15 November 201819:01

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 15, 2018


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Table of contents

  1. Meeting of the Foreign Ministry’s Business Council
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Russian International Affairs Council general meeting 
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to Belarus
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's November 21 meeting with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's working visit to Italy
  6. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Portugal
  7. Events involving Maria Butina
  8. Update on Syria
  9. Update on Yemen
  10. Latest allegations of Russian interference in US elections
  11. US officials’ statements on Nord Stream 2 project
  12. US and NATO military activity near Russian borders
  13. Main military facilities in regions neighbouring Russia that are used in the interests of NATO member states
  14. Methods used on inmates of CIA secret prisons
  15. Law on Ukraine’s contiguous zone adopted by the Verkhovna Rada
  16. Situation with the Myrotvorets site
  17. Seizure of RT correspondents’ passports in Nigeria
  18. All-Turkish Forum Memory Watch
  19. 7th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum
  20. Cooperation between Caspian states
  21. Russian policy on relations with the new government of Iraqi Kurdistan
  22. Opening of the Foreign Ministry’s Office at the City of Masters Masterslavl



Meeting of the Foreign Ministry’s Business Council


On November 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a meeting of the Foreign Ministry’s Business Council, which was rescheduled from October 30. The participants plan to continue the discussion of economic issues from July’s meeting of ambassadors and permanent representatives of Russia.

They will focus on increasing the efficacy of political and diplomatic efforts to promote Russian business projects aimed at increasing high-tech exports as well as ways to bolster the position of domestic producers in foreign markets.

The meeting will be attended by senior officials of the Foreign Ministry and other interested ministries, as well as heads of leading business associations and large Russian companies.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Russian International Affairs Council general meeting 


The non-profit Russian International Affairs Council will hold a general meeting on November 20. Its members will sum up the results of the council’s performance in 2018 and endorse a plan of work for the next year.

The meeting will be attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. By tradition, the Foreign Minister will share his assessments of the international situation and give a brief account of Russian foreign policy priorities.

The Foreign Ministry highly values the current formats of cooperation with the council – one of the leading Russian organisations specialising in gathering information and drafting recommendations on major issues of foreign policy and international relations. The demand for this work is growing given the rapid pace of developments in regional and world affairs.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to Belarus


On November 20-21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will travel to Belarus on a working visit to attend a joint meeting of the Russian and Belarusian foreign ministry collegiums. The programme will also include a meeting with Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei. 

During the talks, the officials will discuss a wide range of issues related to Russian-Belarusian foreign policy cooperation with an emphasis on implementing the provisions of the Joint Statement by the Presidents of Russia and Belarus of June 19.  Particular attention will be devoted to integrated cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and coordinated actions at international platforms, including preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, which will take place on December 6-7 in Milan. The sides will also share their views on major global and regional problems.

The meeting will also focus on joint efforts to counter attempts to falsify the history of the Great Patriotic War and revise the results of WWII, cooperation to ensure that integration processes in Eurasia are complementary so as to align the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as developing a Greater Eurasian Partnership with the involvement of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 

The foreign ministry collegiums of Russia and Belarus will discuss cooperation in international information security at international negotiation platforms and the role of the two countries’ foreign ministries in promoting cultural cooperation and the countries’ shared cultural heritage outside Russia and Belarus.   

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's November 21 meeting with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu


On November 20-22, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu will visit Moscow to attend the 15th meeting of the Joint Russian-South African Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation as it co-chair.

On November 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Ms Lindiwe Sisulu. They will discuss the state of and prospects for the bilateral strategic partnership with emphasis on boosting investment ties, and cooperation in science and technology, cultural exchange, and other spheres. The sides will compare notes on the pressing issues on the international agenda with account of the results of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg on July 25-27 and South Africa’s election as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for 2019-20.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's working visit to Italy


On November 22-23, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Italian Republic. The programme will include talks with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Enzo Moavero Milanesi, and a brief meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Mr Lavrov will address the Rome MED: Mediterranean Dialogues international conference and hold a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of this event.

Italy is one of Russia's major political and economic partners in Western Europe. Despite the unfavourable international situation, Russia-Italy ties remain stable. The countries are maintaining an active high-level and top-level political dialogue, and developing comprehensive interaction between their parliaments, judicial authorities, ministries and departments, regions, scientific institutions, universities and educational institutions, cultural organisations, and civil societies. 

The trade and economic sector has seen some positive trends. After bilateral trade decreased 2.5-fold in 2014-2016 (from $53.8 bln in 2013 to $19.8 bln in 2016), trade volumes continue to grow for the second year in a row. During the first eight months of 2018, it increased by 14.8 per cent to $17.4 bln. A lot of credit here goes to the work of the Russian-Italian Council on Economic, Industrial, Currency and Financial Cooperation. Its next regular meeting, as well as the forum in support of small and medium businesses chaired by Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Enzo Moavero Milanesi, is scheduled for December 17-18 in Rome.

During the talks between the two foreign ministers (talks were last held in Moscow on October 8), they will have an in-depth exchange on a wide range of issues on the bilateral agenda, primarily in the context of the results of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's visit to Moscow on October 23-24.

Considerable attention is expected to go to discussing international issues, including European security, settlement of regional crises in Syria and Libya, implementation of the Minsk Agreements in Ukraine, and the developments around the Iranian nuclear programme, as well as the issues on the OSCE agenda, with account of Italy's chairmanship in the organisation that concludes in 2018.

The officials will also consider prospects for further strengthening cultural cooperation, in the context of this year's Russian Seasons festival underway in Italy, including over 380 events staged by Russian museums, theatre companies, and music groups.  

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Portugal


On November 24, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Lisbon at the invitation of the Portuguese partners.  He will hold talks with Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva and will have a meeting with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Russian-Portuguese relations are based on mutually respectful partnership and constructive interaction. The two countries maintain a regular top and high level political dialogue. In June this year, President of Russia Vladimir Putin held talks with President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who visited Russia within the framework of the FIFA World Cup. Over a period of the past two years, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva has visited Moscow twice.

During their upcoming meeting, the two ministers plan to hold in-depth discussions on the entire range of bilateral relations and also to discuss cooperation on the main topics concerning international politics. Seeking to intensify political dialogue and expand the range of subjects on the bilateral agenda, the parties intend to sign a memorandum of understanding on political consultations between their countries’ foreign ministries.

The ministers will also talk about improving economic cooperation, which has been developing positively lately. Bilateral trade reached $1.44 billion in 2017 and continued growing in 2018.

The Joint Russian-Portuguese Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Technical Cooperation, which is co-chaired by Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin, has been very active. A regular meeting of the commission is planned to be held in Lisbon on December 6-7. The participants will focus on the joint projects in high technology and innovations as well as the implementation of the new fundamental intergovernmental Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, which came into effect in 2017.

The foreign policy topics on the talks’ agenda include the analysis of Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO. The sides will also exchange views on the situation in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, the Middle Eastern settlement, as well as the developments in Latin America and Africa.

In light of previous Russian-Portuguese interaction during elections to UN bodies, the parties will discuss their future actions in support of their countries’ candidates and representatives at future elections at international organisations.

Considerable time will be devoted to discussions on cultural and humanitarian ties. Russia and Portugal regularly hold various cultural and educational events, festivals and performances by music groups. The number of schools where Russian is taught is increasing in Portugal. Interest for the Portuguese language and culture is growing in Russia, too.

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Events involving Maria Butina


We are pressing ahead with the work to free and bring back home Maria Butina, who was arrested by the US authorities under an absolutely far-fetched pretext and is, therefore, a political prisoner.

We note with satisfaction that the purpose-oriented efforts made by the Russian Embassy in Washington have had a favourable effect on our citizen’s incarceration conditions. She can now attend rehabilitation sessions, have meetings with visitors, and also call relatives. We will follow the developments.

Nevertheless, our fellow citizen is still under lock and key. She had to celebrate November 10, her birthday, in a US prison without relatives and friends. Russian Embassy employees attempted to bolster up her spirit on that day by visiting her and wishing her the warmest greetings. Kind regards to her were also posted on the Foreign Ministry’s social media accounts.

We will continue giving Maria Butina all possible assistance. We urge the US authorities to end her ungrounded criminal persecution and free the Russian citizen.

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Update on Syria


The situation in Syria remained relatively stable during the last week.

Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib, where the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic cut short several attempts by Al-Nusra militants and certain groups of their loyalists to penetrate into Aleppo. Militants continued shelling Western Aleppo. An alarming development is that illegal armed groups posing as “moderates” would come to Al-Nusra’s aid, when the government forces responded to its provocations. We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

The Americans have resumed intense air attacks against terrorist-held villages on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, including, as reported by local residents, with the use of white phosphorous munitions. Syria’s SANA agency reports that these indiscriminate strikes killed or wounded 60 civilians at al-Shaafa south of the town of Hajin. In this connection, the Syrian Foreign Ministry sent two letters to the UN Secretary-General and to President of the UN Security Council, which urged “ending such attacks, investigating these crimes, and punishing the culprits.”

In the context of the humanitarian situation, efforts continued to implement the Russian initiative to facilitate the comeback of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. During November 13 alone, over 1,000 people returned back to Syria from neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon (and the number of returnees from Jordan continues to grow: Over 9,000 people have passed through the Naseeb checkpoint since it became fully functional). Apart from that, over 200 internally displaced persons returned back to their places of permanent residence in Syria on the same day.

Also on November 13, Russia carried out a humanitarian operation in Aleppo Province, issuing 450 food packages weighing a total of 1.9 tonnes to local residents. As of today, the Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides has conducted 1,991 such operations, with the total weight of deliveries exceeding 3,100 tonnes.

We cannot overlook the dramatic humanitarian situation persisting at the Al-Rukban camp for internally displaced persons located inside the “exclusive” 55-kilometre zone the Americans have created around their illegal military base in the Al-Tanf area. The arrival to the camp, on November 3, of the long-awaited UN humanitarian convoy has certainly made life for local residents easier but failed to solve the problem as a whole.

We think it absolutely unacceptable that the Americans, despite preliminary understandings, used the Mahavir as-Saura (Partisans of the Revolution) armed gang to provide for the convoy’s security inside the “exclusive zone.”  That the Americans and the militants they control refused to allow Syrian Red Crescent representatives to the camp has also raised questions. Do they have something to hide?

Clearly, no amount of humanitarian convoys can solve the problem of Al-Rukban and its 60,000 inmates. What is needed, as we have repeatedly said, is a radical crisis settlement in the area of Al-Tanf.

An important development in this connection is that Geneva recently hosted a trilateral Russian-US-UN meeting that focused on the situation at the camp.

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Update on Yemen


The developments in Yemen continue to cause grave concern due to the ongoing escalation of armed confrontation.

The most recent epicentre of fighting is the area of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah controlled by the Houthi movement, Ansar Allah, which is currently the main gateway for humanitarian supplies to Yemen. According to the available information, over 400 people were killed on both sides during the storming of that city by the Yemeni troops loyal to the current President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi with the support of the so-called Arab coalition. Street fighting continues in the city, which is detrimental for the situation of its civilian population. In particular, the media previously reported 54 children blocked in the Hodeidah Central Hospital.

The situation in the northern and northwestern governorates of Saada, Taiz, and Al Jawf, as well as around the capital city of Yemen, is no better, with trench warfare accompanied by intense raids by the coalition air force on Ansar Allah positions, including those located in residential areas.

Moscow considers it necessary to once again urge all parties to the intra-Yemeni conflict to strictly observe the international humanitarian law. More victims among the civilians in Yemen and further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in that country, which is already on the verge of an irreversible catastrophe, must not be allowed to happen. It is extremely important to ensure the unimpeded exit of refugees and victims from the areas of hostilities, as well as regular access to humanitarian aid for all those who need it.

It is also essential to create conditions for the continuation of UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths’ work to promote the resumption of direct intra-Yemeni negotiations aimed at the early resolution of a protracted conflict. We firmly believe that a broad mutually respectful dialogue incorporating the views of all the leading Yemeni political forces is the only way to restore peace and stability in that long-suffering country, and to achieve a fair and long-term settlement. For our part, we are ready to further contribute to the implementation of this priority task.

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Latest allegations of Russian interference in US elections


Midterm elections to US Congress usually attract less interest than presidential elections. This is logical: foreign policy, even with the system of checks and balances, is the competence of the US president.

But the picture was completely different this year. A considerable part of the US political establishment and the local media it instigated raised a cry over the alleged Russian interference in the routine battle between the Democrats and the Republicans. At this rate, Russia will soon be accused of interfering in scout troop leader elections.

Let us talk about facts now or, more precisely, about what American political analysts say on this score.

The preventive countermeasures were planned and implemented with great care.

On the eve of the polling day, November 6, Facebook, alerted by a tip-off from the FBI, took offline over a hundred accounts that allegedly posted misinformation about the midterm elections.

Our partners overseas did not even investigate the tip-off. Why bother? The tall tale about pro-Kremlin trolls has worked before, hasn’t it? Dozens of US media outlets reported, citing “independent analysts,” that over 400 accounts in the American internet segment posted “Russian propaganda” and that over a hundred of them were controlled by Moscow, of course. As usual, no proof was provided.

This is nothing new. However, these allegations sound incongruous even to the American people, who can see for themselves what is really happening. You can try to brainwash people with myths about the pro-Kremlin influence, but they can see what happened during the election campaign and directly at the polling stations. Yet I believe that few people in the United States took notice of the statements made by some US officials responsible for organising elections. These officials said that the hacking attempts, if any, were not made from outside but from inside the United States. Here are the facts.

Massachusetts’ Secretary of State Bill Galvin reported “minor efforts” to hack into Massachusetts’s elections and voter resource website, adding that “they don’t appear professional or overseas.” The domestic connection was also traced in Georgia. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said they had opened an investigation into the Georgia Democratic Party in connection with an attempted hack of the state’s voter registration system. Raffi Krikorian, the chief technology officer of the Democratic National Committee, said they saw no successful hacking attempts in the midterms.

Indicatively, an increasing number of commentators say that the Americans themselves are the main generators of hatred and intolerance online. According to experts from the Atlantic Council, which can hardly be suspected of pro-Russia sentiments, “the scale and scope of domestic disinformation is much larger than any foreign influence operation.” A similar conclusion has been made by Harvard University researchers, who reported a hike in anti-immigrant rhetoric online.

There is no reasonable explanation for the recurring myth of “Russian interference” in all kinds of American elections. If the voice of reason is silent, maybe it is time we listened to the voice of the Americans themselves?

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US officials’ statements on Nord Stream 2 project


In recent days, we have noted some activity from American officials concerning the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The statements by US ambassadors to the EU Gordon Sondland, (https://themoscowtimes.com/news/sanctions-still-an-option-against-nord-stream-2-us-envoy-warns-63481, https://ria.ru/economy/20181113/1532678965.html) and to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra (https://nltimes.nl/2018/11/08/dutch-companies-involved-nord-stream-2-may-face-sanctions-us-ambassador-says, https://nos.nl/artikel/2258269-amerikaanse-ambassadeur-sluit-sancties-tegen-nederlandse-bedrijven-niet-uit.html) are classic examples of America’s unceremonious intervention in the affairs of the European Union. Their general tone suggests that Washington intends to make every effort to hinder the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. They even went so far as to issue blatant threats against European capitals. Mr Sondland said, and I quote: “If that philosophy is not adopted and Nord Stream continues, then the president has many, many other tools at his disposal – I'm not going to go through the litany – to try and curb and stop the project.” His colleague in The Hague promised that no exceptions will be made for any companies that potentially can be affected by the sanctions – meaning the biggest players such as Shell, Van Oord and Boskalis. There will be no special treatment for anyone. The logic of the American side is as flawed as it is primitive: whoever is not with us is against us.

What is this, if not direct and overt interference in the affairs of other states, based not only on the desire to influence, but also to intimidate?

By the way, a word about logic. Despite the visible flow of negativity from Washington, Russian liquefied natural gas is still successfully flowing in the opposite direction. At least three tankers filled with LNG from the Yamal LNG project have recently reached the Everett terminal on the American coast.

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US and NATO military activity near Russian borders


At our last briefing, we quoted a State Department tweet saying that claims about NATO encircling Russia were untrustworthy. For our part, we said that, on the contrary, the reports were accurate. We showed videos, and promised to provide supporting facts (http://www.mid.ru/da/press_service/spokesman/briefings/-/asset_publisher/D2wHaWMCU6Od/content/id/3403436#14).

We are closely monitoring the build-up of NATO force s near our borders – unlike the US State Department which does not follow the process or thinks that it does not even exist.

The command echelon of the US-led alliance is not concealing its plans to strengthen its military capabilities in Europe, including by creating new command and staff posts, logistic support systems, and related infrastructure. There is a steady rotational – and actually permanent – US military presence in states bordering on Russia.

The scale of war games held close to our borders has been growing according to plan. Since October, numerous forces and assets involved in a series of major military exercises have been massed in the Baltic region and in northern Europe. They complement units already deployed in the “eastern” flank of NATO countries. These actions objectively lead to the militarisation of the region, generate new risks and aggravate military and political confrontation.

The large-scale Trident Juncture exercises wound up a short while ago. It is openly declared that the manoeuvres are aimed at sending a signal to Moscow that NATO is ready for a collective defence “in the event of a threat from the East,” a threat which is a fake and a phantom. (Later, I will dwell on where there really is a threat.) The same anti-Russia logic underlies the US and NATO Anaconda exercises launched on a large scale in Poland and the Baltic area on November 7. Moreover, the games are expressly offensive in nature. All of this represents the largest military onslaught since World War II.

In particular, we noted one fundamentally new element. The Pentagon demanded among other things that the forces involved in the exercise drill evacuate residents from the “conflict zone,” that is, from populated localities adjoining the Russian and Belarusian borders. It is worth noting that they did the same in Europe a few decades back. I think no one needs to be reminded of the facts of history.

NATO and its individual member states are building up a military presence along the entire Baltic Sea – Black Sea arc.

Four multinational NATO battalions are deployed in Poland and the Baltic countries, and a multinational brigade, in Romania. The formation of NATO’s permanent naval task force in the Black Sea is still on the agenda. The United States is sending additional contingents and equipment to Europe. Multinational military drills and reconnaissance activities are being intensified. Thus, a coalition force numbering between 10 and 12 thousand officers and military personnel is deployed on a so-called steady “rotational” basis, but in fact permanently, in regions lying close to Russia’s borders. Moreover, this figure does not include the US forces permanently deployed in Europe or the national armed forces of Central and East European countries. Poland, for one, is implementing plans to increase the strength of its territorial defence force to 200,000 within the next few years.

The military and civilian infrastructure is being assiduously modernised to enable a rapid build-up of the above-mentioned multinational force. A logistic and rear support system is being created, with forward-based arms and equipment depots deployed in Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. Old command and control structures are being adapted to new requirements and new ones are being formed.

Almost three decades after the end of the Cold War, we are witnessing NATO consistently shifting its fortified borders further and further east, each time attributing its steps to the need for self-defence.   

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Main military facilities in regions neighbouring Russia that are used in the interests of NATO member states


The data listed below include elements of the NATO and US command and headquarters infrastructure, facilities that have been officially certified for use during NATO activities, as well as those being used in the interests of contingents from two or more NATO countries (but not directly perceived as NATO bases).  This list does not include details of the military facilities of the national armed forces of NATO member countries on their respective territories.

Latvia: Riga (NATO Force Integration Unit); Adazi (a multinational NATO battalion, 1,293 officers and soldiers; a unit of a US armoured brigade), an air base in Lielvarde (a unit of a rotational US combat aviation brigade). A military base in Luznava and training grounds in Skrunda and the Aluksne and Daugavpils municipalities are being upgraded.

Lithuania: Vilnius (NATO Force Integration Unit); Rukla (a multinational NATO battalion, 1,100 officers and soldiers; a unit of a rotational US armoured brigade); Zokniai Airport in Siauliai (aircraft involved in a NATO mission to patrol air space in the Baltic region: Four fighters of the Belgian Air Component); Mumaiciai (US weapons and military equipment depot); training areas in Pabrade, Kairiai, Kazlu Ruda, Rokai.

Estonia: Tallinn (NATO Force Integration Unit); Tapa (a multinational NATO battalion, 987 officers and soldiers; a unit of a rotational US armoured brigade); Amari Air Base (aircraft involved in a NATO mission to patrol air space in the Baltic region: Four fighters of the German Air Force).

Poland: Szczecin (Headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast); Elblag (Divisional Headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast); Bydgoszcz (NATO Force Integration Unit and Joint Force Training Centre of the Combined Joint NATO Task Forces); Poznan (US Army Europe's Division-Level Tactical Headquarters); Lublin (Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade / LITPOLUKRBRIG Headquarters); Zagan, Drawsko Pomorskie, Torun, Swietoszów, Skwierzyna, Bolesławiec (headquarters and units of a US Army’s rotational armoured brigade); Orzysz and Bemowo Piskie (a multinational NATO battalion, 1,093 officers and soldiers); Powidz (United States Air Forces in Europe are establishing a logistics hub in Europe, and a unit of a US Army combat aviation brigade is deployed there); Redzikowo (an Aegis Ashore US/NATO missile-defence system element is under construction there); training centres in the Biedrusko, Giżycko and Wędrzyn communities.

Air bases are being modernised in Lask, Malbork, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Mirosławiec, Swidwin and Poznan (Krzesiny). Engineering works are underway at the naval bases of Gdynia and Swinoujscie and in Gdansk port.

There are about 3,000 officers and soldiers in the US contingent (including a unit which is part of a multinational NATO Battalion).

Bulgaria: Novo Selo Training Area (Sliven, a unit of a rotational armoured brigade, US weapons and military equipment depots); the Koren Range (Haskovo), Graf Ignatievo Air Base (regular deployment of aircraft for patrolling Bulgarian air space) and Krumovo, Bezmer Air Base and Aitos Logistics Center Air Force Base (US weapons and military equipment depots) are being modernised. The infrastructure of Varna Naval Base and the Burgas Naval Base is being expanded in the interests of the naval forces of NATO countries.

Hungary: Székesfehérvár (NATO Force Integration Unit); Papa Air Base (NATO’s Strategic Airlift Capability consortium and an unfinished logistics hub) and Kecskemet; Varpalota Training Area (a unit of a rotational US armoured brigade); the Bakony Combat Training Centre is being upgraded. 

Romania: Bucharest (Multinational Division Southeast Headquarters); Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base (rotational units of an armoured brigade, a combat aviation brigade, a US Marine Corps (USMC) rotational unit, the Air Force Passenger Transit Centre, US weapons and military equipment depots, regular deployment of aircraft for patrolling Romanian air space: Five Canadian Air Force fighters; Craiova (the Multinational Framework Training Brigade Southeast is being established, with about 2,500 officers and soldiers); Deveselu Air Base (Caracal, Aegis Ashore element of the US/NATO missile-defence system); Feteşti; Air Base Câmpia Turzii; an airfield in Otopeni; Constanta port; Medgidia (weapons and military equipment depot); the Babadag, Melina (Smardan) and Cincu training grounds are being upgraded.

Slovakia: Bratislava (NATO Force Integration Unit); the Sliac, Kuchyna and Malacky air bases, as well as Training Centre Lest, are being modernised in the interests of the NATO states.

The Czech Republic: Air bases in Caslav and Námest’ nad Oslavou and an airfield in Pardubice.

Norway: Sola Air Base in Stavanger, Vaernes Air Station in Trondheim (USMC rotational unit); Bardufoss (Logistics centre for deploying a USMC rotational unit); Trondheim (USMC weapons and military equipment depots).   

Turkey: Izmir (Allied Land Command), Incirlik Air Base; the Kahramanmaras and Adana provinces (NATO’s Operation Active Fence to shield Turkish territory against missile threats from Syria).

Serbia (Kosovo): Camp Bond-Steel of the US Armed Forces; multinational KFOR (Kosovo Force) contingent numbering about 3,900 officers and soldiers.

The US troop contingent numbers about 670 officers and soldiers and is part of KFOR (Kosovo Force). 

Georgia: Krtsanisi (NATO–Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Centre); Sachkhere (Sachkhere Mountain Training School).

Ukraine: Yavorov (International Peacekeeping and Security Centre).

The US contingent includes about 300 officers and soldiers.

Moldova: Chisinau (Training centre for the Moldovan Armed Forces’ Alexandru cel Bun Military Academy).

Germany: Stuttgart-Vaihingen (Headquarters of the US Armed Forces’ European, Africa and Special Operations Commands); Wiesbaden (Headquarters of the US Army Europe and Seventh Army commands); Ramstein Air Base, Ramstein-Miesenbach (Headquarters of NATO Air Forces, US Air Forces in Europe, the Third US Air Force, a facility for controlling missile-defence units and elements of the US Armed Forces’ European Command); Ulm (NATO’s proposed Joint Support and Enabling Command); Uedem (Combined Air Operations Centre); Filseck (2nd Cavalry Regiment of the US Army); Grafenwoehr (173rd Airborne Brigade units, a training centre and a forward-based US Army weapons and military equipment depot); Hohenfels (Joint Multinational Readiness Centre); Kaiserslautern (US Army Patriot surface-to-air missile battalion); Illesheim (headquarters and units of the US Army’s rotational combat aviation brigade); Boeblingen (US Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa Headquarters); Duelmen, Mannheim and Miesau (forward-based US Army weapons and military equipment depots); an air base in Heilenkirchen (NATO’s AWACS early-warning aircraft) and Spangdahlem; garrison-command headquarters in Ansbach, Wiesbaden,  Kaiserslautern, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and  Stuttgart-Vaihingen.    

The US contingent numbers about 38,000 officers and soldiers.

Italy: Naples (Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Strategic Direction South Hub Naples, US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and the US Sixth Fleet); Vicenza (Headquarters of US Army Africa, the 173rd US Airborne Brigade); Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily (rotational USMC unit), Aviano; Livorno (a US weapons and military equipment depot). 

The US contingent numbers about 12,000 officers and soldiers.

The Netherlands: Brunssum (Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum); Leeuwarden Air Base; Eygelshoven (US weapons and military equipment depot).

Belgium: Mons (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe/SHAPE, Allied Command Operations, Special Operations Command and NATO’s proposed Cyber Operations Centre); Brussels  (US Army Garrison Benelux One Team); Chievres Air Base;  Zutendaal (US weapons and military equipment depots).

The United Kingdom: RAF bases in Lakenheath, Mildenhall, Alconbury and Fairford (USAF strategic bombers are regularly deployed there), Crowton, Menwith Hill, Feltwell, Molesworth, Welford and Waddington (NATO AWACS early-warning aircraft).

Iceland: Keflavik Air Base (NATO aircraft are regularly deployed there).

Spain: Morón Air Base (a rotational USMC unit); Naval Station Rota (the US Navy’s guided missile ships are permanently deployed here); Torrejon Air Base (Combined NATO Air Operations Centre).

Portugal: Lajes Field in the Azores.

Greece: Souda Bay (naval base, air base and weapons and military equipment depots); air base in Heraklion; Nea Makri military base. 

Cyprus: Sovereign UK military bases: Royal Air Force Akrotiri, Episkopi Garrison and Dhekelia.

The British contingent includes about 3,500 officers and soldiers.

Afghanistan: Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, Laghman (NATO Resolute Support Mission, 16,300 officers and soldiers); US Armed Forces Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (8,000 officers and soldiers).

Standing NATO Maritime Group One and Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group One operate in the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. In turn, Standing NATO Maritime Group Two and Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group Two operate in the Mediterranean Sea (five-eight warships from each of the NATO countries’ navies). NATO Forces conduct Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean Sea, and they are also deployed in the Aegean Sea to monitor and collect information on illegal immigration.

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Methods used on inmates of CIA secret prisons


On Tuesday, a US court declassified a number of materials that shed light on the brutal interrogation methods used on suspected terrorists in CIA secret prisons (posted on the American Civil Liberties Union official website, www.aclu.org). The documents were made public at the NGO’s request.

The disclosed reports contained information on medical experts’ involvement in the implementation of the CIA Detention and Interrogation programme. They describe methods used to “loosen the tongues” of Al-Qaeda members. In 2007, 97 terrorist suspects were recorded as subjects of the programme (most of them were subsequently kept in Guantanamo Bay prison).

The new materials reveal that the interrogation methods were to a certain extent experimental. They basically relied on the American SERE military training programme (survival, evasion, resistance and escape). The combination of interrogation techniques also took into account the prisoners’ individual characteristics – to avoid bringing the subject to a state where obtaining reliable information became impossible. For these purposes, sensory deprivation (audio, visual, etc.), lack of sleep, artificial stimuli that create a feeling of imminent death, immobilisation and noise exposure were used. At the same time, according to the results of numerous experiments, preference was given to simulated drowning as the most effective means.

In addition to the psychological impact on prisoners, the use of psychotropic substances was also considered. The CIA tried to develop a drug that would make the interrogated person disclose information easier. Midazolam, also known as Versed, was found to be the most suitable for this purpose. However, the project was abandoned because of side effects: it caused amnesia, which hampered the investigation. So instead of the “truth serum,” they resorted to rough physical treatment. As soon as it became obvious that the prisoner was not cooperating, an effective individualised punishment was conceived on the spot.

It is noteworthy that for the legal justification of these interrogation practices, the CIA used the Department of Justice regulations that said only acts causing lasting emotional damage or threatening imminent death qualify as torture. As a result, none of the methods that CIA used were recognised as torture in accordance with US laws and international legal obligations. The only exception was simulated burial (later excluded from the list of permissible methods). In addition, the Department of Justice found no legal obstacles to the use of special interrogation techniques in CIA prisons outside the United States.

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Law on Ukraine’s contiguous zone adopted by the Verkhovna Rada


On November 8, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada adopted in the first reading a law on the country’s contiguous zone. The right of states to adopt legislation on the contiguous zone is stipulated in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Russian Federation adopted a law to this effect, Federal Law No. 155-FZ On Internal Waters, Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, on July 31, 1998. However, the norms of national legislation and their application must not contradict international law.

In particular, the delimitation of the contiguous zones of Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea must be agreed upon by the parties in accordance with international law, including effective bilateral agreements.

We would like to draw your attention to two vital elements concerning the status of the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov.

Russia has complete sovereignty over the Kerch Strait as the only coastal state in that region. As for the Sea of Azov, it is considered the joint territorial waters (part of the national territory) of Russia and Ukraine as per the effective bilateral agreements and general international law. This status of the sea has been sealed, in particular, in the 2003 Treaty of Cooperation in the Use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. This treaty is of unlimited duration and cannot be terminated unilaterally by either side.

Therefore, we believe that the Ukrainian law on the contiguous zone is inapplicable to these sea areas.

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Situation with the Myrotvorets site


We have taken note of the German Foreign Ministry’s statement regarding the addition of the personal data of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to the Myrotvorets database.

You probably know that Germany has at long last said officially that something is wrong with that Ukrainian site and that it should be taken down. This statement was made after Mr Schroeder was added to the Myrotvorets database.

I doubt that Russian books for children are popular in the West, but this situation reminded me of a story about Neznaika, translated as Dunno, who thought he had learned to paint and painted portraits of all his friends. Every one of them liked the others’ portraits, but when they saw their own pictures they demanded that he take them down because the pictures were not like them at all.

Getting back to the situation at hand, the majority of Western countries believed only recently that everything was absolutely fine with the Myrotvorets site, which was established years ago. But their reaction is completely different when the site’s administrators set their eyes on these countries’ politicians, journalists and public organisations or their representatives.

It should be said that Russia has proposed at respective international venues more than once that this online resource must be taken down because of its illegal operations. We also urged Western countries to put pressure on the Kiev authorities to put an end to the illegal activities against the media.

However, it is a fact that our Western partners often shut their eyes to the persecution campaigns waged by Kiev against disagreeable media outlets and dissent. Our partners only react when they themselves or their interests become the targets of such actions.

What can I say? Are we glad that Berlin has at long last spoken up on this score? Yes, we are. Are we happy that this has been done based on considerations of the moment? No, we are not. We believe that principles must sometimes have priority over short-term considerations. If the West, including German NGOs, media and officials, are truly committed to freedom of speech, condemn any pressure on the media and civil society, let alone repressive methods, they must pay attention to such projects as Myrotvorets.

Of course, we would like the international community to take practical and consistent measures, rather than only act when this is convenient, to adjust Kiev’s actions to the standards of international law and its own obligations.

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Seizure of RT correspondents’ passports in Nigeria


On November 7, in Yenagoa, Nigeria’s Bayelsa State, two RT correspondents Natalya Karachkova and Dmitry Tararako, who were filming a news video on an environmental issue, had their passports confiscated by the country’s migration officials. The only complaint voiced by representatives of the Nigerian authorities was that the journalists allegedly had the wrong category visas and did not have permission for filming. The correspondents, however, presented all the necessary original documents, including permission for filming, which had been coordinated at the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Information. Thus, all formalities and requirements for the journalists’ accreditation on the territory of Nigeria had been observed. These requirements are publicly available.

This situation is unacceptable. This is not about a planned inspection or an attempt to point out violations in the documents, but a seizure of documents, and for an extended period.

The Russian Embassy in Nigeria is taking every effort to settle the situation. A demarche on this matter was delivered to the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We are constantly monitoring the situation. If there is no positive outcome regarding the RT journalists, a diplomatic representation will be made to Nigeria’s Ambassador to Russia.

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All-Turkish Forum Memory Watch


As you know, we take every effort to preserve the historic memory of the Great Patriotic War and fight attempts to rewrite history. Today, this work is particularly relevant due to the unprecedented scope of falsifications.

Organisations of Russian compatriots abroad traditionally make a considerable contribution to the preservation of memory of heroic deeds in the national history, including the St George Ribbon and the Immortal Regiment campaigns. Members of these organisations, as volunteers, engage in military memorial work, including caring for monuments and gravesites, and help war veterans. This is constant work. We also often receive requests for help and assistance.

In this regards, we would like to note the work of the Coordinating Council of Organisations of Russian Compatriots in Turkey and the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots (WCC) on organising the first All-Turkish Forum entitled Memory Watch: Immortal Leningrad on November 11-13. The forum took place in the Russian Embassy building in Ankara, with the efforts from the Russian diplomatic mission and local non-commercial organisations of our compatriots (Association of Russian Culture and Association of Russian-Speaking Youth) and with assistance from the Russkiy Mir Foundation. Igor Pykhalov and Yelena Lelina, historians from St Petersburg who were invited to take part in the event, told the forum participants about the history of the defence of Leningrad, as well as about modern monuments dedicated to the Siege of Leningrad. Reports on the immortal deed of Leningrad were presented by compatriots from Ankara, Istanbul, Manisa and Antalya.

Following the forum, the participants adopted a resolution stating their commitment to continue the tradition of organising such patriotic events with the participation of specialists from Russia. The themes of future forums will be the Heroic Defence of Sevastopol, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Kursk Bulge.

The forum attracted over 70 people – compatriots from eight non-commercial organisations and five Turkish cities, students of the school named after Hero of Russia Andrey Karlov at the Russian Embassy, and students of Russian language courses and the Russian department at Ankara University.

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7th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum


The 7th International Cultural Forum is taking place in St Petersburg between November 15 and 17. This major annual international event brings together thousands of culture professionals from all around the world, including  outstanding theatre, opera and ballet artists, renowned directors and musicians, public figures, representatives of authorities and business, as well as academic communities.

This year there will be a large-scale programme, with a number of new Russian and international productions: shows, concerts, exhibitions and many other events for the general public.

More information can be obtained via the forum’s website https://culturalforum.ru.

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Cooperation between Caspian states


We are satisfied with the rapid development of cooperation between the five Caspian states, which is largely due to the constructive results achieved at the Fifth Caspian Summit held on August 12 this year in Aktau, Kazakhstan. The participants adopted the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and signed a number of intergovernmental documents and protocols.

The decisions taken by the Caspian leaders in Aktau are being steadily implemented. The Caspian countries have launched the ratification procedure of the convention. There will be a meeting of the High-Level Working Group at the level of deputy foreign ministers. It has been established to monitor various aspects of Caspian cooperation. The first meeting of the working group will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan shortly.

Interdisciplinary cooperation has been given a fresh boost. In the period since the Aktau summit, Russia has completed the domestic procedures that are required for enforcing the intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in the economy, transport and the prevention of incidents in the Caspian Sea. According to the available information, the other Caspian states are also working towards this end.

Considerable progress has been made at the October talks on a draft protocol to regulate the five countries’ joint fight against poaching, as per the provisions of the Communique of the Fifth Caspian Summit. The 3rd meeting of the Coordination Committee on Hydrometeorology and Pollution Monitoring in the Caspian Sea was held in a business-like atmosphere in Turkmenistan in late October. A second meeting of the intergovernmental Commission on the Protection and Rational Use of Biological Water Resources of the Caspian Sea will be held in Azerbaijan before the end of this year.

We note increased interest in Caspian matters among the academic community. The 11th International Economic Forum, Caspian Dialogue 2018, was held successfully at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) on November 14. The Shirshov Institute of Oceanology is preparing to hold in late November an international roundtable discussion on the future of the Caspian Sea and related research and projects.

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Russian policy on relations with the new government of Iraqi Kurdistan


Regional parliamentary elections were held in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on September 30. Their final results were announced on October 20. As expected, the victory went to the oldest Kurdish parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which will have 45 and 21 seats in the parliament, respectively. A new government is being formed in the autonomous region.

Moscow has traditionally had solid friendly historical ties with Iraqi Kurdistan. We maintain regular and direct political contacts with the region’s authorities and agencies. Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has recently held a meeting in Moscow with a KDP delegation to discuss the future of Russian-Kurdistani cooperation.

We hope that all Kurdish parties will join forces to form without delay a new, effective and viable government, which will work with the Iraqi federal authorities to overcome the current differences between Erbil and Baghdad.

We would also like to say that Moscow has always consistently advocated the achievement of national accord in Iraq in the interests of all Iraqi citizens regardless of their ethnic origin or faith, as well as preserving the country’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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Opening of the Foreign Ministry’s Office at the City of Masters Masterslavl


On November 12, Moskva-City hosted the opening of the Foreign Ministry Office at the City of Masters Masterslavl.

Everyone interested will have an opportunity to delve into the history of the diplomatic service, join in a diplomatic role playing game, and even head a diplomatic mission.

Young visitors will get familiar with technical aspects of the diplomatic profession, including how to prepare a diplomatic bag (the Office will provide valises and genuine sealing-wax) and issue visas. They will also learn about the subtleties of the art of diplomacy and diplomatic etiquette, as well as what makes an effective negotiator. They will learn how to address world problems and answer tricky media questions at a briefing (there is even a miniature press centre on the premises), which can be watched live on a special screen – just like adults do in real life.

Apart from that, children and teens will be able to participate in many other interesting things like attending workshops, trying on the ambassadorial uniform, perusing archive photographs, and looking through latest issues of International Affairs and Diplomatic Journal.

We will be glad to welcome young diplomats and future ambassadors at our Office.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: I would like to thank the Foreign Ministry on behalf of our readers for its heroic peacemaking activities which we regard as a contribution to Russia’s sovereignty.

On November 6, President Emmanuel Macron of France, speaking live on Radio Europe 1, said that we needed a common European army. He expanded on this point while addressing TF1 Channel, where he said that they were not vassals and should have a European army. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany went on record as saying the same thing. President of Russia Vladimir Putin noted that this European desire was normal in a multipolar world format. At the same time, your counterpart, Heather Nauert, declared that the US would not allow the weakening of NATO positions in Europe. Can Russia help Europe strengthen its military sovereignty? After all, this will only strengthen peace.

Maria Zakharova: I think there should be a different relationship here. If I can get philosophical for a moment, it is not peacemaking that contributes to sovereignty but Russia’s sovereignty that contributes to peacemaking and generally to activities aimed at achieving peace and cooperation the world over. I think this is the right way of thinking about it.    

As for the heads of European countries saying that a united Europe would like to have armed forces of its own, the issue, as you rightly said, is the sovereign right of states to decide how they should organise their defence policy. States and unions of states have this sovereign right. Of course, we proceed from the premise that this is precisely a defence policy.

As far as the US reaction is concerned, I was updating you for 20 minutes or so, earlier today, on the deployment of NATO forces and the infrastructure used by NATO, or more precisely by the US, the country that leads and controls that organisation. I also spoke about the presence, strength and deployment of US armed forces in Europe. Who do you think will be pleased with Europe starting to say that its states are not vassals in a country that continues to build up its presence in Europe? I don’t think that the mass of arms and equipment they have as well as their military contingents are an indicator of cooperation. Their function is to control Europe. This is a 24/7 performance meant to show who is the boss and who is responsible for their future. Many analysts say as much. Statements that we heard coming from European capitals can please no one in the United States because the US has an agenda and plans of its own with regard to Europe.

As for Russia-EU military and defence cooperation and interaction, as well as cooperation between Russia and individual member-states and other European countries, we are always open to it. I think our military experts are better qualified to talk about this, but we also regularly update you on the subject. Let me give you a few examples. We hold joint military exercises and are ready for openness and interaction in this area. We also inform our partners, even those that don’t reciprocate, about upcoming exercises. We do this in order to remove concerns in a number of countries. We call for more intensive cooperation between secret services and defence ministries, between counterterrorism agencies, bilaterally, and at the international organisations we belong to. We repeatedly offered NATO the assistance of the CSTO and SCO in dealing with its objectives. You know well that we worked together quite successfully within the framework of Russia-NATO dialogue until this dialogue was blocked by the alliance.    

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Question: Is the Foreign Ministry involved in the implementation of the OPEC+ and Nord Stream projects?

Maria Zakharova: It certainly is. Unfortunately, projects that were meant to operate exclusively within the infrastructure, financial and economic landscape, including in the energy industry, become overgrown with political “chaff” and intrigues, sometimes even confrontation as they advance to a larger scale stage. Over the past few years, this has become known not only to narrow specialists. Today I cited an example of open political pressure that one country places on others. Logic suggests, of course, that these projects should be built without the Foreign Ministry’s involvement, or our involvement should be limited to assistance in the preparation of documents, in legalisation and the search for partners.

But, alas, this is not the case. We can see that in recent years, there has been a fierce debate around energy projects with Russian participation or those that Russia has directly initiated with the involvement of international participants to defend its own interests.

This subject is raised regularly at international organisations and in the course of our bilateral meetings. The Russian side repeatedly tries to persuade its partners that this issue really needs to be brought back on the track of financial and economic negotiations. We point out the underlying political motives, we produce facts to disavow the statements we hear from our partners that these energy projects will only put Europe in a difficult position or threaten the energy security of certain countries. We have to do this explanatory and diplomatic work at the Ministry leadership level, our embassies, and the Central Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We make public statements and conduct purely diplomatic work; this accounts for a good share of our diplomatic activity.

We indeed provide some direct assistance in the implementation of these projects, as I said, help with paperwork, receive delegations, organise meetings between government agencies and representatives of major businesses, help find investors, and involve organisations in various aspects. Our embassy is also is engaged in this work.

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Question: You touched on the cybersecurity issue. Today, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service’s sources noted a major hacker attack directed against their website. Various official spokespersons in Russia say these actions are conducted from other countries.

Maria Zakharova: Our leadership and the Information and Press Department receive monthly updates about the number of attacks against information and media resources, including those of the Foreign Ministry. These numbers run to hundreds of thousands rather than dozens, hundreds or thousands of incidents. We trace their origin. We have repeatedly drawn the attention of our Western partners to this information and have told them from which countries these attacks are conducted. Unfortunately, this is now a routine matter, rather than just one isolated incident. In some cases, our information resources could not be accessed. Therefore we were forced to protect ourselves and to strengthen our information security.

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Question: UK’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab announced his resignation this morning and said that he cannot support Prime Minister Theresa May’s ideas on exiting from the European Union. Notably, Theresa May’s draft document mentioned joint sanction policies of London and Brussels. How can you comment on this situation?

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly commented that, just like the UK’s relations with the EU, Brexit is a domestic UK affair. This is a question of how politicians, representatives of the ruling elite and the British political establishment assess the actions of their government.

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Question: Could you comment on a statement by Hashim Thaci to Kosovo’s media that Russia should change its attitude towards Kosovo? On what conditions could Russia modify its position?

Maria Zakharova: I have not seen this particular statement. Everything boils down to international law here. So far, no one has abolished UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which remains in force. This resolution determines the Russian side’s attitude towards the Kosovo issue. At the same time, we realise that the concerned parties are in talks.

Various decisions that can be made should meet the interests of the people of Serbia. This is a sufficiently universal formula. There is no point in searching for formulas that would make Russia change its approach.

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Question: In its recent report, the Federal Customs Service estimates January-June 2018 trade between Iran and Russia at $950 million. They say some Russian companies are leaving Iran. Do our countries have an action plan for maintaining growth trends and for expanding bilateral trade? 

Maria Zakharova: All political assessments of bilateral economic relations have already been made. Russia strives to cooperate with Iran, it does not declare any unilateral sanctions, like the ones that have been introduced and are being expanded by the United States. Analysts voice positive assessments of Russian-Iranian cooperation prospects. There is room for improvement. Russia has extremely openly stated its position on this matter.

Speaking of specific economic operators, I think it would be better to ask them.

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Question: The presidents of Russia and Turkey agreed in Sochi that the Idlib de-escalation zone should start operating. However, Turkey has not honoured its obligations. Are there any specific deadlines for launching this zone?

Maria Zakharova: Certain dates were stipulated, but, as I have already said, the Turkish side has failed to completely accomplish various tasks. We have noted this, but we continue our work in this area. 

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Question: Editor-in-Chief of USA Really Alexander Malkevich was detained in Washington on November 9. He was interrogated by members of the secret service for several hours. Then he was handed a notice about the need to register his publication as a foreign agent but no specific accusations were presented. Why do you think the American authorities are so interested in the Russian media? Why is such an outrage allowed?

Maria Zakharova: To begin with, I should mention that the detained person is first deputy chairman of the Russian Civic Chamber Commission on the development of the information community, the media and mass communications. As you know, we defend all journalists that are charged with unfounded accusations but in this case our partners should remember that he is a representative of the Russian Civic Chamber.

We have already expressed our serious concern on this score. A relevant commentary was published on the Foreign Ministry website on November 11. The hours-long interrogation to which FBI agents subjected Malkevich for doing his job as a journalist, is yet more proof of the campaign of pressure exerted by the US authorities on the Russian press or any independent opinion, be it on the US or other countries.

The number of people involved in interrogations and investigations is stunning. One gets the impression that he is a member of a terrorist group or bandit formation. The demand presented to our journalist and public figure almost at gunpoint to register the news agency he heads as a foreign agent is much in the same vein.

The information that differs from the mainstream in the US is acquiring a status of “persona non grata.” One gets the impression that people are being intimidated using the examples of others. They are shown what will happen if they continue doing their job as heads of news agencies, journalists and other media employees that do not support the mainstream in the US.

All accusations made during this investigation are limited to the concept of Russophobia and “Russia’s meddling in the US elections.” Just today I have cited examples of how US officials intimidate other countries, proceeding from the political, financial, economic and strategic situation in Washington.

We would like to advise the US authorities to ponder over their actions as regards the Russian media, representatives of civil society, public agencies and NGOs. We demand an end to the practice of such interrogations, power pressure and the use of strong-arm mechanisms regarding those who have what US law enforcement consider an alternative opinion. We believe this is unacceptable.

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Question: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s son claims he was sent from the Czech Republic first to Moscow and then to Crimea by a Russian-born employee of his father’s company. Does the Foreign Ministry have the information on him crossing the border of the Russian Federation? Is there information on his visit to Moscow and stay in Crimea?

Maria Zakharova: I saw reports about this. Our initial analysis suggests that this is likely to be a bogus story, a provocation made for some domestic political purposes.

We have also read comments made by Czech Prime Minister   Andrej Babis himself. He denied all this. I don’t have any additional information. If we receive it, we will certainly let you know but our initial view is that this is simply a bogus story.

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Question: This Tuesday the Rossiya Segodnya press centre hosted the news conference “Russian women and children in Middle East prisons and camps: Their situation and possible liberation.” The participants spoke about women who joined ISIS. They said that the Foreign Ministry is helping to secure their release. What difficulties or challenges is the ministry facing in this work?

Maria Zakharova: This work is very difficult. If I understand you correctly, you are talking about children and women arrested in the Middle East and North Africa on charges of terrorism.

We have spoken about this a lot and had a detailed analysis of a number of cases, court rulings and so on. Speaking about difficulties, first, they concern the need to verify that they are Russian citizens (without going into the detail of the investigation, because it does not fall within the purview of the executive power or the Russian side). Sometimes passports and all the documents are lost. There were cases when they were not lost but destroyed on purpose. It is very difficult to confirm if they are Russian citizens or not. But we are working on this.

The next thing is family ties. We need to determine whether these people are members of the same family or not, if they have relatives in Russia, and again if these relatives have Russian citizenship – that is the second set of issues we are dealing with.

The third large set involves direct communication and cooperation with these people. Many of them, even if their Russian citizenship has been confirmed, refuse to communicate with Russia. Conversely, others want to return or want their children to return.

These are the three sets of the most difficult issues we have to resolve.

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Question: I would like to ask you about the groundbreaking ceremony of the first Russian Cultural Centre plus an Orthodox church in Singapore. Is it important for Russia to promote Russian culture abroad? How does the public in these countries feel about these activities?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the event you have just mentioned: we have posted the statement which was made by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with his views on this event.

As for promoting Russian culture abroad, this is really a sweeping matter. We attach great importance to it for a number of reasons. It is difficult to say which of these are more important. I will provide several aspects why Russian culture should be promoted.

First and foremost, a huge number of compatriots one way or another are living abroad. They see themselves as part of the common Russian cultural space. They want us to remember them. They want to learn Russian and they want their children and grandchildren to speak Russian as well. They try to be active members of the Russian cultural community. They want to be involved in everything that takes place in Russia, including in terms of its development and culture.

There are very many associations, foundations and NGOs that are working outside Russia – this is the second part of my answer to your question – to maintain bilateral cultural ties. Some of them were formed by our compatriots. But others were created by those who have no direct ties of blood with Russia or Russian citizens but want to develop cultural relations with Russia.

A Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recently visited Madrid, where Mr Lavrov presented a state decoration to Dolores Tomás Silvestre, a Spanish collector who supported Soviet and Russian artists for years and who has recently donated many of her paintings to Russian museums. She does not simply have an interest in Russia but believes that it is part of her life and her mission.

Apart from everything else, culture, educational projects, research and sports are the integral parts of the humanitarian sphere, which we can use to tell people more about our country and to build bridges between individuals and whole nations. This is the essence of international relations. They are not only about preventing crises. The main task, which we have been neglecting recently, is to promote contacts among people, nations, and citizens from various countries and regions. Culture is a marvellous medium for the development of such contacts.

Question: This question is related to yet another accusation against Russia by the current Ukrainian authorities. After President Vladimir Putin made an exhaustive comment today on the West’s reaction to the elections in Donbass, Verkhovna Rada Vice Speaker Irina Gerashchenko posted a statement accusing Russia of trying to destabilise the situation in Ukraine. She linked it with the renunciation of the proposal to convene an extraordinary meeting of the trilateral Contact Group in connection with the elections in the DPR and the LPR. She declared that Russia had assumed full responsibility for the “pseudo elections” in Donbass and any destructive consequences, that it is betting on the failure of the peace talks and is impudently demonstrating that no progress will be made in these talks until the presidential election in Ukraine, at which Russia hopes to see a winner other than Petr Poroshenko. How can these accusations be countered?

Maria Zakharova: You said, and rightly so, that evaluations had already been made. They were made before the elections in Donbass because there were questions and it was clear that the elections had been scheduled. Russia did not hide its attitude and openly explained its position. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made several open statements on this issue.

You mentioned a statement by a Ukrainian politician that Russia had assumed full responsibility for the elections in Donbass. I would like to correct her. You have to be honest and say that Russia in principle has assumed responsibility for the destinies of people whom many in Kiev would simply like to destroy. This is exactly why Ukrainian armed forces tanks were sent to Donbass to suppress any dissent and eliminate people who did not accept the constitutional coup that took place in Ukraine. At that time Russia indeed took responsibility for the destinies of these people by supplying them with food, medication, the basic necessities and all the humanitarian relief we sent. Kiev claimed that these were all but disassembled tanks that were transported in heavy trucks in the guise of humanitarian relief. Later, everybody calmed down. As a result, many convoys (about a hundred) have been sent to Donbass.  

You have to be specific and say that this is the responsibility for the people who could have been killed. I do not see any other reason for the country’s leaders sitting in the capital to send tanks to these regions and open fire at civilians. The only reason was to suppress these people morally and psychologically, prevent them from living according to the laws that were not abrogated by any legal authorities and then to just start destroying them. I think you know this better than me. Many of you have been to the region and have seen everything with your own eyes. You saw how the people lived there. If it were not for Russia, it would be horrible to imagine how they would exist today.

I would also like to recall what the Kiev authorities do not want to remember or even know – how many people were received by the Russian Federation and the Russian people and what support was given to them when the Kiev regime decided it was okay to open fire on civilians. A number of people have remained in the Russian Federation while others have returned to their historical homeland in the hope that peaceful life will fall into place, all the more so since the Minsk agreements were signed. If Kiev starts issuing statements about this, it is necessary to recollect courage and analyse in real earnest what has been happening in Donbass during all these years.

Now I would like to talk about the declaration of the will of the people of Donbass and Russia’s motives in assessing these elections. The leaders of some districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were elected on November 11 of this year. The current leaders – Denis Pushilin (Donetsk) and Leonid Pasechnik – were elected to the top positions. The voter turnout was unprecedentedly high – almost 80 percent.

The elections were organised under the universal and equal right to vote as guaranteed by item 7.3 of the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and by the basic standards of democracy. The Kiev authorities do not want to hear this, but we will tell them about the unanimous opinion of the many observers from over 20 countries, including OSCE member states.

On the whole, voting took place in a calm atmosphere and without violations. The absence of excesses was reaffirmed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). Its personnel did not act as observers at these elections but continued monitoring the situation in the unrecognised republics under their mandate.

Now I would like to say a few words about motives. After the assassination of Alexander Zakharchenko, the potential “vacuum of power” created a real risk of total destabilisation in southeastern Ukraine. This could have negatively affected the sustenance of life in Donbass and the process of settlement in general against the backdrop of the Kiev-imposed trade and economic blockade and Kiev’s continuous threats to use force. The elections made it possible to avoid this scenario. Now the people’s elected officials have a mandate to address the practical goals of supporting a normal life in these regions and carrying out the social functions that have been stubbornly neglected by the Ukrainian authorities.

It is essential to approach the results of the election in Donbass with understanding, respect and consideration for the totality of all factors. We assume that it was held outside the context of the Minsk Package of Measures, item 12 of which is exclusively devoted to local elections. We hope the newly elected leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk will continue the dialogue with Kiev in the framework of the Contact Group on settling the crisis in southeastern Ukraine in accordance with the Minsk agreements.



































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