Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 21, 2016
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meetings on the ASEAN platform
- The current situation in Syria
- Crimes in Syria
- Russian Dmitry Ukrainsky arrested in Thailand
- Armenia situation update
- Attack on Mali military base
- New edition of the Bundeswehr White Book
- Statements on Russia by UK Prime Minister Theresa May and new cabinet members
- Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s response to the Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s comment of July 14
- Turkey bars REN TV journalists from entering country
- Answers to media questions:
- Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Participation of Russian athletes in the Rio Olympic Games
- Extension of sanctions against Crimea and Sevastopol
- Possibility of a trilateral meeting on Syria in Geneva
- Russian-Turkish relations
- Reinforcement of Turkish military in Azerbaijan
- Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s possible visit to Russia
- Update on the Turkish pilots involved in the downing of Russia’s Su-24 in Syria
- Possible meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia
- President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Slovenia
- Death of Pavel Sheremet
- Updates on Turkey
As per tradition, I will begin this briefing with the agenda of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On July 25-26, Sergey Lavrov will attend the annual high-level ASEAN events in Laos – an ASEAN-Russia ministerial meeting, the 6th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting (EAS FMM) and the 23rd ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on security.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on July 25 will focus on the comprehensive implementation of the agreements that were reached at the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit, which was held in Sochi this May to mark 20 years of ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership.
The ministers will coordinate practical political, economic and cultural steps to take ASEAN-Russia relations to the strategic partnership level. They will highlight the further development of practical cooperation in priority areas such as trade, investment, energy, agriculture, science, education and emergency response.
The ministers will also discuss regional and international issues, primarily against the backdrop of ASEAN-Russia efforts to develop an equitable and balanced security and cooperation architecture in Asia Pacific.
They will also consider the possibility of aligning regional integration initiatives and promoting comprehensive economic partnership in Eurasia.
The EAS Foreign Ministers Meeting on July 26 will be held to prepare for the 11th East Asia Summit, to be held in Laos on September 8.
The ministers will exchange opinions on the development of interaction in key EAS cooperation areas: energy, finance, education, healthcare, emergency response and connectivity.
One of the key issues to be addressed by the ministers will be measures to boost EAS efforts to create a new security architecture in Asia Pacific.
Later the same day, Sergey Lavrov will attend the 23rd ASEAN Regional Forum. We regard the ARF as a major venue for practical cooperation on specific aspects of peace and security, confidence-building measures and preventive diplomacy in Asia Pacific.
The ARF participants will discuss efforts to fight new threats and challenges, primarily terrorism and transnational crime, as well as measures to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation, maritime security and emergency response. Russia is also concerned with priority issues such as space security and secure use of ICT.
ARF participants will adopt ministerial statements on the cross-border movement of criminals, on strengthening cooperation between the agencies responsible for law and order on the sea and on fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. They will also approve an action plan for the next reporting period.
The ministers will also exchange opinions on current global and regional issues, including the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
As we turn to regional issues, I cannot but focus on the current situation in Syria, which is characterised by persisting military and political tensions. Clashes of varying intensity between the government forces and the terrorist groups continue in Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood, Aleppo, Idlib and Homs provinces, and Darayya in the suburb of Damascus. The terrorists persevere in their attempts to change the situation in the Palmyra area, redeploying additional forces and resources there.
On July 17, an ISIS suicide bomber killed 30 local civilians in the city of Ayn al-Arab (Kurdish Kobani).
According to the information coming from the Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides at the Russian Hmeymim airbase, Russian military have been helping to expand the number of populated localities supporting local ceasefires, which currently number 191.
The Russian-US talks held in Moscow on July 14-15 were an important landmark against this backdrop. As reported – and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly said as much – settling the Syrian conflict was central to the agenda.
During talks with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the Russian side pointed to the need for active steps to increase coordination of efforts in the fight against terrorism on the universal basis and without any double standards and to achieve a political and diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis. It was also stressed that the threat of a massive spillover of terrorist activities beyond the Middle East region was increasingly realistic.
We believe that a faithful pursuance of the Russian-US agreements on Russian and US joint efforts in the fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and in consolidating the cessation of hostilities regime (COHR), which were reached in Moscow (I think it would be quite fair to call them Moscow agreements), should improve the situation in Syria. We hope that these agreements will substantially facilitate progress on the way to political settlement.
We hope that the US side will live up to its promise to separate the moderate opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra. We have repeatedly discussed this with them and, most importantly, we repeatedly heard our US colleagues say that they not only nurtured plans of this kind but also were ready to do that and would maximally facilitate this. There is no place for terrorists in the Syria of the future and in other countries in the region. They must be destroyed. In this way, conditions will be created for the Syrian people to decide the fate of their country on their own thorough a peaceful and democratic procedure. It is this [plan] that has been included in and provided for by UN Security Council Resolution 2254, as well as by decisions approved by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012, the founding document in this area.
We think it is highly important to make this the basis for a real launch of an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, without any preconditions let alone ultimatums that are certainly out of place here. Russia will continue to assist precisely this course of events in the most diverse formats. From this angle, we have been preparing our participation in the Russia-US-UN trilateral high-level meeting scheduled for next week in Geneva. We will be able to announce the date after it is agreed.
Shocking reports have been coming in during the last few days about the atrocities and inhuman crimes being perpetrated in Syria. We are gravely concerned about the reports that the Coalition’s [air] strikes at the city of Manbij, Syria, to mention just one example, have left dozens of civilians, including children, killed or wounded. This is terrible news. Of course, these reports should be studied and the results of verification and investigation procedures should be made public. If these horrible facts are confirmed, proper conclusions will have to be drawn and all necessary measures taken to obviate the recurrence of anything of the kind in the future.
But this is not the single horrifying report that has come from Syria in recent days. Militants belonging to Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, a group reportedly supported by the United States, made a video recording of their execution of a boy looking no older than 10 or 12 years of age. The “moderates” (as some are referring to them) beheaded the boy for just being suspected of spying for President Assad’s supporters. This horrible, inhuman act is part of a video footage. According to the murderers, the boy allegedly was a spy sent by the Al-Quds Brigade.
According to the media, the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki rebel group took the child prisoner not far from Aleppo. You can’t watch this video unemotionally. Judging by the child’s clothes and the marks on his hands, he was tortured before his death.
To reiterate: If someone refers to these “humans” as “moderates,” we will never come to terms with them in this regard. These people have never been in the moderate camp, nor will they ever be. These people are terrorists pure and simple. They have no idea whatsoever of anything related to the general principles this world is based on.
I would like to comment on a media report concerning the arrest of Russian citizen Dmitry Ukrainsky in Thailand. We have received many questions and requests to comment on this. We are commenting on it not just because we’ve received inquiries but because we are now addressing the situation. I’ll tell you about it.
Judging by reports from the Russian Embassy in Thailand, Russian citizen Dmitry Ukrainsky was arrested on July 15, 2016 in Pattaya under a warrant issued by a Thai court. He was placed in an immigration police pre-trial detention ward in Bangkok. Judging by preliminary reports obtained from Thai police through routine communications channels, Mr Ukrainsky was arrested under a US extradition request on charges of alleged involvement in money-laundering in the United States.
I would like to note that, so far, we have not received any official notifications from Thailand or the United States regarding the legal grounds for this Russian citizen’s arrest.
In connection with this incident and subsequent developments, Thailand’s Charge D’Affaires Ad Interim in Russia was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on July 19 where an official inquiry was presented. The Russian Embassy in Bangkok maintains permanent contact with the local authorities. A diplomatic note stating the unacceptability of a Russian citizen’s extradition to the United States was forwarded to the Foreign Ministry of Thailand.
Members of the Russian diplomatic mission maintain permanent contact with the arrested Russian citizen and his relatives and provide him with any possible assistance. We are determined to take any action we can to secure his release or return to Russia.
Many people have asked us to comment on the situation in Armenia. We resolutely condemn the seizing of a patrol police station in Yerevan on July 17 when a law enforcement officer was killed. We consider this criminal activity that directly threatens the life and safety of the people to be unacceptable.
We support the efforts of Armenian authorities. We hope that they will make it possible to defuse the situation in the near future, to secure the hostages’ release, to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and to punish the culprits.
On July 19, militants from several radical groups operating in the region attacked a base of the Mali armed forces 500 kilometres north of the country’s capital Bamako and killed 17 and wounded over 30 Mali service personnel.
Moscow resolutely condemns the latest extremist attack aiming to destabilise the situation and to undermine the ongoing settlement process.
Let us go over to Russophobia News, our favourite rubric. Today’s issue brims with exciting news.
I would like to say a few words about the White Book of the Bundeswehr. Its new edition has disappointed us. As you know, the document is Germany’s fundamental defence and security doctrine, which demands federal government approval and will guide Berlin’s policy for years ahead. The latest edition contains an entire set of clichés which it is no exaggeration to describe as unjustified accusations piled on Russia.
The document makes a peremptory conclusion that Russia is rejecting close partnership with the West in favour of strategic rivalry. Certainly, if the content of a document is not factually correct, a conclusion might be made through self-persuasion that one’s own allegations are hard facts. As we see it, Berlin is convinced that Russia will remain a challenge to European security in the foreseeable future unless it makes a political about-face – a bizarre conclusion.
I would like to remark that the provisos the doctrine makes on the necessity of cooperation with Russia in the sphere of shared interests do not cancel the fact that by endorsing the White Book, Berlin is confirming confrontation with our country as a lasting prospect of its Russia policy. Evidently, Russia is being re-classified from a partner in meeting current global challenges into an instability factor and negative influence on Germany’s security, among other things.
As we evaluate and analyse the document, we leave it on its authors’ conscience. It has nothing in common with the real goals and objectives of Russia’s foreign and security policy. It’s obvious for us. We cannot but regret Berlin’s latest anti-Russian attack, and we will take it into consideration in our work on Russian-German relations.
The new UK government did not take long to make public its opinions on Russia. Barely a week after she formed her cabinet, Ms May made a number of very strange statements about a “Russian nuclear threat.” And this is not the only such statement she has made. Frankly, we expected the new cabinet to at least revise its terminology regarding Russia. But this has not been the case so far.
I would like you to note that Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has commented on these statements, and there is not much I can add. We can only hope that these first, initial statements were written to old formulas, and that the new cabinet will not rely on what was inherited from the previous cabinet but be more creative and show more initiative in developing its own strategy.
I am talking at length about the statements made by the new cabinet because it is not entirely new: there are some members who served in the old cabinet. One of them is Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who has made very strange and even shocking statements. He said, for example, that Russia’s naval activities off Syria were a new challenge to NATO.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State routinely publish the transcripts of joint news conferences by Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry. We also regularly publish press releases on telephone conversations between Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry, who talk as their countries’ top diplomats and also as the representatives of their countries as the leaders of a coalition that is working in Syria to root out terrorists. Does Britain not know that the United States, as the largest member of NATO who actually directs the alliance’s agenda, has long been cooperating with Russia on Syria? I’d guess that even kids know this. I should think Mr Fallon would learn about it too.
Frankly, I don’t know how to connect the understanding – if there is any – that Russia and the US as coalition leaders are cooperating on the Syrian issue, with the presentation of Russia as a new challenge to NATO. Who are statements like this meant for? I refuse to believe that they’re made for the British people. They are too well educated and smart to buy into this. Who is it for, then? I don’t think Mr Fallon is chanting this mantra for his own sake.
I would like to believe that some things in the United Kingdom will change.
I would like to return to the Montenegro theme but, regretfully, not in the positive vein in which I would want to treat the subject. I will comment on a statement by the Montenegro government public relations service, which has published information that Mr Djukanovic was displeased about the form and content of our statement at the news briefing of July 14. The comment we made was a response to his statement. I would also like to remind that Mr Djukanovic spoke about Russian propaganda meant for young minds not yet steeled by the European Union’s and NATO’s sublime ideals. As he said previously, he discerned Russia’s influence behind the attempts to destabilise Montenegro and accused Russia of being active in organising anti-government protests in Podgorica.
I don’t quite see what has upset him so much. We have set out our position explicitly. As we see it, his allegation that a space not occupied by the European Union or NATO will be filled by other forces – Russia or radical Islamists – is not an intelligent statement either in form or in content. Such statements show only one thing: the man who heads Montenegro denies neighbouring and other countries the right to choose their political future independently, denying them also common sense and a will of their own. It is absolutely unclear why he is doing that.
In the final analysis, such statements abuse EU and NATO non-members. If the North Atlantic alliance is the only standard and reference point to Mr Djukanovic, it is up to him alone, and he should not measure everyone by his own yardstick.
I would like to dwell on another point the Montenegrin leader is advancing proactively: the referendum on the accession to NATO. It would be advisable to hold it at least to find out what the will of the people is, whether the people want it and what they think about such a turn of events. He said in response to our statements and comments that “we will make the decision [on the referendum] ourselves”. We only want to see just who is meant by “we”. If it is the nation, it should be given the chance to speak up, and if you mean yourself, Mr Djukanovic, you probably should not pass your desires for the will of the people – these are different things.
I would like to point out for the Montenegro prime minister (I wonder how it is that he doesn’t already know it) that a referendum is not a Russian propaganda invention, which he wants to pass it for, but an essential institution of direct democracy that gives the public an immediate opportunity to speak out on their country’s key issues, and one of the ways for the public to take part in making decisions critical to the state and to every individual citizen. In this instance, the importance and topicality of such a referendum is beyond doubt.
Regrettably, this incident involving Russian journalists has occurred through no fault of their own. I’m referring to the REN TV film crew who was travelling to Turkey. On July 18, REN TV correspondent Valentin Trushnin and cameraman Mikhail Fomichev were denied entrance at Istanbul Ataturk Airport’s passport control and told that their names were on Turkey’s blacklist. The journalists were given documents indicating a five-year ban on entering the country.
We have repeatedly commented on the “stop-lists” for Russian journalists. We have discussed these issues in public and with our Turkish counterparts during talks with Turkish Foreign Ministry’s representatives. Unfortunately, even the notes from the Russian Embassy in Turkey have remained unanswered.
We hope our Turkish counterparts will provide explanations regarding this blacklist and other lists that prohibit foreign journalists from entering Turkey as soon as possible. We also believe that, in the context of the emerging positive trends and changes in bilateral relations, the practice of a blacklist will be eased and bans reviewed. We hope this practice is not a result of an effort to pressure or influence journalists, although it obviously impedes their activity.
Question: Can the events in Turkey and Armenia affect the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and various decisions on this issue? What impact will Turkey's intention to take part in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, it's not quite clear to me why you mentioned the situations in Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan as a single issue. In my opinion, they have no common ground. We commented on the situations in each of these countries separately, when this was necessary. This is the first point.
The second point is Turkey's involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh settlement or any other settlement, talks or peace process (this can apply to other countries as well). Any constructive contribution should be considered from the point of view of how useful it is. I believe that if a state or its official representatives are capable of making a positive contribution to an issue, there will be no problems. But this only refers to a constructive contribution.
As for the situation in each of the countries that could influence the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, the developments in Armenia and Azerbaijan are inextricably connected with what is happening there. This is obvious. The Nagorno-Karabakh settlement is directly tied with these countries and with the events that are taking place there. We believe that the existing efforts, including those taken by Russia, aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and the process that had an intensive start, will preserve its pace. We hope that this will help advance the settlement.
The situation is developing in each of these countries. We believe that the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and the impetus it gained, including from Russia and its leaders, will continue.
Question: Soviet and Russian sports have played a major role in the development of sports worldwide. But now Russia has been banned from the Olympic Games. Can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: Comments on this issue have been made and will be made by specific agencies that are responsible for this area. President of Russia Vladimir Putin recently made a statement on this issue. I can answer your question with a phrase I recently found online. It was written by Paul Craig Roberts, a prominent American, an economist and political and economic commentator for many national US media outlets. Many of you know about him.
Mr Roberts is a Republican and the former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan administration – you might remember that it was a difficult period. He was a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, an associate editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and columnist for Business Week, The Washington Times and many other media outlets.
On July 17 he wrote an article, which Global Research published on July 19. He writes: “We could conclude that Washington wants hegemony in sports just as it does in foreign affairs and wants Russian athletes out of the way so that Americans can win more medals. (...) The ‘doping scandal’ is part of Washington’s ongoing effort to isolate Russia and to build opposition to Putin inside Russia.”
Mr Roberts made a large, and possibly the largest part of his career during the Cold War, so he knows what he’s talking about. I doubt that anyone could have put it better.
There is a phrase which I considered funny and trite in the past – “Oh Sport, You Are Peace!” I see now that we were wrong to use it as sarcasm or a joke. The Olympic Games and the many other competitions that developed from them and are the same in form and spirit are a good example of this phrase. In ancient times, the Olympic Games were held to demonstrate the physical abilities of man. Conflicts and wars were suspended for their duration. The conflicting sides found the moral strength to forget about their differences for the duration of the games, which could be described as a “human water truce”. This logic underlies the Olympic movement and permeates the international documents on sports and the international efforts of the countries involved. This logic also forms the basis of Russia’s policy in this area.
The only issue on which I disagree with Mr Roberts is that the current developments are a blow not only to Russia but to global sports as such. This is a blow to the logic of temporary truce and reprieve, at our ability to show that despite the differences between countries, or even military conflicts, there are areas where we can fight honestly and as equals, demonstrating our abilities in sport.
What’s happening now, including in Washington, is a crime. There is a legal term, “crimes against humanity”. What the architects of this campaign are doing now is a new type of crime that I would describe as a crime against sport. The consequences of this campaign should be thoroughly analysed. I tell those who stand behind this campaign: You did not consider the possible consequences of your military strikes and interventions, and you can see the results. Your intervention in Iraq created a vacuum for the rise of ISIS. You are now delivering a major blow to the Olympic movement and sport. Are you aware of the possible consequences of this action?
And one more thing: You can make history by acting honourably and working positively and constructively, which is difficult. Or you can make history by bringing about destruction, which is much simpler. Unfortunately, many people take pride in making history by destroying it.
Question: Georgia and five other countries have joined the extended anti-Russia sanctions over Crimea and Sevastopol. How will Moscow respond? Members of the Russian State Duma are already calling to ban Borzhomi mineral water, Georgian wine, etc.
Maria Zakharova: I would like to note for justice’s sake that it is impossible to ban Borzhomi. It is possible to ban drinking it or something else, but this water will outlive us all. This is a great commercial brand.
Seriously, we have never used these kinds of measures in politics. Of course, certain counter-sanctions are introduced in response to the sanctions against Russia. I believe this is not the case here.
This is regrettable because we had hoped for a better understanding of the 2014 developments in Ukraine and Crimea. We hoped that the Crimean referendum was important not only for the people of Crimea (they consider it to be important – just go there and talk to them), but that it was also a key factor highlighting the expression of the people’s will, including for the international community.
Question: You mentioned a possible trilateral meeting between Russian and US experts on military and political points in the Syrian conflict in Geneva next week. Is it possible to consider these events part of efforts that were approved by the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State in Moscow?
Maria Zakharova: If I understand you, you want to know if closer contact in the Geneva talks on Syria is the result of the Moscow meeting between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry. Of course, they are. We have noted that Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry are trying to move a Syrian political settlement forward, an effort that would require stronger efforts in Geneva. This is certainly the consequence of the agreements reached in Moscow.
Question: How can Russian-Turkish relations influence Turkey’s position on Syria after Turkish developments and in the context of the upcoming meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Maria Zakharova: We will do everything possible to hold constructive talks with our Turkish colleagues on issues around a Syrian political settlement and on the need for cooperation at international venues and inside the International Syria Support Group. We’ll continue to do this.
Diplomatically speaking, problem issues about which we have informed the UN Security Council, etc., including the porous Syrian-Turkish border and arms shipments to the militants, have not been resolved and remain on the agenda. In turn, we will continue to do our best to convince Turkey of the need for constructive work on a Syrian political settlement during political talks and while bilateral relations are improving.
You might want to ask Ankara what we can expect from Turkey.
Question: It was reported yesterday that Azerbaijan has provided two facilities in its territory to the Turkish army for the deployment of troops, military equipment and combat jets. The Azerbaijani media describe this as the opening of a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan. The Baku authorities have refuted this information, saying that the issue concerns cooperation and the transfer of peacekeepers to Afghanistan. However, it is commonly believed that this is a major step in the development of defence cooperation between Baku and Ankara. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about the strengthening of Turkey’s military positions in Azerbaijan?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t know if I have anything specific to say on this issue. I can only say that military and military technological cooperation is a highly responsible matter. We will proceed from the assumption that the concerned parties will act very responsibly in this complicated situation in the region.
Question: Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, said yesterday that President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan may visit Russia. The time and place have not been specified. Do you have any information about the preparation of this visit?
Maria Zakharova: As I said more than once, comments on the contacts, talks and visits by the head of state are only provided by representatives of the President’s press service. Therefore, the date and place of this meeting will be announced by the Presidential Executive Office.
I can tell you that the Foreign Ministry maintains contacts with our Turkish colleagues. A meeting was recently held between the Russian and Turkish deputy foreign ministers. We also maintain contacts at the level of our foreign missions. The process is proceeding rather actively, in keeping with instructions on normalising Russia-Turkey relations, which President Vladimir Putin issued after Ankara had made its apologies as Russia expected it to. As I said, it takes more than a few days to improve relations, which is a lengthy process. We are working on this.
As for the summit meeting, I suggest that you direct your question to the Presidential Executive Office.
Question: The Turkish pilots who downed the Russian Su-24 aircraft over Syria have been arrested in Turkey for taking part in the coup. Will Russia demand that they be tried for downing the plane?
Maria Zakharova: We demanded from the very beginning that Turkey thoroughly and objectively investigate the tragedy that happened over Syria in November 2015. We hope that Ankara will do everything that Russia repeatedly asked it to do, especially in light of the current improvement in bilateral relations. This is a very serious issue, a priority issue for us. Those who were involved in that tragedy and were directly responsible for the death of Russian servicemen must be called to account. This issue has not been removed from the agenda. As I said, it is one of our priorities.
Question: US Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills said yesterday that the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia would meet in August. Do you know any details about the timeframe and place of this meeting?
Maria Zakharova: Please ask Baku and Yerevan. Issues related to bilateral meetings between representatives of these countries are only commented by representatives of these countries.
Question: President Putin plans to visit Slovenia next week. Do you know who will accompany him from the Foreign Ministry?
Maria Zakharova: I will tell you after I make the inquiries.
Question: Commenting on the murder of Pavel Sheremet yesterday, you said that the Ukrainian political system is turning into a “mass grave” for journalists. This has provoked an outcry online. For example, Viktor Shenderovich got personal, saying in his Facebook post that you are an unscrupulous person. Have you seen that post? If not, can you comment on the negative reaction to your statement?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t understand your question. I have said everything I wanted to say about the horrible death of Pavel Sheremet, a Russian citizen and a true professional. It was not a simple official statement; I spoke sincerely. Those who sometimes, or rather, who often go against the mainstream inspire respect, irrespective of whether you agree with them or not. Their professionalism and conviction backed by professional work can and should be respected. Yesterday we said everything we wanted to on this matter. I would like to express condolences again to Pavel Sheremet’s family and the professional community, because his death is a major loss.
What is happening to journalists and journalism is terrible. It is a red light indicating that Ukraine has approached and has possibly crossed the danger line. It did not take it long to reach this line. Very many journalists have died over the past two years. You know the names of the Russian journalists who have died there. The day before yesterday I was interviewed by Anna Shafran from Vesti FM. When I was leaving the building of the VGTRK radio and television company, I noticed a memorial plaque [for Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin] at the entrance. As I stood before it, I had the same feeling that we all had when it happened. And the next day Pavel Sheremet was killed. To say that we are shocked is an understatement. Yesterday I talked and corresponded with many of those who knew Pavel personally or worked with him. I was in a state of shock. It was one of those things that are not supposed to happen.
The problem is that many people are using this [my statement] for political purposes, or interpret it as an attack on Ukraine. But this is not the point. Unfortunately, we can only take pity on Ukraine in its current state. Something must be done now not against Ukraine and the Ukrainian system, but to ensure that the journalists who are working there will not face such danger as now.
The Russian Foreign Ministry not only makes statements on this matter but has also taken many practical steps. We have developed permanent dialogue with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović. We provide facts, figures and specific stories of what happens to journalists in Ukraine. As I said, we are not doing this to prove that Ukraine or the Ukrainian system is bad. We say that there are problems in Ukraine, for example, problems with the safety of journalists. You know this. I remember the marathon hosted by Andrei Malakhov on his show on Channel One when our colleagues were seized and beaten up. It was only the beginning. All of us thought then that this would be the beginning and end of it, because it was an unprecedented case, meaning beatings, kidnapping and deportation. The country rallied to help our guys. It later turned out that it was only the beginning. We make statements, write letters and discuss each of these cases at the talks [with our Ukrainian partners]. Unfortunately, the trend has taken a negative turn: personal security is rapidly worsening.
When we say that it is unsafe in Ukraine, we don’t do this to criticise Ukraine or mock at its problems, or out of snobbism. We do this because we hope to influence the situation. Not only Russians and Ukrainians but also journalists from other countries have died in Ukraine. No one is safe. Take the explosion of Sheremet’s car it the centre of Kiev. There could have been other people, other journalists with him in the car. We must exert our influence to ensure that this terrible case is investigated as objectively as possible and – you will say I’m dreaming – with as little political bias as possible. This must be done so that we learn who stands behind this tragedy and why it happened, and draw conclusions from this. This is my answer to your question, even though I haven’t fully understood it.
Question: Reports came in from Turkey a few hours ago that the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister has announced the government's intention to suspend the operation of the European Convention on Human Rights after a state of emergency was declared in Turkey. Do you have any comments?
Maria Zakharova: We believe that in the aftermath of the recent events in Turkey, this country is seeing certain processes taking place that, unfortunately, seem to be borne out of necessity. At the same time, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said, Turkey should stick to its constitution, and take actions that don’t violate its constitutional law. This should apply to all aspects of life in Turkey. Sergey Lavrov made this clear following the first reports on the attempted coup in this country. This is a clear and unambiguous position of the Russian Federation that can apply to everything that is happening in Turkey. Irrespective of all the events that have taken place there, human rights are still a priority and a commitment to human rights should remain firm.