Публикатор

8.02.1817:09

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 8, 2018

198-08-02-2018

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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Munich Security Conference
  2. Developments in Syria
  3. The origin of the anti-aircraft missile system that shot down the Russian Su-25
  4. Situation with the Syrian chemical file at the UN Security Council
  5. Russia’s position on the 5+5 meeting on Libya
  6. Anti-Russia statements by US officials
  7. Developments in Ukraine
  8. Issues with US military biological activity
  9. US illegally blocks Russia’s international money transfers
  10. Moskovsky Komsomolets article on Russia-US relations
  11. United States’ presence in Eurasia
  12. The situation in Venezuela
  13. Statements by Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono on Russia’s “destabilising” role
  14. Situation with Russian language education in Estonia
  15. Closure of Lithuanian website vatnikas.lt
  16. Situation around Russian citizen Pyotr Levashov
  17. Information resources of the Council of Young Diplomats
  18. Excerpts from answers to questions:

1. Russia-Azerbaijan relations 

2. US-led coalition’s strike at Syrian pro-government forces 

3. Ksenia Sobchak’s criticism of Russia 

4. Venezuela situation

5. Russia-US relations

6. Russia-Afghanistan relations

7. Presidential election in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh settlement 

8. Update on Syria 

9. Russia-North Korea relations 

10. Constitutional Council’s status and composition 

11. Russia-Bulgaria relations 

12. Situation in Afrin, Syria 

13. Plans to expand EU; Russia-EU relations 

14. Deportation of North Korean guest workers from Russia 

15. Russia’s view of Poland’s adoption of amendments to the law regarding Holocaust definition, and Ukrainian nationalist organisations’ activity  

16. Chinese New Year celebrations

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Munich Security Conference

 

On February 16-18, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the regular 54th meeting of the Munich Security Conference.

The Munich forum is an important discussion venue for current Euro-Atlantic and global security problems. By tradition, the conference is attended by heads of state and government, foreign and defence ministers, representatives of international and regional organisations, as well as prominent political scientists and economists.

The participants are planning to discuss the current state and prospects for European security, counteraction to international terrorism, and the situation in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold prescheduled bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sidelines of the forum. Tentatively, his address has been planned for February 17.

We are studying the possibility of arranging meetings with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a traditional meeting with representatives of Russian and German business communities, with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as a number of other bilateral and multilateral meetings. We are also looking into whether we can hold a Normandy format meeting. We will continue to update you on the Russian delegation’s presence and work in Munich.

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Developments in Syria

 

The developments in Syria last week unfolded in the wake of the successful Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held between January 29-30 in Sochi, despite the salvo of negative publications from the Western media. I have just received another article with a negative view of the Congress. To be more specific, the presumably respectable and impartial Foreign Policy magazine published an article saying that “Russia's highly-touted peace conference to end the war in Syria was an utter debacle.” This is what this impartiality is worth when it comes to summing up the results of the meeting between representatives of the Syrian society.

Together with its partners in the Astana process, Iran and Turkey, as well as the UN, Russia helped them make the first, and maybe the most challenging and important step with the view to bringing about a political settlement and stability in Syria. This was the actual outcome of the forum.

Judging by the reaction (I already gave you an example), the outcome of the Sochi forum did not please everyone. However, no one dared to ignore this event, the first gathering to be held on such a large scale and with a high level of representation in the seven years since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. This is also an important outcome. Terrorists and various radicals also responded, since they saw the decisions adopted in Sochi by fifteen hundred representatives of the Syrian people as a threat and tried to respond by staging new bloody attacks, acts of terror and provocations. The most horrible and ugliest attacks of this kind were the shelling of humanitarian aid distribution centres and Christian churches in the historic centre of Damascus. By a happy coincidence no members of a Russian non-governmental delegation visiting the Syrian capital at the time, which included both Christians and Muslims, were hurt in the shelling, although a mortar bomb exploded just one hundred metres away from them. This delegation distributed aid from across Russia to the Syrian people both in churches and mosques.

This barbarous shelling by terrorists was conducted from Jobar in Eastern Ghouta, killing at least ten Syrian civilians.

On Saturday, a Russian Su-25 fighter jet was shot down near Saraqib, a terrorist stronghold in Idlib Province. We bow our heads to the heroic act by the pilot, Major Roman Fillipov, who once on the ground resisted the terrorists who encircled him until his bitter end. The Defence Ministry provided an extensive report on this tragedy. As you know, the Russian pilot was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Russia. He shall stay in our memories forever. His heroic deed will never be forgotten.

The illegal military presence of the US on Syrian territory remains a major challenge to promoting peace in Syria and preserving its unity and territorial integrity.

In the southern part of the country what is left of ISIS fighters use the 55-kilometre zone created unilaterally by the US around its military base near Al Tanf for hiding from Syrian government forces, regrouping and getting arms in order to carry out new attacks in the Syrian desert. ISIS fighters operate without any constraints near Al Tanf, and used to be able to carry out long-distance raids reaching as far as the Aleppo Province. They still threaten a number of transport roads. The US still blocks the road connecting Damascus to Baghdad.

From Russia’s perspective, this situation proves that the instability in Syria is by and large sustained artificially. There are influential actors who are clearly unwilling to use the available opportunities to promote a political settlement in Syria and do away with terrorists in the country. Instead, what we see in Syria is a continuation of attempts to advance a geopolitical agenda in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which clearly runs counter to the will of the Syrian people expressed without any ambiguity at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to live in peace in a unified and sovereign country.

We understand where this salvo of negative press on the Sochi Congress comes from and who is behind it, including the Foreign Policy article I quoted today.

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The origin of the anti-aircraft missile system that shot down the Russian Su-25

 

As you know, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov commented on the issue and a corresponding assessment was made by the Ministry of Defence.

As for the origin of the portable anti-aircraft missile that shot down the Russian Su-25, I would like to advise everyone to follow information released by the Russian Defence Ministry.

I can say that at present the necessary work is being carried out by experts, which will make it possible to say where the anti-aircraft missile launcher was produced.

Let me draw your attention to the fact – and this was also pointed out by experts –   similar high-tech weapons, as you understand, virtually cannot get into areas of hostilities in Syria and into the hands of terrorists, except with serious outside support and assistance. Such is the reality. We are expecting precise information from our military, who have repeatedly announced that corresponding investigations are being conducted. At the same time, we are perfectly aware of the trends that are unfolding on the ground.

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Situation with the Syrian chemical file at the UN Security Council

 

We have taken note of continued anti-Syria activities at the UN Security Council, including open allegations of Russia’s connivance at the suspected chemical attacks by Damascus. By a bad tradition, these accusations are made at a time of important international events held to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. This time, new allegations of chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta and the Idlib Province in Syria were in sync with the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. It has been done to block out information about the congress participants’ attempts to coordinate an agreement and the results of these efforts. When a practical opportunity to boost the intra-Syrian peace dialogue appears, the other side hurries to plant allegations, for example, about chemical attacks. Why do they do this? Why do they continue to harp on the issue of chemical weapons? Very simple: they do this because this can really split the Syrian opposition and prevent the nascent dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian government. Chemical attacks are the red line for many and also what the people can understand. The people who read about the Syrian crisis understand that chemical attacks against civilians are unacceptable. This topic is often used in information confrontation with regard to the Syrian settlement.    

The three Western permanent members of the UN Security Council eagerly took up the allegations about chemical attacks provided by their own media (the information merry-go-round, which we mentioned before), which quote certain sources, none of which are reliable, including NGOs affiliated with the militants. The US and its allies have used these allegations, which are not based on hard facts but have been supported by their representatives at the UN Security Council, to initiate the discussion of yet another anti-Syria statement by the UN Security Council. The Russian party has proposed amending this statement with due regard for the growing challenges and threats of chemical terrorism in the Middle East. Our Western colleagues have rejected this proposal outright.

We would like to say in this connection that Russia and China have been talking about the need for a statement on chemical terrorism as well as a relevant UN Security Council resolution for over four years. However, our Western colleagues disregarded and continue to disregard these appeals. They prefer to blame these chemical provocations, without any good reason, on the Assad Government and Russia.

Instead of engaging in speculation over the latest fake news, those who claim to be Syria’s friends should wait for the completion of a professional and politically nonpartisan investigation of these attacks by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria. By the way, FFM experts went to Syria on February 1 to inspect the caches of chemical weapons the Syrian Army has found in the territory liberated from terrorists.

In this context we again call on those who have shown increased interest in this subject and claim to be acting in the interests of the Syrians to convince the Syrian opposition groups they arm and finance to give the international inspectors access to the areas which the notorious White Helmets have indicated as the sites of the supposed chemical incidents in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.

I would also like to remind everyone that the White Helmets are the darlings of the very same countries that are waging such information campaigns. As we said more than once, the White Helmets are directly connected with some of these countries’ intelligence agencies.

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Russia’s position on the 5+5 meeting on Libya

 

At my last briefing, I was asked about Russia’s position on the 5+5 meeting on Libya. I would like to say the following.

Libya-related issues are still the focus of international attention. Libyan settlement is a permanent fixture in the contacts between the senior officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the regional and international partners involved in Libyan affairs. The situation in that country and possible ways of its settlement were discussed in detail by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano at their talks in Moscow on February 1. The Russian position was presented at a joint news conference after the talks. The verbatim report has been posted on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.

Practical efforts to lead that country out of its protracted political crisis have been undertaken as well. UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya Ghassan Salamé has been holding daily intensive consultations with various Libyan parties to find compromise solutions to all the outstanding problems on the current intra-Libyan agenda.

As far as the abovementioned 5+5 ministerial meeting in Algeria on January 21 is concerned, this informal “club” that includes ten Mediterranean countries (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania) has been in existence since 1990. Its proclaimed aim was to establish cooperation in various areas, including the security sphere. As of today, it focuses on economic interaction and migration problems. I think time will tell how effective this format will be in dealing with pressing issues. Russia has never attended events held by these countries throughout the entire period that this format has been in existence.

The Mediterranean countries are justly concerned over the situation that has taken shape in Libya and the threats emanating from its territory (terrorism, illegal migration from Africa to Europe). There is nothing surprising in the fact that Libya was high on the agenda of the Algeria event.

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Anti-Russia statements by US officials

 

We have again taken note of the statement by official US spokespersons, including the State Department’s press service, to the effect that Russia bears responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. I think this can be characterised by just one word – insinuations.

I would also like to say that in these latter days the United States has been cranking up unconfirmed information plants on Damascus using chemical agents. There are no facts [to back these allegations]. I have dwelled on this theme in sufficient detail. I can say once again that we are witnessing a classical stage-managed propaganda campaign on the part of Washington and its officials. This, mildly speaking, does nothing to promote, but rather contradicts the United States’ declared goals in the context of Syrian settlement.  

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Developments in Ukraine

 

Turmoil continues to rock Ukraine. The situation is far from stable. One gets the impression that the current Kiev authorities, instead of looking for ways out of the crisis, are making every effort to finally drive the country into a dead end.

It seems that Ukraine has timed the final adoption of the so-called Donbass reintegration to coincide with the three-year anniversary of the signing of the Minsk Package of Measures (February 12, 2015) – a bill that is in direct conflict with the Minsk letter and spirit and is aimed at the disintegration rather than unification of the country. Coupled with the policy of total Ukrainisation of society and egging on the neo-Nazism, which is increasingly gaining momentum and whose supporters are openly marching the streets and declaring their intention to establish “Ukrainian order”, this creates a grim and highly explosive mixture.

In this environment, Kiev seems to have nothing better to offer than to approve its very aggressive plans under the pretext of carrying out “manoeuvres”. On January 29, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed the law on access of units of other countries’ armed forces to the territory of Ukraine in 2018 to participate in multinational exercises. These exercises will actively involve foreign military personnel and military equipment. At the same time, the current foreign military presence in Ukraine is not reducing either: the number of NATO instructors who “train” Ukrainian fighters in the “art of war” is not going down.

On the one hand, the current Ukrainian leadership is really in a hurry to “integrate” or “be integrated”, primarily into military blocs. On the other hand, they do not show any zeal to do the job that is a priority for the integration of its own regions, but on the contrary, they seem to make efforts to make it impossible.

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Issues with US military biological activity

 

At the last briefing, I was asked a question concerning the US military biological activity. I would like to say the following.

We have certain concerns about US activities in the military-biological sphere.

First of all, they are connected with Washington’s behaviour with regard to the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons (BTWC). I would like to remind you that over the years, Washington has stubbornly opposed the development of a legally binding protocol to the Convention that would contain elements of its verification mechanism.

It is obvious that the 1972 convention no longer corresponds to the level of biotechnology development of the second decade of the 21st century. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, efforts were made to address this issue by developing a verification mechanism under the Convention. However, the US unilaterally blocked the work then. Since then, the US position has not undergone qualitative changes, and Washington continues to block full-format activities in this area. For example, the BWC Review Conference in 2016 failed to adopt any meaningful programme of work for the next inter-session period, in fact due to the US actions. That deadlock could not be overcome until 2017, when a thematic programme of substantive work of experts was finally adopted for the remaining period 2018-2020.

A more detailed expert assessment of US actions on the BTWC issues can be found in the dreport of the relevant Ministry of Industry and Trade department hea, Viktor Kholstov, presented at the August 13, 2015 Meeting of Experts to the BWC in Geneva. This report, like many other eloquent materials, is posted on the Internet portal of the Geneva branch of the United Nations (www.unog.ch).

In recent years, another very serious problem added to our concerns, stemming from the growing medical and biological activity of the US Department of Defence along the perimeter of Russian borders. Microbiological research labs are being quickly built, equipped or modernised with the US DoD money in many former Soviet republics. They carry out a wide range of research on pathogens of especially dangerous diseases with the constant involvement of American military biologists. This certainly causes the concern that Washington, offering what at first glance appears to be charitable assistance in the sanitary and epidemiological work, simultaneously increases the uncontrolled potential of a secretive and unexpected intervention in the biosafety situation development, not only in those countries, but also far beyond their borders.

We continue to seek to resolve all these acute problems through dialogue with the US and our other partners to the BTWC.

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US illegally blocks Russia’s international money transfers

 

As of late, we have discussed in great detail US attempts to put pressure on Russia. In reality, these attempts which don’t seem to be very effective take on odd forms and evoke serious questions about the motivation of such actions.

The other day, the US Department of the Treasury blocked a $20,000 transfer from the China National Fishery Association for the services of Russian border control inspectors on monitoring compliance with paid quotas for fishing in Russia’s exclusive economic zone. A US bank handled this money transfer. It appears that the Americans are already afraid that fish will meddle in US domestic affairs. The money transfer made by Chinese fishermen was blocked under the pretext that Russian border guards are affiliated with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on which the Obama administration imposed sanctions back in December 2016. This is a powerful argument!

This not the first time such an outrageous situation has arisen. This is just one example. I can mention several other examples. Between 2016-2017, the US banking system blocked Russian Defence Ministry assets to finance fuel shipments for refueling Russian planes fighting terrorists in Syria. This $5 million-plus sum has not yet been returned. And here is another example: In 2017, US authorities blocked the transfer of a $200,000 Russian contribution to the account of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a member of the UN family. This sum was to have been spent on IAEA’s cancer treatment research programme.

How do US assurances that Washington is committed to eradicating terrorism correlate with its longtime and obvious efforts to hamper the Russian Aerospace Force’s counter-terrorism operations in Syria? Apart from making political assessments, the Americans have stolen our money.

How do Washington’s appeals to thwart high-seas poaching tally with the blocking of the above-mentioned account? It appears that, apart from some bilateral claims being voiced with regard to Russia all the time and permanent US efforts to hamper bilateral cooperation, they have already started encroaching on our bilateral cooperation with other states.

Our US colleagues’ hampering IAEA efforts to find cancer treatment options is beyond comprehension. It is impossible to understand this.

This amounts to some frantic desire to prick Russia all the time, to hurt it and to make it feel uneasy. Most importantly, all this is explained by the policy of sanctions, one way or another, and this confuses the logic of actions of the US establishment representatives to an increasingly greater extent.

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Moskovsky Komsomolets article on Russia-US relations

 

At the Foreign Ministry, we are always very attentive to what the Russian media, experts and political observers write or say. We are grateful for specific proposals and thoughtful views on our work and developments around the world, including critical observations that we always analyse and take into consideration. This fully applies to the topic of Russia-US relations which as you know are facing some challenges.

We took note of the article that appeared in Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper on February 2 on the dialogue with the United States. The author, Mikhail Rostovsky, asked: “Is Russian diplomacy taking a back seat?” He expressed regret over Russia’s failure to come up with ways to overcome the current deadlock where Washington has led its relations with Russia.

I would like to elaborate on this subject, since there are things that deserve our attention. Those who follow the releases of the Foreign Ministry know that we constantly offer our US colleagues specific proposals designed to improve our relations, put them on a stable footing, and against all odds propose expanding our cooperation in the interests of our peoples and the world, since the state of bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington has a direct bearing on the international landscape.

Let me dwell on this. For example, soon after the Trump administration came to power, it received a detailed plan on measures to put the dialogue back on track. Among other things, it stipulated the need to promote close cooperation on counter-terrorism and overcoming urgent regional crises, including Syria, Afghanistan, eastern Ukraine, and around the DPRK. So far, Washington’s response leaves much to be desired, although there is interaction in some of these areas, and some efforts have actually yielded tangible results. Let me emphasise that this initiative came from Moscow.

It was our initiative to resume dialogue on strategic stability matters after it was halted by Barack Obama. As part of this effort, and despite all the obvious challenges, we discuss the state of affairs in arms control and prospects for further arms reductions, and have the opportunity to explain our respective defence and nuclear doctrines. There are special consultative formats for discussing the implementation of the START Treaty. In our contacts with Washington we also stressed the need to abide by the INF Treaty in good faith. We have proposed on a number of occasions beginning a conversation on the global missile defence system that is being deployed by the US, arguing that it could be seen as being part of its offensive capability.

Everyone has heard about the recent interceptions of military ships and aircraft, and in this context we call insistently for amending the bilateral Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (1972) by adding provisions detailing the closest distance of approach that would be acceptable. Our US colleagues like to complain about the interceptions but have been showing little appetite so far for discussing additional rules to ensure flight and navigation safety. US combat aircraft also like to approach Russian airspace with their transponders turned off, despite our initiative to find a mutually acceptable solution.

I can provide another example of an area where we were insistent and proactive in calling for cooperation on resolving specific issues.

Last year, Russia proposed setting up a joint working group on cyber security, and shared its professional thoughts on ways to cooperate on preventing threats related to ICTs and building bilateral trust in this area. Our proposal on holding consultations on countering criminal hacking activities remains valid. However, there has been no response, which shows that the so-called Russian hackers are not a matter of great concern for the US secret services, despite their misgivings concerning the US election system and Russian meddling.

The disingenuous nature of this denigration campaign against Russia is further emphasised by Washington’s refusal to exchange letters, for example at the level of foreign minister, to affirm the commitment to refrain from interfering in each other’s domestic affairs, just as the USSR and the US did in 1933 when they established diplomatic relations. We have communicated extensively on this initiative. We have provided detailed reports on this exchange of letters in 1933, published archives and explained how this could be done today, and what the response could be. Let me repeat once again that six months have passed since we put forward this initiative.

On several occasions over the last 12 months we proposed establishing an implementation mechanism for the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, in order to do away with the irritants like the secret arrests of Russian nationals in third countries and the US harbouring terrorist accomplices on the run, which weighs on Washington’s image. We said that we were ready to resume inter-parliamentary exchanges, including reciprocal measures to lift the sanctions imposed on the members of parliament. We are waiting for the approval by our partners of a bilateral treaty on the protection of valuable cultural artefacts, which would enable us to delight Americans with Russian exhibitions. This is not an option right now, because exhibition items can be seized.

Of course, we insist on the restitution of Russia’s five diplomatic facilities that were illegally confiscated by the US authorities in 2016 and 2017. We have come up with a number of ideas and proposals on ways to get past this impasse.

To sum up, it would be fair to say that we have deployed serious efforts using a number of channels, searching for opportunities to improve relations with the US. We are not hiding this, and are open about this activity. Time and again, while opposing and countering critical statements against us, we have emphasised that our priority was all about cooperation. If there are issues, we are ready to resolve them. Let me reiterate that Russia is open to cooperation, if based on an equal partnership, of course. We are not giving up on our positions or making any unilateral concessions and will do no such thing. The threat of US sanctions cited by the author of the Moskovsky Komsomolets article, among other things, as some kind of an important argument, does not change anything.

This was an interesting article. We cannot agree with some of its points, and I think I was quite clear about that. But if the newspaper or the author has any other ideas, we will be glad to discuss them. We are always open to dialogue of this kind.

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United States’ presence in Eurasia

 

Also, I would like to draw your attention to the statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said that the United States is concerned about Russia’s growing presence in Latin America and the fact that Moscow is selling weapons to the countries that are not amicable towards the US. We have already commented on that statement. I would like to specifically note the part where he accuses us of selling weapons and where he says that there is too much of Russia everywhere and Washington is so concerned about it.  

Let me give you some background on the United States’ presence in Eurasia so that quotes like this are not left without a response. We hear statements like the one made by Secretary Tillerson all the time, that there is growing concern about Russia’s ambition to restore its clout on the international arena, reinforce its military potential, pursue an independent foreign policy that does not conform to the world order as the US sees it. What is more, in addition to public statements, such claims are documented in the US’s fundamental doctrines, in which Russia is presented as a challenge to America’s aspirations and as a threat to its security and prosperity.

As they explicitly deny Russia’s right to a role of a powerful state that stands up for its national interests, our American colleagues are talking about an intention to persistently promote their own influence in the world – preeminently by force. In particular, this attitude is a core idea in the recently published US National Security Strategy.

In line with its ambition to maintain its status of the only superpower, the status that has been rapidly losing its incontestability over the past years, the United States intends to achieve a dominant military advantage, enhance its missile defence system, maintain and upgrade its nuclear arsenal. Basically, the Trump Administration has formalised a course of action that Washington has followed for years, which is strengthening its military power in order to ensure guaranteed superiority over any rival and an unimpeded projection of force in various regions of the world.

With this goal in mind, Pentagon is consistently building up its presence in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific Region. In cooperation with its NATO allies, Washington is drawing its military forces closer and closer to Russian borders and deploying non-nuclear arms in the regions that are sensitive for Russia’s security, thus de-stabilising the situation there.

On a completely contrived pretext and based on non-existent facts, which allegedly indicate a threat of potential aggression from Russia, the United States is building up its military presence in NATO’s eastern flanks, including aviation, heavy armoured equipment and respective infrastructure. This activity is endorsed by the European Reassurance Initiative approved by US President Trump, whose budget grew from $3.4 billion to $4.6 billion in 2018.

Provocative passes of US Navy ships through Russia’s adjacent waters have become more frequent, along with intensive reconnaissance flights near our borders. An extensive programme of military exercises, increasingly often involving American strategic bombers, is underway in Central and Eastern Europe. There are still US nuclear weapons kept in Europe and nuclear drills involve non-nuclear NATO members in violation of existing international agreements.

In other words, the United States is diligently exploring the areas in direct proximity to Russia. The Pentagon has additionally delivered mechanised brigades to Eastern Europe, including 3,300 troops, around 90 tanks and 150 armoured personnel carriers, other heavy machinery, over 2,000 military aviation personnel and technicians, and around 80 helicopters. The total deployment of the US Armed Forces on the European continent amounts to 65,000 troops serving in ground, air and naval forces. The infrastructure required to accommodate all these reinforcements is being urgently upgraded.

The US is also steadily building up its global missile defence system in Europe and Asia. Construction of a missile defence facility is nearing completion in Poland in addition to another one operating in Romania. The THAAD anti-ballistic missile defence system has been deployed in South Korea.

US Army’s forward-based system stretches through Eurasia along the entire perimeter of the Russian border. In the Far East, the United States is well established in Japan (around 60,000 troops) and South Korea (around 30,000 troops). Backed by these troops and under a pretext of a threat from North Korea, the US has intensified military activity in Northeast Asia. In the Middle East, US military facilities and personnel are based in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, Qatar, as well as in Syria, where they are present without the legitimate government’s consent. And this is not nearly the end of the list.

The scale of Russian military presence abroad is incomparable to that of the United States, including in terms of its growth. I would like to say that we do not have any bases or any other form of military presence in direct proximity to the United States, whereas the activities of the Pentagon and its allies near Russia’s borders is growing at a perilous rate.

By cranking up the subject of the mythical Russian threat, Washington is trying to rally its allies. Doubts regarding the importance of putting pressure on Russia have grown stronger over the past few years, and so an information campaign alleging the possibility of a Russian attack, aggression or take-over has been launched to encourage US allies to close ranks.

There is also a commercial element involved. The US wants its allies to dramatically increase military spending and to buy large batches of US-made military equipment. All this is apparent to the naked eye.

We have also taken note of Washington’s special interest in Central Asian states. It has used the return of US troops to Afghanistan as a pretext to resume talks on closer security cooperation with the regional countries. In the past, NATO military and logistics facilities were set up in Central Asia for the so-called Afghan operation. The United States had an air base in Kyrgyzstan that was closed to the scrutiny of the republic’s authorities. When the base was ordered to pack up, Washington threatened to reduce its assistance to Kyrgyzstan through US-controlled international bodies. The Americans used diplomatic immunity to airlift hundreds of tonnes of unidentified cargo via that base. During the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections in October 2015, 150 tonnes of “special cargo” marked “diplomatic mail” were delivered to the country. Many articles and comments were published on this matter in Kyrgyzstan at the time. In 2017, it was reported that the United States attempted to influence the presidential election in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly before the presidential campaign began, the US Department of State launched a project designed to establish mechanisms for permanent interaction with Kyrgyzstan’s opposition parties, to monitor their activities and to consult them on issues related to the election campaign. The situation went so far that in May 2017 the republican authorities had to make a formal protest to the US ambassador over Washington’s interference in the internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan by means of supporting destructive opposition forces that were working to destabilise the country.

The United States is working actively with the so-called undercover opposition in the region.

When a crisis developed in Ukraine, substantial funds were transferred to the accounts of the NGOs that were operating in the region. Those NGOs were involved in all manner of lobbying activities, including attempts to influence the adoption of laws on the financing of foreign NGOs. It was hinted that the allocation of foreign funds to Central Asian states depended on the decisions taken on issues of concern to Washington.

Digital technologies are being widely used in the social media to encourage critical public sentiments. Financial assistance is provided to online opposition publications, especially those that criticise Kazakhstan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s choice in favour of Eurasian integration and close ties with Russia. They look for negative elements, which are blown out of proportion to prove that Eurasian integration and ties with Russia are not what these countries need, and that they should choose a different path and abandon their interaction with Russia. 

Assets have been blocked and property seized to pressure the sovereign authorities in the region. In December 2017, BNY Mellon in the Netherlands froze $23 billion in assets held by Kazakhstan’s National Wealth Fund (Samruk-Kazyna). This information is available in the publications, whose authors can be held accountable.

Also, it is reported that Afghan extremists receive assistance from those who actually control the situation in and the airspace over Afghanistan. The policy of controlled chaos is gradually turning northern Afghanistan into a bridgehead for terrorist raids on Central Asian states.

We urge a wary attitude towards US military-biological activities, about which we have spoken today. These activities are also a factor of influence.

This concludes my short reply to the latest allegations made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson regarding Russia. We can provide a more detailed comment. We will also do this regarding any other allegations. Regrettably, we see no end to them.

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The situation in Venezuela

 

We regularly comment on the situation in Venezuela. We receive questions as the situation there is not static, but is developing. Today, we would like to return back to this problem.

The internal political situation in Venezuela has got a new impetus. According to reports coming from Caracas and Santo Domingo, during talks between the Government and the opposition the sides managed to coordinate a final document. It reflects positions that are mutually acceptable for the sides, including on the most complicated matters. This document was signed by the government delegation and subsequently by President Nicolas Maduro. The opposition delegation, for its part, took a pause and the dialogue, as follows from a statement made by President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, was “suspended for an indefinite time.” This is a quotation. In this situation the National Electoral Council of Venezuela announced that the presidential election will be held on a compromise date as stipulated by the draft agreement – on April 22 of the current year.

In this connection, let me point out a few things.

As regards the developments in Venezuela, we have proceeded and proceed from the fact that the talks in Santo Domingo are a difficult, yet extremely useful and important dialogue for the country’s future. We are convinced that it is up to the Venezuelans themselves to determine their own future and the development ways for their country.

We deeply regret that this approach, which seems natural, is not obvious to all countries. Statements are being made that holding a presidential election in April is a priori unacceptable. The tactics of part of the Venezuelan opposition, which opts for boycotting a peaceful settlement of the internal differences, is being openly encouraged from the outside. Statements made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who did not rule out that the military could participate in deposing the Government in Venezuela through the use of force, look utterly provocative from our point of view. This contradicts the statements on adherence to democracy and the commitments assumed by countries of the western hemisphere with regard for the unacceptability as well as impossibility of an unconstitutional change of the political system in Venezuela. Fortunately, the command of the Venezuelan Armed Forces firmly and intrinsically refuted this option.

We would like to reaffirm Russia’s position, namely that matters concerning the internal development of Venezuela must be resolved exclusively by the people of that country in line with the existing constitutional and legal procedures on the basis of democratic norms and without destructive outside interference. We suppose that the best manifestation of free choice would be voting at polling stations. We believe that the task of all responsible political forces is to promote an organised and peaceful expression of the will of the people in Venezuela.  

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Statements by Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono on Russia’s “destabilising” role

 

We took note of the statements made by Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono on Russia’s destabilising role. These statements resonated in the Japanese media, including in print titles. The Japanese Foreign Minister said this during hearings in the national parliament, echoing Washington’s well-known message on Russia allegedly seeking to “destabilise the world with nuclear weapons by developing and seeking to make use of tactical low yield nuclear warheads.”

The affirmation that Russia develops weapons of this kind is perplexing. It is unclear what is there to back the Japanese Foreign Minister’s statement. The US, not Russia, is developing low yield nuclear warheads. It is the US that is creating an updated version of the B61-12 nuclear bomb with a variable yield that can be reduced to a minimum. Under its recent nuclear doctrine, the US develops low yield warheads for its new Trident II submarine-launched cruise and ballistic missiles.

Allegations that the US was forced to develop weapons of this kind in order to respond to steps undertaken by Russia would be a profound failure to understand what is going on, a distortion of facts and an attempt to justify the future actions by the US by far-fetched pretexts, while the US is purposefully seeking to undermine the foundations of international security and stability.

I would like to remind you that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia has been subject for many years to clear restrictions under its Military Doctrine. In fact, nuclear weapons can only be used in two extraordinary scenarios and in an exclusively defensive context: to respond to aggression against Russian and/or our allies using nuclear weapons or other WMDs, or to respond to a conventional aggression, if the very existence of the Russian state comes under threat. In addition to this, the Military Doctrine provides for a “system of non-nuclear deterrence,” which highlights the commitment to preventing military conflict by primarily relying on conventional forces. Against this backdrop, attempts to justify the US policy to expand its nuclear arsenal by referring to the increased role of nuclear weapons in Russia’s doctrines should be viewed as either a purposeful distortion of facts or just a failure to understand what is going on.

Statements of this kind made by Tokyo are at odds with the priority goal of building trust between Russia and Japan in military and political affairs, and affect the overall atmosphere of bilateral relations, including the peace treaty talks.

We also have to say that we deeply regret and are concerned about the recent decision made by the Japanese Government to have the US deploy its Aegis Ashore missile defence system on its territory. It is clear that the deployment of this system is yet another step toward the creation by the US of the Asia-Pacific segment of its global missile defence system, which runs counter to efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.

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Situation with Russian language education in Estonia

 

According to reports from Estonia, the authorities in Keila are trying to close down the town’s only local Russian language school. Unfortunately, we have to comment on this due to a large number of questions. We consider this to be a conspicuous example of the consistent discriminatory policy pursued in Estonia towards Russian language education.

We have repeatedly pointed out the adverse impact of such an approach that essentially forces Estonian language education on the people in the country.

We expect the final decision on the school’s future will take into consideration the needs of the Russian-speaking residents who make up one third of the city’s total population, and also recommendations from the relevant international organisations on ensuring ethnic minorities’ rights to preserve and develop their language.

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Closure of Lithuanian website vatnikas.lt

 

We have read media reports about the closure of Lithuania’s vatnikas.lt website, which we talked about two weeks ago.

Let me remind you that the website was designed to identify Lithuanian citizens who were allegedly “disloyal” to the current authorities and the country’s foreign policy course, and those who sympathised with Russia against expectations and did not think that Lithuania’s Soviet past was “years of occupation.”

This website was created in a similar way to the Ukrainian nationalists’ portal Mirotvorets (Peacekeeper) as “a black list of enemies.” The website lists included 155 people in total. There have been multiple appeals and comments on this issue, which must have resulted in the website’s closure. We inform you about this because we have been covering the subject.

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Situation around Russian citizen Pyotr Levashov

 

You have seen numerous reports, statements and comments made by the lawyer of Russian citizen Pyotr Levashov regarding his arrest. We would also like to say a few words in this connection, although the Russian Embassy in the United States has already issued a comment. But the Foreign Ministry also needs to state its official position.

The Foreign Ministry is closely following the situation around Russian citizen Pyotr Levashov (born 1980), who was arrested in Spain at the request of the United States in April 2017 and who was extradited by Spanish authorities to the United States on February 2, 2018.

Today, he is being detained in a prison in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Russian Consulate General in New York maintains contacts with his lawyer, Igor Litvak, and its officers managed to meet with Mr. Levashov on February 6.

Mr Levashov complained about his detention conditions. There is no light in his cell, as well as no elementary personal hygiene items, no bed linen, not even a pillow. Permanent noise outside the cell is affecting his physical condition. Mr Levashov is not allowed to walk, nor does he receive any medications.

We perceive this situation as an attempt to pressure the Russian citizen and to make him more compliant in his dealings with US investigators. We have already demanded that the prison administration stop humiliating him and create humane conditions. We will demand that the rights of our compatriot be guaranteed in full.

Unfortunately, more and more Russian citizens are being arrested in third countries at the request of the US side and with its direct involvement. Eleven cases, a real upsurge, were recorded in 2017. A week ago, the Foreign Ministry was forced to issue another warning to Russians travelling abroad.

The most interesting thing is that when the Foreign Ministry issues such warnings (this concerns the arrest of Russian citizens at the request of the United States, as well as emergencies and the military-political situation in certain countries), numerous funny pictures and posts dealing with the motives behind such warnings, etc., appear the very next day.

I don’t think there is anything amusing about such warnings considering the large number of complaints we receive from the relatives of people who are arrested, as well as the letters of parents, children and friends urging us to help and to save Russian citizens and after so many letters requesting evacuation in emergencies. Indeed, you can let your imagination run free, as we are free people living in a free country. But when such information is published, people should always think that they, too, might face similar circumstances. Should that happen, their relatives and friends will write to us and ask us to do something, to provide assistance in a difficult situation, to help them return home or to provide emergency medical treatment. Most importantly, the Foreign Ministry was criticised by journalists several years ago that such information was scarce. Today, there is enough information, but it sometimes gives rise to laughter.

However, this danger is absolutely real. Russian citizens targeted by US secret services are often deliberately lured abroad under various pretexts, arrested and extradited to the United States. We know all these cases well. In an effort to force the arrested persons to plead guilty on at least some counts, US authorities resort to threats and other methods, like the ones to which Mr Levashov is now being subjected.

Naturally, we demand that the United States provide all the necessary assistance, including medical treatment, to the Russian citizen under US legislation and international provisions. We also unconditionally demand that the United States stop the unacceptable practice of “manhunts” targeting Russian citizens all over the world. Unfortunately, the United States has not displayed this readiness so far.

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Information resources of the Council of Young Diplomats

 

We often quote materials of the Council of Young Diplomats, and we invite you to attend their events. They have their own information resources, and we are ready to list them today. They include the relevant section of the www.smd-mid.ru website, as well as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and VKontakte accounts. Please come, subscribe and follow their accreditation announcements and invitations to their events.

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Excerpts from answers to questions:

Question: 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. An exhibit devoted to this anniversary opened in the State Duma building. What role, do you think, cultural ties play in diplomacy? How do they help? After all, there are situations (this does not apply to us), when cultural ties form the basis of relations, even when such relations are not too good.

Maria Zakharova: We marked this anniversary at our respective ministries and embassies and, most importantly, in our respective communities. Formal events and ceremonies don’t matter that much. Most importantly, the people in our countries who are connected by common history, culture, traditions and shared life, should be aware that everything is being done for their benefit.

With regard to culture, it is, of course, a critical link between people and nations. I didn’t see the exhibit, but I read about it. It is a most welcome event. I think there should be more events like this. Russia and Azerbaijan maintain an excellent cultural dialogue, including concerts, exhibitions, and various other cultural exchanges. Once again, these events are most welcome. For our part, we will do our best to facilitate and promote such events.

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Question: What can you tell us about the US-led coalition’s strike on Syrian pro-government forces? Is the information available to Moscow close to the facts provided by the United States to the effect that the Syrian pro-government forces had attacked the Syrian opposition forces the day before? Is information provided by the United States that the Russians had been warned about the retaliatory strike true?

Maria Zakharova: Questions about information exchanges in the context of military operations in Syria should be posed to the Defence Ministry.

With regard to your question in general, we are currently analysing the information regarding yesterday's incident on the Euphrates River. This information is now being verified for us to be able to provide an official assessment and share our comments with you.

A lot of questions arise regarding the portrayal of the events by the United States. First, how can an attack on a headquarters by a unit of 500 men with the support of tanks and artillery wound only one defender? How were those in this headquarters able to hold out for at least half an hour to allow for the arrival of aviation? How, in such a short time, could a decision be made to open massive fire to destroy the Syrian armed forces? Proper information is now being collected by our military experts and the Foreign Ministry in order to clarify these issues and to obtain a full picture of what happened. We will share our official assessments once we are done analysing it. To reiterate, there are lots of questions.

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Question: Presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak is in the United States now. She has already taken part in several events, during which she openly criticised Russia and its foreign policy, which some experts believe is an appeal to renounce our sovereignty. Do such events in another country with the participation of a registered presidential candidate constitute an attempt to interfere in our domestic affairs and electoral sovereignty?

Maria Zakharova: I believe I covered US interference in the internal affairs of various states at length today.

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Question: Did Russia discuss the possible link between Secretary of State Tillerson's trip to Latin America and developments in Venezuela with the CELAC?

Maria Zakharova: I do not have this information. I can make inquiries. I described our position on Venezuela. Indeed, we are closely following the developments in that country. As I mentioned during previous briefings, we operate on the premise that the democratisation processes, which our Western partners insist on when speaking about the situation in Venezuela, should improve the situation in the country rather than aggravate it.

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Question: Are Russians travelling less to the United States since the relations between the two countries worsened and the Foreign Ministry issued a warning?

Maria Zakharova: Some briefing material contains visa issuance statistics. You can refer to that data. I can say that, if there has been a decrease (and to confirm this, I need the statistics, which I do not have at the moment but I can find out) it was only due to longer visa processing times. Unfortunately, our American colleagues prolonged the processing in two steps, first more than six months ago, last spring and summer, when the processing times were extended, and then again several months ago when the times were extended and the application procedure became more difficult. This is what I can confirm because many Russian citizens have reported this to us. They are not asking anything, just reporting to our public inquiry department about the US visa application process which is not meeting the modern standards of encouraging communications between peoples. However, this is not up to us. Our standards for issuing Russian visas to US citizens remain the same despite the massive blow at our diplomatic service and the staff of our foreign offices in the US. You remember the deportation of Russian diplomats. Many were sent home. The Consulate General was closed. Despite this, the processing time for Russian visas is unchanged for US citizens.

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Question: Despite the fact that Russia has repeatedly denied any assistance to the Taliban, several days ago Director of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security Mohammed Stanekzai said that Russia supports the Taliban under the pretext of their fight against ISIS. What do you think about this? Could these claims affect the relations between the two countries?

Maria Zakharova: No matter how many attempts to distort our view of the issue, it remains clear and unchanged. We make comments about this on a regular basis. I would like to point out that Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and Director of the Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov also comments on it regularly. I think there should not be any doubt that the stance has not changed. It remains the same.

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Question: Co-chairpersons of the OSCE group on Nagorno-Karabakh are visiting the conflict region again. Yesterday they met with the President of Azerbaijan in Baku. Today they are having a meeting with the President of Armenia in Yerevan as they try to maintain the increasing pace of the peace process. Meanwhile, it was reported that Azerbaijan has pushed the presidential election forward by six months and instead of autumn it will now be held in spring, basically in two months. Some experts suggest that, in addition to domestic reasons, there may be some foreign policy issues at the heart of the decision. Do you think the re-scheduled election in Azerbaijan may somehow affect the course of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement? For example, stall the process or, on the contrary, accelerate it?

Maria Zakharova: I think Azerbaijan’s presidential election is this sovereign state’s domestic business. In my opinion, you should request comments on the motives, reasons and format of the election directly from Azerbaijan representatives. These comments have been made.

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Question: The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a warning today regarding the possible developments in Afrin, Syria, in the context of US plans to increase arms deliveries to the groups it controls in Syria, allegedly for fighting ISIS. Yesterday in Sochi, Sergey Lavrov said it appears that the United States has plans for an actual partition of Syria. What could be the result of these plans and scenarios? Should Russia do something to prevent these plans? What measures can it take to prevent this?

Maria Zakharova: Regrettably, your question is not as good as usual. You have said what is happening in the region and what these developments entail for Syria. For my part, I can say that Russia is indeed acting politically and also at the military level to prevent the possible result you have mentioned, that is, the partition of Syria, which would make it the breeding ground of terrorist groups and terrorism, and further destabilisation in Syria and the region as a whole. As I have told you, Russia is doing this politically and at the military level, by supporting the Syrian Army’s struggle against the remaining terrorist groups. As for exactly how we do this, read the regular Defence Ministry updates.

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi has had a huge political effect. Its results, although obvious, still need to take a practical shape at the talks and other events that are taking place in Geneva, where the focus of the Syrian political settlement has been shifted. There is work ahead on the Constitutional Committee. Work on the new constitution highlights dialogue with all the leading international and regional actors, that is, countries and international organisations. We are doing our best to stimulate movement towards a settlement in Syria. I believe that Munich will be a politically important venue, where Sergey Lavrov will have bilateral contacts and deliver a speech, in which he will definitely speak about this.

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Question: Does Moscow view US actions as an obstacle to Russia’s policy of normalisation in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: You know, I have said a great deal on this issue today and have provided concrete examples. Attempts have been made to distract public attention from the results of the congress in Sochi, and the allegations of chemical attacks have been used to undercut the results of the congress and to encourage a negative attitude to Russia’s actions. Regrettably, efforts are also being made to convince the remaining “moderate” militants and militant opposition groups (everything is so mixed up there) to reject peaceful solutions. Also, direct and indirect attempts are being made to create conditions for the survival of the remaining ISIS groups in Syria.

I believe it is a matter for military experts. As it has been said today, the conditions allow terrorists to wage fierce and bloody battles and to stage provocations and terrorist attacks against civilians and military personnel. Many different things are happening. However, we maintain dialogue with the United States to coordinate our positions within the framework of a political settlement.

I would also like to say the following. It has been said at the US State Department that Washington ignored the congress in Sochi. No, they did not ignore but sent official observers to it. If you want to know more, we will provide the name of the person in question. He was not a high-ranking official, but it was the choice of our American partners. In other words, they continue to prevaricate even on trifling matters. They continue to tell tales even when we can call their bluff. I repeat that the US State Department’s statements about no US observers attending the congress in Sochi are a lie. They did attend it. As I have said, we can provide the name, if you want, but I think it would be better if you asked the US Embassy in Moscow for it.

There have been many such things, both on a large scale and on a relatively small scale. All this is certainly hindering our movement towards a goal that has also been described as a common goal in the United States. But we still hope for the best.

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Question: On February 6 in Moscow, the Foreign Ministry held consultations with a delegation from the North Korean Foreign Ministry headed by Director of the First European Department Im Chon Il. What was the outcome of the meeting? What issues were discussed? Is there a programme of joint events marking the 70th anniversary of Russia-North Korea diplomatic relations?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, consultations did take place on February 6, according to the plan of foreign ministerial exchanges between the directors of the territorial departments of the Russian and North Korean foreign ministries. Andrei Kulik is the head of the respective department in Russia. Im Chon Il is at the helm of the department in North Korea.

The consultations concerned current issues of Russia-North Korea interaction, including preparations for the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Regarding the plan of events, I will gladly share the agenda with you next time. I think it is still being finalised, but I will gladly tell you about the events that are scheduled.

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Question: Do you know any details on the Constitutional Council’s status? Is there a deadline for the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Mistura’s decision regarding its composition?

Maria Zakharova: The council’s scope of operation, authority and mechanisms are currently in development. Just before the briefing I talked to our experts about this. They said that as soon as we can publicly share our final view we will do so. The work continues, by all means together with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the UN. We hope to shed more light on this matter for you shortly.

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Question: Yesterday, when asked to comment on the situation regarding pro-Russian observers in Belarus by Radio Svoboda, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said the following: “I personally get to talk to different people as an ambassador, including to journalists. When I encounter anger and rudeness I immediately stop the conversation. One should stay away from those who stink.” Is this statement in line with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s attitude?   

Maria Zakharova: If you have additional questions perhaps you should address them to the ambassador himself. I honestly do not understand the point of your question and what there is to comment on. Is there something you do not like or question about these words? What prompted you to ask this question?

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Question: The words seemed a little too harsh to me.

Maria Zakharova: How exactly?

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Question:  A journalist is a journalist, you have to talk to him. But saying that he “stinks”…

Maria Zakharova: I think the meaning was different. The ambassador did not mean what you read in the sentence. Do not try to look for something that is not there.

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Question: Last time, you spoke very positively about Bulgaria. If our countries are on such good terms why does petrol in Bulgaria cost 1.5 euros? Why did TVTs channel broadcast the film ‘Bratozameshcheniye’ (‘Brother substitution’)? Who ordered that? And also, a question about the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. The Syrian opposition is fighting in Syria but dancing in Sochi. How can you comment?

Maria Zakharova: Bulgaria’s pricing policy is a question for your country’s government.

As concerns films on TVTs, please address the question to the channel’s executives. I have not seen the film. If you have complaints, tell about them. I do not know what you are talking about.

As concerns the events in Sochi and who was dancing, this is definitely not a question for me.

Question: I’d like to join the others in thanking you for your positive comments on the prospects of Russian-Bulgarian relations. This is very important for Bulgaria. Will Russian President Vladimir Putin attend celebrations of 140 years of Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Yoke?

Maria Zakharova: It is usually the Presidential Executive Office, in particular, the press service, that comments on the Russian president’s schedule.

As for the comments on Russian-Bulgarian cooperation, I am ready to do this on a regular basis. Please send your questions and I will be happy to cover this topic.

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Question: What is Russia’s role in putting an end to the Turkish air strikes on Afrin? Media reports say Russia closed the airspace above Afrin to the Turkish Air Force.

Maria Zakharova: The Russian Defence Ministry should comment on this. As for the political assessment, we have repeatedly expressed concerns about the developments in that area.

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Question: This week, the European Commission published the EU’s expansion strategy in the Western Balkans. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think of this? How might it affect Moscow’s relations with the countries in the region and with the EU?

Maria Zakharova: We have to study this EU strategy first, and then I will share our opinion. As for our cooperation with the Balkan and EU nations, for us, this has value in itself. We continue to develop relations with these countries and with the integration alliances they are part of.

Our position on the matter has always been clear. We are, of course, aware of the EU membership status and the relevant commitments of EU countries, but we also promote harmonious development on several tracks in both bilateral and association formats. As for countries that are not part of the EU and are considering joining it or cooperating more closely with the EU, we do not see this as an obstacle for developing our relations with them and we never ask them to choose whether they are “with us or against us.” We are always in favour of harmonious relations. Our practice and experience show that this can be done.

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Question: Can you please comment on the deportation of North Korean workers?

Maria Zakharova: Russia is strictly committed to implementing the decisions of the UN Security Council, including in terms of sanctions. These are the only sanctions that we recognise as legitimate and as a lever for resolving the international situation. UN Security Council Resolution 2397 adopted in December 2017 provides for repatriating all migrant North Korean workers within 24 months since its adoption. Russia has been acting in strict compliance with the provisions of this document. We believe that legal North Korean migrant workers can continue to work in the Russian Federation until the deadline set by the UN Security Council Resolution.

Only six weeks ago, we received a lot of questions, mostly from Western media, as to why North Korean workers were allowed to stay in the Russian Federation in alleged violation of the UN Security Council Resolution. We said we were acting in strict accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution and that the workers were here on a contract basis. Now that we have started implementing the UN Security Council Resolution as the contracts are expiring, we are being asked by the same media why we comply with the UN Security Council Resolution. There are question in both cases. It is just astonishing! But this is our world today.

Question: Trilateral meetings Russia-Azerbaijan-Turkey, Russia-Iran-Turkey and in other formats became a trend in 2017. Will this tradition continue in 2018? What is your general assessment of the trilateral formats’ effectiveness?

Maria Zakharova: These are the formats that are dictated by necessity. There are many other formats – troikas, quintets, sextets, groups of twenty and others. These tools are applied to concrete cases to address some problem or another. It is a matter of pragmatic expediency. New mechanisms will be formed, if necessary. Once they are exhausted, having completed their mission, they will be inscribed in golden letters in the history of international relations. This is routine work. Such formats are created when the need arises. I do not think that a trilateral format is symbolical. It all depends on what is really needed when it comes to solving this matter or another matter.

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Question: A number of countries, including in the West, slammed the legislative amendments adopted by Poland concerning the Holocaust, as well as the activity of Ukrainian nationalist organisations. For example, the United States sees it as an infringement on the freedom of speech. How does Russia view this legislative initiative of Poland?

Maria Zakharova: In this matter, we proceed not from the current considerations, but from our fundamental approaches that any attempts to revise the results of World War II are unacceptable, as well as from our vision of and the need to support, safeguard and protect historical memory.

Our uncompromised condemnation of the criminal ideology of the German Nazism and its allies, including Bandera supporters, is well known to everyone, and so is our attitude to the Holocaust tragedy. It seems to me that our fundamental attitude to the results of World War II cannot cause any doubts whatsoever.

We are certainly aware of the serious criticism of the above-mentioned law by Israel and a number of international public organisations, Jewish organisations.

In reply to your question, I will say that, in our opinion, any attempts to divide the history of World War II into “ours” and “not ours” are absolutely wrong, counterproductive and fraught with very regrettable consequences for those who are seeking to rewrite the results of this colossal global tragedy. We must proceed from the assessments of those historical events, of the ferocities of the Nazi invaders, of collaborationists and of the role of the Red Army in liberating humankind from the “brown plague”, the assessments made by the Nuremberg Tribunal and the international trials, which were based on international law and laid foundations for modern international law and modern international relations.

I would like to remind those who, unfortunately, very often forget it nowadays, that the Nuremberg conclusions were recognised by all of humanity. The whole world accepted them. This is what we proceed from.

Frankly speaking, there is much to be said on this issue. Perhaps, this is not a direct answer to your question, but it definitely concerns attempted revisions of World War II results and how attempts are being made to divide the history of that war into “ours” and “not ours” and thus segment that history. There is one more problem. It has to do with the illegal dismantlement of the monument of gratitude to the Red Army in Poland. I cannot think of any other word to describe our emotions evoked by these reports, except outrage. This is absolute lawlessness towards Soviet war memorials. A few days ago, in the Polish city of Debica (Podkarpackie Voivodeship), the local authorities’ demand to dismantle a monument erected in 1964 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the city’s liberation from the Nazis was carried out. Everything was torn down.

This is, of course, yet another act of vandalism, this time at a state level. We often take note of and make proper assessments of cases when monuments are desecrated by individuals, unidentified persons or so-called public organisations. But in this case, the state is behind all that. Such actions are aimed, of course, at destroying the Soviet memorial heritage in Poland. We are aware of that. The global or intermediary goal is also clear, namely to reformat the memory of the Polish people about the true events of World War II, wipe off their memory of the Red Army’s liberating role in the Polish land.

Despite everything, we will remember this. We will speak about this. We urge a very tough response to utterly outrageous cases like this one. How else can we interpret this if not as attempted or real efforts to revise the results of World War II? A small and straightforward move towards reviewing those results.

We want to stress that the ongoing campaign in Poland to dismantle the monuments commemorating the feat of Soviet soldiers contradicts Poland’s international commitments and is an immoral and inadmissible action from a humanistic point of view.

Official Warsaw bears responsibility for similar incidents, which, apart from continuing to erode Russian-Polish relations, hurt the memory of the descendants of hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Poland and the whole of Europe.

Question: I would like to ask a question about illegal arms deliveries to Syria. Our Bulgarian colleague has done some investigative reporting on this matter. After that, the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe (PACE) decided to initiate an investigation and to find out how 33.8 per cent of all weapons arrive in the Syrian Arab Republic from Eastern Europe. The investigative report notes that all those involved in the arms shipment connection were under CIA cover.

Maria Zakharova: Did they reinstate the female journalist? Why doesn’t the Council of Europe want to deal with this issue? As I see it, there is something to work on here.

Question: She was illegally fired after exposés on the role of Azerbaijan and on the use of diplomatic flights for arms deliveries. The United States considers it possible to plant numerous news stories and to make many accusations regarding Russia. Some of the facts contained in the journalist’s investigative report are posted online. The Russian Defence Ministry has repeatedly provided facts about US complicity in arms deliveries to terrorists.

Maria Zakharova: Why are friendly representatives of no less friendly Bulgarian media outlets asking their questions in the form of statements? Can you be more specific and say clearly what interests you?

Question: An investigation is now underway with regard to Bulgaria and Romania. Is it possible to launch an investigation of US involvement in all this?      It is very easy to accuse Bulgaria of allegedly supplying weapons to Syria.

Maria Zakharova: May I work on this at home? I will provide you with detailed comments at our next briefing.

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Question: China will celebrate the New Year on February 16. We know that you wrote a thesis on this special event. Will you celebrate it this year? If so, how will you celebrate it? Could you say something to the people of China in Chinese and Russian in the run-up to New Year celebrations?

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for this pleasant question. I try to positively celebrate all occasions even if I am staying far away from the homeland or a country that celebrates them as national events. This time, the Russian delegation will be in Munich on February 16. But I promise you that I will certainly order dumplings, which must be on the table during the Feast of Spring, as the traditional Chinese New Year is also called.

I would like to congratulate our Chinese friends on this extremely joyful and bright occasion that unites Chinese nationals all over the world from the bottom of my heart. Since you have asked me to send greeting in Chinese, I will be happy to do so (Extends holiday greetings in Chinese).

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