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17 November 201618:54

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 17, 2016


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  1. More disinformation from US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby
  2. Expansion of US sanctions
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Belarus
  4. Opening of a Rossotrudnichestvo mission in Gomel, Belarus
  5. ICRC President Peter Maurer's working visit to Russia
  6. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's talks with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh
  7. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with newly elected UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
  8. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Plenipotentiary Representatives and Ambassadors of the CSTO member states and the leadership of the CSTO Secretariat and Joint Staff
  9. UNIDO anniversary events
  10. The situation around Mosul
  11. Letter from the family of Alexander Prokhorenko who was killed in Syria
  12. Developments in Syria
  13. Second release of the White Paper on Syria
  14. ICC report
  15. Amendments to Presidential Executive Order No. 977 of June 17, 2008 On the Procedure for the Entry to and Exit from the Russian Federation of Former Soviet Citizens Who Are Now Stateless Persons Residing in the Republics of Latvia or Estonia

  16. Russian nationals’ visit to Qatar

  17. Suspension of broadcasting by RTR Planeta television in Lithuania

  18. Answers to media questions:

  19. Work in the Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran format

  20. Situation in eastern Aleppo

  21. Russian-Turkish relations

  22. Malaysian Boeing crash over Donbass
  23. Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
  24. Developments in Syria
  25. Russian-Japanese talks
  26. US Congress’s promise
  27. Possible Russia-Turkey statement on Syria
  28. Situation around Mosul
  29. US State Department briefing
  30. Referendum plans in the Netherlands
  31. UN Security Council draft resolution on North Korea
  32. Developments concerning the International Criminal Court


More disinformation from US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby


I have to open today’s briefing on an unpleasant note. This is the first time we are encountering this in such a format.

Something outrageous happened yesterday at a briefing in the US State Department. Spokesman Kirby said “I'm not going to put Russia Today on the same level with the rest of ... independent media outlets.” Is that some new type of segregation or media separation based on ideology?

I want to remind my colleagues in the State Department that there are US reporters officially working in Russia. I can see some of them in this room, and they come here regularly. Do you also want them to experience what you have allowed yourself with regard to a Russian media outlet working in the United States? I do not think that the American reporters will be happy to see such a turn of events. I can return the favour, trust me. If Russia Today ever has to go through the same thing again in Washington, US reporters will be assigned special seats at Russian Foreign Ministry briefings. Notably, not all American diplomats thought it was okay. In private, they expressed words of regret and apology to Russia Today. But they did so only in private.

This unprecedented case of separating journalists into “right” and “wrong” will certainly be discussed during the upcoming meeting between Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry today in Peru.

On the sidelines of the APEC summit, the heads of foreign policy departments will hold a bilateral meeting and discuss the situation in Syria and Ukraine, as well as the expansion of the American sanctions on Russia. The officials will discuss all current issues of Russia-US relations. The issue with which I began today’s briefing will by all means be brought to attention of the US Secretary of State. We believe there must be a clear understanding of what the mouthpiece of the US State Department is officially saying, and he should be reined in a bit.

If this doesn’t happen, again, we can return the favour.


Expansion of US sanctions


The Russian Foreign Ministry commented on November 14 on the decision by Washington to add six State Duma deputies from Crimea and Sevastopol to the anti-Russian sanctions list. This step cannot but cause regret. This issue will also, as I mentioned earlier, be brought up during bilateral talks.

What kind of regret do we have in mind? Is it regret over a White House that is totally detached from reality and the instinctive desire of the outgoing Obama administration to play a dirty trick on us before leaving? Truth be told, much has been done already, so there was no need to bother. One cannot rule out that this is not the last we see of this US administration. There are concerns that the White House will continue to spoil the atmosphere of bilateral relations up to the last day of the incumbent president in office.

Of course, we hope that destroyers and “terminators” of Russia-US relations in Washington will give way to people who will approach bilateral ties and cooperation more carefully in all aspects of the word.

You are aware that the attempts to pressure our country through sanctions, an attempt at isolating Russia from the world, all kinds of blockades and boycotts have failed and led to nothing. This is shown by our history and current developments. This, perhaps, sums up the Obama administration’s failed foreign policy.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Belarus


On November 21-22, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Belarus to attend a joint session of the Russian and Belarusian foreign ministries’ boards. While in Belarus, Mr Lavrov is planning to hold talks with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei.

During the talks, there will be an in-depth discussion on a wide range of issues dealing with bilateral cooperation in foreign policy matters with an emphasis on the implementation of the provisions of the Joint Statement signed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus on December 15, 2015.

The joint board meeting will focus, in accordance with its agenda, on key avenues of cooperation between the two ministries in advancing common approaches at the UN and promoting integration processes in Eurasia and the Asian-Pacific region, relations with European partners and joint efforts to resist attempts to falsify history.    


Opening of a Rossotrudnichestvo mission in Gomel, Belarus


On November 21, the Russian Centre of Science and Culture will open its branch in the city of Gomel in Belarus. This is an important event for the humanitarian relations between the two countries, marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The opening ceremony will be attended by Head of Rossotrudnichesto (Russian Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) Lyubov Glebova, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov, Deputy State Secretary of the Union State of Russia and Belarus and member of its Standing Committee Ivan  Bambiza, Belarusian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Yevdochenko and top officials of the Gomel region and the city of Gomel.

The Gomel branch of the Russian Centre of Science and Culture will focus its activity on promoting cultural dialogue, relations between sister cities, and preserving a common historical and cultural space. We believe that it would help further strengthen humanitarian and cultural cooperation between Russia and Belarus.  


ICRC President Peter Maurer's working visit to Russia


On November 23, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer, who will be in Russia on a working visit.

Mr Lavrov and Mr Maurer will discuss pressing issues of Russia's cooperation with ICRC in joint response to humanitarian issues across the globe. They will pay particular attention to the situations in southeastern Ukraine and in Syria, focusing on providing humanitarian aid to civilians.

We are confident that Mr Maurer's upcoming visit to Russia will help facilitate this cooperation.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's talks with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh


On November 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to hold talks in Moscow with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Pham Binh Minh, who will pay an official visit to Russia on November 23-24.

The officials will discuss the state of bilateral cooperation as well as future prospects. As you know, our relations are marked by a comprehensive strategic partnership with a focus on expanding the political dialogue and boosting cooperation in trade and investment, science and technology, the defence industry, and the humanitarian sphere.

Sergey Lavrov and Pham Binh Minh will exchange views on the pressing issues of the regional and global agenda, and review cooperation in the UN, major international organisations and multilateral structures. 

They will also address issues related to Vietnam's decision to abandon its nuclear energy development plans and its intention to implement a joint Russian-Vietnamese nuclear project. 

Following the talks, Sergey Lavrov and Pham Binh Minh will sign a 2017-18 cooperation plan for the foreign ministries of the two countries.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with newly elected UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres


On November 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet in Moscow with newly elected UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

They will discuss current issues related to UN activities, especially ways to solve acute regional conflicts, making the Organisation and interactions with the Secretariat more efficient and raising the chances of reform.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Plenipotentiary Representatives and Ambassadors of the CSTO member states and the leadership of the CSTO Secretariat and Joint Staff


On November 25, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will hold a traditional meeting with Plenipotentiary Representatives and Ambassadors of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation member states. The meeting will also be attended by CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha and CSTO Chief of the Joint Staff, Colonel-General Anatoly Sidorov.

The meeting will focus on the CSTO current tasks concerning international and regional security and foreign policy coordination.


UNIDO anniversary events


On November 21-25, a series of events will take place at the headquarters of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in Vienna, dedicated to its 50th anniversary.

For the anniversary, there will be the 44th session of the Industrial Development Board (IDB), UNIDO’s policy-making body where member countries make decisions on key issues related to the activity of this specialised UN agency at its annual meetings.

The IDB’s session and anniversary events will be attended by a Russian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.

Anniversary events include plenary sessions and thematic interactive roundtable discussions on various aspects of industrialisation in the context of sustainable development. There will be a presentation of the Organisation’s most successful projects.

The central issue on the IDB’s agenda is the consolidation and the more effective use of UNIDO’s potential in the interest of promoting comprehensive industrialisation and innovations as an essential element of multilateral efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Our country consistently supports UNIDO. We regard the organisation as a promising partner in the implementation of Russia’s state policy to advance international development. We are committed to continuing UNIDO project-related activity to help friendly countries in addressing the pressing socioeconomic and environmental problems that they face. In this connection we would like to stress that Russia-funded UNIDO programmes help expand mutually beneficial economic ties between Russian companies and their partners, increase the export potential of domestic manufacturers and diversify their foreign economic ties, as well as develop integration processes, in particular in the Eurasian space.


The situation around Mosul


Today it is exactly one month since the start of the operation to free the Iraqi city of Mosul.

In Mosul, Iraqi troops and irregular armed formations that support them are engaged in heavy fighting on the outskirts of the city. Every step forward that they take can only be welcomed. However, the situation is still far from a final settlement. And this despite the fact that significant forces and assets have been employed, including heavy weapons and aircraft of the US-led coalition. According to its spokesman, since the start of the operation, over 4,000 air-to-surface bombs have been dropped on ISIS-controlled areas in and around Mosul.

Meanwhile, life for Mosul residents, who have ended up between the “hammer” of coalition bombing attacks and the “anvil” of ISIS violence, is becoming increasingly dire, while the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. According to some sources, during the past month, about 56,000 people have fled the city and areas around it. Forecasts look even worse. The figure may increase to 400,000-700,000.

It is hard not to agree that Western partners and the media resources they control continue to “polish” reality. Meanwhile, information about what is actually going on in Mosul, where over 1 million civilians remain, is simply being blocked by, among others, “respectable” media that are not in the same league with Russia Today. To all appearances, the West is too absorbed in the situation around Syria’s Aleppo. This is where its entire attention is focused along with its efforts to prevent the picture of suffering in Mosul from overshadowing the prescribed propaganda take on northern Syria.


Letter from the family of Alexander Prokhorenko who was killed in Syria


The family of Hero of Russia Alexander Prokhorenko who was killed by militants in Syria at the age of 26 wrote a letter to French President Francois Hollande and asked us to send it via diplomatic channels. We will send a relevant instruction to the Russian Embassy in Paris. We were asked to draw attention to this letter, which I’m doing now.


Developments in Syria


The developments in Syria remain a source of serious concern. Militants of terrorist organisations – ISIS, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (former Jabhat al-Nusra) and the like – continue committing acts of terror and intimidation in Syria, including with the use of toxic agents.

On November 13, terrorists used rocket artillery against the positions of Syrian government troops in the area of Karim Jazmati in eastern Aleppo. As a result of the explosion of a shell with chlorine gas, about 30 army servicemen of the 415th battalion of the Republican Guards 115th division were poisoned with varying degrees of severity. Officers of the Research Centre of the Troops of Radiological, Chemical and Biological Defence of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation took samples from the accident site. Their analysis confirms that militants used chlorine as a toxic agent.

Specialists of the Russian Defence Ministry also found unexploded munitions in western Aleppo.  They are also highly likely to have been stuffed with chlorine and white phosphorus.

Indicatively, Western politicians and what the US Department of State calls “respectable” media have been fairly slow to respond to these incidents. The evidence of the combat use of toxic agents by terrorists is black eye for those who want to present illegal armed formations in Syria, including with overt ties to terrorists as the “fighters for the righteous cause.”

On November 14, armed terrorists dispersed a crowd in east Aleppo that was desperately trying to get to a food storage facility. Militants are disrupting humanitarian aid in the districts of east Aleppo that are controlled by radicals. Only a small portion of it gets to civilians.

Terrorists are preventing civilians from leaving the areas under their control, placing mines in humanitarian corridors and using civilians as a human shield. All these facts testify to a humanitarian catastrophe. The militants fighting in east Aleppo are trying to conceal it and doing everything to lay the blame for it on the Syrian army.

On November 15, militants from east Aleppo used multiple launch rocket systems to shell the industrial suburb of As-Safira located 30 km to the south-east of the city. In all, they launched over 15 rockets killing civilians.

Government troops continue concentrating units by the town of Han-ash-Sheikh in the south-west of the Damascus Region, where a large group of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham militants are blocked. A network of underground tunnels with a total length of 700 metres was found near this town. Extremists transported weapons and reinforcements via these tunnels. The Syrian Army is curbing the attempts by terrorists to deliver besieged units.

On November 15, the Russian Aerospace Forces and Navy launched a massive attack on the facilities and fighters of ISIS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in the provinces of Idlib and Homs. Targets of these pin-point attacks are fixed on the basis of reliable reconnaissance data.

In this context I’d like to draw your attention to the unjustified and untrue statement by Spokesperson of the US Department of State Elizabeth Trudeau to the effect that the Russian military operation in Syria is allegedly “a violation of international law.” Needless to say, the US official did not specify what provisions of international law prevent the elimination of terrorists by agreement with the legitimate government of the country that came under terrorist attack. I’d like to recall that this is the foreign policy office of the state that is using its Air Force on the sovereign territory of Syria without any coordination with its official legitimate authorities and in violation of all standards of international law.

I’d like to repeat that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are destroying terrorists from ISIS, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and the like in Syria at the request of the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic. I’d also like to recall that Syria is a UN member-state. At the same time the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition is crudely violating Syria’s sovereignty by acting on its territory without the permission of the Syrian Government. Once again the Spokesperson for the US Department of State is barking up the wrong tree.


Second release of the White Paper on Syria


A few days ago the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies released the second part of the White Paper on the crimes committed by militants in Syria. As in the previous study, it is based on the evidence of civilian killings, countless shelling attacks against civilians, including with the use of chemical weapons, the destruction of cultural and historical heritage and proof of fabrications that our credulous Western partners use in their propaganda.

Just as with the first part, Russia will distribute the paper at the UN Security Council in New York, as well as at UN agencies in Geneva.


ICC report


On November 14, a report by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was released. It is a preliminary report on the situation in Ukraine and it refers to the ICC assessment of the situation in that country. Analysis shows that this body has lost its status as an objective and impartial instrument of international justice.

The analysis of the situation in Ukraine and the description of the tragic Maidan events made in the report belong rather to an alternate reality.

According to the prosecutor, the dramatic rise in fierce clashes on the Maidan came out of nowhere. The report also portrays the crime that shook the entire world – the burning alive of people in Odessa – as an absolutely natural culmination of the situation, with confrontation escalating into violent clashes.

At the same time the prosecutor showed no interest in the activity of Ukrainian neo-Nazis. It’s as if there are none there. However, it was they who unleashed the bloody events of those days. The Ukrainian parliament’s unconstitutional decision against the country’s legitimate president, Viktor Yanukovich, is cast as something quite lawful while the departure of the country’s legitimate president, who had reason to fear for his life, is described as his voluntary decision to leave the country. Not surprisingly, the prosecutor paid no attention to the active interference of outside forces in the situation on the Maidan. [She claims] there was nobody there except peaceful Ukrainian demonstrators.

The section on the situation in Crimea looks even more absurd. It completely ignores the Crimean people’s right to self-determination, which was realised amid the wave of violence that engulfed the country. Contrary to her mandate and despite the lack of expertise on the issue, the ICC prosecutor offers her view of the status of the Crimea.

We would like to draw the ICC prosecutor’s attention to the fact that the court’s jurisdiction does not extend to Russian territory, including the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. We advise the prosecutor to take this into account and henceforth refrain from making comments on issues that do not fall within her purview.

The passage where, based on some obscure reports, the situation in Crimea is characterised as an armed conflict, is noteworthy. After that, further analysis of the ICC prosecutor’s report simply makes no sense. All those who have been to Crimea know very well that this statement means the prosecutor did not even try to understand the situation. From all indications, the report is politically motivated. Such things are not news to us.

The description of the situation in southeast Ukraine is equally biased. The prosecutor casts the so-called antiterrorist operation declared by the Kiev authorities, but in effect the start of a war against their own people, as some routine government decision. The ICC prosecutor is also undaunted by the fact that behind this terminology of the Kiev authorities is their reluctance to apply even norms of international humanitarian law to their own citizens. Kiev’s actions that effectively imposed a blockade on entire regions in the country and the resulting plight of civilians were also ignored by the ICC prosecutor’s office.

From the ICC prosecutor’s perspective, the key documents crucial to the comprehensive resolution of the Ukraine crisis – the Minsk agreements – are two unsuccessful attempts to enforce a ceasefire.

The high point of this section of the report is the strange conclusion that there is an armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, citing mythical artillery attacks against enemy military bases, as well as the detention of military personnel of one country on the territory of the other.

Unsurprisingly, the sources that are used to draw the picture of what is going on include references to unnamed NGOs, other dubious sources and Ukrainian government agencies. We know these “ministries of truth” very well.

It is obvious in this situation that ICC activities cannot be part of the peaceful settlement in Ukraine or, for that matter, in any conflict situation in the world. On the contrary, this body only serves to aggravate challenging problems faced by societies, countries and people who have tried to overcome a crisis.

All of this reaffirms the correctness of Russia’s decision to withdraw its signature from the ICC Statute. As we can see, other states are also demonstrating a negative attitude toward this court. Judging by the ICC prosecutor’s activity, their number can only be expected to grow.


Amendments to Presidential Executive Order No. 977 of June 17, 2008 On the Procedure for the Entry to and Exit from the Russian Federation of Former Soviet Citizens Who Are Now Stateless Persons Residing in the Republics of Latvia or Estonia


The issue came into focus when a resident of one of these countries who is our compatriot, was denied entry to Russia. The problem was that she was born after 1992. We discussed this issue and explained our views on it. However, I would like to say a few more words.

The procedure for the entry to Russia of non-citizens living in Latvia and Estonia is regulated by Presidential Executive Order No. 977 of June 17, 2008 On the Procedure for the Entry to and Exit from the Russian Federation of Former Soviet Citizens Who Are Now Stateless Persons Residing in the Republics of Latvia or Estonia, hereinafter referred to as the Executive Order. Under Clause 1 of this Executive Order, visa-free entry is granted to the non-citizens of Latvia and Estonia who were Soviet citizens and are living in Latvia or Estonia, as well as to their underage children (Clause 2). When the Executive Order was signed, it covered absolutely all non-citizens of Latvia and Estonia. However, since then a separate group of non-citizens has emerged in these countries. They are ethnic Russians over the age of majority who were born after February 6, 1992, the day when Soviet citizenship was abolished, who cannot use the procedure for the visa-free entry to Russia because the Executive Order does not permit this.

The issue of visa-free entry to Russia directly concerns the interests of our compatriots who are the non-citizens of Latvia and Estonia and who comprise a special group of persons whose rights are restricted in these countries. Most of them try to maintain and develop long-standing cultural, humanitarian, research, regional, trade, economic and other ties with Russia. However, their artificial division into two groups – one having the right to enter Russia without a visa and the other denied this right – is compounding their difficult situation and is playing into the hands of local nationalist groups and some politicians who are fostering anti-Russia sentiments in the Baltic countries.

You may remember that our compatriot was denied entry to Russia on these grounds, regrettable as this may be. But our border guards could not act differently. There is the law. I would like to add that visa restrictions primarily concern young people aged 18 to 25, who were born after February 6, 1992, some of whom see their future connected to Russia.

Considering the above and also our desire to support our compatriots in Latvia and Estonia, the Foreign Ministry of Russia has proposed amending Presidential Executive Order No. 977 of June 17, 2008 to extend the right to visa-free entry to Russia to all non-citizens of Latvia and Estonia.

In accordance with Government Resolution No. 851 of August 25, 2012 On the Procedure for Disclosing Information by the Federal Executive Bodies on the Drafting of Laws and the Results of Their Public Discussion, we launched public discussions of this proposal on November 11, which will last until November 25, 2016 and an anti-corruption examination of the draft law, which will last until November 18, 2016 with the assistance of the Civic Chamber under the President of Russia, the Expert Council under the Government of Russia and the  Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad.


Russian nationals’ visit to Qatar


We have also received information from Russian citizens through social networks about refusals of transit to Russian through travellers.

I would like to comment on this topic in detail in connection with questions coming recently from Russian tourists and relevant media outlets concerning Russians visiting Qatar.

We noted that to visit Qatar for tourism and other purposes, including through travel, Russian citizens have to obtain an entry visa ahead of time. Visa-free travel to Doha is possible only for the nationals of several Gulf countries and states with which Qatar has an agreement on visa-free travel.

We have seen some Russian tourist websites and Qatar Airways’ website specify that transit passengers are granted entry at the authorities’ discretion. We think that such vague wording gives rise to misunderstandings at the Doha airport, when the carrier’s false advertising misleads Russian travellers into thinking it can organise trips to the city for them.

For our part, we will do the necessary work with the carrier and make additional explanations on the rules for Russians visiting Qatar on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.


Suspension of broadcasting by RTR Planeta television in Lithuania


The Radio and Television Commission of the Republic of Lithuania, which monitors radio and television broadcasting in the country, has made another resolution to suspend RTR Planeta broadcasting for three months, as of November 21.

Lithuania frequently took similar measures with regard to the Russian media in 2014 and 2015. Such activities certainly run afoul of international norms. They are based on the Lithuanian Law on the Provision of Information to the Public, which, as we see it, also does not fully comply with that country’s international obligations. More than that, the suspension of RTR Planeta broadcasting from April 13 through July 13, 2015, was approved by the European Commission, which said that Lithuania had grounds to suspend Russian channel retransmission for alleged hate speech that clashed with Lithuanian law.

I would like to stress that complaints concern comments by debate and talk show guests, which should be moderated or regulated if we follow the logic of the Lithuanian leadership and the leadership of the bodies that made this decision. Vilnius has always said it’s for freedom of speech and opinion while now it is pressuring Russian media into censorship. I don’t quite see how personal opinions can be deleted from a live broadcast.  

Indicatively, commission chairman Edmundas Vaitekunas said that the ban will be mandatory for all transmitters, including internet providers, which means that Lithuania has introduced censorship in its media environment, including internet – quite a novel interpretation of freedom of speech.

Answers to media questions:

Question: How is work at the Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran Information Centre in Baghdad going? Has any progress been made?

Maria Zakharova: All centres organised for information exchange are operative. The information is exchanged through centres and bilateral channels.

Question: When will the shelling of civilians by terrorists in eastern Aleppo come to an end? Western Aleppo is not peaceful, either.

Maria Zakharova: The goal is not to jeopardise the lives of civilians as we seek to achieve a ceasefire. The Defence Ministry regularly reports about mopping-up operations by militants in specific areas. This is the key problem today. As everyone is aware already, the United States, which committed to divide terrorists from moderate opposition, hasn’t even started to do so. Nonetheless, we maintain contacts with the Americans, despite all the rhetoric that we keep hearing. There are not as many contacts as we’d like, but still there are some. The focus is on saving the civilian lives while destroying the militants.

Question: Were Russia’s efforts instrumental in improving relations with Turkey? Is President Erdogan listening more carefully to what Russia has to say? How far will he go in his operation in Al-Bab in northern Aleppo?

Maria Zakharova: The dialogue is maintained through a variety of channels. The relations are in the process of being restored. You may be aware that several meetings and a summit have been held. Accordingly, the sides are listening to and hearing each other. This is very important.

Question: Have the objective radar data about the MH17 flight crash over Donbass, which Russia made available to the Dutch investigative authorities, been processed? Will they be taken into account when drawing the final conclusions by the investigation?

Maria Zakharova: As you may be aware, the radar data has been transferred to our partners. We haven’t received any feedback from our colleagues in the Netherlands, and we are still waiting for a response. Enough time has passed for them to present their views and figure out future plans. As a matter of fact, the Netherlands said in the media that it had received the materials from Russia, promised to analyse them, and provide an appropriate assessment. Frankly, we are looking forward to it, all the more so since the initial data nullify all previous findings by the corresponding investigation group. As we have repeatedly said, and any competent specialist can now confirm it, the radar data is irrefutable and objective and is not forged. It is not alterable. It clearly shows that the rocket that had allegedly brought down the Malaysian plane could not have been fired from the village of Pervomayskoye, as the corresponding investigation group stated earlier. According to the Russian Defence Ministry and representatives of Almaz-Antey, if the rocket had been fired from Pervomayskoye, the radar would have had it in its records, but it doesn’t.

We believe it is important to take account of this information and use it in further investigation, including when the corresponding investigation group will draw its final conclusions. The radar data cannot be just ignored. Much of what Russia made available to our partners has been ignored. However, doing so in this particular case is unlikely to happen, because otherwise it could be interpreted as an offence against fair and transparent investigation.

Question: The statement following the meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was held with the participation of foreign ministers of the countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group in Vienna in May, says that in order to reduce the risk of continued violence, the sides agreed to finalise, as soon as possible, the development of a mechanism to conduct investigations into the incidents. However, the statement on the outcome of the June meeting in St Petersburg, in which President Putin participated, does not mention this mechanism. Why not? What does Russia think about developing such a mechanism?

Maria Zakharova: This idea is Russia’s brainchild. Back at the trilateral meeting in Sochi in 2011, we initiated an investigation into military conflicts in Nagorno- Karabakh. As a follow-up to this initiative, the Minsk Group co-chairs, in conjunction with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, have drafted an appropriate mechanism. Later, the OSCE experts worked it through. The Vienna summit participants agreed to complete this work as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, no consensus on this issue was reached at a meeting in St Petersburg in June with the participation of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. The Azerbaijani side insisted that there was no need to investigate combat incidents, because the situation in the conflict zone remained stable at that time. As a result, the mechanism was not reflected in the statement issued following the St Petersburg meeting. However, we believe that the mechanism issue remains relevant.

Question: The upcoming deployment of the Russian naval ships in the Syrian provinces of Idlib and Homs was announced on October 15. In what way will they be used in Aleppo?

Maria Zakharova: The question of deploying naval ships should be addressed to the Defence Ministry. It is their area of responsibility.

Question: Minister of Economic Development Alexey Ulyukayev was detained and released from his official duties several days ago. How will this affect the talks between Russia and Japan, including on the issue of islands? He was one of the key figures in this area.

Maria Zakharova: It is a person holding this position that is involved in bilateral contacts. As you know, the ministry continues to work. The Russian leaders said that it will continue to work steadily. All that needs to be done by this ministry, will be done. Again, the Russian Government said it will operate steadily.

Question: Could you comment on the promise of the US Congress, made by Senator Ben Cardin, to pass new comprehensive legislation in response to Russia’s “bullying” in Ukraine and Syria, as well as during the US [presidential] election?

Why has Russia pulled out of the International Criminal Court?

Maria Zakharova: We have made extensive comments on the second question. They were posted in the form of a statement on the ministry’s website. You can read it.

On the first question. There’s a trick there. A few years ago, representatives of one Western media outlet asked why we always responded to John McCain and others. Of course, they are Senators and Representatives, but they play the Russophobia card and nobody in the US takes it seriously. Pay them no heed and everything will be all right. That was three years ago. Then it turned out that the Russophobia card was back in the game again, and not simply in the game, but has become a “joker” in the hands of many of those who pursued a policy toward Russia and focused US foreign policy on neutralising Russia. There is a certain measure of dualism in that. On the one hand, such statements are so absurd and ridiculous that it makes no sense to respond to them. They are outside reality and not backed by any facts. On the other hand, we understand very well that, at the present stage in the development of the media, if you fail to respond to accusations against you, unfortunately, you allow people and their positions to dominate, and you are excluded from the media space. This is the indisputable truth. Ben Cardin’s remarks have nothing to do with reality. We have worked together with the US on Syria and we have been trying to work on Ukraine for several years now. We participate in international formats and have initiated much of what underlies them.

I have no idea how Russia influenced or could have influenced the US election. Many people are talking about this but no one can provide facts, quotes or arguments. In short, these are meaningless statements that are not backed by any facts. It is not clear why they are being made. Everyone probably needs to get reelected. The past election in the US should have shown Senators and Representatives that Russophobia is not on trend – not here and not there. This is what the US people said with their vote. When they say that Russia influenced the election, many of those who live in the US have no idea where Russia, Ukraine or Syria is. Some people know and some don’t. Some people come from these countries and some have no idea whatsoever. I believe that US residents have already reached the point where they reject, they are allergic to Russophobia and they acted against this stream of hysteria so that these omens of World War III would fade into oblivion. To reiterate, these are meaningless statements not backed by any facts.

Question: Can we expect in the near future a joint Russian-Turkish statement on northern Syria, considering that many millions of Syrians might end up finding refuge in that part of the country before the civil war ends?

Maria Zakharova: I don’t quite understand the question. What kind of statement do you mean?

Question: Can we expect in the near future a joint Russian-Turkish statement on how to achieve a ceasefire in northern Syria and guarantee civilians’ safety there?

Maria Zakharova: I have to say I find your wording extremely vague. There is nothing to latch onto in the ideas you mention. What exactly do you mean? If you mean complete normalisation of the border situation, we have always welcomed the idea and we will be glad to see it happen. As I said, we have resumed dialogue with our Turkish colleagues, and they listen to what we have to say. We would like to see the border situation normalised completely. Efforts to this end are being made though I have no information about any theoretical agreement. I reiterate, the way you phrased it was extremely vague, so I can’t comment. Practical efforts are underway. I will certainly make comments after I obtain more information on the subject from our experts.

Question: What is Russian opinion on the situation in Mosul? Is there coordination with Iraq on air strikes? What does Russia think of the popular militias in Iraq and their contribution to the liberation of Mosul? Turkey, for one, opposed it. What is the Russian stance?

Maria Zakharova: I have commented on the situation in Mosul in detail already.

As for your question on Russian-Iraqi information sharing, we certainly support such contact along diplomatic and military lines. We have a relevant centre and bilateral contacts. Details of our cooperation can be confirmed at Russia’s Defence Ministry.

The participation and response of neighbouring and more remote countries to the developments in Iraq should be evaluated primarily by Baghdad. I mean the operation in Iraq. In this particular instance we are apprehensive about the humanitarian situation and the fighting. We monitor the situation but it is surely up to Baghdad to assess particular forces’ involvement in the fighting and particular nations’ support or opposition. It is Iraq that is paying for this operation with its soldiers’ blood.

Question: Regarding the briefing at the US State Department with an unpleasant situation…

Maria Zakharova: It would say it was not an unpleasant but an absolutely outrageous situation. This incident goes beyond pleasant or unpleasant. Some things are unacceptable. One of them is when officials divide the media into different groups without any facts and disregarding the opinion of the professional community, but only based on these groups’ ideological closeness to a country that declares its loyalty to media freedom and human rights. In my opinion, this is an extraordinary situation. This may result in news conferences where separate chairs and rooms will be assigned to those who are liked and those who are disliked, and the latter will attend a completely different briefing.

This is outrageous and completely unacceptable; this must not be allowed to happen again. Government officials have no right to divide the media according to the like-dislike principle, denouncing some media outlets as the adversary and issuing instructions to others who have been practicing self-censorship these past years. We must be aware of this.

There is probably no need to remind you, but if you have any complaints against a media outlet, you should provide facts and quote from and analyse the item in question. You can issue a refutation, say that this information is inappropriate and incorrect, or even a piece of propaganda. But accusing anyone without any facts, and telling a journalist who has asked a question that his or her media outlet is not respected and may not stand together with the rest is absolutely outrageous and must not be allowed to happen in the future again.

Question: After the briefing where this unacceptable situation occurred, our journalist received a list of hospitals that were allegedly bombed by Russia’s Aerospace Forces, according to the United States. The US State Department is citing information of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has published a list of hospitals that have been hit but has not made any conclusions as to who delivered the strikes. Is it acceptable to use the WHO information in this manner?

Maria Zakharova: The list was sent to you, and so I cannot say whether it is factually accurate or not. You have the list.

We have heard several stories, some of which we laid bare, about the strikes at civilian targets that were allegedly delivered by the Russian Aerospace Forces. There were altered images and video footage of geographic objects that had no connection to the ones in question and were not taken at the time in question. A great deal of false information has been planted, or just inaccurate information that was presented as a fact.

Conjecture in this area is unacceptable. But we have solid facts that these methods are being used. 

Question: Judging by the April referendum, many people in the Netherlands are dissatisfied with the Ukraine-EU association. Is the Foreign Ministry monitoring this situation? Will the opinion of the Dutch people be taken into account?

Maria Zakharova: The ratification of this association agreement – we are talking about a concrete situation in the Netherlands – is the internal affair of that country. We are monitoring the situation and know that discussions have not stopped there. While monitoring the situation and keeping in mind that this is an internal discussion, we find certain elements for analysis.

We said repeatedly that before the April referendum the Dutch authorities did their best to convince the people of the need to ratify the agreement. The authorities deliberately misinformed the people by presenting the agreement as a purely economic document. They stated this clearly and repeatedly. They argued that the document should be supported because it would allegedly benefit the people of the Netherlands, that there were no political aspects in it, and that it offered new possibilities for the country’s economic development. You may remember that I told you at the time about the special instructions for the local governments that sounded very much like propaganda. We can see now that when the campaign to convince the people of the agreement’s non-existent advantages failed, and the people voted against it because they had analysed the issue and had come to the conclusion that the agreement would not benefit them in any way (indeed, what positive effect could the EU-Ukraine association have on the Netherlands?), the authorities made a desperate attempt to pressure the MPs who spoke up against the agreement or were undecided in order to approve the ratification contrary to the referendum results.

It seems that they are drawing out the situation so that people forget about the referendum and stop considering the arguments for disregarding the referendum results as disrespect for their opinion. The more time passes, the less painful this issue will become for discussion or decision-making. It seems to us that all of this is happening with external assistance and at external prompting. The public discussions that have been held after the referendum are complemented lavishly with anti-Russia rhetoric, the alleged Russian aggression, the Kremlin’s intervention and the Russian threat hanging over Europe. It has been said that the refusal to ratify the association agreement would facilitate the alleged Russian aggression against Ukraine. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in Parliament that you can shrug your shoulders when your neighbour is attacked, but you won’t be able to hide your inaction because the mood will spread rapidly. He added that Europe’s unity should be the only answer to Russia’s behaviour. I want to stress that this was not just any speech but a speech in support of the EU’s association agreement with Kiev.

Let us get back to the beginning. Initially, the EU-Ukraine association agreement was presented as beneficial for the economy. It was said that there are no political aspects in the agreement and that the Netherlands needs it. But it is now presented as an act of support and solidarity among the European neighbours. I believe one must make a choice and be honest. If this is an issue of political will, political support and solidarity, and a demonstration of unity, this is how the question for the referendum should have been formulated. This would be more honest and simpler for everyone, and the people would easily see what is what. As it is, the question at the referendum concerned the economic expediency of the association agreement for the Netherlands, while now they are talking about political considerations. These are two different things.

What does the association agreement has to do with Mr Rutte’s words about the need to respond to Russia’s behaviour? Why do they continue to combine these completely different elements? After all, they started with economic advantages…

If they really wanted to have a broad discussion (Russia certainly has a role to play in this “global” picture), they should have told the whole story to their people, starting with the time when Russia on numerous occasions warned the EU that its dead-end policy of forcing Ukraine to make a choice between the EU and Russia would have a negative impact on Ukraine and possibly even split it, and that you should take into account Ukraine’s history and structure, differences in people’s attitudes to politics, and the specifics of their political views. But nobody wants to remember this.

It is highly regrettable that the discussion has taken this turn. On the other hand, it is not surprising. The statements made by the Dutch Prime Minister and Foreign Minister sound grotesque not just to Russia but also to the Dutch people themselves.

Question: Can you comment on the UN Security Council’s work on a resolution on North Korea? According to media reports, this resolution may be adopted next week, and the United States and China have managed to bring closer together and coordinate their positions.

Maria Zakharova: I don’t think we should rely on leaks to the media. Work is underway, but it would be premature to speak about any timeframe.

Question: Can you provide details about the situation with the International Criminal Court? Russia’s decision to withdraw from it was taken two days after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda delivered her report.

Maria Zakharova: No, we have not withdrawn from the ICC. Many people think so incorrectly. The ICC Statute was signed, which does not amount to becoming a member because we have not ratified it. Since there was no ratification, we simply revoked our signature under the Rome Statute. We had certain obligations under it; now we do not have them.

Question: Sorry for inaccurately phrasing; this is all common knowledge. Was it a coincidence that the signature was revoked two days after Prosecutor Bensouda delivered her report? Was the report the last straw? It has been said that the signature revocation is Russia’s attempt to evade the possibility of being called to account over Crimea and Syria in the future.

Maria Zakharova: I see. I would describe this decision as a pragmatic and realistic attitude to our interaction with the ICC. As I have said, Russia was not a full member of the ICC, but it signed the Rome Statute, which implied certain relations with the court. We maintained these relations and did our best to make them constructive. As you have said correctly, many things at the court surprised us. We believed that the point at issue concerned unprofessional conduct. But a combination of political bias and unprofessional conduct is a very dangerous thing. It is difficult to say which element dominated; possibly the balance shifted in each particular case.

You should start discussing this issue not with the signature revocation, but with the fact that we have not ratified the Rome Statute, which spoke volumes. As it is, we have terminated our relations for the reasons I stated.

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