15 September 201717:44

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Yalta, September 15, 2017


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Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the 72nd UN General Assembly
  2. Forthcoming meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs
  3. Reception at the Foreign Ministry for the Islamic New Year
  4. Developments in Syria
  5. Developments in Myanmar's Rakhine State
  6. Situation on the Korean Peninsula
  7. Incident at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw
  8. EU Council’s extension of personal sanctions against individuals and legal entities of Russia and southeastern Ukraine
  9. 2nd Radio Without Borders FestivalForeign Ministry to launch Spanish Twitter account
  10. Foreign Ministry to launch Spanish Twitter account
  11. Russian citizen T. P. Kudzhayeva’s return from Afghanistan
  12. Response to Sky News TV’s question on military conscription in Sweden
  13. Answers to media questions:
  1. International media coverage of events on the Crimean peninsula
  2. Russian citizens on board the Greek tanker Temeteron detained near the Libyan coast
  3. “Yalta Conference” held in Kiev by President Poroshenko of Ukraine
  4. FBI actions toward former Sputnik news agency employee Andrew Feinberg
  5. Withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Transnistria
  6. Syrian settlement process
  7. Talks in Astana


I will begin with disturbing events and speak on what has happened in the London Underground. In connection with the incident at the Parson's Green station in the morning of September 15, where, according to preliminary data, an explosion took place, we strongly recommend people avoid the station and nearby quarters. Police officers, a fire brigade and ambulances arrived at the scene at 8.20 am. At the moment, the authorities are calling the incident a terrorist attack. The Russian Embassy in London is in contact with the police to find out the number of victims and possible presence of Russian citizens among them.

Hotline numbers are available on the website of the embassy for Russian citizens who need help or have useful information. There have been no calls so far, but I repeat: you can use them, the hotlines at the embassy are working.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the 72nd UN General Assembly


The central event of the upcoming week will be the participation of the Russian delegation in the 72nd UN General Assembly, which started its work on September 12. In the framework of this major international forum, the UN member states will discuss a wide range of current global and regional issues.

The Russian delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On September 21, he will take part in the UN General Assembly general debate.

Mr Lavrov’s schedule in New York includes several dozen high-level events and bilateral meetings. He will take part in traditional meetings of foreign ministers in the multilateral and regional formats, including the CSTO, SCO, BRICS, BSEC, CTBT, CICA, CELAC and others, and also in high-level meetings on current issues on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Mr Lavrov also plans to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President of the 72nd UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak.

We have been consistently advocating a polycentric world order and equal indivisible security for all countries, with unconditional respect for the sovereignty and the rights of nations to choose their own way.

In this context, we will call for adherence to the principle of supremacy of international law and the UN Charter, as well as the Charter prerogatives of the UN Security Council, which bears primary responsibility for international peace and security.

In accordance with our national interests, we will firmly oppose historical distortions and World War II revisionism in the UN. In line with these efforts and the struggle against all forms and manifestations of racism, discrimination and xenophobia, Russia will again submit to the UN General Assembly the draft resolution entitled “Combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that fuel contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Traditionally, the document enjoys the support of an impressive majority of the UN member states. However, not every delegation has the political will to oppose the glorification of Nazis and their accomplices in some countries. We hope that the delegations that opposed this draft or abstained from voting on it back in 2016 will revise their position on this matter.

We will support the UN reform, initiated by the new Secretary-General. This reform should adapt the UN to modern realities while preserving the UN’s intergovernmental character and strictly observing the Charter’s principle of division of responsibilities among the major UN bodies. This applies to the maintenance of peace and security, pursuing development goals and organisation of management.

We are ready to work actively on the reform of the Security Council in order to make it more representative without compromising its efficiency and operational responsiveness.

We support realistic initiatives to optimise the activities of the UN General Assembly. We believe the focus should be on adjusting its working methods and streamlining the overloaded agenda.

Russian priorities include preventing the deployment of weapons in near-Earth space. That is the goal pursued by the Russian-Chinese draft treaty on preventing the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force against outer space objects, as well as globalising Russia's initiative to secure political commitments by states not to be the first to place weapons in outer space as an interim measure to strengthen security and confidence. Following tradition, we will submit the relevant draft resolution to the First Committee of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly.

We are ready to work constructively with other delegations to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, without shifting or selectively deleting priorities. Together we will help bolster the UN’s peacekeeping activities and make them more effective, further develop norms of international law on the UN platform, and take effective measures in anti-drug, anti-crime and anti-corruption cooperation.


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Forthcoming meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs


I would like to make special mention of one of the events that is to take place during the 72nd UN General Assembly session. On September 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which is to be held in New York on the sidelines of the 72nd UN General Assembly.

This will be the first Council meeting held in an expanded format with the participation of the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, which became full SCO members in June 2017.

The agenda of the meeting includes discussing priority tasks and goals in the SCO’s activities in this new stage. The participants will also exchange views on topical global and regional issues with a focus on consolidating the SCO’s international role.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is expected to take part in the event.


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Reception at the Foreign Ministry for the Islamic New Year


On September 25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a traditional reception at the Foreign Ministry Reception House on the occasion of the Islamic New Year in honour of the heads of the diplomatic missions of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states. High-ranking employees of the Presidential Executive Office and the Government, Religious Board of the Muslims of Russian, the Russian Orthodox Church, public and political organisations, prominent figures in Russian science and arts and media representatives were also invited.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will deliver a welcome address in which he will assess the status of relations between Russia and OIC member states and outline Russia’s fundamental approaches to issues that are important to Islamic countries.


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Developments in Syria


After a major victory at Deir ez-Zor the Syrian Army continues clean-up operations against ISIS terrorists in the eastern regions of the country. The suburbs of that provincial centre are free now. Advance units have forced the crossing of   the Euphrates and gained a foothold on its eastern bank.

Social infrastructure facilities are re-opening in Deir ez-Zor. The Russian military have organised deliveries of fuel, food, medicines and school supplies to the city that was besieged by ISIS for over three years.

ISIS militants have been successfully driven out of the long-suffering Syrian land and now de-miners from Russia and Syrian engineering troops have finally been able to move in and start removing deadly mines and destroying caches of armaments and explosives that can be found in abundance after the expulsion of the terrorists.

During the over six years of the Syrian conflict, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tonnes of various explosives and armaments passed through terrorists’ hands. Now they threaten the country’s civilian population and prevent economic recovery. The UN and countries that sincerely wish to help the Syrian people should be actively involved in humanitarian mine clearance.

Liberating vast areas in the east of Syria from terrorists, establishing de-escalation zones and making national reconciliation committees more effective are creating the conditions for ramping up humanitarian assistance. It is vital to rapidly restore schools and hospitals and water and power supply, to organise the uninterrupted supply of medications and medical equipment, food and basic necessities, construction materials and machinery to the country.  This assistance could become a real contribution to supporting stabilisation and creating a favourable environment for a political settlement in Syria.

We believe that it is crucially important for everyone, who wants peace for that country’s people, to help Syria. Currently all conditions are in place for assistance to reach the intended recipient. We call for international humanitarian agencies, relevant UN institutions and UN member states to urgently take necessary steps in this direction and to cooperate with the Syrian authorities in a constructive way in matters of deliveries and distribution of humanitarian supplies.

An urgent problem is the restoration of historical and cultural monuments in Syria, many of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Long-suffering Palmyra is only one such site. Saving historical monuments, in our opinion, is an absolutely depoliticised activity and so it should be.  It cannot in any way be linked to someone’s liking or disliking the current Syrian government because we are talking about world civilisation heritage. We hope that members of the international community will make the necessary major efforts to find and return to Syria those historical artifacts and antiquities that were stolen from its territory. The international community’s coordinated activities to lend effective support to the Syrian people could dramatically improve the humanitarian situation in Syria and also contribute to real progress on the way to a comprehensive peaceful settlement in that country on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.


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Developments in Myanmar's Rakhine State


We continue watching the developments in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Tensions have subsided to a certain extent. Since September 7 of this year, no major armed clashes have been recorded between the Government troops and the militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

On September 13, the UN Security Council members, including Russia, expressed serious concern over the situation in the region. They urged immediate measures to put an end to violence, reduce tensions, restore law and order, guarantee protection of civilians, reestablish normal socio-economic conditions and resolve the refugee problem in the Rakhine State.

At present Myanmar’s military transport planes are delivering food, medicines and other humanitarian relief to the Rakhine State. Mobile medical posts are receiving local people; destroyed infrastructure facilities are being restored. Another trip to the north of the Rakhine State has been organised for local and foreign media accredited in the country. We hope the practice of providing humanitarian relief and granting journalists access to the districts damaged by armed clashes will continue.

We welcome the measures taken by the Myanmar Government to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. 

With this aim in view, Myanmar established a committee headed by Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye, which includes representatives of law enforcement and economic departments. They will be assisted by relevant local and foreign experts.

We note that the Myanmar authorities are helping internally displaced persons to return to the places of their permanent residence. (According to the available information, about 2,000 have already come back home.) We hope similar measures will be taken as regards other categories of people involved in the migration crisis.

We support the efforts to develop inter-religious dialogue with the participation of the spiritual leaders of all religions in Myanmar.

In this context, we paid attention to the collective statement by the leading organisations representing Myanmar’s multi-ethnic Muslim community. They denounced the armed actions of radicals in the Rakhine State and urged their brethren-in-faith not to yield to extremist provocations.

It is important to understand that an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state may only further exacerbate religious strife.

I would like to emphasise again that we support the efforts to promote in Myanmar inter-religious dialogue involving the spiritual leaders of all religions.


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Situation on the Korean Peninsula


North Korea’s latest violation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions is a source of deep regret. On September 15, it launched a medium-range ballistic missile over Japanese territory – several days after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2375. We would like to emphasise again the need for its strict observance.

We are convinced that now it is more important than ever before for all parties involved to stop escalating tensions that are accompanying every new round of reactions and counter reactions. It is necessary to stop and thoroughly weigh the consequences of one’s steps and revise the policy of reciprocal pressure and intimidation, which is absolutely counterproductive.

We believe the only way out lies in political and diplomatic settlement and the launch of the negotiating process on the basis of the Russian-Chinese roadmap. Settling the Korean Peninsula problem exclusively by peaceful means is in the interests of the entire world community. We are inviting all interested countries to pool efforts and to do their best to reach our common goal as soon as possible.


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Incident at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw


I would like to draw attention to a serious and alarming incident that occurred at the OSCE HDIM on September 11 in Warsaw and give a clear unambiguous account. This annual event, which is organised by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, is a specialised international forum providing an opportunity for a multilateral dialogue between OSCE member states and representatives of civil society. All registered participants have the right to express their views on the state of affairs in their countries and in the world as a whole.

This year there was an unprecedented case. At the first meeting, dedicated to freedom of expression and media and information issues, the Ukrainian delegation demanded that a member of the Union of Journalists of Russia, a member of the journalism community of the Republic of Crimea, Andrey Trofimov, have his microphone disconnected.

After speaking with the organisers of the meeting, Mr Trofimov was nevertheless given the floor at the following meetings. However, after speaking at the meeting venue itself, threats were addressed to him. An unknown person, who hid his accreditation badge in his breast pocket so that he could not be identified, insulted Mr Trofimov and threatened that his name would be included in the sanctions lists, and his personal data would be published on the notorious Mirotvorets website.

Let me remind you that this website, in violation of international law, publishes personal data of people considered by the site owners to be “accomplices of terrorists”. Instead of closing this illegitimate site, the Ukrainian authorities, in fact, continue to support it. How else can we interpret the fact that it is not just accessible, but continues to be updated and supplemented with new names?

The Russian side drew the attention of the organisers of the OSCE Meeting and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir to this outrageous case and demanded that measures be taken to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.


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EU Council’s extension of personal sanctions against individuals and legal entities of Russia and southeastern Ukraine


We took note that on September 14, 2017, the EU Council once again rubber stamped the decision to extend personal sanctions against individuals and legal entities of Russia and southeastern Ukraine until March 2018.

For us, this was not a surprise, given the prejudicial approaches of the European Union to the internal conflict in Ukraine and the reluctance to give an honest assessment of Kiev's actions to undermine the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

I would like to recall that in response to the unfriendly actions of the EU, a Russian “stop list” was adopted, which also remains in force.


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2nd Radio Without Borders Festival


From September 27 to September 29, the second Radio Without Borders International Industry Festival will be held in Kazan.

This event is unique in its field and creates opportunities for representatives of leading radio broadcasters from Russia and around the world to share experiences and discuss current industry issues.

The programme will include round tables and workshops, as well as a competition of radio projects, in which journalists from domestic and foreign radio stations are invited to participate.

I would like to remind you that you can go to the official website of the Russian Academy of Radio (www.radioacademy.ru) now and fill out a registration application. Accreditation will last until September 25.

We hope to see you at the Radio Without Borders Festival. This should probably be said by the Russian Academy of Radio, but I will take the opportunity and do it for them. I think that this will be a useful experience, including for journalists of Crimea.


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Foreign Ministry to launch Spanish Twitter account


We continue to popularise the Foreign Ministry’s official website. Recently, we announced the launch of the Chinese version. Today, we are beginning to promote materials from the website’s Hispanic version with the help of a recently created Twitter account. Until now, we have used the Russian and English Twitter accounts. By tradition, we will add graphics and current commentary to official information.

As a reminder, Spanish is one of the three most popular Twitter languages. Truthful information about Russian foreign policy is in demand in Spanish-speaking countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, the US, Spain, and others.

The Ministry will post links to this account in its social media.

We invite our Spanish-speaking friends and journalists working in Spanish to subscribe to this account and to contact us directly.


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Russian citizen T. P. Kudzhayeva’s return from Afghanistan


As a result of efforts by the Russian Embassy in Kabul, the relevant authorities in Afghanistan have decided to hand Russian citizen T. P. Kudzhayeva, born in 1991, and her 5-year-old daughter Aysha, over to Russian diplomats.

T. P. Kudzhayeva was in custody with her husband and her daughter’s father, M. A. Kudzhayev, who was sentenced by the judicial authorities of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for an attempt to join the terrorist group known as ISIS.

On September 11, T. P. Kudzhayeva and her daughter returned to Russia.


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Response to Sky News TV’s question on military conscription in Sweden


Before the briefing, I received a question from Sky News TV with a request to comment on the resumption of military conscription in Sweden. The question was phrased as follows: “What is your attitude towards the resumption of military conscription in Sweden caused by destabilisation in northern Europe and possibly by fears of Russia’s aggressive policy?”

Of course, we do not comment on the Swedish leaders’ domestic policy decisions, and specifically their resumption of military conscription.

We provided a detailed comment on August 25 in connection with the growing uproar in the Western capitals over the Russian-Belarusian West-2017 exercises. I would like to reiterate: This is an artificially fomented hysteria aimed at demonstrating to Western taxpayers that the exorbitant expenditures on deploying a reinforced forward presence in Poland and the Baltic countries and NATO’s military buildup, allegedly for defence against an aggressive Russia, are justified. But it is this that is leading to military tensions on the continent, not the notorious “Russian threat.”

I would like to draw your attention once again to a very detailed comment on the West-2017 exercises, which was posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website on August 25. It offers facts, figures, and analysis.


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Answers to media questions:

Question: The foreign media do not provide sufficiently objective coverage of the situation on the Crimean Peninsula. Over the past three years, delegations from Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain visited Crimea. We would like our foreign guests to receive first-hand information. We are asking you to organise a video conference on the Millet television channel, so that foreign media as well as  members of the public will be able to ask any  questions they have and then receive reliable information.

Maria Zakharova: I fully agree with you.

People are not receiving real information about Crimea, not the polished information but information as it is, with all the positive and negative moments. Our task is not to provide an exclusively positive picture of Crimea but to tell the audiences that it is a real place full of life with people who have their problems and boast of their achievements. Ultimately, we must show everyone that Crimea differs from the picture portrayed by the Western media.

What are we doing towards this end? As you know, many Russian federal agencies are working in this area. The Foreign Ministry is no exception: it is an agency that is most actively involved in providing reliable information for the foreign public through Russian embassies, during contacts with foreign diplomats, at specialised venues of international organisations, as well as through the ministry’s leaders and experts’ interviews.

Press tours for foreign journalists are a recent innovation. It includes helping foreign journalists’ organise their travel to a chosen locality and meetings with local officials and the public. You can talk with them about your achievements and problems, plus show them the infrastructure, which is becoming bigger and more modern from year to year. This is part of our work, and we will not stop it but we will redouble our efforts.

Your idea about a video conference is very interesting. It can be implemented in several ways, for example, through social media or on television. We will work on it and notify you about our decision soon.

Question: In your opening address, you spoke about the Russian diplomatic mission’s efforts to help a Russian citizen return home from Afghanistan. In late June 2016, the Greek tanker Temeteron was arrested in Libyan waters on suspicion of oil smuggling. There were Russian citizens among the crew. Most of them have been released, yet the captain and the first mate have spent over a year in a Libyan prison. Can you tell us what you know about this?

Maria Zakharova: You pointed out correctly that we help all Russian citizens. However, some cases are more complicated than others, for example, when we have unconfirmed information that people who were taken prisoner or arrested could be Russian citizens, which is difficult to confirm quickly without any documents. We are often asked to comment on such situations and to say what we are doing to help the alleged Russian citizen or citizens. And then we receive information that these persons are not Russian citizens but people with familiar first names who are actually the citizens of Ukraine, Belarus or some other country.

Regarding the Temeteron, we have secured the release of many crew members, just as we have done in many other cases as well. There have been many other similar cases in the region. We regularly issue warnings, urge maximum caution when hiring the crew of vessels that will work in this region, and ask everyone not to forget the complex situation there.

I can assure you that our diplomats abroad are dealing with this situation and that we also maintain contact on this question with our foreign colleagues at various levels and venues. As soon as we have any reliable information, which we would be able to share with you (this is sometimes unadvisable for security reasons), we will do so. Such matters are among the priorities of the Ministry’s leadership.

Question: We are attending a briefing in Yalta, and Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko is holding his own Yalta conference in Kiev. What do you think about this? Is it appropriate to give the conference this name?

Maria Zakharova: Is this the only strange thing we see from Kiev?

You might call this a “phantom pain,” but the Kiev regime should not look abroad for those responsible for their own problems. I understand that it is convenient to blame Russia for everything, and this has, unfortunately, become a national idea. The Kiev regime is making a serious mistake by constantly telling Ukrainian citizens about the alleged Russian aggression and by claiming that Russia is responsible for all its troubles. Again, it is very difficult to admit one’s own mistakes. It is much easier to find the guilty and explain your setbacks and problems by other factors rather than by your own domestic and foreign policy failures.

Question: On September 1, FBI agents questioned former Sputnik Agency employee Andrew Feinberg in the United States, while investigating allegations that the agency was acting as a Russian propaganda vehicle in violation of the US Foreign Agents Act. What does the Foreign Ministry think about these FBI actions?

Maria Zakharova: We see the actions of Washington, which promotes itself as a defender of freedom of speech (but we see what is really happening), to be provocative. It is unacceptable to question journalists in connection with their professional activity. We did not invent this rule, and basically the entire international community has approved it. The appropriate documents, declarations and conventions exist. The US’ pressure on a Russian information agency is an obvious violation of the international obligations of freedom of speech and media activity, including the principle of the freedom of obtaining and disseminating information, as formalised by the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.

This unmotivated US action is unacceptable for a democratic state. This is an alarming sign for the world’s journalist community. It is very important to understand that this is not the problem of Russian media outlets or Russian-US relations. On the contrary, all media outlets and international journalists and the information community are facing this problem. If it is possible to behave this way towards certain journalists, it is possible to behave this way towards everyone tomorrow.

We reserve the right to respond to the US side’s outrageous actions.

I would like to tell you something from my experience of working at UN Headquarters. Today, I mentioned work to advance the draft resolution “On combating the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” It would appear that the very title of this document would exclude the possibility of someone refusing to support it. No politician or ordinary person in a modern civilised world would reject this document. But Washington always actively opposes this document and works accordingly with the delegations of other countries. This can be seen in the voting results. The United States always votes against a resolution aiming to prevent all types and modern forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, etc. What do you think are our American colleagues' motives when they vote against this document? Their decision to vote against it is motivated by possible violations of freedom of speech and freedom to express one’s viewpoint. Can you imagine? You can read the text of this document on the UN website because it is adopted every year. This document could become a “guiding star” for combating modern forms of every conceivable type of racial discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia. Violation of freedom of speech and opinion motivates Washington to vote against this document. According to the United States, people expressing racist views will not be stopped by this resolution because their freedom of speech is being violated. Can you imagine? At the same time, people who are feeling so sensitive about freedom of speech question Russian journalists, although it is basically unimportant for what national media outlet they work, and their national affiliation is also irrelevant. They question them with the help of official agencies, and real interrogations are conducted.

This is more than double standards, this extreme behavior is destructive to international law and freedom of speech in general.

Question: Russia and Moldova have agreed to put off a discussion on withdrawing the Russian peacekeeping force from Transnistria. During the current government crisis in Moldova, might we see an escalation of tension concerning Transnistria?

Maria Zakharova: We proceed from the assumption that it is necessary to prevent negative developments; the actions of Russian experts addressing this issue hope to accomplish this. The contacts continue, and work in this area is not stopping.

Question: You mentioned the victory in Deir ez-Zor. We are monitoring the situation. I am really happy about this. Has the victory played a role in the negotiating process in Astana?

Maria Zakharova: I read newswires only ten minutes before this briefing, and I saw very positive developments in this area. You can read the statements that have been made. I suggest that you look at the first-hand reports. It is impossible to say that we are focusing on any specific area; we prioritise all tracks aiming to promote a Syrian peace settlement. The Astana track is among the main tracks. The related statements that offer great optimism were made just before this briefing.

Question: Those involved in the last three rounds of the Astana talks discussed de-escalation zones. What are the deadlines for adopting the relevant documents?

Maria Zakharova: Please review the statements made in Astana just 30 minutes ago.


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