Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 31, 2016
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova Andrei Galbur’s visit to Moscow
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with President of the Senate of France Gérard Larcher
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Austrian Minister for European, International and Integration Affairs Sebastian Kurz
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in tripartite ministerial meeting in Baku
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in CIS Foreign Ministers Council meeting
- Upcoming Russia-ASEAN senior officials meeting
- The developing situation in Syria
- Reaction to liberation of Palmyra
- First round of indirect inter-Syrian talks in Geneva
- Memorandum of mutual understanding regarding our cooperation with UNESCO in the protection and restoration of Syria’s cultural heritage
- Main results of 31st UNHRC session
- Forthcoming session of UNESCO Executive Board
- The Ukrainian lawyers defending Russian citizens Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev
- Ukrainian official comments on prospects for conflict settlement in Donbass
- Washington’s refusal to release US satellite photos to the father of a US MH17 victim
- Plans of Polish authorities to remove Soviet-era memorials dating to World War II period
- News from the theatre of the information war
- The anti-Russian campaign in the UK
- Excerpts from answers to media questions:
- Russian-US relations
- The Kurdish issue in Syrian settlement
- The Roads of Victory motor rally from Moscow to Berlin
- Russia-US interaction in Syria
- The UK and information warfare
- Mikhail Bogdanov’s planned visits to Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar
- The Iranian missile programme
- The Russian-Romanian joint commission on history
- Vojislav Seselj’s acquittal
- The possibility of exchanging Nadezhda Savchenko
- The liberation of Palmyra
I’ll start with the schedule of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
During the negotiations on April 4, Mr Lavrov and Andrei Galbur, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, plan to review opportunities for enhancing multi-faceted Russian-Moldovan cooperation. This is the first visit to Moscow by a representative of the new Government of the Republic of Moldova, which was formed in January 2016 after the domestic political crisis.
The sides are supposed to invigorate bilateral relations on the basis of the principles laid out in the 2001 Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation. They will also exchange opinions on ways of restoring the dynamics of inter-parliamentary cooperation, as well as humanitarian, intersectoral and other contacts.
They will discuss the preparations for a regular meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation.
As part of the continued dialogue on migration issues, the Russian side intends to denounce as unacceptable Chisinau’s recent practice of imposing bans and restrictions on the entry of Russian citizens, including journalists, into Moldova.
Negotiations will allow the sides to discuss regional issues, ways of enhancing the efficiency of the Commonwealth of Independent States and using the potential of the Intergovernmental Foundation for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation.
Naturally, they will focus on developments in the Transnistria settlement, taking due account of the slowdown in the negotiation process and lack of progress in promoting confidence-building measures between Chisinau and Tiraspol.
During the visit, the sides will sign a plan of consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova for 2016-2017.
On April 4, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Gérard Larcher, President of the Senate of France, who will pay a working visit to Moscow.
During the conversation they plan to discuss topical issues in Russian-French relations with an emphasis on deepening the potential of bilateral cooperation in different areas, as well as some of the most urgent international issues.
This visit to Russia by Mr Larcher, his second in recent times, is yet further evidence of the invigoration of Russian-French parliamentary contacts. It confirms France’s growing interest in the comprehensive development of bilateral political dialogue.
On April 5, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to have talks with Austrian Minister for European, International and Integration Affairs Sebastian Kurz, who will accompany Austrian President Heinz Fischer during his official visit to Russia.
There will be an exchange of opinions on current international issues, including the fight against terrorism, a political settlement in Syria, the situation in the Middle East, prospects for the resolution of the Ukraine conflict, and interaction in the OSCE in light of Austria’s forthcoming chairmanship in 2017.
Certain issues of bilateral interaction between Russia and Austria will be addressed, including cultural and humanitarian cooperation and historical and memorial issues.
On April 7, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Baku to attend a meeting of the Russian, Azerbaijani and Iranian foreign ministers.
The parties will exchange opinions on regional cooperation issues of mutual interest. In particular, they will address promising transport projects and multilateral interaction in the Caspian region.
On April 8, a meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council will take place in Moscow. The event acquires special importance in connection with the 25th anniversary of the CIS, which is marked this year.
The ministers plan to address various aspects of developing wide-ranging cooperation and deepening foreign policy coordination in the framework of the CIS, and will exchange opinions on current regional and global issues.
Enhancing the Commonwealth’s effectiveness and adapting its activity to the current level of multilateral interaction should be a key issue. The agenda also includes important aspects of developing cooperation in healthcare, culture and youth business. In the context of strengthening defence partnership, decisions will be made concerning mine-clearing personnel training.
They will also consider the implementation of the plan of multilateral inter-ministerial consultations in the CIS framework for 2015 and approve a corresponding plan for 2016.
On April 5, a Russia-ASEAN senior officials meeting is due to take place in Moscow, chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.
The agenda includes current international and regional issues, as well as an array of issues related to Russia-ASEAN cooperation with a focus on preparations for the upcoming Russia-ASEAN anniversary summit in May in Sochi.
We are noting that the regime of cessation of hostilities in Syria in accordance with the Joint Statement of the United States and the Russian Federation as Co-Chairs of the ISSG, introduced over a month ago on February 22, is overall being observed. This has helped to considerably improve the overall situation in the areas where the truce is valid, and is easing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the affected population. Yet, local conflicts with terrorist groups are taking place in such provinces as Hama, Homs, Deir ez-Zor, Hasaka, and Aleppo.
On March 27, the Syrian army with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces secured an important victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) group and liberated from terrorists the city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The videos showing ISIS militants’ acts of vandalism have been shown by media worldwide. As is known, the almost 2,000-year-old antiquities of Palmyra, which had survived many previous wars, have been destroyed by ISIS barbarians. Historical artefacts were sold on black markets, public executions were held in the Roman amphitheatre of Palmyra, and open-air museum items were blown up.
Russia will provide assistance to the Syrian government in mine clearance of historical sites in Palmyra and its restoration.
I would like to draw your attention to the discussion held in the past several years as to who stayed in the territory of Syria and the claims that there were no terrorists, just the moderate opposition. Later, it was acknowledged that there are terrorists in the territory of Syria. But what happened in Palmyra (professional mine-laying of the city, which will complicate the possible demining work and preserving its architectural sites to the utmost) testifies to the fact that the people who did this were not going to live in that country. They are no moderate opposition and not representatives of the opposition groups. I will say it again – these people were not going to live in Syria. It is impossible to live where the country’s gem becomes a two- or three-layered minefield. They did not consider Palmyra their land.
Certainly surprising is the somewhat restrained reaction of certain influential members of the international community to the return of Palmyra under the control of the legitimate Syrian authorities, who made every effort to preserve this iconic historical site.
I would like to note the ongoing large collaborative efforts from the Syrian government in providing unhindered access of humanitarian aid to those in need.
Now, a few words about what, indeed, surprised and baffled us all – the reaction to the liberation of Palmyra. Notably, the reaction across the globe was strange at a time when the issue concerned, in fact, a turning point in fighting ISIS in Syria. It was important from all perspectives, including the fact that it was a symbolic and the biggest victory in the past few years. The reaction of the international community to this victory was belated. One can’t help but get a feeling that the liberation of Palmyra caught everyone by surprise, and was totally unexpected. Perhaps, no one thought it could ever happen? Of course, this reaction seemed weird to us in some cases.
Speaking at a US State Department briefing, its Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner experienced considerable difficulties as he tried to answer reporters’ questions about Washington’s assessment of Palmyra having been retaken by the Syrian troops with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces. He talked at length about the beginning of the operation to liberate Palmyra almost being a violation of the cessation of hostilities. Then he said that “it’s not a great choice… you know… which is worse… DAESH or the regime...” The reasons for ISIS taking root in certain parts of Syria were accounted for by the Assad regime creating a colossal power vacuum. It was strange to hear all that in a situation where the Syrian army had the upper hand over the terrorist groups, not over the moderate opposition but namely the terrorists, and everyone recognises this.
There’s another angle to this as well. It’s not up to the Americans to talk about the power vacuum, which gave rise to terrorism. In that case, we should go back in time and start with Iraq. What was done in Iraq and later in Libya has created a power vacuum of such proportions, according to Mr Toner, that has stricken all the people in that region, as well as the Europeans, still reeling from the shock.
The United Kingdom offered a very unusual reaction. We witnessed an attempt to belittle the role of the anti-terrorism efforts of Damascus and Moscow, which supports the official Syrian army in its fight against terrorists. Failing to take note even of the statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in which he welcomed the liberation of Palmyra, the Foreign Office spokesman limited his remarks to saying that even though the efforts against ISIS are welcome, the Assad regime bears the bulk of responsibility for the conflict. This begs the question: are you in favour of it or against it?
By the way, the British media was actively promoting the idea that the Russian airstrikes during the liberation of the city could have caused major damage to historic sites, and it’s a miracle that this didn’t happen. That is, there were no airstrikes whatsoever, but if there were, they could have caused damage. This is nothing short of innovative reporting reminiscent of an “information futures contract”.
At first, we couldn’t figure out why our Western colleagues react so weirdly and so late. We thought that this situation may have caught them by surprise, and they're bracing themselves for ways to deal with it. But then we realised that this is a deliberate policy. Of course, it culminated in the West’s decision to block the UNSC statement on Syrian Palmyra liberated from terrorists, as we mentioned yesterday. This, of course, is unprecedented. They do block things, no question about that, but blocking a greeting statement regarding liberation of the city from the terrorists is something unheard of.
This indicates that our Western partners are not interested in liberating Syria from the terrorists (well, they are interested, but in the context of their fleeting political interests), or in promoting the peace process without looking back at the overall political situation. It seems to me that they will be uncomfortable talking about the protection of cultural values and many other things now. What we see behind this is a geopolitical game of colossal proportions.
This surprised and disappointed us. This also goes to show that there’s an abyss separating purported goals and true intentions.
On March 24, the first round of indirect inter-Syrian talks under the auspices of the UN ended in Geneva. They are due to continue on April 11.
We act on the premise that as the objective of eliminating the seat of terrorism on Syrian soil is achieved, favourable conditions are provided for the progress of the political settlement in Syria. We note the importance of faithful compliance with the letter of the Geneva communiqué of June 30, 2012, ISSG statements and UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Regarding the principle of the broadest possible representation of the opposition at the talks, it is, without a doubt, an important and relevant component.
We reiterate that the separation of opposition groups due to the preferences of particular external parties as key negotiators is not conducive to the success of Geneva contacts. It will be important to form as soon as possible a representative opposition delegation that will directly conduct constructive talks with the Syrian government delegation in the interest of bringing about a political settlement of the crisis in the country based on the fundamental decisions made in the framework of the ISSG and the UN Security Council.
The exclusion of certain forces that enjoy support and influence in Syria, for example, the Kurds, from the discussion of issues related to Syria’s future statehood, as we have repeatedly stated, is not conducive to the stability of talks and provokes unilateral steps, as was the case with the declaration of the federalisation of northeastern Syria.
As our colleagues indulge in political haggling, assessing the results of the liberation of Palmyra, we are going ahead with practical steps along these lines. A few days ago we received from the UNESCO Secretariat a memorandum of mutual understanding regarding Russia’s cooperation with UNESCO in the protection and restoration of Syria’s cultural heritage.
We are presently working on this document. It will be signed by the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. The document is expected to be signed in the near future at UNESCO headquarters in Paris during the 199th session of the UNESCO Executive Board that will open on April 4.
On March 24, the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council ended in Geneva.
After a month of intense work, over 40 resolutions were adopted and decisions made, a number of special procedures were established, 11 themed, including high-level discussions were held, and dialogues with special HRC mechanisms and the UN high commissioner for human rights took place.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took part in a high-level segment, his policy statement reflecting our human rights priorities.
The Russian-initiated high-level discussion dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the adoption of international covenants on human rights was a valuable contribution to the session’s work. The discussion reaffirmed Russia’s active role in promoting a constructive and unifying human rights project on the international arena, which was highly appraised by states, UN members and civil society.
During the session, the Russian delegation continued to uphold the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states, the unacceptability of unilateral enforcement measures and commitment to the rule of law, and also advocated the invigoration of the fight against racism, neo-Nazism and ethnic and religious intolerance, protection of ethnic minorities, reducing statelessness and promoting human rights through sport and Olympic ideals.
The Russian draft resolution on the integrity of the judicial system was approved by consensus. It is aimed at ensuring everyone’s right to a fair and public trial by a competent, independent and impartial court, duly established on the basis of law. The resolution’s wording makes it possible to invigorate joint efforts to prevent illegitimate methods of inquiry and investigation and the use of “closed” detention facilities for keeping suspects in custody without a trial for unlimited periods – in other words, to exclude precedents such as the existence of the Guantanamo prison and secret CIA prisons.
Important amendments were incorporated into the council’s updated resolution on human rights and sport, which is traditionally co-sponsored by Russia. These include an emphasis on the independence of sport, as well as the impartial application of anti-corruption and anti-doping measures and preventing vandalism and violence at sport events.
The work on the resolution regarding the rights of the child made it possible to reflect the issue of traditional family values and formalise our approaches towards the legitimacy of restricting information than can affect a child’s psychological development.
The Russian delegation emphasised the unacceptability of double standards in addressing the human rights situation in Ukraine, stressing the need for a thorough investigation of gross violations and crimes on the part of Ukrainian security forces and decisively condemned Kiev’s inaction regarding the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Russian representatives also expressed concern over the human rights violations in a number of EU countries, the existence of mass statelessness in Latvia and Estonia, the continuing trends towards declining media pluralism and the unfolding campaign to suppress dissent in the Baltic countries, Ukraine and Turkey. They pointed to serious human rights problems in the United States, including torture, arbitrary executions and other issues.
The vote on the resolution concerning the situation in Syria showed that the awareness of positive trends in Syria is growing in the international community. The number of states that supported the resolution declined considerably.
On the whole, the session reaffirmed what is, unfortunately, the HRC’s overpoliticised character of work – something that Russia will continue to oppose in collaboration with its colleagues. Our prime objective is to free human rights issues of political influence.
The 199th session of the UNESCO Executive Board will open in Paris on April 4. 58 member states of the UNESCO governing body will be in attendance, including the Russian Federation. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov will head the Russian delegation, which will include representatives of key ministries – the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Sport, as well as various Russian NGOs.
The session’s agenda will consist of 26 items, including a report on implementing the programme endorsed by the UNESCO General Conference, support for the drafting of a UNESCO statutory document on open educational resources, and a draft strategy on technical and professional education, to name a few.
The participants are expected to discuss a Russia-initiated proposal to help the Syrian Arab Republic restore the World Heritage List archaeological monuments of Palmyra.
Russia’s draft resolution resolutely condemns the deliberate criminal destruction and looting of Syria’s cultural heritage by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups and notes the large-scale efforts of the Syrian Government and authorities, Russia and many other states to save world heritage and other culturally valuable sites on Syrian territory.
The draft appeals to the UNESCO Director-General to personally control the inspection and restoration of these sites in Palmyra and monitor the developments in this area with a view to sending an international mission of experts to assess the damage done immediately after ensuring the security of these sites. This on-site assessment will become the foundation for elaborating a specific plan for restoration works in coordination with the Syrian Government. Importantly, during a March 27 telephone conversation with the Russian President, UNESCO Director- General Irina Bokova said she expects Russia to confirm the formation of favourable conditions for the experts tasked with launching UNESCO’s mission in Palmyra.
The draft resolution recommends the UNESCO Director-General to ensure broad international participation and coordination in restoring Palmyra, primarily of those states that are taking a real part in liberating Syria from terrorists and arranging peaceful life in the country and the operation of the UN and its institutions and other partner organisations.
Russia suggests that measures on restoring Palmyra should be given priority in the currently drafted plan on the Strategy for Reinforcing UNESCO's Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism in the Event of Armed Conflict. Russia also proposed that the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund should provide money for this purpose.
A few days ago, the media published a video distributed by Ukraine’s Main Military Prosecutor’s Office, which shows Ukrainian lawyer Yury Grabovsky, who was recently found dead, promising, allegedly voluntarily, to give up the case of former Russian serviceman Alexander Aleksandrov. You can see from this video that Grabovsky was forced to say this by those who didn’t want him to carry on his active and unbiased defence of our compatriot.
We’ve taken note of the fate of another Ukrainian lawyer, Oksana Sokolovskaya, who defends Russian citizen Yevgeny Yerofeyev, who is being tried in the same case with Aleksandrov. When Sokolovskaya addressed her client’s case professionally and objectively, Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies immediately began focusing their attention on her and several months later were ready to denounce her activity as practically criminal. This makes one ask why Sokolovskaya, a state-appointed lawyer with all the necessary approvals and who had passed all professional tests and received positive reviews from the leaders of the Kiev Bar Council, agreed to defend a Russian citizen in a trial of major importance for Ukraine? Unfortunately, we are unlikely to receive an answer to this question.
The death of Yury Grabovsky could have remained unnoticed if not for the persecution of Oksana Sokolovskaya. If not for the persecution of these two lawyers, one could see [Grabovsky’s death] as an accident. But this is not an accident but, unfortunately, a system under which those who do their job professionally are pressured, persecuted and harassed. We are not talking about who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad. What I mean is there are generally recognised standards for how lawyers practice law, standards that were not invented in Russia and that Ukraine has no right to invalidate. Under these international standards, lawyers cannot be persecuted and no actions, such as those we are seeing in Ukraine, may be taken against them.
The situation with lawyers and many other citizens of Ukraine and other countries, who are being persecuted in Ukraine, shows that there’s no real justice in Ukraine and lives are not guaranteed by the Ukrainian state.
This makes one recall Nadezhda Savchenko’s trial in Russia, which ended last week. Her lawyers were not only not restricted in their professional activities but could act absolutely freely. I’ve not heard executive or any other officials making any threats against them or harassing them or otherwise attacking them. Even when these lawyers staged provocations, the [Russian] state did nothing that could be interpreted as pressure or persecution of Savchenko’s defence team.
When our foreign colleagues say that Savchenko’s trial in Russia was unfair, unjust and illegal, I want to ask them why nothing of the kind is being said about the murder of Grabovsky. Why have our Western colleagues not demanded that the real murders of the Russian journalists be found? Why do they continue to make one statement after another about Savchenko’s innocence? We haven’t heard or seen them do anything in regard to our journalists. We urge them to be objective, not to be embarrassed to give an objective and appropriate assessment of what is happening with Ukrainian lawyers defending Russian citizens in Ukraine. We must not leave unnoticed the arbitrariness that is developing into state policy in Ukraine.
I don’t want you to think that I’m making unsubstantiated statements when I speak about the reactions of Western countries to the murder of Yury Grabovsky. They issued cynical statements, and our British colleagues went even further than the others. Frankly, I couldn’t believe it, but here is proof.
An anonymous source in the British Foreign Office said in response to our question that the death of Yury Grabovsky is an internal criminal case, and that they don’t comment on issues that have no relation to Britain or British citizens. This is a disgrace. Tell me now, when did Savchenko become a UK citizen? According to your logic, you only comment on incidents involving Her Majesty’s subjects. Does this mean that everyone for whom the UK Foreign Office or the UK Foreign Secretary show concern automatically become British subjects? Or did I miss something?
The reaction by Washington and Brussels was confined to expressing concern over reports on the killing of a lawyer, saying that they expect the Ukrainian authorities to share more details with them on the investigation into this crime and that it be carried out in line with the highest international standards. What high international standards are they talking about when referring to the current situation in Ukraine? What high international standards underpinned the investigation by Kiev of the sniper killings in Maidan Square, the Odessa and Mariupol tragedies and many other crimes?
Against this background, we were surprised by the statement by the Special Advisor to the Council of Europe Secretary General for Ukraine, Christos Giakoumopoulos, who said that “the intimidation and murder of criminal defence lawyers is a serious affront on justice and fair trial principles, embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights. Lawyers must be protected by the state in carrying out their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. They shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.” There are no truer words.
It is true that defence lawyers can be killed or be subject to harassment in any country. What matters here is how the state responds to it, how it assesses the situation, whether it condemns such actions and calls them unacceptable, whether it condemns them in the strongest possible terms and commits to investigating such crimes.
The Special Advisor to the Council of Europe Secretary General for Ukraine, Christos Giakoumopoulos, urged the Ukrainian authorities to carry out an efficient, effective and prompt investigation into the murder of the lawyer and provide the latter’s colleague, Oksana Sokolovskaya, who is defending the other Russian detainee as mentioned earlier today, effective protection in accordance with a court decision of March 21, 2016.
I think that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov summed up this situation in a very concise and succinct manner:
“The reaction by the Ukrainian media to the murder of lawyer Yuri Grabovski was cynical and abominable. Not a single word of sympathy or condolences, not a single word condemning the murder or expressing indignation.” This goes to show that when it is a question of scrutinising, for example, the statements by Russian officials, words are taken out of context, and we are constantly facing accusations. But when a lawyer of a defendant in a high-profile case in the spotlight of the international community is murdered, the Ukrainian media goes wild. Just think about what Mr Azarov said. What he said was very succinct and, as I see it, unbiased. By the way, he also said that “the electoral blindness of the Western countries has its boundaries. Maybe the killing of prominent lawyer Yuri Grabovski will finally provide them a glimpse of what is really going on in Kiev.”
I would like to conclude my remarks on this topic by referring you to the statements by international NGOs. They are less biased, unlike those coming from the Ukrainian authorities. Specifically, Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemned the lawyer’s killing, linking the motives behind the killing with his professional activities. Not a single government issued a statement to this effect. Human Rights Watch also called on the Ukrainian authorities to thoroughly investigate Yuri Grabovski’s murder and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Amnesty International also reacted to this killing, saying in a statement that “the killing of a criminal defence lawyer is a hideous crime and the Ukrainian authorities must immediately take all steps necessary to begin to rectify this ultimate abuse of human rights and justice. Yuri Grabovski’s abduction and murder should be promptly, effectively and impartially investigated, and those responsible brought to justice in fair trial proceedings.” It should be noted that the NGO explicitly points to the fact that Mr Grabovski was abducted – this concerns recordings from which we receive voluntary confessions. There is only one question in this respect: who will carry out a prompt, effective and impartial investigation in the territory of Ukraine?
We noted certain Ukrainian official comments on the prospects for conflict settlement in Donbass.
Specifically, the Ukrainian president claimed earlier this week that Kiev was ready to hold what he called “honest elections” in southeastern Ukraine and recognise “Donbass’ choice.” Regrettably, this is where Petr Poroshenko’s whole readiness to follow the spirit and the letter of the Minsk Agreements ends. Instead of unconditionally implementing the Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015, he is trying again to put forward certain preconditions with regard to organising the electoral process in the region, which is radically at odds with the essence and sequence of the Minsk Agreements.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin made statements on this subject as well, pursuing a line that imposes Kiev’s preferences in respect of the Minsk Agreements. He was trying in every way to circumvent the subject of Ukraine’s own commitments to carry out political transformations – to implement constitutional reform, to approve a law legalising the special status of Donbass, to organise local elections in southeastern Ukraine, and to grant amnesty. If you look behind this verbal smokescreen, you will see not a glimpse of the need to establish a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk in order to look for and coordinate mutually acceptable solutions on all disputed issues, as it was envisaged by the Minsk Package of Measures.
We are still confident that a true settlement of the current conflict in Ukraine is unfeasible unless the sides to the conflict – Kiev and Donbass – come to terms with each other.
According to a recent media report, the US administration has turned down a request by US citizen Thomas Schansman, the father of Quinn Schansman, who died in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash over Ukraine, to release US satellite photos that could shed light on the tragedy.
As far as we know, the US categorised this information as classified almost immediately after the tragedy, thereby making it known that it had no intention whatsoever to share it with anybody, including relatives of the victims. Moreover, the State Department head’s present reply creates an even stronger impression that Washington, while knowing who really is to blame for the Boeing crash, is intentionally hiding the truth in a bid to shield the real perpetrators from responsibility.
Unlike the US, Russia immediately submitted to the Dutch investigative commission all the radar data, including satellite photos for the day before the crash and images recorded on the day it happened. More than that, Russian experts were ready to join the technical investigation at any time. And you know what came out of it, though they were able to provide serious assistance in identifying possible causes of the tragedy, possessing as they do considerable experience in these matters and substantial technical capabilities for holding tests.
We would like to reiterate our call for a comprehensive, independent and thorough international investigation into this air accident. People guilty of perpetrating this crime should inevitably face punishment, as prescribed by UN Security Council Resolution 2166.
We have repeatedly commented on issues linked with Russian memorials. Each time after we voiced concern, indignation and incomprehension here, we heard from representatives of the Polish authorities that we had an incorrect view of the situation and are dramatising it, and that the Polish side was doing everything possible to honour the relevant agreements between Russia and Poland. News that has been received from this country in the past 24 hours shows that all previous statements made by the Polish authorities are not true.
On March 30, Dr Łukasz Kamiński, President of the Institute of National Remembrance, said that there were plans to demolish over 500 Soviet memorials dating to the World War II period in Poland soon.
We find it very hard to comment on this. These intentions show that Warsaw refuses to heed our repeated calls to display prudence, a civilised mentality and ordinary human decency, and to stop the “war on memorials” that aims to erase the fact that the Red Army saved the Polish nation from total annihilation by the Nazis from the memory of the Polish people. At the same time, they deliberately ignore the heroic deeds of Polish soldiers who fought on the frontlines together with Soviet soldiers. Many memorials displaying gratitude to the Red Army are also dedicated to Polish soldiers.
They say this vandalism will affect just separate memorials, rather than monuments at burial sites. Of course, all this amounts to undisguised cynicism. Both cases involve efforts to perpetuate the heroic exploits of the same persons who spilled their blood, so that the people of Poland would be able to survive during that terrible war, and so that the Polish state would continue to exist.
I would like to make a small digression. We often hear from many Polish politicians, experts and journalists that Soviet soldiers did not bring freedom to Poland. I want to say that Soviet soldiers brought Poland life. We have shared different pages of our common history with Poland, including postwar history, and we were very objective about the situation. We established commissions, heard the opinion of our Polish colleagues and tried to analyse mistakes of the past in order to build the future. But there are irrefutable facts. We are not saying that we have always been right, and we have admitted that we were wrong in many cases. I repeat once again, some pages of history should not be torn out. It’s not just inhuman towards us and the memory of our ancestors, this poses a danger to you because, after distorting history once, you will see future generations who will also treat you in exactly the same manner. They will rewrite modern history because it will be more convenient for them. History comes back.
We express hope that the Polish authorities will not follow in the wake of extremist-minded politicians and will not implement measures that truly border on barbarism.
We have just spoken about how ISIS terrorists planted mines inside the monuments of Palmyra. They also did this for ideological reasons. They did not plan to build a city or modern business centres there, they wanted to destroy Palmyra’s monuments out of ideological motives. The Polish authorities express a desire to tear down memorials to Soviet soldiers for precisely ideological reasons and not because these memorials are standing in the way.
We demand the preservation of history and its symbols. The authorities in Warsaw should understand that the implementation of plans for a large-scale demolition of Red Army memorials will not go unanswered. Responsibility for the inevitable consequences for bilateral relations will rest entirely with the Polish side.
I’ve paid close attention to Turkish media, which have actively commented on alleged discrepancies in the position of Russian representatives, authorities and state agencies on the prospects for bilateral relations. Both the media and, later, Turkish officials quoted various Russian representatives as saying that Moscow had the intention to develop closer relations with Ankara. Regarding these statements, I’d like to note that, if Turkish leaders took literally the words that the crisis in bilateral relations is temporary, they were badly mistaken. What pathological vanity and perverted self-esteem one need have in order to decide that, following the crimes committed against our servicemen and the false allegations against Russia made from various stands and venues, steps towards reconciliation are possible, especially initiated from the Russian side, and that Moscow is willing to make peace with Turkish leaders.
Let me speak again about what has been repeated for many times. We don’t regard the Turkish people and Turkey as our enemy. We are neighbours, we are close peoples and we have stepped up relations in many areas. Certainly, the crisis triggered by the crimes that I’ve mentioned is temporary. I believe that our peoples will overcome it. I know that the two countries have a long and rich common history. We owe our people normal bilateral relations, so we can exit this crisis and develop our ties. But there can be no reconciliation with what has been done, and what has been said won’t be justified. Everyone should clearly understand this. I believe that Turkish officials shouldn’t try to find the words they need in Russian representatives’ statements to compile pleasant offers; that isn’t called for. You’re aware of our position; it has remained unchanged.
Let me repeat for Turkish media: our position has remained unchanged.
Here’s one more issue related to the information campaign. We spoke about the anti-Russian campaign in Britain in a civilised manner many times. Today I’ll tell you the unpleasant truth.
The other day UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that “Russia represents a challenge and a threat to all of us.” This may sound unexpected to some, but we know that this is only one link in a chain of events and an element of the anti-Russian campaign underway in Britain. Unfortunately, more and more frequently Russia has been mentioned recently in the context of the ongoing debates on Britain’s EU membership.
In the United States, where the presidential race is on-going, candidates actively use the issue of Russia. One issue of great importance in Britain now is the country’s membership in the EU, and the Russian card is being played there too. The common issues are the Russian threat and the Kremlin’s interest in Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. It looks as if Moscow has a finger in that pie, too.
This deliberate use of the Russia factor in internal British debates on an issue to which Russia has no connection whatsoever is evidence of London’s intention to sour bilateral relations for internal political considerations. By and large, Russia is being made responsible for the weakness of David Cameron’s government in handling the issue of Britain’s membership in the EU. Maybe you will give a complete list of everything for which we are to blame? I’m just asking.
The attempt to involve Russia in current debates in Britain is evidence of the UK government’s desperate position and inability to find convincing arguments for the ongoing campaign ahead of the referendum.
As I said, Russia does not and cannot have any stance on this issue. We strictly comply with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and we will accept any outcome of the June referendum.
Our experts have provided their assessments, and we have an opinion. But as I said, this is the internal affair of the UK and the EU. Stop trying to involve Russia in problems that only concern London and Brussels.
A few words about the statements made by UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond: I’d like to analyse the statement he made yesterday, in which he said that “Russia ignores the norms of international conduct.” Does it, really? We can be more precise then, telling the international community how Britain ignored international law, for example in Iraq and Syria. I wonder if Britain had a legal mandate to send its military units there and to deliver strikes at these countries. What legal ground did the UK have for this?
One more interesting phrase: “Russia represents a challenge and a threat to all of us.” Who is “all of us”? I wish Mr Hammond were more specific.
Here is one more astonishing statement: “Russia has significant influence and it has significant power. It also shares many of our concerns; it shares our concern about Islamist terrorism. I have no doubt that Russia is sincere in its desire to defeat Daesh [the Arabic for ISIS] in Iraq and Syria. But we need to work together on these things and we can only work in partnership with countries which accept the international rules.”
Let’s begin at the beginning. “Russia has significant influence and significant power.” This is true. “It (Russia) shares many of our concerns; it shares our concern about Islamist terrorism.” It appears that UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has forgotten that it was the first part of his statement, that is, Russia’s significant influence and significant power, that has convinced the West to share Russia’s concern about ISIS, and not vice versa. I’d like to remind the UK Foreign Secretary that up until recently, only several years ago, his country did not see any terrorist threat in Syria. But now the UK shares many of Russia’s concerns about terrorism. As for working together and accepting international rules, look who is doing all the talking about the need to work together, for example, in Syria.
I’d like to remind you that Russia has repeatedly called on Britain to do something to reopen the communications channel between our militaries. We had the 2+2 format under which our foreign and defence ministers met to discuss international issues. This format could be very useful now when the situation in Syria calls for taking both diplomatic and military efforts. As for the “need to work together”, about which Secretary Hammond is talking, I’d like to remind you that it was Britain that blocked the use of that format and any other contact between our militaries.
It takes courage to tell Russia, a co-chair of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), that Britain understands everything very well while Russia only “shares” many of British concerns. I remember from attending the ISSG meeting in Munich how Mr Hammond several times asked US Secretary of State John Kerry what was going on. So, don’t tell us what is happening in Syria. We not only know what is happening there but we are also doing our utmost to ensure that the crisis, which Britain has helped to fuel, regains control and enters the path towards a political settlement.
But the best answer to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was given on March 27 by his compatriot, journalist Robert Fisk, The Independent’s multiple award-winning Middle East correspondent based in Beirut, who wrote an article titled: “Why is David Cameron silent on the recapture of Palmyra from the clutches of Isis?” I believe that Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s knowledge about the situation in Syria would grow considerably if he read such articles.
Question: The Russia-US talks in Moscow went on for eight hours. There is a feeling that much has not been said about their outcome. Could you share some more details on the agreements regarding Syria and Ukraine?
Maria Zakharova: I can’t agree with you, since the statements and comments following the talks held by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Russia were very detailed and elaborated on every issue raised during the talks.
Your question would be relevant only if every meeting or contact between Russia and the United State was expected to yield concrete breakthrough agreements. While critically important breakthroughs do come at a certain point in time, the created mechanisms also have to be fine-tuned every now and then. The recent talks in Moscow can be described as an effort to fine-tune the existing mechanisms with respect to Syria, among other things. There is the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), and Russia and the US are actively developing contacts as co-chairs of this Group in a bilateral format and along several tracks, including political, military and other dimensions. It is for discussions on these issues that Mr Kerry came to Moscow.
Of course, the Ukraine issue was also raised. We are aware of the fact that Washington has immense influence, to put it diplomatically and trying to show respect to Kiev (other terms could have been used to describe this relationship), over the situation in Ukraine. It was also important for us to convey the idea that the Kiev’s stalling in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, noted by many, could lead to dire consequences. We urged the US to use its influence to make sure that the authorities in Kiev are fully committed to implementing the Minsk Agreements.
Question: A number of experts have been comparing the current stage in the Russian-US relations to the Cold War, while their opponents argue that the world has never seen a more stable system than the one that existed during the Cold War, unlike today. How would you describe the current relations between Russia and the US? Do they have conflicting interests in South Caucasus? How significant are the issues in this region for the international agenda?
Maria Zakharova: To answer your question on the overall state of the Russian-US relations, all I can do is repeat what we have been saying time and again: our relations are not at their best. This is a fact. We are not trying to embellish bilateral relations, or try to make it seem as if things are how they used to be. This is not the case. Things are different now. We are about to reconsider our modus operandi in a global and a system-wide effort, as I see it. However, restoring full-fledged relations in the interests of the two counties across the board, including economic, humanitarian, education and tourism, remains a priority for us, so that all social groups benefit from these relations.
It was not Russia’s choice to bring the bilateral relations to their current level. As we understand it, the current US leaders have made this their deliberate choice, which has nothing to do with what Americans think about Russia. Of course, we are dealing with a media campaign aimed at shaping public opinion. However, I believe that Americans feel the need for developing bilateral relations so that they benefit people instead of trying to find out who is stronger or better in getting things done. The people of the two countries should be central to any effort in this respect.
Let me reiterate that the US chose this current state of relations between our two countries. We cannot agree, and have repeatedly said so, that this all started with our differences regarding the Ukraine conflict. It all started before that. Here’s an important and serious argument to prove this point: the US President Barack Obama cancelled his visit to the Russian Federation long before the Ukraine crisis, when the Ukraine and Crimea issues were not even on the horizon. We believe that our current relations do not correspond to the interests of people in either of the two countries.
As for South Caucasus, what specifically do you mean by this question?
Question: Do the two countries’ interests clash in this region? How often do this region’s problems come up on the international agenda? I mean Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Maria Zakharova: As you know, and we have been talking about it on a regular basis, we are part of joint multilateral mechanisms, in particular, with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. I can’t say we have identical or coinciding approaches to all issues. Still, we look for solutions through diplomacy, the whole point of which is to bring different positions closer. I could give a more clear-cut answer to your question if it were more clearly phrased. It is difficult to speak in broad terms here.
Question: Is the Russian Foreign Ministry following the election campaign in the United States? Could you comment on the rhetoric of the eccentric American billionaire Donald Trump, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has called an undisputed leader in the presidential race, and do you think he has a real chance of winning the presidency?
Maria Zakharova: As tradition has it, we don’t comment on presidential campaigns either in the United States or any other country because it is a domestic affair and the choice of the American people. We have noticed, however, that the policy on Russia features prominently in the current presidential campaign rhetoric.
We have repeatedly said at briefings that the United States and its spin doctors could do without us.
I would rather not comment on election slogans because they are all aimed at boosting one’s ratings and undermining the rivals. All these are campaign stories while we prefer to judge by actions. Who will occupy the White House next is a question for the American people.
Question: UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s forecasts on Syria’s future fail to devote enough attention to Kurds and their rights. Kurdish parties have already said they would not recognise the Geneva decisions as legitimate. What is Russia’s view on this?
Maria Zakharova: Earlier today we said how important it is not to provoke certain groups in the Syrian Arab Republic to seek federalization, etc. We need to integrate them into the current political processes, and we have been talking about it a lot, including off the record. The main thing is that we want our partners not only to understand this stratagem but to make it a reality. A long-term stable settlement in Syria is not possible without Kurdish representation.
Question: Ahead of Victory Day, the Night Wolves motorcycle club will organise the Roads of Victory motor rally from Moscow to Berlin. The route is traditionally long, covering about 5,000 kilometres. It crosses part of Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany, and will finish in Berlin on May 9. Last year, the rally ended at the Brest border crossing, when Polish authorities stopped the Russian bikers and accused them of posing a threat to their national security. How, in your opinion, will this story develop this year?
Maria Zakharova: There are two threats in Poland now – Leonid Sviridov and Russian bikers.
Question: Possibly. Incidentally, the day after the Russian bikers were not allowed to enter Poland, I received the first notification on being a threat to Poland. What are your expectations for this year? Has the Foreign Ministry made any efforts to prevent the situation from being repeated? How can Polish authorities be convinced that those Russian citizens aren’t a threat to Poland’s national security but are simply out riding their bikes?
Maria Zakharova: Few people know this, but when we receive similar requests from Poland, we don’t invent anything of the kind, we don’t accuse their bikers or civil representatives of being a threat to Russia’s national security. Instead we provide assistance and resolve issues if they arise.
It’s difficult to say how they can be convinced. I believe that a person can be convinced, even if he is biased in his views but nevertheless open to information, a person who doesn’t want to seem foolish because he doesn’t know or understand something. Sometimes I get an impression that representatives of the Polish political establishment (I can’t speak only about authorities as they come and go) are not afraid of appearing foolish.
Question: Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov’s interview with Interfax was published yesterday, which mentions a possibility of joint Russian-US steps to liberate Raqqa in Syria from ISIS. It says, in particular, that specific aspects of this cooperation, including with consideration for the withdrawal of a part of the Russian contingent, are being discussed between the Russian military and the Pentagon. A while later, Interfax published White House comments to the effect that the US is not planning any joint operations with Russia to free Raqqa from ISIS control. What interaction is there between Russia and the US?
Maria Zakharova: It would be great if our US friends and White House colleagues were as modest in assessing other aspects of cooperation with Russia.
We cooperate, interact and maintain contacts with our US colleagues, including in the military area, in the context of fighting terrorism, peacefully settling the conflict in Syria, and upholding the ceasefire in that country. This is an incontestable fact which no one has challenged. Specific details of this cooperation are not discussed publicly because these are sensitive issues related to security, operational planning and the undertakings themselves. I totally agree with my US colleagues that this is not intended for public discussion.
Question: You mentioned the UK and the information war. A report entitled Russia’s Information Warfare – Airbrushing Reality was presented to the UK Parliament a while ago. Specifically, Russian media targeting foreign audiences are accused of deliberate propaganda with a view to modifying UK reality. The report also claims that Russian media give too little coverage to Prime Minister David Cameron, and when they do give it, the coverage is usually negative.
Maria Zakharova: I didn’t see this report. We’ll be glad to study it. Everything that can boost your spirits is very much in need.
Even though it is clear that these reports result from tenders and their topic is outlined in advance, I think their authors should be better informed of what is happening in the UK itself. I think Mr Philip Hammond’s comments are a vast field for report writers to investigate. I don’t know if the report in question has a chapter on this or not. But what he says would make a good doctoral thesis on information inadequacy.
Question: When does Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov plan to visit Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar? In which of these countries will he meet with representatives of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee?
Maria Zakharova: Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s Middle East tour will take place on April 2-8 and will include the following countries: Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt. Mr Bogdanov will take part in consultations between foreign ministry representatives.
Question: In which of these countries will he meet with the Syrian opposition?
Maria Zakharova: I will specify this issue separately.
Question: Does Russia support the sovereignty of Iran and the development of an Iranian ballistic missile programme that does not run counter to UN Security Council Resolution No 2231? How does Russia assess new possible sanctions against Iran?
Maria Zakharova: I’ll be honest with you, and I’ll try to answer your question in such a way so that you will not be able to interpret my words in anyone’s favour. I would disengage myself from the choice of words you used in your question.
Certainly, we support the sovereignty of Iran. We would never think otherwise. A UN member-state possesses complete sovereignty, and no one has the right to encroach on it. This is the first basic precept. The second aspect implies that everything regarding domestic processes, the development of specific economic areas, military-industrial and defence programmes is the sovereign affair of any state. This development should take place without violating relevant international norms and rules. There can be no denying this if such activities are implemented in line with international law.
Considering what I have first said, it should be understood that the situation around Iran is rather complicated because, thank God, the longtime knot linked with the Iranian nuclear programme has, at long last, been untied, rather than severed. This is a very sensitive issue. Those who had advocated a military solution and who opposed the normalisation of relations with Iran have not fallen silent yet.
I believe that this should be taken into account and we should also show respect to the efforts of the international community that were directed at the painstaking work that went into the resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem. Everyone should respect the consensus reached by the international community. This concerns the international community that was involved in this process, Iran and major global powers. Separate actions and a response to these actions should not undermine the atmosphere of constructive work aimed at resolving this very complicated and longstanding problem. Instead, we need to preserve this constructive atmosphere and we should not forget the unique process of collaboration on the Iranian nuclear programme.
Question: The joint Russian-Romanian public commission to study historical issues of bilateral relations, including the issue of Romania’s gold reserve, has resumed its work last week after a ten-year interval. This issue is very complicated. The Romanian gold reserve was relocated to the Russian Empire during World War I. The Romanian Foreign Ministry has made an extremely positive statement, noting that the meeting took place in an open and constructive atmosphere. Will the Russian Foreign Ministry make the same positive assessments? Is the resumption of this commission’s work a good beginning?
Maria Zakharova: To be honest, everything linked with gold is quite good. Quite possibly, I don’t know the context, but what do we have to do with Romania’s gold reserve? If we are linked with it, then this is good. I simply don’t know this.
Question: Romanian and Russian historians are trying to find answers to difficult questions, and there can be no talk of claims. You know that joint work is underway, and that answers should be provided to this sensitive question.
Maria Zakharova: I have no information on this issue. I will not resort to fantasising, I’ll clear up this issue, and I’ll reply to you separately in the near future.
Question: Can you comment on the acquittal of Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party?
Maria Zakharova: We have offered our opinion of the trial more than once, describing it as scandalous and all the charges as far-fetched. It has been our principled stance for the many years this process lasted.
The acquittal means that Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party and a major Serbian politician who has languished in the Hague prison for over 12 years, is innocent of the charges brought against him.
Question: It was reported today that a Russian diplomat has met with Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was found guilty and is serving a prison term in the United States. We have learned that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs intends to work to secure Yaroshenko’s return to Russia. What can you say about the conjecture that Konstantin Yaroshenko, Viktor Bout and several other Russian citizens could be exchanged for Nadezhda Savchenko?
Maria Zakharova: As you said, a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry has met with Konstantin Yaroshenko and, according to this information, Russia will insist on his release. I’d like to say that this is our position of principle and that it has not changed. We are providing assistance to this Russian citizen. When I said that our stance has been consistent, I mentioned that we also provided a principled assessment of the US justice system in relation to this case. We believe that the law was violated in Yaroshenko’s case, and that US authorities, the judicial system and law-enforcement agencies have been acting inadmissibly with regard to Yaroshenko.
As for exchanging Nadezhda Savchenko for someone or someone for Nadezhda Savchenko, this is, unfortunately, part of a global information campaign that is not designed to help Russian citizens. None of the media employees who are planting these speculations care a jot about them. Moreover, they call the families of the Russian citizens who are in prison in the United States and play on their feelings. Where were they before? I don’t even want to call them journalists, because they don’t deserve this name. What they are doing is indecent. When Yaroshenko needed medical assistance, none of these so-called journalists phoned his family or offered their media outlet’s resources to his family so that they could insist on getting medical help to Yaroshenko, including by appealing to US authorities. But when information was planted about a possible exchange, they started playing on the feelings of Yaroshenko’s relatives, who have not seen him for a long time.
Regarding the possible exchange and the future of Nadezhda Savchenko, Russia has said more than once that the sentence must first come into force. Any other possible actions will be taken exclusively in accordance with the Russian legislation.
I am asking you not to play on the feelings of people, the relatives of Russian citizens who are in US prisons on false, real or any other charges. Please, show a humane attitude and respect for these people. If you didn’t care for Konstantin Yaroshenko before, don’t take any interest, including political interest, in his fate now based on unreliable information.
I’m happy that there are days when I can tell you about the release of our citizens from captivity, or that we were able to contact those who are still in captivity and find out about their health, etc. You know that this is a priority for us. In this context, I can only repeat that we don’t abandon our people. First, we regularly monitor their situation. And second, speculation must be distinguished from reliable information. When we have reliable information that we can share with you, we’ll do this. So please, don’t mix these issues and don’t chase any sensations.
The issue of Savchenko is very simple. The sentence has been passed and must come into force. Yet some people want to fuel interest in her case for several reasons. First, an information campaign has been launched that is also a major internal political factor in Ukraine. Some Ukrainian politicians believe that public attention to this campaign must not be allowed to slacken, and that more fuel must be regularly added to keep the flame burning. The second reason is Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk Agreements. They need to explain this, but there is no explanation. This is a new act of political theatre. They need to explain why political theatre is more important in Ukraine than political reform and the life of the Ukrainian people. But they have no explanation, because they used all the available arguments before. Consequently, the current global information campaign has been launched to stop or prevent any possible questions. They plant information about alleged exchanges, etc. Information campaigns are launched to distract public attention and to provoke information turmoil. But the worst part is, unfortunately, that this campaign concerns people who have nothing to do with it and who are suffering because they haven’t seen their families for a long time. I wonder if those who are orchestrating this campaign are human.
Question: The ancient city of Palmyra was liberated to a great degree by the Russian Aerospace Forces; I would like to offer my congratulations. When NATO troops entered Iraq, the Alliance promised it would take part in rebuilding the country. Do you have any information about that?
Maria Zakharova: You should address your question to NATO. Mr Robert Pshel, a NATO spokesman, works in a Moscow office. He is a very active media person and you can ask him about NATO’s activity in Iraq. I can’t answer this question.
We do interact with Baghdad, and we have several joint projects. So, if you are interested in the Russian party’s efforts in developing cooperation with Iraq, I can give you concrete information.