15 February 201819:03

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 15, 2018


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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meetings on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of business circles of Russia and Germany
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with  Foreign Minister of Algeria Abdelkader Messahel
  4. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif’s working visit to Russia
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a conference commemorating Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin
  6. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Slovenia
  7. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Serbia
  8. 180th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Russia and Serbia
  9. Global reaction following the crash of the AN-148 plane
  10. The situation in Syria
  11. The alleged shelling of Russian military by US-led forces in Syria
  12. OPCW special commission’s investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria in January
  13. Statements by Heather Nauert on US goals in Syria
  14. Events to mark 120th anniversary of Russian-Ethiopian diplomatic relations
  15. Minsk Agreements anniversary
  16. Harassment of Strana.ua news website editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva
  17. Russian assessment of European Commission’s strategy for Western Balkans
  18. 10th аnniversary of Kosovo independence
  19. Situation with obtaining US visas in Russia
  20. Russia’s participation in the international project to renovate the memorial museum at the site of former Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland
  21. New exhibition opened by Latvian officials at Salaspils concentration camp
  22. Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service report, International Security and Estonia
  23. Restricted broadcasts of Russian RTR Planeta channel
  24. Moldova bans Russian information and analytical broadcasts
  25. Organization of Russian presidential election abroad
  26. Hero of Russia Alexei Botyan is 101 years old
  27. Exhibition marking the 140th anniversary of liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke
  28. Event honouring Russian citizens who served abroad
  29. Days of Russian Spiritual Culture in Vienna
  30. Answers to media questions:
  1. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in light of upcoming elections in Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia
  2. Statements by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev
  3. Report by US Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats
  4. Belarusian obligations to create conditions for Contact Group meetings
  5. Establishment of the Constitutional Committee for Syria
  6. Preconditions for Serbia’s accession to the EU
  7. Italian newspaper on Vladimir Putin’s influence on upcoming elections in Italy
  8. Developments following the death of Russian pilot Roman Filippov in Syria
  9. Resignation of the Dutch Foreign Minister
  10. The upcoming Dutch presidency of the UN Security Council
  11. Situation in Syria
  12. A joke by the Bulgarian Prime Minister




Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meetings on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference


As we have already announced, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the Munich Security Conference. We received a lot of questions regarding his bilateral and multilateral meetings planned as side events of the Conference.

Now I can confirm the following meetings on the sidelines of the Conference: meetings with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono, OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Foreign Minister of Spain Alfonso Dastis, Foreign Minister of Egypt Sameh Shoukry, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Foreign Minister of Slovakia, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak, Foreign Minister of Moldova Tudor Ulianovschi, Foreign Minister of Croatia Marija Pejcinovic-Buric, and President of Greek New Democracy opposition party Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The possibility of a Normandy format meeting is being considered, although we cannot confirm it yet.

The statement by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov will be devoted to the future relations between Russia and the European Union.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of business circles of Russia and Germany


On February 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Vice-Chancellor, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Sigmar Gabriel will meet with representatives of business circles of Russia and Germany during the traditional working breakfast on the sidelines of the 54th Munich Security Conference.

They will discuss the state and prospects of trade and investment cooperation of our countries that are developing steadily in a difficult environment of political risks and economic sanctions. Particular attention will be paid to the Russian Government’s measures to stimulate the growth of the national economy and improve the investment climate in our country.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with  Foreign Minister of Algeria Abdelkader Messahel


As part of the established practice of regularly comparing notes on current issues of the international and bilateral agenda, Foreign Minister of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria Abdelkader Messahel will be on a working visit in Moscow on February 18-19 on the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In addition to extensive talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry on February 19, the Algerian guest has a number of other meetings planned, including at the Security Council of the Russian Federation.

We regard Algeria as one of our leading partners in Africa and the Muslim world. Russia and Algeria share many common approaches in foreign affairs. Both countries are in favour of ensuring stability and balance of interests in international relations, strengthening the central role of the UN, respecting the fundamental norms and principles of international law, including the right of nations to determine their future without outside interference. We stick to similar approaches, for example, with regard to Syria and Libya.

Working together, we have developed an impressive array of mutually beneficial ties between Russia and Algeria. They are rich and diverse in nature, covering both the material sphere, primarily, defence industry and fuel/energy cooperation, as well as scientific and cultural exchanges. Our annual trade has exceeded $3 billion for several years now. During Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Algeria in October 2017, an extensive programme of concrete steps was agreed upon. It will also apply to research-intensive areas, in particular, the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The successfully functioning mixed Russian-Algerian intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation, which has already held eight plenary sessions, is called upon to play an active role in implementing these plans.

We believe the proper environment has been created for close interaction with Algeria, and our traditionally friendly relations will remain on an upward trajectory.

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif’s working visit to Russia


On February 20, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, will pay a working visit to Moscow at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The ministers will discuss the current state of affairs and prospects for bilateral relations, and exchange views on important issues of the international and regional agenda.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Pakistan. Today, we can state that cooperation with Pakistan features prominently on the list of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. We maintain an intensive political dialogue with Islamabad, and maintain constructive interaction on international platforms, primarily, the UN. Additional opportunities for partnership opened up after Islamabad joined the SCO in 2017 as a full member.

We plan to further strengthen the multi-dimensional ties between Russia and Pakistan, primarily in the area of trade and economic cooperation, as well as counter-terrorism.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a conference commemorating Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin


On February 20, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy will host a conference commemorating Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin. The participants will share their memories of the outstanding Russian diplomat and his career milestones at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Taking part in the event will be Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chair of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Konstanin Kosachyov, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin, the heads of various departments at the Russian Foreign Ministry, foreign ambassadors accredited in Moscow, leading Russian diplomats, scientists and journalists.

I can assure you that this will be a very informative event. Apart from talking about Vitaly Churkin’s procedural activities, there will be lots of memories about what kind of a person he was.

We invite Russian and foreign journalists to attend this event.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Slovenia


On February 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Slovenia, during which he is planning to meet with President of Slovenia Borut Pahor and hold talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Karl Erjavec.

The focal points of the upcoming talks will be the current state of and prospects for the development of bilateral relations and opportunities for deeper cooperation in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres. Special attention will be given to cooperation in matters of war memorials, above all, with regard to the opening and activity of the International World War II Research Centre in the city of Maribor. The sides are expected to exchange opinions on the situation in the Balkans and on a number of current European issues.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Serbia


On February 21–22, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Republic of Serbia coinciding with the 180th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Mr Lavrov will hold meetings with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic as well as talks with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dacic. He will also take part in the unveiling of new mosaic work on the dome of the Church of St Sava in Belgrade performed with Russia’s help, and hold a joint appearance with Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic for students of Belgrade University.

The plan is to discuss key areas of bilateral cooperation and ways to implement joint projects as well as share thoughts on current issues on the Balkan and international agenda.

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180th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Russia and Serbia


Russian-Serbian diplomatic relations mark their 180th anniversary on February 23. On February 19, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will open an exhibition of historical documents commemorating this important event at Building No. 1 of the Foreign Ministry as part of celebrations.

The exhibition will feature copies of historical documents, including documents from the Russian Empire’s Foreign Policy Archive, starting from 1838, the year when diplomatic ties were established, to the latest visit of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to Russia in December 2017.

The exhibition will be additional evidence of the unchanging sincere feelings of mutual respect and sympathy between our peoples bound by the inheritance from our ancestors.

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Global reaction following the crash of the AN-148 plane


I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the words of sympathy people all around the world, starting with heads of state to regular people, conveyed on our tragedy: an AN-148 passenger plane crash in the Moscow Region on February 11.

Let me say that Russia received condolences from dozens of nations, governments, foreign ministers, prime ministers, international organisations, diplomats in Moscow and a large number of religious and social activists. In many countries, ordinary people came to diplomatic missions of the Russian Federation to pay the tribute to the victims.

We are still receiving messages from various countries.

I would like to say once again that Russia thanks everyone who was moved by the tragedy and sent us words of sincere support.

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The situation in Syria


Last week, the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi on January 29 and 30 remained the dominating factor in the political situation in Syria. During the forum, representatives from Syria’s various political forces and civic groups from different ethnic and faith-based backgrounds spoke out in favour of  the country’s unity  and a transition, as soon as possible, to a peaceful life based on the agreed upon principles of a new system of government. Unfortunately, the continuing attempts by external forces to play their own game in Syria were still at variance with the signal sent by Syrians to the international community.

The US military continued the actual occupation of the 55-kilometre zone around Al Tanf, which, in fact, has become a safety zone for what is left of the ISIS fighters. US activities to the east of the Euphrates River were also provocative as they engaged in an almost open confrontation with the Syrian Army to demonstrate loyalty to their Kurdish allies.

Provoking Turkey, the Americans continued sending the Kurds new arms in convoys via Iraq. In turn, Turkey continued fighting the Kurds close to Afrin in the northwest of Syria as part of its Operation Olive Branch. The fighting in this area, in which Syrian armed opposition groups affiliated with Turkey are actively involved, was particularly fierce.

Terrorists from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) are still engaged in aggressive and provocative actions in the western part of the Eastern Ghouta de-escalation zone, including the heavy mortar-shelling of Damascus, as a result of which innocent people are killed.

Although they are well aware of this, many in the West, nevertheless, continue to treat al-Nusra fighters leniently, describing them as fighters against the “bloodthirsty regime” in Damascus. Those who hold these views seem to have forgotten how many al-Nusra militants are non-Syrian nationals. The group’s leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, publicly stated that this was about 40 per cent of the group.    

As experience shows, this forgetfulness can be useful. Amid this memory loss it is easier to deceive and accuse the Syrian Army and the Russian Aerospace Forces of unprovoked strikes, escalating violence, deliberate bombing of civilian facilities, as well as the mass killing of civilians. 

Following attacks by the Syrian Army, ISIS militants retreated from the so-called “pocket” in the east of Idlib Province towards the areas that are controlled by groups of Syrian armed opposition and after brief fights some 350 ISIS militants with families surrendered to them. It is unknown what happened to them afterwards. According to information posted on ISIS websites, they were executed, however, these reports raise doubt. It is important that former members of this terrorist organisation are not given the opportunity to join Jabhat al-Nusra or other radical armed groups which are ideologically close to them.

Our American partners often talk about the so-called “captured” ISIS fighters. In particular, speaking in Rome at a meeting with the US allies in the coalition fighting ISIS, Pentagon chief James Mattis has reportedly suggested that jihadists that have been taken prisoner should not be kept in Syria because the remaining instability might lead to them being released. However, the US has not made any specific proposals as to what should be done with these people. It was only stated that many Western countries did not want the terrorists from among their nationals back.  

We will keep a close eye on how this issue is resolved. That said, we would like to note that, according to generally accepted practice, individuals who have committed a crime in a country bear criminal responsibility under that country’s law, in this case, Syrian law. It begs the question if international terrorists should be given extraterritoriality status.  

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The alleged shelling of Russian military by US-led forces in Syria


First, the Bloomberg Agency, and then a number of other US media outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, published "revealing" materials about numerous Russian servicemen allegedly killed in a US air strike in Deir Ez-Zor. Bloomberg first mentioned 200 men, then 100. CNN is talking about more than a hundred. The New York Times picked up this subject as well. However, they counted only several dozen dead Russian troops.

Interestingly, the anti-government Syrian militants were among the first ones, perhaps, even before the above media, to pass along this disinformation on their media channels. For reasons unknown, they took a photo of the surface of Mars and superimposed an image - dated July 2014 - of destroyed (possibly, Ukrainian) military equipment on it.

Materials about dozens or hundreds of Russian nationals killed in action are a classic case of misinformation. It is not about 400, 200, 100, or even 10 people. According to preliminary data, five people, presumably Russian citizens, died in an armed clash, the reasons for which are being clarified. There are also wounded, but all of that needs to be verified - their citizenship, in particular and above all - to see whether they were citizens of Russia or other countries.

To reiterate, the issue is not about Russian servicemen.

We understand the reasons for the international terrorists spreading such rumours. I think you do, too. Now, it is also clear why the US publications have chimed in.

Notably, this information attack is coming from the United States, which has been accusing Russia for months on end of interfering in its internal affairs, in particular, the presidential election campaign, including in rather amusing ways, such as in social media.

By the way, perhaps the US administration would be willing to inform the media about the number of US civilians in Iraq during its presence in that country, both in the form of US private military companies and other agencies? How many people died? I assure you, the numbers may be shocking. Mind your own business instead of spreading disinformation about Russia.

The Presidential Executive Office and the Defence Ministry promptly clarified that there were no Russian servicemen in the area of ​​the US air strike.

There are large numbers of citizens in the conflict zones from all regions of the world, including Russia and the CIS countries. They have different reasons for being in these hot spots, including to engage in hostilities. Clearly, people leaving for warzones do not contact government authorities to notify them of their destinations. They make it to the combat zones in various ways, including illegal ones. Tracking them, or checking who does what, or their current status, is highly problematic. Nonetheless, our Ministry, in conjunction with other state agencies, is working through every case, since protecting Russian citizens abroad is one of our Ministry’s main tasks. Every Russian citizen is entitled to protection by the state, even if he or she violates Russian laws.

Once again, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are talking about a conflict zone with ongoing hostilities. In a situation like that, diplomacy operates on the verge of what’s possible, and planted articles like that do nothing but further complicate our work.

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OPCW special commission’s investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria in January


We noted the press release of the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on an investigation initiated by the OPCW special commission into the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria.  These reports on toxic chemicals’ use in East Ghouta and Idlib Province in January of this year are coming from various sources.

As follows from the Technical Secretariat’s release, the investigation is based on materials from open sources, the questioning of witnesses, medical reports and the results of the analysis of samples obtained by the OPCW. In other words, everything indicates that, unfortunately, the vicious practice of remote investigations continues. We constantly point out the perfectly obvious fact that one should not blindly take the word of interested parties, which the Syrian opposition and affiliated NGOs undoubtedly are. The only acceptable criterion of truth should be the evidence collected on the site of chemical incidents, otherwise it is impossible to determine whether chemical weapons were used at all, and if so, by whom and by what means.

According to the information available to us, representatives of the Jaysh al-Islam group said they were ready to admit the OPCW special commission experts to the Karm Ar-Rasas Highway and M5 Homs Highway (Damascus-Homs) areas under their control (Douma, East Ghouta) and ensure the safety of their work in the locations of the alleged use of chlorine by the Syrian military, as the opposition claims.

We expect that OPCW experts will finally abandon the remote method of investigating the use of chemical weapons, visit the places of alleged incidents in East Ghouta and Idlib Province and independently gather evidence of another provocation by the militants aimed at discrediting the legally elected authorities of Syria.

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Statements by Heather Nauert on US goals in Syria


We have noted the recent statements by Spokesperson for the US Department of State Heather Nauert that the US is in Syria for two reasons only: to destroy the Islamic State and to stabilise the country. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that just a few months ago, there was only one reason for US presence in Syria – the fight against ISIS. A couple of months later, there are two reasons.

In fact, the actions of our American colleagues in Syria have increasingly raised questions. As we have repeatedly noted, they have been acting without the invitation of the legitimate Syrian Government or UN sanctions. Nevertheless, Russia reached agreements with the US military in the interests of the fight against terrorism, believing what we were officially told more than once – that the only purpose for the US Armed Forces’ presence in Syria was to defeat ISIS.

The military-political structure of ISIS has been destroyed now. But, as soon as this happened, our American colleagues began giving us other reasons for their presence in Syria. They now say they have to stay until a political process is established leading to a sustainable and acceptable transition for all, that is, a regime change. At the same time, the Americans continue to play the ‘Kurdish card’ I spoke about today, guided by their own unilateral interests, aimed at undermining Syria’s territorial integrity rather than at preserving its unity.

We have repeatedly drawn attention to the obvious divergence of words and actions, but now we would like to point out a divergence of words from words, which is the next stage. We have not received any obvious or coherent answers to any of the concerns we have raised at meetings or publicly. Moreover, to divert attention from these inconsistencies, our American counterparts continually attack us and Damascus with aggressive propaganda, accusing us of escalating violence, the deaths of civilians, strikes against civilian infrastructure facilities, and the use of chemical weapons by Damascus. I do not rule out that the planting of reports I mentioned is also linked with this propaganda.

We would like to reiterate that the settlement of the situation in Syria must be achieved exclusively in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We support the launch of an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue, which was given a powerful impetus by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held on January 30 in Sochi, the Final Statement of which was circulated the day before as an official document of the UN Security Council.

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Events to mark 120th anniversary of Russian-Ethiopian diplomatic relations


On February 17, Russia and Ethiopia celebrate 120 years since the establishment of their diplomatic relations. On this day in 1898, head of the Russian Extraordinary Mission Pyotr Vlasov presented his credentials to Emperor Menelik II.

The multidimensional links between Russia and Ethiopia have deep historic roots and successfully develop these days in reliance on strong traditions of friendship, mutual respect and interest in expanding fruitful cooperation. Ethiopia is one of Russia’s essential partners in Africa. Moscow and Addis Ababa support an intensive political dialogue built on similar views of the processes in the world as well as concordant approaches to present day problems. We see great potential in further increasing mutually beneficial partnership in trade and the economy, including energy, nuclear energy, fundamental and applied sciences,  and education.

The foreign ministers of Russia and Ethiopia are expected to exchange messages on the anniversary of diplomatic relations. Events are planned in Moscow and Addis Ababa to mark the date. The Russian Embassy in Addis Ababa will host a reception to be attended by senior officials of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, the country’s prominent political and public figures and members of the local diplomatic corps.

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Minsk Agreements anniversary


February 12 marks three years since the signing of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This document allowed preventing escalation of the intra-Ukrainian conflict and its degradation into a full-fledged civil war. The document proposed a roadmap for the peace process that reconciled political steps with measures to ensure security. They must be fulfilled consistently and in strict order to reinforce each other. It was expected that the measures would bring peace by the end of 2015. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

Instead of honestly working towards the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, Kiev officials have blatantly sabotaged them from the very beginning by dragging out and stalling the negotiations. Kiev has not fulfilled a single provision in the Package of Measures substantively. Tension persists at the contact line, with continuous attacks that are initiated by the Ukrainian military, according to OSCE reports. Kiev’s strong unwillingness to engage in a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives remains the main issue. At the same time, Ukraine is not giving up the idea of solving the “occupation problem” by force. This was indicated by the law on re-integration of Donbass passed by the Verkhovna Rada almost a month ago. The law legitimates the full-scale use of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against civilians in the region. Therefore, responsibility for fuelling the smouldering fire of tension in the southeast fully lies with Ukraine that is trying to shift all the blame to Russia instead of performing its own obligations.

Moscow is certain that the Minsk Agreements remain the only basis for settling the intra-Ukrainian crisis. There is no alternative to them. The sooner Kiev begins to put them into practice the sooner the conflict in Donbass comes to an end.

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Harassment of Strana.ua news website editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva


We have already commented on the harassment of Igor Guzhva, the chief editor of Ukrainian news website Strana.ua, by Ukrainian authorities. Although he was released on bond, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office now plans to introduce a tougher measure of restrictions and to have him detained. Mr. Guzhva has been forced to flee from his persecutors to Austria. On February 8, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich addressed participants during a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council and demanded that members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine respond promply to this situation.

These repressive actions against the journalist are yet another episode of a campaign to combat independent journalism and to eliminate all dissent in this country, which has been unleashed by Kiev long ago. On February 8, Ukrainian law enforcement officers raided and searched the editorial office of the Vesti newspaper in Kiev and paralysed its work.

We are noting that the situation with the Ukrainian media outlets continues to deteriorate at a time when the relevant international human rights organisations are failing to respond accordingly. For example, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has so far failed to issue an official press release regarding the situation with Mr Guzhva’s harassment.

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Russian assessment of European Commission’s strategy for Western Balkans


We have noted the publication of the European Commission's West Balkans strategy on February 6. The document confirms the geopolitical task of further expanding the European Union and strengthening its role in this important European region.

The Russian side has repeatedly stated that Moscow does not reject the issue concerning the Balkan states’ Euro-integration, provided that prospective EU member-countries are not presented with an artificial choice and forced to have to choose between the European Union and Russia. Experience shows that the capitals of Balkan countries are often confronted with this alternative, and they are forced to join anti-Russia restrictions under the pretext of following Brussels’ foreign policy line. We hope that the European Union will, nevertheless, draw conclusions from the sad experience of implementing the Eastern Partnership project and will pay attention to the ties that have evolved between Russia and Balkan statesOne gets the impression that, despite underscoring the importance of meeting the relevant membership criteria, the Strategy’s authors mostly stipulated specific deadlines, due to be met by aspiring EU members. Our principled stand implies that Balkan states themselves should address the highly complicated regional matters, and that they should not be prodded or forced to meet any formal criteria. In other words, this should be done without any foreign interference. Patient dialogue alone makes it possible to reach mutually acceptable compromise solutions regarding real improvements in the Balkan situation and achieving stability as well as interethnic tranquility there. This concerns persisting border issues in the Balkan region, Macedonia’s official name, etc. Most importantly, this also concerns the situation around Kosovo, also mentioned by the Strategy. We are confident that the Kosovo issue can only be resolved on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which has fundamental significance in the context of international law.

We cannot help but voice dismay in connection with some European media comments, including those made by Euronews, on the Strategy. These comments hinted at Montenegro’s privileged status in joining the EU because it is a NATO member. And Brussels continues to assure that accession to NATO allegedly has nothing to do with the European integration. It appears that there is a different opinion regarding the cojugation of these processes.

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10th аnniversary of Kosovo independence


February 17 marks the tenth anniversary of so-called Kosovo “statehood.” This is certainly an occasion to take a close look at the dire consequences of the policy of retroactively legitimizing NATO’s 1999 aggression and dismemberment of a European state – the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – pursued by Pristina’s supporters.

Unilateral secession that took place in 2008 in violation of the bedrock principles of international law failed to resolve the Kosovo issue and the prospects of its solution are still dim. Owing to the efforts of its “benefactors” Kosovo turned into a “black hole” with a strange status. Hopes for an early unanimous recognition by the international community did not come true and attempts to make Kosovo a member of a number of multilateral entities led to a politicization of their activities as well as internal discord. Already, we have seen some acts of recognition of Kosovo independence being recalled.

The practice of mechanically applying European democratic templates to Kosovo has not worked. The result is a wobbly semi-puppet regime where key decisions are dictated by Western diplomats.

The chaotic situation in Kosovo is being used to deploy NATO infrastructure, specifically the US Bondsteel base, to project the alliance’s influence in the Balkans and manipulate the processes in the region under the cover of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Unilateral declaration of independence has failed to solve the region’s economic problems and attract investments. As a consequence, Kosovo remains the poorest part of the region from where people flee. This is compounded by rampant crime and corruption against the background of clashes of clan interests, security problems and vulnerability to the terrorist threat from the Middle East.

A legitimate question suggests itself: what is Pristina going to celebrate? It is obvious to all clear-minded observers that those who masterminded and executed the project have nothing to boast about.

I remember well that in 2008, after the unilateral, illegal and illegitimate recognition of sovereignty CNN showed a catchy and expensive advert whose keynote was “Kosovo: the land of opportunities.” So much for the country, and so much for the opportunities. At the time what interested me most was who paid for making this advert and who paid for it to be shown on CNN. We know very well how much every minute of air time costs. 

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Situation with obtaining US visas in Russia


We are genuinely surprised at the way US representatives, notably in their comments to the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta article on 9 February, present the situation with obtaining American visas in Russia. The situation is lamentable, and not through any fault of Russia.

Because of Washington’s continuing hostile actions, including sanctions and an unprecedented seizure of our diplomatic properties, Russia had to suggest that the US reduce the staff of American diplomatic offices in the country to about the same level as our staff in the US. However, the Russian side did not in any way try to dictate whom the US was to second and whom to sack. It was the Americans who decided to massively recall the staff in the visa section. It was their sovereign decision. As far as we understand this was done with a specific political goal in mind, to increase the barriers in the way of obtaining American visas in order to stir up public discontent with the decision of the Russian authorities and redirect the blow against Moscow.

There have, of course, long been difficulties with obtaining American visas because one has to pass an interview at US consular offices. For about 15 years now people in most Russian regions have had to travel to Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok spending their time and money. Six months ago the Americans stopped their visa work at their consulates general and dramatically downsized the consular unit at their Embassy in Moscow.

It was not until December that the American consulates general again started to do what they exist for, i.e. to issue visas. But still only a limited number of them. Today the number of US entry visas issued to our citizens is almost three times less than before. The official waiting time for visa interviews is still 85 days, i. e. almost three months, yet even this timeline is not complied with because it is simply impossible to get registered on the special website.

Let me repeat that this is a matter within the competence of the US authorities, a matter for them to decide. It is absurd and indecent to put the blame on Russia. This approach suggests an attempt to switch public attention, to name a culprit and to dodge the problem, for example, by specious and irrelevant assertions to the effect that a year ago Russia had itself created difficulties by raising the price of multiple visas for Americans.

US citizens continue to get Russian visas as before without experiencing any problems. The 2011 bilateral agreement on simplifying visa formalities does not specify the price of visas. Under Russian laws it now stands at 90 USD per single-entry visa, 144 USD per two-trip visa and 270 USD per multiple visa. Those Americans who do not plan repeat trips any time soon prefer to obtain single-entry visas that are much cheaper than what the Russians pay for their American visas (160 USD).

The allegations of the US Embassy to the effect that the Russian Foreign Ministry has asked to organize interviews for Aeroflot crews and Russian athletes look weird. We have indeed asked for fast-track visas for such people, but not at the expense of other Russian citizens. It was just a request to the Americans to comply with specific international obligations.

The thing is that the situation that arose last autumn could have forced Aeroflot to stop its flights to the US because its pilots had no visas. Because other airlines have no regular flights there, the air link between our countries was under threat due to the visa obstacles artificially created by Washington.

Naturally, we had to remind our American colleagues that the 1994 bilateral Air Transport Agreement requires them to issue visas to the crews of aircraft in a timely manner. So far we have managed to preserve the flight schedules.

Russian athletes en masse have faced similar problems with traveling to various international competitions in the US. It looks as if the American authorities have forgotten that in undertaking to host an event on their territory they thereby assume an obligation to ensure access for all the participants. Thus, non-issue of visas for Russian athletes is nothing but a deliberate discrimination against Russia. It may also represent unfair competition in sports. We had to flag it and will continue to do so.

We are of course indignant that because of the American visa restrictions many trips are disrupted, including in the area of business, cultural, scientific or family and friendly relations. One gets the impression that Washington does not want Russians to visit the US. It’s as if they are afraid that they would smuggle in truthful information about Russia and it would thus reach American citizens.

I would like to remind you that two years ago the US State Department withdrew accreditation from five of our honorary consuls who were engaged in promoting people-to-people contacts.

The serious issues that piled up in the visa area of Russia-US relations will be on the agenda of the upcoming consultations on consular matters. They were to be held at the end of last year but the American side chose to postpone them. Given the wish to discuss these topics why talk about  them with the press? We are ready to discuss them in the course of consultations, especially since they have been set up. I call on the American colleagues, let us address these problems. 

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Russia’s participation in the international project to renovate the memorial museum at the site of former Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland


At the briefing on January 31, we commented on a tweet posted by Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski, who said that it was the Netherlands, rather than Poland, that blocked Russia’s participation in the International Steering Committee for the project to create a new museum, a memorial built on the grounds of the former Nazi death camp in Sobibor. We promised to verify the information and give you more details.

Today I can share with you the following information. Dutch officials deny any such claims. The question is, who is lying? Is the Netherlands lying or Poland? Is it really so difficult to come out and tell the truth?

We would like to stress once again that for Russia, the priority is to exercise its historically substantiated right to full participation in eternalising the memory of the prisoners of that horrible place, among whom there were Soviet citizens as well as those, who, led by Soviet officer Alexander Pechersky, organised a riot in Sobibor in October 1943, the only successful riot in a concentration camp over the years of World War II. It is even more important because Russian archives contain a large number of documents that could significantly expand the exhibition of the new museum.

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New exhibition opened by Latvian officials at Salaspils concentration camp


Many have asked why we need to participate in the exhibition and what is so special about it. It is said that we are living in an open information environment and should there be any questionable exhibits or problems we can always declare it. So, here is the answer to what can happen.

On February 8, a grand opening ceremony for a “new exhibition” took place at the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, an exhibition that presents a new version of Salaspils history promoted by Latvian officials. According to the official Riga’s interpretation, Salaspils was not at all a death camp like Auschwitz or Dachau. Allegedly, people there did not die violent deaths but due to illnesses and natural causes. The number of victims killed in the concentration camp was marked down tenfold and was said to be only 3,000 (according to archives, more than 53,000 human lives perished in Salaspils).

The main focus of the new exhibition is on “crimes committed during the Soviet and German occupation”, to which Latvia claims to have no relation. On the contrary, Latvia is said to have been “a prisoner of historical circumstances.”

Not a single word has been said about Red Army soldiers who liberated Salaspils. By the way, the Russian Ambassador to Latvia was not invited to the event, for obvious reasons. The horrendous experiments on children by Nazi butchers were hushed up, in an absolutely shameless manner.

Attempts to erase the memory of the atrocities at the Salaspils camp at the official level cannot but cause great concern as another outrageous testimony to the fact that distortion of history, in Latvia in particular, is becoming increasingly perverse.

We really hope that representatives of international organisations will give their principled assessment of the situation.

You can see how things are done these days. Facts are being inverted and history rewritten.

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Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service report, International Security and Estonia


On February 8, the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service released its annual report on the country’s status in security affairs. We received requests for comments on this report. I do not even want to comment on the fact that the document is completely anti-Russia, it is obvious. I would like to point out that, as local media outlets already discovered, (once again, we are talking about the report titled “International security and Estonia,” not Russia) Estonia itself is mentioned in the report 37 times while Russia is mentioned 458 times and, of course, solely as a “threat to the sovereignty of Estonia.” It appears that, based on these figures, the threat is ten times bigger than the country itself. I do apologise but that is exactly what it says.

We are nothing but perplexed by the unsubstantiated insinuations in the report on the Eastern neighbour’s allegedly aggressive behavior. It is a pity that, instead of an objective analysis of the current situation, the public was offered a number of threadbare anti-Russian clichés, paranoid through and through, and hysterical appeals against any contacts with Russia. Who are they addressed at? Estonians? To refrain from contacts with Russia? Is it a warning for Russians not to travel to Estonia? Could they be somehow dangerous to Estonian citizens? Is it a warning for Estonians against travelling to Russia? What did they mean? Such blatant scaremongering of their own people, officials and public organisations that are objectively interested in normal cooperation with their partners on the other side of the border clearly contradicts a constructive bilateral dialogue. 

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Restricted broadcasts of Russian RTR Planeta channel


On February 14, the Lithuanian Television and Radio Broadcasting Commission issued a decision to restrict broadcasting of Russian RTR-Planeta television channel for a year. The official reason was “consistent violation of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the Lithuanian law on public information.”

Considering the background of this matter and a similar incident with Russia’s NTV Mir Lithuania channel in 2014, there is no doubt that these claims only cover a political order. It is apparent that the local officials want to subject the channel to strict censorship. The commission previously suspended RTR Planeta’s broadcasting for three months at least twice and also attempted to regulate it to be a paid channel.

As far as we understand, Vilnius is irritated by the channel’s political programmes. But freedom of speech implies expression of political views that may not be favoured by the government. If there are specific complaints against specific individuals, perhaps there is a point in addressing these complaints at these persons. Possibly, this repressive policy of Lithuania has something to do with the general sentiment against the Russian media across the EU.

We consider this decision yet another unfriendly act against the Russian media and open discrimination against our journalists. Not to mention the fact that this is a grave violation of such fundamental principles of international law as freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which is unacceptable in modern democratic society.

We call for the attention of the international human rights community and expect that it will clearly express its opinion on the matter. We assume that there must be a response from the OSCE. Obviously, it would be good to hear the official reaction of representatives of the EU and competent European institutions because the local Lithuanian officials are using the EU regulations as a cover.

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Moldova bans Russian information and analytical broadcasts


On January 11, the Foreign Ministry provided a detailed commentary on the adoption of a law to amend the Moldovan Television and Radio Code. This law virtually bans Russian news, information and analytical broadcasts.

On January 24, the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation passed a special statement on the unacceptability of discriminating against Russian media outlets in the republic. The document urged the UN, the Council of Europe as well as the OSCE to assess the actions of Moldovan authorities.

Frankly speaking, the international community is in no hurry to respond, and Moldovan authorities are beginning to crack down on media outlets covered by discriminatory amendments. TV-Gagauzi, the public television channel of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, became the first media outlet to be fined under the law for its failure to fulfil instructions and to submit a new concept for airing Russian news, information and analytical broadcasts to Moldova’s Coordination Council on Television and Radio for approval until February 10.

We continue to believe that the approved law represents an act of gross violation of the fundamental international principle of freedom of speech and media freedom, aims to legalise censorship and to rid the media of viewpoints seen as unacceptable by official Chisinau. This is unacceptable in a modern democratic society.

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Organisation of Russian presidential election abroad


We have received many questions regarding the organisation of the Russian presidential election outside Russia. It is good that people want to know about this. We have reviewed all the questions from various media outlets and prepared brief answers to them.

1. What is the statistical data for countries with the largest number of voters taking part in the Russian presidential election?

As of January 1, the largest number of voters has registered for the upcoming election in Germany (487,000), Moldova (189,000), Israel (146,000.), Estonia (114,000), the United States (104,000), Abkhazia (89,000), Ukraine (74,000), Kazakhstan (73,000), Belarus (67,000) and Latvia (63,000).

2. Will any officials from Moscow go to help out in the countries with the largest Russian electorates?

It is obvious that the staff of Russian offices abroad at local election commissions will have to work especially hard in the countries with large Russian electorates. Therefore, we plan to dispatch employees from the Foreign Ministry’s central office to help them out.

3. How will we organise voting in the countries where March 18 is a workday?

Sunday (March 18) is a workday in many Muslim countries. Therefore, voting stations in those countries will open on the nearest day off, in this case, Friday, March 16, to allow the voters to exercise their constitutional right.

4. Will we organise early voting outside voting premises for those who cannot come to the voting stations for various reasons?

A large number of our compatriots live outside the cities where Russian foreign offices are located, some of them very far away from them. Not all of them can come to voting stations on the voting day, primarily because of high travel costs and also because many of them are elderly. A considerable number of voters will be working on the voting day, working in shifts or for other reasons concerning their work schedules. This mostly concerns military personnel, border guards, ship crews, the staff of Russian companies working at large foreign projects, and plane crews at UN missions.

We plan to organise early voting outside voting premises for these voters.

5. How will we organise voting in Latvia and Estonia, where the authorities have prohibited us from increasing the number of voting stations and organising early voting outside voting premises? 

This year, the authorities of Latvia and Estonia have refused permission to increase the number of voting stations and to organise early voting outside voting premises. We have expressed our regret regarding this. So, voters there have been placed in difficult conditions in terms of long lines and the inability to travel to voting stations from distant towns. Therefore, voting stations in these countries will be open two days, on March 17 and 18.

6. How will the Russian citizens in the consular district of San Francisco, where the Consulate General of Russia has been closed, exercise their right to vote?

Of course, the US authorities’ decision to close our Consulate General in San Francisco has complicated our work. We plan to hold early voting outside voting premises for the people who live in that consular district.

7. How many voting stations do we have abroad at this point in time?

As of February 14, the Foreign Ministry’s offices abroad have created 378 voting stations in 145 countries.

8. Which online resources publish information about the upcoming election?

This seems like a strange question, but I will answer it once again. The legally required information about the presidential candidates is available on the website of the Central Election Commission. Links to this website can be found in the Elections section on the websites of the Foreign Ministry’s offices abroad.

9. What can we say about the electoral activity of Russian citizens abroad?

This question should be better addressed to experts rather than to the Foreign Ministry. We will do our best to inform our citizens so that they will be able to cast their votes. We will also do our utmost to organise voting in the most convenient manner depending on the country. We will try to find the best form, date and place for organising voting in each country based on the parameters I have mentioned.

10. What are our recommendations to those who plan to travel abroad during the election? What documents do they need to be able to take part in the voting?

I would like to say again that a large amount of information, including on this issue, is available on the website of the Central Election Commission. I would recommend those who are planning foreign trips to visit the websites of our embassy and consulate in the country they are going to. In fact, I would advise them to do so not only because of the upcoming election but simply because they are planning to travel abroad. They will find hotline telephone numbers for emergencies and information about other methods of contacting Russian diplomats. This is especially important in this particular case. First visit the websites of our office in the country where you plan to travel. You will find information on the place and time of the voting, including early voting and voting outside voting premises, the addresses and telephone numbers of district election commissions, the schedule of their operation and other helpful information. To be able to vote, these people should have their foreign travel (service or diplomatic) passports, although most people hold foreign travel passports. In the countries which Russians can enter on their regular (internal) passport, this document is enough for taking part in the voting.

11. How will the election be organised in Ukraine?

Regrettably, organising voting in Ukraine has become an extremely difficult process, primarily because the atmosphere of hatred inspired by aggressive nationalists with regard to Russian citizens who come to voting stations at our offices in Kiev, Kharkov, Lvov and Odessa. Despite the Russian Embassy’s appeal to the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine to maintain public order on voting days, police officers seldom attempted to do so. We had to appeal to the OSCE leadership and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to monitor the maintenance of public order at Russian offices.

12. I said at a briefing that we have information about some Western countries attempting to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs in the context of the election campaign. Do we have any new information regarding this?  

It is a very popular question. I would like to point out that unlike the unsubstantiated allegations about the omnipotent “Russian hackers” and “Russian influence on the election results in other countries,” we do have specific information about some Western countries’ destructive interference in our internal affairs in the context of the presidential election campaign.

During a briefing held for ambassadors from the OSCE member states and partner countries on January 19, Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov asked them to send a clear signal to their capitals that these activities must stop or else we will have to take harsh countermeasures and possibly do so publicly.

We will either make public all materials regarding such activities or notify our partners and colleagues that such activities are unacceptable. I have told you about one of the forms of doing this – at a briefing held by the Foreign Ministry for the countries concerned.

13. Why should people attend elections, and why is it especially important to do so at this moment in history?

In my opinion, it is a question that does not need an answer. Yes, people do need to take part in elections and cast their votes, so that nobody would be able to accuse anyone of falsifying the election. They should vote, because each vote counts when we need to counter the endless allegations. The election has not been held yet, but there are already publications to this effect. I would like to tell all Russian citizens, including those who live abroad and who have the right and an opportunity to vote: Come to the voting stations and cast you ballots. We will do everything necessary for you to be able to do so.

The above are only part of the questions we have received. We will continue to answer them. Feel free to send your questions to us. The more questions you ask now, the fewer questions we will have to answer before the voting day. We will be happy to answer all your questions as soon as possible.

I would like to say that we received your questions regarding Ukraine, San Francisco and the Baltics a month ago, but we could not answer them earlier because we did not have the necessary information. I have answered them now and provided specific information, figures and parameters. Please, do send us your questions and we will answer them by all means.

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Hero of Russia Alexei Botyan is 101 years old


On February 10, famous Soviet commando and intelligence agent, Great Patriotic War veteran and Hero of Russia Alexei Botyan celebrated his 101st birthday. He played an important role in saving the old Polish city of Krakow from destruction by retreating Nazi German forces. In January 1945, he commanded a reconnaissance team whose members destroyed a German explosives depot the contents of which was to have been used for planting explosive devices in the city and its environs. The destruction of these explosives thwarted the Nazi plan.

We would like to wish  Mr. Botyan from the bottom of our hearts health, happiness and all the very best.

Unfortunately, people in Poland today so often forget the great feat of our compatriot. The policy of Warsaw aiming to dismantle monuments to Soviet soldiers is seen as particularly cynical and blasphemous in the context of Soviet soldiers’ heroic efforts to liberate and save this country and, in principle, the entire Polish nation and to preserve its cultural legacy. We hope that official Warsaw will voice a desire to unfailingly honour bilateral agreements in the area of war memorials as well as renounce immoral plans to dismantle monuments to Soviet soldiers who fought for the life and freedom of the Polish nation.

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Exhibition marking the 140th anniversary of liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke


On March 1, an exhibition dedicated to the 140th anniversary of liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke as a result of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, due to be marked on March 3, will open at Atrium Hall inside the Foreign Ministry’s Building No. 1.

On display at the exhibition will be material from the Russian Empire’s Foreign Policy Archives and the Russian State Military History Archives. This includes such well-known documents as the April 12, 1877 Manifesto of Russian Emperor Alexander II on deploying Russian forces to Turkey. This document voiced the Russian nation’s readiness to make additional sacrifices for mitigating the plight of Christians from the Balkan Peninsula. Other documents include the San Stefano Preliminary Treaty of March 3, 1878 that implemented the Bulgarian nation’s dream of reinstating its own state and the Berlin Treaty of July 1, 1878 that was imposed on Russia by Western powers and which considerably reduced the territory of liberated Bulgaria.

Visitors will see diplomatic correspondence, requests by Bulgarian representatives pleading the Russian authorities to help Bulgaria, the first Bulgarian Constitution, drafted with the assistance of Russian lawyers, transcripts of meetings of the Constituent Popular Assembly whose members ratified this Constitution in Veliko Tarnovo together with other interesting exhibits.

Wreaths will be laid at 2 pm on March 3 in Ilyinsky Public Garden at the Monument-Chapel to Grenadiers killed in the Battle of Pleven during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Representatives of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Foreign Ministry and other agencies, the Government of Moscow, diplomats from the Bulgarian Embassy, public activists and media workers will attend the event.

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Event honouring Russian citizens who served abroad


On February 13, the Jintai Art Museum in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park hosted an event timed to coincide with the Day of Honouring Russian Citizens Who Served Abroad at the initiative of the Russian Embassy in the People’s Republic of China. This day is celebrated every February 15 under Article 1.1 of Federal Law No. 32-FZ Days of Russian Military Glory and Commemorative Dates of March 13, 1995. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to the PRC Andrey Denisov, Russian and Belarussian military attaches, the management of the Jintai Art Museum, Russian Embassy officials, activists of the Immortal Regiment historical-patriotic movement and representatives of the Chinese public attended the event.

In his speech, Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov noted that 3,665 Soviet military specialists, including about 2,500 pilots and technicians, who were ready to voluntarily fight for the freedom of the Chinese nation had arrived in China in the 1930s. Out of that number, 14 people became Heroes of the Soviet Union. Over 200 Soviet citizens never came home. The people of China cherish their memory. Many Chinese cities, including Nanjing, Wuhan and Chungking, have built memorials honouring the memory of Soviet pilots. The Soviet Falcon sculpture by famous Chinese sculptor Yuan Xikun stands in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park. Work is now underway in Wuhan to establish a memorial museum honouring the memory of over 100 Soviet volunteer pilots who were killed fighting Japanese invaders there in 1938 alone, he added. Today, when the level of Russian-Chinese relations has reached an all-time high, it is very important to preserve the memory of our common heroes for us and for future generations, he noted.

Event participants saw a presentation of the future museum in Wuhan and a photo exhibition dedicated to Soviet volunteer pilots. The participants were extremely interested in photos from family archives of relatives of Soviet pilots, including Alexei Blagoveshchensky, M. Matveyev, Konstantin Opasov, Ivan Puntus and I. Gurov. 

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Days of Russian Spiritual Culture in Vienna


A series of events took place in Vienna to mark the second anniversary of the historic meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis in Havana, a meeting attended by a representative delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church led by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchy.

On February 12, a conference was held at the residence of the Archbishop of Vienna to discuss joint efforts of the churches to protect Christians in the Middle East. The conference was attended by Metropolitan Hilarion, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, hierarchs of Middle Eastern churches, representatives of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, Austrian public and the media (more than 100 participants in total).

At the previous meeting, the parties stressed the relevance and importance of the main theme of the conference, the significance of collective assistance to Christians in the Middle East, and Vienna’s influential role as a neutral platform for a political dialogue on this and other topical issues.

Appeals for peace in the Middle East and uniting efforts of the Orthodox and Catholic churches in defence and support of persecuted Christians, particularly, in Syria and Iraq, were the keynote of the event.

We highly value the cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in the protection of Christians in the Middle East, and the willingness of both churches to continue fruitful collaboration.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Spring will be the time for presidential elections in Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. There are always certain hopes after an election. Does the Foreign Ministry expect that after the elections, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will find a settlement or at least there will be significant progress?

Maria Zakharova: We sincerely hope that the conflict will be resolved. As you know, we are paying careful attention to it and, most importantly, we are largely involved in fulfilling the parties’ plans.

Question: Russia is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. What is the Foreign Ministry’s view of the recent statements by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev who said that Yerevan (and not only Yerevan) is Azerbaijan’s historical territory and return of this territory is Azerbaijan’s strategic goal?

Maria Zakharova: Moscow has certainly noted reports of President Aliyev’s address to the ruling party’s conference. We are very well aware that the relations between Azerbaijan and its neighbour Armenia are extremely tense. The said statement is clearly not helping to reduce the tension.

Question: This week, everyone has been discussing the report made by Director of the US National Intelligence Dan Coats. Could you comment on the statement that “Russia views Belarus as a critical buffer between itself and NATO and will seek to spoil any potential warming between Minsk and the West”?

Maria Zakharova: To tell the truth, I don’t think it is necessary to comment on every statement from the US political establishment. In general, I can say that, unlike some other countries, Russia does not force countries, states and nations to choose: either you are with us or against us; we do not see this difference, especially if we are talking about such a close and friendly country as Belarus.

Let me remind you of an obvious fact: the Republic of Belarus is our ally and strategic partner. Relations at such a high level cannot be built without respecting your allies and partners’ right to choose their foreign policy for themselves. In this sense, we have always accepted Minsk’s course towards developing multifaceted cooperation.

Question: You have mentioned the Minsk agreements. During the three years since they were signed people have been constantly voicing proposals to move the venue for the talks from Minsk. Does the Foreign Ministry believe that Belarus provides all the necessary conditions for the regular meetings of the trilateral Contact Group?

Maria Zakharova: Representatives of Russia’s and other countries’ leadership have talked about this many times. The main thing is that this process is alive and gives results. Belarus organises all events it undertakes at a very high level and provides cooperation and support every time it is needed. It is very important that this process, which we have started and which I covered for so long today, will bear fruit.

You can always find many reasons to say that “there are walls in your way” when you don’t want to do something. But you can also find many reasons to say the opposite if you want to fulfil your mission. In this case, we must all concentrate on implementing the Minsk agreements. Let me repeat that the participants of all the events Belarus has held noted their high level and traditional hospitality of our Belarusian brothers and expressed their gratitude.

Question: What is the situation with the de-escalation zones and the establishment of another zone in Afrin? How do you assess the work done by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura on forming the Constitutional Committee?

Maria Zakharova: Exhaustive comments on this topic have been made by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his latest news conferences and interviews, and by the Defence Ministry; I have also given our assessment today. I have nothing to add.

Regarding the assessment of Staffan de Mistura’s work, you know that we support it and try to do everything in our power to make the processes on the Geneva platform more active due to their crucial role. We wish him every success in his demanding mission. When we see the need to reinvigorate the Geneva platform, we always openly say so to our colleagues and sometimes answer questions about this in public. Mr de Mistura has Russia’s full support, as does the Geneva process in general, and Russian representatives have said so many times.

Question: Recently Foreign Minister of Germany Sigmar Gabriel announced that Serbia must recognise Kosovo if it wants to join the EU. Why do you think Brussels and Berlin are setting conditions of this kind to candidates? There are countries in the EU that have not recognised Kosovo, for example, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. 

Maria Zakharova: I think this question should be addressed to respective European bodies in Brussels so that they can justify their stance. I pointed out that Russia has never exercised a policy of promoting a divide or breakoff with respect to the Balkans or any other states. We understand the countries’ sincere interest in developing a partnership with their European neighbours and integration frameworks. At the same time, we are helping with developing relations with our country in every possible way, taking into account common historical roots, economic and financial feasibility and interests.

It is hard to understand why such completely unfounded, unnecessary and unhelpful pre-conditions are set, for Serbia, in particular. It could be partly a reflection of anti-Russia attitudes. It is no secret that there are powers inside European bureaucratic institutions that are doing what they can to prevent the expansion of Russia’s relations with the EU itself and other integration unions in Europe and with certain countries. At the same time, there are other political powers, another part of the EU political establishment, that support integration and linking integration processes both in the European Union and in the former Soviet states. They do not see anything reprehensible in this and support normalising relations with Russia and building a long-term partnership with the Russian Federation.

This could be related to wishes of certain politicians or officials who are not very fond of Russia and, most importantly, have no pragmatic understanding of how the modern world should develop.

Question: The Italian newspaper L'Espresso published a large report saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to influence the March 4 Italian elections, supporting the North League party.

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for reminding me. I would like to announce that tomorrow, on February 16, in the evening, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview will be released by the Euronews TV channel, touching on a large scope of issues concerning Russia’s relations with Europe. Although the interview was held by the Euronews TV channel, the discussion began with America and Russian-American relations. Mr Lavrov answered any questions asked.

He thoroughly spelled out the mechanics of how we are constantly accused of interfering in various countries’ internal affairs, in particular in Europe, and gives a detailed description of how it is done; and then explains that this is not so. I highly recommend that you watch the interview tomorrow.

We are not closed to discussing any issue that seems problematic to our partners. If they have a problem with any information about Russia’s alleged interference in elections, for example, in Italy, why not discuss this with Russia? We are open to it. Give us the facts, and let's see if there are any specific cases, some actions that were taken by Russia that the Italian authorities might consider inappropriate. Have there been any such facts or not? We have not been presented with any specifics, either in the context of the Italian elections, the situation in Spain, or the referendum in the UK. At the same time, we hear all the time that Russia has interfered in the affairs of these countries. This is said by politicians who make public statements, but who shy away from discussion through diplomatic channels and who never cite any specifics. I remember absolutely unacceptable statements made by Spanish politicians in the context of the internal situation there, despite our regular assurances of a commitment to respect its territorial integrity. Then these same politicians, spokespersons, and government officials in Spain began explaining that they had not meant quite that, but something else. Apparently, at the moment when they made the statements, they had in mind domestic political implications. The same is true of Italy. If there are specific facts, we are ready to discuss them – but give us figures, facts, dates, roles, names, secret meeting places, or any suspicions. Right now there are none.

Once again, I repeat that I highly recommend you to watch the Euronews interview tomorrow. The channel will broadcast the interview for an hour, but the full transcript will be available a little later on the Foreign Ministry website. I really hope that the channel will show the part I just mentioned.

Question: Is there any information about the incident with pilot Roman Filipov? The thing is that the Russian Defence Ministry has made it clear that the MANPADS that shot down the plane were delivered to the terrorists by Americans. Are the results of the investigation ready yet? Should any political, military or diplomatic results be expected?

Maria Zakharova: We have confirmed it both via the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. The investigation is on. As soon as there is any reliable information that we can use as evidence we of course, will make the relevant conclusions and statements.

Question: 75 years ago, diplomatic relations between Russia and Iceland were established. Will this anniversary be marked?

Maria Zakharova: I will find out what events are planned to mark this anniversary and will speak about it next time. We will also send the information to you.

Question: The news about the resignation of Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Halbe Zijlstra has shaken the entire diplomatic world.

Maria Zakharova: Why do you think we were shaken? We were repeatedly answering questions whether we expect Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra in Moscow. Each time we answered that we were expecting him, even literally 15 minutes before his resignation. All preparations were in place. He did not come.

Question: Zijlstra resigned because of a simple reason: lies about what happened at the dacha of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin.

Maria Zakharova: There was no talk about Vladimir Putin’s dacha.

Question: There was in the Netherlands.

Maria Zakharova: It was said that allegedly President Vladimir Putin made statements during the talks about some possible Russian expansion and some geopolitical ambitions in the neighbouring countries. The statements, which for many years passed of as true, were that Russia has some aggressive ambitions and geopolitical goals. It was made with a reference to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin which was made allegedly in the presence of Dutch Foreign Minister Zijlstra. You only recently learned that it was a lie, while we have said it repeatedly.

Moreover, this is not the first case when officials and highly-ranked representatives of foreign countries made such false statements, while the Russian party disowned them by offering to publish transcripts of meetings and personal and phone conversations. We began doing this after the number of such fake statements began to grow. Then, to calm down those who on the one hand have powers and are present at the relevant talks, and on the other hand, who allow themselves to make clearly fake statements, we offered them printed versions of the meetings. Soon after this all such statements began to cease. It was a revelation for people in the Netherlands, and maybe for people somewhere else as well. For us it is, unfortunately, routine. I just answered the question about Russia’s alleged interference in the Italian elections. We will soon be having our own elections and we have things to do in our own country. Similar fake statements are made on an entire range of matters. Therefore, I repeat for the third time, it was not news to us. We have to deal with it every day.

Question: Can this affect Russian-Dutch relations, in particular, as regards the investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17?

Maria Zakharova: I wonder if you heard the statements we made every week regarding this investigation. Has this information never reached the Dutch people or at least Dutch political analysts? We have said more than once that the statements made by officials raise suspicions. And the investigation as it is being conducted raises our suspicions as well.

Please, do not make a connection between what I have just said and the situation with the resignation of Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra. We made these statements six or more months ago. The Dutch public is not aware of our statements, probably because nobody reports about them. When we made these statements, the only reply we received was a sharp comment by our Dutch colleagues to the effect that we need not worry because the investigation is being conducted honestly. Yet we have had our suspicions, and for rather a long time. We spoke about our concerns openly, item by item. Therefore, there is no sense in wondering if this can affect our relations. We have been speaking about this openly for many years now.

Question: The Netherlands will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council on March 1, 2018. Can Russia be sure of the reliability of the Dutch President?

Maria Zakharova: We wish the Netherlands every success, including during its presidency of the UN Security Council. We really do, because the UN Security Council is a platform for addressing acute international issues. It is not a place for pointing fingers, renewing old grievances or settling scores. It is a place for settling current problems that have a long history (this is really true of many problems) and for preventing the flare-up of old and the development of new conflicts. This is what our colleagues at the UN Security Council and we are focused on. When we wish the Dutch Presidency success, we also wish ourselves the same. It should be our shared endeavour.

No matter how much some people lie and how long slander campaigns are waged, the truth will be out sooner or later, quite unexpectedly for some but predictably for others. We remember US Secretary of State Colin Powell holding up a glass vial of white powder at the UN Security Council. And now Foreign Minister Zijlstra is in trouble. There will be many more things like that. We deny allegations as soon as we learn about them. We try to move interaction towards the discussion of facts, as we did now in reply to a question from the Italian journalist. We are willing to answer your questions. But there will be many more such stories. They will unfold under different scenarios. But there comes a time when people see that they can no longer live with what they did – with untruth, lies, disinformation and fake news. Don’t disregard this factor. It is not just a question of journalistic investigations or the reporting of facts. On top of everything else, one fine day people will see that this cannot go on and that an end must be put to this. There will be many such stories. We take note of them and provide relevant examples at our briefings.

On the one hand, when someone admits publicly that he has told a lie, it is commendable gesture. But on the other hand, this very person insisted for a decade that he was telling the truth when he knew that he was lying. Many people made decisions and voted for the sanctions based on this lie, which affected the lives of the Russian and Dutch people. It affected our lives. This is what we must remember. 

Question: Turkey and the opposition groups it supports have attacked several villages in Afrin. They ransacked houses stealing everything, even poultry. They shot and posted related videos. They justified their actions by saying that the Kurds are not Muslims.

As is known, women in Afrin are defending their homeland. One such woman fell into the hands of the forces backed by Turkey. They killed her, stripped her of her clothes, cut off her breasts and wrote "Syrian opposition" on her stomach. What does Russia think about such actions?

Maria Zakharova: May I ask you a question? Did you just learn about the atrocities in Syria? Haven’t you heard of the atrocities that have been committed in this country for several years now? Have we not talked about it? Haven’t we shown footage of women and children being killed there? Have we not called for putting an end to this violence and pooling our efforts to launch peace talks? Wasn’t that the mission of Russia? Isn’t that what the Russian Aerospace Forces and our troops have been risking and laying down their lives for? Is it not for that? Here you come and tell us that a woman was killed there? Thousands of women, children and civilians have been killed there. People have been maimed there not only physically. The entire Syrian nation has been psychologically wounded. No one knows how long it will take to rebuild the country and the existence itself of the Syrian nation, which is made of different ethnicities, including Arabs, Kurds, and vast numbers of people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds.

You can’t ask international public opinion to speak out only when trouble comes to your home. Certainly, this is not Russia’s problem. We came to their rescue not when trouble came to our house, but we went to help the Syrian people when trouble came to their house. There was a wave of aggression, direct threats, and resentment regarding our actions coming from a number of countries in that region and the West. However, we weathered it realising that this disaster is better dealt with not when it finally reaches you, but when there is still a chance to stave off even greater losses. Didn’t I talk about what's going on in Afrin today? Didn’t I talk about what led to this situation last week? I talked about it today as well.

Send this photograph to Ms Amanpour at CNN. Perhaps, she will start her next story with this photo of a Kurdish woman, rather than a Syrian boy, and ask her government who they give weapons to and why, and why they are pitting the peoples in this region against each other. This is definitely not a question for Russia.

Question: Russia proposed to create a de-escalation zone in Afrin. Is this proposal still open?

Maria Zakharova: I already answered this question today, and described the situation in Afrin in detail. I have nothing to add to this.

Question: Recently, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov jokingly said that there are two things in life that you can’t chose - your parents and the president of the Russian Federation. What can you say about this?

Maria Zakharova: He has a chance to obtain Russian citizenship and to vote for the president of Russia. Dreams come true.

Question: Could you provide more details about the incident in Deir-ez-Zor on February 7? How many Russians were there?

Maria Zakharova: I told you everything we know at the moment, and I answered this question in full. I understand perfectly well that there are new developments and many additional questions, but I shared with you everything I had for today. As soon as I have more information, I will share it with you.




We have a little surprise for you. This is the week of Maslenitsa, an ancient folk festival rooted in the distant past, which is celebrated with pancakes. So, you are welcome to a small pancake party made possible by our press centre. The briefing took a while, and I can see it in your eyes that you are hungry.



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