fully tap their potential. Everyone will benefit if one of the most important regions in Eurasia is more stable and less exposed to risk of various kinds.
The work on the convention that yielded the agreement is an example of how the countries that were involved in the process can find solutions to very complicated issues. This is a theoretical assumption that became a reality. These were protracted negotiations and they went differently at various stages. It is quite normal and natural that each country had its own national interests. But this is a great example of how, through diplomacy and negotiations, they managed to reach a decision that suits everyone and will be beneficial for each country.
Question: Could you provide an update on our colleagues in Ukraine, in particular Kirill Vyshinsky.
How do you explain the EU authorities’ tolerance and indifference to the reemergence of a kind of Nazism, to the fact that Nazism is welcomed, as you have just described. In particular, I would like to mention that the same thing is happening in Washington, where the Jewish lobby is quite strong in matters of politics, in Ukraine, in Poland, where the Warsaw government is waging war against the Soviet soldiers who died in that country.
Maria Zakharova: I cannot agree with your statement that Nazism is welcomed in a number of European capitals. This is not so, either in form or in content. We have never heard any European or world capital make statements praising or promoting neo-Nazi ideology.
In official papers, international documents, official statements and plans for domestic and foreign policy, everyone seems unanimous that the tragedy of the 20th century should not be repeated, and everyone should be committed to the conclusions and lessons learned by the world community from the outcome of World War II. There is a different problem through – neo-Nazi manifestations are not condemned at the appropriate level, and sometimes not condemned at all.
Yet another concern, there is no proper reaction (and sometimes none at all) to certain obvious attempts at rewriting history. Again, I cannot say it is being done for the sake of glorifying neo-Nazism or fascism, or for the reincarnation of Nazism in the form of neo-Nazism – no, but they are changing the nuances. This is what is really typical of Europe (Western Europe and, unfortunately, Eastern too), and our transatlantic partners. We regularly see these trends.
To give specific examples, we have seen the demolition of Red Army memorials and the alteration of plaques at memorials that cannot be demolished because they are protected as historical landmarks, either by international law or simply by the residents of a particular town; we have seen changes in the perception of history. There are piles of false materials, not exactly fakes, but classical misinformation that changes the essence of the Red Army’s role in World War II. And we have regularly pointed out the total indifference of some countries to those nationalist, neo-nationalist, neo-Nazi, and fascist tendencies in Ukraine.
Your question was why, under the current regime, Ukraine is building such an agenda. We have answered it today. I can discuss it briefly, although much has been written about this. It happens because it is always very difficult to unite a nation, difficult to build a new state. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine began emerging as a new, young state. It is difficult to do this while relying on a constructive agenda – implementing economic reforms, sometimes unpopular, but necessary, developing a unification agenda, smoothing controversy between people of different income groups, from different strata of society and different political views. Another point is that building a state based on its people’s historical experience is much more difficult than rewriting history. It is very difficult. It is much easier (almost as simple as ABC) to take a nationalist idea built on the simplest explanation of all life phenomena, such as, you lack something because it is taken by someone else who has a different nationality, religion, hair or skin colour, ear or nose shape. This is the most banal, simple and inherently the most easily accessible explanation of all human problems. This model, unfortunately, has been exploited by many in Ukraine over the past decades. And the current Kiev regime has made it official policy. It is very difficult (really daunting) to rally the various regions of Ukraine, which have a different historical past, different cultural priorities, even, perhaps, a different vision of the future. That would have taken effort. It would have required the work of historians, scientists, cultural experts, futurologists, and philosophers. That would have been a consolidation of society involving dialogue and work to minimise these disagreements. Once again I say, that takes work, and it is difficult.
Ukraine has chosen a different and much simpler way. We can see where this has led them. We can see it because the borders of Ukraine have changed so much as a result of its exit, actually because Crimea just fled, realising what would happen. The situation has changed within society in Ukraine, which used to be peaceful and focused on peaceful development. That kind of society, that version of Ukraine seceded from the Soviet Union or emerged after its collapse. The most interesting thing is that after the Soviet Union collapsed, few post-Soviet republics emerged with little or no major problems. Each dealt with controversy – territorial and ethnic issues, internal agendas, bloodshed that could not be stopped for many years, or conflicts moving into a more calm, yet unresolved phase. We often talk about this at briefings.
Ukraine was one of the most prosperous states, which seemed to have an absolutely cloudless future. It is a beautiful land, with amazing people, access to the sea, a neighbour that offered different development vectors and potential for their harmonisation. But politicians did what they did with that bright future. Today, a country with a complex history, but without any conflicts in active phase has become a country with internal confrontation. Try talking to political analysts living in Ukraine now – few will give you any guarantees of how the situation will develop further. That's all.
I highly recommend watching an old film today, which I think sheds light on very many aspects of nationalism, on the Nazism you asked about – Triumph Over Violence. I think it should be watched and revisited as often as possible. And many things will become clear. This film has been around for decades, it has been made on the basis of facts and is more relevant than ever before.
Question: Several days ago US President Donald Trump made a decision to reduce the strength of US troops in Afghanistan. How will this affect the political situation there?
Maria Zakharova: I just commented on this. In addition I’d like to emphasise once again that the words of US presidents on US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan very often diverge from concrete actions. Let’s at least try to understand what is meant this time. Once we understand what the Americans plan to do in Afghanistan at least in the near future, we will be able to reach certain conclusions. Over the last two and a half years we have repeatedly seen radical changes in US strategy as regards Afghanistan. We’d like to understand what is being implied this time. Let’s wait for some official explanation.
Question: The Moscow Government presented a New Year’s Tree to Sofia with the support of the Russian Embassy in Bulgaria. Our readers are very grateful for this and consider this an expression of traditionally friendly relations. I have no question.
Maria Zakharova: I thought you’d ask me about the pipeline.
Question: Everything is okay with it. Many Russians traditionally visit Bulgaria’s alpine resorts and summer spas. About 300,000 Russians have property in Bulgaria. Maybe you’d like to convey New Year’s wishes to them?
Maria Zakharova: I’ll deal with it after answering your questions.
Question: I’d like to wish you and all employees of your department a happy New Year and a merry Christmas. Now I will continue talking about Syria. Reports are coming in to the effect that a delegation from Syrian Kurdistan visited Moscow and held meetings on talks with Damascus. At the same time, another delegation went to Khmeimim and met with the Russian military command. Do you confirm that such talks are being continued and that Moscow is playing the role of mediator in them? Please comment on the statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the intention of the Turkish authorities co conduct a military operation to the east of the Euphrates River as soon as possible?
Maria Zakharova: As regards your first question, I’ll clarify this and present specific information to you soon.
As for your second question we are closely coordinating our specific line on the Syrian track with our Turkish colleagues both as regards foreign policy and military counterterrorist operations on the ground. Please contact our colleagues from the Russian Defence Ministry for specific details. Our military experts comment on everything that is taking place on the ground in this respect.
Question: Recently, I read Minister Lavrov’s interview with RIA Novosti. The interview mentioned a very interesting fact: observers from Russia and Iran will be posted at the external border of the de-escalation zone in Idlib while observers from Turkey will be posted at the internal border. Could you please clarify how this will work? Can you comment on the presence of Iranian military advisers in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: As concerns the first question, I can confirm the information that was published in the interview on the Foreign Ministry’s official website. I will find out the details and answer your question.
As concerns the presence of military advisers, be it Iran or any other country, it is a matter that the respective states must discuss with Damascus. Syria is a sovereign state and has every right to accept or reject military advisers on its territory. Therefore, it is an issue that Damascus must negotiate and, perhaps, is negotiating with Tehran directly.
Question: At the end of the year, I do not want to ask any negative questions. It would be nice to hear some positive news.
Maria Zakharova: In the middle of the year as well.
Question: Please tell us about the good deeds you and your colleagues from the department carried out. Perhaps not everybody saw your post on Facebook but many watch and listen to your briefings.
Maria Zakharova: We have quite a few interesting news and good deeds to report. We go on air on a regular basis, publish reports and organise various media events. From the professional point of view, all this is good deeds.
You are right, the department indeed has a tradition. During the holiday season we sometimes get involved in small-scale targeted aid programmes for those who need it.
We have received a great number of requests. Of course, we cannot fulfil all of them but we do resolve some of the problems. In particular, our department raised funds to provide financial assistance.
Actually, it is a tradition of the Foreign Ministry. It has long been established that our team is always ready to help. When something happens to our colleagues, their family members, to our fellow nationals who live in the countries where our diplomatic services operate, etc., then, in addition to our direct duties, we also organise charity campaigns.
Our work is with the media. Quality performance of our professional responsibilities constitutes our assistance to you. But sometimes we receive letters that we respond to.
This time, we helped a disabled person. We also received a request from Donetsk regarding a shelter for stray and injured animals. During the military conflict in the DPR, many pets were left without supervision, many were injured. We were asked for help and we provided it. These are not large campaigns but just small acts of kindness.
Question: The British newspaper The Daily Mail called the calendar published by the Russian Defence Ministry “a chilling Christmas greeting to the West from Vladimir Putin.” The newspaper’s journalists described the calendar as an outright and deliberately timed mockery of Western countries. Do you think London should be afraid of Moscow?
Maria Zakharova: I won’t mention the paranoia that has recently become the most widespread disease in certain countries, at the prompting of their politicians.
Every day in this country, our officials make hundreds of statements and a vast number of events and undertakings take place, ranging from many hours of news conferences by President of Russia Vladimir Putin to the opening of exhibitions, the staging of joint military exercises and the launch of educational projects. Schools are being opened, roads are being built, and there are the premieres of theatre plays, charitable acts, anniversaries, historical events and seminars. Everyone is free to select a personal message from all of this. If the British journalists considered this particular message interesting and described it in this way, the problem is no longer in the Russian Defence Ministry’s calendar.
Why are we always faced with an absence of positive and interesting news from Russia, in particular, in the British press? This is segregation of news, a selection of information that will create an image of this country as a potential aggressor. Naturally, this is part of the general picture and the anti-Russian information campaign.
It would be great if our British colleagues from the media would also pay attention to different news, for instance, if they focused on reports about cultural life in Moscow. If they did so, they would learn many new things about Russia.
Question: Journalists pay attention to details. Today we see you with a brooch for the first time. Stateswomen often use jewellery as symbols. What does your brooch depict? Is it a symbol of something?
Maria Zakharova: I have avoided these particular pieces of jewellery because I realised they would give rise to numerous questions and attempts to see some kind of symbol in them. This is why I have always tried to be very minimalistic. Today, I’ve made an exception.
Moscow hosts the Ladya fair several times per year. The Foreign Ministry, in particular, supports the event. Crafts masters from all parts of this country participate in the show. They are involved in folk crafts and different types of applied and decorative arts. At such fairs, visitors can see a range of ceramic and china pieces, shawls and knitwear, woodwork, jewellery, furs and even food products (for instance, Crimean teas and herbs).
These fairs are held on two storeys of the Expocentre. I visited one of them this year and this brooch is one of the results of my visit. I think it’s beautiful.
I’d like to say goodbye to you for this year. By tradition, I’d like to wish you, your families and friends as well as the vast audience of our mass media peace, happiness and health.