10 December 201518:50

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 10, 2015


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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Republic of Italy


Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Italy begins.

I’d like to remind you that detailed information about the visit and Mr Lavrov’s programme in Rome has been posted on the ministry’s official website.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with participants in the Dialogue for the Future Gorchakov Fund programme


On December 14, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with participants in the Dialogue for the Future annual scientific and educational programme of the Gorchakov Fund in Support of Public Diplomacy.

The project launched in December 2011 and is designed to provide a discussion platform for young experts from Russia and other countries to exchange opinions and share experience. This year, representatives of domestic and foreign public and political circles will take part in the programme, including from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Georgia, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Serbia, Slovenia, South Ossetia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The format makes it possible for participants, in the course of free debates, to address topical issues on the international agenda and hear the minister’s opinion on issues at hand.

We also invite media people to this event. Accreditation information will be provided later.


Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmad bin Muhammad Al Khalifa’s visit to Moscow


On December 15-17, Khalid bin Ahmad bin Muhammad Al Khalifa, the foreign minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain, will make a working visit to Russia. During the visit, he is due to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and other events and important meetings have also been scheduled.

The upcoming talks will serve to further deepen the Russia-Bahrain political dialogue. In particular, they will make it possible to review the implementation of the agreements reached during the 2014 visit to Russia of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Special focus will be given to topical issues related to the status and prospects for Russia-Bahrain relations. We have developed a number of common ideas and proposals that should be put into practice and it is essential to utilise the existing potential for cooperation. This refers to building up collaboration in the trade, economic, energy, banking, transport and investment spheres. Another goal is to strengthen the legal framework of bilateral cooperation.

The Middle East and Persian Gulf are of key importance to international security and are traditionally in the focus of our country’s attention. The situation in these areas of world politics calls for a regular synchronisation of positions with our country’s principal partners in the region, Bahrain being one of them. In this context, the visit to the Russian capital by the head of the Kingdom’s foreign policy agency will make it possible to analyse the situation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf in a comprehensive and substantive way, including by taking into account the complicated military and political situation in a number of countries in this part of the world. In exchanging opinions on this issue, Russia will underscore the need to resolve such conflicts through a broad nationwide dialogue – this is our fundamental position – and without outside interference or the imposition of schemes that are far removed from regional realities.

In addition, the two officials will address interaction in multilateral formats, including the strategic dialogue between Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, three rounds of which have already taken place in countries in the region, while the fourth is due to be held in 2016 in Moscow. In this context, the issue of collective security in the Persian Gulf will be addressed, among other things, through the implementation of the relevant Russian concept, an updated version of which will be conveyed to our partners from Bahrain and other states concerned.

The ministers may also touch on certain aspects of the internal political situation in Bahrain in light of the ongoing national dialogue and Russia’s support for the social and economic reform programme proposed by the Kingdom’s authorities.


US State Secretary John Kerry’s visit to Moscow


As you know, the media, referencing US State Secretary John Kerry's own comments, have reported about his desire and intention to visit Moscow for talks.

In anticipation of your questions and answering those I’ve already received, I will say that this visit is being looked at and we will let you know more about it upon receiving additional specific information.


33rd Meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC)


On December 11, Bucharest will host the 33rd meeting of the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers. The participants will discuss ways of further enhancing the BSEC’s efficiency and its role in the Black Sea area.

They will review the results of the ministerial transport session and meetings of the BSEC’s working groups on banking and finance, agriculture and the agro-industrial sector, small- and medium-sized business and energy along with other events held during Romanian BSEC Chairmanship-in-Office (CiO).

Russia will assume its CiO between January and June 2016.

The Russian delegation at the meeting will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Nebenzya.

For more details visit the Foreign Ministry’s official website.


Discussion of Turkey’s actions in Iraq in the UN Security Council


As you know, on December 8 during a Russia-initiated closed-door meeting, the UN Security Council held discussions on the deployment of Turkish forces in Iraq. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin gave the media a detailed account of the meeting.

I’d like to add that we believe the very holding of the meeting should cool off some “hot heads” in Ankara and will probably warn them against new reckless steps and provocations that, as we now know, they are capable of making.

We consider it important that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took this incident very seriously. We noticed that the actions of Turkey’s forces proved to be unexpected even to its closest allies, although out of ill-famed allied solidarity they refrained from any critical comments against Ankara’s actions, which were in gross violation of international law.

As for the notorious allied solidarity, the more pronounced it becomes the more obviously we see that if there is one thing that NATO has become proficient at collectively, it is collective silence.


Turkish authorities find fault with Russia's Syrian policy


We have received many requests to comment on Turkey’s allegations that Russia is engaged in an ethnic purge of Syria (I cannot use the word “accusations” here because that word implies reason). It is pointless to comment on these conjectures as they demonstrate Turkey’s break with reality and ignorance of the actual situation in the region. Statements made regularly in the last few weeks mainly repeat what Turkish officials say. Their allegations are repeated at different levels and in various versions. These ignoble statements and ungrounded accusations speak for themselves. Impotent rage is revealed increasingly in the latest statements from Ankara.


Afghan provinces seized by ISIS as its ranks grow


Russia is seriously concerned about reports of ISIS tightening its grip on many parts of the world, particularly Afghanistan. Islamic radicals have long demonstrated that they can use any crisis to meet their ends as they stir up old conflicts and create new hotbeds of tensions and violent antagonism. Afghanistan has been in a military-political crisis for many years, and such a turn of events presents immediate danger to it.

Until recently, ISIS’ military breakthroughs in the Middle East have been propaganda trumps attracting ever more terrorist volunteers in the world.

Now Russia has embarked on the resolute eradication of ISIS and other terrorist organisations in Syria. In our opinion, a partial shift to Afghanistan as a result of these developments will allow ISIS to again present itself as a formidable military force that is opening a second front to counterweigh its opponents’ thrust in the Middle East and North Africa.

Various terrorist groups in Afghanistan are stepping up their activities and rivalry – including the Taliban schism – against the backdrop of ISIS’ vigorous penetration of the country. These developments show that Afghanistan remains a hotbed of global terrorist danger. As we warned our partners, the shift of international attention to the Middle East and North Africa increases the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and along its border with Pakistan. We can only regret that our apprehensions were not duly analysed, but rather, shrugged off.

Now we see for ourselves the dire effects about which Russia has been strongly warning for years. Moreover, alongside the Taliban-ISIS tug of war for control of Afghan provinces, terrorists are now seizing territories close to Afghan borders with other countries. ISIS and other terrorist groups have openly and repeatedly called for organising Afghanistan into a bridgehead from which to destabilise the entire region. These threats are being carried out now, judging by the current trends.

ISIS was only beginning to muster forces in Afghanistan a year ago. Now, the seizure of Afghan provinces by jihadists connected with it demonstrates that the present leaders of transnational terrorism are out to fulfil their threats. We should analyse as carefully as we can the chances of the terrorist danger pouring out of Afghanistan. This is all the more critical as our Central Asian allies, neighbours and partners are among the terrorists’ targets.

In consideration of all these international threats, it is all the more essential to pool and coordinate global efforts to put an end to the terrorist threat worldwide based on international legal standards and parameters, particularly the UN Charter. Respect for national sovereignty is prominent among these principles. Those states that are at direct risk of terrorist threat should be entitled to priority in cooperation.

With the security crisis in Afghanistan, Russia is sending out a call to draw up and endorse corollary anti-terrorist measures in effective international formats, including the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure and the relevant CIS and CSTO agencies. We believe that regional efforts to support Afghanistan should be channelled mainly through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as it comprises most of the countries in the region, including Afghanistan, as members, observers or partners in dialogue.

The ISIS threat spreading to Afghanistan is a malevolent trend. We have raised this issue more than once.


The effectiveness of US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria after the UK, France and Germany join it


Unfortunately, we have not changed our opinion, which is negative. The US-led coalition in Syria only simulates the fight against ISIS and terrorism and is held hostage by its own politicised views, at least in Syria, which run counter to the international right to address such situations. The growing ISIS problem is proof that the US-led coalition has been ineffective in Syria.

Suffice it to say that for an entire year the USAF has not noticed the ISIS truck convoys smuggling oil in Syria and Iraq, which bring sustenance also to ISIS. They may have noticed them, but they didn’t share this information and didn’t do anything to cut short this illegal trade.

It’s striking that US coalition members in Syria sometimes say they are part of the coalition, but when it suits them, for example, as Turkey does when it fights the Kurds in Iraq, that they act independently. This gives them big leeway for using double standards, as you can see. It’s practically impossible to distinguish where they are acting as part of the coalition, and where they are acting in their own interests. Moreover, it would be great if they informed other countries about the coalition’s operations in the region. But this appears to be an impossible mission.

It’s vital that France, Britain and Germany, which have held very complex internal discussions on the use of force against ISIS, are able to contribute to the fight against this terrorist group. We believe that this calls for reliance on international law, not because we want this, but because international law is a solid foundation on which one can rely, as well as the willingness to coordinate one’s actions with Russia, which has been operating in strict compliance with international law, and with the legitimate authorities in Syria and Iraq. It’s a fact that Russia has asked its Western partners for available information about ISIS facilities. Their answers can be described as evasive, to put it mildly. In these conditions, it’s very difficult to expect the US-led coalition to be really effective, even after the involvement of several European countries.

The recent evidence of chaos is what Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk has said about Turkish actions in Iraq. He said it’s important to understand that “this Turkish effort is not a part of the coalition effort in Iraq. Turkey is a member of the coalition, but every member of the coalition also does things it perceives to be in its own interests, that are not part of the coalition framework. So it’s important that this particular Turkish deployment is not a part of the coalition.”

Mr McGurk didn’t sound like an official envoy of the US President but rather as a freshman who has only started reading on this issue. We need to know without a doubt what the coalition is doing, and this calls for an action plan. If our partners have it, they should make public the parts that can be made public, and provide the rest through secure channels. Otherwise, every country would have to assess this plan in accordance with available information. The information that is currently available to the public is so disunited and chaotic that it’s virtually impossible to assess it or make conclusions on the coalition’s effectiveness.

Where is the watershed? Where is this temporal and geographic border that determines when countries act as part of the coalition and when they don’t? Must they coordinate their actions within the coalition framework? If so, precisely which actions they must coordinate? What is the time and place that divides a country’s actions as part of the coalition from its actions in the pursuit of its own interests? This calls for clear-cut explanations. But we seriously doubt that this can be explained, because there seems to be no system to these actions.

Here is one more indicative quotation. Ms Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the following on CNN’s The Situation Room: “[T]he open borders that they have with Syria, the direct and indirect assistance they've been providing to ISIS and these other Islamic extremist groups just prove the point that Turkey is not standing with us. They have done less in the fight against ISIS than they have done for ISIS in helping strengthen ISIS.”

If this is what officials in the leading country of the coalition say, if they differ so widely on the actions of a member of the coalition, what else can be said on the issue?

I’d like to share excerpts from a highly indicative and interestingly written article on the above issue that has been published by The Telegraph. London Mayor Boris Johnson writes the following: “We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve [we’d really like to know what they are trying to achieve – Zakharova]. Our aims – at least, our stated aims – are to degrade and ultimately to destroy Isil as a force in Syria and Iraq. That is what it is all about. We cannot do that without terrestrial forces.”

It’s great that the mayor of London is aware of this. I wish that those who make decisions within the coalition were too.

Mr Johnson goes on to say: “We need someone to provide the boots on the ground [I wonder who this “someone” could be - Zakharova]; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies. (…) There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress [It’s strange that the London mayor knows this, but the military representatives haven’t provided a similar assessment so far - Zakharova]. Thanks at least partly to Russian air strikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Am I backing the Assad regime, and the Russians, in their joint enterprise to recapture that amazing site? [Brace up for a shock - Zakharova] You bet I am. This is the time to set aside our Cold War mindset. It is just not true that whatever is good for Putin must automatically be bad for the West. We both have a clear and concrete objective – to remove the threat from Isil. Everything else is secondary.”

The above is a perfect example of chaos in the coalition approach to many Middle Eastern issues and the individuals who personify the actions of the leading country of the coalition. I feel compelled to cite from an article in Der Spiegel titled “Ex-US Intelligence Chief on Islamic State's Rise,” in which former US special forces chief Mike Flynn – I believe that everyone has heard about him – admits that without the Iraq war, Islamic State wouldn’t exist today. This may sound sensational, but this is what we in Russia have been saying for years. Mr Flynn also said, “We won't succeed against this enemy with air strikes alone,” which sounds very much like what Mayor Johnson has written, and urged the West “to work constructively with Russia.” He said: “Russia made a decision to be there (in Syria) and to act militarily. They are there, and this has dramatically changed the dynamic. So you can't say Russia is bad, they have to go home.”

I’d like to call on those who make decisions in the coalition to listen to their experts.

Here’s one more statement to this effect. Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton writes in an article in The New York Times that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone and offered a solution. In his opinion, ISIS can be eliminated through the creation of three independent states, tentatively united in a Sunni state, or Sunni-stan, comprising territories in Syria and Iraq and even Kurdistan, with an autonomous Alawite region with the capital city of Latakia.

Political analysts have been known to advance many strange ideas, but this is what has been proposed by a US representative at the UN – I know this for certain, as I also worked at the UN at that time.  


The situation in Lebanon


We assert that Lebanon is experiencing the negative consequences of the dramatic developments in the Middle East, primarily from the situation in neighbouring Syria.

Lebanon’s traditions of political pluralism, democracy and inter-community coexistence that are deeply rooted in Lebanese society enabled the country to stop at the edge of the abyss into which extremists and their supporters are trying to push it. Nevertheless, the situation remains tense. ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists are currently in some areas, as well as near the town of Arsal close to the Syrian border. Some of them have infiltrated the region along with 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon to escape hostilities in their home country. The Hezbollah-supported Lebanese army is regularly clashing with jihadists. On November 12, a major terrorist attack killed 40 people in a southern Beirut suburb, and the country still faces substantial terrorist threats.

All this is happening against the backdrop of a persistent domestic political impasse. I’d like to recall that the people of Lebanon have failed to elect a president for over 18 months. The parliament which has twice extended its tenure remains virtually paralysed. The government that represents various political forces is facing major obstacles.

Russia is extending principled support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, its domestic unity and stability. In this context, Russia has repeatedly called on Lebanese politicians to chart a range of measures to prevent a power vacuum, to restore the normal operation of government institutions. First, it is necessary to elect a president, the supreme representative of Christians in the country’s corridors of power, in line with the Lebanese state system. Under the Lebanese political system, the country’s Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament are Sunni and Shiite Muslims respectively.

We note some recent positive signs. For example, the mechanism for a national-dialogue conference has been reinitiated. Contact between leading Lebanese politicians has increased. A parliamentary committee, due to coordinate a new bill on elections over a two- month period, is now meeting. It has been decided that the media should not report on this work so as to prevent emotions from spilling out onto the streets. New presidential candidates are being named.

As we see it, all these improvements indicate that Lebanese politicians comprehend the danger of the challenges facing today’s unique Middle East experience of building a pluralistic state with a multi-denominational society.

In this connection, we reaffirm Russia’s stance in favour of addressing the issues on the national Lebanese agenda by the people of Lebanon under the law, through dialogue between all political and religious forces, without outside interference. Experience has proved that the people of Lebanon can reach agreement. We are calling on all external parties to refrain from attempts to decide something for the people of Lebanon themselves.


UNHCR’s perspective on the situation with IDPs in Ukraine


The Foreign Ministry has taken note of the publication by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of its latest report on the situation in Ukraine, which expresses concern, among other things, over the situation with internally displaced people (IDPs) as winter is approaching. We share the UNHCR’s concern over the challenging living conditions these Ukrainians face. The report mentions that many IDPs are housed by friends and relatives. Many are unable to rent flats for financial reasons or due to discrimination by employers. Those who had to live in shared residences that were set up for IDPs are especially vulnerable.

Russia has a positive view of UNHCR’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is currently focusing on assisting the Ukrainian Government in providing decent living conditions for IDPs, setting up a system for registering them and improving humanitarian access.

This year, the Russian Federation has made a donation to support the UNHCR’s operations in Ukraine, which could go towards facilitating reintegration of IDPs returning to their places of permanent residence.

The Foreign Ministry notes that according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, another specialised UN agency, there are about 800,000 IDPs in Ukraine, which is less than 1.5 million according to Kiev’s official statistics.


Developments related to Russia’s Vladimir Bezobrazov


Vladimir Bezobrazov, a Russian citizen born in 1973, was detained by Ukrainian law enforcement officers on June 18, 2014, and placed in Odessa’s Pre-trial Detention Facility No. 21. Mr Bezobrazov was accused under the provisions of the Ukrainian Criminal Code, among other things, of “infringing upon Ukraine’s territorial integrity; deliberately acting in conspiracy with a group of people to change the borders of Ukraine or its territory in violation of the procedures envisaged in the Ukrainian Constitution.” Conviction on these charges is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison. The Russian citizen was pressured to sign confessions and start cooperating with the investigative authorities in exchange for a promised suspended sentence. He later withdrew his testimony.

On August 14, 2014, the Ovidiopol District Court of the Odessa Region handed down a guilty verdict, sentencing Mr Bezobrazov to five years in prison. On October 23, 2014, the verdict was reversed, and the case returned to first-instance court. Throughout Mr Bezobrazov’s detention, members of the Russian consulate in Odessa met with the detainee, his lawyer and mother a number of times.

On March 6, 2015, Mr Bezobrazov signed a plea bargain, under which he was to get a suspended sentence of three years and three months with a two-year probation period, and was not to leave Ukrainian territory without permission. The same day, the Ovidiopol District Court of the Odessa Region handed down a verdict to this effect, and Mr Bezobrazov was discharged from custody in the court room. When he left the court, unidentified people escorted him to a minivan and left with him in an unknown direction.

The Russian consulate in Odessa contacted the office of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in Odessa and the police, asking them to find the Russian citizen. According to the office of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in Odessa, Mr Bezobrazov left for Kharkov, where he was permanently located, but he never arrived there.

According to the latest reports, in November 2015 Mr Bezobrazov called his lawyer in order to get in touch with his mother, and explained that he was in Kharkov, without leaving an address.

At present, Mr Bezobrazov’s location remains unknown.


Soviet memorials in Poland


Russia has repeatedly and in a detailed and well-argued manner, and while quoting the relevant documents, commented on what Russian citizens and we call Poland’s war against Soviet memorials. We cannot help but be concerned because this is part of our history and historical memory. The monuments to Soviet soldiers in Poland were put up exclusively on the occasion of Poland’s liberation from Germany, without which there would have been no Polish state.

We always treat the idea of morality with care and deliberateness. But the Polish authorities’ attempts to turn away from a debt of gratitude to the memory of fallen Soviet soldiers (there are almost two million buried in Polish soil, more than in any other country) could be qualified (we rarely use this assessment) as immoral. This is disgraceful behaviour from representatives of a nation that takes pride in its traditions of honour and magnanimity and creates a culture of its own sufferings and sacrifices (we respect this attitude in the Polish people).

This is how we interpreted a recent statement by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wherein the Polish side distorts facts and interprets existing bilateral agreements in an openly arbitrary way, trying to make them fit its self-seeking political interests.

They have ignored our repeated reminders that it is necessary to strictly abide, for example, by the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Poland on Friendly and Goodneighbourly Cooperation of May 22, 1992, that makes it incumbent on the parties to ensure the protection of cemeteries and monuments that are objects of respect and memory for the citizens of one of the parties in the territory of the other. We’d like to know to what extent Poland is committed to this document. Regrettably, we see that instead of a punctual and clear obligation to the treaty, the authorities invent a theory of “symbolic” monuments, that is, monuments located outside cemeteries (for example, Army General Ivan Chernyakhovsky’s bas-relief in Pieniężno), whereby they are justifying the barbarous destruction and desecration of a monument.

The Polish Foreign Ministry’s claim that the Polish authorities have “repeatedly and resolutely” condemned the numerous acts of vandalism with regard to Soviet memorials is less than accurate. We constantly urge Warsaw to respond appropriately to these actions, but this doesn’t happen.

Likewise, we cannot agree with statements regarding the thoroughness of the investigating Polish agencies into the outrages committed against our monuments and cemeteries. Often the vandals are acquitted on moral or psychological grounds. Over the last two years (when over 50 acts of vandalism against monuments and memorials were recorded), no one at all has been punished – at least we haven’t been informed otherwise. We would likely have known if they were. All this goes to the question of a “fitting” reaction by Polish officials.

Why is it so important to not only preserve monuments but also to identify, punish and publicly condemn such actions? It is common knowledge that impunity sets a bad example and can be contagious. Other potential vandals would perhaps think twice, but seeing this impunity they continue in the same vein. This explains the continuation of the anti-memorial, anti-Russian “bacchanal” approach to national historical policy. This is, let’s face it, an uncivilised and indecent approach for anyone, let alone the member-state of international organisations and democratic institutions.

And, lastly, Europe has at all levels denounced ISIS for its barbarous destruction of monuments in the Middle East. Stories to this effect are aired by Euronews. In our view, those who destroy monuments in Poland are acting, in many respects, like Middle East terrorists. 


From answers to media questions:

Question: North Korean media reports say Pyongyang claims the country has a hydrogen bomb. Do you have any information about this? What is the Foreign Ministry’s position on such weapons in North Korea?

Maria Zakharova: I have not seen these reports. I will check them and comment a bit later.

Russia’s position on the situation in the Korean Peninsula is well-known. It has not changed. I can only reaffirm it.

Question: The day before yesterday, the chiefs of staff of the CSTO armed forces issued a statement strongly condemning Turkey’s action to shoot down a Russian plane and expressed complete support for Russia’s policy. Will the Foreign Ministry initiate a conference for CSTO and EurAsEC foreign ministers to address the issue and possibly adopt a corresponding statement?

Maria Zakharova: We’ve already discussed this. This issue was also addressed during Mr Lavrov’s contact with his counterparts from the organisations you mentioned. I don’t know whether a special meeting on the issue is being planned but we are actively raising this issue at the UN, as we regularly inform you, as well as at other international venues (remember, the OSCE Ministerial Council was held recently) and in bilateral contacts. I believe that given the unprecedented nature of the incident, this tragedy will forever go down in the history of international relations.

Question: In an interview with Interfax, Foreign Minister Lavrov referred to the work on a Russian-US antiterrorism resolution. What is the status of this document? When can the resolution be expected to be put to a vote?

Maria Zakharova: Mr Lavrov described the course of the work on the relevant resolution in detail. I have nothing to add at this point. Regarding the time when this document will be put to a vote, we will provide information later, including through the Russian Permanent Mission at the UN in New York.

Question: There were reports in Estonian media that foreign investors who were unhappy with attacks on foreigners in the Baltic republic have sent a petition to its government. Can you comment on the situation?

Maria Zakharova: We’ve seen media reports regarding the collective petition of foreign business people to the Estonian government over the growing manifestations of racial intolerance, xenophobia and extremism. I can say that this appeal only confirms the relevance of our assessments of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country. We have repeatedly expressed concern over systematic violations of the rights of Russian-speaking people in the republic, the discriminatory language policy of the Estonian authorities aimed at limiting the use of the Russian language and the unprecedented phenomenon of mass statelessness. Unfortunately, Tallinn still prefers to ignore our complaints and the numerous recommendations from the relevant international organisations.

Question: Could you comment on the meeting of the Syrian opposition in Riyadh and the list of opposition groups invited to the event? Is it possible that the planned talks between the Syrian Government and the opposition will begin before January 1, 2016 as agreed?

Maria Zakharova: This goal was identified during the Vienna discussions and contained in the final documents, which recorded the estimated desirable timing. Unfortunately, the work on the two lists (the list of opposition groups that could be presented in the negotiations with Damascus and the list of terrorists) is not progressing as fast as expected after the Vienna meeting. The quality of this work is not entirely satisfactory either.

These two elements are essential. Moving forward without them, in our opinion, would simply be impossible. Today I gave you some examples that confirm our belief that the coalition is in chaos. One reason for this is the lack of a common understanding on key issues such as who is ‘good’ and who is ‘evil’, figuratively speaking. Members of the coalition often have opposing views on these issues. Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeatedly talked about this. This is a fundamental concept for us, and we hope that all parties will undertake the appropriate efforts to draw up these two lists.

Question: Are you saying it is difficult to figure out the position of the coalition?

Maria Zakharova: No, I am not saying that. It isn’t difficult for us because we have our own stance, and we were among the first, if not the first, to present it to our colleagues. We have a clear understanding and a clear idea. We have long made contributions to these lists. As for the coalition, I mean there is no clarity and commonality of approaches to this issue and this is a major concern for us.

I would say it was a shock to us at first. During the first debates, which took place before the Vienna meeting, it became clear to us that there was no common concept in determining targets, of who the terrorists are and who are the opposition, moderate or not – and that this was occurring within a coalition operating from a position of force (i.e, that is not just discussing this issue in theory, but that has been actually hitting military targets for a year). When we saw this lack of commonality among the nations united in the coalition, we experienced a certain degree of shock. To our deepest regret, we found out from our contacts at different levels that fundamental differences still persist within the coalition. They keep telling us everything is being done to bring their positions closer, but the differences seem to linger.

Question: Is the US-Russian memorandum to avoid clashes in air over Syria signed by the defence ministries, still in force?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, it is. I even read very satisfactory assessments from the American side on how effectively this agreement works. As far as I know, on our part, there are no problems with this agreement either. It is in force. However, this document only covers conflict prevention but does not deal with the issue in depth.

As for common ground on the list, it has not been reached yet. Russia was actually one of the first, if not the first, to do its “homework” and handed it to our colleagues. But there is still controversy within the coalition.

Question: Russia initiated a meeting of the UN Security Council after Turkish troops invaded Iraq. Why was the same not done when the Russian Su-24 was shot down? Will there be a similar move at the UN Security Council over the results of the investigation and the deciphering of the airplane’s black boxes that were handed over to President Vladimir Putin?

Maria Zakharova: You know, I’d like to remind you – perhaps you simply missed this information. President Putin’s statement on the tragedy, which took place when Turkey shot down the Russian airplane, was circulated at the UN Security Council as an official document. This was done as promptly as possible to inform all UN Security Council members about our view of what had happened. So I believe you might simply have missed it.

As for the situation with the black boxes, of course, you should put this question to the relevant agencies that are working on them. I can say that, as before, we will share pertinent information and our assessments with our colleagues. We have a clear understanding of what happened. No doubt, additional details should shed more light. However, as you may know, President Putin, the Ministry of Defence, Russia’s permanent representatives at international organisations, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saw eye to eye on the events and brought our position home to our partners by all available means, including the dissemination of corresponding information at the UN Security Council and other international agencies and during the multilateral talks that our colleague inquired and spoke about earlier today. So I’d like to reiterate that of course, we will keep our partners and the public up to date on any new information that may appear.

Question: Recently, Russia imposed sanctions on Turkey, reducing or suspending supplies of certain goods. Would it be possible to bring back the Soviet practice of the Union republics providing environmentally clean products on a systemic, nationwide level, at least to Moscow? The fact is that such products are not produced or delivered on a national level. At the same time, we would thus be able to provide employment to tens of thousands of people. If such a decision is made, could the number of labour migrants from Central Asia in Russia be reduced?

Maria Zakharova: This is a global vision. I don’t think a certain common scheme or model should be restored. I believe that successful experience from the past should be used, but only if applied to current market mechanisms based on competition. No doubt, there should be state support for good, interesting projects. Not only our state, but any other state is interested in promoting effective projects. So you should address your question to the experts, for example, at the Ministry of Agriculture. Such ideas should be considered subject to expert appraisal. Not by the foreign service, however. In this case, we can provide foreign policy support for projects that are interesting to several states.

Regarding the redistribution of labour resources, it seems to me that this issue also needs expert appraisal.

Question: But we are strategic partners.

Maria Zakharova: I’m not saying we should not consider and discuss this. As I told you, this is a question for the relevant agencies in the sphere of agriculture. If they agree and if there is mutual interest, why not. However, this is up to experts to decide.

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