12 January 201720:12

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 12, 2017

20-12-01-2017

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  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Saeb Erekat
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of Palestinian parties and movements
  3. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs of Jordan Nasser Judeh’s visit to Moscow
  4. Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz’s working visit to Russia
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with CIS ambassadors
  6. Consultations on regional security between the member-states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
  7. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the International Anti-Narcotics Forum
  8. Developments in Syria
  9. Syria’s ‘chemical dossier’ 2016 results
  10. Andrey Karlov’s murder investigation in Turkey
  11. Developments in Afghanistan
  12. Deployment of US special task force in the Baltic states and anti-Russian statements by Senator John McCain
  13. US intelligence report Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections
  14. Russian diplomatic missions denied access to holiday retreats in Maryland and New York
  15. Russia’s alleged attempts to influence domestic politics in Germany
  16. Poland’s response to the destruction of a monument to Polish soldiers killed by SS Galicia Volunteer Division in Lvov Region
  17. Shutdown of Russian Dozhd TV channel in Ukraine
  18. Detention of Dutch journalists after return from Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site
  19. Russian nationals in Ukrainian prisons
  20. Developments in Venezuela
  21. Answers to media questions:

  22. Preparations for a meeting on intra-Syrian conflict resolution in Astana

  23. Armenia-Azerbaijan relations

  24. Intra-Syrian meeting in Moscow; signing a treaty on counterterrorism cooperation in Libya

  25. Appointment of new Foreign Minister of Canada

  26. Russia-US relations

  27. Participants in the upcoming talks in Astana

  28. Buildup of the US task force in the Baltic states

  29. Donald Trump’s statements on Russia

  30. Russia-Azerbaijan relations

  31. Rex W. Tillerson’s statements

  32. Reports on hacking

  33. Russia’s influence on Donald Trump’s election campaign

  34. Russia’s objections to lifting sanctions against the leader of Afghanistan's Islamic Party  

  35. Russia’s return to the G8

  36. Russia-Japan relations

  37. Scheduled date for intra-Syrian settlement meeting in Astana

  38. Kazakhstan’s election as a UN Security Council non-permanent member

  39. Counterterrorism cooperation of Russia and Kazakhstan

  40. Sanctions against Russia

  41. Prospects of a war crime investigation in Syria

  42. Russia’s non-participation in a PACE session

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Saeb Erekat

 

On January 13, Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Saeb Erekat will arrive in Moscow and will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The agenda of Mr Erekat’s visit includes extensive consultations on issues of interest to both sides with Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Sergey Vershinin, the Foreign Minister’s Special Envoy for the Middle East Settlement and Director of the Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department.

Their talks will focus on the situation on the Palestinian-Israeli track and prospects for reviving the Palestinian-Israeli talks.       

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with representatives of Palestinian parties and movements

 

On January 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with representatives of the leading Palestinian parties and movements, who will come to Moscow for an informal intra-Palestinian dialogue on restoring national unity.

We will reaffirm our position of principle on bridging the internal Palestinian division as soon as possible.    

 

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs of Jordan Nasser Judeh’s visit to Moscow

 

On January 16, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Nasser Judeh will arrive in Moscow on a working visit.

Mr Judeh will hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss current international and regional issues in light of the numerous conflicts rocking the Middle East.

We expect the officials to focus on Syria, considering our countries’ shared interest in an early political settlement of the extremely dangerous Syrian crisis. This crisis is directly affecting Syria’s neighbour, Jordan, which has accepted over 600,000 Syrian refugees. Like our Jordanian partners, we believe that there is no alternative to a political settlement of the protracted Syrian crisis by the Syrians themselves without any preconditions and with active international support. We have taken active steps within various formats to expedite the achievement of this goal in combination with our contribution to the fight against the terrorist groups in Syria.

Another key issue on the agenda will be the situation in Iraq, also a neighbour of Jordan. It has had a destabilising effect on the region for several years and is, unfortunately, a destabilising factor due to the ISIS-led terrorist threat spreading from Iraq. Moscow and Amman support the Iraqi Government’s resolve to root out the source of cross-border terrorism in Iraq. We share a common view on ways to resolve Iraq’s problems through an inclusive national dialogue based on the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in the country.

Sergey Lavrov and Nasser Judeh will also discuss the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement in light of international efforts to ease tensions on the Palestinian territories and to launch a sustainable negotiation process. A major element of our efforts is to bridge the intra-Palestinian division, including through Russia’s and Jordan’s practical contribution to restoring Palestinian national unity based on the political platform of the PLO and the Arab Peace Initiative.

The foreign ministers will also hold detailed discussions on current issues pertaining to strengthening the traditionally friendly Russian-Jordanian relations.

 

Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz’s working visit to Russia

 

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs will pay a working visit to Russia on January 17-18.

On January 18, he will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss current bilateral issues, including a schedule for upcoming inter-parliamentary, inter-agency and inter-regional contacts, as well as the state of political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties, including the Russia-Austria exchange Year of Tourism in 2017.

OSCE cooperation will be discussed, including challenges related to regional conflicts.

While discussing key international challenges, Russia will focus on the need for exhaustive joint measures for an effective opposition to terrorism and the settlement of the Syria crisis. The ministers intend to exchange views on the prospects for Russian-EU relations, inter-Ukrainian, Nagorno-Karabakh and a Transnistrian settlement, and the situation in the Middle East, Yemen and Libya.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with CIS ambassadors

 

On January 19, Moscow will host Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s annual working breakfast with the ambassadors of the member-states of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Given that Russia assumed CIS chairmanship on January 1, the participants will discuss further development and increased multilateral CIS cooperation with an emphasis on strengthening foreign policy cooperation between the CIS states and enhancing CIS prestige and its role internationally.

By tradition, the participants intend to exchange views on current regional and international issues.

 

Consultations on regional security between the member-states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

 

On January 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address the opening ceremony of the Moscow conference on regional security issues between the member-states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The meeting will be attended by deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, SCO Secretary-General, and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.

The meeting will focus on SCO stability and security priorities and economic and humanitarian cooperation in the region.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the International Anti-Narcotics Forum

 

On January 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the International Anti-Narcotics Forum (the Moscow Region, Odintsovo District, village of Pokrovskoye) held as part of the 8th International Anti-Narcotics Camp, We are United by Life, an annual function of the National Anti-Narcotics Union (NAS) involving nearly 1,500 participants in rehabilitation and resocialisation programmes from various countries.

The forum will focus on methods to organise the comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts based on the complete renunciation of drugs. Leading addiction care specialists, employees of public and private rehabilitation centres, and representatives of related Russian agencies will discuss the advantages of existing anti-drug programmes and their application in Russia and elsewhere.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov intends to address the plenary meeting that will follow next. He will focus on Russian diplomacy’s steps to fight global drug trafficking and the move towards a drugs-free world, including on the basis of the resolutions approved by the UN General Assembly’s special session on the global problem of drugs, held in New York in April 2016.

 

Developments in Syria

 

The situation in Syria is showing signs of improvement since the enactment of the cessation of hostilities (CoH) on December 30, 2016, through Russia and Turkey’s mediation.

The number of CoH violations has been decreasing. The ceasefire is maintained across the country, including in the southern regions controlled by the groups that for the most part abstained from the December 2016 talks in Ankara. However, the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists have not given up attempts to disrupt the truce reached. I would like to remind you that on Christmas Eve, they actually deprived the 5.5 million conglomeration of Damascus of drinking water. You know how it was done. They poured fuel oil into the water supply inlet in the village of Ain al-Fijah. After that, will our colleagues in certain countries still describe them as “moderate” and believe in their sound judgement? You know what is happening in Damascus. I repeat that, when we talk about terrorism (you can find a variety of definitions and international documents on the subject), we are talking not only about attacks, explosions, mortar shelling, suicide bombers, but also the deliberate damage to and destruction of the civilian infrastructure.

The ceasefire opens up additional opportunities for the delivery of humanitarian aid and other humanitarian actions. We note that, apart from Russia, more and more countries are beginning to play an active role in providing assistance to Syrians. A Russian freighter has delivered 500 tonnes of humanitarian aid from Kazakhstan to the Syrian port of Tartus, containing flour, canned meat, rice, pasta and tea.

Peaceful life has been reviving in Aleppo since the town was liberated from terrorists. Doctors from the Russian Defence Ministry’s mobile hospital continue to provide qualified medical care to the victims. Children suffering from serious diseases are being delivered for treatment to the Kirov Military Medical Academy.

A squad from the International Mine Action Centre of the Russian Armed Forces is working in Aleppo. Military engineers have completely cleared over 1.5 hectares of the city grounds of explosive ordnance and explosives, including dozens of socially significant facilities of civil infrastructure: schools, hospitals,  power stations, water pumping stations, bakeries and mosques. Water and electricity supply has been restored in some quarters. Civilians are returning to their homes.

Once again, I would like to draw your attention to the regular briefings and information of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

We hope that the efforts to launch a political process will be effective in this situation.

There has been a lot of speculation and discussion about the date of the meeting in Astana. The date that has been set so far is January 23, but we do not have any other information. We hope that the meeting on the Syrian settlement in Astana scheduled for January 23 will become a new milestone on the way to peace in the troubled Syria, that it will lend a significant impetus to the constructive work of all the Syrian parties towards the resumption of the February 8 intra-Syrian negotiating process in Geneva under the UN auspices, on the basis of resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council. We urge all our partners to contribute to this.

As soon as we have any additional, more specific and detailed information on the Astana meeting, we will certainly share it with you.

 

Syria’s ‘chemical dossier’ 2016 results

 

Some 1,200 tonnes of toxic chemical substances and nuclear weapon precursors that were removed from Syria were completely destroyed in January 2016. Eleven of the twelve former chemical weapon production facilities were eliminated under supervision of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Unfortunately, access to the remaining facility is still impossible due to complicated security issues.

In general, the chemical demilitarisation of Syria is complete, which is the result of the consistent course of the Syrian leadership to give up its chemical warfare programme and a vivid example of how the international community can work together to solve complex tasks similar to this one.

At the same time, it is deeply regrettable that the so-called allies of Syria almost obsessively continue their incessant attempts to find a contrived pretext to politicise the situation around Syria’s ‘chemical dossier’ in order to discredit Bashar al-Assad’s Government.

For accusations against Damascus, our Western ‘partners’ are using the results of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission’s investigation into the uses of chemical weapons in Syria that was far from finished. We believe that the conclusions of the Joint Mission’s reports are unconvincing. This issue requires an additional and more thorough examination. Therefore, in November 2016, we supported an extension of the Joint Mission’s mandate for another year with its area extended into countries that border on Syria and with its clear indication that terrorism should be the purpose of the mandate.

Unfortunately, we have to say that Syria and Iraq have been affected by recurring chemical terrorist attacks. This can be confirmed by the evidence and records of the crimes involving chlorine and sulfur mustard collected by the Russian military in October and November 2016 and submitted to OPCW experts.

We intend to keep a close watch on the tandem of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission and the OPCW special mission to establish the facts of chemical weapons use in Syria so that chemical terrorism issues can receive the attention they deserve and to see that the chemical incident investigations are strictly evidential, impartial and objective, with conclusions that are based on reliable facts.

 

Andrey Karlov’s murder investigation in Turkey

 

Currently, the investigation into Ambassador Andrey Karlov’s murder by Turkish law enforcement agencies in close cooperation with an investigative group from Russia continues. Several suspects have been detained in relation to this terrorist attack. We expect that all the plotters and accomplices will be identified and held to account. Turkey has repeatedly assured us of that at the top level.

It would be premature to disclose any specific details of the investigation, including any speculation as to what transpired. Certainly, we are watching any progress on this issue with particular concern.

 

Developments in Afghanistan

 

The security situation in Afghanistan remains challenging. The number of terrorist attacks is on the rise in Afghanistan, although armed opposition has somewhat scaled back its offensive which is a usual thing for the winter.

On January 10 alone, two terrorist attacks were perpetrated in Kabul and two more in the administrative centres of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. According to preliminary reports, nearly 50 people were killed in these attacks and over 90 were injured to a varying extent. It is worth mentioning that terrorists targeted deputies of the Parliament of Afghanistan in Kabul, as well as the ambassador and diplomats of the United Arab Emirates  in Kandahar.

We resolutely condemn these heinous crimes perpetrated by the terrorists. There can be no justification for them. Our sympathy and support go out to all the victims, to the families of the deceased and to our colleagues, foreign diplomats. We hope that the masterminds and perpetrators of these terrorist attacks will receive the punishment they deserve.

We urge the warring parties in Afghanistan, primarily the leaders of the Taliban movement, to renounce violence and to take urgent action to launch intra-Afghan dialogue.

I would like to repeat that we offer our condolences to the families and friends of the deceased and wish a speedy recovery to those injured.

 

Deployment of US special task force in the Baltic states and anti-Russian statements by Senator John McCain

 

We have noted the deployment of US special task force in the Baltic states. This issue could not have gone unnoticed. We perceive these actions as another example of provocative military activity near Russia’s borders and in accordance with the notorious deterrence policy aimed against Russia. It is also clear that such efforts, including the obviously hasty redeployment of heavy-duty US military equipment to Europe, are an attempt by the outgoing Obama administration to aggravate the situation in bilateral relations to the greatest possible extent and to make the new US administration hostage to its purposeful and unfriendly policy towards Russia.

Senator John McCain, who is well known in Russia, is acting along the same lines: McCain put quite an effort into refining his anti-Russian stance during his trip to Vilnius.

Naturally, Russia will have to take into account US military moves, including in the Baltics, in its military planning. We hope that the new US administration will not toe this obviously dead-end line, which merely provokes confrontation between our countries.

 

US intelligence report Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections

 

I would like to say a few words about the US intelligence community’s assessment of the alleged Russian activities and intentions in recent US elections. The title sounds strong, but the content is very scant. We have seen many strange materials before, but this one is light on facts. Many people have probably seen that this document, which has a strong title and is designed to cloud the new presidential team’s efforts to normalise relations with Russia, does not contain any strong facts or evidence, that it is yet another example of evidence-free accusations based on unsubstantiated claims. Accusations are usually based on facts, dates and figures. This report is based on claims. There is nothing new in it for anyone, nothing but yet another compilation of absurd stereotypes.

The story of alleged Russian hackers, which has been kept on the front burner in the Western (primarily US) media, is a perfect example of the information carousel when propaganda agencies plant an idea through a leak referencing unidentified sources, which the media take up to subsequently bring back to government agencies in the form of media questions. The government agencies accept this half-baked product as information that merits discussion and comment. This gives this product legitimacy and a lease on life. This is the process of information dissemination used by our Western colleagues. Furthermore, this carousel is given new life when the issue spreads beyond the country of origin and starts gaining information momentum in other countries.

The initial push in this issue was given by US and European media resources. After that, it went around, giving rise to strange items according to which the alleged Russian hackers left a trail not just in the United States but also in the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and that they have now shifted their focus to Europe. The pattern is the same: plant the idea and then wait for it to return to government agencies and official representatives, who then issue comments. To believe the Western media, the new hacking targets are Germany and France: information is planted through leaks followed by articles, after which journalists start asking questions at news conferences. This is how the information environment is created. The effect is predictable, considering the operational scale of these mainstream media resources.

I wonder why no media outlet, when they first see and start spreading this information, ever recall the very real and substantiated facts of massive US hacking attacks and espionage? Have you forgotten about them? These attacks only happened a few years ago. But you wanted to lock up or have locked up many of those who wrote about these attacks and who provided factual materials, that is, evidence, of US spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande and hacking the databases of Al-Jazeera, as well as companies in Russia and other countries. Those who provided evidence of these criminal US activities were forced to leave the United States or have been put behind bars in the United States. The focus has been shifted now to alleged Russian hackers. No evidence of this has been provided, but the idea is ruling the information space like the media’s king. I am asking you to be objective: if you write about hacking attacks, start by looking at the information that has been proved without a doubt or, at least, is based on material evidence and fact. Why have you forgotten what happened only a year or two ago?  

The bulk of the above so-called report deals with the influence of Russian media resources such as RT and Sputnik. I have a question for the authors of this report: Have you ever heard about The Voice of America or Radio Liberty? It looks like those who wrote the report simply do not speak Russian. If they did and had a few minutes to spare on the material available on these two resources in Russian, they would have called us to say they are sorry, because those two resources are large-calibre propaganda bullhorns. They speak beautifully and sound very much like real media outlets, but the flow of propaganda issued through them is unrivalled. We know who finances them, who writes for them, and what their goal is. They are not just biased; what they offer is propaganda pure and simple. Why don’t you write about this? Why are you attacking only the Russian media? Didn’t The Voice of America and Radio Liberty cover the nomination of presidential candidates or State Duma elections in Russia? Browse through their materials. Were they connected with the events that concerned protest movements in Moscow? In fact, they were the first to report them. Just look at the amount of information they provided on this issue. And after that you accuse RT and Sputnik of propaganda? RT and Sputnik offer alternative views that have at last become heard amid the Western mainstream media news. Just read what Radio Liberty writes [on its website], and you will feel ashamed, because this is what your taxpayers are paying for. This is shameful.

 

Russian diplomatic missions denied access to holiday retreats in Maryland and New York

 

As you may recall, late 2016 was marked by decisive actions of the outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama with regard to Russian diplomats. Thirty-five embassy employees were expelled from that country. A total of 107 individuals left the United States, including family members, children and pregnant women. They were given 72 hours to pack and settle their affairs, including financial obligations. All of that was supposed to take place during the two days left before the New Year and on January 1.

Notably, not much was said about what happened with the Russian-owned property, and the actions taken by the US administration in respect of that property. This is an important topic, and I would like to focus on it today.

As you may be aware, it was decided to deny the Russian diplomats access to their recreational compounds in the states of Maryland and New York. Many, I believe, simply don’t understand what the issue is all about. These compounds are not only used as holiday retreats for embassy employees, but are also venues for social events, such as receptions and functions to celebrate various anniversaries. Also, they are used as vacation spots for children of US citizens and citizens of the CIS countries. This is to reply to the US reporters saying a “spy nest” has been stirred up. Many children from other countries were brought to this “spy nest” for summer holidays. The absurdity of these allegations is obvious. In a matter of several days, including during the nights, our diplomats had to move all the property from these two locations. It is not only and not so much about their personal belongings, since much of that property is on the books of our foreign missions. There were valuable cultural items there, and lots of other things, but many things had to be left behind because it was impossible to pack and move everything in a matter of two hours that they were given to accomplish that.

Now, how it all happened. What happened in Maryland looked like a spy blockbuster in the best Hollywood traditions with appropriate settings. The property was packed and moved under the supervision of the US special services (they did not identify themselves, but they were clearly part of the US secret services). The day before that they placed their employees outside the fence, used dozens of vehicles to block the main and additional entrances, and placed giant spotlights along the perimeter during the night. Two boats patrolled the bay, and drones (USA 2016!) and two helicopters with optical equipment patrolled the air space. The media were crammed with comments that a Russian “spy nest” has been busted. The audiences didn’t stand a chance to see things differently as they were offered live coverage of this massive operation. Honestly, the picture would have been complete with barbed wire and men with dogs.

Are you aware of what they were telling the people in local neighbourhoods at the height of the Cold War when the Soviet Union bought these compounds, particularly in Maryland? They told them that if the Russians (then the Soviets) buy it, the Russian nuclear submarines will come to the Chester River, on the bank of which this compound was built (unlike the US drones, the Soviet nuclear boats never made it there). They tried to make it look plausible by saying that the Soviet nuclear submarines will collect US secrets and pick up defectors.

 Years go by, generations change, the elites have changed, but the ideology has remained the same as if it had been canned and stored somewhere for later use. Ironically, even in times of a face-to-face confrontation with the Soviet Union, the US authorities didn’t go as far as they did now. The holiday retreat was effectively bought, and families of the embassy employees, as well as many foreign guests, stayed at this place during many decades without any second thought enjoying that place just any other vacationer would do.

The United States stripped these facilities of their diplomatic immunity, and the local media is publishing leaks to the effect that the Americans had already accessed the recreational compound of the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN outside New York, and that businesses are already looking at it. I’m not quoting Russia Today or Sputnik. It’s all been published in the US media. All that I just told you is nothing short of a legal mayhem, which is taking place in the land of lawyers.

Of course, the Americans' actions cannot be qualified as anything other than a seizure of Russian property. It fundamentally contradicts the international legal obligations of the United States, and, at the same time, is at odds with the concept of a modern state which is the subject of international law. How can the United States, a UN member which signed the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, act unilaterally in such a way on its territory with regard to the generally accepted norms?

This never happened even during the hawkish administration of the Republican President Ronald Reagan. Recreational retreats and compounds were safe, even though diplomats were occasionally expelled. They were shut down in a barbaric way with a devoted Democrat Barack Obama in office.

Notably, there’s a practical side to this matter meaning that even the latest executive orders by President Obama cannot cancel the winter season. It’s beyond his control. Large buildings and large premises were heated during the winter, and the buildings had to be shut down for the winter on a short notice. As you understand, it is technically impossible to move all the property away and properly prepare buildings for the winter in a matter of a few hours. Such things are usually planned ahead. So, if anything happens to these buildings (God forbid, a fire, or any kind of damage or a break-in) or the property inside them, the responsibility will lie with the United States.

 

Russia’s alleged attempts to influence domestic politics in Germany

 

Germany continues to build up tensions over the alleged attempts by Russia to influence its domestic political processes. As expressed before, this information ‘carousel’ involves both the German media and its government bodies.

This should be kept in mind when interpreting reports that the German government instructed German security services to look into any possible involvement of the Russian government in manipulating political debates and public opinion in Germany using its intelligence arsenal ahead of the Bundestag elections next September.

We have also noticed unsubstantiated allegations by German officials regarding the Russian origin of hacker attacks on OSCE and German Bundestag computer systems.

 

Poland’s response to the destruction of a monument to Polish soldiers killed by SS Galicia Volunteer Division in Lvov Region

 

From the media, we learned about the barbaric destruction of a memorial to Polish soldiers killed by Ukrainian volunteers from the SS Galicia Division in 1944, in the Brody district of the Lvov Region in Ukraine. Unidentified persons broke the monument’s cross, painted the memorial stones with the names of the victims in the colours of Ukraine’s national flag and the so-called Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and painted the “SS” acronym over the memorial.

Huta Pieniacka, a destroyed village on the spot where the memorial is located, had a predominantly Polish population. SS slaughterers killed between 600 and 900 people, some of which were burned alive in their own homes and in a local church.

It is understood that only those without a conscience can take revenge on those who are already dead. It is shameful and unacceptable to destroy memorials, especially for ideological or political reasons. This behaviour contradicts human decency and there is no excuse for it. So it is even stranger to hear claims by some Ukrainian government officials who believe the destruction of the memorial is a provocative act set to aggravate Ukraine-Poland relations for the benefit of a third party. We do understand that “a third party” usually implies a certain country.

We hope that this outrageous incident will help current Polish and Ukrainian authorities comprehend Russia’s indignation at the “war against the memorials” that glorify Soviet soldiers that gave their life to liberate Poland and other European countries from Nazi occupation.

 

Shutdown of Russian Dozhd TV channel in Ukraine

 

Literally in the past hour, we have received media reports that Ukraine has shut down the Russian Dozhd TV channel. I verified this information and spoke with the broadcaster’s employees who confirmed the news. Frankly, this act of censorship by Kiev is quite paradoxical. However, as we have warned in the past, where there is censorship based on extremist ideology, there is the possibility that it will go further. This is exactly what happened.

We will make sure that this incident is included in commentaries by representatives of relevant international organisations, and will draw the attention of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic to this fact. We will do our best to have the relevant international institutions speak out on the matter and ensure that Dozhd and other Russian channels resume broadcasting although there is little hope.

 

Detention of Dutch journalists after return from Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site

 

Russian media are widely commenting on the detention of Dutch journalists Michel Spekkers and Stefan Beck at Schiphol Airport on January 7. As you are aware, they were returning from a trip to the site of the MH17 plane crash in 2014 where they were filming a documentary on the investigation of the tragedy. We have received several requests to comment on this situation.

I can say that we did see reports that the correspondents collected some parts of the aircraft and fragments of the alleged victims. It turned out that the parts remained at the crash site instead of being inspected by the Joint Investigation Team controlled by the Netherlands Public Prosecutor's Office. This has been clear to us all along. Since the day of the tragedy and for over two years, we have kept saying that very important debris was not taken for examination by the JIT. Now this is obvious, including to the journalists of the country that took charge of the investigation. However, we are deeply concerned that this information may not become available to the public in the Netherlands and Europe because of censorship attempts. I hope this does not happen.

This incident clearly shows that The Hague is extremely nervous about the increasing evidence exposing the JIT’s inadequate work. We see concerns that the team’s work may indeed be found negligent. Now the Netherlands is willing to put straitjackets on its own journalists who were just trying to find out the truth, which is their professional duty. What about freedom of speech?

 

Russian nationals in Ukrainian prisons

 

Today Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov received a question on Russian nationals in Ukrainian prisons. The question was forwarded to the Foreign Ministry. We have prepared some information for you on this issue. It may not be a full-scale report but we will be working on it if you have additional questions. Right now I would like to say the following.

First of all, since 2016, Ukraine has refused to provide general information on Russian nationals imprisoned in the country, including the lists of those convicted of ‘political’ crimes. However, the figures we have are definitely lower than what has been declared. There are no more than 20 Russian prisoners in Ukraine. This number is constantly changing, and we will make sure to verify it.

Second. The data provided by Nadezhda Savchenko, which prompted the question, is very approximate. The lists we saw contained the names of Russians who had been released long ago. We also saw names of the convicts in criminal cases that have nothing to do with developments in Donbass.

Third. It is well known that a significant number of people, including Russian nationals, were being kept and perhaps are still being kept in secret Ukrainian Security Service’s detention facilities. This is a violation of the fundamental rule of law by Kiev. This includes the cases of Russian nationals Andrey Sokolov and Vladimir Bezobrazov who were recently released, partially thanks to pressure put on Kiev by a number of international human rights organisations.

Despite the complexity of the issue, the Foreign Ministry and our foreign missions in Ukraine are largely involved in ensuring that the rights of political prisoners and those currently being prosecuted under political charges are observed. Minsk format subgroups, including representatives from the unrecognised Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics, are also very active in this regard. Thanks to actions by all these parties, many Russians have returned home in the past two years.

 

Developments in Venezuela

 

We see political tensions growing again in Venezuela. On January 9, the new leaders of the National Assembly, which was sworn in on January 5, got off to a flying start by adopting a resolution on removing the legitimately elected president from power, using certain far-fetched constitutional wordings as a pretext.

We put forth our views on a settlement in Venezuela many times before. All political processes there must proceed strictly within the framework of the constitution and legislation and must not violate the letter and spirit of the constitution. An objective analysis shows that the decision taken by the opposition deputies does not satisfy the above criteria.

We continue to believe that a solution to the difficult problems of Venezuela can only be found through a dialogue between the country’s leading political forces. Nobody said this would be easy to do. But the inevitable differences of opinion are not a reason for demonstrative and irresponsible moves designed to derail the talks, escalate tensions and foster civil unrest. This path may have unpredictable and destructive consequences for internal peace in Venezuela. It can also have a negative impact on the external situation.

In our opinion, all reasonable forces in Venezuela must clearly express their attitude to the recent developments. As far as we can see, the government of Nicolas Maduro is resolved to find a constructive solution. We strongly and consistently support this intention and would like to caution against any destructive interference by external forces, which may yield to the temptation to earn political dividends for themselves from these developments in Venezuela. There is no alternative to settling the internal Venezuelan problems peacefully at the negotiating table in keeping with the constitutional law.

 

Answers to media questions:

Question: Russia, Turkey and Iran have proposed holding a meeting on the intra-Syrian settlement in Astana. Are you holding consultations on this issue with other countries?

Maria Zakharova: It’s good that you have mentioned this, because many people overlook the fact that these three countries have pledged to guarantee the agreement reached between the Syrian Government and the representatives of the armed opposition. As I have said, we are addressing the issue of a Syrian settlement at many levels, including through close contacts with Turkey and Iran in the multilateral and bilateral formats. We also maintain dialogue within the UN framework, at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meetings, through active work at the UN venue in New York and at Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, as well as during our contacts with regional countries – I have mentioned the upcoming talks with the Foreign Minister of Jordan in Moscow. This also includes interaction with our partners, who are involved in the Syrian settlement one way or another or can influence the process. We maintain active contacts. Most importantly, new opportunities have emerged for moving forward in practice rather than just on paper.

Question: Armenia is ignoring calls by a number of international organisations to return the body of an Azerbaijani soldier killed in a December 29 incident on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on this unfriendly move by Armenia?

Maria Zakharova: This tragic incident happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We believe that both sides need to find the strength, wisdom and, certainly, diplomatic opportunities to resolve this complicated situation. Indeed all opportunities and means should be used. The key to a solution is in the hands of both sides.

Question: The media reported today that Moscow will host an intra-Syrian meeting on January 26-27. What kind of event will this be, and how are these efforts linked with preparations for the Astana meeting?

It has also been reported that Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, signed a counter-terrorism cooperation agreement yesterday with Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: I’ll begin with the second part of your question. You know, our spheres of influence are clearly divided. The Russian Defence Ministry comments on everything related to Russian military activities. You need to ask them for a comment. If you are interested in additional aspects, we will certainly respond. But first you should contact the Defence Ministry.

I have no information about the January 26-27 intra-Syrian meeting in Moscow. Let me clarify. So far, all our efforts concerning the Syrian Arab Republic are focused on preparations for the January 23 meeting in Astana.

Question: Can you comment on the appointment of Chrystia Freeland, the new Canadian Foreign Minister, who used to criticise Russia and President Vladimir Putin in the past? When will it become possible to exclude her from the list of Canadian officials covered by Russia’s sanctions?

Maria Zakharova: The appointment of national foreign ministers is the prerogative of sovereign countries. The Canadian leaders that made this decision should be asked to clarify their motives. I don’t think this is a question for me. We have noted that Canada now has a new Foreign Minister.

Regarding our attitude towards her past critical remarks and the lack of such remarks today, we don’t know anything about her future line or priorities. I believe we need to focus on the specific actions and programmes as implemented by the Canadian Foreign Ministry. Then we can comment and take action if necessary.

Regarding excluding her from the list of officials covered by the sanctions, I would like to remind everyone that, although many headlines read that the Canadian Foreign Minister was included on the Russian sanction lists, the situation is slightly different. She got on the sanction list not as a Foreign Minister of Canada, but in 2014, as a response measure taken by the Russian side. First, Canada declared sanctions against some Russian citizens, including Russian officials. In response, Russia compiled its own list that included Ms Freeland. I believe that we need to look for an answer regarding the circumstances for excluding people from this list in the context of reciprocal and symmetrical actions.

Question: How optimistic is Russia about the new US President Donald Trump? Do you expect friendly relations with him especially after yesterday's compromising news?

Answer: Firstly, we are always optimistic.

As for your other question, we are ready for this, as indeed, is the case with Canada. We are open and ready for an improvement and renewal of a normal dialogue. This is not about our attitude toward one country or another; this is one of our basic foreign policy principles: We are open and ready for dialogue, despite any difficulties, hardships or different views on many issues. Our approach to the development of bilateral relations lies in believing that problems are best solved through dialogue. When you close the door to someone, the problem becomes almost impossible to solve because there is no dialogue.

In the case of the United States and Canada, we are ready for this dialogue and for improvement of our relations. We were prepared for that before and during the most difficult and critical moments in bilateral relations with both countries. This is our principled approach.

Of course, there were circumstances (not in our relations with the United States or Canada) when, unfortunately, our position of principle was necessary as a response to certain unfriendly moves by a country or something happening in bilateral relations. But, as I said, as we always say regarding the United States and Canada, accusing us of something we did not do, this ongoing information campaign, the calls to isolate Russia – those things absolutely lead into a dead end.
As for their “willingness to be friends,” you need to ask them. I can only talk about Russia. We are optimistic and open to this, not just in word, or as some piece of propaganda, but we are ready for a normal, pragmatic and specific dialogue in a working format.
We used to have the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, which included more than 20 subgroups in all areas covering human rights, freedom of the media, terrorism, the economy and finance. Any question could be addressed within this framework. It was created to solve problematic issues, not to stage parties. It was closed by the American side. It was not our choice. We said this was a mistake. Moreover, we kept saying so and we still do, and we urge them to do everything they can to reopen these lines of communication.

As for what they are willing to do or how far they are willing to go, this is a question for them. We don’t have long to wait now. I do not think things will be easy, and I do not think that the task CNN had, in particular, to tell the whole world that Donald Trump was “a Russian spy”, was a success. This man is the President of the United States of America. He is not pro-Russian, he is pro-American. It is obvious that he will uphold the interests of his own country. This is his priority. Of course, in defending the interests of his country, he will do this by any available means as the US president. I think this is how any president should act. This is the cornerstone. The only thing is that while defending our interests, we derive from pragmatism and norms of international law, and we do it in a civilised way, not savagely, as our Western colleagues have acted toward Russia over the last few years. They simply scoffed at international law and themselves violated everything they preached and taught us before. This is not how things should be done, that's for sure.

Question: Is there any information about participants in the upcoming Astana talks? The delegation from the Riyadh Group has said they are undecided about attending the meeting and that their goal is to come to power in Syria.

Maria Zakharova: There is no accurate or final information yet about the parties and participants of the Astana talks or the format and other details. We are still at the preparation stage. Today is January 12, and the meeting has been planned for January 23. We are actively preparing for the talks. Before that, talks were held at the UN venue in Geneva. It was a very difficult enterprise, even though they were, first, indirect talks and, second, political talks held between political opponents. The challenge of the Astana round is that it could launch direct dialogue between those who were shooting at each other only yesterday. This is the difficulty. But we hope to succeed.

Question: You have mentioned the Baltic countries, but the largest group of US armoured forces will be deployed in Poland. What response are you preparing for that country? And what do you think about the headlines in the Russian media that say, “US tanks are deployed to launch war on Russia”?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian media said that? Which outlet exactly?

Question: The Russkaya Vesna and several other portals have reprinted it.

Maria Zakharova: Could you please start by saying which media outlet published this headline, and then we will discuss it. It could be a Radio Liberty headline, for all we know. Tell me which media outlet has published the headline, and I will be happy to comment.

We are concerned about and have a negative attitude to the increase of US forces in the Baltic and also in other countries, because this will create more problems. We regularly comment on this. As for Poland, we comment on processes underway there very actively.

It is not important where but why this takes place, the reason behind this, and why more tanks are deployed to Europe alongside allegations about Russian hackers. Will these tanks shoot at hackers? Nobody has explained to us why more tanks are being deployed. It is claimed that Russia is a threat. What kind of threat? We don’t understand. They refuse to talk with us. All dialogue venues have been suspended. No normal and full-scale dialogue among military experts is underway at NATO or any other venue of bilateral interaction with the United States.

Question: A question from CNN.

Maria Zakharova: At last! Unlike US officials, I will be happy to talk with you.

Question: Can you comment on what Donald Trump said yesterday about Russia’s responsibility for hacking?

Maria Zakharova: Is this his only statement CNN is concerned about?

Question: This is important.

Maria Zakharova: When I heard President-elect Donald Trump call CNN “fake news” yesterday, I wanted to ask whether Russia is to blame for this too.

When you see the inconsistency of US politicians’ assessments and views, and if you want to see consistency and continuity, read the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website. This is how I would answer your question. I know that it can be difficult for you to translate, but please try.

Question: What is the outlook for Russian-Azerbaijani ties in 2017? Will they be as active as last year?

Maria Zakharova: I believe that we tried to expand them and we are working to expand them. The important thing is that all the fundamental documents on Russia’s foreign policy guidelines say that our bilateral relations with Azerbaijan will continue to gain momentum. There are many political, economic and cultural issues that have been outlined for implementation. I am talking about developing relations with Azerbaijan because you represent an Azerbaijani media outlet. But we have the same policy towards a great deal of other countries, with which we maintain and develop this kind of relations.

Question: Russia Today TV Channel.

Maria Zakharova: By the way, Russia Today, aren’t you afraid to sit next to CNN? No conflict of interest?

Question: We are very comfortable here. Everything is fine.

Maria Zakharova: The propagandist corner.

Question: There are different opinions on this score.

Maria Zakharova: We are generally for pluralism.

Question: This is why we are doing fine.

Our question concerns recent statements by the man who, judging by everything, will become the American counterpart of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Rex Tillerson. On the one hand, at the hearings in the US Senate he did not support the emotional attacks of some senators on Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, but on the other hand, he still called Russia a threat. He also made a number of other statements that met with mixed reactions here, in the Russian Federation. I think you understand what I mean. What could you say about these statements? What do you expect from the work with the new US Secretary of State in the context of these statements and recent events?

Maria Zakharova: You are even asking the same questions.

Politics is a complicated matter, especially in the United States. Last year we watched election battles destroy the last vestiges of morals that politicians had. Everything in due time. Relevant appointments will be made and we will work with our colleagues. We have worked differently with different partners. Therefore, we will pay attention to the words and actions of the Secretary of State and other officials.

Besides, we are not assuming that it will be easy. Let me repeat that probably those who are oversimplifying Russian-US relations think this is how it will be. But people that are familiar with Moscow-Washington relations have no doubt that there is a large number of issues on which we have different views and there are some on which they coincide. We have some common interests and sometimes we have common goals.

We do not think it will be easy. We believe much depends on the approach chosen to resolve these complex issues: Will it be aimed at goal-oriented, pragmatic and constructive dialogue, or will efforts to resolve even the simplest questions be rejected? What we have witnessed for many years, especially in the last three or four years, did not amount to a refusal to resolve issues but changed normal topics of our relations into problematic ones, and turned the working atmosphere into a negative one on a large scale. It is unclear why this was done.

Today I saw in social media an interview given by US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to the Al Arabiya Bureau chief in New York, in which she explains why the world has failed Syria. However, the previous US administration is not the whole world. If the US has failed Syria, be straight about it. It is necessary to make an honest analysis of why this happened.

Even now the US administration does not want to analyse its successes and failures. We are witnessing a propaganda push, claiming they achieved everything, that they are the best and exceptional, whereas others may analyse whatever they want since the US is powerful enough to change everything. This is what we are witnessing. Meanwhile, what is required is a specific analysis of why this happened. We haven’t seen it.

The question is whether the approach will be based on ideology, as was the case with the outgoing administration. This looked a bit like the dictate of one ideology and not only within one state – attempts were made to spread it to other countries. This is strange for a democratic country with a democratic history and a democratic foundation. This is a dead end. The most important thing is to be able to prove it, not just say so. The Obama administration created a complete fiasco on many issues it sought to resolve, no matter what they say or what farewell tweets they write. Again, it’s been a complete fiasco.

They took up the Arab Spring. Representatives of the Arab media are here, talk to them and they will tell you (although you don’t need to, you have your own correspondents there) how the Arab Spring ended, and how much suffering and grief it caused.

They took up Libya. I don’t even want to talk about what is going on in Libya now and how much time is required to just get started putting that country back together.

They attempted to complete the Iraq saga.  We comment on the developments in Iraq every day and you know what is happening there.

Eventually, having failed to resolve any of the previous problems, they turned their eyes to Syria. However, essentially nothing has been happening there in the past few months except the insane decision to supply portable anti-aircraft missiles there. Not only Russia but also other states are trying to create a negotiating mechanism in Astana between the Syrian Government and the armed opposition forces. This is fine, precise work. At the peak of this work, when a document on a ceasefire is in the pipeline, US President Barack Obama makes a decision to send portable anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. This testifies to the vengeful nature of this ideology and shows that its authors failed to create even a semblance of a constructive approach. Not only did they fail to achieve anything but they will also take revenge. This is insane. As soon as the first signs of extinguishing the fire appear, they start throwing fuel onto it. This is not the only country where the outgoing US administration is acting in this manner. The question lies in the approach: either we are resolving complicated issues or we are turning simple issues into problematic ones.

Question: What do you say about the specific statements by Rex Tillerson who referred to Russia as a threat?

Maria Zakharova: We will provide comments after the proper appointments have been made followed by official statements and actions by the US State Department. Even the appointments haven’t been made yet. The new administration has a long way to go before they settle into their new positions. Give them some time. Again, we have never expected our relations with the United States to be simple and easy. We are realistic about our bilateral relations.

Question: When you mentioned a report with a “high-profile title, but meagre content,” you were referring to the report about the hackers, correct?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, the special services’ report about hackers. Do we even need to talk about the materials posted by BuzzFeed? It’s embarrassing.

Question: Well, you can say the same about the BuzzFeed report ...

Maria Zakharova: Not really. It’s over 30 pages. It’s not meagre, but pathetic. In Russian, these are two different concepts.

Question: It mentioned names, including the Russian officials Diveykin and Solodukhin who allegedly met with Trump’s representatives. Do you concede that Russian representatives may have met with Donald Trump’s representatives, especially given the fact that following the election we have heard statements to the effect that Russia influenced Trump’s campaign?

Maria Zakharova: Let's at least define the notion of “Trump’s representatives.” Who are these people? Are they the ones who campaigned for him, the people from his campaign headquarters, or the people who voted for him? Are they his company's employees? Please define this circle for us.

If you are talking about his inner circle that involves politicians, senators, and businessmen who, one way or another, campaigned for or supported him, we have met with many of them. What is there to hide? I don’t understand your question.

Question: I was referring to Donald Trump’s adviser Carter Page.

Maria Zakharova: So, we are talking just about one person? I will find out who he met with. We discussed who contacted who in detail about 45 days ago. It was about our Ambassador meeting with the senators, and our MPs meeting with their colleagues in the United States. They did meet, indeed. What's wrong with that?

Question: Do you deny the assertions in that report?

Maria Zakharova: I’m not familiar with the names you mentioned. Yesterday, I commented on the Foreign Ministry’s staff. The report identified that person as Mikhail Kulagin, whereas in fact we are talking about Mikhail Kalugin. It was alleged that he was immediately evacuated following the completion of his special mission, but this is just impossible nonsense, because he left, as he was supposed to, at the end of his business trip in August 2016. His job was not related to any political issues, as he was in charge of purely economic Russia-US relations. He mainly engaged in the public sphere giving lectures and interviews on the prospects of our bilateral relations. His American colleagues knew him well. Many of them knew he was leaving back in early 2016. On behalf of the Foreign Ministry, I’m here to say that what is written in the report is nonsense.

Today, I read a comment by Konstantin Kosachev, in which he writes that he is mentioned in the report as a person who either “recruited” Donald Trump, or was “actively developing him.” This suggests that the people behind this text are unaware of who they are talking about. For many years, Konstantin Kosachev served as Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs (the Upper Chamber of the Russian Parliament). He is now the Federal Assembly senator. Before that, he was head of Rossotrudnichestvo (Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Cultural Cooperation). Talking about him as someone who was recruiting Donald Trump is sheer nonsense. But even this word has some substance. It's not even nonsense, it's delusional ranting.

Question: Did Russia collect compromising information on Donald Trump?

Maria Zakharova: Yesterday, Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on this. Do you think I’ll say something different?

It all begins with an allegation that Dmitry Peskov more or less personally collected compromising information on Donald Trump. This goes to show that the people behind this report (I can’t say what they were trying to accomplish) do not know what kind of work those who became the subjects of this report are involved in. It is completely detached from reality. It's the same as saying that the British Queen was recruiting someone at a grocery store in Moscow. This is the level we are talking about, if that makes more sense to you as a British media outlet.

Question: The political leadership of Afghanistan is talking about the possibility of lifting the UN Security Council sanctions against a number of opposition leaders in order to re-invigorate the national truce process. Several media outlets said Russia is against the lifting of sanctions on the leader of Islamic Party of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. I would like to receive an official comment on this matter.

Maria Zakharova: I was asked this question during the holidays, and I already answered it, but I will say it again. We have repeatedly, during our briefings and elsewhere, stated Russia's consistent position in support of the Afghan peace process, and we highly praised the signing of an agreement between the Afghan Government and the Islamic Party of Afghanistan led by Hekmatyar who you just mentioned. The Russian side expressed its willingness to be flexible about delisting the persons on the UNSC terrorist list with due account taken of the national interests of Afghanistan.

The delay in making the final decision on this issue is technical in nature and is due to the need to conduct interdepartmental coordination in Russia. We hope and believe that this issue will be resolved positively before the end of this month.

Question: Foreign Minister of Italy Angelino Alfano spoke in favour of restoring the G8 format with the participation of Russia. Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is not taking any steps to return to the G8, and is not going to. How realistic is Russia’s return to the G8?

Maria Zakharova: It is not our problem, but that of the remaining G7. We have a clear position on this issue.

Question: Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and Minister for Economic Cooperation with Russia Hiroshige Seko is currently on a visit to Moscow. Work is in full swing to implement the eight economic cooperation points. In the context of joint economic activities in the Southern Kuril Islands, we would like to know about the course of preparations for consultations on this issue. When will a concrete plan be submitted to the Japanese side?

Maria Zakharova: Right now, I have no concrete information. I will look into it and ask our experts to provide you with relevant materials.

Incidentally, your question reminded me of Donald Trump’s rather hard-hitting statements about the Toyota plants. Immediately everyone started talking about the inadmissibility of such statements and expressing concern over jobs and share price slump. We have been battered for three years. A policy of genocide has been pursued against Russian banks, companies and entrepreneurs. Unending sanctions! But what are sanctions all about? They are adopted publicly, including with the aim of ruining an image which is key to success in banking, among others. Our companies sustained enormous damages. Not a single week passed without the Democratic administration or liberals making statements or taking action against someone or something in Russia – entrepreneurs, businessmen, banks, plants, whatever. Where was everyone? Where was the public? Where were the showbiz stars in the US, among others, who would say that it was inadmissible to use the rule of force in such affairs? For some reason, no one said anything.

We should sort out our standards. In my view, as we give global answers to many questions that were asked today, we should understand whether it is permissible to interfere in foreign elections at all.  Everyone ought to say yes or no. Are hacker attacks allowable? Have they been banned or allowed by law? If they are banned, then they are banned for everyone, including in retaliation. There are a lot of questions to sort out. Is propaganda allowed or not? Is violent regime change from Europe to Latin America allowed or not? As soon as we sort out these basic principles, there will be fewer questions, I think, and we will understand where we all should head. But as it is, the same thing will happen over and over again. 

Question: You just said there is no information about who will be on the delegations in Astana. How many will there be, and who will lead them? About the timeframe, you said these meetings would be on January 23. Is this the final date?

Maria Zakharova: When the final date is known, it will be officially announced that on January 23, Astana will host a meeting, followed by an official list of participants and co-sponsors. Now we are talking about the fact that a meeting in Astana is planned on January 23, that’s all. We believe at this stage that January 23 is the date when the event should take place. But I will say again, it is at the planning stage.

This does not mean that there is no general understanding of who will participate. We cannot talk about it yet because the lists are not completed. They are just being compiled. Of course, those who are involved in this process have an understanding now. The preparation process is in full swing.

Question: Kazakhstan has recently become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Was that predicable, in your opinion?

Maria Zakharova: Are you asking if that came as a surprise to Russia? Election of non-permanent members of the Security Council is a procedure established by relevant documents, the UN Charter, etc. This is a fairly lengthy process. This can hardly be a surprise to us, regardless of the country in question, and even less so when it comes to our close friend, Kazakhstan, a country we engaged with in a variety of formats and maintain very trustful dialogue with. No, that was not a surprise. We supported Kazakhstan during the election, and we are committed to very constructive work in the UN Security Council. Especially because Kazakhstan’s permanent representative to that organisation is well known in Russia.

Question: Much has been said about the creation of an antiterrorist organisation at the United Nations. Is there any progress in cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan in the fight against terrorism?

Maria Zakharova: There is no talk about progress. We are in a very thorough dialogue with Kazakhstan on all issues, including counterterrorism. When we talk about progress, it means there was a problem to solve and move forward. We have a very substantive dialogue, including on efforts against terrorism.

Question: How would you comment on the attempt to involve third countries in the sanctions against Russia proposed by a group of senators?

Maria Zakharova: You are smiling as you are asking this question and expect a serious answer from me. Do you mind if I don’t comment on the attempts of this group of senators? Because what some groups of senators do is very questionable. Honestly, I think that this is not an issue to be addressed by the Foreign Ministry. There must be some wellness programmes to help with this. A lot of what they do is completely meaningless and is counter to the interests of the United States itself. Their system is complicated and based on lobbying. It is what it is. You know, Mr Lavrov often recalls that he raised the issue of the US electoral system with his American counterparts. Many of his counterparts like to criticise the Russian electoral system. After discussing ours, he suggested talking about Western elections. Every time he got a response that yes, the US system is not perfect but it is the US system, everybody is used to it and it must not be changed. In fact, the Russian Foreign Minister was very perceptive. Now the whole world is saying that the US electoral system is peculiar, unpredictable and produces strange results, does not reflect reality, etc. The same description can be applied to their senators. It is a very strange system. I’d rather not comment on that.

Question: What are the prospects for investigating war crimes and who will be held to account? There has been shelling of residential buildings and incidents of chemical weapon use in Syria. How will this be investigated?

Maria Zakharova: I have already said today that we have uncovered many occurrences, crimes, mass executions, massacres, torture not only against military personnel but against civilians in Syria. All these records are submitted to the UN Security Council. We published this information and distributed reviews at UN events and among non-governmental organisations. You particularly mentioned chemical weapons and related crimes. We were the first country in the UN Security Council to raise the issue of urgent action to prevent terrorist crimes involving chemical weapons. For a long time, we were told that terrorists don’t use chemical weapons in Syria, that only government forces use them. But as time went on it became clear that was not true. Now the international community has to come up with a solution to track terrorists that use chemical weapons. Therefore, we are collecting evidence and submitting it to the UN and other international organisations.

As concerns legal procedures, frankly speaking, I don’t have this information. I think this is the matter of the future.

Question: State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said there is no point in attending the PACE session. In this case, how will Russia compensate for its smaller representation?

Maria Zakharova: This question is solely within the competence of parliamentary diplomacy so I will not offer my comment.

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