Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 29, 2018
- Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali’s working visit to Russia
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security
- Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers
- Syria developments
- Russia’s proposals regarding cooperation in investigating the Skripal case that remained without response
- Insinuations around the Salisbury incident
- British officials at the Olympic Games in Nazi Germany in 1936
- UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement in connection with the so-called “Skripals affair”
- Links between the scientific potential of the Czech Republic in chemical research and development and the expulsion of Russian diplomats
- Mikhail Lesin’s death
- Situation on the Korean Peninsula
- Poland’s contract on US Patriot air and missile defence systems
- Anniversary of NATO aggression against Yugoslavia
- The Nord Russian fishing vessel detained by Ukrainian border guards
- Stepped-up migration control in Ukraine
- Event in commemoration of the uprising at the Sobibor Nazi concentration camp arranged in Vienna by the Russian Alexander Pechersky Foundation and the Austrian Freedom Party’s Education Institute
- Excerpts from answers to questions:
- Russian-Turkish relations
- Russian-Canadian relations
- Russian-Bulgarian relations
- Response measures following the expulsion of Russian diplomats
- The risk of arrest of Russian citizens abroad at US request
- Statement by the Polish Ambassador to Russia regarding Soviet monuments
- Response measures following the expulsion of Russian diplomats
- The situation with Sputnik agency in France, accreditation of French journalists at the Russian Foreign Ministry, and Russian citizenship of Abkhazia residents
- The Skripal case and “massive trust deficit” against Russia
- US authorities’ expulsion of Russian employees accredited at the UN
- Public reaction in Russia and internationally to the current turbulence in international affairs
- Russian-Polish relations
- Massive expulsion of diplomats as a precedent
- Russian-US relations
- The future of Russian diplomats expelled over the Skripal case
- The Skripal case and ways to defuse the situation
- Results of the OPCW analysis
- Air strikes on de-escalation zone in Idlib
- Developments on the Korean Peninsula
- Reasons for postponing Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Moscow
- Possible seizure of Russian assets and property in the US over the poisoning of Sergey Skripal
- Visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to China
- Russian diplomats expelled from the US and the UK and the Kemerovo tragedy
- The British six-slide presentation
- The possibility of reintroducing capital punishment in Russia
- Russian-Bulgarian relations
- The Skripal case, Bulgarian investigation into the US chemical and biological activities, and chemical arms control
- The bombing of Yugoslavia
- Developments in Kosovo
Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali will pay a working visit to Moscow on April 2 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
It is planned that the ministers will review the current state of Russia-Bangladesh relations, the prospects for promoting political dialogue and ties in trade, economic, cultural and other practical areas, as well as ways to improve the bilateral treaty and legal framework.
With regard to the international and regional agendas, the participants will focus specifically on expanding cooperation in international organisations, primarily the UN and its specialised agencies.
On April 4-5, the Defence Ministry is holding the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security which is one of the most important political events of the year and a popular platform for professional discussion of the most pressing issues in this area. It is traditionally attended by high-ranking representatives of many states.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will deliver a report.
On April 5, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, who will be in Moscow to attend the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security, organised by the Russian Ministry of Defence.
During the talks, the officials will discuss current issues on the organisation’s agenda and ways to increase its effectiveness. Russia regards the OSCE as an important tool for building an indivisible security community in the Euro-Atlantic region based on equal dialogue and cooperation between all member states. We prioritise reducing tensions and restoring trust in order to overcome the current security crisis in Europe.
The officials are set to exchange their views on the role and contribution of the OSCE to settling the conflicts in Donbass, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as to co-chairing the Geneva discussions on stability in the South Caucasus. They will also touch upon the organisation’s field missions in the Balkans and Central Asia.
The activities of the OSCE institutions such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), High Commissioner on National Minorities and Representative on Freedom of the Media, who unfortunately do not always act impartially and without prejudice, will also be an important subject of the talks.
We believe that the OSCE reform, which is the key factor to improving the organisation’s effectiveness and involvement, must aim to fix these shortcomings. The reform’s main goal is to develop an OSCE Charter and procedural rules for its executive agencies. Maintaining the organisation’s international character as well as the leading role of its directive agencies and strict compliance with the consensus rules when making decisions remains its absolute priority.
We hope that during the talks the officials will discuss ways to rectify the thematic, geographical and personnel imbalances in the organisation as well as to enhance transparency of its programme and finance sphere, including off-budget projects.
On April 6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Minsk.
The ministers will discuss current issues on the international and regional agenda as well as prospects for enhancing multifaceted cooperation in the CIS format.
The participants are to sum up the results of implementing the 2017 plan of multi-level consultations between the CIS countries' foreign ministries and approve the next year’s plan. They are also expected to approve a number of documents in the law-enforcement, military, humanitarian and cultural areas aimed at expanding CIS ties.
Russia together with its Belarusian partners is planning to introduce a draft joint statement of the CIS foreign ministers affirming that it is unacceptable to undermine the principle of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states for approval of the CIS countries as part of its work to promote foreign policy coordination.
The counter-terrorist operation in Eastern Ghouta is coming to an end. Only the city of Douma remains under the control of armed gangs; but a significant part of the civilian population was able to leave the city through an organised humanitarian corridor. With the assistance of the Russian military, negotiations are underway on the possibility of a peaceful transfer of control over the city to the government forces of Syria.
Unfortunately, these negotiations have repeatedly been interrupted by the radical militants, who advocate the continuation of hostilities, claiming that “help is near.” These are the real consequences of the hysteria raised in the West around Eastern Ghouta. Ongoing unfounded or fabricated accusations against the Syrian government, as well as Russia, of the indiscriminate use of force, the killing of civilians and other lies, allegedly imbued with concern for the fate of the civilian population, in fact create obstacles to negotiations, reaching decisions and saving human lives.
Let me remind you that with the direct involvement of Russian military, more than 128,000 people were withdrawn from the zone of the counter-terrorist operation in Eastern Ghouta. At the same time, militants with families were given the opportunity to move to territories beyond Syria's lawful authorities’ control in the de-escalation zone in Idlib Province.
In the process of this mass exodus, there were no violations of international humanitarian law, according to the UN experts that monitored the process. Syrian citizens who left their homes were placed in temporary centres and provided with food and basic necessities. The Russian military transferred 427 tonnes of humanitarian aid – food, water, bedding, to people in need, providing real humanitarian access to the affected population, as stated in UN Security Council Resolution 2401.
The withdrawal of civilians and the evacuation of militants were carried out absolutely transparently – in front of the world. The Russian Defence Ministry’s website offers live broadcasts from video cameras located in Eastern Ghouta. In real time, you can see the movement of columns of militants towards the province of Idlib. Simultaneously, there are broadcasts from CCTV cameras installed at the checkpoints of Muhayam al-Wafedin and Arbin.
We expect that the UN agencies that literally rushed to help people in Eastern Ghouta, when it was under the control of criminals and terrorists, will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected population of this suburb of the Syrian capital with the same enthusiasm after its liberation.
Every day, new facts and eyewitness accounts appear, forming an appalling picture of life in Eastern Ghouta under the rule of militants: bloody showdowns among the terrorists, violence against civilians, stolen humanitarian aid, and profiteering of medicines. Like in Aleppo, cashes of food and medicines were found in tunnels where the terrorists took refuge in Eastern Ghouta. By the way, these tunnels were built with the forced labour of captives that supported the Syrian government.
The current situation in Syria urgently requires coordinated international efforts to promote peace, including providing humanitarian assistance.
We again call on the international community to fulfill its duty and provide effective assistance to the affected population of Syria.
We are still concerned about reports that the United States and its allies are consolidating their illegal military presence in Syria’s sovereign territory. In particular, heavy vehicles are coming to the area arbitrarily established by the Americans around the town of Al-Tanf in the southeast of the country. The Damascus-Baghdad highway remains blocked.
Russia is doing its best to achieve the earliest possible political settlement in Syria based on international law. Today, on March 29, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. They will discuss the entire range of issues to restore peace and stability in Syria, including the establishment and operation of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva in accordance with the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held in Sochi on January 30 this year.
Russia has repeatedly addressed the British authorities through official channels with a proposal to establish cooperation in investigating the alleged poisoning of Russian citizens, as well as with requests to provide information on their condition and, of course, the circumstances of the incident. The corresponding notes were sent via the Russian Embassy in London on March 6, 13, 14 and 22.
Unfortunately, in response to Russia’s legitimate demands and constructive proposals seeking to establish cooperation, Britain has remained silent or is simply responding incompetently. The issue is not about factual or even spelling mistakes. It is as if children wrote them. It’s about incomprehensibly scribbled notes that are difficult to read or figure out what they are specifically about. The note to Ambassador of Russia to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko, which was supposed to contain a response about the condition of the Skripal family, contains information about the health of the Ambassador himself. To reiterate, this is not about factual error, but either a deliberate desire to introduce a note of absurdity in this situation or the total incompetence of the British authorities.
We have witnessed Russian representatives being denied access to injured Russian citizens. Thus, the United Kingdom, openly and without scruples, is breaking international legal provisions, in particular, the Consular Convention between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of 1968. Notably, Article 36 of this document contains provisions that “a) a consular officer shall be entitled within the consular district to communicate with, interview and advise a national of the sending State and may render him every assistance including, where necessary, arranging for aid and advice in legal matters” and “b) No restriction shall be placed by the receiving State upon the access of a national of the sending State to the consulate or upon communication by him with the consulate.” This text was written in 1968 which can be seen from the language. To reiterate, this document remains valid. As we can see and assume, Britain, in fact, is deliberately demonstrating legal nihilism and is not doing so for the first time.
Of course, the fact that mysterious poisonings and deaths occur regularly on the territory of this particular state, and its authorities traditionally accuse outsiders of committing them while making ample use of propaganda and, on top of everything, they classify investigations, also leads to certain conclusions. On the one hand, political decisions rather than findings and results of investigations and court hearings are made available to the general public and, on the other hand, the public is not provided with any actual evidence but rather obscure pictures, as were published in the media the other day. As a result, Britain has left behind a grave trail of unsolved deaths of Russian citizens and British subjects.
Why go far? Here’s an example. Remember the mysterious death of scientist David Kelly? It was he who exposed the lies of London about the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
We will soon compile and publish on the website of the Russian Embassy to the UK a list of questions that we have asked the British side. These questions were sent through official channels and were repeatedly asked by Russian Ambassador in London Alexander Yakovenko. London constantly accuses us of not providing information and not proving our innocence. I would like to note that as soon as we saw, heard and read in the media about the so-called Skripal case and learned the facts (we cannot even state that these are facts), which were published in the media, we promptly tried to contact Britain which shunned all contact with the Russian Embassy. Verbal and written requests for information, as well as telephone conversations, which the Russian Embassy in London immediately resorted to, failed to bring even basic information about the incident.
We were forced to learn from the media the date and the time of the incident, the number of people involved in it, and the level of damage to their health.
We have certainly seen and continue to observe the “performance” that was staged and continues to be played out by British politicians for their political purposes and for the political establishment of their country. However, let’s face it, how can one possibly get any information when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, or Prime Minister Theresa May will not even talk with Russia’s representatives and only make catchy political statements in their parliament?
As I said, the media published the same materials that were presented at the closed (closed to Russian representatives) briefing at the UK Embassy in Moscow. I would like to emphasise again that this is yet further evidence that Britain is deliberately excluding Russia from the list of states that were given at least some information.
Russian representatives were not invited or admitted to the briefing at the UK Embassy.
Indicatively, “the charges” that made up the backbone of this presentation were the same accusations that are not based on any real facts or evidence. But the most interesting point is that the number of grievances expressed by our British colleagues against the Russian Federation is growing at a rapid rate. I would like to show you some slides.
On March 14, propaganda slides from the Foreign Office quoted just eight facts of so-called “Russian state aggression.” Let me repeat that this was published by the UK Foreign Office on March 14. There were eight items on which Britain had grievances against the Russian Federation. The materials disseminated at the closed briefing in Moscow contained 12 facts. Only 10 days passed between the two publications. It’s obvious inconsistence. What should we talk about? What should we believe and how do we proceed? We do not even analyse the absurdity of these accusations. We are pointing out the quality of the presented information. Apparently, additional accusations against Russia in a historical perspective appeared after consultations with an “elder brother.”
The wording in the accusations has also changed. Take Russia’s so-called “aggression” against Georgia in August of 2008. On March 14, Russia was accused of not respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity whereas the presentation slides published recently are now accusing Russia of “invading Georgia.”
Especially perplexing is the accusation against Russia of hacking into the German Bundestag in 2015 that Britain added to its growing list of grievances. Colleagues, we would like to remind you that we broke into the Bundestag only once, in 1945 while liberating Berlin from the Nazi scourge, and at that time it was called the Reichstag.
As for the so-called “Lisa’s case” and some disinformation campaign against Germany, we would like to emphasise that this issue was resolved by Moscow and Berlin in a bilateral format. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed the matter during their talks. This was mentioned on the record and officially. As distinct from Britain, Germany conducted a serious investigation of this case when the information appeared. I would like to remind those who were involved in compiling all this nonsense that official representatives from the Russian and German foreign ministries made relevant statements after “Lisa’s case” went through an investigation and the court handed down a verdict on a man who was found guilty. This was the end of this case.
So why are you involved now in classic disinformation? Let me recall once again that there was a guilty verdict in the German court against a defendant – he actually committed crimes that were thoroughly investigated by German law enforcement.
In general, it is of course surprising that these materials were presented as highly convincing evidence of Russia’s responsibility for the incident in Salisbury. The painted pictures are certainly creative in building an argument and an evidence-based case.
After we paid attention to the publication of these materials in the media, the British Foreign Office thanked us in its twitter. Can you imagine? Nobody replied to four diplomatic notes. Nobody informed us about the condition of the Russian citizens. We have not been granted any information on the grounds that they do not deem it necessary to communicate with Russian representatives. But we were thanked in the twitter! This is the height of cynicism.
So you thanked us – fine. And we will thank you, the British Foreign Office, for admitting that these were the materials you distributed at the closed briefing at the UK Embassy for the ambassadors accredited in Moscow. I personally doubted that you would do this, but you did. You admitted that this was the evidence-based case about which US Ambassador Jon Huntsman spoke in Moscow. I doubt that you did this consciously, like everything you do, all the mistakes you make. I think that you thanked us and admitted that you considered these pictures “convincing evidence” simply by mistake. But you did this and it will remain in your history forever.
Now that the world has seen this “convincing evidence,” the propaganda machine, anonymous sources, experts and fake accounts in social media began distributing information that the British Ambassador to Russia presented the main and, this time, indisputable evidence at his briefing.
I am even afraid to assume what this indisputable evidence of Russia’s guilt is if our British colleagues were afraid to quote it in the presence of a Russian representative, who, of course, was not admitted or invited to the briefing. Naturally, what we are witnessing now is absolute and total fake on a global level.
I would like to say that the propaganda machine is already working at full steam. Yesterday radio stations sponsored by US tax payers gave the floor to experts from analytical centres that are also funded by US taxpayers. They were vying with each other to prove that there is no need to assess this evidence seriously because it is clear as it is.
One of these experts (let me repeat that he spoke in the US media that is also funded by American money) pondered the following question: Why do we need evidence if so many countries have already supported Britain? He then asked: Do you really think that the whole world consists of idiots whereas only Russia is smart? Note that these words were not uttered by the Russian Foreign Ministry but by an expert from an American analytical centre. You know, such things do happen, and this was the case with Iraq when our Western partners – Washington and London – showed a test-tube to the world public. And the whole world believed them because they showed it in the UN Security Council.
Ten years have passed since then and everyone understands (forgive me for quoting the expert from the Carnegie Foundation) that they were “the idiots.” Later, they apologized for this for a long time but it is impossible to bring the dead back to life.
On March 14, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that officials and members of the Royal Family would not attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
On March 21, answering questions from members of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed with a suggestion that the upcoming FIFA World Cup Russia was comparable to the 1936 Olympic Games in the Third Reich. “I think that your characterisation of what is going to happen in Moscow, the World Cup, at all the venues – yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right,” said Johnson, commenting on the statement.
Mr Johnson, what are you talking about? Let us look into this.
First, what are you talking about – is it sport? If you are talking about sport and the organisation of international sporting events, including the Olympic Games, you should admit that the International Olympic Committee at the time officially appreciated the high level at which those Olympic Games were prepared and held.
We looked into the archives and retrieved messages from Soviet Ambassador Yakov Surits, who reported to Moscow that he agreed with the assessment of the International Olympic Committee regarding the order and the competent organisation of the Olympic Games.
Second, might British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have meant things other than sport and the organisation of a sporting event? What was he talking about? One is likely to assume that he was talking about the political situation in Germany at the time and how the British political class saw it. We would like to remind Boris Johnson and all Britons, for that matter, of who officially represented Britain at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. We managed to find an official brochure, “Guests of Honour at the XI Olympic Games,” which was published in Germany in 1936. I am holding it in my hand. Frankly, I feel disgust whenever I have to hold anything relating to that period, events and, even more, political situation – it is a kind of “greeting” from the past. However, I had to read it.
So, who represented Britain at the 1936 Olympic Games?
1. Lord Portal of Laverstoke, Chairperson of the British Olympic Association;
2. Captain Evan Hunter, O.B.E., Secretary of the British Olympic Association;
Britain’s representatives at the International Olympic Committee:
1. Lord Aberdare
2. Lord Burghley, Marquess of Exeter
3. Sir Noel Curtis Bennett;
International Sporting Federations:
1. William Jones, Secretary of the International Basketball Federation;
2. Sir William P. Burton, President of the International Yacht Racing Union;
3. Major Heckstall Smith, Secretary of the International Yacht Racing Union.
This means that the above persons attended official events during the Olympic Games, including the opening ceremony, attended stadiums and maintained contact with local authorities in Berlin in 1936.
Unlike the representatives of the diplomatic corps, who were accredited in Germany at the time and whose responsibility it was to attend the sporting events, the members of the British establishment mentioned in the brochure arrived in Germany of their own free will. I would like to emphasise again that they came to Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1936 as members of the British establishment, the House of Lords, aristocrats.
I would like to remind you that Germany had already been “infected” with its well-known ideology by 1936. I will not talk about the political atmosphere that prevailed then. But I would like to remind you that the system of concentration camps for the opponents of the Nazi regime, asocials, convicts and other categories of citizens had already been created by that time and the so-called “Nuremberg” race laws had been enacted.
Importantly, until 1952, when Finland hosted the Summer Olympics, the Soviet Union did not take part in the Olympic Games. The USSR also ignored the Olympic Games in Berlin. There were a number of political and ideological reasons why Soviet athletes did not take part in the Olympic Games at the time. One reason for this was that the International Olympic Committee refused to establish direct contact [with the Soviet Union] but it appreciated the organisation of the Olympic Games in Berlin. The USSR National Olympic Committee was established on April 23, 1951. I will not delve deeply into the history of these events, you can do it yourself.
Mr Johnson, do you not find it shameful and, as you like to say, “emetic” that so many British officials attended the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games? What were all those respectable British sporting functionaries and lords doing as Hitler’s guests? Tell your countrymen about this.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking on March 28, compared the so-called “Skripals affair” with actions described in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment.
“It’s rather like the beginning of Crime and Punishment in the sense that we are all confident of the culprit – and the only question is whether he will confess or be caught,” Boris Johnson said in his speech published on the official website of the UK Foreign Office.
Mr Johnson, have you ever read Crime and Punishment to the end or you stopped reading at the beginning? Since you evoked Fyodor Dostoyevsky, then let us turn to the image and thoughts of magistrate (prosecutor) Porfiry Petrovich, who, unlike you, investigated the murder of a pawnbroker and her sister in a very meticulous and scrupulous way. We, unlike, you, have read Dostoyevsky and we love him and know him.
“From a hundred rabbits you can’t make a horse, a hundred suspicions don’t make a proof, as the English proverb says, but that’s only from the rational point of view – you can’t help being partial for after all a lawyer is only human.”
This was a citation from Dostoyevsky translated into English especially for Boris Johnson: “From a hundred rabbits you can’t make a horse, a hundred suspicions don’t make a proof.” Boris, read Dostoyevsky. It will be good for you.
“But you will ask me: Supposing you are certain of your proofs? Goodness me, batyushka! you know, perhaps as well as I do, what proofs are – half one’s time, proofs may be taken either way; and I, a magistrate, am, after all, only a man liable to error. Now, what I want is to give to my investigation the precision of a mathematical demonstration – I want my conclusions to be as plain, as indisputable, as that twice two are four.” That is also from Dostoyevsky – the words of Porfiry Petrovich.
At this point, let me remind you again that the UK, in defiance of all international standards, quite hastily accused Russia of involvement in a poisoning without any investigation or proofs. Up to now, London has not presented any evidence, nor has it given any concrete picture of what happened. If you have any specific facts, present them.
We have heard multiple accusations against Russia of poisoning its own citizens, of using a toxic combat agent; a large-scale political and media campaign was unleashed. I would like to stress again that Russia has nothing to do with this incident and that it has not received any official information from London.
While drawing literary parallels, a better candidate for the role of Rodion Raskolnikov is former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made a decision to launch an aggression against Iraq in 2003 on the pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction. And everyone knew that Iraq had no such weapons. Later, Tony Blair apologised, repented and confessed. Let me remind you what Mr Blair said: “I will take full responsibility for any mistakes – without exception or excuse. I will express my profound regret at the loss of life [during the operation in Iraq] … I will pay tribute to our Armed Forces.”
Mr Johnson, will you have the strength and the courage to repent for having no proof whatsoever of Russia’s alleged involvement in the poisoning that took place on British territory?
We noted a large number of materials in the Russian and Czech media which, among other things, touch on expelling our diplomats from the Czech Republic. The statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry that mentioned the Czech Republic among those countries that might have produced chemical poisoning agent Novichok is quoted as the reason for that. There were a lot of insinuations and official statements on the subject.
Given the heightened interest in this subject and, in general, in the Skripal affair, I would like to note again that a memo clarifying the actual situation in the “Skripal case” posted on the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry on March 21, says the following: “Clarifications are due as to why Russia was absolutely unfoundedly accused of being the perpetrator in the Skripal case at a time where activities under the conventional Western name Novichok were conducted in the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The achievements of these countries in creating new toxic agents of this type are mentioned in more than 200 open sources from NATO countries.” This is our official position. They began to draw conclusions about the culprits. There were no accusations, as we stated in this room. There were facts. We were asked questions, including through the media, about materials in open sources. Let's figure out what we are talking about specifically.
This is not a secret or a revelation. It is absolutely basic information for those who know the history of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (WTO). For a long time, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, possessed and continues to possess a highly developed chemical industry. The scientific potential in this area was in high demand back when Czechoslovakia was a WTO member. At that time, as part of that organisation, Prague had a special responsibility in the sphere of chemical protection within the Eastern Bloc.
Various media sources (you can find these materials) have published information on this subject, which say that after the dissolution of the WTO, the Czech scientific potential in this field was called upon by its new Western partners, and ultimately, in a sense, inherited by NATO. The chemical defence unit of the Czech army has performed special missions in the Middle East on several occasions. In particular, Czech service personnel were in Iraq and provided relief to the use of weapons of mass destruction in Kuwait. This is absolutely open information.
Media publications about the activities of the research centres in the Czech Republic, which carry out research programmes on chemical warfare agents, allow experts to conclude that nerve agents have an important place in these studies and are named Novichok under the Western classification.
This research is led by the Department of Toxicology and Military Pharmacology of the Faculty of Military Health Sciences of the Defence University of the Czech Republic, the Institute for Defence Against Weapons of Mass Destruction at the same University, and the Defence against Weapons of Mass Destruction Section of the Military Research Institute. The 31st Regiment of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defence of the Czech Army closely cooperates with these entities, which is tasked, among other things, with providing the necessary data on the use of chemical warfare agents obtained during the stay of the Czech military in the Middle East. To reiterate, these are materials that are readily available online. There is an official reaction to specific facts, for which you can contact the Czech authorities.
The most ambitious research projects on chemical warfare agents are conducted by the above department, the staff of which is using unique research equipment of its own design intended solely for studying the consequences of nerve agents. The lab complex includes high-tech equipment to study disorders in the nervous system and organic tissues as a result of toxicological damage to living organisms by chemical agents.
The development of antidotes as well as the “binding substances” and enzymes to absorb components of the nerve agents until the moment they damage vital organs represent a separate area of research by Czech toxicologists.
This research work is carried out by the Czech specialists in close cooperation with the specialised organisations of NATO countries. As a result of these studies, Czech researchers were awarded grants from the NATO Science Committee three times recently. US military specialists also participated in the work of Czech research centres.
Notably, the NATO Centre against Weapons of Mass Destruction in the town of Vyskov, South Moravia, is the leading research center of the alliance in this sphere. The centre opened on November 22, 2007 at the Czech Institute for Defence Against Weapons of Mass Destruction of the Defence University. Reportedly, 63 specialists from eight NATO countries, namely, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, formed the core of this Centre during the initial period of its activities. This year, military specialists from Canada, who already carry out a number of joint programmes with the Czech Republic, are supposed to join the Centre's projects. It remains absolutely unclear, however, whether the Centre is accountable to the Czech authorities both with respect to its own developments, and in the context of the materials at its disposal, including, perhaps, the unaccounted-for warfare agents. Does this Internationale on warfare agent development say anything when we are told about solidarity? That, strictly speaking, is what it is based on, among other things.
On March 23, the Czech Military Science Medical Journal (we love reading newspapers), with reference to numerous Western sources, including scientific publications, published a piece containing detailed information about a nerve agent classified in Western countries as Novichok. According to the article, the Novichok family agents include more than 100 structural variants. Clearly, the ease of the Czech chemists with regard to specific information about Novichok class agents, possible production processes, and the symptoms and the consequences of their use testifies to wide availability of this information and calls into question the assertions of the British side about Russia's exclusive possession of the relevant technology and designs.
On the same day, another Czech publication, Lidove Noviny, published an article which, with reference to Czech scientists (of course, on condition of anonymity), assumed that the research centres in the Czech Republic, in strict secrecy, could be developing Novichok-type chemical warfare agents. However, the source expressed certain reservations that such activities should have been aimed at creating effective methods of protection against toxic agents. Are there goals other than protection?
So, nobody blamed or is blaming Prague. Unlike our British colleagues, we have never come up with any charges, especially in such a way. We are only saying that this is not propaganda, not Russian media, or social media, but Czech publications which have a long track record. The media space has a large number of materials confirming the high scientific potential of the Czech Republic in the area of chemical research, and this must be taken into account.
We have seen new articles and statements in the US media regarding the death of former Russian Minister Mikhail Lesin in Washington on November 5, 2015. We are puzzled by this renewed speculation.
Claims are made again that he was murdered and that there is a “Russian trail”. Such claims are based on the statements by well-known British expert Christopher Steele, who has compiled a dossier on US President Donald Trump.
The fact that Christopher Steele is a former British intelligence officer renders the matter even more interesting, remarkable and amusing. The British secret services are famous for their provocation techniques. There are TV series on the topic and also James Bond films which grew into the Austin Powers series. Shifting the blame for their operations onto others is their signature style.
According to the US official forensic investigation, Mikhail Lesin’s death was caused by an accident. There is nothing more to say because the case materials are confidential. But if US law enforcement agencies have new information, we believe they should notify the Russian side first of all since it concerns a Russian citizen. I would like to say that as of now no one has contacted the Russian side about this issue.
Russia has been working to strengthen positive developments as regards the situation on the Korean Peninsula and around it. In particular, we are trying to arrange a number of forthcoming meetings in Moscow with representatives of the countries involved. We will provide more information upon agreeing it with our partners.
We are concerned with Poland’s growing militarisation, which was recently confirmed by Poland’s signing of a contract to buy US Patriot air and missile defence systems. Warsaw is raising its defence spending and is making significant efforts to modernise the military and technical capabilities of the national army, reforming the army units management system and increasing their number. The country’s leaders insist on building up NATO allies’ forces and equipment on Polish territory. The US plans on establishing a missile defence base in the north of Poland are going ahead.
We regard the steps being taken as an element of destabilising the military political situation in Europe and as a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation. At the same time, we state that Russia has sufficient defence resources to secure the integrity of our western borders and to protect our territory.
On March 24, Belgrade commemorated the victims of NATO’s aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Nineteen years ago, by ignoring the UN Security Council and by violating international law and all imaginable moral standards, the North Atlantic Alliance barbarically bombed Serbian cities for 78 days, killing over 2,000 innocent civilians including over 400 children, which are referred to by the West as “collateral damage.”
The pretext for those tragic events was the so-called Racak incident, where Serbs allegedly killed Albanian “civilians.” The Finnish forensic pathologists debunked that propagandistic false information, which was used to justify NATO’s aggression. The dead were Kosovo Albanian terrorists dressed in civilian clothes after their death. Nobody ever was held responsible for that. And nobody even offered apologies. Apparently, apologies do not fare well with NATO.
Almost 20 years have passed, but the methods of our Western colleagues remain the same. This is about revisiting the question from a Carnegie Foundation expert: Do you really think that the whole world consists of idiots? This is a quote from a person who spoke on the radio sponsored by US taxpayers’ money. And the world played that “bloody game” back then. Those were the propagandistic manipulations of the United States and their European allies. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the same practices now. I have covered them extensively today. This situation sets one thinking about the whole Salisbury story, the primitive and hastily drawn so-called “chemical attack” pictures.
In connection with the detention of the Russian fishing vessel, The Nord, with 10 crew members aboard in the Sea of Azov on March 25, we need to state the following:
This is clearly another provocative act by the Ukrainian authorities against Russian nationals. Ukrainian border guards acted like Somalian pirates with regard to the crew members.
The ship’s crew had all the papers necessary for fishing in the Sea of Azov and was fishing in strict compliance with current fisheries regulations.
We view Kiev’s actions in this case as an attempt to avenge the conscientious choice of the residents of Crimea to reunite with Russia that was made in March 2014.
We demand that the crew members be released immediately and that The Nord be returned to its legal owner.
We call on the Ukrainian side to restrain from similar illegal acts and strictly comply with its international obligations.
Recently Kiev’s intentions to toughen migration regulations for foreigners surfaced yet again, primarily for Russian citizens. This includes a mechanism to verify eligibility for entering Ukrainian territory with advanced online notification.
We regard Kiev’s initiative as another step in building up artificial barriers between our countries and peoples. The authorities in Kiev are running out of ideas as to how to prevent Russians and Ukrainians from maintaining family ties, and social and business contacts.
We hope these attempts to limit the normal communication of our peoples will prove ineffective.
With regard to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the uprising of the prisoners in the Sobibor Nazi extermination camp led by Soviet serviceman Alexander Pechersky to be marked this October, an event was held in Vienna on March 22 dedicated to that historic event. It was organised by the Alexander Pechersky Foundation and the Education Institute of the Austrian Freedom Party.
Taking part in the event were Pechersky’s great granddaughter, Russian, Austrian and Israeli politicians, public figures, media representatives and compatriots.
We believe that events of this nature carry a very important message – they help preserve the objective memory of the past, of the Jewish people’s tragedy, of the Red Army’s contribution to stopping the “death factories” – the Nazi concentration camps where people of various nationalities died.
It is particularly important to preserve this memory today in an atmosphere where some countries attempt to falsify history, revise the causes and results of World War II, demolish monuments erected in honour of those who gave their lives for the victory over Nazism.
Question: Despite the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO, Ankara has refused to take action against Russia in connection with the Skripal case. What is Russia’s view on this step by Turkey?
Maria Zakharova: We understand what great pressure London and Washington (now we have no doubt that these were synchronised actions) have put on their partners. Strangely enough, they always say "partners in the EU and NATO." In general, the US does is not a member of the EU, but they always say this. We understand what kind of inhuman pressure they have exerted on their partners, using the principle of solidarity and the implementation of a unified foreign policy course. We understand that London and Washington are also the beneficiaries of the whole story with the provocation and deportation of Russian diplomats. Look, how many diplomats have been expelled from these countries – 23 and 60. At the same time, one more Russian Consulate General in the United States was closed. Is this a momentary impulse of solidarity when it comes to such a scale? Of course it isn’t. We proceed from the fact that countries, which, unfortunately, have succumbed to this pressure and continue to do so, are making a big mistake.
Today I gave many examples of how countries succumbed to various pressures – political, financial, have committed these mistakes, and then repented. You can read about it in memoirs, in the appropriate archives and collections of documents. Everyone is repentant about what was done in Iraq and Serbia. Everyone considers it shameful, including their participation in these campaigns. We proceed from the assumption that countries that have not joined this action demonstrate a responsible approach not only to bilateral relations with Russia, but, first and foremost, to international law. Any state could be subjected to the same political and information aggression and provocation any time, when, without a trial, without investigation, without presenting concrete facts, an accusation of any crime can be made. It is worth repeating that this is a matter of responsibility and the responsible behaviour of every state.
Question: What do you think about the statement made by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the decision to expel Russian diplomats? She said that the Skripal case is not the only reason. She said this concerns Russia’s unacceptable conduct in Syria, Crimea and Ukraine.
Maria Zakharova: This was the questions asked by all Russian ambassadors who were summoned to the foreign ministries of states where they are accredited and given lists of Russian diplomats to be expelled or to announce their decision. All Russian ambassadors asked for an explanation. I will give you an answer. There is a notion of solidarity in the EU and NATO. The EU summit has just been held. By the way, the participants spent a lot of time on the Skripal case but did not even mention Savchenko. It would seem that they spent so much time yet failed to come up with a common explanation to give to Russia an explanation why its diplomats are being expelled. Every country suggested its own reasons. In the beginning they began saying that this was a manifestation of solidarity. When asked whether this amounted to an accusation against Russia, they did not come up with any credible answers. They just said that it seemed to them that there was a likelihood of involvement. We did not hear anything else. We heard such an explanation from several countries. Others simply said they were not going to make any comments when it came to this situation and this was exclusively a manifestation of solidarity. When asked about grievances to the people that are expelled representatives from various countries occupied completely different positions. The attitudes were different not only inside NATO (at least it would be possible to explain this). All sorts of departments gave a varied range of explanations. Thus, if the ambassador was told that there were no grievances and this was exclusively an act of solidarity, later on one could hear on television that Russia’s “spying network” was exposed. Make up your mind. Have you exposed a spying network in two days, have you done it out of solidarity or this does not matter anymore. The main thing is to select first eight and then 12 pictures (it is not important that their numbers and titles have also changed in two weeks) and do it quickly somehow. This is exactly “somehow.”
Now let me explain why all this was necessary. The anti-Russia campaign and Russophobic polemics – this is all understandable. You said correctly about Syria. This is directly linked with it and with what we discussed today. Look, just a month or a month and a half ago the situation in Eastern Ghouta was front-paged – in your reports as well. You told everyone about a humanitarian catastrophe in Eastern Ghouta. So how come? Is there no humanitarian catastrophe there? Eastern Ghouta is gradually turning into Aleppo and returning back to a peaceful life one way or another. It transpires that the Russian Defence Ministry has launched online broadcasting on its site from its web cameras in Eastern Ghouta. So it is no longer possible to cheat everyone by saying that people are killed when leaving this area, that they are now allowed into it or that children are shot instead of commandos. Literally for several months now the efforts of all global media were aimed at recounting this horrible story about Eastern Ghouta. What is to be done now in order to shift the attention of the world press and public from Syria to something else?
There is a British sitcom “Yes, Prime Minister” made in 1984. This comedy was made in 30-40 episodes. One of the editions is devoted to exactly this subject: how to compel everyone to stop talking about some problem that harms you. This question was answered by British actors way back in 1984. They said it is simple – just expel as many Soviet diplomats as possible and invent a good legend, for instance, that the driver of the Soviet ambassador is a KGB high-ranker. Then everyone will realise that this is a threat to our national security. This was right back in the year 1984! A video is available on our website. This is a classic example of what to do.
As for the second moment – why is this necessary, throughout several years chemical weapons remain the red line at all negotiations, meetings and conferences of the international community on Syria. Incidentally, these weapons were destroyed in cooperation with Western countries. This was an unprecedented operation initiated by Russia and conducted by all countries under the UN auspices. These weapons were destroyed. However, our Western colleagues claimed that they were still being used by Damascus. Russia continuously dismissed this as a provocation. How was it possible to try and exclude Russia from the discussion of chemical arms, in particular, in Syria? This was very easy – to say that Russia uses chemical weapons itself even on British soil. Of course, Russia is using chemical arms with President of Syria Bashar al-Assad. This is a classic of the genre.
Now nobody would even like to look at what is happening in Eastern Ghouta. Everyone is saying that Russia is using toxic chemicals but there are no facts to support this. But why bother with facts when pictures are available?
Question: What do you think of Bulgaria’s decision to recall its Ambassador Kotsev for consultations? What will be Russia’s response?
Maria Zakharova: I would rather you do not ask about each particular country. I have already spoken about the countries’ responsible behaviour. Each state should understand that it makes a decision from the perspective of certain material and data as well as convincing evidence. I think your question should be addressed to Bulgaria’s officials – what are the grounds for recalling their ambassador, what are the grounds the decision was taken on. Maybe Bulgaria possesses some data which absolutely, even without any investigation, court and international expert evaluation testify to Russia’s guilt. If it does, will you please share it. I believe in the Bulgarian media – what if they indeed get it.
Question: Are symmetrical response measures to be expected to the expulsion of Russian diplomats?
Maria Zakharova: Yes. However, we should not concentrate on whether the measures will be symmetrical or not. They will be foremost adequate. The measures are currently being developed and will be announced shortly. The form and content – you will learn everything when they have been worked out. Not all the surprises at one go.
Question: The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued multiple advisories to Russian nationals traveling abroad on the risks of their arrest at the US request on the territories of third countries. In view of the escalating relations between Russia, the USA and a number of other countries in the context of the Sergey Skripal case, are these advisories still in effect? Are their concerns that the number of arrests will go up?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, they are still in effect and may go up. I cannot predict what will happen in this case. It is a warning that was made and still remains effective.
Question: Poland’s Ambassador to Russia said in a recent interview with TASS that many Soviet monuments were esthetically pathetic and do not deserve to be preserved. What comments would you like to make concerning this statement taking into account that the diplomat represents the interests of his country in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: Going this way may lead you too far, you can say that some people are not pretty and they do not deserve to live. This logic may lead to such conclusions.
Those monuments were not made for beauty. They were erected at a time when no contests were held on the most esthetic, beautiful or hi-tech monuments. It is still a mystery to me how those monuments were erected in completely devastated, poor, hungry and cold Europe. The necessary primary infrastructure was being restored that would let people live. The end of WW II – the Great Patriotic War for us – did not mean the end of battles to finish off fascists and Nazis. We are perfectly aware of how long it took to finally clear all the surviving enemies. It took years, not just months. In the conditions when Europe lay in ruins (just take a look at the photos), people were thrown out of their normal way of life for several years. A huge number of wounded, maimed, disabled needed social support (food, medicine and just hope that they would get their life back), there were enough resources, will and internal, spiritual powers to erect those monuments. The survivors were erecting the memorials to the dead. I feel ashamed to speak on the topic, to explain that it is not a matter of esthetics. I feel ashamed that people living in 2018 under human rights laws, the humanitarian law, empathy, compassion, shared responsibility and pain, can use such notions in principle. I personally feel ashamed.
Question: I understand you cannot speak about Russia’s measures in response to the deportation of diplomats yet. What point does Russia want to make by its measures, whatever they may be?
Maria Zakharova: This is a provocation. If you ask me to briefly describe Russia’s point, I don’t think the format of this briefing will allow me to do it.
I think the Carnegie Institute expert said everything there is to say by asking his rhetorical question. It is unlikely I can phrase it better and think of something else. Most often the journalists I see in this room, or just people I know or don’t know that I meet at various events ask me what this world is coming to. I can’t answer this question although it is part of my job. Perhaps the questions regarding whether these countries understand where this is going and how they will be developing relations with each other is part of the Carnegie Institute expert’s rhetorical question. One hand washing the other and unsubstantiated accusations, allocating blame without evidence is a crime. Please read your national criminal and administrative codes.
Question: For the past year, Sputnik journalists in France have not been able to get accreditation for events at the French Foreign Ministry, the Elysee Palace and various French agencies. Our journalists can’t attend a briefing like I was able to do today. Meanwhile, the French officials are accusing Sputnik of biased coverage of the government’s policies. How many French journalists representing the country’s state-run media are accredited by the Russian Foreign Ministry? When will retaliation measures be taken against them?
Also, what is the Ministry’s position on resuming the citizenship procedure for people residing in Abkhazia?
Maria Zakharova: We are well aware of the situation with Sputnik. We have repeatedly communicated our opinion to officials in Paris. We have discussed the problem with representatives of the French Embassy in Moscow, during talks between Russian and French foreign ministers. We have communicated our concerns to OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. All we hear from France is that the decision to bar access and discriminate (let’s call things by their names) against a media outlet that meets all the requirements otherwise, the decision not to allow a media outlet to attend an event for which it is applying for accreditation is a personal decision of French President Emmanuel Macron. We have not heard any other explanation at any level. Nor have we heard references to any standard violation or misconduct.
As concerns your question about Abkhazia, we have no information on a possible resumption of the Russian citizenship procedure for Abkhazia residents, a procedure simplified by Article 13 of the Alliance and Strategic Partnership Treaty of November 24, 2014, between Russia and Abkhazia. A bilateral agreement on this issue is being drafted.
Question: Many countries don’t believe Russia which denies its complicity in poisoning Sergey Skripal, nor do they believe alternative theories voiced by Russian officials. Does the Foreign Ministry realise that there is a major problem regarding trust in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: In that case, let’s sort things out: Are we playing a game of cards or are we doing serious business? Is this poker or international relations? Does this mean common responsibility before international law and a real international game under the UN Charter’s rules, or does this amount to the unlimited use of force and pressure? For decades now, the West taught Russia that it was impossible to use the factor of force, no matter what, and that it was impossible to use political or ideological pressure. This happened immediately after the breakup of the Soviet Union and during initial democratisation. We learned these rules off by heart. We started building equitable relations with our partners and using such terminology as economic and financial competition, as well as competition in various other areas, we started offering more profitable and interesting projects to our partners, plus we launched competition along real, democratic and transparent lines. It appears that no one expected us to succeed though. They, sort of, taught us all this, but they did not believe that we would be able to start playing in real earnest. But we succeeded. We started establishing integration associations, one way or another, we started proving convincingly that, in effect, the world was not unipolar in terms of its nature and political essence. They started calling Russia a reliable energy partner, although Russia had completely changed its structure together with its political system. They also noted that no economic, political and even geographical changes in Russia ever put gas deliveries to Europe, launched in the 1970s, at risk. In addition to this, they noted that Russia could experience the same difficulties as other countries, that it could ask others for help, that other countries could request assistance from Russia, that Russia was ready to share intelligence data, that it could be a reliable counter-terrorist partner, despite our different perceptions of resolving the situation in Afghanistan. They said Russia was ready to support the United States in this respect, and that it was among the first countries to do so. Russia became open and transparent in a positive sense, and it acted as a real player when it came to international relations.
When Russia started succeeding, just like various countries in various regions do, then, all of a sudden, we got the feeling that, for some reason, the United States became dissatisfied with the energy projects that we were offering to Europe. The United States is doing its best to hamper the implementation of these projects. Actually, the United States and Europe are far apart. And we would like to know why the United States is so concerned about our European affairs. At the same time, we started noticing that our Western colleagues moved to implement an absolutely anti-Russia policy in states with which Russia maintains traditional ties (the composition of our families remains unchanged, and some of their members live in other former Soviet republics). Instead of taking offence and saying that we no longer want to play this game, now that they don’t want to maintain equitable relations with us, we started asking questions and saying that this was not correct with regard to Russia and other countries, and that this would cause an all-out international crisis.
You are talking about trust toward Russia, but if everything is being done to undermine such trust, just like the United Kingdom and the United States are doing, then one probably has to talk about a crisis in terms of trust. Do current developments amount to support or solidarity? The most fantastic thing is that the word “solidarity” has an absolutely different meaning than the one they are trying to explain to us. The most fantastic thing is that solidarity denotes a situation when you support someone, despite various difficulties and circumstances, rather than when they are forcing you to support someone, and when they are putting pressure on you. These are different things.
What solidarity are you talking about here? This amounts to direct pressure and threats. The EU summit has taken place, and it became possible to draft a standardised response, public explanations and actions. Supposing some decisions are made on one and the same day, virtually all EU member-countries (I cannot even say whether the United Kingdom is a member of the EU or not, but I am talking about remaining EU members) decided to expel between one and three, or even four diplomats each. These parameters don’t stipulate a thorough evaluation of this matter, as is the case with the United States that has expelled 60 people. It is possible to quickly decide on expelling one, two or three people. They all made this decision on different days, and explained them differently. Some called us and mentioned one statistic, and lists with other statistics were later submitted. This means that they are experiencing tremendous pressure. Some representatives of the diplomatic corps told us openly about this. You are well aware of this. If you are not, then this is very sad, and this means that you are not interested. What kind of solidarity is this? What trust can one talk about? These are not categories from the novels of Alexandre Dumas when solidarity and trust had existed. These categories highlight the current behaviour of global heavyweights that don’t rely on any laws or moral values. That’s it.
And do Western countries and other coalition members deserve to be trusted after the anti-Iraq campaign? What do you think of it? I am asking you this question, and I hope you will have the guts to answer it.
Question: Are you really asking me this question?
Maria Zakharova: Yes I am. You don’t come here very often, but we maintain an interactive dialogue.
Question: I am the one who is asking you.
Maria Zakharova: Yes, I have replied to your question, and now I would like to ask you. Do you have the guts to say whether countries that had launched the anti-Iraq campaign or had joined it deserve to be trusted?
Question: I don’t represent the British Government. I am a journalist, and I am here to ask you questions.
Maria Zakharova: The thing is that I have asked you as a journalist, rather than a representative of the British Government, although it supports you and also provides you with financial support. I am not demanding an official answer from you. Instead of demanding something from you, I am asking you as a person and a journalist. Just say, if you don’t have the guts to answer my question.
Question: This does not concern me. It is not my idea.
Question: According to international law, do US officials have the right to expel UN-accredited employees? If so, what is this organisation’s future?
Maria Zakharova: The US cannot unilaterally expel diplomats working at the UN. There are procedures regulating the termination of diplomats’ activity. We are trying to understand how the US intends to enforce this decision. As we understand, the said procedures were not observed. Our Permanent Mission to the UN is looking into this.
Question: Do you feel support and sympathy from ordinary people, members of the public and foreign organisations?
Maria Zakharova: I cannot say we feel support or the lack of it. The right way to put it would be to say that official representatives of different countries, the public and journalists are extremely bewildered and perplexed and trying to understand what is going on and where this is taking us. There is confusion and realisation that the world is balancing on the edge. It is a very dangerous situation. This, as well as the failure to understand the real situation and ignorance of the facts is what I and Russian ambassadors in their countries of accreditation can feel in conversations and discussions with foreign representatives.
As concerns the public at large, we are receiving a great number of messages from the Russian and international public. They all convey the feeling that the world is constantly in the state of turbulence. Who is responsible for that? What is going on and why? So many lessons have been learned from similar situations that started with a provocation and resulted in irreparable consequences. Once again, we cannot qualify London’s actions as anything other than a global international provocation.
Question: As a mother, I would like to convey my condolences over the tragedy in Kemerovo.
I asked recently how dangerous the current situation is and you said that there is no scale to measure it. Today you made a reference to Iraq. So, is this war?
Maria Zakharova: No, it means that we are giving examples of past provocations and saying who was behind them. When we speak about trust we have to look at the facts. The images that were displayed at the embassy and that are being circulated in Great Britain claim that Russia carried out similar attacks against Russian nationals in Great Britain in the past. None of the investigations regarding those Russian nationals killed or otherwise harmed in mysterious circumstances ever got to the bottom of what had happened in such a way that the public or at least the Russian side understood the essence of the matter. The cases of Alexander Perepelichny, Boris Berezovsky, Alexander Litvinenko and several other mysterious deaths still remain classified. Therefore, it is impossible to say that this is a similar situation in which Russia acts as an aggressor. We have no idea about what happened in those other cases.
At the same time, there are proved cases of manipulating global public opinion. I am talking about Iraq or Libya where, because of certain claims, the country was devastated and the situation resulted in a tragedy for the Libyan people. The current events there are unfolding in a rather ugly way, involving money and European politicians. The whole situation there right now is appalling. As a representative of the European media, you know what is going on there better than me.
There are many examples of irresponsible and provocative behaviour by countries like the UK and the US. I mentioned Iraq as the most vivid example of how we were all deceived. They failed to fool Russia. They also failed to fool Germany and France. But Italy and several other countries were, unfortunately, among those deceived.
I want to say to the Sky News representative: look at the similarity between the methods used while building a coalition on Iraq and now, with their so-called solidarity. These are the same methods. For example, there was no point in sending ten people from a small European country to join the anti-Iraqi coalition. Those five to ten people did not make any military, political, scientific, financial or even moral contribution to that campaign. Why do it then? To show that the West is marching out as a large united front, that the countries are expressing their ‘solidarity’, which was in fact something else. Solidarity has a completely different meaning. The coalition was built to invade Iraq and destroy a ‘tyrant’ who ‘threatened the world’ with his weapons of mass destruction. It is the same plan and scheme, but a different scale, storyline and situation.
Do you want to forge another political front? To what effect? So that you could, in the absence of proof, present a list of countries that supported you? This list is of no use to us. We know how it was made and you know, too. Some were threatened, some were asked, some were promised things, some realised that they should not wait for threats and just signed it. This is the only reason why I gave Iraq as an example.
Thank you for your sympathy and condolences regarding the tragedy in Kemerovo. We have received words of support from all over the world, from both members of the public, who came over to embassies to lay flowers, light candles, leave notes and toys, who wrote in their blogs, and from journalists and officials.
We expressed our incomprehension of the fact that on the same day, somebody could express condolences at the official level and yet announce their unfriendly measures against Russia, literally in the same document. This happened with a number of countries. However, we are grateful to everybody who supported Russia and its citizens, the people of Kemerovo and those who lost their loved ones and especially children in this terrible tragedy. Thank you very much.
Question: On the same day that the Polish Foreign Ministry announced that it was expelling four Russian diplomats, it was announced that the Polish secret services had detained a “Russian spy,” a Polish citizen employed by the Polish Energy Ministry, who allegedly was tipping off the Russian secret services on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is odd because it is being built by Russia. According to the Polish media, their evidence is that the detained person was an active commentator on internet forums and even created a forum of his own on Facebook to discuss Poland’s energy policy. What do you have to say about this?
Maria Zakharova: No comment. I will check up about this.
Question: What do you think about the massive expulsion of diplomats, which is a new precedent created in international law?
Maria Zakharova: I have repeatedly commented on this. The case in point is not the expulsion precedent; expulsion, regrettably, is part of diplomatic routine and, as a rule, the exchange is not brought into the limelight. Occasionally, when countries want to emphasise the dramatism of a situation, they make it public, even though these aspects are specified in advance. This time around, we are speaking about an action based on dangerous foundations in the sense that the actions and steps undertaken by some EU countries are being used by London, which, incidentally, is leaving the European Union, as evidence proving the Russian Federation’s guilt.
No one is against countries expressing their point of view on some or other matters in so extravagant a manner. The point is that all these signs of so-called “solidarity” were only needed as the sole argument that could be presented to the international community. Just recall the Carnegie Centre expert saying that so many people and states simply cannot be mistaken. This is what the substitution of the legal basis is all about. It is a very dangerous precedent, where some so-called “solidarity” is used as evidence, although it has nothing to do with what took place in Salisbury.
You are journalists and you can apply to your governments and officials and ask them to provide the material. Practically a month has passed after all. What should have happened for these materials to be provided only two or three months later rather than right now? All these questions remained without a reply. Their list will be published shortly.
Question: Shortly before the recent expulsions, the Russian and US presidents talked over the phone and said that it was necessary to hold a summit and further contacts. Do the latest events mean that the contacts will be discontinued and preparations for the summit halted?
Maria Zakharova: I cannot comment on things pertaining to the preparations for summits. You better ask the Presidential Executive Office about that.
As for contacts between the foreign ministries, it has been announced, as you know, that Rex Tillerson will be leaving the Department of State and that Mike Pompeo will take over as Secretary of State. But he has not been appointed yet and therefore there are no grounds for talking about contacts. We are in touch with the US Embassy and we regularly exchange lists as the case may be: they are handing their lists to us and we will be handing our lists to them later. This can also be described as contacts.
Question: Western countries are expelling an unprecedented number of Russian diplomats (over 140) in connection with the so-called “Skripal case.” What fate will befall these diplomats in the future?
Maria Zakharova: I have mostly commented on how we assess the expulsion of our diplomats. As for their further fate, I can say that all employees of Russian foreign missions, whose jobs have been groundlessly abolished at the initiative of host countries, will certainly receive relevant appointments under the effective Russian legislation. All Russian diplomatic returnees will continue their careers because their professional knowledge and experience are in high demand.
Question: What chances of normalising the situation do you see?
Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly spoken about this. The absurdity of the situation is in that the British official statements – the British media are here today and they will correct me if I am mistaken – create the impression that it is Russia that has refused to cooperate with the British side. This is the way the situation is being interpreted. Meanwhile Russia has asked the British side for at least some information as a basis for further exchanges: we are willing to exchange whatever you like – opinions, material, contacts, experts, delegations… We have suggested using a relevant Chemical Weapons Convention article. All of that has been unilaterally communicated to the British side but received no continuation or reply. We are still waiting. We reaffirm our interest in getting some information from London in order to start working on this matter, reply to questions, comment, and ask questions directly with regard to this situation. That’s the way out of this situation. But you can’t knock on the door that was not just closed but bolted from the inside, with residents running to the last floor, opening a window and shouting something from it. We are standing and waiting for a reply. Perhaps they can’t reply the way we expect them to, but there are other ways. If they don’t want to reply by sending notes, let them send an expert, we will exchange views; give us samples, accept our experts. We will go along with any option that suits them. But the whole thing began with an address to parliament rather than the furnishing of information, questions, or an application to the specialised organisation. This is absurd, it’s a game for internal consumption. A clear case, where you don’t have to receive any explanations or additional material! But a position has been formed and off they go making a statement in parliament. Just recall all the three speeches.
I can answer your question without equivocations: Britain has everything it needs to normalise the situation. I am referring to our formal enquiries that they can quite easily answer by providing the available information. But they are withholding, concealing and classifying this information. Therefore, they need this for some reason.
Question: Will Russia accept the results of the OPCW analysis?
Maria Zakharova: It is difficult for me to talk about this again. We have international law, which stipulates measure for dealing with complicated situations, including tragic and even dangerous ones. We have the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the Chemical Weapons Convention, which sets out the methods and rules for dealing with such problems.
The first thing we did was resort to these instruments. We want Russia to be involved in the settlement of this situation and in the analysis of the available material. As for our attitude to the conclusions, it is a hypothetical matter. We are dealing with practical matters. There are CWC articles, so let us use them. There are Russian experts, who can start working alongside British experts, and there are also OPCW experts. What is the problem? Why is our assistance rejected? Do you understand why? I, for one, do not. We do not understand it. This is the problem. We do not see any desire to cooperate. Quite to the contrary, we see the intention to obstruct equal cooperation within the OPCW based on the existing legal framework.
Is this a game of poker? Is it a game of cards when the outcome depends on the luck of the draw? Or are we talking about serious matters? Don’t roll your eyes and say that you have heard this before. We have heard this as well, but the difference is that we have not received a single piece of documentation regarding this case. And now you are asking if we will accept the conclusions. Which conclusions? What is the basis for these conclusions? Do you know who has been inspected? And were they inspected at all? Who have the OPCW experts visited? Do you know? You do not, of course. And neither do we. I will explain the situation. The matter concerns citizens of the Russian Federation, which means that the Russian Federation has the capability to verify their identity. Who have the OPCW experts been taken to, if at all? Can you tell me? Which documents have they been shown? Who has been shown to them, if at all? Do you know this? Do you have any proof? You do not have anything.
How can international experts say who they have seen if, according to media leaks and Theresa May’s statement, these people are lying unconscious, unable to communicate in any way and “may never recover fully”? In other words, these people cannot say who they are or show their IDs. Who has been shown to the OPCW experts, if anyone has been shown to them at all? This is not fair play. You ask if we will accept the results if the other side is cheating? Let us launch an official dialogue.
I have a question for you. Why do you reject Russia’s statements to the effect that we had nothing to do with this case and our requests to see the materials concerned with it? Is it business as usual, Iraq-style, or will we have a serious conversation? This reminds me of the situation with Colin Powell. If somebody asked him for the vial back then, there would not have been a 10-year-long war and hundreds of thousands of victims. But everyone believed him. And now you ask if we will believe them. What should we believe? More vials? Let us begin with the elementary things so as to engender trust. Let us begin with the formula, with the name and a sample of the toxic agent involved. Is that too difficult to do? Given the modern technology, why should it be so difficult to give Russia a sample of this toxic agent?
Suppose we rephrase the question. Why has Britain refused to communicate with Russia? Why? Nobody has the answer to that. But there is a supposition that the refusal is part of the plan. When you do not communicate, you do not feel obliged to do anything; you do not feel obliged to answer any questions or provide any material. There is no communication. What should we believe? A photograph? A sample? What should be the outcome of this? A decision? A statement? A statement about what? That this toxic agent is similar to a certain reference chemical? What are the OPCW experts supposed to confirm? The similarity of this toxic agent to what? To a family of compounds that can be found where? Based on what has been published over the past three weeks, chemicals of this class can be produced at any ordinary laboratory. The technology for its production has been made public. If there are any facts proving how it happened, or how this chemical was delivered [to Britain], we ask that you share this information with us. What should we believe otherwise? The same old vial held up to us and the demand that we “own up”?
The British presentation mentioned the Malaysian Boeing. This is a powerful comparison. The current situation is very similar to what happened back then. The accusation was immediate, and then we begged that the wreckage be collected. They told us that they had collected enough. We said that there was more, but they replied that they did not need any more.
And now again, we are being accused and kept away from the investigation. What is this? Initially, Malaysia was not allowed to take part in the investigation either for fear that it would ask embarrassing questions. It was allowed to join the investigation several months later. Must we always believe a hand holding up a vial? We saw once how the world believed it. We will not believe this again. We want to believe proof. Not even that, we want to analyse things, have access to materials and see an official position. What we have seen so far is a show, a provocation and political statements. Moreover, this is all you have seen as well. The only thing we have acquired so far is the above presentation. Nobody has shown us anything else. Six slides, one of them just a headline.
Question: Is Russia conducting air strikes in the Idlib de-escalation zone?
Maria Zakharova: This question should be referred to the Ministry of Defence.
Question: You have mentioned that efforts are underway to arrange a number of meetings on the Korean Peninsula with the interested parties. Is a visit by DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to Moscow among these meetings? Can you tell us the approximate date of the visit and its agenda?
Maria Zakharova: Contacts of this kind should not be excluded. We will definitely provide confirmation on the dates, format and level of the talks. So far, this work is in progress, although this could happen in the near future.
Question: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was scheduled to visit Moscow this week, but his visit was rolled back. Could you tell us what caused this decision? Is there a new date?
Maria Zakharova: The causes are obvious, as we have already said in a statement. The schedule of the Russian leadership changed when national mourning was announced in Russia. This is the only reason. We said so and published a comment to this effect on the Foreign Ministry website. We are grateful to our Chinese partners who were receptive to our decision to delay the visit, and expressed condolences to Russia at all levels.
Question: The US Ambassador to Russia Jon M. Huntsman said that Russian assets and property could be arrested in the US following the poisoning of Sergey Skripal. Is Russia ready to respond? Will Russia go to court if this happens?
Maria Zakharova: If this happens, we will analyse it and respond accordingly. To be honest, we cannot speculate on what may or may not happen.
Question: I would like to start by expressing my deepest condolences on the Kemerovo tragedy. As we all now know, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Un, visited the People’s Republic of China between March 25 and 28. What is your view on this historic event?
Maria Zakharova: We regard contacts between countries based on equality and mutual interest as an important element when it comes to international relations. Russia proceeds from the premise that we must welcome any activity in the region that can ease tension on the Korean Peninsula. If this visit pursued this objective, among other things, it should be welcomed, and so should the visit itself.
There is no doubt that only sovereign states enjoy the right to exchange visits and delegations at all levels. We are usually guided in our actions by diplomatic practice and do not comment on visits of this kind, since these are sovereign states, as I have already pointed out. However, in this case we assume that activity of this kind and top-level meetings can improve bilateral relations as well as promote a settlement on the Korean Peninsula.
Question: The Russian diplomats expelled from the United States and the United Kingdom are being called secret service operatives. How correct is this wording and what purpose does it serve?
Some Western publications, including Bloomberg, cover the Kemerovo tragedy in a rather inflammatory and ambiguous manner. Do you think our Western partners are trying to take advantage of the situation in Kemerovo to destabilise the situation in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding your first question on the purpose of expelling diplomats, I have replied to it in great detail today. These people were accredited as diplomatic officials in various countries, and they had diplomatic immunity. I don’t know what else I can say on this score.
Question: But they are being called secret service operatives, that is the point.
Maria Zakharova: I repeat, there is an established diplomatic practice. These dreamed up clichés and labels are part of a large-scale campaign, and we must realise this. We are talking about people who are called diplomatic officials. Of course, all this commotion will do nothing to enhance bilateral relations with the countries that have made this decision, as well as international relations as a whole.
Regarding the coverage of the situation in Kemerovo by Western media, I don’t know what materials and what Bloomberg story you are talking about. It is appalling when people try to capitalise on tragedy and score political points. There are no other words. I think the whole of Russia shuddered after this tragedy, and this is fairly obvious. On an emotional level, we need to assess mistakes, find and punish the culprits and help the people cope with their grief. All of my friends and co-workers, as well as people speaking on television (I have been watching television a lot these past days, even at night), were clearly devastated, and I could not see anyone who was not overwhelmed with shock. I can see people’s facial expressions change, and tears well up in their eyes when they talk about Kemerovo.
My co-workers and I watched the news reports with sinking hearts. I cannot imagine how one can say that someone in Russia does not care about this situation. On the other hand, some people here are trying to use the situation in their own interests. But even this pales before the horror with which people preaching different political views responded to this tragedy. To my mind, this is obvious. Indeed, I don’t want to talk about this Bloomberg story. Perhaps this was someone’s private opinion or a blog piece, but I simply refuse to believe that a journalist could have written this. Honestly, I can’t believe it.
Question: Today, you have talked a lot about the British report, presentation and the six slides. Is their level indicative of the degree of British analysts’ professionalism? Did anyone even bother to substantiate their stand?
Maria Zakharova: A large-scale campaign is underway, and its end justifies the means. It is not the quality of those videos and presentations that tells us about their intelligence levels: we get that information from officials’ statements, including Boris Johnson, who tells members of parliament that the EU has expelled the Russian Ambassador out of solidarity with the United Kingdom. In reality, the EU has recalled its Ambassador from Russia. This has something to do with intelligence and professionalism. This merely proves that they are staking on force, rather than arguments. They think the presentation and the number of slides don’t matter; in fact, they made the same statements two weeks ago. Their public statements indicate that there is “high likelihood” of Russia’s involvement, and these slides show that Russia is certainly to blame. What difference does it make? All this is irrelevant. They are staking on force, on pressure and coercion. They think they can force everyone to act out of solidarity with the UK and to act as a single front. This merely proves that they are counting on such a powerful partner with a mighty hand as the United States.
Question: We have sent our condolences on Kemerovo. I would like to return to 2003…
Maria Zakharova: Thank you for your condolences.
Question: In 2003, 43 people perished in a fire at a student residence of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. It seems that no conclusions were drawn from what happened back then. Three or four people were sentenced to six years in jail, and they served their sentence for just two or three years. This is ridiculous. In 2018, we do not even remember what happened back then. The fact that this tragedy happened again shows that no lessons were learned from the 2003 fire. Maybe it is time that the death penalty be reinstated in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: Russia remains true to its obligations.
Question: The Bulgarian Orthodox church complex in Moscow faced an attempted takeover in the summer when a football field and a fitness club were built on its territory. At the same time, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped restore a Bulgarian church in Istanbul. Can it be that the Prime Minister of Turkey is doing more to restore and strengthen the Orthodox faith than brotherly Russia?
Maria Zakharova: We have already answered this question. I can provide additional information on this subject. It is not a matter of what I think about this. I can file an official request.
Question: Can Russia take steps to have its citizens, Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal, returned back to Russia, and will Russia take any steps of this kind? If Great Britain does not provide any information, does it mean that they were taken hostage? Are there any international legal mechanisms for repatriating them to Russia?
Compared to the British enquiry, a much broader and presentable investigation was carried out in Bulgaria. Our Bulgarian colleague Dilyana Gaytandzhieva investigated US activity related to biochemical weapons. Her report was published just a few days ago both in Russian and in English. I hope that experts will take note of the facts contained in this very detailed and serious investigation by our fellow journalist. According to her report, Great Britain’s refusal to cooperate can be explained by the fact that the US and Pentagon provide generous funding to the Porton Down laboratory.
Who is in charge of controlling chemical weapons in this day and age? This investigation shows that Novichok could have come from elsewhere, and those who are now pointing the finger at Russia could be behind the attack. The report features documents and contracts of the US Department of Defence. Let the experts take over this case.
Could the UN convene an emergency meeting to understand what really happened in the Skripal case? This way there would be no need to force other countries to show solidarity.
Let me remind you that Bulgaria has not changed its position when it announced that no Russian diplomats would be expelled.
Maria Zakharova: Russia asked Britain about access to Russian nationals. We did not receive any reply via diplomatic channels. We are stating this in public.
As for the Bulgarian investigation that you have mentioned, I will gladly look at it. So far I have no information in this regard.
As for international organisations, this is what we have been saying all along. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is part of the UN system. We believe that the UN has all the mechanisms it may need to conduct a thorough and competent investigation into incidents of this kind. Instead of using force or trying to suppress dissent, this work must be undertaken in compliance with the fundamental legal requirements for investigations of this kind. Russia is very interested in learning what actually happened in Salisbury. We do not want this to become yet another unresolved mystery on British soil.
Question: Today you mentioned the anniversary of the bombings in Yugoslavia. We know how it all ended.
Maria Zakharova: You know. But I am not so sure Sky News has even heard of these bombings. It is obvious. These days nobody even knows who started World War II. I have seen public opinion polls from American streets and people believe it was the Soviet Union. They sincerely believe that. What are we talking about? What Belgrade? What bombings? There is a BBC correspondent present here, so there is some hope because he is Russian. But of course they don’t know what happened in Europe where uranium was used and children died horrible deaths. Those who have been to Belgrade know about it. When you go to Belgrade, even if you do not know history, you still understand the idea. The defence ministry building and several other buildings have been left untouched since the bombings. For example, the Chinese know about it because Chinese diplomats were killed in those bombings. Why would anybody else remember? This is just a story, something that happened somewhere. It started with a provocation and ended in tragedy.
During a joint briefing by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Industry and Trade for foreign ambassadors on March 21, a spokesperson for the Serbian Embassy in Moscow said that it was not just a tragedy of those days when people were killed, lost their families, did not know how to go on living and how to walk the streets of a European capital under falling bombs, dropped by their partners from the common European family. The truth is that the uranium used in those bombs contaminated the territory, which resulted in a massive outbreak of cancer related diseases.
Question: How to go on living is still a very relevant question for Serbia. After the bombings, the UNSC passed Resolution 1244 and NATO military contingent was sent to Kosovo. Russian military personnel were there as well and later left Kosovo. Now the Serbs who live there are left to the mercy of fate and their security is the responsibility of the Western countries.
Maria Zakharova: Kosovo was a horrible undertaking. That story was unique in terms of trust issues. Several years have passed since the Americans unilaterally built a coalition of solidarity and separated a part of a sovereign state, having created a quasi-state there without the consent of the legitimate government. Mind you, the investigation of crimes was held there and a statement was made by Carla Del Ponte – in an official, rather than a personal capacity.
Despite the fact that there are tonnes of documents written about those heinous events, Kosovo was given some sort of statehood. Several years later, then US President Barack Obama said that the events in Kosovo were legitimate, there was a referendum there. What trust can we talk about? Whoever does not believe the American president, will suffer. It is a trust imposed by force. Even if there was no referendum, everyone should trust the words of the American president. It is a new reality.
Question: Three days ago, there was an upsurge in violence against Serbian residents in northern Kosovo, for no reason. What should people do? A European mission is there as well as NATO personnel who are providing security. Are there any international documents on this? What can Serbs do if those documents are not respected?
Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this many times. Just recently Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Belgrade. The ministry’s view of the developments in Serbia was published on the official website.
I can elaborate on the issue at the next briefing.