Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, July 14, 2016
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva
- Participation of Foreign Minister Lavrov in the Terra Scientia Youth Educational Forum on Klyazma River
- The situation in Syria
- Developments in South Sudan
- The results of OSCE/ODIHR work in Russia to evaluate the needs of monitoring the September 18 State Duma election
- Russia-NATO Council meeting
- Statement by Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Dukanovic
- Answers to media questions
On July 17-18, Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva will pay a working visit to the Russian Federation for detailed talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
Russian-Portuguese relations are based on traditions of trust-based partnership and constructive cooperation. However, their intensity has recently diminished in the general context of reduced Russia-EU contacts. At the same time, the Portuguese leadership has repeatedly demonstrated its desire to restore the previous level of cooperation. This was vividly demonstrated by the holding of the regular fifth meeting of the Mixed Commission on Economic, Industrial and Technical Cooperation between Russia and Portugal in Lisbon on June 29.
The forthcoming talks of our foreign ministers are intended to help overcome the pause in the political dialogue after last October’s parliamentary elections and the formation of the new Government in Portugal with a view to restoring the positive dynamics of bilateral relations in various areas and cooperation of the two countries in searching for solutions to priority international issues.
The two ministers plan to compare notes on the prospects of bilateral cooperation on the political and economic fronts, and to focus on bilateral trade and economic ties in order to bolster them given the unfavourable global environment.
We expect the ministers to pay considerable attention to bilateral cultural cooperation. The positive past experience here has not only been preserved but substantially enriched by expanding the range of participants and using new forms of cooperation.
Assessment of the current state of Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO with a view to their normalisation will be a major focus at the talks. The sides expect to exchange opinions on the developments in Ukraine, Syria and Libya and discuss ways of upgrading international cooperation in fighting ISIS. The ministers will also discuss the activities of the United Nations.
On July 22, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will deliver a lecture to the young audience – future experts on ethnic relations – at the Terra Scientia Youth Educational Forum on Klyazma River. He will focus on the influence of inter-ethnic relations on the global political situation. We invite journalists to cover this event and take part in it.
Even though government troops announced on July 11 that the ceasefire would be prolonged for 72 hours, armed formations led and controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and fighters from other illegal groups tried again to force the Syrian army out of their positions in several Aleppo neighbourhoods. Specifically, so-called “moderate” armed opposition is synchronising its actions with terrorist formations, no matter what some warlords might be saying. We reiterate in this context that the elimination of a dangerous hotbed of international terrorism in Syria demands clear delineation, as soon as possible, between armed opponents of the regime who do not accept terrorist methods, and Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorists. We have said this again and again. You know that this is our unambiguous position. We think such delineation should have been done long ago.
Clashes with Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS continue in the Idlib Governorate, in the vicinity of Palmyra, in the Damascus suburbs of Daraya and Eastern Guta, and the strategic city of Manbij.
On July 5, a suicide terrorist attacked a bakery in Al-Khasakah, killing 16 civilians and injuring about 30.
Meanwhile, the coordination centre for reconciliation of opposing sides at the Russian airbase in Hmeymim says that 179 towns and villages with Russian assistance have joined local truces. The Russian military continue the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian population. Aid was received a few days ago in Bluta and Hambushiyah (Latakia Governorship), which were victim to a heinous raid by ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups in August 2013.
The main thing that I must say today is that Russia is paying dearly for assistance to the Syrian people in combatting terrorism. Pilots Ryafagat Habibulin and Yevgeny Dolgin have died on a mission. May their memory live forever. Their names are eternally inscribed in the history of restoring peace in the region. Neither Russia nor Syria nor the entire region will ever forget them. That is what Syrians tell us. What the pilots did for peace in that country will never recede into oblivion.
Tensions in the Republic of South Sudan have escalated of late as bitter clashes have erupted in and around Juba between government units and armed opposition, resulting in heavy casualties that involve civilians. The United Nations mission was also hit, killing three peacekeepers – two Chinese and a South Sudanese – who were protecting a refugee camp. The number of internally displaced persons is snowballing.
The UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting to analyse the situation in South Sudan. In an official statement by the Security Council President, it denounces violence and calls for armed clashes to be immediately halted and for the demilitarisation of the vicinity of Juba.
The African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa (IGAD) have also appealed to the highest levels of government of South Sudan to take effective steps towards the complete cessation of armed clashes, reduction of tensions, guaranteed security of the population, and strict compliance with the conflict settlement agreement, which the opposing parties signed in August 2015.
On July 12, a ceasefire was introduced in the country by presidential order, and measures have been taken to bring armed units back to their barracks.
We expect South Sudanese parties to the agreement to take urgent action to normalise the situation and resume national reconciliation.
We call again on Russian nationals who intend to visit South Sudan in the near future to take into consideration the inherent risks involved and to cancel their trips if possible.
On June 20, Russia’s Central Election Commission forwarded a request to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to monitor the September 18 election of the Federal Assembly’s State Duma. The Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) for election monitoring visited Russia on June 26-July 1. It included the OSCE/ODIHR Acting Head of the Election Department, Alexander Shlyk (Belarus), Senior Election Adviser Lusine Badalyan (Armenia), Election Adviser Vladimir Misev (Macedonia), and Chief of the Executive Office of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Andreas Baker (Denmark).
The delegation met in Moscow with functionaries from the Central Election Commission, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, and with top activists from Russia’s main political parties and NGOs. The ODIHR representatives then visited St Petersburg to discuss a number of items with the city Election Commission and the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
The mission published a report on its visit to Russia on July 8. It says that a number of recommendations made to Russia after its observations of the 2011 parliamentary elections were taken into consideration. The ODIHR intends to send 80 long-term and 420 short-term observers to the September State Duma elections, who represent the OSCE member states.
As you know, the Russian position basically includes compliance with all OSCE-related obligations, including those stipulated by the 1990 Copenhagen document concerning the invitation of international election observers. This is what Russia proceeds from in its close interaction with the ODIHR on election monitoring. We hope that our NAM colleagues will be aware of the importance of teamwork to establish consistent standards in the assessment of the election process, regardless of country.
We have stated more than once, in public and to our colleagues, our insistence on consistent criteria and standards, and we reiterate that double standards are unacceptable.
On July 13, a regular meeting of the Russia-NATO Council took place in Brussels at the permanent representative level. For the first time since this format resumed, the meeting was attended by representatives from the Russian Defence Ministry and the alliance’s military agencies.
The discussion focused on the decisions taken at the bloc’s Warsaw summit to strengthen its eastern flank and their implications for European and regional security. We heard nothing fundamentally new. Essentially, NATO representatives confined themselves to describing the outcome of the Warsaw summit.
The Russian delegation pointed to NATO’s direct responsibility for a possible escalation of military and political tension on the European continent as a result of the unprecedented buildup of the bloc’s military capability and its activity in the regions bordering Russia, and in light of the continuing deployment of the US/NATO missile defence system in Europe.
Russia proposed a host of specific practical steps to improve trust, including flights of military aircraft in the Baltic region with their transponders on, pursuant to the Niinistö plan to enhance air safety in the region that we supported. Russia also expressed a willingness to continue an in-depth discussion on the array of military-political issues at the military expert level.
These proposals were made. They are on the table. We are waiting for a response from our colleagues, NATO representatives. We hope that this response will come without any significant delay.
During the meeting, Russia unequivocally and decisively rejected the alliance’s attempts to gloss over the discussion on Ukraine with political slogans and declarations. Russian diplomats and experts steered the conversation to a substantive discussion of the situation in the country and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. We focused on the importance of Brussels’ continued contact with Kiev with the aim of ensuring the quick and complete fulfillment of the obligations the Ukrainian authorities have assumed. We pointed to the destructive nature of NATO’s efforts to strengthen Kiev’s military capability and the military exercises conducted by alliance members on Ukrainian soil.
The discussion on security in Afghanistan and regional terrorist threats proceeded in a more constructive way. It was stated that despite the years-long presence of NATO contingents there, the situation in the country continues to degrade, with terrorist metastases continuing to spread throughout the region. Russian representatives stressed that NATO still bears a certain responsibility for these processes.
Despite the alliance’s continuing desire to use the Russia-NATO Council and its mechanism solely as a channel for promoting intra-bloc objectives, we regard it as a necessary mechanism for consultation and the harmonisation of [our] approaches in the interest of strengthening peace and stability on the European continent.
I’d like to stress that we are open to further equitable dialogue with the alliance in this and other formats on the entire range of Euro-Atlantic security issues.
We have taken note of Prime Minister Dukanovic’s statements published on July 12 regarding “Russian propaganda” that he believes is dangerous and targeting those who are “stuck in the jaws of the retrograde past.” We also heard some ideas very familiar to us from earlier statements by NATO leaders that “wherever there is no EU or no NATO, other forces fill the space” referring to Russia or radical Islam. He actually equated these two parties.
It can be seen that even before Montenegro was dragged into the alliance, the prime minister of that country rolled over for the leaders of this organisation one more time. We have seen these tactics before. It has been exploited by many newcomers of the North Atlantic Alliance. We can see that Mr Dukanovic is openly and unequivocally exercising a policy of intentional damage to the traditionally friendly relations between Montenegro and Russia.
I believe it is necessary to say that instead of servile obedience to peoples unfamiliar to the country it is better to serve those close to you – particularly, your own people. Based on this logic, it would be right to hold a referendum and ask the nation what they think about joining the alliance, and only after that serve the interests of those who have nothing to do with the state.
We talked a lot about why there was no referendum. The leadership of Montenegro, specifically, Mr Dukanovic, is afraid to listen to their own people. We understand it very well that the results of the referendum may not be convenient to him personally and NATO propaganda. Any messages regarding Russia’s threat to Montenegro may be shattered because the people would speak out and say what they think about this situation.
Responsibility for the consequences of Podgorica’s anti-Russian line lies fully and completely with Montenegro’s current officials.
Question: Russian-US talks will be held in Moscow tomorrow. Regular contact and many meetings have not produced any significant results in the fight against terrorism or in the conflict in Syria. What can we expect from the upcoming meeting?
Maria Zakharova: I believe this question should be addressed primarily to our American partners. I would like to remind you that US Secretary of State John Kerry is coming on his own initiative, which I assume was coordinated with the US authorities. We will know today what Mr Kerry brings to Russia and what Washington has prepared for us. As the Presidential Executive Office has announced, Mr Kerry will meet with President of Russia Vladimir Putin today. Tomorrow Mr Kerry will meet with representatives of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.
You know that we maintain contact with our American colleagues not only during personal meetings but also via numerous telephone conversations between the foreign minister and secretary of state, as well as at expert meetings, including at European venues, where they also discuss Syria. The Russian Embassy in Washington is contributing to these efforts too, and we maintain working relations with the US Embassy in Moscow. We are open to the exchange of ideas and proposals. We have never avoided this kind of cooperation, and we are willing to do it every day. We keep these channels open.
We will know soon what Mr Kerry has for Moscow. He knows that Russia is a hospitable country. We try to create a constructive atmosphere for talks, despite the general background, which is not improving, unfortunately. It appears that some forces in Washington do their best to prevent the implementation of all our positive and constructive ideas. We will keep working on this and will try to make our relations more constructive and positive.
Question: More active efforts have been made recently to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, especially by Russia, which seems logical. Sergey Lavrov visited Yerevan and Baku. Does he plan to meet with his Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues again soon?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, meetings have been held in Yerevan and Baku, and they focused on Nagorno-Karabakh. I have no information about any future meetings. However, I would like to say that we maintain contact in many ways, not just through personal meetings and talks. We also talk by telephone, and our embassies contribute to these efforts too. Generally, very active efforts are being taken to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Question: You have accompanied Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his recent trip to Baku. What were your impressions of the city? At the same time, the Foreign Ministry posted photos with a view of Baku in its Instagram account with the following words, "Sunny Baku is a hospitable and beautiful city." We wonder who the author of this publication was.
Maria Zakharova: I hope you don’t want me to disavow these statements. Those responsible for supporting our social media pages, in particular, the Foreign Ministry’s Instagram page, have fully reflected the Russian delegation’s view of this outstanding city, which has recently become even more beautiful. You asked me about my personal impressions. I always try to use any opportunity to acquaint the audience, in particular social network users, with the sites visited by the Foreign Minister’s delegation. By doing so, I present both formal and informal views of these visits and foreign policy, of what is surrounding us and how we are received. All this is extremely interesting. Once we arrived in Baku, we posted photos. When we visited Yerevan, we also shared photos. Earlier we visited Paris and other cities. This is an informal approach, which we use when possible. We can present some details or something interesting to the audience, which then follows up the Foreign Ministry’s activity. We can tell about what happened to a city over the time when it was previously visited by the Russian delegation. I’d like to repeat that Baku is in a very good state, it is a very beautiful city. Every time I go there I see something new, something that has been done or built there. The city has friendly people and excellent cuisine.
Question: On Tuesday, July 12, the US signed a military agreement with Iraqi Kurdistan on mutual understanding and arms deliveries to Peshmerga forces. What is Russia’s attitude towards these US actions with Iraqi Kurdistan? Will Russia sign a similar military agreement with this region? Will Russia support armed Kurdish Peshmerga troops to counter terrorism?
Maria Zakharova: To counter terrorism, we don’t need to do things in the same way that everyone else does it. We are involved in this process in our own way, you are well aware of this. You know that we support the Kurds and their counterterrorism efforts, in particular, on Iraq’s territory, being that you mentioned that country in particular. We are doing this in a manner that we consider to be the right one in terms of international law, as agreed with official Baghdad. We keep you informed and sometimes provide more details about this activity. This work is being done on an ongoing basis.
As for details of the agreement signed by the US, you’d better address this question to the US. I’ve told you about our efforts.
Question: On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rendered a judgment on the jurisdiction of certain islands in China’s economic zone. What do you think about the decision, and what is Russia’s attitude towards China’s policy in the South China Sea?
Maria Zakharova: We would like to note the following in connection with the July 12 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concerning the well-known lawsuit filed by the Philippines. It is our position that the states involved in territorial disputes in these seas should honour the principle of the non-use of force, and that they should continue to search for a diplomatic settlement based on international law, mainly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They should act in accordance with the spirit of ASEAN and PRC documents, specifically, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the guidelines for following the declaration that were coordinated in 2011.
We support ASEAN and PRC efforts to draft a code of conduct in the South China Sea. I will remind you that Russia is not involved in territorial disputes in that region, and that it has no intention of getting involved. We consider it a matter of principle not to side with any party. We believe that the concerned parties should conduct negotiations in a format they define. We also believe attempts to interfere in a resolution of territorial issues in the South China Sea by external parties to be counter-productive. We support the role of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in ensuring the rule of law during activities in the world’s oceans. Moreover, it is important that the provisions of this universal international treaty be applied consistently and in a way that will not jeopardise the integrity of the legal system stipulated by the convention.
Maria Zakharova: Several days ago, we posted detailed materials concerning the visit and the agenda of the talks on the Foreign Ministry website. I will say that, of course, the parties will focus on the situation in Syria. We will discuss current bilateral issues. Certainly, the parties will touch on the Ukrainian issue and a number of other current issues on the international agenda. This is the basic information we have.
Again, this comment was posted on the Foreign Ministry website.
Maria Zakharova: Not only are we aware of the reshuffle at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent his congratulations to his new counterpart.
Of course, the book of Russian-British relations has been waiting a long time for someone to turn the page of bilateral cooperation, and move on from what is probably not the best chapter in its history. If Britain indicates positive hopes and intentions under the new Foreign Secretary, then we’ll certainly support them. And I can also say that we will not miss Mr Philip Hammond.
Maria Zakharova: I don’t understand what is happening to Poland. Did he really say that? Is this something new?
Question: No, he said it about a week ago.
Maria Zakharova: Sometimes I get the impression that certain politicians are in a competition to invent the craziest notions about Russia. They apparently think there’ll be a prize at the end. I simply can’t comment on this because we can’t keep up with this nonsense. Some people think these kinds of statements are funny. I don’t think they’re funny. They might be funny if they were kids or people not involved in foreign policy. But it’s inappropriate to talk about the Volhynia Massacre or the downing of Russian planes by someone directly linked with politics and international relations or from security & defence officials. These people should be responsible, and they should realise what they are talking about.
Maria Zakharova: I can confirm that political consultations are indeed scheduled in Moscow for today at the deputy minister level, between Alexei Meshkov on Russia’s behalf and Ali Kemal Aydin for Turkey. The meeting will focus on resuming bilateral cooperation in light of the gradual improvement in Russian-Turkish relations. The deputy ministers will discuss regional issues.
Question: It has been two weeks since the leaders of the two countries instructed their ministries and agencies to work on improving relations. What achievements can Russia boast about in this respect, besides today’s talks? In view of the talks, are you looking forward to lifting the ban on charter flights? Perhaps you’d like to take a vacation in Antalya?
Maria Zakharova: You know, I prefer to spend my holiday in Russia. Last year I discovered Crimea for myself, and I was stunned. This year, I also went to Crimea. It was a business trip, not a holiday this time. I was invited by the Artek children’s recreation centre to take part in a press tour for foreign journalists. I wish all business trips were like that. Every trip to Crimea is a discovery. It’s a unique place, and not just because we think so due to recent geopolitical changes. Traditionally, it has always been a fantastic resort area. Crimea means health, live history and good times. This is my personal opinion.
In terms of what we have achieved, we don’t like to boast. We report on real achievements. I mentioned the ongoing talks. As far as charter flights are concerned, as you know, this is not the Foreign Ministry’s area of competence. It is the responsibility of the Government and the respective agencies and institutions. You are correct, there were certain directives. We always say that it is very easy to ruin relations. All it takes is one shot. However, it is not easy to restore them; it takes time. It isn’t magic. Restoring relations requires legislative and regulatory amendments. We must be clear. Yes, it will take time. I will say this again for those who are ready to down Russian planes: it is very easy to ruin relations but never easy to restore them.
As you know, the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey talked about a plan to improve relations. This is ongoing, between the foreign ministries, the embassies and domestically, by the Government and related agencies. I can clarify and provide more details on specific industries later.
Question: At his recent conference in Aspen (Colorado), US Secretary of State John Kerry described Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as subgroups of Jabhat al-Nusra. Does Russia agree with this assessment? Does Russia share the opinion that these two armed groups should be included into the list of terrorist organisations?
Maria Zakharova: With due respect for the American side for their wanting to include some groups or subgroups into terrorist lists, we assign priority to acting within international law rather than agreeing with the US Administration. It is up to the UN Security Council to decide on the status of given terrorist group. Accordingly, the groups recognised by the UN Security Council as terrorist are terrorist groups. There is also national law, which can qualify some groups as terrorist. We do not depend on the volatile opinions of politicians, whose opinions may change, depending on the changing of circumstances. We have always stuck to this position.
Question: Do you think Russia and the US could cooperate in Syria, without the involvement of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Perhaps, US Secretary of State John Kerry might come up with an initiative that you are not aware of yet?
Maria Zakharova: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Let him bring it to the table first – and it is an important part of the process. First, as we say it in Russia, let him carry it without spilling it. Second, I do not quite understand how you envisage military cooperation between two countries in a third country, excluding the third country. Is it like in Iraq? Or where? Perhaps, like in Libya? Give me an example of how it would look like.
As for the criticism involved, we have repeatedly said that we do not personally support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, we said we were more concerned about preserving Syria’s statehood and perhaps primarily, the forces that would be capable of confronting the terrorist threat “on the ground”. It is crucial for the Syrian people and the international community alike. With all our sympathy towards the Syrian people, there is a pragmatic aspect to it too: if Syria surrenders to this terrorist pressure, it is terrifying to think of what will happen to the region and Europe and neighbouring countries. We have said it many times that we do not share the obsession with Bashar al-Assad’s personality. We think we should start with cooperation in the fight against terrorists above all, with no preliminary conditions.
Preliminary conditions play into the hands of terrorists. There should not be any. The anti-terrorist fight should be unconditional and prioritised. This should be our starting point.
If you are asking about the political process, we believe it should be intensified to overturn the slowing trend we are seeing now.
Question: The US State Department has recently published a report on human rights in North Korea, and the US Treasury Department has announced new sanctions against senior North Korean officials. In response, the Foreign Ministry of North Korea published a statement denouncing these US decisions as a provocative and hostile act that exceeds the framework of human rights issues and as political intrigue designed to push North Korea into isolation. Can you comment on the unilateral US sanctions against North Korea’s top officials?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, I can. We have read the US State Department’s report on human rights in North Korea. We have also seen the Treasury Department’s sanctions list, which includes top North Korean officials. I will now present our views on this issue.
You know that Russia supported UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was adopted in March of this year following North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches. The resolution instructed all UN member states to strictly comply with the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang. However, we consistently protest against using human rights issues for political objectives or as an instrument of political pressure and interference in the internal affairs of states. Regarding the Korean Peninsula, we contend that the current priority is to reduce the level of confrontation in the region. Another priority for all those who can influence the situation is to create conditions for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. These are our priorities, and in light of them we are urging all concerned parties to avoid any action that could escalate or that are already escalating tensions. We also urge them to continue working towards settling the Korean issue through political and diplomatic measures, which certainly includes dialogue.
World Youth Day will be held in Krakow in late July. This large-scale event will be attended by over two million people. The WYD website was hacked yesterday. Its content was replaced with threats in Arabic saying “Allahu akbar! The time has come to pay.” This was carried out by Russian hackers. The Polish media see this as an element of Russia’s hybrid war against the West. Can you comment?
Maria Zakharova: You see, I am tired of commenting on this marathon of stupidity regarding an alleged Russian hybrid threat, Russia’s aggression and Russian hackers who are allegedly paid to hack various sites. I am saying this for a very simple reason. The Polish media may be not aware of it, so I will tell you about it now.
First, every country has structures responsible for information security, including technological protection, the investigation of breaches of information security and international cooperation in this area. All countries that view this as a problem have created the necessary agencies to deal with it.
Second, what prevents Poland, the Polish authorities or any other country that uses media outlets to tell the public about alleged Russian hackers or Russia’s aggressive hybrid actions, from sending these materials at their disposal to the proper Russian agencies in order to prove the violation of their cyberspace and cybersecurity by Russian hackers or raise any other related questions? We don’t see any obstacles. But we see a strange picture. “Russian submarines” periodically surface in Swedish waters and “Russian hackers” hack websites in other countries, leaving a trail that allegedly leads to Russia. At the same time, we see that NATO is expanding and strengthening its troops in the regions bordering Russia. We believe that [allegations about Russian hackers and Russia’s aggressive hybrid actions] are the information support that is provided to explain the unfriendly Western efforts to build up the military muscle and to increase its military presence on our borders.
As I said, if you have questions, ask them. Let Polish journalists address their questions to the Polish military experts on cybersecurity. Why don’t these agencies cooperate with Russia? Is there no information Poland could share with Russia and ask any questions connected with it? Why isn’t it doing this? Why are concerns limited to the public sphere, to information leaks to the press, and to statements on the need to shoot down Russian aircraft and on the alleged Russian involvement in everything? My only recommendation is, don’t take your cue from those who plant or proliferate false information, and check everything.
It is a fact that First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov met with Polish Ambassador to Russia Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz. As for the meeting you mentioned, I will check on this.
Question: The negotiating process is ongoing with regards to the Karabakh issue. Russia is a main party to these talks. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Baku that the parties have agreed not to disclose the details of the negotiating process, to not “scare it off.” People in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh have no idea what the talks are all about, and what concessions the parties are willing to make. Are you at all concerned that this unpublished information will come as an unpleasant surprise for people in Armenia, Azerbaijan or Nagorno-Karabakh? This approach could be an obstacle to the agreements.
Ankara said today that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu plans to visit Azerbaijan for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh. Will Ankara’s presence prove helpful or detrimental?
Maria Zakharova: I will start with the second question. Any constructive assistance in the negotiating process will be positive, and obviously, any unconstructive influence would be detrimental. Everything depends on the essence of the contribution and influence. This is true of any international conflict negotiation.
Your first question has some complex implications. It might be one of the more delicate questions they are dealing with.
I cannot provide you with an exact reply, but I’ll try to reflect on it. It’s hard for me, in a way, because my job is journalism related. Of course, a basic premise of our work in this office is openness with the media. We talk about this, and we try to be as effective and result-oriented as possible. This is one of the main goals of the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department. As you know, in Russia we have various “openness” assessments, rankings and ratings. So, this is not a policy question; media openness is a priority.
A negotiating process is underway. Your apprehensions would probably be justified if it did not include any specific country involved in the settlement. But this is taking place at top levels and involves the presidents of both countries, or at the level of experts or at the level of foreign ministers. The expert groups on either side are aware of how it is proceeding. There can be no surprises for either party. This is a negotiating process and shuttle diplomacy involving Russia in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and it is necessary to raise issues, to look for answers and possible solutions. It is a large-scale process which involves both parties’ experts of all levels. There can be no unpleasant surprises.
But there is another aspect with respect to information, journalism and public relations. When you ask if we’re concerned that specific talks, the results or agreements can become an unpleasant surprise, I can tell you that I am only worried about one thing: that the agreements may not materialise. The most important thing today is to make sure that the current negotiating process ends constructively, and that it brings hope for peace in this region to both parties. This is the most important thing. All we have to fear is that the process stalls or is ended prematurely. This is important.
I don’t have to tell you that this negotiating process has been underway for a long time. There were some great expectations at certain stages that agreements would be reached, but nothing happened. You know what happened next: new fatalities, a new aggravation and an increase in tensions. We are currently witnessing a crucial moment. We need to make sure that each team plays for a common result. Indeed, we have to finish with a common result, specifically, to end any violence and any potential for bloodshed, deaths, etc. Today, a lot has been said about Armenia and Azerbaijan. We have visited both countries; we visit them all the time and speak with diplomats and ordinary people. When we walk around a city, the people approach us, and everyone is concerned about only one thing: that there be no more deaths. This has to be our top priority. When I read your materials and the articles of other journalists in Armenia and Azerbaijan, I want to note that they should have only one common goal: that no more people are killed. This should be our common goal and our efforts in this area are aimed at achieving it.
I apologise for the lengthy discourse, but this is a complicated issue.
Question: Russia’s Foreign Ministry has expressed serious concern over the decision of South Korea and the United States to deploy the US THAAD BMD system in South Korea. They insist that the system is only designed as a means to deter North Korea’s nuclear forces. Does Russia think that the US THAAD BMD system would be a challenge for nearby countries and could increase tensions?
What response measures can Russia take if this project is implemented?
Maria Zakharova: I cannot add anything to the statement that was published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on July 8. This statement presented our position in great detail and clearly and unambiguously states that this decision is a cause for serious concern. I suggest that you read this statement.
I can add that we continue to closely monitor developments on the Korean Peninsula and around it. We are open to consultations with all concerned parties and countries on the new realities and their aspects in the region.
Question: The planned site for the deployment of this system was made public yesterday. What can you say on this?
Maria Zakharova: I believe my response was exhaustive. I have nothing to add today.
Question: Are there any plans to abolish visas for Turkish citizens? When can this happen?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information on this issue. I will check on it.
Question: A recent meeting of the Caspian countries’ Council of Foreign Ministers in Astana has brought the parties closer to signing a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Where any agreements reached at this meeting?
Maria Zakharova: Yesterday, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov provided exhaustive information to the media on the meeting and its results. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also shared his views and assessments. The foreign ministers commented on their work and the results of the meeting, as well as on the unresolved issues. The transcript and video have been posted on the website of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.
Question: The presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran will meet in Baku. What will they discuss?
Maria Zakharova: You know that heads of state have their own press services. Please, address your question to them. There is a thing called the delimitation of authority.
Maria Zakharova: Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov commented on this event on the UK political stage today.
Regarding bilateral relations, you know that heads of state and foreign ministers resign and other changes occur almost every day. Our policy is based on responses to concrete actions and statements. We are open for interaction. We saw no reason for the deterioration of bilateral relations, and we are sorry that it occurred.
As I said, we are open for cooperation with our UK partners on the basis of equality, mutual respect and consideration for our interests. For our part, we respect the interests of our partners and want our partners to show the same attitude towards us.
I believe the new UK leadership, including the Foreign Office, should be given time to formulate and announce a new agenda and make public statements on the UK foreign policy priorities. We will wait, and we will act on our partners’ concrete steps and actions.