26 March 201917:34

Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov’s interview with TASS news agency, March 26, 2019

626-26-03-2019

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Question: Mr Syromolotov, speaking at the OSCE antiterrorist conference, you called on the world community to join the International Counterterrorism Database operated by the National Counter-Terrorism Committee. Was there a positive reaction to this?

Oleg Syromolotov: Of course, there was. A lot of international organisations, including the UN, have joined, and their number is constantly increasing.

Awareness does not come overnight. Everyone believed that their approaches were the only real ones, but this is not true. The OSCE conference platform is valuable as it offers people an opportunity to exchange assessments of the antiterrorist situation around the world, in each country, and the best practices in combating extremism and terrorism.

Based on other countries’ experience, we also draw conclusions for ourselves. In my speech at the conference, I announced a very interesting side event regarding the White Helmets. Representatives from the Foundation for the Study of Democracy headed by Maxim Grigoryev visited Syria, and for a whole month collected information about the White Helmets’ criminal activities. When I read their report for the first time, I was shocked by the White Helmets’ acts, although I knew about their connections with the terrorists. The report also covers the staged “chemical attacks” citing witnesses. The White Helmets have always been close to the Jabhat al-Nusra headquarters, that is, it is clear who they worked for. In addition to this, there were crimes, just like in Kosovo – human organ harvesting.

Maxim Grigoryev has already spoken in Geneva, and made a presentation at the UN in New York. Next we would like to present this data in The Hague, at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Question: How serious is the threat of new chemical provocations in Syria?

Oleg Syromolotov: This data is coming in all the time. We note the transfer of chemical weapons, various chemicals in different regions of Syria.  A warning often comes from us when a chemical provocation is being prepared in a particular place.

The OPCW-presented investigation on Syrian Douma is somewhat contrary to the organisation’s Charter.

Question: What is the situation in Idlib, how many terrorists are there? How will this problem be addressed?

Oleg Syromolotov: Idlib is home to a core group of international terrorists. The whole world is buzzing to leave the situation as it is, but it will not continue indefinitely. In September 2018, we signed a memorandum with Turkey, which undertook to deal with the withdrawal of opposition forces from Idlib. Although, in our opinion, there are no opposition forces left – they all have come under Jabhat al-Nusra’s protection, and al-Nusra is al-Qaida.

Russia, Iran and Turkey will address this problem.

The situation is similar to what is happening around the Rukban refugee camp. Russia has delivered several humanitarian food convoys; now we have created two corridors for people to leave; 90% of residents said they want to leave the camp, but they are not allowed to go.

Consultations are underway, including with the United States, to evacuate the people there. However, besides Rukban, there are also ISIS units there. They do not seem to be prosecuted – on the contrary, they are being trained and treated. Where do they go after that? ISIS make sorties from there, then some end up in Afghanistan.

Question: What risks can be posed by radical right-wingers in Ukraine? Have they increased in connection with the upcoming election on March 31?

Oleg Syromolotov: They have become more active in their own country; we do not feel this here.

Question: Does Russia have any facts about Russians returning from Ukraine with neo-Nazi views?

Oleg Syromolotov: I do not have any knowledge about such things. There are no such facts. However, we have taken some measures on our border, and that’s quite serious.

Question: The report of the US Special Prosecutor denies the connection between Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters and Russia, but mentions some Russian hacker attacks. Could you make some comments regarding this?

Oleg Syromolotov: You know, so far, we have not been provided with any grounds justifying the accusations against Russia. Hacker attacks? What kind of attacks? Show us! But they say, everybody knows about them. Only that, but no specific evidence.

Speaking of information security, Russia has proposed drawing up general rules of conduct for states on the internet. When there are rules, the violators of these rules will be clearly identified. For now, they just pick some hacker project from a decade ago, then some unknown centre releases it, and they say: this was a Russian “worm,” which means Russia is involved.

Why would Russia interfere in the US elections, what is the purpose of this? I do not see it. Now, before election campaigns even begin in European countries, they are already saying they fear the threat of Russian intervention.

Russia is not threatening anyone and is ready to cooperate with everyone – President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said this.

Question: From what angle is cybersecurity being discussed at the conference? Is it prevention of crimes in this sphere?

Oleg Syromolotov: Many speakers agreed that radicalisation largely occurs through the internet. We have the same problem. We had been accused for 15 years of blocking terrorist content, because it is a violation of human rights.

But in 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May said at the session of the UN General Assembly that blocking such content is democratic. She was seconded by President of France Emmanuel Macron, followed by the German Foreign Minister – everyone said it was suddenly democratic. However, we do this after a court decision, and they do it automatically.