Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 3, 2019
On October 10, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Ashgabat.
Meeting participants will discuss the current state of and prospects for cooperation within the commonwealth as well as topical and regional issues.
They are expected to adopt several decisions aimed at deepening cooperation in the law enforcement, military and cultural areas. They will focus on stepping up the partnership between the foreign ministries of the CIS member-states.
In the context of the upcoming 75th anniversary of Victory in the 1941–1945 Great Patriotic War, which will be marked in 2020, the foreign minister will adopt a draft Appeal by the CIS Member States to the Peoples of the CIS and the world public.
Documents discussed at the meeting will be submitted for the approval of the CIS Heads of State Council to convene in Ashgabat on October 11, and the CIS Heads of Governments Council to convene in Moscow on October 25.
On September 30, the Russian Federation’s presidency of the UN Security Council ended. The Security Council’s agenda was very busy during the month with the High-Leve Week being held as part of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. Five resolutions, the President’s statement and a press statement were adopted.
The key event was the ministerial debate on Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organisations in maintaining international peace and security: The contribution by the CSTO, the CIS, and the SCO in countering terrorist threats. The discussion made it possible to emphasise the substantial and effective efforts of these regional organisations in countering terrorism and terrorism-related activities in the Eurasian space, and showed considerable potential for developing comprehensive cooperation between the CIS, the CSTO, the SCO and the UN.
The ministerial level meeting, Peace and Security in Africa: Partnership to Strengthen Regional Peace and Security, arranged by Russia with UNSC African members, was a success. A commitment was confirmed to step up international support for African efforts to settle conflicts on the continent, to broaden cooperation between the UN and the African Union. Also, the meeting stressed Russia’s contribution to strengthening the security architecture in Africa and become a prologue to the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October.
Syria remained the most poignant issue on the Security Council’s agenda. The Western delegations tried to somehow minimise the efforts of the Astana format; a pseudo-humanitarian resolution on the situation in Idlib was put up for vote, which in fact defended the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham terrorists. Naturally, the Russian delegation along with our Chinese partners had to veto it. An alternative draft which clearly excluded anti-terrorist operations from the proposed ceasefire regime failed to receive support.
The intensive efforts of the Astana Three on assisting the political settlement in Syria allowed Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria of the United Nations Secretary-General, to announce the formation of the Constitutional Committee. This event determined the character of the UNSC meeting on September 30, which proceeded in a non-confrontational atmosphere for the first time in a long time.
A number of the UNSC meetings were dedicated to the conflicts in the Middle East in terms of the ongoing tensions in the region. A comprehensive review of the developments in Libya was held whereby the ineffectiveness of the weapons embargo was noted, as well as the need to harmonise external support for the settlement and return of the conflicting sides to the negotiating table. The UN Support Mission in Libya was extended.
The discussion on the developments in Yemen was held against the backdrop of assaults on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and the events in Aden. Unconditional support was expressed for efforts by Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy for Yemen of the United Nations Secretary-General, to lead the parties in the conflict to consistent implementation of the Stockholm agreements, including those on Hudaydah.
The Palestine-Israel conflict remained in the spotlight at the UNSC. During a respective meeting nearly all members of the UN Security Council expressed concern over the incessant settlement activities by Israel, plans on annexing the Jordan Valley, stressing the counter-productive effects of the US’ steps concerning Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights as they undermine the generally recognised international legal foundation of the Middle East settlement.
At the UNSC quarterly meeting on Afghanistan, arguments were reiterated in favour of an inter-Afghan dialogue with subsequent progress to direct talks between the government and the Taliban, the need to resume the US-Taliban dialogue and rendering Kabul assistance in curbing the terrorist and drug threats. The consensus displayed at the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2489 to extend the UN Mission to Afghanistan for one year was largely the result of Russian efforts to take Security Council members to mutually acceptable positions.
The largest peacekeeping providers took part in the UNSC annual debate on peacekeeping. The discussion showed the international community’s commitment to further improve UN peacekeeping activities based on the UN Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, and in accordance with the member states’ consensus decisions.
During the Russian presidency, the top of the agenda included the task to reaffirm the Security Council’s role as an effective instrument for coordinating efforts in search of responses to threats to international peace and security. The Russian representatives tried to promote this approach as much as possible, enhancing the profile of our country as a responsible participant in international relations who is open to dialogue and a search for resolutions to the most complicated international issues.
Russia will assume its next UNSC presidency in October 2020.
On October 1, the People’s Republic of China marked its 70th anniversary. We sincerely congratulate all of our Chinese friends on this anniversary. I have received many requests from our Chinese friends and journalists, who also forwarded the Chinese audience’s wish to hear congratulations in Chinese. I cannot help but gladly fulfil this request. I would like to congratulate all Chinese, all of our friends and partners: 祝贺中华人民共和国成立70周年！祝愿俄中友谊天长地久！(Zhu4 he4 zhong1 hua2 ren2 min2 gong4 he2 guo2 cheng2 li4 qi1 shi2 zhou1 nian2! Zhu4 yuan4 e2 zhong1 you3 yi4 tian1 chang2 di4 jiu3!)
The contemporary history of China is a succession of outstanding achievements in socioeconomic, scientific and technological development. China has achieved a good position in the system of international economic ties and earned high authority in international affairs. Russia is really happy to see these achievements and wishes China new successes.
I would like to remind everyone that on October 2 marked another important date closely related to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China - the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. On this occasion, our presidents exchanged congratulatory messages, and articles by the two countries’ foreign ministers were published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta and Renmin Ribao. The Russian Foreign Ministry and our colleagues from the Chinese Foreign Ministry organised photo and documentary exhibits to mark the anniversary.
We are happy that Russian-Chinese relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, which are entering a new era, continue to be developed strongly. They serve as an example of trustful and mutually respectful ties between two large neighbouring states and are an important factor in providing for global stability.
I would like to say that next week we will have a meeting with our Chinese colleagues from the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Press Service in Beijing. We mentioned that this meeting was planned. Now we are working to set the date, and I hope that next week we will have a productive meeting and meaningful communication with our Chinese colleagues.
We consider the situation in Syria to be stable. There are hotbeds of tension in the territories that are not controlled by the Syrian Government – in Idlib and the country’s northeast. Despite the truce unilaterally introduced by the government troops on August 31, the terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zone continue shelling the Syrian army’s positions and civilian communities daily. On the whole, the number of attacks by extremists is growing: 823 attacks were recorded in August and 972 in September.
The situation in the northeast also remains complicated. On the one hand, the resistance of the Arab population against the local governments is growing while on the other, ISIS sleeping cells have become more active. In September, the terrorists committed 20 acts of terror, killing 40 and wounding 27 Kurdish fighters.
We have received alarming reports from the Rukban camp for internally displaced persons, which is located in the south of the country in the zone of illegal US occupation. An additional humanitarian cargo was delivered there on September 26-28. Civilians were supposed to leave the camp (about 2,500 people at the first stage). However, only 336 people were brought to the territory controlled by the Syrian authorities on September 29. The refugees said militants from the US-sponsored illegal armed group Mahavir as-Saura banned civilians from leaving the camp under the threat of death. Those Syrians who managed to escape had to pay the militants large sums of money for their release. It transpired that a big part of the humanitarian convoy again landed in the hands of Mahavir as-Saura. We reaffirm that the grievous situation in Rukban is primarily caused by the illegal US occupation and Washington’s systematic failure to fulfil its commitments of an occupying power under international humanitarian law. These commitments stipulate ensuring the protection and safety of civilians on controlled territories.
At the same time, mass disorders in which members of foreign militants’ families took part broke out in the al-Houl IDP camp, which is also located in the areas that are illegally occupied by the United States. Fighters from the Kurdish security services used firearms and some people were killed and wounded. Obviously, Kurdish fighters find it increasingly difficult to control the camp, which has turned into a terrorist colony with 70,000 people. Every week the threat that the terrorists will flee al-Houl and spread throughout Syria, other countries in the region and Europe is growing. As in the case of Rukban, the responsibility for what is happening in al-Houl –the worsening humanitarian situation and uncontrolled fleeing of ISIS militants – rests with the United States and its coalition allies that control the country’s northeast in violation of all norms of international law.
Against this background we note the Syrian Government’s steps to advance the process of national reconciliation. President Bashar al-Assad signed an executive order on general amnesty that provides for reduced punishment for non-serious crimes committed before September 14, 2019.
The number of Syrians that have returned home is growing every day. Over 420,000 people came home after the launch of the Russian initiative on the return of IDPs and refugees to Syria in July 2018.
In addition, Syria continues to restore political, economic, social and cultural ties with other countries in the region and the rest of the world.
The fifth ‘Let’s Restore Syria’ construction fair opened in Damascus in the middle of September. About 400 companies from 31 countries, including Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and Belarus, are taking part in it.
In late September, Damascus hosted an international conference on education. It was attended by over 1,500 education professionals from Russia, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and India.
In late September, a delegation of Italian MPs met with the top Syrian leaders in Damascus. The participants on both sides noted the importance of the objective coverage of events without politicisation as well as positive changes in Syria.
The Abu Kamal border checkpoint reopened on the Syrian-Iraqi border on September 30. The authorities plan to establish railway service between Damascus and Homs.
Russia also continues contributing to Syria’s peaceful future. In September, RusInformExport, a Rostec subsidiary, completed the infrastructure necessary to launch the e-government in Syria. A secondary general education school for boys restored with Russian funds reopened in a district of Damascus on September 23. Damascus University hosted the second exhibition of Russian universities, which was attended by representatives of 19 best higher education institutions.
I would like to draw your attention to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the Valdai Club forum yesterday, which were devoted to the problems of the Middle East and North Africa. Mr Lavrov discussed in detail the causes of crises and ways to overcome long-term or new crises. The transcript and video are available on the Foreign Ministry’s website. Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab daily, available in Russian and Arabic, was also published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
On October 1-2, mass protests swept Baghdad and several other provinces in the country, including Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Babil, Wasit and Najaf. According to incoming reports, despite the initially peaceful character of the rallies, attacks on government offices were recorded in some regions across Iraq, including in the capital, provoking clashes between protestors and police. There are victims among the protestors and police officers who were killed or injured in acts of civil disobedience.
On the night of October 3, Iraqi police managed to bring the situation under control and stop the unrest from spreading further. Today, there are signs that the situation in general is being brought back to normal under the local authorities’ control. The Iraqi government has imposed a curfew in the capital and in several major cities.
The Russian Embassy in Baghdad and the Russian Consulate General offices in Basra and Erbil are keeping a close eye on the developments and are in constant contact with the Iraqi authorities and local security services. So far, no direct threats have been issued by protestors to our diplomatic missions or to Russian nationals in Iraq at this time.
I would like to remind you once again of the hot line that was established, as well as of the accounts on social networks and our website that provide essential information that individuals and our missions visiting or working in Iraq may need.
Alarming elements continue to accumulate in the developments around Venezuela.
As you know, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has discussed the developments in Venezuela at meetings with his Latin American colleagues from Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Cuba, as well as with the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Executive Vice President of Venezuela itself, in New York. Moscow has just hosted political consultations with senior officials from the Foreign Ministry of Argentina. We are concerned over attempts to impart a new quality to the situation, that is, to artificially fit it into a broader context of regional counter-terrorist efforts. In effect, there are plans to launch a scenario that is painfully similar to the Syrian scenario, including stage-by-stage reductions in military-threshold levels.
We have sent out a clear message: Russia advocates a purely [I repeat, purely] political settlement in this country in line with international law and national legislation, without unconstructive outside interference, a settlement brought about through the efforts of the people of Venezuela themselves and by fostering dialogue between various political forces representing their interests.
In this context, we are noting with satisfaction that there has been some positive news coming from Venezuela. A negotiating process, launched on September 16 under the so-called National Dialogue Roundtable Discussion between the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the constructive opposition, is picking up momentum. Unfortunately, radical opponents are actively trying to discredit this format. But it is precisely this format that has started yielding results. The Commission for Truth, Justice and Peace has got down to work, and its members have stopped an investigation against 28 members of the opposition. The possibility of modifying the measures of restriction on 200 other citizens is being discussed on the condition that there are no indications of serious crime [corpus delicti] in their actions. Pro-Government coalition deputies have resumed work at the National Assembly after a long interval. This can serve as a prologue for normalising the political process, with due consideration for the fact that the Oslo process has been put on hold.
Apart from launching national dialogue, there is other evidence confirming the Government’s readiness for a compromise. For example, a memorandum with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was signed on September 23. We note the readiness of Caracas to work on improving national human rights protection mechanisms despite the unprecedented foreign pressure that is being exerted on it.
Unfortunately, these constructive but so far nascent trends are encountering serious resistance. Washington continues its line aiming to oust the legitimate Government of Venezuela, and it does not want to learn either from the mistakes of others or from its own. Sometimes, efforts being exerted by US representatives and the radical opposition members being supported by them assume the form of head-on propaganda, including the attempts by opposition members to circulate fake news about an alleged meeting with Sergey Lavrov. The Foreign Minister himself has commented on this in New York. Damage has also been inflicted on the domestic process of establishing dialogue between the people of Venezuela. We also know very well how many such media leaks are conducted daily.
At the same time, Washington’s steps, especially those linked with toughening anti-humane sanctions with regard to Venezuela and its allies, primarily Cuba, as well as cynical comments by official US representatives that follow, give a very unpleasant impression. For example, in his latest interview with The Miami Herald, Elliott Abrams, US Special Representative for Venezuela, noted, with apparent pleasure, that the new restrictions regarding fuel and energy deliveries to Cuba were fraught with problems for the island’s economy and social sector. But he also bemoaned the fact that, even in these conditions, Havana was in no hurry to bow low before the United States.
One would like to ask a reasonable question: Hasn’t regional history, including that of Cuba, taught the United States anything? As history proves, it is impossible to subdue the Cubans.
We regret the fact that the United States continues to actively promote the subject of activating the mechanism of the 1947 Inter‐American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, or the so-called Rio Treaty, using political methods and propaganda. Of course, it is necessary to heed the region’s permanent allergy to hypothetical military operations; consequently, the US is so far trying to present the document as a purely political argument. To my mind, everyone should be interested in the de-escalation of tensions. However, we continue to register a US desire to incite these tensions.
In conclusion, I would like to note once again the importance of dialogue. During our conversations, our Latin American partners inquired about our opinion on what would constitute a realistic scenario for rectifying the situation, and what could be done towards this. The answer is obvious: It is necessary to discard narrow ideological stereotypes, to support incipient dialogue and to urge all influential Venezuelan forces, including those supporting Mr Juan Guaido, to join this roundtable discussion. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin noted on September 25, prior to the talks with President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro in the Kremlin, we see any refusal to conduct dialogue as something irrational and detrimental to the country, and this would only pose a threat to the well-being of the people of Venezuela.
On October 1, the Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Republic of Singapore was signed at a ceremony held on the sidelines of a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in the presence of heads of the EAEU member states and Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong in Yerevan. The agreement was signed by First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov and Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
This event turns a new page in the relations with that country and creates conditions for boosting mutual trade (which amounted to $3.6 billion in 2018) and developing cooperation in practical areas.
The scope of tariff liberalisation under the agreement covers 88 per cent of the EAEU product range or 92 per cent of imports from Singapore. The main stages of this process start on the date that the agreement comes into force as well as in five and seven years thereafter.
In addition, five bilateral agreements on free trade in services and investment will be concluded between Singapore and each of the EAEU member state. This will produce a package of arrangements establishing an EAEU-Singapore free trade area.
We welcome the conduct of the presidential election in Afghanistan on September 28 despite the tense military and political situation and the existence of terrorist threats. Fortunately, this election was accompanied by fewer casualties than the parliamentary elections of 2018.
Nevertheless, we have to note the extremely low turnout, technical problems, including communication failures in the north and northeastern provinces and many complaints about the operation of biometric equipment, vote rigging and fraud. As a result, most of the candidates are now questioning the legitimacy of the voting returns.
The announcement of preliminary voting results has been scheduled for October 19 and the final ones, for November 7. We hope that the vote-counting procedure will be maximally fair and transparent and the election outcome will be recognised by the candidates and the Afghan people.
If need be, the international community should be prepared to assist Afghanistan in performing an independent verification of the voting results.
We are shocked by some strange information activities on the part of a Russophobic lobby in Norway or elsewhere which have made their way onto the Norwegian media. Indeed, this amounts to all-out anti-Russia misinformation. The material appeared recently and dealt with the alleged presence of representatives of the Russian special forces in Norway and active espionage operations by Russian secret services there.
In my opinion, this is the height of unscrupulousness and a deviation from the professional ethics and norms of journalism. All conceivable and inconceivable “facts” were gathered together, and it appears that, according to the intention of the authors, the aim was to completely dispel any doubts among the Norwegian public concerning Russia’s hostile intentions with regard to this state. I will not recite all this fake news because I don’t consider this necessary. Unfortunately, this news has gone viral. Moreover, it has been reprinted for no apparent reason by Russian-language online resources. Those who concocted and spread all this misinformation should, of course, assume moral responsibility for such actions. It goes without saying that we will comment on all this down to the smallest detail, and we will not overlook such things.
In fact, we can state that Norway has, of late, been conducting systemic work to promote an image of Russia as an enemy. This is an aggressive anti-Russia information policy. I would very much like our colleagues at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to record this. Additionally, the media deliberately blames our country for increasing international instability and unpredictability and voices endless accusations that are not backed by any evidence.
We regret that this situation is shaping up with regard to a country that has its own positive historical experience of relations with Russia. Moreover, we regret very much that this campaign has picked up such momentum on the eve of an important event in our relations, that is, in the run-up to events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of northern Norway by the Red Army. I suspect that all this activity was timed to precisely coincide with this. The community of professional journalists in Norway and probably officials should somehow expose these things. The secret services of that country should also work somehow to find out who is implementing these information campaigns in their country, which destroy the fabric of bilateral relations, and they should show that Norwegian media are spreading fake news.
We hope that Norway will build relations with Russia based on long-term interests and truly partner-like respect, rather than on the basis of provocative fake news.
There is serious concern over the plans for the de-Russification of the entire education system, including pre-school facilities, agreed upon within the Latvian ruling coalition.
It is obvious that this initiative has an overtly discriminatory nature and its final objective is the forced assimilation of the Russian-speaking population. This destructive course by Riga not only ignores the opinion of a considerable portion of Latvian society (the decision was taken without a wide discussion and notwithstanding mass protests) but also runs counter to Latvia’s international legal obligations to provide for ethnic minorities’ linguistic rights under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education of 1960, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, as well as a number of other fundamental instruments of international law to which the Latvian Republic is a signatory.
Of particular concern is the fact that the exclusion of the native language from pre-school education could have a very unfavourable effect on the education of Russian-speaking children and would obviously have a negative psychological impact.
We expect the specialised international agencies to assess in principle the unacceptable situation involving a breach of ethnic minorities’ linguistic rights in that Baltic country.
In the city of Jawor, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, vandals have desecrated the central monument at the Red Army soldiers’ cemetery which contains the graves of 610 Soviet soldiers and officers killed in battles for the liberation of Poland from Nazi invaders in February 1945. I am tempted to put a question to the Polish authorities: did you ask for this?
This is the third instance of vandalism against the monument this year, and in the first two cases, the perpetrators have never been found by the Polish law enforcement bodies. Such impunity combined with Warsaw’s official policy of rewriting WWII history and denying the Red Army’s decisive role in liberating Europe from Nazism is creating a fertile environment for ever new disgraceful incidents.
We demand that the Polish authorities find and hold liable those guilty and take all necessary measures to prevent vandalism against Soviet memorial sites. We call on Warsaw to observe international commitments and display a civilised attitude towards military burial sites.
On October 3, the newspaper Kommersant published a farewell interview with outgoing US Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman. One of his statements stood out: he said that some visa restrictions prevented several important US delegations from visiting Russia, indicating that visa problems between Russia and the United States are mutual. He said so directly. At the same time, he did not specify who he was talking about, and therefore what he said is puzzling.
We only know about two senators who were denied entry to Russia in September. And that was not because Russia denied them visas, failed to issue them on time or delayed, but because they are on the Russian visa black list. How did they end up there? I think that Mr Huntsman is very well aware of this. But I can remind you, it’s no trouble. They were put on that list in retaliation after the United States imposed massive sanctions against Russian parliamentarians, other statesmen and public figures, business people and even ordinary people. In other words, the denied entry was solely a response to Washington’s hostile policy these American lawmakers chiefly helped develop. So are these mutual problems? We have no problems with issuing visas to US citizens.
Russia does not create any obstacles in the dialogue with the United States and is open to exchanges of delegations. Unfortunately, we are not seeing any reciprocal goodwill, to put it mildly. Unfortunately, the practice of delaying US visas to Russian delegations and even downright denying them entry has expanded and become regular.
For example, this week members of the Russian Foreign Ministry delegation to the Fort Ross Dialogue Russian-American forum have had their trip wrecked as a result of such actions on the American side. With the former fortress of Russian pioneers in California as its venue, the forum aims to strengthen mutual understanding through public diplomacy and stimulate bilateral cooperation. Apparently, someone in Washington political circles dislikes such goals. Admittedly, we have not had any problems before.
Honestly, we are outraged by this deliberate obstruction of Russia’s regular participation in US-hosted international events by the US authorities. We have already noted that Washington denied visas to a large part of the Russian delegation travelling to participate in the high-level week at the UN General Assembly session in New York in September. Moreover, American representatives are still denying entry to Russian officials authorised to represent our country at the ongoing meetings of various UN GA committees. Allow me to remind you that the session lasts almost a year.
So it remained unclear why US Ambassador Huntsman says that both sides have visa problems. The problem is created entirely by the American side. Sometimes Washington has to reap the fruit of its own confrontational policies in the form of our retaliatory, albeit targeted measures. It is up to the American side to stop the misguided practice of denying visas to official representatives, bringing still more negativity into our bilateral relations.
It has become near impossible for representatives of our business circles, the general public, artists and cultural figures, business leaders, and even tourists to obtain American visas. When we tell US citizens, they cannot believe that in 2019, to get a visa, respectable people who have never been involved in any financial fraud, terrorist activities, or any other criminal activity are forced to spend up to a year waiting for an interview. At the same time, payments for visa services are charged on time. This also needs to be taken into account. People pay money for their visas before they are even issued. Honestly, this statement in an interview with an American representative caused nothing but bewilderment.
The list of countries where Russians can stay without visas for a certain period of time and whose citizens do not need visas to enter Russia is growing.
I would like to emphasise that the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry has a dedicated section on the countries with visa-free travel for Russians that also specifies the permitted duration of stay in each of these countries.
In particular, this month, agreements between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda as well as the Government of the Republic of Botswana are taking effect. These agreements will help to increase the number of tourists and promote contacts between the business communities of our countries as well as other exchanges.
I would like to draw the attention of media representatives to this section of the Foreign Ministry’s official website.
Question: Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried an article by the minister of transport and communications of the so-called Republic of China, which talks about Taiwan’s desire to participate in ICAO activities. What does the Foreign Ministry think about this?
Maria Zakharova: We took note of this publication. Our position on the Taiwan issue is spelled out in the Russian-Chinese Treaty on Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation signed on July 16, 2001 and a number of other bilateral documents adopted at the highest level. Russia recognises the fact that there’s only one China in the world. The Government of the People's Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China, and Taiwan is an integral part of China. Russia opposes all other interpretations.
Russia opposes Taiwan’s membership in ICAO and other international organisations whose members can only be sovereign states, as it opposes Taiwan’s participation in their activities in a format which is not agreed with the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
To reiterate, there’s nothing sensational about this stance. This is our traditional approach and the official position of the Russian Federation.
Question: Yesterday, in his speech in Sochi at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sergey Lavrov touched on the Karabakh issue. According to him, the situation on the ground has improved, there are fewer shelling attacks, their intensity has decreased, and fewer people are dying. However, the negotiating process has stalled. According to Mr Lavrov, resuming direct talks can add dynamics to the process. The minister also said that talks are being held as part of the OSCE Minsk Group between the foreign ministers. What kind of direct talks are we talking about? Between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan or between Karabakh and Azerbaijan?
Maria Zakharova: I think that direct talks between the two states will be announced by representatives of these states. I can say that as agreed with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs plan to visit this region to conduct talks and discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Dates are being determined, and we will announce them additionally.
Question: Our publication conducted an investigation of the protests that took place in Moscow in the summer. In particular, we found out that an employee of the US Consulate in Russia Stephen Sexton explained to the Anti-Corruption Foundation employees how to behave during rallies and detentions. We sent this information to the Foreign Ministry. Is there any information what kind of person he is? How will his activities be interpreted and will there be any kind of response?
Maria Zakharova: An answer was sent to your request.
Regarding the identification of a representative of the US Embassy, even if it is a consular officer, you can always contact the US Embassy. I think they can confirm or deny the existence of such a person.
Question (via interpreter): What is the Foreign Minister’s reaction to the resignation of US State Department Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker? He criticised him in 2018 at the UN. Does he regret his departure? Does Mr Lavrov think Kurt Volker made a contribution to this week’s agreement on Donbass?
Maria Zakharova: We have commented on Mr Volker’s activities. It is odd to offer comments after his resignation. Generally, I cannot say anything positive about his contribution. In fact, you are quite right that we regularly criticised his role based on specific statements and actions. His activity did not add stability or anything positive, let alone crisis settlement. I cannot say anything positive about his performance.
You read Russian media, and I read US media, among others. They talked a lot about him lobbying for his private interests and those of companies that employed him while he was the special representative.
Question (via interpreter): There were media reports about two dozen or so Russian soldiers killed in Libya. By all evidence they were somehow related to the so-called Wagner Group private military company. Do you have any information on that? Does Russia support the presence of Russian military in Libya? If not, what measures can the Russian government take to prosecute those who “enlist to carry out foreign policies?”
Maria Zakharova: You must have taken little interest in this matter. Mr Lavrov commented on the private military companies issue. We will certainly send you references to his comments. I have no information on the soldiers in question.
I would like to remind you that questions related to the Russian military should be addressed to the Russian Ministry of Defence. If you are referring to people who perform certain activities related to armed conflicts or involvement in armed conflicts on any side, I again would like to draw your attention to Mr Lavrov’s comments on this issue.
If Russian citizens, regardless of their line of work, find themselves in a difficult situation and apply to us through our foreign missions (embassies or consulates), we can provide aid and support and also offer our comments, if requested by the media, and assuming these people or their relatives allow it. Right now, I have neither the data nor the relatives’ applications. It’s even unclear what we are talking about exactly.
Unfortunately, things happen to hundreds of Russian citizens every day all over the world. If you have any specific information or materials beyond rumors, please forward them to us. We will peruse them and try to comment.
Question: Recently, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said the next Astana format meeting would be held in the near future. Is there any information about the possible date? What will the agenda be for the first round of talks after the creation of the Constitutional Committee in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: I do not have a date yet for the next Astana format meeting. As for the agenda, it will include an action plan following the formation of the Constitutional Committee as the most important factor in progressing towards a comprehensive settlement in Syria and the launch of a political process. At least this is one of the topics.
I would like to add that the start of the Committee’s work and the accomplishment of its tasks will be the focus of attention and discussion not only in the Astana format, but also at all other levels. This is a very important factor in the development of the situation in Syria and in the region as a whole.
Question: Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov said earlier that foreign ministers of the Normandy four (Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine) could meet before the Normandy format summit. When and where would this meeting take place?
Maria Zakharova: This cannot be ruled out, theoretically. In practical terms, there is no timeframe, no dates. Once we have them, we will immediately share this information with you. So far I have no information that such a meeting was discussed as a practical plan.
Question: Most members of the Dutch Parliament’s lower house supported a broad investigation into Ukraine’s role in the crash of the Malaysian Boeing in Donbass in 2014. More than five years have passed. What do you think prevented this investigation from happening earlier? Russia said it was willing to participate in the investigation from the very beginning, but to no avail. Will anything change now? Will Moscow be allowed to take part?
Maria Zakharova: This is paradoxical. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t found out about it from factual materials. The investigation seems to be hampered by the same factors that prevented them from collecting the debris of the Boeing that are still at the scene of the crash. This is not about some small pieces – those are large fragments. I saw a recent video: all the debris is there, but for some reason no one is collecting it. Why? We have repeatedly mentioned this: globally, the reason is that certain forces have issued their verdict that one state was guilty and all the others innocent – right away and without any investigation.
Everything else – the investigation, the statements, the group’s activity – was adjusted to fit with the ready-made declared result. Unfortunately, this approach is no longer rare or unique. We have seen it applied repeatedly. It is completely contrary to any idea of law, international or national.
At least, I do not know of any national legal system that would lack the presumption of innocence concept, or that would issue a verdict on the first day after the incident, an accident, or a crime. Such legal systems do not exist.
When leading countries begin shaping public opinion at the official level by directly pointing out the guilty party right away, without any evidence or even the right to make any allegations – we are talking here about states that claim to be legally developed – this means the end of the existing respect for law in the world in principle. I believe this is precisely the reason why this incident has not been thoroughly and comprehensive investigated.
Let me remind you, the UN Security Council resolution to conduct a comprehensive investigation is still in place. Russia was actively involved in drafting that document, but for some reason, no one has used it as a roadmap for several years.
This is a global answer to your question. There is a whole range of inconsistencies and examples of disrespect to national and international law in this matter. We have repeatedly talked about this, and have given our assessments of specific actions and of statements on this subject.
Question: The media reported that the US government approved a contract for the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles worth a total of $39 million to Ukraine. How can this purchase affect the settlement of the crisis?
Maria Zakharova: What Ukraine really needs today is to settle its domestic conflict and overcome the crisis in many areas, including the economy. It is necessary to step up anti-corruption efforts, harmonise domestic political processes and try to find its own identity. This is what Ukraine needs. I don’t think that the supply of the missiles you mentioned will somehow resolve these issues. This purchase will be just another burden for the Ukrainian budget.
Question: Quoting US experts on counterterrorism, The New York Times laments that the US Army cannot bomb Al-Qaida units in the Idlib Province because this area is protected by Russian air defence. What could you say about this publication? How soon, in your opinion, will Russia be accused of abetting terrorists?
Maria Zakharova: I think this question must be addressed to our military experts although, to be honest, I don’t even know what to comment in this respect. What do you want to know when you ask this question? Do our air-defence systems repel missile attacks? Obviously, the answer is “yes.” But regarding the region, this is up to the Defence Ministry and the situation on the ground.
Question: Ukraine has agreed to the Steinmeier Formula. Many critics say that this is yet another concession to Moscow. There are demonstrations of protest underway in Ukraine now. Those who are against this decision say it is an obvious concession to Moscow. What does Moscow think about this?
Maria Zakharova: In a democratic state everyone has the right to have an opinion and forms of its implementation or expression. If everything is within the framework of law, why can’t some of the Ukrainian population express support or lack of support on decisions made by the authorities? I don’t see what is worth commenting on in this respect.
Representatives of the Normandy format unanimously supported the results of the work of the Contact Group, including its efforts to promote the Steinmeier Formula. This is really important for a contribution to the settlement and implementation of the Minsk agreements. Major international players that are not part of the Normandy format also expressed support for the adopted decisions (although on different pages but on paper anyway). This is also important. This shows that positions can be brought closer together even on the issue on which the sides were far from consensus.
There will always be people and political forces that will use public opinion to try to make their own agenda – this is normal in the democratic process. I was surprised and even amused by the fact that this, as well as further implementation of the Minsk agreements, was opposed by the forces that associate themselves with former President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko. This is amusing because, first, the Minsk agreements were signed by Poroshenko. Second, upon his return, he and his delegation were accused of giving up, by a large part of the Ukrainian establishment. For several years he tried to prove that he did not give up anything by signing the Minsk agreements. Now he is engaged in what he opposed during all these years. He is now accusing the current Ukrainian authorities of giving up their position by implementing the Minsk agreements and their additional specific formats (like the Steinmeier Formula). Everything seems to be turned upside down. This is what’s surprising. As for the people protesting in the streets, who have their own opinion but are not in power and are not part of the political process, this is normal for democratic states. This happens everywhere. This is even good.
The main thing is to remain within the limits of the law, to prevent events into developing into yet another, hot phase of the conflict. It seems to me that Ukraine would hardly be able to deal with another outrage against justice after another Maidan. What is needed now is to focus all efforts on resolving old problems rather than creating new ones.
So, dialogue is a good thing. The existence of a different opinion is always good. The main point is to keep everything within the limits of the law. It must be obvious that now all opportunities must be used to implement the Minsk agreements in the name of the main, fundamental goal – settlement of Ukraine’s domestic conflict.
Question: The first winners of this year’s Nobel Prize will be announced next week. Our colleagues from Novaya Gazeta and our compatriots that specialise in literature and natural sciences have repeatedly been nominated for Nobel prizes and even received these coveted awards. However, it would be fair to say that this took place with less political tensions between Russia and the West. What are the chances for our compatriots being nominated and receiving Nobel prizes this year? What does the Foreign Ministry think about this?
Maria Zakharova: We do not take bets. I think it is inappropriate to talk about the chances. This is an independent organisation and hopefully it will uphold its reputation as an independent organisation.
This is why we do not interfere in this. I think we should wait for the results and only then comment on them, considering that in the past few years we have seen many cases where political discussions flare up around prizes, debates and nominations.
Question: What do you think about the current economic and political relations between Russia and Armenia?
Maria Zakharova: They are positive.