Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 3, 2016
- Foreign Minister’s Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Potsdam Meetings
- Foreign Minister of Benin Aurélien Agbénonci’s visit to Russia
- Results of Russian presidency of the UN Security Council
- Developments in Syria
- The List of US and Allied War Crimes in Syria (The White Book)
- Update on Mosul
- Drug trafficking in Afghanistan
- International Criminal Court plans to open investigation into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan
- The anniversary of the Russian airliner crash in Egypt on October 31, 2015
- Establishing a marine protected area (MPA) in the Ross Sea
- The Foreign Ministry’s Telegram Messenger channels
- US plans to give autonomy to Syrian Kurds in Raqqa
- Drafting the UN Security Council resolution on North Korea’s nuclear test
- Donald Trump’s alleged contacts in Russia
- Draft resolution on cyber security at the UN General Assembly
- Russia loses seat on the UNHRC
- Ukrainian Chornomornaftogaz annoyed at Russia’s gas production in the Black Sea
- Russian-Greek relations
- Russia’s “influence” on the US elections
- Russians buying up real estate in Finland
On November 8, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a regular session of the Potsdam Meetings organised by the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the German-Russian Forum. The theme of the conference is Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok: The Only Way to Europe’s Stability.
Since its inception in 1999, the venue of the Potsdam Meetings has been tightly interwoven into the fabric of the Russian-German public interaction and found a rightful place in the segment of the Russian-German dialogue formats, traditionally gathering the most prominent representatives of the political, public and business circles of the two nations. The discussions focus on the most current and challenging issues and problems.
The Potsdam Meetings are a kind of a barometer of public attitudes in Russia and Germany; the meetings allow for swift responses to changes not just in relations between our countries but also internationally.
The next meeting will be no different. It is dedicated to the urgent issues of building a single economic, humanitarian, military and political space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. We expect the conference to make a substantive contribution to this block of issues.
On November 9-11, Foreign Minister of Benin Aurélien Agbénonci will make a working visit to Russia.
Talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Aurélien Agbénonci are scheduled for November 10 and will focus on the current state and prospects for the Russia-Benin cooperation in the political, trade, economic and other areas. The two nations’ approaches to the present-day issues on the international and regional agendas are to be compared.
The month-long Russian presidency of the UN Security Council ended on October 31. The Security Council’s agenda was full during that month.
Based on the priority of developing collective approaches to addressing modern challenges and threats and of promoting the United Nations’ cooperation with regional and subregional organisations, the Russian delegation’s main event last month was debates on UN Cooperation with Regional and Subregional Organisations in Maintaining Peace and Security: CSTO, SCO and CIS. The discussion in the Security Council has demonstrated a considerable potential for these organisations’ cooperation with the UN in many areas, including counteraction to threats and challenges of terrorism, drug trafficking and radicalisation, and assistance in maintaining peace and security.
In light of persisting tensions in the Middle East, several meetings were held to discuss the situation in the region, in particular the need to counteract the threat to international peace and security posed by ISIS.
Much attention was given to Syria. UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura updated the Council twice and presented his plan for liberating Aleppo from the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. On October 8, the Security Council voted on a draft French resolution on an immediate halt to all aerial bombardments and military flights over the city of Aleppo. The text of the French resolution distorted the developments on the ground, ignored the Russian-US agreements of September 9 and did not even mention Staffan de Mistura’s plan. This resolution actually stipulated equal requirements for the Syrian Government forces and Jabhat al-Nusra, meaning that the ceasefire should also include al-Nusra contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2268.
The Russian delegation voted against this resolution, proposing instead an alternative and more realistic project on separating the moderate opposition from the terrorists. As you know, this document did not get the required number of votes due to the opposition of the Western delegations and their supporters.
The Security Council also focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The debates included criticism of UN staff, who actually did as they were told by the militants entrenched in Aleppo. We regret this. The UN also failed to organise medical evacuation from the city.
The discussion of the “chemical” dossier was marked by the publication of the Fourth Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria, which cannot be called convincing in terms of facts and methodology. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution extending the JIM’s mandate until November 18.
During the last week of Russia’s presidency, the Security Council adopted statements for the press that denounced the shelling of the Russian Embassy in Damascus (as you may remember, a statement to this effect proposed by the Russian delegation in early October was blocked) and called for an investigation into the bombing of schools in Idlib and western Aleppo.
On October 31, the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Yemen. UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed presented a roadmap for a peaceful settlement. The Council also discussed the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.
The UN Security Council has adopted Resolution 2312 denouncing migrant smuggling and human trafficking from Libya as a factor that is further undermining the process of stabilisation of Libya and urged the UN member states to cooperate with the Government of National Accord to prevent the further proliferation of the smuggling of migrants and human trafficking.
In October, the UN Security Council also discussed the situation in Darfur and South Sudan, as well as other conflicts in Africa, including Mali, Western Sahara, the Central African Republic, DR Congo, Guinea Bissau and Burundi.
Following debates on the situation in Haiti, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2313 to extend the mandate of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to April 2017.
The Security Council issued a statement for the press condemning North Korea’s attempted ballistic missile launches contrary to UN Security Council resolutions.
The Security Council also held the annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, which focused on protecting women and enhancing their role in preventing and settling armed conflicts and in post-conflict reconstruction. The debate was attended by over 80 delegations, which is fresh evidence of the international community’s attention to this issue.
During the month-long Russian presidency, the UN Security Council completed discussions on the election of a new UN Secretary-General and adopted a unanimous decision on October 6 approving António Guterres (Portugal) as its nominee for UN Secretary-General. We closely monitored this process.
Russia has been working throughout its presidency to reaffirm the role of the UN Security Council as an effective instrument for settling conflicts and coordinating international efforts in response to global challenges.
Militants from ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as al-Nusra) and similar terrorist organisations took advantage of the October 20-23 humanitarian pause, which was introduced to ease the suffering of the civilians trapped in Aleppo. They regrouped, replenished their arsenals and then tried to break through the defences of the Syrian Government forces by staging a broad offensive effort against western Aleppo on October 28-30. In the course of fierce fighting that ensued the terrorists were stopped and forced to retreat, suffering heavy casualties and equipment losses. I would like to emphasise that even in this situation the Russian air forces refrained from carrying out air strikes against eastern Aleppo and have not resumed them since October 18. The main purpose of this initiative was to provide the US with an opportunity to deliver on its commitment to separate the “moderate” opposition from the terrorists. However, this still remains to be done.
Taking into account the US partners’ obvious failure to act, the Russian military sent an open message to the leaders of armed groups in Aleppo, calling on them to leave the city so as to avoid any needless casualties. There are still six humanitarian corridors for civilians and two for the militants.
According to various estimates, there are some 7,000 militants in the eastern part of Aleppo, who continue indiscriminate shelling of residential districts in western Aleppo, killing and inflicting wounds on innocent civilians.
On October 27, terrorists launched a rocket and mortar attack against a school in al-Andalus neighbourhood, killing six children between two and 12 years old. Three siblings – two boys and a girl – were among the victims.
On October 30, improvised shells with poisonous substances were used in an attack against al-Hamdaniya and Dahiyat al-Assad neighbourhoods in the west of the city. At least 35 people were poisoned, and two died.
On November 1, the militants opened fire on Al Shahba Halab Hotel, which hosts the offices of a number of international organisations. The building was damaged in the attack. Fortunately, there were no casualties among civilians or the UN staff.
Terrorist have prohibited people between 14 and 55 years old to leave western Aleppo, and demand a $300 fee for allowing children and the elderly to leave. As we understand it, the militants intend to spend these proceeds on new arms and acts of terrorism and violence.
We have taken note of a statement by the Spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric, who accused the armed Syrian opposition of violating international humanitarian law. The UN official said that the large number of civilian casualties was attributable, among other things, to the fact that the armed groups ignore the fundamental principles of the international humanitarian law regarding the ban on indiscriminate attacks and the need to abide by the principles of caution and proportionality.
The Russian military and their Syrian colleagues found an opportunity for another humanitarian pause in Aleppo (as you know from regular updates and comments issued by the Russian Defence Ministry). The ceasefire will be in place from 9 am until 7 pm of November 4.
It has to be stated that the propaganda machine built on undisguised hypocrisy and double standards (even though we can hardly speak about double standards anymore) is in high gear with the purpose to denigrate Russia and falsely present its actions in Syria as being aggressive and hostile, including the counterterrorist operation in Aleppo, while covering for the terrorists who are killing civilians and destroying and pillaging the city. It has been claimed that the Aleppo terrorists have “a lot going for them” compared to the terrorists in Mosul (you know that officials from a number of Western countries came up with statements to this effect). They claim it is for this reason that the terrorists need to be destroyed in Mosul, while being spared in Aleppo.
Flirting with terrorists is a very dangerous thing to do.
That said, it is true that the situation in Aleppo is in many ways different from that in Mosul, but this has nothing to do with the alleged differences between terrorists. In fact, the situation is different when it comes to respecting international law on protecting civilians in zones of military conflicts. Let me remind you that the Russian Defence Ministry has outlined at least four distinctive features of this kind. Russian and Syrian air forces did not operate in Aleppo for the last two weeks, while Mosul is attacked by US bombers every day. Six corridors have been opened in Aleppo for civilians. There is nothing of the sort in Mosul. Two special corridors are still in place in Aleppo by which the militants can leave the city with their equipment and weapons for other Syrian regions. In Mosul, the war is aimed at achieving complete extermination of all militants. Lastly, representatives of the UN, the Red Crescent and other international organisations as well as journalists work in Aleppo, while in Mosul there is no humanitarian presence or informational support.
I would like to specifically highlight the situation with media coverage, and praise the unprecedentedly high-quality work by the colleagues from the Russian Defence Ministry. They provide open, easy-to-understand and clear information about all the developments in and around Aleppo, including the actions by the Russian Aerospace Forces. You receive video footage and photo images, and comments are issued almost daily. They are not just answering questions from journalists, but are also willing to explain all operations by the Russian Aerospace Forces and counterterrorist efforts in Syria, backing up everything with facts.
At my last briefing, I made a short announcement and demonstrated certain photographs from The List of US and Allied War Crimes in Syria, also known as The White Book on Syria, which Russia has circulated in the UN Security Council. These crimes have entailed a huge number of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure.
The US Department of State has stated that they know about the existence of The White Book but will not comment on it. Here we have an odd situation: the State Department pays close attention to the quick and dirty concoctions pouring from the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – the man in the street does not know its origins but professionals do – that are analysed, commented and palmed off as incontestable facts. In the same way, the State Department uses the materials supplied by the White Helmets and other dubious NGOs. Yet they refuse to comment on a selection of documented evidence that has been prepared and submitted to the UN Security Council as an official document. It is absolutely unclear why this is happening.
The Russian and English versions of The White Book on Syria have been front-paged as a banner on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website. We are calling on you, the US-based media and reporters, to access it. Perhaps you will have some more specific questions to ask Washington. This chain reaction will possibly compel the State Department to start commenting on the book. Perhaps the media will have questions and then the State Department will understand that it must reply. We have done all we could, but one can’t fail to see the obvious. We have selected the materials and disseminated them. The Russian Federation is responsible for them. I am saying this to emphasise once again that the US comments on everything that appears in the public space but their sources are doubtful. They are not verified and cannot be relied on as trustworthy sources. But the State Department is always eager to refer to them.
The situation around Mosul, Iraq, remains extremely complicated. After 14 days of fighting, advance elements of the Iraqi army, in coordination with people’s militia units and Kurdish self-defence forces (Peshmerga) have entered the city’s eastern sector located on the left bank of the Tigris. They have retaken the ISIS-held local television centre. Their further advance is hampered by a high-density cityscape and multi-echelon ISIS defences involving numerous snipers.
In other sectors, fighting still continues on approaches to Mosul. Coalition forces have already expelled terrorists from over 100 communities around the city. The number of militants killed during the hostilities varies from source to source. More Iraqi service personnel and self-defence fighters are being killed, but accurate statistics are not available. Just like in Syria’s Aleppo, government forces are being hit hard by armoured SUVs filled with explosives and driven by suicide bombers.
We are alarmed to note the continuing degradation of the humanitarian situation in the context of developments in and around Mosul.
More and more people are fleeing the city and adjacent areas. Since the beginning of the campaign, about 20,000 people have left the war zone, according to the International Organisation for Migration. But their real number is probably even higher. Apart from ISIS reprisals (everyone has probably seen reports of mass executions, and we have recorded over 500 similar atrocities), more intensive indiscriminate air strikes by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition are forcing local residents to flee Mosul. Unfortunately, residential areas and civilian facilities are being targeted more frequently.
In this connection, we once again urge the United States and their allies to act responsibly and to prevent the disproportionate use of force, as has repeatedly happened in the past, including in Iraq itself. Pre-election considerations and Washington’s obvious haste should not overshadow the task of sparing the lives of Iraqi civilians.
We have reviewed the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the production of opium in Afghanistan. We have to state that the drug trafficking situation in the country has deteriorated compared to last year.
It is particularly disturbing that the area of opium plantations in the northern provinces of Afghanistan has grown 300 per cent. These areas border on our Central Asian partners, although traditionally the main production of opium is localised in the southern and western provinces of the country.
The new UNODC report clearly demonstrated again that Afghan authorities, abetted by the international coalition, are incapable of solving problems related to drug production and trafficking. This is specifically indicated by the fact that the area of destroyed drug plantations has decreased by 91 per cent, from 3,700 ha to 355 ha. It is well known that the Afghan-grown opium distribution is qualified by the UN as a threat to international peace and global stability. In this context, it is important to bear in mind that, apart from the harm caused by drugs directly, drug production makes a significant contribution to financing terrorism. Up to 35 to 40 per cent of the extremists’ revenues come from drug trade, which, as we can see, is not subject to any control whatsoever. The situation is only getting worse.
We expect that Afghan authorities, with the support of foreign military forces in the country and international sponsorship, will take necessary action to step up the fight against drug trafficking.
Russia is making a substantial contribution to combatting Afghan drug production and distribution. Specifically, this year, Russia has allocated $300,000 to support the UNODC Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries, and another $300,000 as the first instalment for the Badakhshan Food Zone Programme carried out under the auspices of the UNODC.
We also continue tuition-free training programmes for Afghan security services, including drug enforcement police officers, at specialised Russian universities.
The project to assist and train drug enforcement police officers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, which was carried out under the auspices of the Russia-NATO Council until April 2014 and suspended by NATO, is currently carried out by Russia, with UNODC acting as a coordinator.
We are ready to further cooperate with Afghanistan and other international partners for the purpose of efficient drug trafficking prevention.
We’ve taken note of media reports on the International Criminal Court’s plans to investigate the alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.
There is much evidence of crime in the 15-year-long US and NATO counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan. In November 2008, about 100 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the bombing of a wedding ceremony in Kandahar. A US air raid in Herat later that year killed about 100 civilians. In October 2015, an air raid on the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz allegedly killed over 20 people, including MSF staff members and patients, and wounded some 40 people.
We would like to point out that none of these cases have been objectively investigated and no one has been called to account for committing these crimes. I have seen comments by my colleagues from the US Department of State to the effect that they always admit to their mistakes, unlike Russia. What can I say on this? Mistakes must be admitted so as not to make new mistakes. Mistakes must also be analysed, and the culprits must be identified so that nobody would feel free to act with impunity only because the culprits have escaped punishment. It appears that this logic doesn’t work. Mistakes are made again and again. And nobody has been called to account at the personal or state level. We don’t demand or expect cruelty with regard to the people whose actions or decisions have caused or resulted in numerous civilian casualties. But states must be held accountable for their actions. If you don’t want to punish your citizens, then you must be expected to be held liable as a state. The international community must know what the United States and its allies are doing in this respect.
I would like to add that in most cases the victims’ relatives and those who have been injured in the raids carried out by the United States and their Western allies have not received any assistance. We all know that any assistance is important, including material assistance, but the moral aspect is very important, too, and includes calling those who have committed crimes against civilians to account.
I would like to remind you in this connection about the recent decision of Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, which ruled against paying compensations to the relatives of the Afghans who were killed in Kunduz in a NATO air strike in September 2009 that was called in by Georg Klein, then a colonel and head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz. Some 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed in that strike.
We welcome the International Criminal Court’s initiative and believe that an objective investigation into war crimes committed by foreign, including US, military personnel in Afghanistan will help prevent the further death of Afghan civilians in the course of hostilities.
In view of a large number of requests to comment on the anniversary of the Russian A321 airliner crash in Egypt, I can say the following:
The most terrible tragedy in the history of Russian aviation happened on October 31, 2015 in Egypt. A plane of the Russian Kogalymavia airline crashed on the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, including 25 children.
On November 8, 2015 President Vladimir Putin signed Executive Order No. 553, which temporarily banned passenger flights from Russia to Egypt.
In order to implement the executive order, the Russian Ministry of Transport, the Foreign Ministry and other relevant agencies launched systematic and intensive contacts with the Egyptian party to improve aviation security. A joint plan of events was adopted, aimed at significantly improving security at the airports in Cairo, Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, and to create conditions that will prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. A large part of this plan has already been realised.
At the same time, both parties are drafting a special intergovernmental protocol, which will let Russian experts take a more active part in the practical work at Egyptian airports to improve the safety of Russian citizens.
The Russian and Egyptian investigative agencies have launched a probe into the Russian airliner crash. It is vitally important to cast light on the tragedy, find those responsible and call them to account.
Once this work is successfully completed, regular passenger flights between our countries will resume and the safety of Russian citizens at Egyptian resorts will be guaranteed.
At the 35th meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR; Hobart, Australia, October 17-28, 2016), all member countries agreed to establish a marine protected area (MPA) in the Ross Sea, which will enter into force on December 1, 2017.
This measure, which is consistent with the international legal obligations to establish MPAs in various parts of the world’s oceans, is important in the context of protecting the Antarctic environment and the comprehensive preservation of Antarctic marine bio-resources. At the same time, it is important for Russia, a state that uses the region as traditional fishing grounds, to ensure its legitimate rights and interests there. In this connection, we raised a number of questions regarding the establishment of the said MPA, its regime, geographical, time and other parameters.
In our opinion, the final resolution of the 35th meeting of CCAMLR has ensured a balance of fundamental interests related to the protection of the environment and the sustainable use of Antarctic marine bio-resources, acceptable to all parties and based on the best available scientific data. In particular, we regard the following as key elements of this decision: the Special Research Zone (a section of the MPA where limited fishing activity is allowed) and the duration of this regime, which was reduced to 30 years; opening fishing areas outside of the MPA, where zero catch limits were established a long time ago; and the creation of conditions for joint international marine research projects in the MPA.
It is also of special importance for us that the final decision on the establishment of the MPA in the Ross Sea was adopted during the Russian chairmanship at the CCAMLR.
We are pleased to present the Foreign Ministry’s news channels in Telegram Messenger. We launched them a couple of days ago, and messages are already waiting for you there. For the convenience of users who take an active interest in Russia’s foreign policy activity, we are opening two channels: in Russian and in English. There will be a certain time gap between Russian and English materials appearing on these channels: it takes some time to translate them. These channels were established for all those interested, journalists and ordinary users who use various devices and like carrying all news in “one pocket.”
Once you subscribe, you will be able to promptly receive first-hand information: materials on the Minister’s visits, the Foreign Ministry’s statements and comments on topical issues on the international agenda, and bilateral relations with various countries. All of that will be accompanied by photo and video content.
As an extra bonus for those who value all modern means of communication, together with the Telegram news channels, we are also launching an array of stickers.
Stay in touch with us now also on Telegram at @MID_Russia and @MFARussia.
We are ready to listen to your comments and make this work more convenient. This is in fact our mission – to make Russia’s foreign policy understandable and comprehensible not only to political experts and foreign policy writers but also to a broad audience.
Question: President of Syria Bashar al-Assad said in an interview to the Serbian newspaper Politika that “the Russians are very serious and very determined to continue fighting the terrorists, while the Americans based their politics on a (…) value that ‘we [they] can use the terrorists.’” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again said this week that the United States and its allies either cannot or do not want to separate the moderate opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra. It seems clear now that they don’t want to do this. Can you give us a broader comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: You should read the news. I have read very aggressive statements by Western news agencies today saying that certain militant 'moderate' or 'non-moderate' groups have refused to use the humanitarian pause to leave Aleppo. I cannot vouch for the reliability of this information, because we have read it only in the Western media and have not heard the militants say so directly. But this is fresh proof of what we have pointed out before, that concern for the Aleppo residents is not the main goal for the militants who have dug themselves into Aleppo.
This is laying bare the calls made by the militants and their patrons for stopping the airstrikes by the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Force in order to remove the wounded. They are not removing the wounded. Instead, we see atrocities taking place there, both physical and moral and ethical atrocities – they even demand money from those who want to leave an area that has been a bloodbath for a long time. This is beastly and has nothing to do with humanity. And this is fresh evidence of what we have always said – that the militants have only one goal, war to the bitter end.
They do not need a democratic Syria, because a democratic state based on universal human values does not accept killing so many civilians or taking them hostage, which is what we see in Syria. How can we discuss a democratic future for Syria in this context?
By accepting the ISSG decisions and UN Security Council resolutions, the West has opted for a democratic Syria. But who will build democracy there? The bandits who torment the people and prevent them from leaving the dangerous regions, and who claim to be resolved to fight on to victory and complete destruction? They say blatantly that complete destruction means the destruction of Syrian statehood and Syria as a state. They make no secret of this. Our Western colleagues do not want to see this, but the militants have said openly that the Syrian state structure must be fully destroyed. Will these people build a democratic state?
We have before our eyes the example of Iraq and other countries. You can see a new democratic model in Mosul. These are not double standards but a clear-cut policy that is not even hiding behind hypocrisy. It is a frontal attack launched to preserve the bandits so that they will eventually achieve a goal that was formulated some time ago, that is change the government in Syria. Unfortunately, we are losing any doubt regarding this.
Question: Could you comment on the remarks of former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said in an interview with Sky News that the world today needs determined American global leadership and that the United States needs to be the world’s policeman to restore law and order.
Maria Zakharova: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is not some political commentator or fringe element, but a man who for years led the North Atlantic Alliance. This is a telling example. Unfortunately, with regard to the Western world, such things begin to come out into the open more and more often. It is people of this kind who are selected to lead US-controlled international agencies and organisations. They are promoted within European political elites. Many people with this kind of mentality hold high positions of authority that are related to issues of security and stability in the North Atlantic region. A person who believes that democratic foundations are the only possible option of a world order would never talk about the need for creating any global-scale police institution. That is ruled out.
Remember what the world, including our European colleagues, talked about 10 or 20 years ago: mostly legal foundations, cooperation and equality. After all, equality and fraternity remain the fundamental ideology of many Western nations – what’s more, not only within just one state but all over the world. And now a man who for many years was responsible for promoting an atmosphere of trust, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region reveals what was probably on his mind all those years: there is a need to establish a global police system and put one state at the head of it to control the rest of the world.
This is precisely about control, the need for a “big brother” who will look after everyone. This has nothing to do with the resolution of international issues that a particular country could work on. The present level of challenges and threats that the world is faced with has shown beyond doubt that it is impossible to deal with them single-handedly, and there have been no success stories regarding the resolution of any global crises. This is to say nothing about terrorism – just consider, for example, Iran’s nuclear programme. If this kind of “world policeman” such as the US was allowed and authorised to deal with that situation on its own, that would have been a nightmare. There would probably have been another war. Thank God, at the time the idea of making the United States a world policeman was not put forward, so the situation was resolved through collective efforts, with a substantial role of the EU and active assistance from Russia and the Group of Six. It was the view of different countries from different parts of the world. And it was the only way to achieve a successful resolution. Not everything that was agreed upon has been implemented, but at least a peaceful path was not just chosen but the international community is already following it. The objective is comprehensible and obvious: The crisis should be resolved so that each party gets what it wants, so that the interests of all parties are observed and so that this is a long-term, durable solution. Here is a case in point.
We just talked about Afghanistan. There was a mini-model, not on a global scale but in one country where the Americans assumed the role of a policeman who took the authority to deal with the issue of terrorism in the country, and in addition, received a corresponding mandate from the UN Security Council. I cited drug production figures in that country. We all know very well – and there is no getting away from this fact – that drugs are hand in glove with international terrorism. Drug trafficking sponsors international terrorism. In many respects, drugs are an incentive for recruiting people and turning them into suicide bombers. Drug production has increased many times over, and not only have drug plantation areas increased but also the production of precursors. No one in principle controls the situation. Terrorism in that country has only grown. This has never been the case before.
Here is another example – or rather an anti-example – of what happened when the US was not allowed to become a “world policeman” to resolve Iran’s nuclear programme. What happened in Afghanistan, where the US assumed this role? What was the outcome? After all, the Europeans or Americans, who are not in direct proximity to Afghanistan, are one thing, but it is quite a different story with regard to ourselves or, for example, the Central Asian republics, which are directly affected by what is happening there. This is a long-running, perennial problem – and there is no end in sight.
Question: The Italian daily La Stampa has published a story alleging that the Kremlin was influencing the local constitutional referendum in Italy, including by employing RT and Sputnik resources. How would you comment on publications of this sort?
Maria Zakharova: There too?
This seems fateful. You are sitting in the exact spot that was occupied by an Italian journalist a couple of weeks ago. She asked about the Russian Federation’s attitude to the Italian referendum. I told her (those who were present may remember this; you can see the verbatim report and the video) that this was Italy’s internal affair. She was talking about stability and security and was asking whether or not we thought that the referendums of this kind were destabilising the situation. I repeatedly said that running such events and inquiring about the will of your people was Italy’s internal affair. Surprisingly, La Stampa saw everything except for this statement by the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation. After all, we meet here openly; it’s not some clandestine get-together. The world at large hears us. La Stampa had every opportunity to find this quotation and use it at least in order to provide a balanced view in its story. To reiterate: the Foreign Ministry has clearly outlined Moscow’s official stance on this issue.
Question: Speaker of the People’s Council of Syria Hadiya Khalaf Abbas said that Syria recognised Crimea as an inalienable part of Russia. How would you comment on this?
A month ago, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Islamic ambassadors. How are Russia’s relations with the Islamic world developing?
Maria Zakharova: As far as Crimea is concerned, I think this is just an acknowledgement of the obvious fact: Crimea is a Russian territory. Not only have the relevant laws been approved, it leads a full life as part of the Russian Federation and shares all of its joys and woes. Crimea is not just part of our territory, it is also part of our society and our nation. There is no place for questions in this regard. We are one nation. Crimea and the people of Crimea have stated their will. They had tried for years to bring their problems across to their [then] authorities. There were repeated referendum attempts. Therefore, I think this is just stating an obvious fact.
Many of our colleagues, including those who endlessly criticise us and make mind-boggling statements, not only admit this fact on the sidelines or during talks but also say that de facto this issue has been closed. But we know full well that they will continue to exploit every aspect of this theme in the public space.
As far as Russia’s relations with the Islamic world are concerned, they are progressing in all areas, including in politics, the economy, humanitarian contacts, bilateral negotiating formats, and participation in Muslim international organisations and associations. In some of these we are observers, in others – active participants. Of course, we interact at various humanitarian venues. Some Russian regions are active in maintaining fruitful cooperation. We regularly take stock of this interaction. I think you have asked a very good question. I believe I will need to cover Russian regions’ cooperation with these countries, among others, in greater detail.
Question: I have heard talk a few times in Russia to the effect that the United States plans to establish an autonomy for Syrian Kurds in Raqqa, Syria, after it is freed from ISIS. For example, this is the view of Russian State Duma Deputy Alexander Babakov. Do you believe that the US really has such intentions?
Maria Zakharova: Russia believes that Syria’s future is, above all, the future of a united and democratic state. Syria’s territorial integrity is a priority, an objective that Russia, which is fighting terrorism in the region, is concerned with. As for the country’s future, its political organisation, political reform, innovation, the modernisation or preservation of the old system – that is up to the Syrians to decide all together: the government and the opposition (both the opposition in the country and the part of the opposition that had to leave the country). However, of course, these matters should not be decided for Syria. They should be decided by Syria itself. The creation of conditions for a normal dialogue in the country, regarding the fight against terrorism and, course, the cessation of the colossal support from the outside for illegal armed groups should be addressed by the international community. As for how Syria should live and organise its own life – that is up to the Syrians themselves to decide.
Regarding the talk you mentioned, Russia is a country where everyone is free to say anything. There is an official position, which should be consolidated, carefully thought out and based on facts. However, there are different views in society, personal opinion or the opinion of people who engage in political activity. I believe you should take note of the official position.
As for the views that are expressed, to reiterate, Russia is a country where any opinion can be expressed within the bounds of the law.
Question: You mentioned the fact that Russia has completed its UN Security Council presidency. Why does it take so long to draft a UN Security Council resolution on the North Korean nuclear test? What issues are the most difficult to agree on?
Maria Zakharova: It takes so long to draft the resolution because it should have teeth, not be just a scrap paper. It should work effectively to prevent such things, not allow the situation to get worse. It should not lead to a decline in living standards for North Korean people who many have nothing to do with the problem, let alone make any decisions with regard to it. Their life could be made extremely difficult. These are just a few considerations, but there are many more. This is why the resolution should be effective and reflect an objective that is not questioned by anybody. This objective was defined and explained in previous UN Security Council resolutions.
Question: Word in the United States, including its security and law enforcement agencies, has it that US presidential candidate Donald Trump holds pro-Russian positions and “has connections” in our country. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: These statements are absurd and paradoxical. This is clearly an election campaign story: there is no doubt about that. It was followed up in the UK with remarks by MI5 Director General Andrew Parker to the effect that Russia is using all the tricks in the book to pursue its aggressive policy.
As for politicians and their anti-Russian election-campaign rhetoric, I would like to remind you about US election-campaign history over the past several decades. A very interesting trend is emerging. Those who slammed Russia the most during their election campaigns, right after elections looked for ways of “building bridges,” promoting cooperation and finding points of convergence. By contrast, those who were tolerant or neutral towards Russia in their election campaign rhetoric, after elections drastically changed their positions. This trend is real. Unfortunately, during their term in office, they only complicated and worsened bilateral relations. This is an amusing trend. I urge you to take a look at it and judge for yourselves.
Question: The UN General Assembly adopted a draft resolution on cyber security. It was adopted by vote this time. Why was it put to a vote?
Maria Zakharova: The draft resolution “Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security” was put to a vote at Ukraine’s initiative. It was supposed to be adopted by unanimous consent. In the past few years its draft was adopted without voting owing to its unqualified approval. This year Ukraine decided to distinguish itself, to use diplomatic language, and still put the document to a vote.
Of course, this is sad because this shows the level of work done in Kiev. As a result, after Ukraine steamrolled the decision on voting, the draft was supported by 177 states. No state voted against it but one country abstained. Guess which one? It was Ukraine, which had insisted on voting. Our officials who were in the hall when the results of the vote were announced said they had not heard such laughter in a long time. Let me remind you that the voting took place in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly.
This is the background of this strange case. Naturally, following the vote, the draft will be submitted to the UN Secretary-General for approval at the 71st UN General Assembly, tentatively in November-December.
This year the draft was co-authored by 80 states and a list of them was published. The number of co-authors decreased from 84 to 80 compared with the last year due to US refusal to work productively. I’m referring to the United States and some countries that it influenced. In our opinion, all this is taking place against the backdrop of the deterioration in Russian-US relations. Needless to say, for political reasons the United States couldn’t co-author this draft that enjoyed the support of an absolute majority.
The Foreign Ministry’s website published a comment on this case. I’d like to recall that the gist of the draft is setting the main goal of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on international information security that started working last August. This goal is to elaborate norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour by states in the cyber-sphere.
This is an interesting case. We are accused of cyberattacks all the time but when a document on this subject is discussed, the United States takes a back seat. I think that the United States was behind this decision by Ukraine that became the subject of ridicule, as I’ve already said.
Question: Saudi Arabia (KSA) was elected to the UN Human Rights Council whereas Russia lost its seat there. Could you comment on this please?
Maria Zakharova: Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin has already commented on this. He said everything there was to say on this score and I have nothing to add. We understand that, regrettably, there was some anti-Russian sentiment behind this. Countries are elected rather than appointed to the council. One year we were elected, and another year we were not. As Mr Churkin said, this means we will be elected next time. As for the KSA, let me repeat that it was elected. Of course, there are questions but I think it is better to ask these questions not so globally but specifically on human rights. Also, they should be addressed directly to the KSA, not to us.
Question: Head of Ukraine’s Chornomornaftogaz Svetlana Nezhnova has expressed her displeasure that Russia is producing 2 billion cubic metres of gas per year off the Black Sea shelf. What can you say about this?
Maria Zakharova: I’d rather have people who deal with these issues in a professional capacity comment on this. I am not an expert in this area. I believe that such matters shouldn’t be politicised, but left to experts instead. They should not be brought into politics or political rhetoric. I believe that experts dealing with these issues directly are in a position to adequately clarify Russia’s position and Russia's actions.
Question: What’s your take on the state of Russia-Greece relations with respect to energy following yesterday’s visit to Athens by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?
Maria Zakharova: What we saw yesterday in Athens couldn’t leave us unmoved. It couldn’t fail to delight and please us. It was an exceptionally warm welcome, and was not a staged event, as you know. It seemed like all of Athens was at the functions the Russian delegation attended. Many thanks go to them for that. The atmosphere was very warm. With regard to the country's leadership, the approach was, perhaps, more pragmatic. Specific issues and prospects of cooperation were thoroughly discussed. However, the people who one way or another are involved in bilateral relations gave off a strong wave of warmth and love. We could feel it.
Energy issues were discussed, Minister Lavrov commented on that discussion at a news conference.
Question: In an interview with Russia Today, founder of Wikileaks Julian Assange confirmed that Russia did not leak information regarding the US presidential election. However, White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Shultz said that Russia's attempt to influence the outcome of the US election is not something new, and that Russia has done so many times before in other countries. What do you think he was referring to? What can you say about this?
Maria Zakharova: Meaning that Obama is also one of us? I have no other comment on that.
Question: In its report to the parliament, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service claims that Russian citizens are buying up property in order to deploy unmarked troops in a crisis situation, as was the case in Crimea. What can you say about this?
Maria Zakharova: I’m not sure how one can live in such constant fear. It borders on paranoia, I’m afraid. Those who engage in such Russophobia, do not realise that by instilling fear in their own population, they may end up with major issues when, at some point, these phobias give way to mania.