Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, September 10, 2015
Mongolian Foreign Minister Lundegiyn Purevsuren’s working visit to Russia
Mongolian Foreign Minister Lundegiyn Purevsuren will pay a working visit to Russia on September 10-12. During the visit, talks will take place between the two countries’ foreign ministers. They are expected to address the status and prospects for the further development of Russia-Mongolia relations in the context of the agreements reached at the top level during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ulan Bator in September 2014 and Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj’s visit to Moscow in May. The ministers will also consider the most topical regional and global issues and key aspects of Russia-Mongolia interaction in various international and regional formats.
The visit programme includes Mr Purevsuren’s consultations with Sergey Donskoy, chairman of the Russian section of the Russian-Mongolian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation and minister of natural resources and the environment, and Minister of Agriculture Alexander Tkachyov, to discuss the development of Russia-Mongolia cooperation on the practical level.
Joint meeting of CSTO Council of Foreign Ministers, Council of Defence Ministers, and Committee of Security Council Secretaries
On September 15, 2015, a joint session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, Council of Defence Ministers, and Committee of Security Council Secretaries of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) will take place in Dushanbe as part of the preparations for the upcoming session of the CSTO Collective Security Council, which will be attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Participants will discuss ways of upgrading the collective security system and developing military cooperation and allied interaction in the organisation’s framework.
As the CSTO presidency passes from the Republic of Tajikistan to the Republic of Armenia, special consideration will be given to the priorities of Armenia’s CSTO presidency.
A draft statement by the heads of state, as well as a number of documents prepared for the CSTO Collective Security Council session, will be considered.
Participants will also address organisational, administrative and financial aspects of the organisation’s activity.
The situation in Ukraine
The ceasefire, which is generally holding now, is an important step towards the de-escalation of the situation in southeastern Ukraine. Over the past two weeks, the situation in Donbass, where residential areas came under regular shelling attacks until only recently, remains relatively calm. This is confirmed by the Russian and Ukrainian representatives of the Joint Coordination and Control Centre (JCCC) and OSCE observers.
The signing of an addendum to the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements of December 12, 2015, related to the withdrawal of tanks, mortars of a 120-mm caliber and lower, and artillery systems of a 100-mm caliber and lower, as well as an appendix on verification measures, would help further ease tensions in the region and create prerequisites for a real, long-term truce.
Unfortunately, at its September 8 meeting in Minsk, the Contact Group failed to do so. We hope that the ongoing efforts within the framework of the relevant subgroup will be capped with success and the said documents will be signed by all participants in the Minsk talks.
Unfortunately, at this stage, we have been unable to record positive changes regarding the lifting of the financial and economic blockade of Donbass. Just the contrary, it is only tightening, leading to the further degradation of the humanitarian situation there. This is also recognised by the Kiev office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At a recent briefing in the Ukrainian capital, its head, Barbara Manzi, said that there was a visible shortage of foodstuffs and medications in the southeast of the country, noting that the people in the region were in a miserable state and on the brink of survival.
Meanwhile, UN experts point out that Kiev lacks the political will to overcome the consequences of the severe humanitarian crisis in Donbass and note its reluctance to help its own citizens who desperately need emergency assistance.
Such a policy pursued by the Ukrainian authorities, which ignores the legitimate rights and demands of the Donbass people and rejects direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, will only lead to the region’s further insulation. The establishment of a direct dialogue is key to peace and stability in southeastern Ukraine. This is related primarily to the fundamental provisions that are unambiguously recorded in the Package of Measures as being subject to coordination with the Donetsk and Lugansk representatives. These include the establishment of Donbass’s permanent legal status, defining the procedure for holding local elections in these territories and taking the interests of the southeast into account on a constitutional level.
In this context, we would also like to remind you that in February, representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk agreed in Minsk not only on a ceasefire but also on a “postwar” stage, if I may say so, in the development of Donbass.
In particular, the Minsk Agreements reaffirm the need to take measures to ensure the region’s economic revival and improve the humanitarian situation there. Right now, ahead of the upcoming winter season, it is critical to address the most pressing problems related to the provision of civilians in southeastern Ukraine with first necessities – water, electricity, food, medical assistance and communications.
The degrading humanitarian situation in southeastern Ukraine
UN representatives are expressing concern over the potentially substantial deterioration of the humanitarian situation in southeastern Ukraine. With the blockade of Donbass by Kiev since last June, the window of opportunity is closing for it to prepare for the winter season. The risks of disrupting gas supplies to Donbass remain high. There is no guarantee that the Ukrainian Government will pay for gas supplies to this part of the country.
Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kiev Barbara Manzi said that access to humanitarian relief of two million people who live in the buffer zone and on both sides of the contact line remains limited. The reasons for this are unresolved issues of personnel security, and bureaucratic logistics and legal obstacles.
The UN World Food Programme points out that food security in the conflict zone has considerably deteriorated and may further worsen in the next few months due to a general growth of food prices and a reduction in the opportunities for the local population to earn money. The Ukrainian Government-imposed blockade on the supplies of food and medicines to southeastern Ukraine is further complicating the already difficult situation in this sphere.
UNICEF reports that destroyed water supply systems have threatened access to safe water sources for 1.3 million people.
The UN humanitarian relief fund for Ukraine for 2015 has been chronically underfinanced. The deficit at the end of August was $200 million (the fund should have $316 million according to the relevant document). The largest donors are as follows: the United States ($25 million), the European Commission ($19 million), Canada ($10 million), Germany (eight million dollars), and Russia and Japan (five million dollars each).
Russia continues rendering direct humanitarian assistance to the needy population of southeastern Ukraine. Since last August, Russia has sent 37 humanitarian convoys with a total weight of 45,432 tonnes. The convoys primarily delivered food, medicines, building materials, energy and agricultural equipment and textbooks.
We would like to draw your attention to the fact that according to the Russian Federal Migration Service there were 2.6 million Ukrainian citizens on Russian territory as of September 4, 2015, of whom about 1.1 million are refugees from southeastern Ukraine. The number of refugees from this area has grown by over 300,000 people compared to the start of this year. Of this number, over 433,000 people applied for employment patents and more than 174,000 for work permits. They are being issued medical insurance policies. At the end of 2014, the Russian Government allocated to regions 912.5 million roubles for medical aid to Ukrainian refugees.
Dutch experts are ready to go to Ukraine again to collect fragments of the MH-17 flight, as announced by the Netherlands ambassador in Kiev
We were perplexed to hear that Dutch experts were planning to make another trip to collect fragments at the crash site of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing that was downed on July 17, 2014. A month before the planned publication of the final report on the inquiry into the circumstances behind and causes of the crash, the investigators seem to lack enough fragments for the successful completion of their work.
In the meantime, Russian specialists have repeatedly told their Dutch colleagues from the very start that it is of primary importance to collect all fragments of the aircraft’s body for meticulous analysis and the 3-D reconstruction of the plane. These are standard procedures in such cases and they are described in detail by the ICAO rules on the Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation. It is strange that the specialists, who have been instructed to conduct a meticulous and comprehensive inquiry into the crash of the MH-17 flight in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2166, need to be reminded of this.
Nevertheless, the fragments of the aircraft were not fully collected, and when we reminded the Dutch experts about this they replied that they had brought to the Netherlands everything they need for a successful inquiry. Such an attitude toward the inquiry is bound to call into doubt the competence of the investigators and, in general, the quality of the inquiry.
This is creating the impression that the Dutch Security Council, which is in charge of the inquiry, and the members of the Joint Investigation Team that are carrying it out, have focused on just one version that suits them and are stubbornly refusing to listen to alternative expert opinions. Otherwise it is impossible to explain their reluctance to consider the objective data presented by Almaz-Antei, the producer of Buk air defence systems, and other remarks by Russian experts. We are also surprised that the Dutch side has still not reacted to the readiness we have expressed to receive Dutch experts in Russia for the study of our materials on the issue, which could throw light on what really happened in the Ukrainian skies in July 2014.
The situation in Syria
The clashes between the Syrian army and the outlaw armed groups have subsided recently. Unfortunately, this is not due to the wider use of local ceasefires or other encouraging factors, but purely natural causes – Syria is in the midst of a major sandstorm that swept the territories of several Middle East countries.
However, according to recent information, the government forces, with the support of the Lebanese Hezbollah, continue to push the terrorists out of the town of Az-Zabadani, which is located near the border with Lebanon. Contrary to reports about the capturing of the Jazal oil field in the province of Homs, which was widely circulated in social media by the Islamic State group, Jazal remains under the Syrian army’s control. The terrorists launched another mortar attack on Damascus, killing one person and injuring 12 in the Bab Touma Christian district.
With regard to the recently popular news about the alleged presence of Russian troops on Syrian territory and the supply of arms, I have the following to say. As stated previously, Russian military intervention in the Syrian events is not on the agenda. With regard to arms supplies from Russia to Syria, they are conducted in full compliance with the bilateral contracts signed with the legitimate Syrian Government and are consistent with international law.
Maintaining the requisite level of the Syrian army’s combat capability is, above all, our contribution towards fighting the terrorists and extremists who seek to destroy that country. We have never made a secret of our relations with Damascus in the sphere of military-technical cooperation, so we believe that attempts to make a scoop out of this known fact are the result of fleeting political considerations.
In this regard, again, we would like to clearly state that blaming others for your wrongs is unacceptable. Neither Russia, nor the legitimate Syrian Government is responsible for spreading chaos in the Middle East, the growing terrorist threat, or the refugee flows to prosperous Europe. Rather it is those who took short-sighted, irresponsible decisions in an effort to reformat the region into certain social engineering patterns, who, in their stubborn refusal to admit their mistakes, led the Islamic State group, Jabhat al-Nusra and the like to the gates of Damascus and Baghdad, surrendered Mosul, Ramadi, and half of Aleppo; it is those who did not believe it necessary to respond to chemical terrorist attacks or the killing of thousands upon thousands of Syrian citizens – including women, children and the elderly – the desecration of religious sites and the destruction of the extraordinary monuments of world civilisation.
We have always been and will always be on the side of the Syrian people and other peoples in the region who do not want international terrorists on their land, seek peace, national unity, harmony and prosperity, are willing to accept help from friends, but do not want their countries, beyond their will, to turn into a testing ground for questionable social experiments, or objects of external dictate.
On Bulgaria’s refusal to allow Russian aircraft to use national airspace for delivering humanitarian relief aid to Syria
Predictably, a recent official Bulgarian ban on Russian aircraft using Bulgarian national airspace to deliver humanitarian relief aid for the civilian population of Syria until the end of September 2015 has caused profound dismay.
In an effort to justify this ban, Bulgaria is making groundless statements that Russian aircraft are reportedly carrying military goods, materials and weapons for the Syrian Defence Ministry. Official Sofia believes that this reportedly runs counter to Bulgarian law, international law and a number of Council of European Union decisions.
We would like to draw attention to the moral-political responsibility of the incumbent Bulgarian authorities for the consequences of this unfriendly act with regard to Russia and the people of Syria. A ban on providing humanitarian relief aid to the civilian population would aggravate the disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria and would induce more refugees to leave for Europe.
In an effort to clarify this issue, the Russian Embassy in Sofia has demanded that the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry present the facts to substantiate Bulgaria’s position.
On the refugee crisis in the EU
The immigration crisis is becoming aggravated in the European Union at a time when member-countries have so far failed to draft a common position on the anti-crisis strategy. Russia would like to see European states to promptly work out a common approach towards this issue, including in the context of the need to honour international obligations with regard to refugees.
We are noting with satisfaction that the EU is coming to understand that, apart from coordinating a common EU line with regard to refugees, the elimination of the initial causes of the current immigration crisis is highly important. For example, this aspect was noted by participants in the September 4-5, 2015 informal meeting of the Council of the European Union in Luxembourg and the September 4, 2015 Prague summit of the Visegrád Group.
At the same time, we are praising the more and more frequent assessments being voiced by public-political circles of EU states that it is precisely the short-sighted policy of the West aiming to unconditionally support the “Arab Spring” and the West’s military involvement that have eventually led to the destabilisation of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa and have opened the gates for the current wave of immigration that has engulfed the European Union. Moreover, some politicians and experts are saying openly that it is necessary to establish constructive cooperation with Russia in order to rectify the situation.
Russia advocates more active and well-coordinated efforts of the international community aiming to find political solutions for ongoing conflicts in the above-mentioned region and to combat international terrorism, the ‘Islamic State,’ in the first place. At the same time, we would like to warn our Western partners against repeating their previous mistakes that have virtually caused the massive exodus of refugees into Europe.
Russia also reaffirms its readiness for constructive cooperation with the EU in the area of immigration. We would like to recall that Russia has accommodated hundreds of thousands of people from Ukraine on its territory. We are ready to share our experience in this area, if European partners are interested.
The Middle East Quartet of international intermediaries
The Middle East Quartet of international intermediaries (Russia, US, EU, UN) remains the main international mechanism sanctioned by the UN Security Council to facilitate the effort to reach a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. A ministerial meeting of the Quartet is scheduled for September 30, 2015, on the sidelines of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. The foreign ministers of a number of Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – and the Secretary General of the League of Arab States (LAS) will be invited to attend the meeting.
One of the main goals of the Quartet’s upcoming meeting will be summing up the preliminary results of its steps to establish closer cooperation with the key regional parties. As is common knowledge, a policy was approved at the previous ministerial meeting in Munich in February of this year.
To promote this course, the Quartet’s special representatives met with representatives of a number of Arab countries. Specifically, they visited Cairo in June of this year to discuss a Middle East settlement with Egypt and LAS leaders. They paid a similar visit to Jordan in July. At Russia’s initiative, a delegation of special representatives visited Riyadh on September 8−9, where it held meetings with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir and Secretary General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
Discussions in Sweden on joining NATO
We have noticed the Swedish public’s renewed and heightened interest in joining NATO.
We note a consistent tendency to persuade the Swedish public that there is no alternative, in terms of national security. The initiators of this campaign are both a number of Swedish politicians and NATO emissaries that have been paying increasingly frequent visits to the country, as well as some mercenary security policy experts.
Russia’s attitude to this issue is well known. We have repeatedly stated that the choice of a national defence and security strategy is each country’s internal and sovereign affair. However, we continue to regard Sweden’s policy of non-involvement in military blocs as an important factor in the stability of northern Europe. Clearly, its accession to the North Atlantic alliance would have military-political and foreign policy implications that would require the necessary response from Russia.
Excerpts from replies to media questions
Question: If, in your view, terrorists are the only Syrian problem, who is the other party to the political process?
Maria Zakharova: We never said that there were no problems in Syria. If you think so, you’ve never heard the statements made by the Foreign Ministry and the Russian leaders. We’ve always recognised that Syria does have internal problems and we never said that the current Syrian Government was the best government in the world or basically a model government. Our main approach is that the Syrians should address their internal problems on their own and without outside pressure, let alone the recruitment, arming and funding of militants to solve internal Syrian problems.
Question: Does Russia have any guarantees that the weapons it supplies to Syria will be used as intended, to fight terrorism rather than against Syria’s own people?
Maria Zakharova: These guarantees are elements of bilateral interstate contracts, agreements and obligations. We have come to terms with Damascus that the weapons are supplied to fuel the fight against the terrorists. The problem is that for years no one except Russia has seen terrorists in Syria. I can assure you that in rendering military-technical assistance to Damascus we pursue no aim other than fighting international terrorism. This is our main objective.
We engaged in military-technical cooperation with Damascus even before the problem of terrorism emerged. We have the right to do so because Syria is a member state of the United Nations and a country with a legitimate Government. One of the main charges against Russia was that the Syrian Government was not legitimate: “You have no right to supply arms even for such a high goal as the fight against terrorism because the country is ruled by illegitimate leaders.” Recently, when Syria, in plain view of the international community, was signing the agreement to renounce its stock piles of chemical weapons, this was the same Government that ruled the country three years ago and continues to rule it now. Why, when the case in point is Damascus’ renunciation of chemical weapons, does the world recognise its Government as legitimate? And why do the same countries say that it is not legitimate when it comes to the antiterrorist struggle? The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has accepted the signatures of the Syrian official authorities as legitimate. Why is the same Government interchangeably regarded as legitimate and illegitimate within the same period of time? Someone – not us – must make up his mind. We did so long ago and have consistently kept to this policy. We’d like to ask all others: If you don’t see this Government as legitimate, how did you come to terms with it on chemical demilitarisation?
Question: Following Bulgaria, Ukraine has closed its airspace to Russian planes, apparently on Washington’s instructions. How does this relate to Western politicians’ statements on their willingness to cooperation with Russia in Syria? Is this what is commonly called hypocrisy?
Maria Zakharova: I fully agree with you. Unfortunately, hypocrisy has become a staple word in diplomatic vocabulary. You can’t put it differently. The above example, when the Damascus government is considered the official authority one day and denounced as an illegal authority the next is a typical example of hypocrisy.
As for Kiev’s statement regarding its intention to monitor the movement of Russian planes flying to Syria, they probably consider this a serious claim to participating in the Syrian settlement. This looks like the only possible explanation. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.
Question: Is Russia ready to provide more help to Syrian refugees and accept some of them in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: This is where we started. I suggested that you go to the website of the Federal Migration Service (FMS), which provides the data for the number of Syrian refugees in Russia. If memory serves, we have accepted about 2,000 people. There’s no discrimination in this respect. Just monitor the data posted by the FMS.
Those who say we don’t accept Syrian refugees don’t know their facts. Information on the FMS site indicates the countries from which refugees have come to Russia, when it happened and what status they hold now. As I said, there are 2,000 of them.
Question: Are you preparing for a possible meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York?
Maria Zakharova: It appears that Japanese journalists believe that if I don’t answer a question three times I’ll answer it if they ask it a fourth time. As I said, it is the presidential press service that is authorised to comment on the President’s schedule.
Question: Will you comment on the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s reaction to a recent visit by Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov to the South Kuril Islands?
Maria Zakharova: Our response to the visits by Russian officials, government representatives, ministers and members of the Russian Government is well known; it is published on the Foreign Ministry’s website. I suggest that you visit it. There is nothing new: our stance has not changed.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today that Russian military personnel have long been deployed in Syria. Can you tell us how many Russian military personnel, and from which services, are currently stationed in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: You should direct this question to the Defence Ministry. Foreign Ministry officials can talk about political trends and bilateral relations. For figures and any other information about the armed services, go to the Defence Ministry.
Question: Can you comment on the activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey?
Maria Zakharova: I have nothing to say at this moment, but I’ll look into this issue.
Question: Turkey was attacked by ISIS recently. What is your assessment of Turkey’s response to these attacks? What should Turkey do?
Maria Zakharova: ISIS is a terrible threat on the regional and global plane. The Middle East and North Africa were the first and main targets of the terrorists, who have since gone beyond the boundaries of the region. If you want to know about the fight against ISIS in the context of Turkey’s efforts, you should ask our experts. As for the actions we expect the international community to take, Russia has proposed a new scenario for resolving the crisis. We have proposed coordinating the efforts of everyone who is fighting terrorism, including Turkey, combining their efforts to make the counterterrorism efforts more effective.
For example, if we hit the same target one at a time, the effect would be weaker than if we hit it all together simultaneously. To enact the latter scenario, we need to combine our efforts and start sharing information and developing a common strategy. In our opinion, this is the only effective and available method that has not been tried yet. Air strikes, attacks by ground forces, support for individual groups and reliance on specific conflict participants – all of this has been tried. Russia’s new initiative is quite simple. At the same time, it calls for coordinating efforts and abandoning ambitions that interfere with this struggle.
We hope our proposal will not only evoke a reaction, but will be implemented.