Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 24, 2016
- Ministerial meeting in the Normandy format
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Primakov Readings
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Turkey
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s attendance of the MED-Rome Mediterranean Dialogues International Conference
- Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Moscow
- The European Parliament’s approval of a resolution on EU Strategic Communication to Counter anti-EU Propaganda by Third Parties
- Dutch officials’ anti-Russian rhetoric
- Developments in Syria
- The United States, the United Kingdom and France block Russia’s proposal to include Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam on the UN sanctions list
- Russian Humanitarian Mission
- Developments in Mosul
- Developments in Afghanistan
- UN General Assembly resolutions on cooperation with CSTO, SCO and CIS
- Results of the latest round of Cyprus talks in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland
- Current situation in Kosovo
- Opening of Russian Film Week in the UK
- Incident outside Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Moscow
- Answers to media questions:
- Draft sanction resolution on the DPRK
- The first anniversary of the tragic events in the Syrian sky
- The situation in connection with Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- The situation in connection with the Kuril Islands
- Russian-Estonian relations
- The situation in Syria
- A likely new round of talks with the moderate opposition in Syria
- Measures with regard to journalists in Russia and European countries
- Journalist ethics and freedom of expression
Literally two hours ago Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on the information that we received from our Western colleagues regarding a proposal to hold a ministerial meeting in the Normandy format in Minsk on November 29. His detailed response is published on the official website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Lavrov described in detail Russia’s assessment of the work in the Normandy format and expressed Russia’s interest in taking part in the meeting in Minsk on November 29. I’d like to draw your attention to Mr Lavrov’s very detailed comments on our participation in this event.
Our schedule continues to change due to rapidly occurring international developments. We will inform you of any scheduling supplements or amendments.
The Primakov Readings, an annual international forum commemorating academician Yevgeny Primakov, will be held soon. The event is designed to promote the tradition of public debates on difficult international political issues, public diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. They are attended by Russian and foreign experts, diplomats and representatives of the authorities, civil society and the media.
The second readings – the first Primakov Readings were held in October 2015 – will be timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), which is the main organiser of the readings. This year, the event’s Organising Committee is chaired by Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov.
The readings will be held on November 28 through November 30 in Moscow’s World Trade Centre and will include two events: an international conference of research centres entitled The Crisis of World Order: Expert Views (November 28-29) and a meeting of the Primakov Readings (November 30).
Speakers at the readings will be international politicians and retired officials who worked with and knew Yevgeny Primakov very well, including former Foreign Minister of Italy Lamberto Dini, former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, former Foreign Minister of Egypt and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech is on the agenda of the main day of the Primakov Readings, November 30.
On December 1, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will go to Alanya, Turkey, for the fifth session of the Russian-Turkish Joint Strategic Planning Group (JSPG), which is part of the High-Level Cooperation Council led by the Russian and Turkish presidents. It will be the first JSPG meeting since the normalisation of bilateral relations following the crisis that was caused by the air accident over Syria on November 24, 2015.
The parties plan to hold an in-depth exchange of opinions on a broad range of current bilateral, regional and international issues. They will discuss the situation in Syria and the whole of the Middle East and North Africa, focusing on enhancing the effectiveness of the fight against international terrorism. They will also continue their dialogue on the situation in the South Caucasus, Central Asia and Ukraine and on their interaction at international organisations.
The ministers will also look into the issues that will be included in the agenda of the next meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council and bilateral talks at the level of heads of government, which will be held during the upcoming working visit of the Turkish Prime Minister to Russia.
On December 1-2, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be paying a working visit to the Italian Republic. During his stay in Rome, he will hold talks with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni.
The main aim of his visit is to continue a detailed discussion with the Italian side of current international problems and map out ways of further development of bilateral cooperation in keeping with the agreements reached by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at their meeting in St Petersburg in June.
It is expected that the foreign policy themes to be discussed will include the situation in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine, issues of cooperation with Italy as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017, and OSCE-related problems (Italy will take over the presidency of the organisation in 2018).
During his stay in Rome, Sergey Lavrov will also visit the Vatican, where he will meet with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher. The officials will discuss a number of bilateral and international issues.
On December 2, at the invitation of Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address the second MED-Rome Mediterranean Dialogues International Conference (he attended the first conference held in Rome in December 2015). The event is sponsored by the Institute for International Political Studies, a leading Italian research and political analysis centre operating under the Italian Foreign Ministry’s aegis. The forum is aimed at encouraging an extensive exchange of views on a set of Mediterranean problems, including growing instability caused by the developments in the region. The participants will also review issues related to international stability and security as a whole.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Moscow on December 3. The ministers will discuss current bilateral and international issues. The ministerial meeting will be the final stage in preparations for President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Japan (this point is commented by the press service of the Presidential Executive Office).
Given the media focus on this matter, I would like to say that we look forward to seeing you at a news conference that will be organised following the ministerial talks in Moscow on the same day. The conference will promptly sum up the exchange of views earlier that day.
I would like to begin my thematic survey by commenting on yesterday’s escapade by a number of EMP’s, which is marked in my script as the approval by the European Parliament’s technical minority of a resolution on EU Strategic Communication to Counter anti-EU Propaganda by Third Parties. The Russian side (our parliamentarians, deputies, public figures, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) commented on this issue yesterday.
We must state with regret that the EU never pauses in its efforts to demonise Russia. In certain cases, its anti-Russian paranoia goes through the roof. We can’t call this document anything other than an exercise in paranoia. We can provide all kinds of opinions, we can analyse it, but all that we’ll come to as a result of this analysis will be exactly in this vein.
The European Parliament has accepted yet another anti-Russian ‘masterpiece’: the resolution on EU Strategic Communication to Counter anti-EU Propaganda by Third Parties. Its title itself speaks volumes about the fact that the European Union is not in touch with the rest of the world and is in opposition to all others. This is an odd ideology.
The document abounds in all sorts of phobias, concoctions and myths. On the other hand, this document is a graphic reflection of the ideology that the EU has cultivated vis-à-vis Russia in recent time. I would like to stress that the resolution equates the Kremlin’s alleged ‘propaganda war’ against the West with the propaganda methods practiced by the Islamic State, a terrorist organisation banned in the Russian Federation. It’s just a clinical case.
We have repeatedly stated – and I would like to reiterate it today – that Russia does not engage in anti-EU propaganda. If the EU has certain internal problems, their causes should be sought inside the EU, not in propaganda by third parties. This is the road back to a realistic perception of reality, to the [EU’s] own self. Russia is interested in a united, stable and predictable EU, a partner with which we would like to promote equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation. We hope that the EU will finally realise that Russia is not an enemy to Europe and does not wish it ill.
We hope that this resolution will not be followed by practical decisions to restrict the Russian media. And we are hoping with good reason, because the approval of this document (regrettably, it has the status of a document) has raised a huge wave of resentment within the EU itself. Many public figures said directly about this resolution that it was a disgrace for European countries to approve such documents in the 21st century. If, however, this document is implemented in practice, with the EU countries imposing restrictions on the Russian media, we will certainly retaliate.
I would like to finish this highly unpleasant part of today’s briefing by saying the following. If Europe takes this path, choosing it as its main road, namely, if it proclaims a media ban as its priority, then, to be honest, the time is not far off when the EU countries install radio relay stations on their borders with other countries, which will broadcast propaganda of ‘Western values’ (please note this because we will return to this somewhat later. I hope this will not happen). Or perhaps they will even go as far as start burning books which someone in the EU will think are at variance with the dominant ideology. Europe has been through all this already. Hasn’t it drawn any lessons?
At our previous briefing, we outlined our position on the statements made by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Netherlands regarding the existence of an alleged Russian military threat as the main argument in favour of ratifying the European Union-Ukraine association agreement.
I must note that Dutch leaders continue to stick to their chosen line and tactics, despite an objective reality and considerations dictated by common sense. Addressing a November 18 news conference on the results of the government meeting whose participants discussed the ratification of the association agreement, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte once again mentioned a growing “Russian military threat” and called for approving the association agreement in line with precisely this reason.
We do not want to believe that this incantation about the “Russian threat” is being repeated only to mislead the people of the Netherlands, who have entrusted this individual with leading the nation’s government. It is possible that the people of the Netherlands need Ukraine as an associated EU member so that Ukraine becomes a buffer state whose people would play the role of guinea pigs in the anti-Russian geopolitical concepts of certain European politicians. This scenario is also possible.
We cannot ignore the fact that the Dutch Foreign Ministry continues to elaborate on the subject. For example, statements about Russia’s human rights record are being made. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders openly admitted that the Dutch Embassy in Moscow and the Dutch Consulate General in St Petersburg will receive 750,000 euros next year to pay for the needs of Russian NGOs. He stressed that the Netherlands did not intend to slacken its activity in this area.
Do the people of the Netherlands know that foreign NGOs are to receive 750,000 euros at this time of recession in Europe, which, among other things, has been caused by the influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa? Did anyone ask the people’s opinion? Or is it more important to support Russian NGOs than to address problems at home?
It is common knowledge that, just like with other projects of the Dutch Foreign Ministry, including Window to Russia and an independent website for independent Russian-language media outlets, the money of the Kingdom’s subjects will be spent on all sorts of dubious propaganda and openly anti-Russian initiatives bordering on direct interference in Russian domestic political processes.
It appears that, before allocating considerable funding for the support of Russian NGOs, the Netherlands should address its own problems in the area of human rights. Indeed, problems with illegal migrants and asylum-seekers, discrimination against minorities, the use of people’s personal data by state agencies, upholding the rights of children, human trafficking in the Kingdom’s Caribbean region and other issues need to be actively addressed.
We are watching with concern the developments in Syria, where terrorists from ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (former Jabhat al-Nusra) continue their daily missile and mortar attacks on towns. On November 19, several mines launched from the positions of the illegal armed groups hit the old part of Damascus resulting in civilian casualties. Two mines exploded near the Russian Embassy buildings. On November 21, four more mines exploded at the Russian Embassy in Damascus. On November 20, terrorists shelled a school and hospital in the Shahba neighbourhood and a primary school in the Furqan area of Aleppo. At least 10 people have been killed, eight of them children. The same day, at least two people were killed in a mortar attack at Harasta, the northeastern suburb of Damascus in Eastern Ghouta.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Armed Forces continued their successful offensive towards Aleppo. Fierce fighting is ongoing in the Bustan al-Basha district. The terrorists have failed to stop the advance of the Syrian army.
People in Eastern Aleppo continue their protests against the illegal armed groups. According to local residents, the terrorists have usurped the distribution of bottled water and foodstuffs and open fire at protesters to prevent them from entering the corridors that have been marked by the Syrian authorities for leaving the blocked neighbourhoods. Dozens of civilians have been killed or wounded. On November 20 and 22, officers from the Russian Reconciliation Centre, representatives of the Russian Humanitarian Mission, Syrian military intelligence officers and Syrian Christian militia held successful local operations to evacuate 20 civilians from Eastern Aleppo.
The Syrian government is actively promoting the practice of brief local truces near Damascus. It has announced the completion of the final stage of settlement in the Damascus suburb of Maadamiya. The Syrian national flag has been raised over the town, where the official authorities have resumed operation.
We again point to the biased and unprofessional reports on the developments in Syria made by representatives of the US State Department. They continue to make public statements on the responsibility of Damascus and Moscow for the Syrian casualties, using what they regard as airtight arguments, while in fact they infer that although the factual aspect of the developments is unclear, the responsibility nevertheless rests with Russians or Syrians. At the same time, Washington refuses to see the crimes committed by terrorists and allied extremist groups in Syria and continue to crudely violate the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic.
I would like to tell you about one of such accusations. As you know, on Monday US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power read out the names of Syrian officers alleged to have committed war crimes in Syria. Ms Power read out 13 names at a meeting of the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The Russian delegation immediately provided its views on the matter. According to Samantha Power, “The United States will not let those who have commanded units involved in these actions hide anonymously behind the facade of the Assad regime. [They] must know that we and the international community are watching their actions, documenting their abuses, and one day, they will be held accountable.” She also mentioned former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, probably to show the fate that lies in store for the Syrian officers she had named.
In this regard, let me remind you: all reports of attacks against civilian targets in Syria that were allegedly documented by the US turned out to be fake. The US has never been held accountable for its words, all it does is profess accusations lacking any evidence. All we are hearing is “all the materials are available on social media,” “witnesses told us that,” and “you know this all too well.” This is what they usually answer. Let me remind you how a Russia Today journalist asked a representative of the US State Department to specify the civilian targets he referred to when speaking about destruction caused by the Russian Federation and the Syrian regime. Do you remember what followed? It was pure hysteria ending with accusations of propaganda. But what does it have to do with propaganda? The US never provides exact geolocation data, dates or location of the targets that, as they believe, were destroyed by the Syrian Army with support from Russian Aerospace Forces. These are mere words and hollow accusations. The same goes for the alleged bombings of a humanitarian convoy in Aleppo, a school in Hass and a hospital in Aleppo. The words are always the same, and no facts are presented. This is outright propaganda: the message and the policy behind it remain the same and consist of making accusations without providing any evidence. When the US accuses someone of war crimes, it always backs these claims with some kind of reports without saying who said it and when or giving any facts. If the US wants to deal with war crimes and war criminals, we believe that it should look at its generals who caused tragedies, killings and the death of dozens, sometimes hundreds of people or even hundreds of thousands of people, from Yugoslavia to the Middle East. I think that in terms of international law it would not be very difficult to assess what the US has done in the Middle East. Why does Samantha Power fail to mention this? She could have convened a news conference in the US to raise these issues. At least she could start by counting civilian casualties in Iraq, since nobody knows how many people had died there. I’m not even speaking about the consequences of the Iraqi campaign, but at least they could have counted the number of casualties.
I think that few people across the world would contest that Slobodan Milosevic is a controversial figure. No one pretended that he was not controversial. But does Samantha Power know anything about the tribunal against Slobodan Milosevic? It seems that she understands so little in what she is doing, that she cites the tribunal against Slobodan Milosevic as an example of international justice. Isn’t she aware of the fact that the proceedings initiated against Milosevic were never brought to an end? There is no ruling, no guilty verdict, nothing. The case ended with the passing of Slobodan Milosevic. Maybe she wanted to say that when anyone falls into disgrace in Washington’s eyes, regardless of what they did, they will also die before justice is served? When you represent a country in the UN Security Council that has a mandate to adopt binding resolutions, you need to know the facts, to say the least. The whole world will be ridiculing Samantha Power after her statement regarding Slobodan Milosevic and his trial. Before speaking about the future of the world, and perorating in a categorical manner about the fate of the Syrian people, maybe Samantha Power could have the courage to tell the UN Security Council about Guantanamo’s future? What have you been able to achieve during the eight years that you were in charge? Before we discuss Syria, Russia or recall Slobodan Milosevic, let’s talk about Guantanamo. As you know, this goes for a number of countries, not just the US.
By the same token the Federal Government of Germany said that it was shocked by the strikes carried out by the Syrian government against Aleppo. Again, they accuse the Russian Federation and the Syrian regime. Specifically, they said that without the extensive military backing from Russia, Bashar al-Assad’s regime would not have been able to wage war against its own population. This is what the government spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said in Berlin on Monday. It is true that “without the extensive military backing from Russia,” the progressive western society would by now be horrified by the atrocities committed by ISIS barbarians, who would have surely taken control over the whole Syrian territory and neighbouring countries, and more importantly, would have reached Europe. Instead of isolated terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe, fundamentalists would have unleashed a full-fledged war in the EU.
In November, Russia re-submitted to the UNSC Sanctions Committee on ISIL/Al-Qaeda and Associated Individuals and Organisations (Committee 1267/1989/2253) a proposal to include Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam terrorist groups operating in Syria in the UN sanctions list.
What do you think happened to this Russian initiative? Even though Russia provided all the information proving conclusively Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam’s links with Jabhat al-Nusra, which features prominently on the UN sanctions list (and this is the criterion for including anyone on that list), on November 21, the United States, Britain and France blocked this motion. I would like to remind those who are so particular about upholding human rights, fighting terrorism, xenophobia and all kinds of intolerance that Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam have not been included on the UNSC terrorist list because of the stance adopted by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. It's just that you understand. If you look at the photos of these people, I'm not even talking about what they do, read their slogans, appeals and literature which they disseminate, you will be frightened. More than anything, you wouldn’t want these people to touch your life in any way. But the United States, Britain and France did not deem it possible to protect you from these people.
Once again, these countries have demonstrated a commitment to selective and opportunistic approaches when qualifying the activities of individuals or organisations as terrorist. This is not a theory. We are not talking about some philosophical notion. This is something happening in real life.
This is another case of a self-serving double standards policy which causes our profound disappointment. It is also a case of manipulation in matters that affect the effectiveness of the UNSC anti-terrorist sanctions.
Clearly, permanent UN Security Council members, such as the United States, Britain and France, are pursuing certain political goals which run counter to the overall effort to combat the threat of terrorism, and call into question the sincerity of Washington, London and Paris’ allegations regarding their commitment to the key objectives of the war on terror.
I have a question for the citizens of France - those who suffered themselves, or the loved ones of victims of terrorist attacks. Do you understand that your government is blocking the inclusion of terrorist organisations on the UN terrorist list? Ask them why are they doing so, and what’s in it for them.
We believe that such an explicit protection by the current US administration and its allies of the criminals whom they have for many years supported (we are aware of it and have talked about it), is nothing short of complicity in international terrorism. We must clearly admit this to ourselves and stop lying. This terrorist "International" knows no boundaries or nationalities, and we must all counter it.
Russian Humanitarian Mission (RHM) is a group lead by Yevgeny Poddubny, a coordinator for Syria, which continues to operate in the Aleppo area.
From November 20 to 24, two evacuations of civilians from the eastern part of that city, which is controlled by radical armed groups, were conducted. At the moment, evacuation is possible only for small groups of people using secret routes. The terrorists are mining everything that is related to humanitarian corridors.
The first group of 10 people (two families of five people each) was taken out of the city on the night of November 20 with the support of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation, the Syrian army and the local Christian militia. The second group, also 10 people, was evacuated on the night of November 23. Since the lives of these people are at risk, RHM cannot disclose the exit routes leading from eastern Aleppo. Those who follow Poddubny’s activities, can see photos of a particular person and the people whom they save from this pit of hell.
All the evacuees were taken to safe places and provided with food and water. They were able to contact their families in Aleppo and tell them they were safe.
They confirmed severe shortages of food in eastern Aleppo, with subsistence warehouses and grocery stores being under control of the so-called opposition, and food not being distributed among the civilians. This is not our opinion. This is what the people who lived there are saying.
We will continue to inform you not only about our assessments, but also the information that Russian NGOs working in that area share with us.
There are no signs that the situation around the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was seized by ISIS militants some time ago, will be resolved in the near future.
Iraqi government forces, supported by the people’s militia and Kurdish units, continued to retake ISIS-controlled territories in Ninawa (Nineveh) Governorate and liberated dozens of communities. Tal Afar airport west of Mosul was also seized. Iraqi law enforcement and security agencies claim that 1,700 extremists have been eliminated. At the same time, they are having trouble advancing in Mosul itself. Fighting still continues in the city’s eastern districts on the left bank of the Tigris River.
Air strikes by the US-led coalition hit civilians hard. We receive regular reports on air strike casualties. Against this backdrop, analysts are increasingly noting that coalition members have underestimated the difficulty of the Mosul operation. As you know, the decision to conduct this operation was made hurriedly and was driven by pre-election considerations in line with a directive of the outgoing US administration. Of course, no one cared about humanitarian consequences at that time.
But the humanitarian situation around Mosul is deteriorating steadily. The UN estimates that up to 70,000 people have fled the city and its environs to date. As you understand, no one has submitted any plan or programme for safely relocating them and deciding their future. Many more people are eager to escape the Mosul hell. People are running out of food. The worst thing is their uncertain future. It would be appropriate to talk about an impending humanitarian disaster here.
But our Western partners remain out of touch with reality. This has now become their normal state, as is proved convincingly by reports of allegedly respected news channels, which continue circulating standard, glossed-over and highly edited stories. Of course, they mostly cover the situation in Aleppo. No one shares their real opinions of the situation in Mosul. One is dismayed to notice that Western television channels do not mention any of the so-called “voluntary assistants” from among civilian activists while covering the situation in Mosul, while their reports on Syria are full of such references.
We would like to note that, despite the onset of the autumn-winter season, when terrorist and extremist groups usually become less active, a complicated security situation persists in Afghanistan.
The Taliban movement continues to exert pressure on national security forces, regrouping and conducting all-out attacks in various provinces. Over the last week, large-scale fighting was reported in southern and southwestern Afghanistan. Taliban militants also tried to seize the capital of Sar-e Pol Province in northern Afghanistan.
ISIS terrorist group’s Afghan wing continues to stage numerous terrorist attacks. As has already been noted, terrorists blew up a Shia mosque in Kabul on November 21, killing 32 people and wounding over 80.
In this situation, it would be timely for the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution on Afghanistan by consensus. The document should confirm the international community’s intention to support the government of Afghanistan and to combat the terrorist threat in that country.
On November 21, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus resolutions on cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
These resolutions outline the efforts to build up cooperation between the UN and the CSTO, the SCO and the CIS, primarily in priority areas such as the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, cross-border crime and other peace and security challenges. We believe that the UN and regional organisations, acting in keeping with the UN Charter or more precisely Chapter VIII of the Charter, can complement each other by using their objective and comparative advantages.
The resolutions adopted at the UN General Assembly, as well as the debates on this issue initiated by Russia within the framework of its October presidency of the UN Security Council, reaffirm the resolve of the above three organisations, where Russia plays an active role, to strengthen their practical interaction with the UN, including the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.
According to available information, the recent talks between the leaders of the Cyprus communities held in Switzerland have not produced any substantial results. Nevertheless, we welcome the parties’ readiness for hard work towards a settlement. We hope the recent high level of contacts and the constructive mood of the parties will stay in place.
Moscow is closely monitoring progress at the inter-community talks. As you know, we regularly comment on this issue. Our position has not changed: we stand for a comprehensive, fair and viable settlement in Cyprus based on UN Security Council resolutions in the interests of all Cypriots. We will support the decision the Cypriots themselves find and will gauge progress at the talks by practical results. We believe that if the parties express a clear resolve to address security issues in Cyprus at a broader international conference, the best and most logical format would be a conference of UN Security Council members held with due regard for the UN outlined framework for a Cyprus settlement.
We reject as unacceptable the attempts made by some of our Western partners to influence the Cyprus talks to accelerate them unduly in order to reach a settlement at all costs.
As you are aware, the latest meeting of the UN Security Council on Kosovo, which took place on November 16 in New York, registered an unstable situation in the area again. Violation of rights of non-Albanians in Kosovo continues. New cases of violence against Serbs have been recorded. Let me remind you that several years ago when the West – the EU and the US, of course – were in charge of “tearing” Kosovo away from Serbia, the motto of the process was “Kosovo, a country of opportunities.” The UNSC members told us what those opportunities were exactly. Considering the current events it is not surprising that the return rate of refugees and displaced persons is extremely low.
We are gravely concerned about increasingly flagrant attempts by the Kosovo Albanian authorities to misappropriate Serbian property in Kosovo. Recently, this practice has been extended to economic assets belonging to Serbian government institutions and companies. These unlawful and illegitimate actions will not promote an inter-ethnic reconciliation. The absence of actual law and order, persisting domestic political crisis and mass outbound migration of people clearly indicate that the Kosovo “statehood” is artificial and unviable. But do you remember how they tore it away? Those who did the tearing are now confident that the referendum in Kosovo was legitimate and that Kosovo became an independent state based on those referendum results. US President Barack Obama said that the referendum was held according to high standards. It is about the same as the situation with Slobodan Milosevic. We know the name, we vaguely remember the context, and the facts are not necessary. There was no referendum in Kosovo. I remember the debates at the UN Security Council. They were in a hurry and did everything they could to adopt those resolutions despite the international law and requests of Serbia’s official and legitimate government. They completely ignored statements and previous decisions of the UNSC. They just needed to tear Kosovo away. They thought they could finish what they started with propaganda and an information campaign and complete the image of a country of opportunities. But they failed.
We have to ascertain that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is advancing with great difficulty. The key issue of establishing the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo is not progressing at all. We believe that the Kosovo authorities must not back out of their commitments. We expect the European Union to act in good faith as a mediator in the dialogue as provided by the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 64/298 of September 9, 2010.
Between November 30 and December 4, London and Cambridge will host the Russian Film Week organised by Perkon Productions with the support of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the British Council. The partners of the festival are Raindance independent film festival and the British office of the Russian charity foundation Gift of Life. The festival will become a key event of the Russian-British Year of Language and Literature.
In the course of five days, the best feature, animated and documentary films by Russian filmmakers made in the past 18 months will be shown on British screens in Russian with English subtitles. Guests will have a chance to attend workshops and meet prominent filmmakers of the two countries. The festival jury will announce winners of the festival at the end of the week.
We hope that this festival will expand the horizons of mutual perception by Russia and the UK and will contribute to creating a positive atmosphere of the year and promoting bilateral Russian-British cultural exchanges.
This morning, well known Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbalyuk requested our comments on the incident outside the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Moscow.
We always condemn such barbaric actions wherever they occur, you all know that. We have filed an inquiry with the law enforcement agencies on the yesterday’s incident. The issue is being investigated and we will inform you about the outcome.
At the same time, we would like to note that, to our deepest regret, vandalism of local radicals against Russian foreign offices in Ukraine happens so often that it increasingly looks like coordinated campaigns, not just individual acts. However, unfortunately, we never receive any information on the investigation and punishment of the perpetrators, nor do we even receive a response to our inquiries. We did not hear any disapproval from the Kiev officials, not even with regard to the outrageous desecration of the Russian flag by a Verkhovna Rada member in Lvov.
Question: I have a question about a draft resolution on sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). The media continues to report that the United States and the People’s Republic of China have agreed on new sanctions. For example, these sanctions may cover coal exports from North Korea to China. According to the media, the United States and China are moving to coordinate the draft resolution with the other three permanent UN Security Council members. What position will Russia take? The media reports that Russia has several questions regarding this document.
Maria Zakharova: As I said, work on the resolution continues. Since this resolution includes sanctions, inter-departmental coordination will take some time, as you know. We have been through this before, and we are working on it now. As you know, it is impossible to pass such resolutions without inter-departmental coordination because they deal with certain areas of the Russian economy and other sectors. We need time to study the text and the proposals. We have been working on this, but certain issues require inter-departmental coordination.
Question: My question is on the first anniversary of the tragic November 24, 2015 incident. Will the Foreign Ministry issue any comments in connection with this anniversary? To the best of our knowledge, Russia and Turkey have been maintaining a dialogue for the past five months. They continue to improve their relations; but, for some reason, conditions for cooperation with regard to the people of Turkey are not improving, although reports from Russia always stress that the Russian Federation respects and loves the people of Turkey. Why haven’t most of sanctions been abolished then?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t see any contradiction here. This concerns Turkey and all other countries. We have said, and continue to repeat the simple truth that it is very easy to sour relations, but it is very difficult to bring everything back to normal for objective reasons. Certainly, there is a desire, but, in this particular case, we are talking about a process. A lot of time was lost. Unfortunately, this was not simply a time of inaction, but a time of active efforts to aggravate relations. At this point we are restoring the level of bilateral relations step by step, gradually and purposefully.
Regarding the tragedy a year ago, I believe that Turkey should provide a statement today, on the day of the anniversary. We have already said a lot about this. It should be noted that the Turkish side has drawn the appropriate conclusions that served as a basis for restoring relations. I believe that Turkey has learned the appropriate lessons. A mechanism for restoring relations was initiated.
Question: Several items published after Donald Trump’s victory in the US election forecast an increased US role in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess the US contribution to this issue in 2016? What does it think about the possibility of enhanced US involvement in 2017?
Maria Zakharova: I believe there is always room for improvement in the work of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, it would be incorrect to speak about any assessment of anyone’s personal contribution. I would not do this now. As I said, considering the complexity of the issue, distressing news from the region and the fact that they have a direct bearing on the lives of people there, we can only recommend the Minsk Group’s co-chairs to redouble their efforts. This would bring no harm in this particular case. Considerable efforts need to be taken to bolster this process. We would welcome this.
I can also answer a question from Azerbaijan’s Azeri Press about the US and French intention to change their co-chairs of the Minsk Group and whether Russia would do the same.
We regard the change of the US and French co-chairs as a routine rotation of ambassadors, who are transferred to a new position after having worked for a certain period of time somewhere. We do not see any political motives in the upcoming change.
As for Igor Popov, the Russian co-chair of the Minsk Group, he will continue to work on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Question: What impact can the deployment of the Bastion and Bal mobile anti-ship missile systems on the Kuril Islands have at the upcoming December 3 talks and the peace treaty talks in general?
Maria Zakharova: The Bastion systems have been deployed on the South Kuril Islands as part of the Russian defence plans aimed at the gradual strengthening of national security. It was in keeping with this policy that these coastal missile systems have been deployed on the South Kuril Islands, which are an integral part of the Russian territory.
Please, ask the Defence Ministry for details about this issue; it is their competence.
Question: Estonia has a new government.
Maria Zakharova: We are not to blame.
Question: A centrist party has come to power in Estonia for the first time in 15 years, the party that voted against moving a monument to Soviet soldiers from its original place. This party began its operation by proposing to abandon the policy of transferring all Russian-language schools to tuition in the Estonian language, and it has been accused of being pro-Moscow. Will the Russian-Estonian relationship change now?
Maria Zakharova: We have long been urging a change. You can see where the Russia-EU relationship has been going, or rather, the turn the EU foreign policy has taken, considering that the EU has a direct and extremely negative impact on the domestic policies of some EU member states. You can live on illusion for a long time, ban certain media outlets or prohibit them from broadcasting in your national territory, but one fine morning you will wake up to complain about unexpected election results. These are links in the same chain. When you refuse to see reality, keep acting contrary to something or somebody, close your eyes to what can benefit you and try to scare everyone with non-existent threats, you will see the processes that happen when you lose touch with reality.
We have always said, even in the most difficult periods of our relations with the EU, NATO and individual countries, that our priorities are interaction and cooperation, which does not imply any disregard for national policies or interests and does not mean that there are no problems. But it implies that problems must not be seen as insurmountable obstacles, because problems can be settled, and when this is impossible, we can coordinate our positions on them. This is what we have always proceeded from. When there is an opportunity for this, for example in Estonia, if a new government speaks up for normalising relations or at least for preventing problems from growing, we are all for it. Not because we need this badly, but because this will have a positive impact on us, on Estonia and, I believe, on the EU as a whole.
As for monuments, there is one thing I cannot understand. I am addressing this question not only to foreigners but also to Russian citizens, NGOs, anti-fascist organisations and those who are fighting against xenophobia, neo-Nazism and nationalism of all stripes. Why do not you speak up when monuments are being demolished in the Baltic and East European countries? We need your support very much, because this is an issue of concern not only for the Foreign Ministry. Of course, the ministry puts forth the government’s position, but we must know that ours is not the only voice, that NGOs can speak up too. When you hear today or receive reports about the demolition of monuments, when you learn that commemorative plates are removed or monuments are defiled, do not keep silent, do not remain indifferent. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We really need your voice. You can write letters, canvass for signatures and do anything else – within the boundaries of the law – to make people see that the removal of monuments is an unacceptable solution. You cannot be an anti-fascist only on anniversaries. You cannot speak about the dangers of nationalism and at the same time close your eyes to the demolition of monuments to those who fell fighting to liberate the world from nationalism. You cannot pretend not to notice such things. We badly need the NGOs’ voice.
As I said, we are ready to cooperate with Estonia, and we have always been open for this.
Question: President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently stated the need to support the Syrian armed forces. Can this statement be used as a basis for a new round of talks with moderate opposition in Syria and creating a new format of talks with the participation of Syria, Egypt and Turkey?
Maria Zakharova: Forming an alliance between the countries is up to the countries in question. They should decide whether they need it and whether it will help them in their counter-terrorism activities. We believe all the formats that are necessary to achieve the Syrian settlement are already in place. There is the UN Security Council, the ISSG, a so-called skeleton compact group within the ISSG, bilateral contacts between Russia and the United States, information centres operating in the region, and negotiating mechanisms in Geneva. Everything is in place except one key component which is the willingness of our partners, in particular the United States, to go ahead and deliver on their promises, namely, to divide terrorists and moderate opposition, the so-called political opposition, which has already taken up arms, in order to begin to destroy the terrorists head on and do so together. All formats are already in place. All you need is willingness to do what has to be done.
Question: It is rumoured that Arab countries may have changed their position regarding resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. Is there any chance that a new round of talks with the Syrian opposition may therefore be held in Russia or anywhere else?
Maria Zakharova: For obvious reasons, the discussions regarding the removal of the Syrian government gained momentum during the presidential campaign in the United States, because a stake was made on it. They bet on everything during the race, because everyone wanted to win at all costs and the Syrian regime was a designated trophy. That is why we were hearing statements to the effect that Assad must go, and his government must fall, so often.
Unfortunately, all the agreements that we have entered into, such as the September bilateral agreement with the United States, were not acted upon. It was due to the fact that the focus was on victory over the regime at any price, and such rhetoric was grist for the mill of either candidate.
As you noted, one or two days after the end of the election campaign, President Obama ordered to capture, arrest and neutralise Nusra’s militants and ringleaders. Unfortunately, this was done too late, and much time was wasted.
Of course, there is hope that the Americans will act with more realism now that the race has ended. This was a very long marathon. According to our estimates, the election campaign in the United States began much earlier than six or even 12 months prior to the election date. It began way before that in order to secure the corresponding outcome in November 2016. There must be realism only about one thing: first, there must be a division line drawn between terrorists and moderate opposition. What Washington promised to do almost a year ago must be done now. There’s a feeling that realistic attitude to what is happening in Syria can still prevail, although I understand that it is a hard thing to do, because they worked for a completely different outcome. However, we believe that this is the only way to go. Not a regime change, not talking about it being guilty of all sins, but drawing a line between terrorists and the opposition and mopping up the area to clear it from terrorist organisations.
Question: You said that in case of serious measures from Europe, Russia can respond accordingly. What actions do you mean by that?
Maria Zakharova: You do know that, unfortunately, these response measures have already been taken. Our correspondent in Poland was declared persona non grata and lost his accreditation. In return, we voided the accreditation of a Polish correspondent in Moscow. We thought the story would end there but the Polish authorities went further. They blocked entry for our correspondent not only to Poland but to the entire Schengen area, for several years. So, we took a reciprocal action against the Polish correspondent.
A similar situation happened with the Czech Republic when our correspondents faced various obstacles and had their accreditations cancelled. We announced that we would respond accordingly. As soon as we did, our correspondents continued to work there as usual but they did not get their accreditation back. Therefore, we put the procedures against the Czech correspondents in Moscow on hold. We have to reciprocate because we do not have any other option. There have been no cases recently that could be used to accuse Moscow of inappropriate or politically motivated treatment of foreign correspondents, despite all the horror and bigotry that is happening in the Western media, starting from magazine covers and down to Russophobic statements in their pages. I will not even mention television. Never have we felt the urge to ban, take away, deport, block or expel. If there is a chance, we always disclaim, contradict, and publish evidence and facts instead of those presented as truth, and give a civil response to what we do not like; but we never throw sand in the wheels of Western correspondents.
Let me give you one example. This happened two years ago during talks in Geneva in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis. The talks were very difficult and involved Foreign Minister Lavrov and other delegates. We called a news conference at the venue. I was walking down the hallway and saw an upset journalist. I asked what happened. With discontent, he said he was from Ukraine. I asked if he would like to attend Lavrov’s news conference but he replied that he would not be allowed. I asked why not. He looked so surprised. How could he show his face at our news conference? I said that of course, he can and will even get to ask the first question to prove that he was not denied the right to speak. We do everything we can so that even the openly biased media can see professional and normal treatment from Russia.
To be honest, it is beyond my understanding what our Western colleagues are so afraid of. I cannot call this anything but fear. The resolution the European Parliament adopted yesterday is stupidity and fear through and through. We have never been afraid to work with foreign correspondents even in very difficult times, although we had never had an experience of such an open cooperation. The Soviet Union was not exactly an open country, even less so when it came to foreign journalists. We had a lot to learn. During the first years of the democratic Russia when there was no framework for working with foreign correspondents and nobody knew how to do it right, even then we were not afraid and went forward. What Europe is afraid of now is a complete mystery.
Question: All of this concerns us, so give us a chance to reach a conclusion, probably a wrong one. If Europe takes specific measures against the Russian media, won’t we, the foreign correspondents, pay for them?
Maria Zakharova: It’s great you realise this. We try to express this. When we cancelled accreditation for Polish correspondent Waclaw Radziwinowicz, I tried to get through to the Polish authorities and tell them we are hurting people who are not to blame. I’m sorry, but when you hurt Russian correspondents, how should we react? We cannot force you into letting them work. You should understand that you are striking not at us but at people who are not to blame for anything. That said, we spoke about this and thought that the Polish authorities would dispense with this absolutely groundless fear of Russian journalists. Now we understand why they lashed out at Leonid Sviridov. Everything became clear. They invented a million stories that had nothing to do with reality. Later it transpired that he dared organise an exhibit in memory of his colleague in the news agency, Andrei Stenin who worked in Ukraine. But this was an exhibit of photos rather than slogans. And this was used as an excuse to punish him.
Paradoxically, the EU has major questions for Poland, including the democratic character of the processes that are taking place there. However, when Poland takes action against Russian correspondents, nobody in the EU bothers to question Warsaw. Yes, I must admit that recently Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, began to react more actively to what was happening as regards Russian journalists but this response is inadequate. It is not enough to simply Twitter that it is necessary to get to the bottom of what has happened. It is necessary to analyse what happened, reach conclusions and hold accountable those who block freedom of speech and of the media.
The West taught us to play by its rules for so long that we learned to do this. But the problem is that I think they are worried that we are starting to outplay them by their own rules. Why did they urge us to learn these rules? We could have played by our own rules and they could have played by theirs. Yet we learned their rules and started playing their game. If we are playing better than them, it’s not our problem. Now instead of going on with this chess match, they are trying to take the chess board and hit the player.
Question: Recently, we have seen certain foreign experts participating in debates on Russian TV channels cross the line and offend Russia. It that what freedom of speech is all about? The most recent incident occurred on the TVC channel.
Maria Zakharova: This is a delicate and controversial issue of where freedom of speech ends and abuse begins. It is difficult not to cross the line and start using existing laws to prosecute for dissent. Of course, there is such a thing as an insult. However, this is for the expert community to decide. I believe that the Russian Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists should weigh in on this. This issue should be handled by professional experts. Of course, everyone has the right to speak, both journalists and the public. It’s up to journalists to decide whether the line was crossed or not. The corresponding institutions and associations of journalists are well aware of what journalistic ethics are all about. I think they should provide appropriate assessment to specific cases.