Briefing of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 14, 2019
- Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei’s working visit to the Russian Federation
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with former Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Sigmar Gabriel
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend an evening in memory of Anatoly Dobrynin
- Update on Syria
- Update on Iraq
- Ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement
- Update on Bolivia
- Recommendations for Russian citizens amid social and political instability in Bolivia
- Update on Chile
- Japanese tourists’ pilot trip to the southern Kuril Islands
- Cooperation between Russia and Japan
- Results of the November 12 meeting of the Contact Group (CG) in Minsk
- Criminal charges filed in Ukraine against journalist Vladimir Solovyov
- Statements by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt on religious matters
- Guaido supporters’ provocation against Venezuelan Embassy in Brazil during BRICS summit
- Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Anez
- Release of three Haqqani network leaders in Afghanistan
- Timeframe for signing memorandum on Russian specialists’ access to biological laboratories in Armenia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Armenia
- Death of MayDay Rescue founder James Le Mesurier
- Two members of Armenian Catholic clergy shot dead in Syria
- Malaysia Airlines Boeing crash in east Ukraine
- Turkish decision to repatriate terrorists detained in Syria
- Arrest of Russian citizens on drug-related charges off Rhodes
- Case of Maria Lazareva facing prison term in Kuwait
- Garegin Nzhdeh’s memorial plaque on Armenian church territory in Armavir
- Alleged phone calls between Alexander Borodai and Vladislav Surkov
- Law on media outlets as foreign agents
- Syrian Constitutional Committee
- Glorification of Nazi accomplices
- New Bolivian authorities’ recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president
On November 18, 2019, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei will pay a working visit to Russia at the invitation of the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov. The annual joint meeting of Russian and Belarusian Foreign Ministries’ Collegiums will take place as part of his visit.
The visit will be held prior to the day that marks the twentieth anniversary of signing the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State.
A wide range of bilateral foreign policy issues are to be discussed during the talks. The parties are expected to review the results of the implementation of the programmes of coordinated foreign policy actions throughout the existence of the Union State. The ministers will focus on security issues, including NATO’s military and political activity in Eastern Europe; they will coordinate their approaches to relations with NATO and arms control issues. Current areas of Russian-Belarusian cooperation at the UN will be considered, including countering unilateral measures that violate the UN Security Council’s prerogatives.
Following the meeting of the foreign ministries’ collegiums, the 2020-2021 Programme of Coordinated Actions in Foreign Policy by the Signatories of the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State is to be signed as well as a Plan for Foreign Ministry Consultations for 2020.
On November 18, 2019, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with former Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Sigmar Gabriel, who will be in Moscow on November 18-19 to take part in the fifth Russian-German youth forum, Potsdam Meetings, held since 2018 under the patronage of the Russian and German foreign ministers under the NGO German-Russian Forum and the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund.
On November 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who will be in Moscow on a working visit.
The foreign ministers’ meeting will help maintain a trust-based political dialogue between Moscow and Manama and allow an in-depth discussion of the current issues related to the further development of bilateral relations.
The ministers will focus on expanding mutual trade as part of the work of the Russian-Bahraini Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, and efforts by relevant agencies and companies. They will also discuss prospects for promoting the investment partnership as well as interregional and cultural contacts.
A discussion of the main challenges the Middle East is facing will feature prominently at the talks, with an emphasis on the need to resolutely fight terrorism and resolve the existing conflicts in this strategically important region of the world by political means, in strict compliance with the corresponding standards of international law and the UN Charter. The ministers will also discuss key aspects of Russian-Bahraini interaction at the UN and other multilateral platforms.
On November 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend an evening dedicated to outstanding Soviet diplomat Anatoly Dobrynin, who headed the Soviet Embassy in the United States for almost 25 years. He would have turned 100 on November 16.
Notably, a number of functions sponsored by the Foreign Ministry and our foreign missions abroad have been held during the course of the year. Historians, documentarians and journalists had done a great deal of work. The TASS news agency produced a film featuring many materials, documents and archives which will be screened soon. Guests at the memorial evening will include representatives from the Federal Assembly, the heads of a number of leading academic institutions, retired and young diplomats, and Mr Dobrynin’s former colleagues. The results of the essay contest on the diplomatic heritage of the prominent Russian diplomat will be given during the meeting.
The situation in Syria has largely stabilised. We continue to work to prevent surges in tension in the areas that are not controlled by the Syrian government, primarily northeastern Syria and Idlib.
The Russian-Turkish Memorandum of October 22 is being gradually implemented. The Kurdish forces have been withdrawn from the Syrian-Turkish border. Syrian government troops are being deployed in the liberated areas, and joint Russian-Turkish patrolling of the 10-kilometre border strip in the Kamyshly and Kobani areas has begun. These measures helped stop the bloodshed and suffering of the local people, Kurds and Arabs alike.
Despite the ceasefire introduced by the Syrian army with Russia’s support in Idlib on August 31, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists continue to shell government troop positions and nearby towns. Every day, 20 to 30 such attacks by the militants are recorded. There has been an increase in activity of the local residents in the de-escalation zone itself. They are protesting the terrorists’ stranglehold. In particular, demonstrations are being held in Saraqib, Beenish, Taftanaz, al-Kafrun and Maarat al-Numan. The terrorists are trying to stop these civic actions, disperse the crowds and put up aggressive resistance.
We note that isolated hotbeds of tension on the ground in Syria have not thwarted the successful and planned launch of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva. The first meeting of the committee with the presence of all 150 members took place in late October-early November. Then, the drafting commission with 45 representatives began its work, with 15 representatives from each third, that is, the government, the opposition and civil society. This commission is drafting proposals for the constitutional reform of Syria. The next session is scheduled for the last week of November. We consider the formation and convention of the Constitutional Committee the common achievement of all Syrians who finally have the opportunity to discuss the future of their country directly without intermediaries. Now, it is important to make sure that the committee members work in a calm and peaceful atmosphere without external interference, especially without pressure or the imposition of artificial formulas or deadlines.
In addition, it is necessary to support progress in the political process by stepping up the comprehensive humanitarian aid to Syria without discrimination or preliminary conditions. Such aid will help create a proper environment for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of the refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes. Notably, the process of repatriation of the Syrians has become sustainable with over 464,000 refugees and over 1.3 million IDPs returning to their homes since July 2018, when the corresponding Russian initiative was launched.
In the context of achieving a sustainable and lasting solution to the Syrian crisis, we attach great importance to normalising the situation in Syria and the country moving beyond artificial international isolation. In this respect, we will mention the various delegations’ regular visits to Damascus. Representatives of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan visited the Syrian capital in early November and discussed prospects for developing bilateral economic, political and cultural cooperation with their Syrian colleagues, in particular, the possibility of resuming the work of the Kazakh cultural and historical centre in Damascus.
In addition, we noted the Council of the Union of Arab Chambers of Commerce decision to hold its 132nd session scheduled for 2020 in Damascus. We welcome the gradual restoration of Syria’s relations with the Arab world and we support the return of Damascus to the League of Arab States. We believe this will be beneficial for Arab unity and the strengthening of regional security and stability.
Iraq is invariably among our priority partners in the Middle East, and therefore we are following the events there closely.
We are seriously concerned about the mass unrest that has been going on since early October, in which reportedly several hundred people died and thousands were wounded. We understand that the root causes of the protests are socioeconomic in nature. Meanwhile, it is absolutely obvious that the slew of problems that has accumulated over the years of “establishing democracy” and fighting against terrorism cannot be resolved overnight.
We are aware that further destabilisation in Iraq is fraught with the threat of an ISIS revival. These are not empty words or a pithy metaphor. Despite the victory over the terrorist group that the Iraqi leadership declared in 2017, ISIS bands and clandestine groups continue their subversive and recruitment activities. In addition, after ISIS’ military defeat in Syria, the problem of terrorists moving from there to other countries of the region, above all to neighboring Iraq, has got worse.
Given this, we support the steps taken by the Iraqi authorities to stabilise the situation as quickly as possible. It is important that Iraq leaders reaffirm their willingness to launch a broad national dialogue and actively engage in consultations with the leaders of core political forces to agree on an anti-crisis programme. Certain measures are also being taken to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the population.
We welcome the ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, which was reached thanks to the efforts of Egypt and entered into force this morning. We hope that it will become a prologue to sustainable de-escalation.
We call on Israelis and Palestinians to exercise restraint and prevent new outbreaks of violence. The tragic events of recent days have once again convincingly confirmed the need for an early resumption of a meaningful and effective negotiation process with a view to achieving fair and lasting long-term peace in the Middle East based on the well-known UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
The situation in Bolivia remains tense and fraught with new complications.
Unfortunately, clashes between supporters and opponents of the removal of the former head of state from power continue. We strongly condemn the use of violence to solve political problems. As you have noticed, the only consequences of this are chaos, human sacrifice and socioeconomic instability.
We have received information that second deputy senate speaker Jeanine Anez has assumed the interim presidency. We presume that the appointment and most importantly – the legitimacy – of the head of state must clearly fit into the legislative parameters of the country’s Constitution and serve to unite and not divide the nation.
Bolivia needs calm and peaceful dialogue. It is important to restore the state institutions under the constitution. We hope that a responsible approach will also be taken by the international community, both inside and outside the Latin American region.
We confirm with all certainty: Russia is interested in a stable, politically and economically sustainable Latin America, including Bolivia, with which we have close relations of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation. As you know, this is our position of principle.
I would like to share recommendations for Russian nationals in the light of the social and political instability in Bolivia. Due to complicated political developments in the country and the aggravated security situation, which, among other things, highly restricts opportunities for providing consular assistance, trips to this country and transit through its territory pose a great risk.
In this regard, we recommend that Russian citizens postpone planned trips until the tensions subside and [if already there] be extremely cautious while travelling in Bolivia, particularly in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Sucre, Potosi, and Tarija.
We also advise Russians to keep in view possible transport issues, including those concerning domestic and international airlines, and keep in contact with representatives of the corresponding air carriers. They should also check updates on public transport services beforehand.
Russian citizens should also consider that protests and marches may continue, and they may occur unexpectedly, which we have observed lately, and should avoid the locations of mass protests and any involvement in them.
Please check the updates posted on social media and the official accounts of the Russian Foreign Ministry and primarily, on the website of the Russian Embassy in Bolivia, and follow reports by local authorities and the media.
We have received many questions, in particular, an open-ended question from RT on the developments in Chile. The question was worded like this: Protests in Chile where “the Russian trail” was identified earlier, have again turned into riots with arson and marauding. This tense situation has been ongoing for a month. Is there foreign interference or is it internal problems which the parties are unable to resolve so far? As I am giving a comprehensive answer to all the questions asked on this issue, I can say that the situation in Chile remains complicated. The continuing, large-scale anti-government protests there are being caused by underlying internal problems which have been accumulating since Pinochet.
Regarding so called “Russian involvement” in developments in Chile, this speculation is, for some reason, being heard exclusively in the US establishment whereas the Chilean side has neither questions nor complaints about Russia in this connection.
We are aware of some isolated attempts at anti-Russia provocations on Chilean social networks, cases of fabricated internet accounts hosting information in an odd Russian language in support of the unrest. Apparently, this was done to accuse Russia of “interfering” later. However, I think such attempts only discredit those who make them or those who refer to them. We certainly respond to any such material. We draw the attention of Chile’s competent bodies, in accordance with standard procedures, to prevent any misunderstanding in view of the development of our bilateral relations, since obviously such fabrications are trying to complicate relations between our countries.
We have stressed a number of times that Russia, unlike other members of the international community, does not practice interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries. We develop relations with all Latin American countries based on equality and mutual respect, with strict adherence to the UN Charter and other standards of international law. Russia’s interest lies in Latin America being stable and politically and economically sustainable. Only in this way will the region become a pillar of the emerging multipolar world.
We traditionally receive a lot of questions, from Japanese journalists first of all, on tourist trips to the southern Kuril Islands. Every time we say that we will announce such events and then review them.
Under the agreement between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe reached on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka in June 2019, the first pilot trip of 44 Japanese tourists to Kunashir and Iturup took place between October 30 and November 2.
The tourists visited local museums, hot springs and natural landmarks (which we can only envy). Unfortunately, due to bad weather conditions – by the way, that was the reason similar trips were postponed – the duration and programme of the trip had to be cut short. However, both Russia and Japan are satisfied with its results.
The results of this pilot trip were reviewed during the sixth round of Russian-Japanese consultations between deputy foreign ministers (Igor Morgulov and Takeo Mori) on establishing joint economic activities on the southern Kuril Islands held on November 6 in Moscow. An agreement was reached to continue the discussion of further prospects for cooperation in this area at the expert level, including developing the necessary legal and logistic parameters.
I talked about this in such detail because Japanese media are always interested in this.
I will answer the question posed by the Japanese NHK TV channel and say a few words about cooperation between Russia and Japan.
They formulated their question as follows: “How does Russia assess cooperation between our two countries, including through the prism of the contact established with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has remained in office longer than any other Japanese head of government before him? What is the Russian government’s vision of cooperation between our countries in the future?
Moscow believes the dynamic dialogue between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – according to our count, they have met 27 times in various formats – and the trust-based relations between them have provided a strong impetus to the development of relations between Russia and Japan and have identified key areas in which they should develop. These include political, trade, economic, cultural, humanitarian and other areas.
We note with pleasure that this year the two leaders had constructive talks in Moscow in January, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka in June and in September, during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, which Shinzo Abe attends regularly. Unfortunately, they did not meet, as had been planned in advance, during the APEC Summit in Santiago for objective reasons that you are aware of. However, we expect there will be many opportunities to meet at different levels next year. We will keep you informed.
Russia consistently takes a principled approach to promoting ties between the two countries in a comprehensive, mutually beneficial and comprehensive manner to bring them to a qualitatively new level that will not only be in the interests of Russia and Japan but will also help promote peace and stability across the Asia Pacific Region.
I would like to specially note that there are great prospects for developing cooperation in trade and the economy while practical ways to do this are being contemplated by the Russian-Japanese Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economy and the High-Level Working Group that is charged with handling the concrete aspects of the Eight-Point Cooperation Plan.
We are set to develop cooperation with Japan both in traditional and high-technology areas. We believe there is great potential for growth here.
The implementation of ambitious economic projects, such as building a transport link between the mainland and Sakhalin Island that could be further extended to Hokkaido, building a pipeline from Russia to Japan and the creation of an energy bridge could significantly contribute to improving the quality of bilateral relations and finding mutually acceptable solutions, including on sensitive issues.
We intend to further promote successful cooperation in culture and work to make it easier for people in our two countries to visit one another. On more than one occasion we have suggested that Moscow and Tokyo waive visas. We have taken several unilateral measures in this area, including expanding electronic visas for Japanese nationals to several regions in Russia – the Far East, Buryatia and Kaliningrad. From 2021, this visa procedure will be effective across Russia, and I would like to remind you that this is now being finalised.
I would like to comment on the latest meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine which was held in Minsk on November 12 of this year. We generally evaluate the meeting as a positive event.
The main result was the verification by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission of the disengagement of forces and equipment on November 11 in Petrovskoye. Thus, emphasis was placed on the implementation of the agreements reached by the Normandy Four in Berlin in 2016 regarding the written affirmation of the so called Steinmeier formula and the disengagement of forces and equipment in three pilot regions in Stanitsa Luganskaya, Zolotoye and Petrovskoye.
We can state that this is a positive development in preparations for the Normandy format summit.
However, we would like to say that in view of the limited time until the year’s end, there is a growing urgency to extend the Law on the Special Status (the Law on the special order of local self-government in certain regions of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions). The law expires on December 31 of this year. The implementation of the law, including the incorporation of the Steinmeier formula and enforcing it in the Ukrainian Constitution on a permanent basis is a key element of the overall structure of the political settlement in Ukraine’s southeast. Regrettably, the Ukrainian side was unable to provide clarity on this issue during the Contact Group meeting.
The challenges to enforce a ceasefire based on the truce agreement of July 21 between Donetsk and Lugansk on the one side, and Kiev on the other, remain high on the agenda (let me remind you that violations, mainly by Kiev, including the destruction of houses, social facilities and civilian victims continue), along with the disengagement of forces and equipment in new sections, solution to the issues related to the release and exchange of detained persons, and fulfilling the provisions of the Package of Measures regarding the lifting of Ukraine’s blockade of certain districts in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
We have learned about two criminal cases filed in Ukraine against Russian journalist Vladimir Solovyov. According to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the journalist committed a crime by threatening the territorial integrity of the country which entails a prison term of 3 to 12 years.
It is remarkable that the Security Service’s decision was reported by Verkhovna Rada deputy Alexei Goncharenko on his social media page. He earlier posted videos on YouTube with insults and threats towards the Russian journalist.
We view the criminal investigation against a media representative as another example of the persecution of journalists in Ukraine and increasing pressure on them. Obviously, the Ukrainian authorities are taking new steps on the road of further cleansing the information space and increasing the harassment of journalists.
We have forwarded the relevant materials to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir. The respective journalist community of Russia has expressed concern over the SBU decision and has drafted a corresponding inquiry into the Procurator General’s Office of Ukraine. We will also monitor the situation. We expect a clear and categorical response from international agencies.
We have taken notice of recent statements made by the well-known US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt to the effect that “Russia is using religion as part of its hybrid warfare strategy, as a tool to achieve political objectives and spread false narratives.” Of course, we share the concern about some countries’ unacceptable interference in religious matters, but I believe that the US Ambassador has directed his reproach to the wrong party.
This is a special degree of American officials’ cynicism. I would like to remind you that the “achievements” of Geoffrey Pyatt, former US ambassador to Ukraine, included his involvement, and through him, the involvement of the US administration, in a religious schism that has divided Ukraine. We have accumulated piles of documents regarding this. I believe it would be appropriate to remind you about the key statements made by Mr Pyatt and other members of the US Embassy in Ukraine and other US diplomats. We will do this someday.
I would like to remind you that the United States often disregarded international law to attain its geopolitical goals, playing the religious card, which provoked interfaith tensions, and sometimes pitting religious groups against each other, which led to open conflict. Nobody in Washington ever made a secret of this. I would like to remind Mr Pyatt that the US Department of State even has a special person for this, ambassador at large for international religious freedom. All this is taking place within the framework of the “rules-based order,” which Western powers are spreading as a counterbalance to the universally recognised standards of international law. This policy was implemented in the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, North Africa and, of course, Ukraine. The list is quite long. The US diplomacy has numerous achievements in the field of religion. US diplomats are openly urging support for the schismatic religious organisation in Ukraine while giving consultations on purely religious matters to the clerics and civilian authorities in the countries where local Orthodox churches are located. At the same time, Washington has never reprimanded the former Ukrainian president for his strange involvement in religious issues. This is direct interference in religious matters.
On November 6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on this subject following talks with his Greek colleague, Nikos Dendias. He said, in part: “As I understand, it is for the same purpose that American diplomats visited Mount Athos. Leader of the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, publicly stated that it would have been impossible to establish this structure without direct support of the United States.” This is first-hand information, the statement by Metropolitan Epiphanius that disavows Mr Pyatt’s allegations regarding Russia.
The general impression is that the US Department of State only respects the spiritual and moral traditions of the world religions, as well as the people’s right to the freedom of religion, when they do not contradict the interests of Washington’s foreign policy in the given period.
Question: What can you say about the provocation staged by the supporters of Juan Guaido against the Embassy of Venezuela in Brazil during the BRICS summit?
Maria Zakharova: We perceive an attempt by the supporters of the self-proclaimed leader Juan Guaido [whose status remains unclear] to stage a provocation and to seize the Embassy of Venezuela in Brazil as an act that was also timed to coincide with a major international event now taking place in this country and as an attempt to take advantage of the overall regional instability for their own political purposes. Many tasks were set in this connection.
We assume that the situation is now under control, and that such provocations will be thwarted in the future in line with all the existing norms of international law that are called on to guarantee and protect diplomatic and consular property, namely, diplomatic and consular missions.
Every country receiving diplomatic missions of another state has to fulfil obligations under the relevant conventions. No one has abolished these obligations. In a modern world which is obviously experiencing a crisis when it comes to understanding and ethics, an overwhelming majority of countries, if not all of them, still recognise the norms of international law regulating relations between states, the operation of diplomatic missions and rules of conduct with regard to diplomatic and consular personnel and abide by them. All obligations that have been assumed by the states should be unfailingly honoured. I completely agree with your assessment: This is a provocation.
On the other hand, this is not the first attempt by the so-called “self-proclaimed” Venezuelan “anti-authorities” to seize such property. This is being done to legalise their own absolutely illegal existence as some self-proclaimed government agency, to appoint people as their alleged official representatives and to pursue the relevant policy through them. This is 21st century piracy.
Unfortunately, Washington has built the well-trodden path being used by the members of the Venezuelan opposition. As you recall, US authorities had seized Russian diplomatic and consular facilities, as well as the Trade Representation although they belonged to the Russian Federation, the relevant sums of money were paid and Russia unfailingly fulfilled its obligations for decades. Everything was seized and remains under the control of US secret services under absolutely illegal pretexts. I cannot provide any other description. This largely served as an example for others to follow. If some can act illegally, then others will do the same. We know about the “boomerang effect” when such actions are conducted by some parties in their own interests, and later they return to their perpetrators.
Question: Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov confirmed that Russia recognises Jeanine Anez as Bolivia’s interim president. What would be your comment?
Maria Zakharova: It is true that Sergey Ryabkov said when answering questions from journalists that Russia will treat Jeanine Anez as “Bolivia’s leader,” but he went on to add that this will last “until the election takes place.” There has to be clarity on this point in terms of the words we use. We are not talking about recognising what happened in Bolivia as a legitimate process. This is not something we are dealing with here.
We have already shared our perspective with the international community. Let me remind you that Russia expressed its concern with what had happened in Bolivia. In the course of a domestic political crisis in the country the government’s determination to find constructive dialogue-based solutions was wiped out by developments typical of a well-orchestrated government coup. We have not changed our perspective since.
We also took note of the subsequent developments when, unfortunately, senior government officials were removed from office and left the country. You are also aware of the fact that Russia called on all political forces in Bolivia to use their best judgement and show responsibility in order to find a constitutional way out of this situation in the interests of peace and calm, putting government institutions back in control, ensuring the rights of all citizens and promoting the country’s socioeconomic development.
It is against this backdrop that the statement by Sergey Ryabkov must be interpreted.
Question: The authorities in Afghanistan released from prisons three Haqqani network leaders who have close links with the Taliban. What do you think about this step by the Afghani government in terms of promoting national reconciliation in the country?
Maria Zakharova: We have pointed out on numerous occasions that we welcome any real steps by the opposing forces in the Afghan conflict to put an end to hostilities and launch a peace process in Afghanistan. In this context, we view the release of three leaders of the Haqqani network, which is linked to the Taliban, as a gesture of good will by the government of Afghanistan with a view to facilitating progress in the intra-Afghani peace process.
Question: Can you give us the approximate timeline for signing a memorandum that would allow Russian experts to access bio labs in Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t know the timeline. We hope that this will not take too long.
Question: There was a lot of official information on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Armenia. Everyone agrees that this visit with its packed agenda was a success. But there are always things that are left out of the official reporting. What do you think about this? Can it be that something stayed out of the frame? What are your general impressions?
Maria Zakharova: Of course, it is common practice that part of the talks is held behind closed doors. Although the world has become all but transparent, there are certain traditions when it comes to interstate communications. That said, all events on the programme were held in the spirit of total openness and transparency. Nothing should have escaped your eye.
As always, I enjoyed every bit of this visit. I believe it was wonderful that Armenia came up with the idea of holding an exhibition on the shared contribution by our peoples and the Red Army to Victory in the Great Patriotic War, and to have the two foreign ministers speak at this event. This was how the visit started. It ended the following day on the same high note.
I also think that there was a very interesting exchange with the students. Everyone enjoyed it. In my opinion, this is a very promising format since it consists of interacting with young people when anyone can ask a question and receive an answer in an interactive setting. This was an important event, and an interesting and meaningful way to conclude the visit.
Question: At the November 8 briefing, you talked about fake news and the reasonable and shared suspicion concerning James Le Mesurier, who founded the May Day Rescue foundation. As soon as the Monday following the briefing, he fell from a window in his apartment, loaded with sedatives. Can it be that the US-led Western coalition wants to do everything to erase any stark facts and remove any witnesses as it withdraws from Syria, in order to prevent the international community from discovering these facts?
Maria Zakharova: I saw statements on this topic by President of Syria Bashar al-Assad in today’s newswires. He is well placed to know and understand the situation on the ground. This has to do with the question of how people tend to respond to the news.
Everything that is going on right now in the British press is the main and best evidence that the representatives of Western intelligence agencies have a tight grip on these developments, the White Helmets and many other similar stories. I am saying this because everything that appeared instantly in the British press bears all the signs of Western intelligence agencies spreading the corresponding messages that are picked up, for some reason, by the British press. Let me assure you that we looked very carefully into this matter.
Let me draw your attention to a very interesting fact. All the materials are virtually carbon copies, which means that someone provided the core message, a very clear and one-sided one, and pushed it into the British media. For some reason, the British media failed to notice anything besides our November 8 briefing, and did not bother to type in the Russian Foreign Ministry with the name of their former or not former (that remains to be seen) agent (this at least is a fact) into any search engine, and see how many times the Foreign Ministry mentioned the White Helmets and the forces behind them. How come no journalist from even a single British media outlet bothered to spend five or ten minutes on searching for some information or at least checking the facts? The reason is simple. They were not the ones who wrote the reports. Somebody prepared the messages spread by these media outlets in advance. There is so much dirt in everything that has to do with the White Helmets, constantly involving Western and regional intelligence agencies cosying up to terrorist or radical groups. We have pointed to this horrible mix on numerous occasions.
You probably know how many times I have talked about the White Helmets from this podium. You are also probably aware how many times Russian representatives spoke about the White Helmets at the United Nations, including the Security Council and other UN structures. You also know how many times Russia made the corresponding accusations at the UN Office in Geneva, and how many times experts from various agencies and NGOs went to The Hague to talk about the White Helmets. How come the British media have not honoured us with even a single publication on this topic, considering that for several years now the Russian Foreign Ministry has been highlighting the clear bond and connection between the White Helmets, the intelligence agencies and terrorist organisations? The reason is that they were not asked to do so. And now they got this request. This is what propaganda is all about. But this is a horrible type of propaganda. It goes beyond promoting political views or philosophy and serves to cover up multiple crimes.
As for the British media’s professionalism, we remember all too well the events at the OPCW headquarters in The Hague that were attended by the actual participants in the incidents staged by the White Helmets. These people were ready to answer any question right away and to give any interviews, be it as a group or individually. This did not stir up anyone, least of all the British and US media. They did not attend these events, refrained from reporting on them and when they did, they did it in a way that made it virtually impossible to understand what the original source actually meant. These actions and publications are direct evidence of the dirt and permissiveness in the relations between Western countries, their affiliated would-be humanitarian NGOs and radicals in the region. In this case the media, primarily the UK media, serve as the mouthpieces of these undertakings by covering up these dirty tricks. This invariably requires a comprehensive approach. We remember a number of cases when both the UK officials and the local media spoke in a single voice.
Let me give you another spectacular example. Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces Nick Carter has recently published an article in The Telegraph titled “Reckless Russia could accidentally trigger a third world war.” He also took the liberty to make these claims in a televised interview with the BBC. This is all part of just another planned campaign. I recognise that we have spoken at length about how today’s reality is similar to the Cold War, but as strange as this may sound I think we have never mentioned the Forrestal Syndrome.
This notion took shape in the West after former US Secretary of Defence died under strange circumstances. He fell from a window in a naval medical centre in Maryland. You may ask how he got there? He was not wounded on the battlefield when fighting the Russians (it was in the late 1940s), or taking part in military drills. He was mentally ill. This is an established fact. He was psychotic and he was treated for this condition. He would shout and keep repeating the same sentence over and over: “The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming. They're right around. I've seen Russian soldiers.” It was this insanity that brought the former Defence Secretary to a mental hospital. Today, healthy people are being infected with this syndrome. The publications in the British press are designed to give the Forrestal Syndrome to healthy, normal people. This is obvious.
This case has been studied extensively in literature, and I believe it to be highly relevant. The article by Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces Nick Carter was written along the same lines. This is the same Forrestal Syndrome all over again. The only difference is that it is imposed on all of us. We are being forced to believe that Russian soldiers are all around us, as James Forrestal used to say. They are everywhere, and they are coming. The idea of the Russian threat can be expressed in different ways, and has multiple iterations, providing a convenient and effective pretext to the Anglo-Saxon military lobby in a number of areas, such as justifying dubious foreign policy initiatives, or building various coalitions around the notion of having to counter the Russians who are everywhere and “are coming.” The same applies to increasing defence spending that has to be justified at a time when everyone is focused on the environment, demography, migration, etc. We have to remember what has already been studied by historians. I encourage you to read articles about James Forrestal. I’m sure you will enjoy them. I have read quite a few of these articles lately, and found all of them to my liking.
Question: How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the reports about the two members of the Armenian Catholic clergy in Syria shot dead by ISIS terrorists, according to preliminary data?
Maria Zakharova: On November 11, Pastor of the Armenian Catholic Community of Qamishli in northeastern Syria Priest Hovsep Petoyan and his father were shot dead while on pastoral duties as they were traveling by a car to Deir ez-Zor. ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder through their propaganda mouthpiece, the Amaq News Agency.
We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims, and to the Armenian community in Syria.
We are outraged by the regular acts of terror and violence against Christians in areas outside the control of the Syrian government. Such brutal crimes indicate that terrorist groups continue to feel at ease in these territories, groups that have not yet been destroyed and that have to be fought in earnest rather than just talk, something we endlessly see from our Western partners. They are hiding behind various reasons explaining why they cannot raise the energy and “finish off” these terrorist groups. At the same time, they are coming up with excuses to justify crimes, looting, including of natural resources.
We are quite sure that it will not be possible to put an end to terrorism and extremism in Syria until the legitimate government in Damascus controls the entire territory of the country, ensuring its sovereignty and territorial integrity, stability and constitutional order, guaranteeing a peaceful, safe life and good living standards for all Syrians regardless of their religion.
Question: There are new reports on the internet from the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that indicate Russia's involvement in the Malaysian Boeing crash in eastern Ukraine. In particular, they confirmed that the militia in Donetsk had received direct instructions from the Russian security forces – the FSB, the GRU and the Ministry of Defence. Do you have any comments to make on this?
Maria Zakharova: We have lived through all this before: these reports surface occasionally; some turn out to be fake right away and others are not confirmed. They have studied the photos and videos before. However, there is a large layer of information, of material evidence, including the wreckage of the aircraft, that has not been collected or taken into consideration – there is no interest. The UN Security Council was convened immediately after the crash, and made the relevant statements and adopted a resolution that clearly spells out how the investigation should be conducted. Has anyone referred to the Security Council since? Has anyone implemented the agreements that were collectively reached? The process is held behind the scenes, non-transparent, with various evidence, countries or parameters included or excluded from that process at a whim. It is very difficult to figure out what is actually happening, yet all the accusations and conclusions were made almost immediately several years ago.
So what are we talking about here? There was routine work to do, and it should have been done within the international legal framework. It is the 21st century, and we are naturally relying on the concepts developed during the 20th century such as international law, accident investigation, information exchange, and official international intermediary organisations specialising in such things. Why was this case treated differently? That’s the big question. Unfortunately, we know the answer: because the decision, the verdict was passed right away, and the subsequent efforts were made to fit in the evidence to support the chosen tactics of prosecution, from the JIT perspective. Russia has always been open to work on this matter to uncover the essence and the truth. We have handed over a huge amount of material. Scientific experiments have been carried out, unprecedented in scale, cost, resources and capabilities involved, not by some third parties calling themselves research centres, but by recognised official science centres. All of this went down the drain. For the most part, our partners dismissed those results as immaterial.
I am not an expert on this topic, of course, but even as a lay person, I just cannot grasp how it can be that large parts of the fuselage and other fragments of the plane are still there on the site, several years after the crash. We all have to do with cars, one way or another, drivers or motorists. We know only too well how important all the fragments, witnesses and photographs are if there is an accident, even a minor one. And this is a plane crash that happened under unclear circumstances. How could the wreckage just be left there? And all along, they keep browsing the social media for information they later pass off as evidence. We keep being fed information that does not come from experts – always from some self-appointed research websites and endless investigations by non-professionals. Why don’t we consider their opinions from an unprofessional point of view as well?
The fact is that no one has yet commented on the main problem – why the huge fragments of the fuselage, again in unprofessional language, are still at the crash site. This is not a question of funding or of any technical inability to remove these fragments; in the 21st century, this is not a problem.
We have seen so many reports, so many opinions. But unfortunately, the list of questions is now longer rather than shorter.
Question: Turkey is preparing to return terrorists from Syria. How, in your opinion, should other countries respond? Should they agree to accommodate these people or not? Will Russia accept its citizens who were detained in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: Syria is a state. Its territory is not a field or some vacuum. This is a state with all the relevant features. Syrian legislation remains valid on the territory of this state. First of all, it is necessary to coordinate all actions linked with terrorists who have been detained and arrested and are local prisons in Syria, with the authorities of this country. Their detention and arrest should be qualified accordingly, these people should be singled out and identified, and it is also necessary to find out what legal proceedings can be applied in this particular case. This is exactly how we are working with Damascus in various areas. The situation is very complicated, and a lot of people were involved in the hostilities. We are talking about terrorists and people involved in various activities. It is necessary to make a decision in every case. We have discussed this. Any civilised discussions of some supra-national method for resolving this are also essential. This is a matter of activating available institutions and mechanisms of international law.
Question: What does the Foreign Ministry think about the arrest of Russian citizens, suspected of transporting illegal immigrants, off the coast of Rhodes Island?
Maria Zakharova: We are dealing with this matter. We have read media stories, and journalists have contacted us. The Russian Embassy in Greece and our specialists at the Ministry’s Central Administration are addressing this matter. If we receive any information that can be shared, we will certainly do this.
Question: The media reported the other day that Russian citizen Maria Lazareva who received a 15-year prison sentence in Kuwait on trumped-up charges is hiding in a foreign embassy. Can you tell us, in which embassy she is staying, and what the Foreign Ministry will do to secure her release? Will it be possible to grant diplomatic immunity to her?
Maria Zakharova: We assist all Russian citizens who face problems abroad for various reasons. Considering the fact that Ms Lazareva is a Russian citizen, we are assisting her via the Russian Embassy. We also maintain very close contacts with the local authorities on this matter.
Question: About a month ago now, I mentioned a problem with a memorial plaque honouring Garegin Nzhdeh on the territory of an Armenian church in Armavir. At that time, State Duma Deputy Leonid Kalashnikov promised that it would be removed. Yesterday, Alexey Vinogradov, a deputy of the local City Duma, entered the church premises and smeared the plaque with black paint in an act of vandalism. The Embassy of Armenia has issued a statement. According to media reports, there are plans to stage a protest near the Russian Embassy in Armenia tomorrow. Could you comment on this situation?
Maria Zakharova: Law enforcement agencies started investigating the incident after these reports appeared on November 13. With due consideration for the relevant response by the Embassy of Armenia in Moscow, we are following these developments. First of all, I would like to confirm that the law enforcement agencies are investigating all the circumstances.
Question: I would like to supplement the question of my Associated Press colleague and to specify the report. This implies wiretapped telephone conversations featuring the voices of Alexander Boroday and Vladislav Surkov who are discussing how state agencies in the self-proclaimed republics should work. How will Moscow respond after studying this material?
Maria Zakharova: To rule out this question in the future, I can say straight away that I did not see this publication. This is something absurd. You and I are starting to discuss a matter that should somehow be confirmed and analysed by experts. Don’t you think so? We live in a world which is fighting fake news, and, at the same time, we assume that fake news has repeatedly been published on this subject. One or two months later, experts duly assessed such news. What do you want? You are telling us to voice a political assessment of matters that should first be studied by experts, to say the least, and everything else should follow after that.
Question: Several days ago, State Duma deputies said they would introduce amendments to the law on foreign agents in the media to extend its provisions to private individuals. Are they doing this in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry? What is the essence of this law if all foreign journalists, including those declared to be foreign agents in Russia, are required to receive accreditation at the Foreign Ministry?
Maria Zakharova: I believe you are confusing two issues. Our agencies representing different branches of power certainly consult the Foreign Ministry in the case of foreign journalists and the representative offices of media outlets and foreign NGOs. The State Duma consults the Foreign Ministry regarding everything it does including all its draft laws related to the operation of various foreign offices, from diplomatic missions to NGOs.
As for the second question, I believe you are confusing journalistic work with State Duma proposals. First of all, you should ask those who formulated the draft laws about their essence and meaning. The Foreign Ministry did not initiate this law but only provided expert analysis of its specific aspects and provisions. Anyway, this matter is within the competence of the legislative authorities. I do not understand the connection between the Foreign Ministry accreditation for journalists and foreign agent status. I see no connection here.
Question: The thing is that private individuals working for media outlets that have been identified as foreign agents could also be declared foreign agents, if I understand the draft law correctly. Why do this if the Foreign Ministry knows the names of all the foreign journalists working in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry knows, but people outside it do not. This should answer your question: so that not only the Foreign Ministry knows about them.
Since you have raised this question, I would like to say that regional officials, our colleagues from other agencies and the population in general often tell us that they have been asked for interviews by journalists who say they are working for a certain media outlet or are heads of their outlet’s office. Where can we certify that this information is true? They show us their accreditation, but we do not work for the Interior Ministry so cannot be sure whether this is authentic or not. Are they really working for the outlet as claimed? A long time ago, the Foreign Ministry published a list of the chiefs of foreign media outlets’ bureaux on its website, which included the contact information of these bureaux provided at the time of accreditation. This annoyed many foreign journalists, who said we had violated their right of privacy by publishing their personal data. But where else can people, including professionals, find out if they have been contacted by a foreign journalist? It is very simple in the case of Russian journalists – you simply phone their media outlet to request the necessary information. But what about journalists whose headquarters and editorial offices are located abroad? Phoning our media outlets is simple, but when you call a foreign outlet, you are connected to the call centre or, at the best, to an answering machine.
But back to your question: I cannot tell you why the State Duma is doing this; it is a question for the State Duma. But I have told you why the Foreign Ministry published a list of the heads of foreign media offices in Russia. This alone provoked numerous questions from these media outlets, although this is a fundamental principle of openness. It can be used to fight fake news, when there are details of who to call to ask for additional information or, if the fake news concerns them, to clarify the matter.
I believe that this draft law has set out everything very clearly. If you have any questions regarding it, you should contact the legislative authorities. I would like to point out that all draft laws on foreign agencies and their offices [in Russia] are coordinated with the Foreign Ministry. As you know, the Foreign Ministry plays a coordinating role on matters of foreign policy and international affairs. This also concerns various branches of power, including the legislative branch as a whole.
Question: Our readers are following the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. This format is already developing into a specific tool. Does the Foreign Ministry consider this tool for future “treatment” of countries torn apart by Western colour revolutions, that is apply the Syrian experience in Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries visited by “colour revolution experts” from the Western coalition?
Maria Zakharova: I would rather not rely so much on the experience of the Committee, as on common sense. The situation in Syria should serve as an example for many countries and regions, only not from the moment the Committee began to work, but from the very beginning. Just consider how much time has passed from the emergence of the idea to the moment the Committee was actually formed! And if we take the very onset of the crisis, these same tools – the constitutional committee and any other format of dialogue involving the different sides – could have been launched back then, without such dramatic consequences, casualties and damage. That is what we have been talking about all along. If you rewind and go back seven years, open the Foreign Ministry website and look through the statements made by Sergey Lavrov, his deputies, our ambassadors, this is exactly what they talk about – the need to start a dialogue with the representatives of the opposition. This is also what has not been done, which cost Syria eight years and hundreds of thousands of lives (no one has yet been able to estimate how many people were killed, wounded, injured, internally displaced, how many migrants – I think this is very difficult to calculate). You know the amount of funds that will be needed to restore Syria. The figures are enormous.
This is exactly what we initially proposed – an opportunity for combining the efforts of representatives of the opposition and beginning a dialogue. What did we hear in response? Bashar al-Assad must go, and then everyone will sit down at the negotiating table. So we asked why Bashar al-Assad was hampering the process; they told us he was illegitimate and no one would negotiate with him or his official representatives; the people and the army no longer recognised his authority. More than eight years have passed. At the cost of enormous losses, everyone has eventually come to the same thing – they sat down at a common table and began to talk. So it is not so much the Committee’s experience that needs to be replicated, useful as it is, as the practice of listening to those who talk reason before an open bloody phase of a conflict even starts.
Question: This is about glorification of Nazi accomplices and the memorial plaque to Garegin Nzhdeh in Armavir removed after seven years. Why was it installed there in the first place? How does the Foreign Ministry assess the glorification of a Nazi accomplice in a Russian city?
Maria Zakharova: We expressed how we felt about this at previous briefings more than a year ago now. You can find out who installed the plaque from the reports of the relevant media. As to what happened to it, I just answered this question.
Question: France Press reports that the new authorities of Bolivia recognised Juan Guaido as President of Venezuela. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess this?
Maria Zakharova: We assess the developments in Bolivia as a situation where elections should be held. After that, it will be possible to talk about any legal authority, as Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov already said today. Voting should take place, following which the authorities will be elected, and if all goes well, they will then establish relations and recognise or not recognise other parties. At this stage I think, such reports cannot be considered from an international law perspective.