Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 4, 2019
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meetings on the sidelines of the CIS Ministerial Council in Moscow
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the opening ceremony of the 12th session of the Russian-Arab Business Council and the Fourth International Exhibition Arabia-EXPO 2019
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend “The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue” Fifth International Arctic Forum
- Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney’s working visit to Russia
- Syria update
- US statement on Iran’s involvement in the deaths of American service members in Iraq
- Update on Venezuela
- Presidential election in Ukraine
- Statement by Mali Patriots Group public movement
- NATO’s 70th anniversary
- Provocative statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
- US Department of State budget for 2020
- Update on Soviet memorial legacy in Prague
- New edition of Japanese school manuals
- Syrian Democratic Forces’ proposal to establish international court on ISIS followers
- Update on Russian national Mikhail Voytovich
- Establishing independent international commissions in Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina) to investigate crimes against all ethnicities in Srebrenica and against Serbs in Sarajevo
- 5th Yalta International Economic Forum
- Events involving Maria Lazareva
- The presidential election in Ukraine
- President Donald Trump’s statement on Afghanistan
- Russian vision of the League of Arab States summit
- Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid’s upcoming visit to Russia
- Novaya Gazeta’s interview with Russian Senior Lieutenant Alexei Sedikov, who was taken prisoner in Donbass
- Ukraine barring Donbass from participating in the presidential election
- The Russian education system
- Russia’s recognition of Ukrainian presidential election results
- Developments in Libya
- Armenian Defence Minister David Tonoyan’s statement in New York
- The International Arctic Forum
- NATO’s eastern expansion
- The Syrian Foreign Ministry’s statement on the Golan Heights
- The Telegram publication regarding a referendum on the unification of Russia and Belarus
Last week, we announced the upcoming meeting of the CIS Ministerial Council. We agreed that in the event that there are bilateral meetings on the sidelines of this event, we will discuss them in greater detail.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei before the meeting.
The foreign ministers will exchange views on implementing the 2018-2019 Programme of Coordinated Foreign Policy Actions of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State and discuss ways to advance the legal framework of Russia-Belarus relations and interaction as part of integration associations and at major international venues.
Regional and international issues of mutual interest will be considered.
Also, Sergey Lavrov’s schedule includes brief meetings with foreign ministers of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
The meeting is an opportunity to exchange views, so we will inform you about additional contacts, if any.
On April 5-7, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He will meet with heads of these states and foreign ministers. In Cairo, Sergey Lavrov will also meet with Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
The upcoming talks in Egypt and Jordan will be used to discuss the implementation of agreements reached during recent contacts at the highest level, as well as to agree on concrete steps for the continued comprehensive development of friendly relations with these Arab countries. Special attention will be paid to strengthening mutually beneficial, multifaceted business partnerships, including the implementation of joint economic projects and enhancing humanitarian and cultural contacts.
We look forward to having a substantive exchange of views on key issues of the regional and international agenda with an emphasis on consolidated efforts to find political and diplomatic solutions to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and to resolutely counter international terrorism and the spread a radical ideology.
In light of Egyptian Chairmanship in the African Union in 2019, practical matters related to coordinating actions for preparing the Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held in Sochi in October will be reviewed.
On April 8, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony of the 12th session of the Russian-Arab Business Council (RABC) and the Fourth International Exhibition Arabia-EXPO 2019. Mr Lavrov will deliver a welcome address to the audience.
The RABC conducts these events with support from the Russian Foreign Ministry in the framework of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum at the foreign minister level with a view to creating a major venue for discussing the practical issues of developing Russia’s business partnership with the Arab League countries.
A useful and engaged exchange of views will take place between representatives of government agencies from Russia and the Arab countries, the CEOs of big business, and leading sectoral experts. It will be aimed at formulating specific proposals on developing trade and investment. The experts will also present new advanced projects, including in the area of high technology and innovation.
On April 9-10, St Petersburg will host “The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue” 5th International Arctic Forum with the participation of President of Russia Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Iceland and Finland and the prime ministers of Norway and Sweden. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the forum.
Traditionally, the forum evokes serious interest abroad. All Arctic states will be represented. The foreign ministers of Denmark, Iceland and Norway will attend. The high representatives of extra-regional countries in Europe and Asia, as well as international organisations are expected to attend.
This year the forum’s theme is “The Arctic. An Ocean of Opportunities.” During general debates the participants will concentrate on ensuring sustainable socio-economic development of the Arctic, preserving the unique Arctic eco systems, raising the living standards of the local people and promoting international cooperation to this end.
The forum programme will be divided into three sections (Coastal Territories, The Open Ocean, and Sustainable Development) on which 29 themed sessions will be held. You can access the forum’s website for the exact times of the events and possible scheduling updates.
A themed ministerial session “The Arctic: A Region of Rivalry or Cooperation?” will be organised as part of the third section. The discussion will be opened by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and attended by his Scandinavian colleagues and other high-ranking guests. Separate meetings on the forum’s sidelines have also been planned.
This session provides a format to discuss in detail the approaches of the Arctic states to international cooperation in the high latitudes and the development of its potential, as well as common topical problems and possible solutions through concerted effort.
The Arctic forum fits in into the general paradigm of international cooperation in the region and brings together those who are interested in the Arctic. It provides a platform to summarise and develop the ongoing discussions on Arctic issues. The discussions will continue at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Finland on May 6-7.
The impressive representation of high foreign guests at the forum in St Petersburg reaffirms Russia’s leading role in developing international cooperation in this region.
On April 10-11, Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland, will be in Moscow on a working visit.
He is scheduled to have talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on April 11.
The forthcoming talks will be the first for the foreign ministers of Russian and Ireland since December 2012, when Sergey Lavrov met in Dublin with the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland Eamon Gilmore on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting.
The current state of Russian-Irish relations and prospects for their further development are to be discussed, as well as opportunities to step up bilateral cooperation. There will also be an exchange of views on current international and regional issues.
In the Idlib de-escalation zone, terrorists of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a pro-Nusra alliance, continue to attack positions of the Syrian government forces. Towns and villages are continuously being shelled, resulting in Syrian civilian casualties. Over 350 shelling attacks were registered in March, which is twice more than in February.
The control of terrorists over the Idlib de-escalation zone naturally alienates and angers the civilian population there. Residents march in rallies, which are viciously suppressed by the militants, including with firearms. The jihadists’ aggressive actions are causing bloodshed and the deaths of women and children. Such incidents occurred as recently as late March.
As was noted earlier, terrorists in Idlib continue planning provocations involving chemical agents. On March 29, the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides released a detailed commentary on this matter, which was posted at the Russian Defence Ministry’s site. It points, in particular, to the complicity of the French and Belgian special services in staging such incidents, including selection of potential victims, preparation of medical facilities for recording videos, and deliveries of chemical agents to the Idlib de-escalation zone.
We have noted the briefing by a French Foreign Ministry official on April 1 in which we were accused of lying. I would like to say that there is nothing to comment on here. On a related note, I would like to once again draw your attention, including our French colleagues, to the fact that the Russian military covered the topic of preparations for chemical provocations in Idlid in a detailed and substantiated way and provided facts. It is a good idea for Paris to look through the documents before coming to the podium with improper accusations.
We call your attention again to the disastrous situation in the camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in al-Hawl, Hasakah Province. The camp is overcrowded, with a total of 73,000 people. Over 5,000 Syrians arrived there in the period of March 15 through 23 alone. Most of the refugees come from Baguz and other places where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with support from the US-led “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS” continue mopping up remaining ISIS terrorists in the area.
Around 45 percent of al-Hawl residents come from Mosul, an Iraqi city that was liberated from ISIS in 2017 by the aforementioned anti-ISIS coalition. Let me remind you that back then “high-precision air strikes” by the US and its allies led to numerous casualties among Iraqi civilians, as well as considerable damage to the civilian infrastructure of the city. Thousands of residents were forced to leave their homes.
It is telling that the people who fled Mosul are unable to leave the al-Hawl camp and return to Iraq. The reason is that the SDF troops who control the camp do not let them out. Such an unconstructive position of the US-backed units causes grave concern. It appears that the US-controlled groups – whether in al-Hawl or in Rukban – are deliberately holding people and preventing them from returning to their places of permanent residence.
Meanwhile, according to UN data, al-Hawl is experiencing severe shortages of water and food, the camp lacks basic hygiene, there are shortages of medical staff, medical drugs and equipment. This leads to the spread of infectious diseases and aggravates the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the camp.
Unfortunately, the international community is unable to adequately respond to the misery of the refugees in al-Hawl. According to UN estimates, $27 million is needed for emergency aid. However, only $4 million have been raised so far. And this is happening against the backdrop of triumphant statements following the third Brussels Conference of international donors for Syria where the donors pledged a record breaking sum of $7 million. I would like to stress that we are talking about aid to a camp which is situated in the territory controlled by the US and its allies, with the involvement of UN mechanisms. It is a big question why such “generous” donors lack funds to save those people from their miserable state.
I was surprised to read the startling, as I see it, statement by Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, alleging that Iran is responsible for the deaths of 608 US service members in Iraq. We have not heard of any military clashes between Americans and Iranians in Iraq. And so our colleagues in Washington should provide an explanation as to what they specifically mean by Teheran’s involvement.
We do understand that anti-Iranian sentiment in Washington is running high but there should be at least some facts to support statements made and accountability for what is said.
We get the impression that Washington is trying to invent another pretext to justify a rapid escalation in relations with Iran if it deems it expedient. As for us, we would like to caution Washington against such steps because they are fraught with catastrophic consequences for stability in the Middle East, which is in disarray even without it.
Getting back to Hook’s statement, I would like to ask what the United States was doing in Iraq anyway? Why did they invade the country, essentially destroying it, in 2003? The US occupation led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, most of whom were civilians. I would like to stress that there is no exact figure. Nobody has counted the civilian population killed there. There was a separate set of statistics for troops.
For example, we remember the video of 2007 that shows Blackwater private security company personnel shooting unarmed people with a machinegun in Bagdad. Who will answer for those victims? But they must be counted first.
And who will answer for the killing of 290 passengers of the Iranian plane shot down by a missile launched from a US cruiser in the Persian Gulf in 1988? Would Mr Hook like to speak on this subject? Has anybody in Washington apologised for all those victims?
Everybody also knows well that it was the US invasion in Iraq that resulted in the emergence of ISIS. It brought additional suffering to the people of Iraq and neighboring Syria as well as to many other countries. Moreover, it created additional risks to global security because ISIS militants have dispersed all around the world now, and yet Western countries have reported that ISIS has been destroyed. Maybe they meant in Syria only? Yet, they are also still there, unfortunately. We see their crimes all over the world.
There should be no doubts that the US intervention in Iraq will remain in history as a grave violation of international law and, in fact, a criminal act. We advise the United States to stop seeking pretexts for new conflicts, increasing suffering all around the world with its aggressive policy.
Given that tensions are still running high in Venezuela and are being fuelled by, among other things, unilateral sanctions and actions to destabilise the socio-economic situation and undermine economic activity in that country, there is a growing understanding of the importance of more pro-active international efforts to end the crisis in Venezuela, primarily, on the part of other Latin American countries.
We appreciate the honest efforts of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to find a solution that excludes the use of force against Venezuela. We talk frankly about this with our partners. On April 2 and 3, thorough consultations on foreign policy matters took place in Moscow with Columbian and Venezuelan deputy foreign ministers, respectively.
We expect the Montevideo Mechanism, an initiative that is expressly unbiased against the parties which may be involved in a likely intra-Venezuelan dialogue, to be pushed forward.
We see the attempts of the Latin American countries to join the efforts of the players outside this region. The meeting of the International Contact Group (ICG) for Venezuela, which took place in Ecuador on March 28, has shown that all participants in this process are against the use of force, believe there is no alternative to a peaceful approach to resolving the crisis in Venezuela, and support the right of the people of that country to decide their future themselves. I cannot think of better words.
However, the preconditions put forward for a dialogue obviously disagree with these words, including the demand that a presidential election be held as soon as possible and new electoral and judicial authorities be appointed.
We have said many times that putting forward preconditions by one party to the political confrontation in Venezuela or elsewhere, for that matter, will hardly help achieve national reconciliation. We believe that only an inclusive dialogue without preconditions will be instrumental in finding compromise solutions to resolve the crisis.
It would be worthwhile to repeat that Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro has said many times that he is set to begin such a dialogue.
We are again calling on all responsible, authoritative and, most importantly, self-reliant, as far as their actions are concerned, political forces in Venezuela, regardless of their views, to sit down at the negotiating table for the sake of a peaceful future for their people and their country.
Russia is prepared to join any mediation efforts based on a constructive approach that takes the positions of the parties to the intra-Venezuelan process into consideration.
As for relations between Russia and Venezuela, they are dynamic, despite various planted and fabricated news items and other speculation. A representative delegation from Venezuela headed by Vice President Ricardo Menendez is visiting Moscow. Working groups will meet as part of the 14th Meeting of the Russian-Venezuelan Inter-Governmental High-Level Commission. A large package of bilateral documents covering various areas of mutual interest has been prepared for signing, including cultural and humanitarian ties, media services, and cooperation between the customs authorities of the two countries. Today, Moscow is hosting a multi-sectoral business forum as part of the commission meeting, which is being attended by representatives from over 40 Venezuelan companies.
Cooperation between our countries continues to develop as expected. It has good prospects.
Summing up the results of the presidential election in Ukraine seems premature. It is still in full swing after the first round. A final decision cannot be made before the end of the second round.
At the same time, the results of the first round eloquently speak for themselves. The Ukrainian people, despite the pressure exerted on them, despite the dirty campaign techniques and fabrications, gave a proper assessment of Petr Poroshenko’s five-year service as President. Everyone knows this.
The comments by the candidates give a clear idea of how “clean” the electoral process was as we all witnessed serious election code violations. This was confirmed by the international monitoring missions’ findings, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR). Despite a clear desire to smooth out their assessments, the ODIHR report on the first round reveals gross abuse of the administrative resource, bribery and pressure on voters, illegal campaigning, manipulation of voter lists (phantom voters), biased media coverage, irregularities in the work of commissions, and so on. The ODIHR also mentioned the refusal of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine to accredit Russian observers, which is contrary to Kiev’s international obligations. The polling stations at Ukrainian foreign representative offices in Russia were closed, depriving about 3 million Ukrainian citizens in our country of their right to vote.
We will continue to closely monitor the situation in Ukraine. We expect that in the time remaining before the second round, official Kiev will refrain from organising further provocations to attract votes. We urge Ukraine’s western partners to influence the current authorities in Kiev, to keep them from rash steps that will shatter the already volatile political situation in that country.
It seems to me that one of the most serious things has for some reason slipped from observers’ notice; they are avoiding this topic in Ukraine, and in general, ignoring it around the world – Donbass. There was no voting there. The Kiev regime shut these people out of Ukraine. This is a historical fact. It seems to me that responsibility for this decision should rest with the authorities in Kiev who must understand the seriousness of the consequences.
We have heard and repeatedly read and observed critical assessments of Russia, and claims that Russia allegedly interferes, or intervenes, in internal affairs, including the elections. I’m sorry, but has anybody in Kiev even thought about the people in Donbass who cannot contribute to the most important decision about the country’s future? Or, how will these people answer the question regarding the legitimacy of what is happening in Ukraine now? For some reason, this issue was dropped from the agenda when covering the situation in Ukraine. I think this is wrong. I think this will have serious consequences for the future of Ukraine.
We have noted the recent call by the public movement, Mali Patriots Group, to the leadership and people of the Russian Federation to render decisive assistance in settling the internal conflict in that country. The call was made immediately after the death of 130 civilians in an attack on the town of Ogossagou in central Mali as part of the ongoing inter-ethnic conflict.
This tragic event is another in a series of mass violent acts in the continuous internal conflict in Mali that is exacerbated by the activities of various ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups based both inside the country and the neighbouring Sahara-Sahel countries.
The ongoing unstable security situation in Mali illustrates the need to continue to support the stabilisation measures taken by the Mali government, which are already receiving assistance from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MUNUSMA), which has been deployed in this African country since 2013, and also foreign military contingents including Operation Barkhane conducted by France.
Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council will continue to contribute to international efforts to settle the Mali crisis, assist on a bilateral basis in enhancing the defence capabilities of the country, including the training of Mali military and police personnel.
We once again express our sincere condolences and words of support to the families and friends of the Ogossagou massacre victims.
On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington, D.C. resulting in the subsequent establishment of the NATO bloc to counter the USSR. The Soviet Union ceased to exist almost 30 years ago but NATO still exists while its targets and methods have not changed.
Moreover, NATO’s actions place it in a position as the main geopolitical threat. Cold War rhetoric is back, more weaponry is being placed in Eastern Europe, and the military infrastructure near Russian borders is being upgraded. Military spending by the bloc’s countries is growing every year and exceeds Russia’s military budget by more than 20-fold. The alliance’s capitals have begun talking about a resumption of the rivalry between the leading powers, and Russia, along with China, is designated among the major rivals to the West. Judging by the latest statements from Washington, where NATO’s foreign ministers are holding a meeting now, the alliance is not letting up and will continue to escalate tensions in Europe.
This escalation of military-political tension is not our choice. Our openness to constructive interaction, including with NATO, is well known. We do not lack a willingness to build up partnership relations with the alliance. Three years after the 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia, a new mechanism was established on the principles of equality and consensus: the Russia-NATO Council. The Russian side pursued useful joint projects and developed political dialogue within this framework. Moreover, Russia and NATO announced commitments to a true strategic partnership at the summit in Lisbon in 2010.
But the alliance was not ready for equal relations. Its pursuit of exceptionalism prevailed. Less than half a year after the Lisbon summit, NATO rushed headlong into the Libya adventure thus completely dispelling illusions about its ability to abide by international law.
Today, NATO says its priority is the defence of its East European allies from the so-called Russian threat by filling the region with weapons and stepping up military exercises that include offensive scenarios. This is indeed a strange way to promote “calm”, as everyone is first being scared and then the region is being turned into a powder keg.
One feels uneasy speaking about NATO’s successes in military history. Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya – the alliance’s operations there have resulted in chaos and destruction, accompanied by civilian death. And the leaders who set the tone in the alliance, primarily the United States, have also not distinguished themselves by good deeds.
NATO’s expansion into the East European countries has not contributed to their security. On the contrary, it has created new risks. Moreover, the alliance, that claims to be a “community of values,” has not excelled in freedom or democracy. Here is an example: the human rights situation in the Baltic countries did not improve and even got worse when their governments felt complete impunity once they joined the bloc.
What would we like to wish NATO on its 70th anniversary? Internal peace, less jitters, and going easy on fixed ideas and phobias. We would like to wish them wisdom.
In his remarks to the US Congress, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg mentioned Josef Stalin in the same breath with Adolf Hitler and ISIS, and said that “Stalin could not have been deterred with words.” He was attempting to form some absurd historical-logic chain.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has already commented at a high level on that stupid statement. Specifically, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko noted that people in Norway were burning with shame at Stoltenberg’s words yesterday, as the Red Army liberated the country from Nazis.
I would like to add two remarks to this eloquent assessment.
First, the Norwegian people greatly appreciated the Red Army’s contribution to the liberation of their country. I think the problem is that all of them are simply poorly educated. The quality of Western education is a big myth as we can see it from the UK example. Many Western politicians are known for their absurd and stupid statements that have no relation to facts. I would like to recall what King Haakon VII of Norway said in his October 26, 1944 radio address: “We have been following the heroic and triumphant struggle of the Soviet Union against our common enemy with admiration and enthusiasm. It is the duty of each Norwegian to render maximum support to our Soviet ally.”
The NATO Secretary General is a Norwegian. Moreover, I hope that he knows that the Red Army liberated a northern region of his country – East Finnmark – from Nazi invaders. In that operation 2,122 Soviet service members were killed in Norway. How are we to assess the statement of a person who heads a major military-political organisation, on the one hand, and is a political figure, on the other?
Second, if Stoltenberg cared about the fate of the world, the civilian population or peoples’ suffering then, especially as he was addressing the US Congress, he would have done better to recall US President Bill Clinton or NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, who directed the bombing of Yugoslavia. How did he miss them in that logic chain? They were the right people to speak about. How they dropped ordnance on peaceful civilians. For example, not a word has been said about the NATO’s – in particular the US’s and other Western countries’ – role in Libya. I have already mentioned George Bush, Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of victims. For some reason, Mr Stoltenberg did not say a single word about George Bush but he should have. I attribute it all to a poor education.
We have taken note of the proposed budget for the US Department of State presented to the Congress by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week. Over a half of it is designated for “external operations,” or so-called military and economic assistance to foreign countries. This “assistance” is primarily aimed at “countering Russia’s malign influence.” According to Pompeo, this is a key priority of the US Department of State’s new budget. The “help” will also be provided to counter China, which is at the top of the worst modern threats and challenges (after Russia, of course). Next in line is “peaceful restoration of democracy” in Venezuela.
A peaceful disposition is apparently the distinguishing feature of our American partners. Pompeo “peacefully” noted that everyone who was meddling in efforts to end the “illegitimate mafia state” of Nicolas Maduro would face fierce opposition. A similarly “peaceful” stance is expressed by the US in its continuation of the policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which allegedly continues to present an “unrelenting danger.” But the US is being picky in allocating funding for restoring Syria, dividing the country into those who are worth assistance and those who have not deserved it. This is selectivity: there are “good” and “bad” terrorists, there are moderate and immoderate militants, just as there are civilians that deserve financial support and those doomed to languish.
Apparently, the rest of the funding will go toward military expenses, which are not even a subject for discussion; peace, as Washington sees it, can not only be bestowed secured but also enforced.
In fact, the US Department of State’s proposed budget is another overt, shameless plan for US interference in internal affairs of quite a few countries. The US has long justified its insolent actions in the global space with nice terms such as “national security interests.” This time is no exception.
Recall that the US provided assistance to Afghan militants but later suffered blowback. Now, Washington is demonstrating contemptuous disregard of international law and is uniquely responsible for shattering global stability, with enormous funding requested for this purpose.
We want to draw public attention to the increasingly alarming situation that is taking shape around Soviet memorials in Prague.
In the past six months alone, there have been six recorded cases of attacks on the memorial obelisk in honour of Red Army soldiers that liberated Prague from the Nazis in 1945 in the centre of the Czech capital. The guilty went unpunished in every case. On the night of April 2, graves were desecrated at the honourable burial site of our soldiers at the Olsany Cemetery in Prague – the vandals damaged some grave-stones.
Regrettably, it is time to talk about a trend with regard to the notorious “war against monuments,” which is being used to dilute the truth about World War II and the Red Army’s heroic contribution to the liberation of European countries from Hitler’s occupation. It is in this context that we interpret the actions of the authorities in Prague that sanctioned the installation of a provocative sign on the monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev and the removal of a commemorative plaque to the liberator soldiers of Prague, which was installed in 1946, from the city hall building under a far-fetched excuse.
We are convinced that the Czech authorities and the Prague administration should not connive but radically counter these ugly acts that are damaging bilateral relations. We expect them to take effective measures to eliminate the physical damage done to the memorials in Prague and adjust the attitude towards the universally recognised facts of history.
We have noted the press release published by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan on the introduction of a new textbook edition for junior schools starting in 2020. The new edition contains an absurd formula on the South Kuriles being Japan’s “ancestral land.” We consider this to be yet another step by Tokyo to propagandise its position on the peace treaty issue, which directly contradicts the universally accepted understanding of the results of World War II.
These actions by Japan run counter to the task of building up mutual trust, a goal that has been set at the top level. This is regrettable, all the more so since Japan is creating a distorted idea of historical and legal realities in the minds of its younger generation, programming future alienation in relations between neighbouring nations.
They should have expanded the chapters on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because Japanese children do not know who carried out these bombings.
I was told a surprising story when a child in the US from a family of our compatriots, who attends a secondary school, chose the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a theme for his essay. His parents were summoned to the school and asked: “Where did your child get such information?” They replied that this information is broadly presented on the Russian segment of the internet and historical literature as distinct from the United States and Japan. We can share this.
According to media reports, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leaders are calling on the international community to establish a special international tribunal to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) as a successful conclusion to the operation to clear the eastern bank of the Euphrates from ISIS was announced.
Regarding the situation in Syria we would like to note that FTFs are present not only in the northeast of the country but also in the northwest. In particular, in the Idlib de-escalation zone where people from Europe, Central Asia and even Uighur Islamists from China are fighting with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other radical groups.
We proceed from the premise that foreign jihadists must ultimately bear the punishment they deserve for the crimes they committed. At present they can be prosecuted only at the national level in the countries from which those terrorists arrived.
As to establishing an international criminal tribunal, all responsible members of the international community should consider and work out the best response to this new FTF phenomenon and how they should be prosecuted. The formula must have a universal character and be applicable in different areas of armed conflict.
We draw your attention, once again, to the fact that Russia has on several occasions indicated its willingness to cooperate with all interested parties and partners in all areas of antiterrorism activities.
The Russian Embassy in Tajikistan is following the developments on the situation and is making every effort to protect the legal rights and interests of Russian citizen Mikhail Voytovich, including the consul’s presence at court hearings.
No violations of procedural order by the court’s authorities in the Republic of Tajikistan have been recorded. Mikhail Voytovich has the services of a lawyer and an interpreter; he has no complaints regarding the conditions at the pre-trial detention centre.
The Russian side is confident that the competent bodies of the Republic of Tajikistan will conduct an impartial investigation regarding the Russian citizen and will be able to clear up the facts of the matter.
We back the establishment of independent international commissions in Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina) to investigate crimes against all ethnicities in Srebrenica and against Serbs in Sarajevo in 1991-1995. The commissions held constituent meetings in Banja Luka in late March.
We note that establishing commissions is directly related to apparent flaws in the activities of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. We have repeatedly expressed understandable concerns about both. It is an inefficiency, selectivity and the anti-Serb bias of these temporary organisations of international criminal justice - that for over two decades have been one of many hurdles on the road to sustainable reconciliation in the Balkans - which requires the need for a thorough study and analysis of the tragic developments during the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We hope the experts from the 12 countries in the commissions will be able to assume the large-scale work to reconstruct the complete picture of the crimes committed on interethnic and inter-religious grounds in the area of Srebrenica and in Sarajevo, since many cases were thrown out under a vain pretext of the scope of the ICTY and Residual Mechanism activities. We welcome the unanimous decision by both the commissions to refrain from public commentary on the substance of their task until the full final reports are compiled. Such an approach is additional evidence of the professionalism of the involved experts.
We expect the commissions’ reports to be comprehensive and impartial, and that they will shed a light on some of the darkest episodes of the conflict in the region and will ultimately help the competent bodies to administer true justice in the name of the victims of the military crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We call on all relevant agencies and organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina to assist the commissions in their work.
On April 17-20, the Republic of Crimea will host the 5th Yalta International Economic Forum. It will bring together hundreds of Russian and foreign entrepreneurs this year. Alongside the St Petersburg, East and Sochi forums, the Yalta forum is one of the four biggest international economic business platforms in Russia.
This year it will bring together over 3,000 participants from 100 countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific Region, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
The main theme of the forum is ‘World. Russia. Crimea, New world Reality.’ The forum has a busy programme which includes dozens of business events on the most pressing issues of international relations. As part of the forum, the Foreign Ministry and Rossiya Segodnya will hold a joint session on the issues of restrictions on freedom of the press in the world. An offsite briefing by the Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson will also be held.
Media representatives can apply for accreditation at the 2019 Yalta International Economic Forum until April 10. To attend the forum and the briefing an accreditation under the respective rules approved by the 2019 YIEF Organising Committee is required. A link to the rules can be found in the transcript of today’s briefing (https://yalta-forum.com/smi/akkreditatsiya/).
We will announce the date, venue and exact time of the briefing additionally.
Question: In early March 2019, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt used the mechanism for diplomatic protection to see to the interests and rights of an employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, dual British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in prison in Iran. The Foreign Office emphasised that the principle of diplomatic protection allows one state to insist on the observance of the rights and interests of its citizen abroad by another state. Has this mechanism been applied to Russian citizens? Can it be used to protect Maria Lazareva?
Maria Zakharova: I saw this formula. I myself had questions about it because in three and a half years of briefings I have never used this international legal term in any material or any answer to a question. We asked our experts about it. Considering that this issue has emerged in the public space, I think it would be fair to describe it and tell the audience what stands behind the term “diplomatic protection.”
Our analysts on international law told us that diplomatic protection issues are regulated by the norms of conventional international law that were codified by the UN International Law Commission (ILC) through the adoption of draft articles on diplomatic protection. This document (Article 1) reads: “For the purposes of the present draft articles, diplomatic protection consists of the invocation by a State, through diplomatic action or other means of peaceful settlement, of the responsibility of another State for an injury caused by an internationally wrongful act of that State to a natural or legal person that is a national of the former State with a view to the implementation of such responsibility.”
Diplomatic measures embrace all legal procedures that are used by one state to inform the other state about its opinions and concerns, including protest, requests for an investigation and talks aimed at settling disputes. Other forms of regulation may include mediation, arbitration, and resorting to a national or international judicial body.
The protection of the rights and interests of one’s nationals is part of the function of diplomatic and consular services and missions, including Russia’s.
The Russian Federation actively uses these means of diplomatic protection to uphold the interests and rights of Russian citizens abroad. At the same time, it is necessary to consider that a violating state can pay no attention to a diplomatic demarche, reject resorting to arbitration or mediators, refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of an international judicial body and even ignore a lawful ruling. There are many examples of this. This is not a magic wand but a system of methods and instruments for resolving certain issues.
If the violating state stubbornly rejects a legitimate settlement, reciprocal measures can be taken against it within the framework of international responsibility. However, this is an extreme measure and requires the observance of a special procedure.
As for the given case, I cannot say with full responsibility that the whole package is used without exception and this term is fully applicable. Many diplomatic instruments are certainly used to protect the Russian citizen in the case you mentioned.
Question: UK authorities also admit that they have not used diplomatic protection for the past ten years. Are you using this mechanism with regard to Maria Lazareva?
Maria Zakharova: I have just replied to this question. I cannot talk about the comprehensive use of this international law term, but we are using elements listed as its component parts. This implies a number of diplomatic steps.
Question: Can we expect positive changes in Russian-Ukrainian relations if Vladimir Zelensky becomes President of Ukraine? In what situation would Russia refuse to recognise the results of the Ukrainian presidential election?
Maria Zakharova: It is premature to sum up the results, considering that the country is in the midst of a process that will culminate in a crucial decision. Therefore we will talk about the results of the Ukrainian election and assess the process, including the evaluation of its legitimacy, after the election process is completed.
As you know, there are no Russian observers there. We use the data of international agencies that specialise in monitoring elections, as well as information being received from some observers working there. Of course, we also use media information. Not all media outlets are represented there, not all of them are allowed to work, even those who have been admitted). But we are putting the puzzle together, one way or another. However, we will voice all assessments only after the election process ends.
Speaking of forecasts, I would like to refer you to the previous point once again. Let’s wait for the results, let’s see who we are dealing with and the future programme of any candidate immediately after the election, to say the least, although it is sometimes hard to understand even this aspect.
But I can tell you now that the question of improving bilateral relations should not be addressed to the Russian side. In the past few years, it was the Kiev regime that did everything possible to deal a crushing blow to the legal framework for developing bilateral relations. The greatest mystery and the situation’s absurdity are expressed in the fact that, judging by the situation on the ground, our trade and economic relations continue to expand. This means that the people are interested in expanding normal relations. As I’m sure you understand, it is impossible to force companies and self-employed businesspeople to expand their economic relations. People either profit from such relations, or they don’t. Obviously, people on the ground are interested in expanding relations. We are neighbouring states, bound by a common history, culture and largely coinciding views. People want to expand relations. At the same time, the Kiev regime has done everything possible to completely wreck the legal foundations for intensifying such cooperation and interaction. The Kiev regime has been damaging the legal framework for many years and has dealt a crushing blow to the people’s perception of relations with Russia by using propaganda. So, you should address this question to Kiev, rather than Moscow, as well as to the person who is to become the Ukrainian leader.
Question: During a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US President Donald Trump called the war in Afghanistan “unfortunate and ridiculous.”
Maria Zakharova: Ridiculous? The operation in Afghanistan was authorised by the Security Council. How this mandate was fulfilled is a different story. It is a big question. For many years, we have put this question both to NATO and American representatives. It would be nice to go to the Security Council, which issued this mandate, and report on the ridiculousness (as US President Donald Trump is now saying) of what is happening there.
The wording you just quoted is remarkable – because, on the one hand, there is a UN Security Council mandate and a decision of the countries to participate in this operation. But at the same time, what is happening on the ground is indeed highly ridiculous. When we ask about what is happening there and how it corresponds with the mandate – that is, how the objectives correspond with the results achieved – nobody answers. And now the US President says that everything that is happening there is ridiculous. Unfortunately, this is a very sad irony because Afghanistan is closer to Russia. And all the threats that originate from the territory of that country because the situation there is not settled affect Russia first. We keep saying this both at regional and international platforms.
Question: Last Sunday, the annual summit of the League of Arab States rounded up in Tunisia. How does Russia evaluate the summit?
Maria Zakharova: The meeting took place on March 31. It was a regular meeting that became a notable event of international significance. It was also quite representative and brought together heads of state from eleven countries.
President of Tunisia and Chairman of the summit Beji Caid Essebsi received greetings from Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed to the forum participants. The greetings were distributed as an official document of the summit.
The pan-Arab top-level meeting had an extensive agenda. The crises were brought to the foreground, including the Palestinian problem and Middle Eastern settlement in general, the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Countering terrorism also received great attention.
The main results of the forum were documented in the Tunisian Declaration. Specifically, it emphasises that the current situation is unacceptable, when the Arab world serves as an arena for the antagonism of international and regional forces, the ideological, inter-ethnic and inter-faith confrontation. It is extremely important that the summit participants reaffirmed the primary place of the Palestinian problem in the pan-Arab priorities and particularly noted their commitment to the overarching peace in the Middle East as a strategic choice. The participants also confirmed the inviolability of the international legal framework of the Middle East settlement, including respective UNSC resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
As concerns the existing areas of tension in the Middle East and North Africa, the leaders of the League members spoke in favour of political and diplomatic settlement methods in close cooperation with the UN and without any external interference.
Our opinion is that the summit is a compelling indication of the fact that the leaders of the Arab world understand the importance of consolidation in the face of common threats and challenges. As we have said repeatedly, terrorism is one of the most important threats and it is only through coordinated joint efforts that we can eliminate this threat.
Question: Estonia, like other Baltic states, is in the forefront of the anti-Russia campaign and active in confirming its devotion to NATO. As she was running for president, the current incumbent, Kersti Kaljulaid, claimed that she would not travel to talk to her Russian colleagues unless she coordinated her stance with the NATO partners. But unexpectedly she declared last week that she would visit Moscow and wanted to meet with Vladimir Putin. What does Russia think about this step? Does it signify a change in orientations? Or does it mean that the European subsidies are running low and Estonia is seeking Moscow’s support?
Maria Zakharova: You should better ask Estonia itself if it is changing its orientations. As for Russia, it has not changed its agenda or views. We are in favour of normal relations, for cooperation in beneficial spheres, and for solving the problems that arise or are already on the agenda. But we detest the rhetoric we hear from members of the political establishment, to mention just them, primarily officials from the Baltic states. We often witness all of this. I can only reiterate what was announced by the Presidential Executive Office. President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid is planning to arrive in Russia on a private visit. It was declared that she would attend the opening of her country’s newly done up Embassy in Moscow and that a meeting with President Vladimir Putin was being planned and prepared. For the rest of the details, please apply to the Presidential Executive Office.
I would like to note once again that Russia has repeatedly declared its desire, intention and available opportunities for building normal relations.
As for the Estonian politician’s statement that she had no intention to visit Russia unless she coordinated the matter with the “big brothers,” this question should not be posed to Russia. It’s none of our business whether she obtained a go-ahead or not. We were always in favour of sovereign states using and enjoying their sovereignty.
Question: On April 1, Novaya Gazeta published an interview with Russian Senior Lieutenant Alexei Sedikov, who was taken prisoner in Donbass and complained of confinement conditions, because he was wounded and had to use crutches to help him walk.
Maria Zakharova: Complained of confinement conditions where?
Question: At a Ukrainian prison camp.
Maria Zakharova: Have you passed his complaints to the Ukrainian side?
Question: But this is a Russian newspaper!
Maria Zakharova: Is it a Russian pretrial detention centre or prison? This person is in Ukrainian territory and at a Ukrainian detention facility. Why are you asking me?
It’s bizarre to hear a Ukrainian journalist representing a biased propaganda outlet reproach Russia for there being a man in Ukrainian territory, who complains of his confinement conditions. What have you done as a Ukrainian journalist who is in contact with Ukrainian officials and politicians? Why do you come here? To gloat at the plight of a man, who is complaining of his confinement conditions in Ukrainian dungeons? To ask what we are doing? We are doing all we can to provide help in each particular case. But success is not always forthcoming. As you may know, there were cases where Russian citizens died in Ukrainian territory, in Ukrainian dungeons. You know about Valery Ivanov, who was imprisoned in Lvov.
You come here and quote a man, who is in Ukrainian territory. It’s absurd! Why are you doing this? To say that the Kiev regime is using methods that deprive a huge number of Russian citizens of normal detention conditions? Do you want to rub the Kiev leadership’s nose in dirt once again? I don’t see the logic.
Question: I don’t care what fate awaits your citizen. But you are a Foreign Ministry spokesperson. It’s your business to be concerned about Russian citizens. I don’t give a damn about this man.
Maria Zakharova: It’s free journalism classics. Do you mean to say you are concerned with Ukrainian citizens alone?
Question: Primarily Ukrainian citizens. But if I didn’t ask this question, no one would.
Maria Zakharova: Don’t get too big for your boots.
Question: A report in Novaya Gazeta also says that this person is really injured and is in a poor state of health, therefore Ukraine has repeatedly offered to exchange him for Ukrainian citizens. The most recent proposal was to exchange him for Pavel Grib convicted in Rostov. He also has health problems. Why does the Russian side always say that it is making every effort while repeatedly refusing Ukraine’s exchange proposals?
Maria Zakharova: This is not true. Three weeks ago, at a briefing, I cited examples of how the Russian side facilitated exchanges, as well as a very strange position of the Ukrainian leadership, representatives of the Kiev regime.
You said Russia always refuses. First of all, I gave you a specific example with specific names. Secondly, who are you referring to, saying that the Ukrainian side has offered something? What did they offer, exactly? Who made the offers and who did they contact on the Russian side?
Question: According to Novaya Gazeta, the proposal was issued by Irina Gerashchenko, the Ukrainian President's Humanitarian Envoy.
Maria Zakharova: We have not received such information from the Ukrainian diplomatic, foreign policy or any other agencies that have the right and are authorised to handle matters like these. I do not have such information. If some politicians or public activists seeking public response have made some public statements, as you understand, they should be at least supported by the executive branch. Your executive authorities have not bothered us about this issue.
Question: These proposals were made in Minsk 16 times within the bilateral Contact Group. Russia has not responded.
Maria Zakharova: Ukraine has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Embassy of Ukraine is functioning on the territory of the Russian Federation. You could have got your information from them, couldn’t you? Or do you rely on Novaya Gazeta alone?
There are the executive authorities in Ukraine, which have all the powers to make appropriate proposals. A note should be sent through diplomatic missions, which is then forwarded to the relevant Russian authorities. They consider it in the legal framework, and also make political decisions.
I would like to correct you. Your statement that Russia always blocks proposals and never does anything is absolutely fabricated. It is not true. On the contrary, they are blocked from the Ukrainian side. I have mentioned names. Today I will do everything I can to publish them again, to update the information.
We have examples of exchanges. You know about them very well. We have exchanged Nadezhda Savchenko. By the way, how is she? She really wanted to run for president, but she was thwarted. How is PACE feeling about it? Are they worried? We have not heard any news on this subject for quite a long time.
First of all, I will double-check today, I will contact our country specialists responsible for this issue whether there have been any notes or appeals from the Embassy of Ukraine in Moscow or through our Embassy in Kiev, whether we have received any proposals. I will also update the material I cited in response to your question about how the Ukrainian side, at the last moment, despite its assurances and the agreed list, cancelled an exchange.
If you are a journalist and if you have noted, just like us, that a Russian citizen detained by the law-enforcement authorities of Ukraine is being held in that country and is not happy with the conditions of his detention – why have you not pointed this out to the authorities of the country you represent? I understand that, as you said, you don’t give a damn about these people. That is, you come here for an opportunity to get attention. I have heard you. It is really the first time I hear from a journalist that he does not care about the fate of a man who is detained and uses the media to point out prison conditions. This is the first time in my life. Well, but there is always a first time for everything.
Question: Ukraine has completely ousted Donbass from the presidential election and therefore de facto admits that Donbass is not part of that country.
Maria Zakharova: This is exactly what I said today using your words. I, too, was surprised that none of the leading political analysts and commentators is paying attention to this. They have focused on the stadium, rather than on the most important thing: that this election and the electoral process have drawn a line and deprived a multitude of Ukrainian citizens of an opportunity to make their own crucial decision.
How will they coexist and implement joint plans with an entire region representing a lot of people? This is now a practical, rather than rhetorical, question. People were deliberately prevented from taking part in electing the president of a country that claims that this region and these people are part of Ukraine. This question should not be addressed to the Russian side.
Question: Today, I liked your analysis dealing with education levels of NATO politicians and leaders very much. Would you like to draw the attention of top managers of the Russian education system to the need to withdraw from the Bologna Process and to reinstate the traditional national education system? It was among the best in the world, and we are now virtually wrecking the education system.
Maria Zakharova: I cannot agree with you for one reason. Every year, graduates from various Russian higher education institutions join the Foreign Ministry. These people have a wonderful and brilliant education. I realise that there was a certain shortfall linked with the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Unfortunately, I studied at a higher education institution at that time when everything was changing. We came and studied a subject linked with economic theory and micro-economics together with our lecturers. Before that, our lecturers taught us what they knew, namely, political economy. The problem of changing from one type of education system to another was felt acutely. While accepting young people today, I can say that these people have a brilliant education and they have an excellent knowledge of foreign languages; this is our speciality. In addition to this, they know about subjects like history and literature, etc.
Speaking of the address you mentioned, I believe that, as a media representative, you should better contact our concerned agencies. This is certainly not within my remit.
I can say that I am, indeed, impressed with the broad outlook of modern graduates. I don’t want to, and I cannot compare them with Soviet-era graduates, now members of the older generation who have been living for quite a while and who have streamlined their knowledge through practical work. It is impossible to compare them. But those young people who have been joining us in the past four to five years, to say the least, are really good professionals.
Question: Ukrainian society had better take care of its sovereign politics before the elections: throw a lifeline to the bleeding Donbass, start rebuilding the country, and launch a dialogue with Russia. But on March 31, we saw how the country plunged into some Hollywood-style illusion, a theatre of the absurd. The next thing we see is a comedian coming from the screen into real life. Soon it will be difficult to distinguish between the actual and the virtual reality. Will the Russian authorities have enough will and sovereignty to recognise this election?
Maria Zakharova: Let's be respectful to people of different professions. Everyone has constitutional rights. They are enshrined in law. Why do we have to disparage representatives of different professions who observe constitutional rights and want to run for power, anywhere from municipal authorities to senior government positions? I strongly disagree with this. History knows wonderful examples of people of different occupations holding various posts, leading countries and making historic contributions. I do not know of any universities or programmes that would award degrees in being a president. There is no such global practice. Educational experts will confirm this.
One can have a civic stance though. If a person of any profession considers it possible to participate in electoral processes, in shaping the future of their country, why should someone put them down? Let's refrain from judging a country, and how spotless and wholesome its legal procedures are until we are asked to do so or it is prescribed by international law. Let's leave this question to the people of Ukraine. Let them decide who deserves to be their president, which profession is better, what is possible and what is not in the conditions of modern Ukraine. It is their future.
Indeed, much depends on the choice of the president of Ukraine, including for the international agenda in the context of the unresolved Ukrainian crisis, which influences many things. A large number of refugees have come to Russia – citizens of Ukraine who needed to be provided with everything from kindergartens to work and housing. I do not know of any similar examples in modern history. I know of refugees in Europe living in basement rooms and giving birth in underpasses. No one is going to integrate them into their community. On the contrary, it causes a surge in nationalist sentiment on the territory of European states.
Russia, for its part, has acted completely differently. I think it is a unique example. In this context, of course, we cannot help but be concerned.
I would ask you to note the aspect involving respect for people. After all, we are talking about elections in a sovereign state.
We had the will to recognise the 2014 elections, despite the complete lawlessness and obscurantism. Remember the constitutional coup, the Maidan riots, and the gross interference in electoral processes. Everyone just turned a blind eye to how that election was held. But we remember it was accompanied by Molotov cocktails, the most popular commodity a couple of months before. They burned tyres, fires, etc. But Moscow allowed Ukraine, despite all the gross violations, to put it mildly, to complete these procedures, so that the state would have a chance to consolidate society and move on. You all can see how the Kiev regime used this political credit. The result is obvious.
I remember one well-known Russian figure with public weight, whose words were heeded. That person was asked upon return from Ukraine in the midst another round of internal political confrontation (somewhere in the mid-2000s) what was happening there. The answer was: Ukraine is having a difficult “moment.” The moment seems to be taking a little longer than expected. But it is their state. Let them decide for themselves who is worthy to represent their interests, to carry out or not to carry out reforms. Let's leave it to the people of that country.
In my opinion, the main problem with this vote is that part of the country, a part of the population was crudely cut off from making the most important decision. This is a fact and naturally a concern for everyone. That is what the five-year effort by the international community has been devoted to. This was, I think, the most terrible blow to all negotiations and political processes aimed at resolving the internal Ukrainian crisis.
But any assessments can be given only after the election.
Question: On March 31, head of the National Libyan Army Khalifa Haftar announced that within the next two weeks Libya will witness a resolution of the years-long crisis thanks to the creation of a new Government of National Accord. Yesterday Khalifa Haftar announced the beginning of an operation to purge western Libya from terrorists, which was interpreted by the Fayez al-Sarraj’s government as a direct threat. How do Foreign Ministry experts evaluate the current situation? Does it mean that it is progressing towards a resolution by force rather than by political consensus?
Maria Zakharova: We hope that this scenario will not take place. We proceed from the premise that this crisis will be resolved by political and diplomatic means. For the past several years, we have made and continue to make every possible effort to this end.
Question: On Saturday, Armenian Defence Minister David Tonoyan, while in New York, announced that Yerevan plans to replace the “territories in exchange for peace” formula with “a new war for new territories.” On Tuesday, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan supported him by saying that he would have sacked the minister if he had made a different statement. How does Russia evaluate these declarations from Armenia made right after a meeting between President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan in Vienna?
Maria Zakharova: I cannot еvaluate a stand-alone statement. I can reaffirm Russia’s commitment to a political and diplomatic resolution. We prioritise mutual agreements between the parties, absolutely. If there are matters on which the parties move closer, we welcome that. If they need assistance from mediators, we are ready to provide it as part of Russia’s duties as a co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group. We provide assistance to the process and support contacts between the parties. I think there is no point in commenting on statements by themselves.
Question (retranslated from English): My question concerns the International Arctic Forum to take place next week. The Northern Sea Route is one of the forum topics. It is a very promising and prestigious project but there are certain doubts regarding its practicability. Does the Government expect that the forum will help expedite the development of the Northern Sea Route?
Maria Zakharova: As far as I understand, your question is about the practical aspects of resolving issues. It is not the first forum, and it is not the first time that certain issues are brought up for discussion and practical solution to various problems in the region are sought by joint efforts. This is the fifth forum. If you are asking me about the how, I can answer: the same way as in the previous years. As per tradition, the parties will exchange opinions, hold talks, including discussions open to the media during which they can ask any questions. We plan to find answers to many complicated and problematic questions. There is a whole arsenal of peaceful diplomatic tools for solving complicated issues. What is most important is that high-ranking representatives of all the countries in the region will participate. Therefore, we will be able to hear different opinions and also find common ground.
Question: I have an analytical question in connection with the NATO anniversary. Over the past thirty years, the axis of NATO’s activity has shifted from Western to Eastern Europe. At the same time, Western European countries have questions to the United States as regards their contributions to the Alliance. Is it possible that NATO, even against its will, is pushing these countries and Russia closer together?
Maria Zakharova: Can NATO bring anyone closer? History does not know any such examples. What I can see is that NATO is adding new members, who are now being pulled in by various methods. What does this lead to? It is clear that when an increasing number of countries are consolidating, an illusion can be created that they have some unifying agenda. But, if you look at the world map, particularly Europe, but not only Europe, you will see that there is nothing unifying there. First, keeping in mind that the Russian Federation occupies one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface, there can be no unifying agenda without establishing a constructive and regular dialogue with it. Second, while uniting the European countries for the most part lately, the North Atlantic Alliance sets global goals, having no peaceful agenda for other regions of the world. It cannot have one, because everyone has learned from bitter experience – NATO’s and its forces’ involvement in regional conflicts and the behaviour of its individual members dominating the group, in various parts of the world. What kind of unifying agenda can we talk about? We don’t think there is one.
The most important thing is that the decision-making process in NATO in no way relies on any democratic principles. There are ideologists and strategists sitting in Washington. Although the NATO Secretary General traditionally represents countries other than the United States, its entire leadership, senior management is formed from former representatives of the US executive power: the Department of Defence, the Department of State, and people associated with the US national security. Accordingly, the entire agenda is formed by Washington. The others accept it without being involved in coordinating the general strategy, without having the right to vote, without anything. The mistakes made by the Alliance have not been corrected, which is another proof that it is not a unifying agenda, but propaganda activities in the interests of a small group of states. It is impossible to talk about equality within the Alliance. There is none. And if an organisation has no equality, what unifying agenda can we talk about?
Question: The Syrian Foreign Minister said that Syria is not ruling out a military solution to the problem of the occupied Golan Heights; however, countering terrorism is a priority right now. How likely is a military scenario for the solution to the Golan Heights issue?
Maria Zakharova: In our opinion, this matter was laid down and specified in international legal documents. They were not adopted yesterday but many years ago, including as an alternative to a military solution to the problem. If at that time the international community, while having different approaches and views, including on the overall situation in the Middle East, did not find the strength to consolidate positions on this matter, perhaps we could speculate about various scenarios and options. At the moment, everybody relies on the international legal framework. This is why Washington’s demarche to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights was so risky as it erodes the international legal framework. I suppose we could say that the move by the United States struck a massive blow to the very international legal basis of a potential solution to this issue, and this is very dangerous. Moreover, I think that decades ago, the international community expressly asserted that there was no alternative to a political and diplomatic solution. The UN Security Council resolution is binding for all states.
Question: A Telegram channel reported today that a constitutional act regarding a referendum on the unification of Russia and Belarus is technically complete. Have you heard anything about this?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to warn you against reading and especially quoting sources that cannot be identified, that have no feedback channels and no editorial board for verification or accountability. Do not read or use this information.
All efforts are aimed now at fighting against fake news because, to a large extent, we have plenty of times fallen victim to the unconstrained dissemination of fake news. I myself do not rely on the information spread by unnamed sources, despite their extensive number of subscribers. I think it is very dangerous. And, most important, it contradicts the agreement we have all made now to fight against fake news. Some of the information may be correct, some is not, but overall, if the media outlet does not identify itself or provide a feedback channel (and you understand that there is none) and it is not clear who is accountable for this information, for me it is definitely a red flag.