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28 February 201917:12

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 28, 2019

431-28-02-2019

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Table of contents

 

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Foreign Minister of Angola Manuel Domingos Augusto
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Acting Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez
  3. Sergey Lavrov’s working visits to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE
  4. Syria update
  5. Update on Venezuela
  6. Developments in Donbass
  7. Current developments along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan
  8. Parliamentary elections in Moldova
  9. Referendum in Cuba
  10. US-North Korea summit in Hanoi
  11. Anniversary of the poisoning of Skripals
  12. USSTRATCOM Commander General John E. Hyten’s strategic arms comments
  13. Results of the 63rd Special Session of the OPCW Executive Council
  14. Recent cyber attack on NTV-MIR
  15. Sputnik stops radio broadcasting in Berlin and Brandenburg
  16. The role of propaganda in the preparation of NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia
  17. New acts of vandalism and revision of history in Poland

Answers to media questions:

  1. The trilateral summit to be attended by the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran
  2. Armenia’s National Assembly Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan’s reaction to an anti-Armenian rally in Azerbaijan
  3. The Balkan Line film
  4. UN Security Council resolution on Venezuela based on the so-called Montevideo Mechanism
  5. The Washington Post article on US offensive cyber attacks against Russia during the midterm elections to Congress in 2018
  6. The mass surrender of ISIS militants to the Kurds on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River
  7. The deployment of Russian military police on the Syrian-Turkish border
  8. Russia and OSCE efforts to stop new bloodshed in Donbass initiated by Ukraine to coincide with the start of election campaign
  9. Serbian media reports on Serbia’s borders
  10. Jabhat al-Nusra attacks on civilians in Aleppo
  11. US representatives’ contacts with the Taliban
  12. Ivica Dacic’s comments on Kosovo delimitation options
  13. Google surveillance of Federal News Agency correspondence in Google mail
  14. An anniversary of the so-called Skripal poisoning
  15. How the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller can influence Russian-US relations
  16. Moscow’s readiness to provide a venue for crisis settlement between Islamabad and New Delhi

 

 

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Foreign Minister of Angola Manuel Domingos Augusto

 

Today, on February 28, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a meeting with Foreign Minister of Angola Manuel Domingos Augusto, who is in Moscow on a working visit.

During the meeting, the ministers will discuss topical issues related to Russian-Angolan political, trade and economic cooperation.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Acting Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez

 

On March 1, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Acting Vice President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez.

The officials will discuss current issues of bilateral relations related to the implementation of large joint projects in energy, industry, agriculture, medicine, pharmaceutics and modern technology.

The officials are also expected to discuss ways to further coordinate positions on the global stage as well as the situation in and around Venezuela and reaffirm the support for the peaceful settlement of political discrepancies in the country.

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Sergey Lavrov’s working visits to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE

 

On March 3-7, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be on working visits to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE to meet with the heads of state and foreign ministers of these countries.   

The upcoming meetings will include in-depth discussions of the state of bilateral relations and prospects for their further steady development as well as a review of the progress in implementing top-level agreements achieved earlier. Considerable attention will be paid to ways of stepping up multilateral cooperation, coordinating mutually-beneficial projects in various areas and encouraging cultural and humanitarian ties.   

The officials will thoroughly compare notes on the state of affairs in the Middle East and North Africa with an emphasis on the need to resolve ongoing crises in this region through political and diplomatic means, by mutually taking into consideration the interests and concerns of all involved parties based on international law and the UN Charter. The situations in Syria, Yemen, Libya, the Gulf countries, as well as the status of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement continue to be the focus of attention.   

Important aspects of cooperation between Russia and the above countries in the UN and other international forums will also be discussed, including preparations for a regular Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum ministerial session that will be held in Moscow on April 17 and the resumption of joint work as part of the Russia – Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) strategic dialogue.

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Syria update

 

One of the biggest threats to security and stability in Syria comes from the Nusra-linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls nearly the whole of the Idlib de-escalation zone. Field commanders are reforming the groups that have allied with the HTS so as to strengthen their offensive capability in the vicinity of Aleppo, Hama and the mountain regions of Latakia. The terrorists’ goal is to expand the sphere of their influence until they control the whole of Idlib. The number of ceasefire violations has not decreased, but, on the contrary, has grown considerably. Some 40 such violations in which people were killed and wounded were reported over the past four days.

The UN Secretary-General drew attention to the deplorable situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone in a recent report on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Apart from expressing concern over the strengthening of the HTS in Idlib, the report enumerates the terrorists’ atrocities against civilians, including infringements against ethnic and religious minorities, the arbitrary detention of civilians and cases when people went missing after criticizing the HTS.

Last week we presented our views on the possibility of organising a second humanitarian convoy to the Rukban camp for internally displaced persons, which is located in the US-occupied area around al-Tanf. We would like to say the following on this score. During the operation of the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent between February 5 and 14, the humanitarian personnel polled Rukban residents about the possibility of their resettlement. Here is what this poll has shown. The majority of the respondents, or more precisely 95 percent, said they would like to leave the camp. The overwhelming number of these people (80 percent) expressed a desire to move to the government-controlled regions. You probably remember that we were told that the people do not want to and will not live with the al-Assad government.

We are not surprised that people want to leave Rukban, and that they want to live in the peaceful government-controlled regions. But it is surprising that the Western mainstream media do not see the inhuman conditions in the camp. People do not want to live there, but it is impossible for them to leave because they do not have basic things, such as food and medicine as well as normal living conditions. There are no doctors directly in the camp. Painkillers are the only kind of medication used to treat every type of ailment in the nearby clinic. But there are masses of armed people and the ever-present fear for one’s health and life. We believe that in this situation the people should be evacuated from the camp as soon as possible and the camp itself should be shut down. We have been working together with the Syrian government towards this. Over 200 people have left the camp after we opened the humanitarian corridors near Jleb and Jabal al-Ghurab on February 19.

We would also like to draw your attention to the joint statement by the Russian and Syrian interdepartmental coordination centres on returning refugees, which was posted on the Russian Defence Ministry website. The statement reads that the United States is preventing Syrian citizens from leaving the Rukban camp and calls on the international community to promote the implementation of the Syrian government initiative for returning Syrians to their native parts, closing down the camp and liquidating the al-Tanf security zone. Buses will be provided starting on March 1 for the voluntary movement of people from Rukban.

We are alarmed by the reports saying that the US side is hampering the movement of people from Rukban, hoping to preserve the camp by organising international humanitarian convoys under the pretext that the camp residents need to be assured of their safety after they leave it. In other words, the camp residents want to leave, but they are told that they are not ready for this and that you can allegedly see in their eyes that they are concerned about their safety.

We would like to say once again that humanitarian aid will not settle the problem of the Rukban camp. This is humiliating, a form of modern genocide. What we need to do is eliminate the root cause of this problem, that is, the illegal US presence in the 55-km security zone around the camp. We have clearly expressed our position at a UN Security Council meeting on the Rukban camp, which was held at our initiative, as well as at the Geneva meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force of the International Syria Support Group.

We have taken note of the steady return of Syrian refugees from foreign countries. Some 1,000 people enter Syria every day, primarily from Lebanon and Jordan, and this number can grow when winter ends. Overall, around 150,000 refugees have returned to Syria since July 2018, when Russia launched the initiative on facilitating the return of Syrian refugees.

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Update on Venezuela

 

Several events took place last week with respect to Venezuela, including some dramatic events. However, as a result, even some in the international community that were echoing Washington, or to use the new foreign policy term “squealed along,” even those who gave complete carte blanche to US statements that “all options are on the table,” are now maintaining meaningful silence. Apparently, they have found the strength to agree in public that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution to the Venezuela issue. Why did this happen? Apparently, it was easy to predict the consequences. Apart from anything else, Washington’s actions in this context were so crude and poorly thought out that even those who supported its policy without a word decided to give it some thought.

I would like to recall that the Russian Federation has constantly and consistently spoke about this at various venues for many months. Let us repeat that there should be no interference by force!

The illegal attempt to break through the Venezuelan border under the pretext of bringing “humanitarian relief” undertaken by the radical part of the Venezuelan opposition with US prompting and support of extremist groups with Molotov cocktails in hand on February 23, was doomed to failure from the very start. Its organisers realised that any violation of the state border must and will always be curbed because this is direct encroachment on national sovereignty. Nevertheless, this did not stop those who have killed and wounded people as a result of this US-provoked adventure. How will the organisers of this bloody farce look into the eyes of those whom they planned to use as a “live shield”? Luckily, the dirty plan of the providers of fake humanitarian aid ran aground.

I will not describe in detail the events of last Saturday or say what the trucks with so-called “humanitarian aid” really carried. Owing to the photos given to us we know what was in them. Relevant evidence was presented at the February 26 session of the UN Security Council. It is still necessary to figure all this out. Even a cursory analysis of the photos and footage points to the futility of the attempts to present these planned open provocations as “atrocities of the Nicolas Maduro regime.” Take, for instance, the burning of trucks before they even crossed the border. We have commented on this repeatedly because these kinds of things happened in various parts of the world. Let me recall the images of other completely false scenarios that were presented as foundations for making far-reaching decisions. We have seen this everywhere including Maidan and Syria.

I advise you to carefully read the speech at this meeting by Russia’s Permanent Representative at the UN Vasily Nebenzya. The text is accessible on the website of our Permanent Mission and is very easy to understand.

These events are a source of grave concern. The US sticks to a policy of taking down “objectionable governments” in Latin America and elsewhere. We urge all our Latin American friends to give serious thought to this, regardless of what position they now hold towards the Nicolas Maduro government. Today, it is best to remember the pages of history that can be very informative in the context of the current situation. 

The February 26 session of the UN Security Council graphically demonstrated that an interventionist scenario is unacceptable for the international community. Exactly a month has passed since the previous session on the Venezuelan issue. And what do we see? The confidence of those who stand on guard of the UN Charter and the principles of international law has become even stronger whereas the positions of those who favour ultimatums and threats continue to be eroded. In effect, only the US representative, who remained alone, never expressed the renunciation of the option to use external armed interference.

Today, the US will try to take revenge at the UN Security Council. Its draft resolution on Venezuela will be put to a vote. There is nothing new in it, just the same mixture of high-flown demagogy, accusatory clichés and ultimatums. Needless to say, Russia will not be able to back this draft. The Russian delegation worked hard and suggested in its draft resolution an approach that is much more constructive and based on respect for the UN Charter and the principles of international law. This approach implies the use of various mechanisms of dialogue and mediation on a broad international scale, as well as the order of coordinating and delivering international relief and putting forth other initiatives on Venezuela. I will not predict the results of today’s session but I will say that we have no illusions as regards US willingness to heed the voice of reason and display a constructive approach. We take a realistic view of the situation.

Russia will continue its constructive explanatory work to eradicate the very idea of resolving Venezuelan problems by force from the international public consciousness. We will continue rendering effective support to constructive international mechanisms and initiatives aimed at an internal political settlement in Venezuela. Haven’t we already seen things like this in Syria? There was intimidation, accusation, direct threats, including those addressed to this country. We saw a blackmail of the entire international community and arguments that amounted to propaganda.  Will we have enough patience for all this? We will. We have been through many things and managed to prevent many of the bloody scenarios that have been offered to the world.     

We are convinced that it is only possible to reach peace in Venezuela through an internal comprehensive and respectful dialogue. All those who are not indifferent to the peaceful future of Venezuela and Latin America as a whole can and must facilitate this as soon as possible. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Executive Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez, who is arriving in Moscow, will talk about these and other issues tomorrow.

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Developments in Donbass

 

The intensity and number of fire attacks launched by the Armed Forces of Ukraine have increased considerably over the past seven days. According to members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, 11 communities in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics came under fire. The fire attacks killed two and wounded one civilian, also damaging ten residential buildings.

I would like to make a lyrical digression. When I hear the European Union’s statements about developments in Venezuela with various prescriptions and equivocal wording, I am always tempted to ask: And has the Ukrainian matter been closed already? Has everything been resolved? Has Brussels accomplished anything with regard to Ukraine that can be used to convince the international community that the EU’s opinions and practical proposals can be applied in other regions of the world? Just look at what is going on there. There is no answer to this obviously rhetorical question.

One would like to note the fact that increased fire attacks by the Ukrainian security agencies against civilian facilities in the self-proclaimed republics have coincided with the deployment of nationalist units of the Ukrainian National Guard’s Azov Regiment. The Kiev regime has repeatedly used this formation, whose representatives are known for their far-right radical views, to conduct punitive operations against the civilian population in Donbass. So some members of the US Congress have called it a neo-Nazi element.

One gets the impression that Kiev is preparing another provocation in Donbass; this aims to create conditions for declaring martial law in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Quite possibly, the aim of this provocation might be to call off the elections in these Ukrainian regions where, as is well known, President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko does not enjoy popular support, to put it mildly.

I would like to recall that the Kiev-approved provocation involving three Ukrainian warships in the Kerch Strait served as a pretext for declaring martial law in ten Ukrainian regions, including Donbass, on November 28, 2018.

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Current developments along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan

 

We are worried about the escalation of tension in relations between India and Pakistan and dangerous manoeuvres of both states’ armed forces along the Line of Control that are fraught with a direct military clash.

We are urging the sides to display maximum restraint. We continue to assume that contentious matters should be resolved by political-diplomatic methods on a bilateral basis in line with the provisions of the 1972 Simla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration.

We reaffirm our readiness to provide all-out support to the Indian and Pakistani efforts in countering terrorism.

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Parliamentary elections in Moldova

 

Elections to the Parliament of Moldova took place on February 24, with about 3,000 observers from various international organisations, including the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and the CIS Executive Committee, monitoring the election process. Despite certain setbacks, they believe that the election process mostly met generally accepted standards.

Judging by preliminary results, three political parties and one election bloc will make it into the new Moldovan Parliament, and the official results will be announced in the next few days. We hope that the future government of Moldova will represent the interests of the country’s entire population.

There were some questions regarding the development of bilateral relations after the elections. I would like to note once again that this should remain in the context in any case. The results will be announced in the near future. Certainly, we always assume that a constructive line will prevail in relations with the Russian Federation. As I see it, this approach is mutually beneficial.

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Referendum in Cuba

 

On February 24, a referendum took place in the Republic of Cuba, with over 85 percent of the voters approving the new national Constitution. The approval of the Fundamental Law, drafted with due consideration for proposals formulated during the preliminary three-month nationwide discussion took place in conditions of a democratic process and through the free expression of Cuban citizens’ will.

Therefore the people of Cuba have formalised their independent choice in favour of an optimal and most preferable modern development model, state and socio-political system meeting the requirements of current national socio-economic transformations.

The new Constitution reaffirms the continuity of Havana’s foreign policy objectives based on a commitment to unfailingly honour norms and principles of international law, including respect for the sovereignty of other state and non-interference in their domestic affairs. We are confident that our continued shared approaches on the international arena will further enhance strategic partnership between Russia and Cuba in various forms and manifestations.

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US-North Korea summit in Hanoi

 

We positively assess the commitment of US President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea to continue their dialogue in connection with the second US-North Korea summit held on February 27–28 in Hanoi. We believe it should be backed up with real and practical steps towards each other and proceed on the basis of compromise approaches with an emphasis on creating an atmosphere of trust. It is obvious that time and maximum patience of all the participants are required to solve the full range of problems on the Korean Peninsula, including the nuclear one.

We believe it extremely important to maintain the positive dynamics in political and diplomatic processes in the subregion in the spirit of the well-known Russian-Chinese initiatives. We reaffirm Russia’s readiness to strengthen multilateral cooperation with all the parties involved and to join efforts in the interest of a comprehensive settlement on the Korean Peninsula.

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Anniversary of the poisoning of Skripals

 

March 4 marks a year since the date of the poisoning of former Russian intelligence colonel Sergey Skripal and his daughter. It is difficult to find the right word for the story – it is tragic, and kind of tragicomic at the same time. So far, no one can say what really happened. One thing is obvious, and we can assert with confidence that the UK has launched an essentially unprecedented anti-Russia information campaign, equally astounding in its cynicism and paradoxical nature. It would seem that many facts have been cited to confirm that, historically, a certain part of the British establishment is capable of everything, including bluffing, forgery, and provocation, also internationally. There are plenty of examples of such actions in the history of that country. But, regarding the so-called Skripal case, Theresa May’s government seems to have gone even further, surpassing all previous historical precedents and all its famous predecessors. One gets the feeling that the British authorities have decided to test several of their techniques to create and promote international provocations.

The world remembers all too well the famous test tube with samples of allegedly Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which US Secretary of State Colin Powell brought to the UN in 2003 and the ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s interview with CNN in 2015 in which he apologised for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of erroneous intelligence. We all know this. Now we know more about all kinds of staged videos, we know how these fakes are made. But there is hardly a case in recent history when high-ranking officials would render a guilty verdict against another state for an alleged crime without even bothering to give the public at least some kind of reasoning or evidence for it. Perhaps they were wary of any fakes that they show would be refuted. The so called verdict on our country, brought without the right of appeal, was issued using a new technique, a new international legal concept that has forever entered the history of international relations - “highly likely”. Now, no evidence is needed, and verification mechanisms developed under existing international law do not have to be activated – it suffices to use words like “likely,” “probably,” or “maybe” to have anyone believe anything. And most importantly, this belief will be followed by very specific measures, unwinding of the sanctions spiral, mass expulsion of diplomats, and international stigmatisation. All this was tested in the context of our country and in relation to our state.

If we look at the statistics of the British media content over the past year, including the number of official statements on the so-called Skripal case, it will immediately become clear that this topic was almost central in their national information space, competing, and occasionally eclipsing Brexit.

Systematically and regularly, in close coordination with each other, British media resources, special services, and officials released portions of information on this subject, always keeping it afloat. This way the British person-in-the-street had a daily opportunity to watch the series imposed on them. If it became boring, new juicy details were thrown in, like the last story where some “third poisoner” emerged. Despite the abundance of information, what do we have as the bottom line? We have a lot of unconfirmed, even ominously mysterious facts, as, for example, the new details around Porton Down laboratory, but no specifics and zero substance. No one can answer the main questions: what about the Skripals? Where are they? Recently, Sergey Skripal's niece, Viktoria, said she doubted that her uncle was alive, and also announced her intention to ask the Russian law enforcement agencies to recognize her cousin, Yulia, as missing. This was not followed by any officially confirmed documentary material, except for a statement made by the British Ambassador to Russia that Skripal was alive. Of course, this person can be trusted with the word. As Viktoria said in an interview with reporters, in February, it was half a year since she last spoke with Yulia. She probably has reason to say so, as much as we do – despite the numerous requests the Russian Embassy sent last year about consular access to the Russian citizen, the British side does not allow us to see her. Indeed, the situation is paradoxical – the newswires are full of news about the Skripals, but the world does not know anything about them or about what happened. It is a fact. If you actually try to extract facts from what was written, the situation is as follows – the animals were killed and cremated, the house was isolated and, according to reports, is being dismantled, while the Skripals themselves were hidden from the public at best, but even that we cannot be sure of.

What other irrefutable facts do we have? The topic of the Skripals, Salisbury and Amesbury became the only unifying agenda in the UK – the very consensus around which Theresa May’s government is unified, including the political establishment.

The British media behaviour is also indicative, knowing their love of investigative journalism. We have often caught them on fraud and falsification, but, as a rule, they at least try to create the appearance of a professional approach. However, this time, in the context of the so-called Skripal poisoning, they did not even bother with that. No specialist has yet been willing to delve into the numerous inconsistencies that are issued by the media. Apparently, this job is not worth it, as it is not going to bring any political dividends. So they continue planting information, which is also somehow mystically linked to the developments around Brexit.

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USSTRATCOM Commander General John E. Hyten’s strategic arms comments

 

We took note of the remarks by Commander of US Strategic Command Gen. John E. Hyten on new Russian armaments in the context of the New START Treaty, made on February 26, when he was speaking before the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

I would like to remind you that this Treaty covers only intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-based ballistic missiles and heavy bombers, which, by the way, was acknowledged by Gen. Hyten himself.

We proceed from the assumption that the issue of armaments other than IBM, SLBM or heavy bombers that are outside the purview of the New START Treaty could be considered in the context of a strategic dialogue with the US. We have repeatedly pointed this out to the US side, including at the meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission under the US-Russia New START Treaty. But Washington stubbornly avoids this dialogue and prefers to whip up hysteria in the public space.

We believe that this approach cannot make our discussion any more constructive. What is needed for this is a detailed expert analysis of the existing mutual concerns and a search for mutually acceptable solutions aimed at enhancing trust as well as strengthening international security and stability.

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Results of the 63rd Special Session of the OPCW Executive Council

 

The OPCW Executive Council convened in The Hague on February 25 to discuss Russia’s proposal on additions to the lists of chemicals covered by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Ahead of the event, experts from Moscow held a number of briefings for CWC member countries. The Russian initiative was explained in minute detail. It is of a comprehensive nature, carefully worded and based on a wealth of facts. Its main aim is to strengthen the CWC non-proliferation regime by including onto the lists the most dangerous new-generation toxic chemicals that could be used for the reproduction of chemical weapons.

We must state that the Western countries were violently opposed to our approach and engineered a vote. Taking advantage of the numerical superiority that the NATO countries and their close allies have in the Executive Council, they have blocked the Russian proposal. The reason is simple: the proposed lists of chemicals would include nerve agents that are being developed by a number of Western countries.

We proceed from the assumption that the last word on this matter will belong to the 193 CWC member states. In keeping with the CWC, a 90-day “silence procedure” has been launched. If at least one country opposes the Executive Committee decision and supports the Russian initiative within this period, the issue will be submitted to the CWC Conference of the States Parties, the organisation’s top organ.  

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Recent cyber attack on NTV-MIR

 

We are deeply concerned about some Western countries’ statements regarding their readiness for aggressive actions in cyberspace, including by using pre-emptive measures, allegedly aimed at counteracting hybrid threats from the outside and containing other states in their alleged attempts to launch cyber attacks on Western countries’ infrastructure. Furthermore, Russia is considered the main object for such containment.

In this context, we cannot help but notice the increased cases of hacker attacks on the Russian segment of the internet and the websites of some Russian media. In particular, a massive DDoS attack was launched recently on NTV-MIR with over three million IP addresses, most of which are registered in the US.

We will continue to monitor the situation and draw conclusions about the scale of cyber attacks. We will submit this data to the relevant international organisations because we are talking about attacks on Russia’s information space. We are very concerned about the sources of these attacks.

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Sputnik stops radio broadcasting in Berlin and Brandenburg

 

Starting March 1, SNA radio, part of the Sputnik international news agency and radio will have to stop broadcasting in Berlin and Brandenburg. The radio broadcast earlier in Berlin and Brandenburg at the frequencies of MEGA Radio, which had a temporary license on transmitting digital signal. At the end of 2018, its application for a permanent license was denied by the regulator because, in particular, MEGA Radio is financially dependent on Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency as it broadcasts its content 12 hours a day. The German authorities were also concerned with the fact that the owner of the frequencies “does not control the content of the channel.” At the same time, the regulator has not filed any official complaints regarding the content of the radio programmes. Do they contain propaganda, fake news, distorted information, misinformation, or maybe disrespect for the main principles that Germany advocates? In my opinion, there is nothing to talk about. We have recently been lectured by the German professional community about how Germany treats the freedom of the media and freedom of speech with respect. There were numerous publications on this subject. Russia could never even dream of such “freedom of speech.”

Given the charged atmosphere around the Russian media in Germany, it is difficult not to notice the political component of the situation with Sputnik. We urge the German authorities, including the professional community which said it was proud of their freedom of speech, to apply this principle of the freedom of speech to regulating media activity.

We will be keeping a close watch on this situation.

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The role of propaganda in the preparation of NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia

 

I would like to cite the example of what the Russian media are being accused of in the West today to show what real propaganda is, getting back to the illegal, bloody and criminal operation carried out by NATO in Yugoslavia. 

Propaganda played a decisive role in the preparation of NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia. Over the course of many months, the Western media was reporting on the alleged mass repressions against Albanians, kicking a truly hysterical campaign into high gear. At the same time, every effort was made to hush Kosovo Albanian militants’ extensive terrorist activities, their heinous crimes, including kidnapping of people for human organ trafficking. 

I would like to say that, as can be seen from the investigation documents, not a single thriller showing similar horrors can compare with what was happening there in reality.   

The immediate pretext for the beginning of bombing, as you know, was the so-called “massacre of innocent civilians” in the village of Racak, which was under the control of Serbian law-enforcers. This was reported by absolutely all Western media, as well as the official NATO and EU agencies. As it transpired later, an autopsy carried out by Finnish pathologists revealed that it was a provocation, while the “innocent civilians” turned out to be Albanian militants dressed as civilians who had been killed in the fighting. Of course, this was hushed up.

The outcome of this propaganda campaign was an armed aggression against a European country and the use of force to seize part of its territory – the Kosovo Autonomous Area. So it was in the spring of 1999 that NATO put paid to international law in Europe. Since then, we have perceived any and all speculations in Western capitals about someone violating international law or about respect for the freedom of speech, as well as their references to anything as propaganda as nothing short of outright hypocrisy. 

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New acts of vandalism and revision of history in Poland

 

All sorts of revisionists and hooligans in Poland continue defaming our memorial heritage in that country.

Another act of vandalism on the graves of Soviet soldiers was carried out in the city of Nowy Sacz, Malopolskie Province. This time, the vandals attacked the graves of Red Army soldiers at the city cemetery: they stole the sickles and hammers from the obelisk and, instead, drew the emblems of the so-called struggling Poland and inscribed the words “down with the commune.”   

In Kielce, Swietokrzyskie Province, members of the local legislative assembly resolved to take 29 Red Army soldiers off the list of the city’s honorary citizens. They explained their decision, as has become the custom in recent years, by the need to “restore historical justice.”

A monument to those who liberated Poland from the Nazi invaders has been demolished in the city of Slawno, West Pomerania Province, through the efforts of the local authorities. A legendary T-34 tank was taken off the base: according to local history experts, a Polish crew fought in this tank in the 3rd Guards Armoured Corps led by General Alexey Panfilov.

We consider all these acts to be immoral, through and through. If removing the threat of total annihilation of a whole nation does not deserve to be perpetuated, any discussion of “historical justice” is useless. The masterminds of the Polish national policy should remember that in memorial matters every new wild escapade of this sort is a direct insult to the memory of World War II heroes and their descendants and it is also the re-writing of history. It is time you stopped.       

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in January that a trilateral meeting of the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran will be definitely held in Russia this year. Is there any information at the ministry level on the preparations of this event? Is this format effective in light of the anti-Iran sanctions? Does it meet Russia’s interests?

Maria Zakharova:  Any format on which states agree is constructive if it is not spearheaded against other countries but is designed to address internal matters or to promote the settlement of international problems. The sides have the right to hold such meetings if they satisfy the abovementioned conditions. It is a normal international practice.

As for the preparations for the summit, you should ask the concerned bodies of authority.

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Question: An event was held in Baku this week that can be described as a fresh manifestation of anti-Armenia hysterics. But the strangest part of it is that a large delegation from the Russian parliament took part in that internal Azerbaijani propaganda event. Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Ararat Mirzoyan, who was in Moscow at that time, expressed his consternation. The Armenian Embassy also expressed its objections. Who organised that visit by the Russian delegation? I would like to hear your assessment of this awkward story involving Russian MPs.

Maria Zakharova: First of all, I would like to say that the horrible, bloody Karabakh conflict has claimed the lives of very many innocent people, both Azerbaijanis and Armenians. Russia has always considered it a terrible tragedy. Our position is well known, but I wanted to confirm it once again.

Russia has been doing a great deal to help the conflicting sides find a peaceful solution. We will continue to give priority attention to this in the context of our policy and our views on the Russian policy in the region.

You said that Russian MPs took part in this event. I believe that the question of who organised that visit should be addressed to those who went on that trip. We have already said that the Foreign Ministry was not among its organisers.

Question: Is Moscow dissociating itself from the initiatives which my Armenian colleague has mentioned? After all, the State Duma is not a hobby club but the supreme legislative authority of Russia.

Maria Zakharova: It is a good remark coming from an Armenian journalist. I would like to remind you that in a democratic society the legislative assembly is elected by the people who hold different political views. The authorities in Russia are divided into the executive, legislative and judicial branches. This is the official position of the Russian Federation. At the same time, individual politicians have their own views, which is normal.

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Question: Are we promoting the truth through such films as The Balkan Line, which has been recently shown on the sidelines of the Berlin film festival?

Maria Zakharova: First, I have not seen this film yet. And second, we are talking about the official position. I would like to avoid giving comments on artistic works at a Foreign Ministry event. However, artistic works must contain at least a grain of truth as well. On the other hand, artistic works and the media must not become the instruments of propaganda, especially for attaining the goals that the Alliance had back then.

If this film attempted to provide an objective analysis of the events in question, it can be described as a constructive contribution. The events of that period showed how dishonest people can use the media and all other instruments of bringing information to the general public, and what results this can have.

It is a matter for discussion, and I have talked about it many times, including with journalists, but my opinion is that all aspects of the proliferation of information have to do with responsibility, including the responsibility of creative people to the audiences. Of course, in the case of historical events this implies working with documents, checking and verifying information so as to tell people the historical truth.

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Question: Today, a resolution on Venezuela which is partially based on the so-called Montevideo Mechanism (supported by Mexico and Uruguay) will be submitted to the UN Security Council. Can Russia become directly involved in the work of this cooperation mechanism?  

Maria Zakharova: Senior Foreign Ministry officials have repeatedly stated that we support this mechanism at the current stage. We proceed from the need to involve mediators (naturally, by agreement with Venezuela), provided that this country accepts mediatory services that should aim precisely to search for a constructive solution of the crisis in and around Venezuela, with due respect for the main international law principles, the UN Charter. We perceive our role in supporting the Montevideo Mechanism in this context.

We will study this matter if it becomes necessary to use our capacities more vigorously. Russia is actively helping to normalise the situation in Venezuela and to uphold international law. We are confident that there is no alternative to resolving the situation by peaceful political-diplomatic means, and that it would be unacceptable to use military force, all the more so resort to military intervention, in  resolving the domestic crisis in this state.

We have repeatedly noted that, apart from all the above-mentioned aspects, it is very important to create normal conditions, rather than aggravate current manifestations of crisis with regard to Venezuela, and later claim that its people are suffering from food shortages and declining economic indicators.

We have always suspected that certain countries played a part in these events, but now we are sure  that a number of states stand behind and provoke the domestic crisis in Venezuela. This should not happen.

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Question: The Washington Post published a story the other day, quoting anonymous sources from among senior officials and claiming that the US Cyber Command disrupted Internet access of an alleged Russian “troll factory” on the day of the 2018 midterm elections to the US Congress. The most interesting thing is that this story claimed this was the first offensive against Russia. Therefore this is not the last attack, and it will probably be followed by others. Do you know anything about this? What is the Foreign Ministry’s response? Do you perceive this as a direct attack against the Russian state and a security risk?

Maria Zakharova: In my opinion, you should ask US officials and the concerned agencies as to whether this attack took place or not. They know all too well whom and when we had allegedly attacked. At the same time, we would very much like to hear any confirmation or denial of this information from them. We would then have the necessary data. First, we are talking about a newspaper publication; second, about an attack on an NGO. How can we make any comments on this information? We have already discussed confirmed attacks during today’s briefing. We learn about them from companies sending this information to us, as is the case with NTV, or we share information about hacker attacks on Russian government agencies.

We regularly report the number of attacks on the Foreign Ministry’s website, as well as on other government agencies and organisations. Of course, we record aggressive attacks on Russia in cyber space, and their number is growing. At the same time, this no longer implies radio hams engaged in petty hooliganism. The scale and nature of these attacks indicate planned and well-coordinated activities. This is not about radio hams. This concerns global and purposeful efforts to disrupt a number of mechanisms, organisations and resources of Russian government agencies or major companies.

Today, I have cited information provided to us by the NTV television company. Why did they send this to us? This is because it is precisely the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department that accumulates all information linked with the violation of Russian media outlets’ rights abroad, including attacks, aggression, inappropriate conduct, etc., and sends it to international organisations. This is exactly what we are going to do. 

I would like to say once again that it would be nice to receive an official response from the United States, all the more so as we are talking about a story in a US newspaper that has mentioned the actions of the US side.

By the way, here is something for you to think about: In early February, the Foreign Ministry requested the US side’s consent to publish correspondence dating from late 2016 to early 2017 via a special channel and dealing with US concerns about the unauthorised accessing of its online networks. If you remember, the Obama administration sent an official inquiry to Moscow, elaborating on their public accusations with regard to Russia. We replied willingly. You may not remember the gist of that inquiry, but you remember our statements about maintaining such contacts with the Obama administration, about our regular inquiries regarding their concerns and our willingness to reply to all their appropriate inquiries. The Americans turned down our proposal to publish the contents of that correspondence.

This brief discourse shows that we are dealing will all-out and, unfortunately, protracted cheating. On the one hand, Russia is being accused; and, on the other hand, it is being attacked. The above mentioned NTV channel shows that these attacks are also being conducted from the United States; in any event, numerous attacks originate from there. Unfortunately, a striving to hush up the correspondence, without making it public, highlights obviously weak positions, although these documents did not contain any particularly sensitive matters. Those who want to know what is going on inside cyberspace between Moscow and Washington would be most interested in reading them. But, I repeat, the Americans prevented us from making this document public. 

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Question: ISIS terrorists, many of whom are foreign nationals, including from Russia, are surrendered en masse to the Kurds in Baghuz within the framework of the operations to do away with the last ISIS stronghold east of the Euphrates. The Kurds have asked European countries and all other concerned states to create conditions for passing judgement on these terrorists or to take them over. What will Russia do?

Maria Zakharova: This is for the law enforcement to decide. Such information should be checked before initiating proceedings, which involves the use of measures based on Russian legislation. But the first thing to do is authenticate the information. If these people are citizens of Russia, their future will be decided by the law enforcement based on the law.

Regrettably, many of those who are fighting for terrorist organisations come from Russia or are connected with the post-Soviet space in one way or another; they have a dark or troubled past and do not have a clear and understandable citizenship record. Many of them destroyed their documents or changed them illegally. Therefore, it will take a long time to determine if they are Russian citizens or not, considering the geopolitical changes in the post-Soviet space. The matter will be decided traditionally; there are no innovations in this respect.

Question: Is this the matter for the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria?

Maria Zakharova: First of all, it is a matter for the Russian law enforcement agencies. Competent agencies will check the information.

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Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Vietnamese and Chinese television channels that Moscow is considering the possibility of deploying Russian military police on the Syrian-Turkish border. Have any practical steps been taken towards this? Are you holding talks with the Kurds and Damascus?

Maria Zakharova: Of course, this statement stems from practice rather than theory. The Russian Foreign Minister has said this based on concrete information. But only our military know all the details.

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Question: What can Russia together with the OSCE do to stop the latest round of violence, which Ukraine has launched in connection with the election campaign?

Maria Zakharova: I have already spoken on this issue today. Your question has confirmed my belief that, regrettably, we cannot rule out any provocations in the context of the elections and the election campaign in Ukraine.

What is Russia doing to prevent a bloody scenario? First of all, we have been talking about this openly and making facts public. This is quite a lot. Second, we relay the information at our disposal to the concerned OSCE bodies. And lastly, we maintain bilateral contacts with those who are protecting the Kiev regime and can directly influence Kiev’s actions.

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Question: The Serbian media write that Tony Blair is giving free advice to the Serbian government regarding Serbia’s new borders. Russia has been criticised for adjusting all its actions only to UN Security Council Resolution 1244. What is Russia’s position on this matter?

Maria Zakharova: We support all solutions to this problem if they meet the interests of Serbia and the Serbs. We are talking about the people and the state. In such cases one should avoid hackneyed phrases but express oneself very clearly. We have said more than once that there is a large number of international documents concerning this situation. Of course, we believe that they must be respected because they have not been invalidated, in particular, the UN Security Council resolution you have just mentioned. At the same time, we see that Serbia is trying to resolve this problem, including through talks, and we understand this position. We will support any decision that meets the interests of Serbian people and Serbia. The Russian position rests on the integrity of these principles. It is consistent and has not changed. But the problem is periodically aggravated, for example, when Kosovo starts acting with regard to Belgrade, the Serbs and Serbia, in particular in trade and the economy, in a barbaric manner that completely disagrees with the European values or, in general, the modern narrative.

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Question: You have said that the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists continue their attacks on civilians in Aleppo. Does this mean that the Idlib agreements have failed?

Maria Zakharova: I would say more diplomatically that these agreements are not being implemented in full.

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Question: How does Russia see the prospects for peace in Afghanistan arising from the contacts between US representatives and Taliban leaders?

Maria Zakharova: It is difficult to evaluate the prospects prior to the contacts. Globally, we expect that the parties will reach agreement in the interests of the intra-Afghan settlement. This position of our country is very well known. I still assume that we should comment on the outcome of such meetings if they achieve any results. If you ask me about any specific meeting, I will be glad to comment.

We have received questions regarding this issue, specifically, concerning initiatives in this area. For example, there was a question on Russia’s views regarding the Afghan government’s initiative to hold a meeting in Kabul on a peaceful settlement.  On March 7, the Afghan government plans to hold the third meeting of the Kabul Process in the country’s capital. The meeting will concern establishing a peaceful dialogue and countering terrorism on the territory of Afghanistan. Russia received an invitation to take part in this meeting. Our principled approach is that we support the Afghan government’s efforts to organise direct talks with the armed opposition and resolve the issues related to this process. Specifically, these issues include a ceasefire, the liberation of prisoners, an intra-Afghan dialogue on the country’s future political order, and a few other matters. However, unfortunately, at this stage, these efforts are not bringing any noticeable results. We are certain that in the current circumstances, the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan would be the best platform for international assistance in establishing the intra-Afghan dialogue. We believe that within this format it is possible to coordinate the efforts of the major world powers, regional actors and belligerent Afghan parties in search of the solution to the Afghan crisis.

The meetings in the Intra-Afghan Dialogue format also have great potential. The first meeting took place in Moscow on February 5−6, 2019. The Afghans themselves conducted a thorough dialogue regarding the prospects of a peace process in Afghanistan that would take into account the interests of all the members of Afghan society, regardless of their faith and ethnicity. The next meeting will take place in Doha on March 25−26, 2019.

We also noted the initiative by the Afghan leadership to convene an expanded intra-Afghan meeting this March under the auspices of the Afghan government. It should be noted that a number of powerful political figures in Afghanistan and the Taliban expressed reservations about this event and claimed that it appeared to be an attempt by current President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani to postpone the upcoming presidential election and prolong his term. The majority of Afghans demand a fully-fledged loya jirga rather than consultations in order to resolve the issues of a peace process in the country.

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Question: My colleague from Serbia has quoted Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic as saying that a demarcation option is being discussed for Kosovo. How would Russia conduct itself if this happened?

Maria Zakharova: Russia already conducts itself as Serbia’s true and time-tested friend. It defends the interests of this state which is being subjected to colossal pressure by the same Western partners who promise huge preferences to Belgrade and who, at the same time, basically stifle the country. Russia can and must talk about its behaviour with regard to Serbia in the present, rather than the future, tense. This involves assistance, political, moral, economic and infrastructural support that really has something to do with Serbia’s development as a state and the wellbeing of the Serbian nation. All this already exists. Why should we talk about how things will work out in the future? We have already clearly outlined the future in our position by saying that Russia will certainly support the resolution of the highly complicated matter that will meet the interests of the Serbs and Serbia as a state. There are no other approaches towards this matter. But we should not formulate our position as pending future action. This proactive position aims to defend the rights of the Serbs. Unfortunately, our Western partners have been neglecting the rights of that nation for quite some time and are doing this rather aggressively.

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Question: In its letters to the Federal News Agency’s staff, internet company Google Inc. admitted spying on them via the Google mail service. Google employees analysed confidential materials and correspondence and submitted their findings to US government agencies as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Is it in fact normal for the United States to conduct surveillance without feeling ashamed to admit  it? Is there any risk that US agencies are spying on others, and not only journalists, along the same lines?

Maria Zakharova: First, the problem is that we are using the word “normal” less often in this context. Second, I will be happy to comment on this. But, first, I would like to read these wonderful confessions, if you can hand them over to us officially. We will look through them, and we will certainly offer our comment. This is a unique know-how; I have never seen or read anything like this before.

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Question: You have mentioned the so-called Skripal poisoning that happened a year ago. Today nobody knows what is happening to them. The propaganda campaign the UK launched has not ended yet. What do you think about London’s intention to expand the investigation to Bulgaria?

Maria Zakharova: I have already said that this is a new element of the propaganda campaign. One can move from one element to another again and again, but we would still like to receive basic answers to the key questions. But they are trying to lead us away from the truth, creating new equations with new unknowns. But there is a basic question which requires an answer: Exactly what happened in Salisbury a year ago – time, place, circumstances, characters and actions? It is a simple question, but any forward movement would be unproductive without an answer to it. Nobody has provided an official answer to this question. We do not even have an official timeline. Meanwhile, major evidence has been destroyed or is being destroyed.

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Question: How can the report by Special Counsel Mueller influence Russian-US relations?

Maria Zakharova: I don’t think we need to comment on this report as a factor of bilateral relations, because the events that take place in Russian-US relations every day now are trivial compared to a decade ago when they could have turned things upside down. We see Washington do this every day: statements, actions, sanctions, lists, threats, slander, fakes and misinformation.

The report itself and the developments around it fit in with the history of our bilateral relations. Not that this is influencing the unfolding situation. Similar events with a varying information effect take place every day. This deterioration in our relations is initiated by Washington.

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Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Moscow can provide a venue to Islamabad and New Delhi for settling their dispute. Will they support this idea?

Maria Zakharova: We are ready to do our best towards this, if the conflicting parties want us to.

 

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