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22 November 201812:17

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 22, 2018


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Table of contents

  1. Tenth International Forum of NGOs in Official Partnership with UNESCO “Science as a common good of humankind”
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transnistrian Settlement Process Franco Frattini
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to France
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's working visit to Switzerland
  6. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Italian news agency AGI
  7. Update on Maria Butina arrested in the US
  8. Syria update
  9. Situation around al-Rukban camp for internally displaced persons
  10. OPCW's attributive mechanism
  11. 150th anniversary of the Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight
  12. Forty-five years since Russia joined UN peacekeeping operations
  13. Remarks by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on the Sea of Azov
  14. Release of Radoslaw Sikorski’s book Poland Can Be Better. Behind Polish Diplomacy
  15. Comments by Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček on Russian-Czech relations
  16. Return of displaced persons from Bangladesh to Myanmar
  17. Experts visit Richard Lugar Research Centre in Georgia
  18. Election of new Interpol President
  19. Denmark’s new foreign and security policy strategy
  20. Disrupted GPS navigation in northern Norway
  21. Historical documentary exhibition Russia and Tajikistan: The Path of Friendship and Creation opens in Dushanbe
  22. Groundbreaking of the Alley of Space Exploration Founders and erecting busts of Konstantin Tsiolkovskly and Herman Potocnik Noordung in Slovenia 
  23. SWIFT cut off from Iran and cooperation with Russia on the matter
  24. Updated information for Russian nationals on Foreign Ministry’s site about visa-free entrance to foreign countries

Answers to media questions:

Azerbaijan’s initiative to exchange POWs with Armenia
Russian-Japanese peace treaty talks
James Mattis’ statements on INF Treaty
Finland’s charges of GPS interference
NATO’s expansion to the East
Putative expansion of UN Security Council
Events involving Yemen
Events involving Kuril Islands
Donald Trump’s comments on drop in oil prices
UN international migration agreement
Statement by UK and Ukrainian defence ministers
US sanctions against Russia
NATO’s growing potential at eastern flank
The situation in Ukraine



Tenth International Forum of NGOs in Official Partnership with UNESCO “Science as a common good of humankind”


On November 26-27, Moscow will host the Tenth International Forum of NGOs in Official Partnership with UNESCO “Science as a common good of humankind.” The event is sponsored by the Russian Peace Foundation, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the UNESCO Secretariat.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to address the Forum’s official opening ceremony.

Forum delegates will focus on the role of science in digital space, relations between science and civil society, science and ethics in a modern world. The event is to involve prominent Russian and foreign scientists, heads of research and development institutions, representatives of universities, outstanding medical specialists, as well as experts on humanities from about 100 UNESCO member states.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transnistrian Settlement Process Franco Frattini


On November 26, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will have a meeting with Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transnistrian Settlement Process Franco Frattini. The officials are planning to exchange views on issues included on the agenda of the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Meeting on the Transnistrian settlement in Milan, as well as some other matters of mutual interest.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado


On November 26-28, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado will pay an official visit to Russia.

The foreign ministers of both countries will hold talks on November 26. They are planning to exchange opinions on a wide range of matters relating to bilateral affairs and to focus on consolidating political dialogue, expanding trade and economic and cultural-humanitarian ties.

Particular attention will be given to comparing positions on topical matters concerning  international and regional affairs and prospects for cooperation at multilateral venues, primarily the UN, with due consideration for electing the Dominican Republic as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

The visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado heralds a new stage of the more intensive development of our bilateral ties and highlights the consistent expansion of Russia’s multi-vector cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to France


On November 27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit France. His agenda will include talks with French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, and their joint participation in the second meeting of the Coordinating Council of the Trianon Dialogue in the Palace of Versailles.

Pressing issues of bilateral cooperation will be addressed, including the preparations for the 24th meeting of the Franco-Russian Economic, Financial, Industrial and Trade Council scheduled for December 17, the implementation of agreements reached during the top-level talks in May and July this year, and carrying out joint projects in the cultural and humanitarian sphere.

As regards the international agenda, there will be an exchange of opinions on important issues such as developments in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the prospects for settling the conflict in Ukraine, preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear programme, the future of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, strengthening European security, and the preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council on December 6 and 7 in Milan.

During the meeting of the Coordinating Council of the Trianon Dialogue civil society forum, the ministers will take part in a discussion on measures to facilitate direct contacts between the Russians and the French to boost friendly ties between the two nations.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's working visit to Switzerland


On November 27-28, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be on a working visit to Switzerland.

The Minister will take part in the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan hosted by the UN. The event focuses on international assistance to the process of national reconciliation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as well as the Afghan government’s implementation of the reform programme, and support for regional economic initiatives and mechanisms oriented towards Afghanistan. The conference is expected to draw representatives from about 70 countries and 28 international organisations.

On November 28, Sergey Lavrov will have talks in Geneva with Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland Ignazio Cassis. During the bilateral meeting, the ministers will discuss issues relevant to Russian-Swiss relations, as well as major international issues of mutual interest. 

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Italian news agency AGI


As we announced earlier, on November 22–23 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Italy to take part in the fourth Rome MED: Mediterranean Dialogues international conference. Details are available on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.

We would like to inform you that at 3 pm today (1 pm Roman time) the Foreign Ministry’s official website will publish Mr Lavrov’ interview with AGI, an Italian news agency.

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Update on Maria Butina arrested in the US


We continue to closely follow the situation around Russian citizen Maria Butina in the United States. Let me remind you that the US authorities have been keeping her incarcerated for more than four months under a far-fetched pretext.

Diplomats from the Russian Embassy in the United States visit Maria Butina regularly. As of today, she spends a lot of time studying the materials of her criminal case in order to prepare for the court hearing scheduled for December 19.

We will continue to take all the necessary steps to secure Maria Butina’s release from prison. Our compatriot has fallen victim to anti-Russia sentiments, which unfortunately have picked up a lot of steam in Washington. The character of the charges proves that she is in fact a political prisoner.

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Syria update


In the past week, the situation in Syria generally remained stable, with persisting hotbeds of conflict in the areas with terrorist presence.

The situation in the country’s northwest, in Idlib, still causes greatest concern. Late last week, the militants of the Al-Qaida-affiliated illegal armed unit Hurras al-Din made a large provocation and assaulted the Syrian government forces position in the area of Joureen. Eighteen soldiers died in repelling the attack. Such bloody provocations prove that there are still obstacles to establishing a demilitarised zone in Idlib, despite considerable efforts by the Turkish side to implement the September 17 joint Memorandum with Russia. We continue to cooperate closely with our Turkish partners. Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu discussed the situation in Idlib with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in Sochi the other day.

The US activities in Syria cause continuous concern. The aircraft of the US-led so-called coalition have been launching intensive strikes on the suburbs of the ISIS-occupied city of Hajin in the Trans-Euphrates area for a long period of time, resulting in massive civilian casualties. Last week, we reported that the bodies of 50 victims were found in Al-Shafa to the east of Hajin. Last weekend, 40 more people died, most of them women and children, in another coalition airstrike on the village of al-Buqaan.

According to the Syrian media, the coalition’s air force once again used white phosphorus bombs. Americans keep denying it with the same obstinacy as in April, when they claimed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Douma. No evidence to that effect has so far been presented, though.

Washington betrays its lack of interest in an early settlement of the Syria crisis by retaining its illegal military presence on Syrian territory and by its other actions, in particular, by thwarting efforts aimed at socioeconomic recovery of the country and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. For example, the US Treasury issued a statement on November 20 on imposing tough restrictions on two Russian companies “suspected” of oil product deliveries to Syria, bypassing unilateral US sanctions. Washington warned that the same would happen to anyone else who dared to violate the US sanctions regimes. It appears the Americans want to leave war-town Syrians without such a vital resource as fuel. What about concern for human rights and civilians? It used to be claimed that everything that the United States and the US-led coalitions and other nations sponsored in Syria, the Middle East and North Africa was in the interests of the civilian population. Now we can see what the situation really is regarding concern for civilians.

And now, about positive developments. Recently, the Syrian General Staff announced the completion of the military operation and the establishment of full control over the Al-Safa volcanic plateau, ISIS’s last stronghold in the south of the country. The area of 380 sq km, with a very difficult terrain, was cleansed of all terrorists.

The implementation of the Russian initiative on assisting the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons continues. Their inflow, mostly from neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon, has reached the rate of 1,000 (from 800 to 1,400) people per day. The Syrian authorities report that the number of families who returned to Deir ez-Zor Governorate since its liberation from terrorists has reached 195,000.

The Syrian authorities are restoring the socioeconomic infrastructure destroyed by the war and continue their efforts to create worthy conditions for the return of their citizens to their homes. Thus, as of November 21, in the mountainous area of Latakia, 400 of the 1,500 houses destroyed during the war have been rebuilt.

On November 28-29, the next 11th Astana format meeting on Syria will be held in the capital of Kazakhstan where Russian, Iranian and Turkish officials will share their opinions on the situation in Syria and the settlement in that country in general. The meeting, as always, will be of a practical nature.

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Situation around al-Rukban camp for internally displaced persons


The al-Rukban camp for internally displaced persons remains a sore spot on the map of Syria, with tens of thousands of people living there in extremely difficult conditions. The Russian Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry provide regular coverage of the situation in the camp.

Indicatively, this camp is located inside a zone around al-Tanf that was illegally established by the United States and which is virtually occupied by it. A large US military base has been deployed there, on the territory of a sovereign UN member-state, under the pretext of fighting ISIS and for “deterring” Iran. It is located in a strategic region where the borders of Syria, Iraq and Jordan merge and where the Baghdad-Damascus motorway is located. According to numerous reports, militants are being trained there. Extremists from various paramilitary terrorist units are feeling quite at home in the al-Tanf sector.

In early November, UN agencies delivered humanitarian relief aid to al-Rukban camp with the consent of the Syrian authorities and with the active assistance of the Russian side. The required consultations were also held with the United States for ensuring the convoy’s safe passage. At the same time, as has already become customary, the US side arbitrarily interpreted these agreements. For example, members of an illegal paramilitary unit were instructed to guard the convoy inside the US-controlled zone, and Syrian Red Crescent representatives were denied access to the camp. Of course, we consider this to be unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the situation in the camp continues to deteriorate. Syrians staying there live in terrible conditions, they are deprived of normal food and have minimal access to medication and medical help. Waste is not being collected, and there is no sewage system there. Crime and violence are rampant in the camp. Children are being recruited into illegal paramilitary units. Indicatively, entrance into the camp and exit from it are limited and are only possible on a paid basis and with due permission from a paramilitary unit. Naturally, all this evokes the most profound concern.

It would be nice if several major Western media outlets, including US and European publications, contributed honest, straightforward and open special reports about the developments at the al-Rukban camp, without trying to justify US actions in this area.

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OPCW's attributive mechanism


The decision of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (The Hague, November 19–20) to increase the OPCW budget for 2019 by 2.5 million euros to support its so-called attribution powers (a legal term) has triggered a highly negative reaction from us.

Firstly, in accordance with the OPCW main budgeting document, its General Director and Head of its Technical Secretariat – I would like to specifically stress the word “technical” – now has an illegitimate right supported by relevant funding to determine or, more precisely, “appoint” those responsible for carrying out or financing terrorist acts with the use of chemical weapons. He or she is now authorised to hand down this verdict personally, to either an individual or an organisation, or a sovereign state.

In the case of a person or an organisation, this action can qualify as direct intervention in the internal affairs of the UN member countries. In the case of a sovereign state, it appears that OPCW – an organisation technical in nature – has in fact vested itself with powers that only the UN Security Council enjoys on legal grounds. That is, what we are witnessing is a direct infringement on the prerogatives of this international body and, as a result, the actual collapse of the entire system of international relations built after World War II.

In theory, we have  mentioned many timed that such plans exist. We have called attention to relevant statements and trends that we monitored. Now our partners are getting down to business and practical action.

Secondly, as we have already said many times, this decision with far-reaching negative consequences is totally in conflict with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. As a reminder, in accordance with the mandate given to the OPCW Technical Secretariat under the Convention, this technical entity can only investigate relevant incidents and draw conclusions as to whether toxic substances have been used or not. At least that's how it acted earlier, for example, in relation to such crimes in Syria.

With its increased budget, the Technical Secretariat is now expected to focus on identifying the perpetrators in that Middle Eastern country. Yet, neither the methods of this work nor its modalities have been disclosed. The states parties were not even involved in drafting the terms of reference for the special attribution group established within the Technical Secretariat. Everything was done to ensure that the states parties to the Convention make the decision that the limited group of countries needs blindfold.

In this regard, there is a reasonable concern that under the cover of beautiful phrases about ending impunity for using chemical weapons (a statement everybody agrees with), bypassing the CWC and international law, a non-transparent mechanism is being formed, whose activities can be used in an arbitrary manner by a group of politically engaged countries.

Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that its conclusions could be used as a pretext for the use of force – again bypassing the UN Security Council. We have already witnessed such actions in 2017 and 2018, when the western trio attacked Syria, grossly and deliberately violating international law.

The United States, Great Britain and France are fully responsible for undermining the OPCW. They have achieved the desired result (99 votes for the attributive budget) only thanks to a massive disinformation campaign and unprecedented political and financial pressure on a number of countries, with the connivance of the Technical Secretariat. The OPCW is not oblivious of the situation. We regret that countries holding equidistant positions have not found ways to resist the Western countries’ provocative venture this time.

Blackmail and ultimatums based on unsubstantiated accusations have become the hallmark of Washington, London and Paris. At the same time, the results of the OPCW voting have unequivocally demonstrated that not all participants share the Western countries' approach to its role, goals and objectives that is not based on international law.

The actually forced unlawful decision on attribution has dealt a crushing blow to the OPCW, exacerbating the split among the member countries of this once successful organisation, which has now become a prize in an overt political fight. We have been witnessing this for the past few years – the most serious disagreements over the Syrian chemical dossier, the trumped-up Skripal case, and now this attribution.

Together with our allies and like-minded people, we will oppose this destructive policy frankly aimed at eroding the foundations of international law and multilateral agreements. At all platforms, we will continue to explain convincingly, with facts, the destructive nature of the attempts to use the most serious matter of fighting the use of chemical weapons for political purposes.

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150th anniversary of the Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight


On November 29-30, at the International Humanitarian Law Conference, there will be celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of signing the St Petersburg declaration renouncing the use, in time of war, of certain kinds of explosive projectiles. We could ignore this historic date, which concerns only highly specialised experts. But I think this historical material is very relevant today, including in the context of what I said earlier, as a paragon of our Western partners’ attitude to international agreements and international organisations. These nations hold up as an example a chain of consistent actions by our country, which allegedly prove the illegitimacy of Russia’s conduct, an aggressive approach, failing to comply with international law. This is not true. Let us rely on the facts.       

The above document, which was drafted and proposed for international consideration by Russia, marked a crucial milestone in the development of international humanitarian law and became the first multilateral international document restricting the rampant design of new kinds of weaponry. For the first time ever, the issue of introducing new munitions was considered not only from the point of view of military expediency but also from the standpoint of humanism. 

The Declaration was adopted following an international conference held in St Petersburg in October 1868 at the initiative of Dmitry Milyutin, the then head of the Ministry of War of the Russian Empire.  Taking part in the conference were delegations from 18 states (Austria-Hungary, Bavaria, Belgium, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Persia, the North German Confederation (i.e., Greater Prussia), Russia, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Ottoman Empire, and Württemberg).

An intriguing note. A moment that is very important in order to understand what was said earlier. The only nation that ignored the invitation of the Russian government to participate in the conference was the United States. Meanwhile, the archival materials contain evidence that the British envoy insisted that the Declaration should state that it is mandatory only for the signatory nations.  Moreover, the Declaration was to be considered void if “a power which did not join the Declaration takes part in a war with two parties to it.” We can only guess what considerations were motivating the British back then. However, even then, they showed signs of loyalty, albeit unintentional, to their brothers across the ocean. How close those policies are to the current international situation.

 It is also important to recall that Russia’s idea to limit particularly cruel weapons was supported and also developed further by a group of countries headed by Prussia (Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland, the Ottoman Empire, Württemberg). They proposed to extend the ban to all military munitions that could be considered barbaric.

However, at this point Britain joins the game again. By supporting the Russian proposals on the whole, the British government referred to scarcity of armed forces and the need to fill in the gap with “scientific achievements” and improvements in the military sphere. Fyodor Martens, an outstanding international law specialist, commenting on Britain’s stance, wrote about the way the British were reasoning, “on this ground England cannot strip itself, to its own detriment, of those weapons she owes to the inventive spirit of her people” (Collection of Treaties and Conventions signed by Russia with Foreign Powers, Vol. 4, Part 2, 1849-1878, St Petersburg, 1878, Page 957.)

After holding the 1868 conference in St Petersburg, Russia continued its humanitarian mission and became the initiator of the world powers’ meeting at the Brussels Conference of 1874 and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

I would also like to draw your attention to the excellent media project prepared for the 150th anniversary of the St Petersburg Declaration by our colleagues from TASS news agency together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It features a vivid account of the document’s history, backed up by photos of archival material and the major actors, as well as a detailed description of the process. It is available at

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Forty-five years since Russia joined UN peacekeeping operations


In late November, it will be 45 years since Russia began participating in the UN peacekeeping operations. Let me remind you that on November 25, 1973, during a ceremony in Cairo, 36 Soviet officers were handed the blue berets of the military observers of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), deployed in the Middle East. That is how the glorious chapter of our country’s participation in the UN peacekeeping operations began.

In March 1992, in accord with a decision by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, the first Russian contingent of 900 “blue berets” took up combat duty as part of the UN forces in former Yugoslavia.

Over the past years, our military contingents served in UN peacekeeping missions in Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. At present, they are deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia, Cyprus, South Sudan, the Middle East, the Abyei Area, Kosovo and Western Sahara.

The rich experience of our specialists in maintaining peace and law and order, providing urgent aid and rescuing people during emergencies is still in high demand. Irrespective of external circumstances, we will continue this important work, making our fair share of contribution to promoting peace on our planet.

I would like to add that the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York is planning to hold a number of information events on this subject. We will make sure we keep you updated.

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Remarks by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on the Sea of Azov


We have taken note of the remarks made by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini at the press conference following the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on November 19 and her reply to a media question about the situation in the Sea of Azov.

To begin with, we do not understand the logic of our EU partners’ selective approach to Russia’s legitimate actions in the Sea of Azov and complete disregard for Kiev’s provocations in the region. In particular, we still know nothing about the EU views and position on the seizure of the Russian fishing boat Nord by Ukraine in the Sea of Azov on March 25, although we have been very insistent on this matter. You may remember that the Ukrainian authorities detained the ship’s crew for some six months on far-fetched pretexts and that the ship’s captain is still in Ukraine and is facing a prison term. In this situation, we wonder if the EU’s concern for human rights takes priority over politics and whether this concern is real or a mere declaration.

In response to the EU request, we have discussed the situation in the Sea of Azov several times at different levels. I would like to point out that we are talking here about a professional exchange of views based on facts and statistics rather than the EU’s unilateral “clear messages” to us, as Federica Mogherini has, regrettably, presented the situation to the media and the public.

Russia’s position is based on strict compliance with the bilateral agreement on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, which Russia and Ukraine signed on December 24, 2003. This agreement seals the international legal status of the Sea of Azov as the internal waters of Russia and Ukraine.

Under this agreement, the Russian Coast Guard has the right to inspect vessels in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait for a number of reasons in keeping with the current legislation. These inspections are non-discriminatory and are conducted not only on the vessels that fly the flags of Ukraine or other countries but also on ships flying the Russian flag. According to statistics, the Russian Coast Guard has inspected more Russian than Ukrainian ships in the first nine months of this year. I hope the EU has the relevant data at its disposal.

It should be said that the delay of ships before entering the Kerch Strait towards or from Ukrainian ports is not connected with border control. The matter concerns the specific procedure for transiting via the Kerch-Yenikale Canal due to the size of the canal and complicated hydrometeorological and navigation conditions. This explains the obligatory pilotage, for which purpose ships form convoys, which takes time. We hope that the concerned EU agencies and Brussels are aware of this. By the way, the majority of ships are not inspected in the Sea of Azov but while they are waiting to go through the Kerch Strait. I must stress that this procedure for transiting the Kerch-Yenikale Canal is nothing new. It was used before the construction of the Crimean Bridge, including when Ukraine controlled the canal. The EU has probably forgotten this fact.

For our part, we are concerned that Ukraine is using “information noise” about the alleged militarisation of the Sea of Azov to foment tension in the region. Kiev has declared the intention to create a naval base in Berdyansk and to unilaterally delineate a new state border in the Sea of Azov in violation of international law. There is speculation about attracting NATO forces to the region. Our EU partners, who have refused to comment on this situation, should know that these activities by Ukraine have a negative effect on the situation in the region and, consequently, lead to our reply measures taken to protect the safety of Russian citizens and strategic infrastructure, including the Crimean Bridge, especially considering the threats that have been expressed not only by Ukrainian radicals and fringe groups but also by Ukrainian politicians.

We have brought the above arguments to the attention of the EU, the last time during the consultations State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin held with Secretary General of the European External Action Service Helga Schmid in Brussels on November 15.

We believe that these consultations have largely eased the EU’s concerns. To strengthen this understanding, we have agreed that Russia and the EU will regularly exchange their data on the shipping situation in the Sea of Azov.

In light of the above, we see no reason for Brussels to take its cue from the confrontation advocates in Kiev or to dramatise artificially the situation in the region. As for plans concerning “measures to support the affected areas in Ukraine”, as Federica Mogherini has said, we are not aware that the Commission is doing this. We hope that the EU will act responsibly and transparently in compliance with international law and the principles of European security and with due regard for the status of the Sea of Azov and current realities in the region.

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Release of Radoslaw Sikorski’s book Poland Can Be Better. Behind Polish Diplomacy


I recommend our partners in Brussels to get acquainted with the recently published book written by former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Polska może być lepsza. Kulisy polskiej dyplomacji (Poland Can Be Better. Behind Polish Diplomacy). This is a very interesting book, especially for our Western partners and for those who want to understand, in particular, what actually happened in Ukraine and how it can be qualified in terms of international law.

In particular, he brings out into the open the real, not the front side of Western policy towards Russia, and also reveals the mechanics of what has taken place in recent years in Ukraine.

Sikorski says that the Polish-Swedish brainchild, the EU’s Eastern Partnership, was originally intended to establish an anti-Russian guardianship over Ukraine, which turned into the Maidan coup. These are not our assessments, but those of the former Foreign Minister of Poland. He also describes how, under his leadership, Polish diplomacy tried to drive a wedge between Moscow and Minsk – this is also an interesting sketch. In fact, our assessments of destructive actions of the West are confirmed, about which we have spoken to our partners, but they tried to convince us otherwise. It is a pity that Sikorski manifested such frankness only after his resignation.

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Comments by Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček on Russian-Czech relations


We have taken note of the statements made by Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, who, in an interview with the Czech newspaper Denik N, suggested that “Russians could use” the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia marked in the Czech Republic this year “to apologise for the events of 1968.”

I would like to remind the newly appointed head of the Czech Foreign Ministry about the provisions of one of the fundamental documents of Russian-Czech relations, namely the Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic of August 26, 1993. The preamble of this treaty speaks of the parties ’desire to “finally draw a line under the totalitarian past connected with the unacceptable use of force against Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the continued unjustified stay of Soviet troops on Czechoslovak territory.” This position was subsequently repeatedly confirmed by the top leadership of our country.

The minister’s statements about the foreign policy of Russia and his vision of interaction with our country that were made in the above interview contrasted with the Czech Republic’s intention and readiness to cooperate with Russia and develop friendly relations in the interests of the citizens of our countries based on the aforementioned Treaty. We would like to proceed from such constructive prospects in our bilateral relations with the Czech Republic.

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Return of displaced persons from Bangladesh to Myanmar


We note with regret that the start of the return to the Rakhine State of Myanmar of displaced persons temporarily on the territory of neighbouring Bangladesh scheduled for November 15 has not taken place. This marks the failure of the agreements between Dhaka and Naypyidaw reached at the end of last month that paved the way for an effective settlement of the problem, including its humanitarian aspects.

We have information that the refusal of the first group of repatriates to return back to Myanmar was the result of pressure and threats of physical violence on the part of extremist elements active in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar (Bangladesh), including the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. It is worth recalling that this particular organisation is directly responsible for the aggravation of the situation in Rakhine State in 2016-2017 which provoked an exodus from Rakhine of Muslims and representatives of other religions. Obviously, the actions of these radical extremists are aimed at fomenting the crisis around Rakhine State and the Muslims living there to provide a pretext for continued external pressure on the Government of Myanmar and interference in that country’s internal affairs.

We are puzzled by the fact that these plans are de facto supported by official representatives of some Western countries and international organisations which claim that the conditions are not safe enough for the repatriates to return. One gets the impression that certain external forces are pursuing their own agenda whose true aims are far removed from any concern about the interests of displaced persons who have long been in temporary camps, and which seek to prolong the conflict situation around Rakhine State.

For our part we welcome the commitment of Bangladesh and Myanmar to continue a direct dialogue to settle the humanitarian crisis and these countries’ readiness to revisit the matter of the start of the return of displaced persons. We hope that they will continue constructive cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Programme in keeping with the earlier agreed understandings.

We think it is important to give an early start to the repatriation process while at the same time taking steps, with the assistance of the international community, to improve the conditions of acceptance and accommodation of returnees and to ensure the legitimate rights of all the ethnic and confessional communities in Rakhine State. 

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Experts visit Richard Lugar Research Centre in Georgia


We have taken note of the earlier announced visit on November 14-15 of the Georgian Lugar Public Health Research Centre by a group of international experts. It is notable that the Georgian Health Minister David Sergeyenko told journalists before the start of the visit that its aim was “to confirm what we know only too well anyway— transparency and compliance with international conventions.”  And indeed, according to the Georgian media, the international experts unambiguously confirmed the strictly peaceful and transparent character of the Centre’s activities.

However, on closer inspection, the only official document containing these optimistic conclusions is the report on the Lugar Centre website. The report is unsigned, has no names of foreign experts, no names of the countries and organisations they represented. The self-styled document stresses that all the members of the Centre’s staff had confirmed to the unnamed experts the exclusively peaceful character of their activities. Apparently the guests felt it would be superfluous to inquire why the US Army Medical Research Directorate was working under the umbrella of “a peaceful Georgian medical institution” and what kind of research it was conducting there.

Russia is still expecting Washington and Tbilisi to provide clarifications concerning the true character of the Lugar Centre activities.  Such look-see excursions do not make the situation any clearer.

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Election of new Interpol President


We would like to make the following statement in connection with the election of a new Interpol President on November 21.

The pre-election period saw an unprecedented campaign of disinformation, pressure, and slander unleashed, sadly, with a push from the US, against the Russian candidate for the post, Alexander Prokopchuk. In its anti-Russian frenzy Washington even departed from its principle of non-disclosure of preferences in elections to international organisations and, through the State Department, openly committed itself to preventing the election of the Russian representative.

In effect, what happened was gross interference in the internal affairs of an independent international organisation which positions itself as a depoliticised and strictly professional community.  We consider such actions to be inadmissible and damaging for the reputation and authority of Interpol.

By the same token, we would like to say how much we appreciate the states which, in spite of undisguised pressure, spoke in favour of Alexander Prokopchuk’s professionalism, experience and competence.      

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Denmark’s new foreign and security policy strategy


We have taken note of the Foreign and Security Policy Strategy 2019-2020 adopted by the Danish Government on November 15. The document, purporting to seal the list of concrete initiatives and focal areas of Denmark’s foreign policy in the short term devotes considerable space to countering Russia’s “aggressive” actions.

The fact that our country practically tops the list of perceived threats to Denmark highlights the presence within the Copenhagen establishment of anti-Russian sentiments and veritable phobias. Meanwhile the Danish strategists seem to be unconcerned about real traditional challenges such as international terrorism, drug trafficking, and climate change.  

It looks as if the current Danish leadership, prompted by short-term considerations that run counter to its own interests, is ready to forego the traditionally good Russian-Danish relations. Copenhagen’s unconstructive behaviour limits the opportunities for our two countries to interact in addressing really pressing matters.

A banal interest is apparent. Copenhagen needs speculations about the so-called Russian threat to justify increased spending on defence and build-up of NATO’s military presence in the Baltic Sea area mentioned in the Strategy. Such a bellicose scenario is unlikely to strengthen regional security.   

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Disrupted GPS navigation in northern Norway


We have noted the recent statements made by Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen who has once again accused Russia of jamming the GPS navigation signals and allegedly creating problems for civil air traffic in northern Norway.

Some Western politicians have become accustomed to blaming Russia for all sorts of incidents, without providing any evidence and without requesting official comments from Russia. Considering the Russian Federation’s unprecedented openness in the military sphere, our Norwegian partners could obtain competent answers to everything in question which is of interest to them, if they wanted to. I would like to draw the attention of the Norwegian media to the fact that we did not receive any official inquiries.

One cannot help but think that the Norwegian Defence Minister needs all these ridiculous stories to divert public attention from a scandal involving the Royal Norwegian Navy’s brand-new frigate Helge Ingstad that collided with an oil tanker in a maritime blunder on November 8 and sank near Bergen, western Norway.

According to the  Automatic Identification System (AIS), the  frigate, equipped with missiles, was on an intercept course with the tanker, and its transponder was not operating. This is why the tanker’s crew failed to see the frigate. The frigate’s transponder was switched on right after the collision, making it possible to pinpoint its exact location.

But for the disastrous scale of potential environmental damage that might have been caused by the 60,000 tonnes of crude oil spilling out of the tanker, this incident could be perceived as something curious.

This is the second such incident of late, fraught with serious environmental risks, on Norwegian territory. Earlier in November, the public learned about the inadequate storage of radioactive waste at Norway’s national nuclear repository in Himdalen, 50 kilometres from Oslo.

Apart from the incident with the frigate Helge Ingstad, the military exercises Trident Juncture 2018 involving the Joint NATO Response Force was marked by some other dangerous incidents. Let’s go on from anti-Russia fake news to authentic data.

On October 17, at least four people were injured after a Caiman anti-submarine warfare helicopter crash-landed aboard the French Navy’s amphibious assault ship Dixmude.

On October 22, several crew members were injured in an accident aboard the USS Gunston Hall that later withdrew from the exercises.

On October 26, a fire started in the engine room of the Canadian Royal Navy’s frigate Halifax, with the ship’s crew having to extinguish it.

On October 30, the Canadian Royal Navy’s frigate Toronto was cast adrift for about six hours after its electric generators stopped operating and posed a hazard to shipping. The corvette Erfurt of the German Navy also withdrew from the exercises the very next day after its steering gear developed a malfunction.

We would like the Norwegian authorities to do their very best to prevent such incidents from harming the North’s environment and safety, in the first place. By the way, those in Copenhagen who have listed the threats to their country in the relevant strategy should also think about this. They should no longer try and blame external forces, including Russia, for their own irresponsible actions.

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Historical documentary exhibition Russia and Tajikistan: The Path of Friendship and Creation opens in Dushanbe


Today, on November 22, the historical documentary exhibition, Russia and Tajikistan: The Path of Friendship and Creation is being opened at the National Museum of the Republic of Tajikistan. The exhibition was arranged by the Russian Presidential Executive Office with the support of the State Archives, the Russian Embassy in Tajikistan, and Tajik partners. The event is timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the founding treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan is one of Russia’s key partners in the region and holds a special place in the foreign policy of our country.

Details about today’s event will be posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry and our Embassy websites. 

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Groundbreaking of the Alley of Space Exploration Founders and erecting busts of Konstantin Tsiolkovskly and Herman Potocnik Noordung in Slovenia 


On November 29, the Cultural Centre of EU Space Technologies (KSEVT) in Vitanje, northeastern Slovenia, will be the venue of the groundbreaking ceremony for the Alley of Space Exploration Founders. The Russian Embassy has been working on the project in close cooperation with Slovenian partners.

The first busts to be erected in the alley are those of the Russian and Soviet scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a champion of the theory of space exploration, and his contemporary, Austrian-Hungarian missile engineer of Slovenian descent Herman Potocnik Noordung.

President of the National Council of Slovenia (the parliament’s upper chamber) Alojz Kovsca, Hero of Russia space pilot Yury Baturin, Russian Ambassador to Slovenia Doku Zavgayev and Slovenian government ministers are among the honourary guests at the event. Also, a delegation from the Kaluga Region will participate in the ceremony as Tsiolkovsky’s life and work were closely related to it.

The Vitanje Centre widely known across Europe closely cooperates with Russia. It was a venue for a number of large-scale scientific and practical conferences with active participation of respective Russian institutions.

Setting up the Alley of Space Exploration Founders will not only elaborate the architectural tradition set forth in April 2017 by erecting a  monument to Yury Gagarin at the entrance to the centre, but will also contribute to further expanding international relations in the field of hi-tech. 

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SWIFT cut off from Iran and cooperation with Russia on the matter


We regret to state that the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) succumbed to illegitimate anti-Iran sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in November and, according to reports, cut off some Iranian banks and credit organisations including the Central Bank of the country from using the common system of financial communications. We did not hear that such a decision was authorised by the UNSC or another international legal organisation.

Inaction of the European authorities causes bewilderment as they once again allowed for extra-territorial use of the sanctions pressure on the operation of a purely financial structure under the Belgian jurisdiction.

Regarding cooperation between Russia and Iran in the inter-bank sphere, it is progressing consistently and effectively on the platform of the respective working group within the framework of the bilateral intergovernmental commission on trade and economic.

Without getting into specifics, I can say that Moscow and Tehran have been consistently working to safeguard their legal trade and economic relations and projects from external influence, and they started this work long before the JCPOA was concluded in 2015. It is routine work on risk management. Its key elements are securing reliable and protected channels for financial communications as well as increasing the share of mutual payments in national currencies.

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Updated information for Russian nationals on Foreign Ministry’s site about visa-free entrance to foreign countries


In preparation of the New Year and winter holidays we continue to freshen up information relating to Russians going abroad.

We have posted updated information for Russian nationals on our official website and via social networks about visa-free regimes for entering foreign countries. I would like to once again draw attention to the Ministry’s resources which will be of considerable help to journalists, the general public as well the tourist agencies as they make itineraries. We have information regularly updated at the consular portal, Foreign Ministry’s accounts in the social networks and the respective section on the official website.

We spoke a number of times about the Zarubezhny Pomoshchnik (Assistant Abroad) mobile app designed by the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre which issues recommendations in case of emergency situations. It can be installed on a laptop, tablet or smart phone so as to always have the maximum amount of useful information about the country where our residents are heading to. Thanks to the alarm button they can stay connected in any situation anywhere in the world. Besides this app has data dealing with crime, terrorist threat levels and how to enter and leave a certain country.

This app is both useful and practical for those planning to travel abroad and it is updated on a regular basis.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Some time ago, Azerbaijan came up with a peacemaking initiative and suggested, through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), exchanging prisoners with Armenia based on the all-for-all principle. The international group planned to hold a bilateral meeting, but Armenia refused to do the exchange. What does Moscow, as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, say to this?

Maria Zakharova: We welcome any bilateral agreements that seek to settle the conflict which is our key goal. However, agreements presume consent and efforts to achieve it. The initiatives are nothing short of wonderful, but they need to be worked through so as to make them actual agreements.

Question: The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are expected to meet in Milan at the upcoming meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. How likely is this?

Maria Zakharova: We would welcome such a meeting if the parties agree to hold it. However, such decisions are the sovereign right of every state.

Question: Following the ASEAN summit in Singapore, Prime Minister of Japan Abe stated that he had reached an agreement with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on concluding a peace treaty on the basis of the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, under which Russia will transfer, if it is signed, two Kuril Islands to Japan. What can you say about this? Is signing a declaration and transferring the islands a possibility and why would Russia do this?

Maria Zakharova: Given the importance of this matter, I will provide a brief overview of the current situation in Russia-Japan peace treaty talks. On November 14 in Singapore, President Putin and Prime Minister Abe agreed to speed up the negotiating process based on the Joint Declaration of 1956.

This document is more than just well known. It represents a legal basis underlying post-war Russian-Japanese relations. It was ratified by members of parliaments of both countries and deposited with the UN as an international treaty. The declaration ended the state of war between the Soviet Union and Japan and ensured the restoration of diplomatic relations. So, referring to it is more than a natural thing to do in this context.

This matter is not just about any specific agreements regarding the timeframe for resolving the peace treaty problem. A long and difficult negotiating process is underway. It is important to keep in mind that its outcome should not be at odds with the national interests of either country.

In addition to this, I would like to note that the Declaration was signed amid specific historical and geopolitical realities. However, later Japan refused to honour the commitments under this document. Also, the current international situation is fundamentally different from the time before 1956. It is important to understand how Tokyo interprets the Declaration today in terms of full recognition of the outcome of World War II, including the legitimacy of the southern Kuril Islands being part of the Russian Federation based on its outcome. It is unclear how the military alliance between Japan and the United States may affect the agreements that will be achieved during the talks.

These are just some of the questions that come to mind. Clearly, there’s much to be done to improve mutual understanding and trust, and to create a new quality of Russian-Japanese relations that would help us resolve the most challenging bilateral problems.

Question: On Wednesday, Secretary of Defence James Mattis stated that the United States hopes that Russia will demonstrate its willingness to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. This will be the most acceptable scenario for Washington. What is Russia’s position on this matter? Please comment on this statement.

Maria Zakharova: Moscow is still waiting for Washington to show some respect for international law in general. With regard to the accusations that were addressed to Moscow in violation of the treaty that you mentioned, we have many times provided qualified statements - publicly and through bilateral channels, as well as in multilateral formats - that it was misinformation and suggested opening a serious discussion on this matter.

Question: On Monday, Finlands Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the disruption of the GPS signal in the north of Finland during the NATO military drill in Norway. Can you make any comments about this? What will follow and will there be any discussions on this?

Maria Zakharova: We have already commented through our Embassy. During the meeting which took place in the Foreign Ministry of Finland and contacts with colleagues, the Russian side stressed that flight safety is as important for Russia as it is for Finland. We drew attention to the fact that we had not been given any information about the disruption sources being allegedly located in Russia. We also emphasised that a substantive expert level dialogue is needed with the relevant services of the countries in the region for a professional review of such situations.

Russia expressed willingness and readiness to hold the dialogue and answer all the questions that have arisen. Now we are expecting a corresponding response and steps from Finland. Nobody rejects normal expert talks. The question is why practical cooperation should be re-routed to “megaphone diplomacy” and endless ungrounded accusations without ever producing facts for the public or via bilateral channels. If you have facts, let us launch a real dialogue. If those facts may be brought to the knowledge of the public, and for some reason Finland thinks it must be done via the mass media, we can agree to that approach as well. However, everything should be based on facts and there are none. Only accusations.

Today I already mentioned to you about similar allegations we hear from Denmark and Norway. The situation is the same. There are no facts, only accusations. The question is what the next steps will be best addressed to the officials at the Foreign Ministry of Finland. For our part, we are not only ready for a normal constructive dialogue but we also have a strong desire to work in exactly that sort of format rather than discover new groundless and empty accusations via newspapers, television programmes or through internet pages.

Question: How could Soviet and Russian diplomacy have allowed the infringement of the country’s national interests when NATO began to advance eastward? Did this happen under Eduard Shevardnadze or Andrey Kozyrev?

Maria Zakharova: At the previous briefing, when we commented on NATO’s eastward expansion, I quoted public statements made by Mikhail Gorbachev on this matter. He said the assurances received were subsequently violated by those who had given them. The Western community and NATO leaders, not individuals but countries and political systems that made up this block and are involved in its development, did everything to deceive not only the USSR and the Soviet people but also the international community. This is not a matter of NATO’s interaction with a particular country. This was a colossal mystification, a global-scale deception. Back then the people of the countries, both the average person on the street as well as experts and journalists, had high hopes for the future of the world, they liked to think that after a bipolar world confrontation, qualitatively new times would follow when there would be no dictatorship of one political system, one association of countries, or one nation. When international relations would be built on absolutely new principles, with due account of past experience, primarily that of the 20th century with its two world wars and the cold war.  But that did not happen. Hopes were also pinned on the disarmament negotiations, overall negotiations on the future of our planet that were held between the leading countries, in particular, between the United States and the USSR.

I think we must speak not so much about the assessment of the political leaders of the USSR or of the new Russian state as about the fact that it was a deception of the entire international community. It is hard to say if it was deliberate or not. I think the answer should be sought in memoirs, but at present we have what we have – the international community has been deceived.

Question: A meeting has taken place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly the other day, with the majority of countries calling for expanding the UN Security Council. If we look at the permanent UN Security Council members, three of them are NATO countries. Therefore, the United States has an advantage. China does not always support our resolutions. It turns out that we are outnumbered, to some extent. Do you think it would be justified to increase the number of permanent UN Security Council members by including Brazil or India? This would create a certain balance, and we would no longer be outnumbered.

Maria Zakharova: This subject is infinite. I can provide some additional materials dealing with our position, and our website also contains a lot of information. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has formulated Russia’s approaches to reforming the UN Security Council in detail.

In brief, if implemented, the UN Security Council reform should improve the Council’s work and strengthen this body that is directly responsible for international stability. Therefore it would make the world a safer place. This implies a more efficient UN Security Council. Its reform should not lessen the Council’s ability to perform any of its functions. We should keep this approach in mind and implement it while analysing possible reform scenarios.

We should remember that, unfortunately, our partners sometimes corner the UN Security Council and drive it into a blind alley. This is achieved by the domination of narrow political interests of one group of countries or even those of one state. In any event, work is proceeding, one way or another.

Question: What do you think about the new round of peace talks on Yemen, scheduled to be held in Sweden in December? What is your opinion of the overall current humanitarian situation in Yemen?

Maria Zakharova: At our previous briefing, we provided an extremely detailed assessment of the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Its text is posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Regarding the upcoming talks, we believe that any attempts by the international community to contribute to resolving the very acute humanitarian crisis should be praised. I cannot comment on specific results because this event has not yet taken place. I will specify the level of Russia’s representation.

Question: On Tuesday, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu met with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar to discuss the situation in Idlib. Has Russia modified its position on the Idlib de-escalation zone during these talks or after them?   

Maria Zakharova: Russia reaffirmed its position. 

Question: Why is it that Russian authorities voiced their readiness to negotiate the Kuril issue now? Are more active talks linked with Russia’s pre-bankruptcy state due to sanctions? Is it possible to cede the islands of Habomai and Shikotan to Japan in exchange for lifting sanctions? Why is it that Russian authorities state their readiness to hold talks on the Kuril issue just at this moment? Can the Japanese side’s promise not to allow the deployment of US military bases in the event of a possible transfer of the South Kuril Islands serve as legal grounds for ceding the islands to Japan?   

Maria Zakharova: This is not so. Your question contains information that is not true.

I have just commented on the status of the talks, their historical basis and the current context in great detail. I can provide you with this material separately.

Today, we can see how countries withdraw from treaties, how they annul them, and how they no longer honour the obligations signed by their leaders on behalf of the entire state, nation and people. They are doing this after a split-second decision, not to mention verbal agreements not backed by any written documents, etc.

Unfortunately, the international community and the currently leading states are showing a very bad example by wrecking international law. Several years ago, the concepts of international treaties, agreements and commitments were taken very seriously. Indeed, this could guarantee the preservation of positions and development along pre-set lines. Today, the lax attitude with which heads of state annul their commitments under international treaties jeopardises agreements. In any event, this is a trend, and this is very sad. 

Question: In his 2016 interview, President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that the Russian Federation does not deal in its territories. Has the official Russian position changed by 2018? Can one expect that Russia’s jurisdiction over the Kuril Islands will not be disrupted in any way? 

Maria Zakharova: No, it has not changed. One can hope that the Russian Federation remains committed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2016 statements. As I see it, the quotation you just reminded us about remains topical. It would be more appropriate if you asked the Presidential Executive Office about this.

Question: US President Donald Trump has thanked the global market for lower oil prices and called for going lower. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about statements that encourage producers to push oil prices down?

Maria Zakharova: I believe that a legally elected president of a sovereign state is free to make any statements on his country’s economic, financial or energy policy. This is how I see it in this particular case. One must take a very responsible stand on energy security, especially since it is not the concern of any individual country but an international issue.

Question: This week MGIMO and MSU universities hosted a series of events about Azerbaijani poet Imadeddin Nasimi and the Decorative Art Museum presented an exhibition based on a famous Azerbaijani poem, The Seven Beauties. What is the Foreign Ministry’s opinion of such exchanges that are aimed at promoting cultural ties between Russia and the post-Soviet countries?

Maria Zakharova: We view this as a positive development of bilateral cultural relations.

Question: Two weeks ago you commented on the UN Global Compact on Migration. Since then, several EU states have said they will not join this document. Israel has recently said the same. The government of Estonia, whose media I represent, has been polarised over this issue. The countries that join this compact can be obliged to house refugees.

Maria Zakharova: Russia’s foreign policy is consistent both in the long and short terms. Therefore, the comment on this issue, which we issued two weeks ago, remains relevant, which is not the case for many other countries.

Question: Do you have any comments on yesterday’s joint statement of the defence ministries of Ukraine and Britain on increasing military-technical cooperation?

Maria Zakharova: Two sovereign states have the right to develop bilateral relations in any sphere, including in armaments and defence. But it does not work entirely in this manner. We believe that the international community, which is involved in conflict settlement in Ukraine one way or another, should make statements that will help settle rather than foment the conflict. It is one thing if conflict settlement is the goal of UK-Ukraine cooperation, but if they only want to build up their military ties, which can have a negative effect on the situation in Donbass, this may raise questions.

Question: Kazakhstan has announced that the possibility of involving more observers in the Astana format may be considered soon. Do you have any information on this issue?

Maria Zakharova: If you are asking about observers, this is a routine diplomatic process. Observers are always welcome. The issue of changing the format, though, is not on the agenda.

Question: Regarding anti-Russia sanctions: We know that the United States has imposed sanctions 64 times against Russia over the past eight or nine years. How many Western or American officials are on the Russian sanctions list?

Maria Zakharova: Regrettably, we had to reply both symmetrically and asymmetrically to US restrictions against Russia and Russian officials, private individuals and legal entities. It was not our choice but a countermove, which is an integral part of current international relations.

As for the total number of people on our stop lists, I do not have the precise figure at hand. I will request this information. But once again, we have never initiated such actions towards the United States or any other country. We regard this policy as absolutely illegitimate.

Question: In Minsk yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and Belarus were concerned about the strengthening of NATO’s potential on the eastern flank. Could Russia install the latest missiles President Putin has spoken about, in Brest, for example, in order to scare the US if it pulls out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)?

Maria Zakharova: Such a question should be addressed to the Russian Ministry of Defence. We do not want to scare anyone. We seek to draw the attention of the world community to the fact that the United States and those who willingly or unwillingly support its policy are deliberately dealing a colossal blow to the system of international security and strategic stability. This is not only about the security of the Russian Federation, but about what is happening in the world in general and about the future of all international relations.  

Unfortunately, the situation is the opposite of what you said: it is the other side, the United States that is trying to scare us. Indeed, it is not just trying to scare us, but is deploying additional contingents (we have cited the statistics) and is doing it systematically within a set paradigm. At the same time, propaganda and disinformation media accuse Russia of alleged aggressive moves. Manifestation of an aggressive approach and intimidation is not part of our arsenal of methods and actions. This is not our choice. Russia has lived through many horrific, devastating and bloody wars – the Great Patriotic War, two world wars, including on its own territory and not of its own will. The wars were started by many of the current leading powers. Russia has never permitted itself any intimidating or provocative behaviour, let alone aggressive behaviour, in international relations because it knows only too well what war is.

Question: Five years ago Iran was used as a pretext. Is it still the case today?

Maria Zakharova: Iran is still used as a pretext, being blamed for everything. In this case, the Iranian threat is used to justify not NATO expansion, but the building of the European segment of the missile defence system.

As you know and as the Iranian officials and public opinion know, Russia has always rejected such accusations hurled at Iran. We argued that the attempts to justify the expansion of missile defence and the building of facilities in Europe by the Iranian threat are groundless. Moscow has hosted conferences on the subject and presented its case. We said that we interpret NATO expansion and the building of missile defence as a threat to peace and world stability and not as a matter of bilateral concerns.

Question: The Speaker of the Crimean Parliament Vladimir Konstantinov has said that the events in Ukraine may develop into another Maidan. He says that the signals coming from Ukraine show that the country is heading towards collapse, which we will witness and it may take the form of another Maidan. Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expect new large-scale unrest in Ukraine? What would be Russia’s stance?

Maria Zakharova: You think there is no unrest there now? This is a very unrealistic assessment. Disturbances are happening on a large scale and the consequences for Ukraine are dire. We do not use cliches and do not speak in memes, but present our analysis of what is happening in national politics, or rather “anti-politics.” We have given our assessments and forecasts of what manipulation of religious communities in Ukraine may lead to and repeatedly mentioned the law on language and many other phenomena in modern Ukraine. All these are manifestations of unrest, as you put it, and in fact of the dire consequences of the unconstitutional coup in that country.  

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