Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 12, 2015
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in talks on a Syrian settlement
On November 14, Vienna will host a ministerial meeting of the Syrian Support Group in which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to take part.
Developments in Syria and Russia’s efforts to settle the Syrian crisis
The government army in Syria is actively resisting the militants of terrorist groups in the province of Hama, the region of Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. The UN-controlled ceasefire is maintained in the villages of al-Zabadani, Madaya, al-Fouaa and Kefraya.
The Syrian Government recently made an important statement on the non-use of indiscriminate means of war. According to the statement, it was made after contacts with the Russian side. Literally on the following day, November 10, terrorists subjected residential districts of Latakia to heavy shelling by the so-called “infernal machines.” More than 20 civilians were killed and dozens were wounded as a result of this barbarous attack. This is the reality in Syria today: every step by the authorities towards peace and trust is being resisted by forces that are interested in the continuation of bloodshed and expansion of the area of chaos.
We note that militants of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra are receiving large consignments of weapons and ammunition. ISIS units are creating a powerful line of defence in the area of Palmyra to thwart the offensive of the Syrian army. As we see it, the Russian side’s question about the sources feeding terrorist groups still remains open.
We are attaching much importance to the development of the constructive potential of the Syrian Support Group, which will hold a ministerial meeting in Vienna on November 14, as I’ve already noted. Proceeding from Russia’s line of principle on the Syrian settlement, we intend to continue working actively towards achieving a clear-cut common understanding on what groups in Syria should be qualified as terrorists, and promoting the political process on the basis of the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communique and the provisions of the final declaration of the Vienna meeting on October 30 of this year.
Regrettably, the activity of what Moscow considers an effective diplomatic mechanism of promoting settlement in Syria that was launched two weeks ago, has already faced attempts to distort its initial purpose. It seems that the designation of this format has not been understood by all sides. We believe that it allows the sides to conduct a sincere discussion (which is vital) and, most important, to move towards rapprochement and coordination of positions.
On the eve of the forthcoming ministerial meeting, the United States rushed to initiate the operation of three working groups: on the opposition, resistance to terrorism and humanitarian aspects. Importantly, no preliminary consultations on the time and venue of the sessions have been held with the Russian side. We believe this is a clear attempt to make the Vienna format unilateral and divide its participants into leaders and those who are following in their wake. We cannot accept such rules of the game.
To contribute to the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and to promote the elaboration of a collective unifying platform for the subsequent launch of an inclusive negotiating process with the Syrian Government, our Foreign Ministry held a series of meetings this week with the delegations of the Syrian opposition: from the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, and with the group on monitoring the fulfillment of the address of the participants in inter-Syrian consultations in Moscow to the UN Secretary-General.
US initiative on working groups on Syria
The other day the US Embassy in Moscow sent us an email on the planned meetings of some working groups in Vienna on November 12-13. As you know, the diplomatic agencies maintain contact via special channels, which nobody has shut off. The idea came as a surprise, as no one consulted us on the subject matter, the time and location of the meetings, the level and nature of representation, or the format of these groups. We don’t understand the goal.
The Vienna statement of October 30, 2015, which we all pledged to implement in spirit and letter, says clearly that the political process will be Syrian led and the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria. This means that any attempts to force ready-made external solutions must be rejected.
It would be logical to assume at this stage that the external experts who are assisting the inter-Syrian process should work in concert with the four inter-Syrian themed groups, which the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is creating in Geneva. These experts’ assistance could be useful in Geneva for considering solutions to complex issues and for submitting proposals for consideration by Syrian participants.
We believe that the format of the US-proposed Vienna working groups merits special consideration. As I said, this issue has not been discussed or coordinated with Russia.
I’d like to add that none of the proposed working groups include delegates from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Italy or the EU. The door has been closed to these parties, which were invited to join the Syria Support Group largely thanks to Russia’s insistence. The format of participation has been limited arbitrarily. This raises a logical question: Will this help create a constructive attitude and reach honest consensus solutions on the Syrian settlement, or is this an imitation of activity?
We consider the US plan to create these working groups as an unsuccessful experiment.
I’d like to tell those who haven’t monitored the situation closely that these developments mysteriously coincided with a recent instance of the distortion of facts. I’m referring to a report by Reuters, which claims to have information about a certain document which Russia allegedly prepared for the Vienna meeting.
I’ll tell you how Reuters created this piece of news. The agency asked us for confirmation before publishing that item. Its Moscow correspondents received detailed comments in which we said that this information is untrue. We told them that we maintain contact with our partners and that we work with them and consult them, but there is no document to which the Reuters item refers. An hour and a half later, the agency published the item, which was reprinted by the global media, without Russian Foreign Ministry comment. The Reuters item quoted unidentified sources. A respected media outlet with a long history has opted for questionable information from unidentified sources, although it had an official comment from the Russian Foreign Ministry. It took us several hours and very intense negotiations with the Reuters Moscow bureau to ensure that the ministry’s official comment on an issue that directly concerns Russia’s foreign policy was added to the item. As you understand, nobody was interested in it because by that time the news had become a global sensation.
When we asked Reuters why this happened, they told us that the item was prepared by the London office. I have a question for Reuters, which has about 50 journalists in Moscow: Are they journalists? What does Reuters need them in Moscow for if they don’t do their job, if they don’t write their items in Moscow, and if these items are written in London?
I don’t doubt that this well-orchestrated media fraud provided a backdrop for the unsuccessful US impromptu.
Regarding the Vienna process, we urge all partners to coordinate efforts based on formalised agreements, without impromptu experiments, without running ahead or with undue haste, which can be destructive to the common cause. The Vienna plan has been prepared collectively and coordinated with all parties. And now they should honour these agreements. The Russian delegation at the ministerial meeting in Vienna expects all participants to work together.
The 27th APEC Ministerial Meeting
On November 16-17, Manila, Philippines, will host the 27th meeting of ministers of foreign affairs and trade of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Russia’s Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukayev and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Morgulov are expected to attend the event.
The ministerial meeting will mark the final stage of preparations for the 23rd meeting of the APEC heads of state and government, which is to take place in Manila on November 18-19.
Established in 1989, the APEC forum is a multilateral dialogue mechanism. It does not have international organisation status.
APEC’s strategic objective is to foster free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region by promoting dialogue on a broad range of issues related to regional integration.
In its operations, APEC follows the principles of consensus and voluntariness, which enable it to take into account the interests of all the participants and facilitates multilateral equitable cooperation in world affairs.
Russia’s active involvement in APEC is an important component of its work to implement the Russian President’s course for stepping up comprehensive cooperation with APR countries as part of the effort to address socioeconomic development tasks, primarily those related to the planned speedy advance in Siberia and the Russian Far East.
We are proactive in promoting within APEC Russia’s proposals and ideas related to enhancing energy and food security, developing transport infrastructure, diversifying trade routes, fighting terrorism and corruption, improving emergency preparedness, and facilitating cooperation on innovation and education.
Russia sets a high store by the proactive approach of the Philippines as the host of this year’s forums and as the APEC Chair in 2015, guaranteeing continuity in the forum’s operations.
One of the key achievements this year was the launch of efforts to implement a roadmap adopted during last year’s Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing on the creation of a free-trade area in Asia Pacific. We think it of fundamental importance to consolidate and promote APEC’s line for enhance the forum’s coordinating role in various integration initiatives for creating a common, open and non-discriminatory market in the region.
At the upcoming ministerial meeting, discussions will focus on a set of issues related to ensuring inclusive growth through deeper economic integration and addressing urgent social issues in several areas, such as human resources, food and energy security, and emergency response.
The meeting is expected to result in the adoption of a joint statement reflecting coordinated approaches to further development of cooperation within APEC.
Bringing Russian citizens home from Egypt
The Russian government has taken a number of measures to ensure national security and to protect Russian citizens from criminal and other illegal actions. A Presidential Executive Order has been adopted to introduce temporary restrictions on air carriage from Russia to Egypt and on selling related tour packages to Russians.
What this means is that planes continue to fly to Egypt, but without taking any passengers, with the only goal being to return Russian tourists home from Egyptian resorts. Let me emphasise that we are not talking about an evacuation or changing the duration of their stay in Egypt. Russians are taken home as their vacations come to an end. It has already been reported that the luggage is being transported separately. An operation headquarters headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich has been set up to oversee efforts to bring Russian tourists home. A representative of the Foreign Ministry is engaged in its work.
Let me briefly outline the Foreign Ministry’s efforts in this respect. Upon the signing of the executive order by the President, the Russian Embassy in the Arab Republic of Egypt sent diplomatic teams to the airports of Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada to establish contact with the authorities and provide the necessary assistance to fly Russians back to Russia. These teams were reinforced with members of Russia’s Trade Mission to Cairo, the Emergency Ministry and the Federal Agency for Tourism (Rostourism). Further efforts to ensure that Russians can return from Egypt safely and unhindered as well as that their unaccompanied luggage can be delivered to its destination included sending to Sharm El-Sheikh an additional team of Arabic-speaking members of the Consular Department, the Middle East and North Africa Department, and the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre. We tasked our representatives with assisting Russian tourists at airports, including at passport and customs check points.
I would like to remind you that hotlines have been set up by the Emergency Ministry, the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare (on compensation and consumer protection), Rostourism, travel operators and the Association of Tour Operators for keeping Russians abreast of the latest developments.
The use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq
According to several reports, ISIS, which is banned in Russia, and other radical Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East have gained access to improvised chemical weapons components and production processes. Some time ago, the use of household and industrial chlorine gas as chemical weapons was mostly implied. Now we have received authentic and well-confirmed reports about the use of war gases, including mustard gas, during combat operations against government forces, for perpetrating terrorist acts against the local population and provocations aiming to discredit the government of Syria in the eyes of the international community. Evidence of this is cited by government sources in Syria and Iraq, by media outlets, including those of Western countries. They are quoting various officials, including spokespersons for the intelligence community.
One should note a preliminary report by a special mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that has been investigating several cases of chemical weapons use in Syria, circulated by this influential specialised international agency several days ago. The report confirms the fact that mustard gas was used in August 2015 in communities near Aleppo. Although the report does not directly mention ISIS, one can deduce with great certainty that an area, controlled at that time by units of the Syrian opposition, was hit by mustard gas shells from ISIS-controlled positions.
The findings of the OPCW report did not surprise us. Since the spring of 2014, Russia has repeatedly and insistently raised this issue within the OPCW and at the UN Security Council. In New York, we are suggesting expanding the mandate of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, established under UN Security Council Resolution 2235, to Iraq. In September 2015, our representatives submitted a resolution to this effect to the UN Security Council.
Unfortunately, we have so far failed to receive any adequate response from our Western partners. Many questions are being asked today, but one is also inclined to ask the following question: What should be the scale of atrocities committed by international terrorists using chemical weapons that would motivate our Western counterparts to, at long last, agree to take prompt and resolute action at the UN Security Council? We don’t want this question to remain open and rhetorical like so many others.
UN Security Council Resolution on Somalia
The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2245 on November 9, which modifies the mandate of the United Nations Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
We believe that the military and political tensions in that country require more proactive efforts against Al-Shabaab by strengthening the mission and the Somalian army, which in turn dictates the need for further support from the UN, above all equipment and technical assistance.
Al-Shabaab’s increasing activity both inside and outside Somalia arouses concerns as does the Somalian extremists’ coordinated efforts with other terrorist organisations in Africa.
We deem it necessary to maintain military pressure on the Somalian extremists. The international community should continue working towards expanding the capacity of the Somalian army and AMISOM.
We appreciate the efforts of the UN Support Office for AMISOM.
Russia in turn has regularly provided humanitarian aid to the Federal Government of Somalia and the Somalian refugees in neighbouring countries by targeted contributions to UN organisations’ funds. In 2011-2014, our total aid hit $12 million. Russia has also allocated $1 million for Somalia and $2 million for Somalian refugees in Kenya through the UN World Food Programme.
UN Security Council Resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2247 on Bosnia and Herzegovina on November 10, drafted by the Russian Federation.
The resolution extends the mandate of the EU forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as EUFOR Althea, to ensure security in the country in the context of the Dayton agreement (it’s been 20 years since it was signed this year).
The resolution said authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been successfully pursuing reforms in the country and government agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina are responsible for the further implementation of the reforms laid down in the Dayton agreement.
We are convinced that the current situation in the country allows the Bosnian people to independently deal with complex issues on the national agenda. Unsettled problems have to be addressed through an inclusive dialogue and an agreement between all three major ethnic groups in the country. Therefore, we believe that any “external supervision” in the face of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina as was originally organised has become outdated. It is even possible to say that it is time to dissolve it. But until that happens, we have called on the High Representative to stay within his mandate and concentrate on his main task, which is to encourage all Bosnian parties to maintain a dialogue and bring them closer together.
Cyprus peace talks
We are closely following the continuing talks between the Greek and Turkish communities to achieve a peace settlement for Cyprus. To the best of our knowledge, the negotiating process is proceeding with difficulty. This can be explained by the fact that this long-standing and extremely complicated international issue has not been resolved for many decades.
In this connection, a recent statement by leaders of the Republic of Cyprus about the possibility of achieving a peace settlement by May 2016 has attracted our attention. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia would certainly welcome the establishment of lasting peace in Cyprus as soon as possible. This would end the 40-year-plus division of the island and would also positively influence the situation in the uneasy East Mediterranean region.
We have always proceeded from the assumption that any solution for the Cypriot problem should be the result of negotiating efforts and the voluntary consent of the Cypriot communities themselves. We are well aware of the previous attempts to impose artificial negotiating deadlines on Cypriots, as well as specific peace settlement options that failed to take their own interests into account.
Tough outside pressure to ‘close’ the island problem, rather than help Cypriots attain a comprehensive, equitable and viable solution to it, is counter-productive.
Remarks by US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter
In closing, I’d like to spend a moment discussing some aspects of Russian-American relations, specifically some that shouldn’t even be included in the history of our bilateral relations altogether. Unfortunately, we can’t ignore them.
Rather than dealing with pragmatic issues and promoting bilateral ties, we, once again, have to deal with yet another anti-Russian information campaign mounted by the US administration.
The other day, we heard US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter accuse Russia of “saber-rattling” and undermining global stability. Putting it in diplomatic terms (I’m not in a position to use other words), these statements are far from reality.
We strongly reject such claims and accusations. That which Russia is doing to strengthen its defence capabilities is largely a response to US actions, including improving the US nuclear arsenal and deploying a global missile defence system in order to break the strategic parity and move NATO infrastructure closer to Russia's borders. Clearly, we cannot remain indifferent to this, or ignore attempts to undermine our security.
Speaking of global stability and the fact that Washington is accusing us of violating it, I would like remind everyone that we have repeatedly pointed out Washington’s involvement in illegal methods of changing governments in a number of countries, which, in particular, has led to tragic consequences, such as in Ukraine. If you look a little further into the past, who, if not Washington, invaded Iraq under a false pretext? Again, this has to do with global stability. We all remember how this invasion ended. It has led to drawn-out chaos in that country. We are all witnesses to the tragic fate of Libya, not just its leader, but the entire nation as well. We can all see what the neglect of the relevant Security Council resolution by the United States and its allies has led to.
I’d be remiss not to draw your attention to the fact that Washington was for many years lenient to ISIS activities. This should also be kept in mind when our American colleagues talk about global stability. Apparently, back then, they hoped to use this organisation to topple the legitimate Syrian government. These examples abound, and I can go on indefinitely.
There’s one more question that I would like to ask today. Is what has already become a common practice of toppling undesirable governments the very “principled international order” that the head of the Pentagon promised to protect?
I think that Mr Carter would expand his horizons and learn more about the fundamentals of the international order, if he read the recently published memoirs of former US President George Bush Sr., in which the former president criticises his son, George W. Bush (also former President of the United States), for coining the phrase “axis of evil,” which consisted of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. He believes it was counterproductive. This is the opinion of a person who enjoys respect in the United States. Again, from the perspective of the former US President, a respected person in his country, the term “axis of evil” and the policy that was built on and around this term, was counterproductive. US officials acknowledged this many years later. Similarly, many years later, they admitted their mistaken actions in Iraq. What they will say about the Syrian or Ukrainian events many years from now is anyone’s guess.
As you may recall, the term “axis of evil” was not just a catchphrase: the West built its geopolitics around it.
Mr Carter would benefit from familiarising himself with the views of former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing on the situation and prospects for a political settlement in Syria, as expressed in an interview with the RTL radio station. I will briefly go over his main points: the refugee problem in Europe cannot be resolved without restoring peace in Syria; the Syrian knot can be untied only through convening an international conference representing all political forces in Syria, excluding ISIS and other extremist groups; seeking President al-Assad dismissal from office from the very start of the political process is an extremely rash decision; Iraq and Libya show that following that path would cause the last island of stability, Damascus, to plunge into chaos; none of the sides can hope for a quick victory; and so on.
Once again, as I mentioned earlier: if you don’t believe us, believe your own pundits, who enjoy credibility in your respective countries.
Here’s another example. There’s an article entitled “The Return of Russia” by former Ambassador of Belgium to Russia Michel Carlier published by the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique. Among other things, it says that “the peoples of Europe will over time realise that their interest is not in vassalage to Washington, but in establishing a vast zone of peace and prosperity in Europe. The EU leaders must show realism and courage to recognise that their policy in Syria failed, and they now need to negotiate with all the actors, putting Russia in the first place.” Again, please note that this is a Belgian, not a Russian, ambassador. I think you can read this article on your own.
I can’t avoid mentioning the remarks made by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Benjamin Ziff at a hearing in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Mr Ziff was speaking at a hearing on stepping up advocacy against Russia. Notably, the hearing was called “Putin’s invasion in Ukraine and propaganda threatening Europe.” If you want to put all the fears that are now being actively promoted by Washington in one phrase, this is the phrase.
It was noted that one of the State Department’s key tasks is to counter “the Kremlin’s aggressive information policy” through supporting independent media, improving access to qualified and objective information (the term “objective information” clearly refers to Mr Carter’s remarks and information provided by unnamed sources in the Pentagon and the State Department), exposing disinformation (this is particularly true in the case of Reuters that I mentioned), and building a strong civil society. As much as $86 million will be allocated to this end in 2016, with $16 million going to the independent press.
We are not mathematicians by any account, but, I believe, the formula “independent” media + “independent” funding = “objective” coverage is clear to everyone. It was emphasised that the budget request for 2016 was drawn up taking into account the guidelines provided by the US President. Just like in 2015, the funds will be released through the State Department and USAID. From what Mr Ziff said, it’s clear that the funds will go not only to address issues in the Russian-speaking space, but also in the Western Balkans, where “the Kremlin has much clout”.
The report publicly lifts the veil on the inner mechanics of forming public opinion on various news topics. Once again, I want to draw your attention to the fact that forming and supporting independent media will be carried out using official US funding. Can this be?
Here’s a case in point. It has been noted that immediately after the Malaysian airliner MH17 fell out of the sky over Ukraine in the summer of 2014, the US State Department sent over 130 Russian-speaking employees to the US Embassy in Moscow. Together, they worked to put together and distribute information, which was updated on an hourly basis. This has to do with the question of providing objective information, which, as we understand, 130 American specialists worked to create on the Boeing crash alone. Add the money earmarked to “independent” media, which will use this “objective” information, into the equation, and you get the picture.
Answers to media questions:
Question: The incoming Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, has said that Warsaw will sue Russia in arbitration tribunals over withholding the wreckage of the presidential jet [that crashed over Russia in 2010] and for “dragging its feet.” The minister-designate also said that Russia’s refusal to return the wreckage was an unfriendly act and that Poland would seek the assistance of international organisations, the EU and NATO. Can you comment, please?
Maria Zakharova: The Polish foreign minister is free to make any statement. He can make any statement as the representative of a sovereign country.
As for the essence of the matter, Russian and Polish experts have been cooperating constructively and comprehensively to investigate that tragedy. I previously commented on the wreckage of the plane and its transfer to our Polish partners. Your Polish colleague even suggested that we hand the wreckage over as a gift. This is not how this issue can or should be considered. The issue is in the hands of the Russian agencies concerned and is being considered based on Russian law and within the framework of investigation that was conducted in Russia.
I believe that this tragedy, just as any other tragedy that concerns two sides, should not be considered based on political views, and particularly not politically charged views, but that we should act in accordance with procedure and provide all-round assistance to each other. As I said, Russia has been acting openly in this case, cooperating with our partners and providing general assistance to the Polish experts that investigated the causes of the disaster.
Question: Do the proposals on the Syrian settlement that Russia plans to present in Vienna stipulate any support for President Bashar al-Assad?
Maria Zakharova: We consider the decision to factor out the issue of President al-Assad, which was taken by the countries that joined efforts for a Syrian settlement in Vienna two weeks ago, as a major achievement. They did this in accordance with the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012, which says clearly that it is for the Syrian people to determine the future of the country. The representatives of the parties who met in Vienna on October 30, 2015 wisely decided to factor out an issue on which many countries have conflicting opinions, and to focus instead on the issues that are crucial to the Syrian settlement.
We have said time and again that the immediate tasks are, first, to coordinate the definition of terrorists and terrorist groups in Syria, and second, to form a list of opposition groups that should join the negotiations on a political transition in Syria. As we see it, the Saturday meeting in Vienna should focus on these two items. You know how many telephone conversations Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had with his colleagues and how many meetings on Syria Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, and our experts have held. We duly informed you about them. We encouraged our colleagues, openly and through diplomatic channels, to do their homework and to find common ground on these two issues so as to clearly formulate them for discussion at the ministerial meeting.
Question: The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, is being accused of repressions against thousands of his own people. How can this issue be overcome in the effort to achieve a peace settlement?
Maria Zakharova: Let me reiterate that we have never said that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was “warm and fuzzy,” we have never implied that it is ideal or that the Syrian president was right in everything he did. It is probably true that we actually focused on addressing issues by diplomatic means and through contact with Damascus. I gave you an example of the statement by Syria saying that it will refrain from using specific types of weapons. It was Russia that insisted on Syria making this statement. And there are many similar examples. We are not seeking to give them any publicity. Instead, Russia is committed to working with Syria on issues that are a matter of concern for us and that we can’t agree with. We have never made an ideal out of the developments in Syria.
We have been pointing out, and will continue to point out, both publicly and in our direct contact with our Syrian colleagues in Damascus, what in our opinion is wrong or unacceptable. This should not be regarded as a revelation. This is something we continue to discuss publicly, as well as directly with the Syrian government.
Question: News agencies reported today that President Vladimir Putin does not intend to attend the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in Manila, and that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will represent Russia. Does this mean that the Foreign Ministry will not be working to arrange meetings with the Russian President or in other formats?
Maria Zakharova: Comments related to the Russian President or Prime Minister are provided by their respective media relations departments. All I can do is refer you to the Prime Minister’s press service.
Question: Could you please comment on the recent report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its assessment of the Russian anti-doping agencies?
Maria Zakharova: President Vladimir Putin answered your question yesterday during a meeting in Sochi. His comments are publicly available. I can only remind you that the President instructed the athletics federation, the Minister of Sport and all the parties that are related to this issue in one way or another to pay close attention to this issue and carry out internal investigations, while cooperating with the international anti-doping bodies in an open and professional manner. Let me reiterate that these comments are publicly available, and you are all aware of them. The President also said that “we must do everything it takes to rid Russia of this problem.”
As for the Special Commission’s stance on Russian athletes, we believe it to be biased and politicised. Unfortunately, no one is seeking Russia’s position on this matter. As you know, all the accusations are based on information from what we think are dubious sources and oral reports. We have yet to receive an opportunity to study WADA’s lengthy report that various media outlets refer to.
In this particular case, we are witnessing attempts to act by the principle of collective punishment in sports. Russia believes this approach to be absolutely unacceptable. This is a global issue, but for some reason it is Russian athletes who are subject to intensive scrutiny.
Let me remind you once again that RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, was officially accredited ahead of the Sochi Olympics and received the highest marks for its activities by no other than the aforementioned World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Question: I want to ask about the list of terrorist organisations that is being prepared for the Vienna meeting. The other day, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond expressed concern about Russia’s broad interpretation of terrorist groups in Syria. Can you comment please?
Maria Zakharova: When did he say this?
Question: He said this in a private conversation with reporters in Washington.
Maria Zakharova: So this is not a direct quote but a presentation by Western journalists, and we can’t read a statement by Secretary Hammond to this effect?
Question: No, I don’t think we can.
Maria Zakharova: Then this is like the story with the “Russian document” which the Western media allegedly have at their disposal. When I asked to see the text, I was told that they’d seen it but can’t show it to me.
Question: But Secretary Hammond’s stance on the matter is not news but common knowledge. Can you comment on Russia’s criteria for considering certain groups terrorist?
Maria Zakharova: I can’t comment on third-hand statements. Considering what I’ve seen, I cannot trust information provided by the Western media. No one knows whether or not Mr Hammond said this. If he did, then I can tell you that we not only proposed compiling a list of terrorist groups within two weeks, but this initiative was agreed upon at the Vienna meeting two weeks ago. As far as I know, our British partners have not forwarded their proposals. At any rate, the Russian Foreign Ministry doesn’t have them. So it appears that we can’t get hold of the direct quote.
How can our British partners criticise the Russian list of terrorist organisations when they haven’t contributed to it? If they have any complaints, we are open to cooperation; we are waiting for this. If our British colleagues think this should be done by talking to journalists, it’s their problem. We agreed during the Vienna meeting on October 30 that this work should be done by the countries involved and their experts, so that our ministers would be able to build on areas of agreement during their next meeting in Vienna. We didn’t agree that the media would report questionable information about the alleged “Russian documents” or a disagreement with our lists. If they disagree, they can pick up the phone and tell us as much. But they haven’t contacted us.
Question: The Armenian media write with concern about Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Armenia that Russia has called on Armenia to give up the seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan. What is really happening at the negotiations? We’d like to hear your official position.
Maria Zakharova: I can’t add anything to what Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said at a public news conference in Yerevan. He spoke in great detail about the issues that were discussed at the talks, including the [Nagorno-Karabakh] negotiations. I don’t think fanning tensions is a good choice and suggest that you read first-hand information, that is, the statements made by the foreign minister. You can find them on the ministry’s website.
The only thing I can add is that we maintain close contact with our Armenian colleagues, and also consult our Azerbaijani colleagues on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and we are not doing anything that would be harmful to either country. We have reaffirmed our goal many times. Our stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue hasn’t changed, as I can reaffirm here one more time.
I hope I’ve eased the concerns of the Armenian media. Please, feel free to address your questions to us, and we’ll try to answer them. This is better than nurturing any unsettled fears.
Question: The Vienna meeting is being organised by the United States. Is the UN involved at all?
Maria Zakharova: The role of the UN in the Syrian crisis has been formulated clearly. The Vienna statement includes a passage on inviting the UN to convene representatives of the government of Syria and the Syrian opposition for a political process. You can see that Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura has been very active in his contacts with the Syrian opposition, the Syrian government and all countries that are involved in the settlement process. The UN has a vital role to play, as it should use its potential and all capabilities available to it to give the process a legal foundation. Considering this, your question seems out of place.
Question: Have you convinced Saudi Arabia to stop supplying anti-tank systems to the moderate opposition groups?
Maria Zakharova: As I said, you should address this issue to our colleagues. In principle, international law prohibits arms deliveries to non-governmental forces.
Why does this worry all sides? Although they are aware of the illegality of arms supplies to non-governmental forces, our Western partners formulate their plans very plausibly – to supply weapons and infrastructure to certain groups and to provide information support to them. Aside from the fact that this contradicts international law, which shouldn’t be done, there is a deep divide between these wonderfully formulated plans and scenarios and the reality on the ground. When arms supplies to a certain group are approved by a senior official, his or her subordinates, experts and analysts forget about the situation on the ground, because weapons are a commodity, it is the currency in which they pay terrorists. You can never be sure who will eventually end up with the weapons that you delivered to a moderate group. The worst part is that these weapons usually end up in the hands of hardened criminals.
This is why we have been working with the countries that do this, as we know from our information and from open sources, and many of these countries have no compunction about admitting this openly. But this is fraught with the risk of an explosion that would be even deadlier than the one in Mali.
Question: How is Russia preparing for the visit by the Saudi King?
Maria Zakharova: Information about contacts between heads of state is commented on strictly by the press service of the head of state.
Question: How would you comment on US actions in Syria, especially in the Kurdish regions, and the deployment of 50 special operations troops there?
Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this issue in great detail, and I have nothing to add.
Question: In its recent statements on the operation by the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Russian Defence Ministry is frequently mentioning tips being received from the Syrian opposition. What kind of Syrian opposition are they talking about at a time when there are very many opposition groups?
Maria Zakharova: You should contact the Defence Ministry for any questions about the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation.
Question: Should we expect any new Russian proposals or initiatives regarding a transitional period for Syria during the upcoming talks in Vienna?
Maria Zakharova: We have shared our ideas with our colleagues. We are hearing their opinions and viewpoints on this process, and we are planning to assess them in Vienna after reviewing and analysing this package. The working process is underway. I believe it should be publicly discussed after the Vienna meeting.
Question: Have any consultations on compiling lists of terrorist groups been held in the run-up to the Vienna meeting, and if not, whose fault is it?
Maria Zakharova: I can say that no large-scale consultations on terrorist groups were held prior to the October 30 Vienna meeting. We raised this issue very actively in Vienna because this is a key variable. This seems to be a vicious circle. We are conducting an operation in Syria, and the United States and other Western countries are saying that we are hitting the wrong targets. We are asking what targets should be hit. They remain silent. We are asking: ‘All right then, what targets we are not supposed to hit?’ And we have received no answer either. Then we said: ‘Here’s what we should do. Considering the fact that all of us are aiming to promote the Syrian peace settlement, let’s compile a joint list of terrorist organisations.’ It’s hard to imagine, but the US-led coalition has failed to compile a list of terrorists in Syria for over 12 months now. Who is their coalition fighting when its main players disagree on the issue of combat operations? We said this was a foundation and that we definitely need to work on this issue.
Question: What main issues will the Russian Federation focus on during the upcoming G20 summit in Antalya?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the G20 summit, this event involves the head of state, and the press service of the President of Russia will provide all the information.