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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, September 24, 2015

24 September 201519:47

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit Venezuela


Under current agreements, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to visit the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on September 26. His programme includes a meeting with President Nicolas Maduro and talks with his Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez.

During their meeting, the foreign ministers plan to exchange opinions on major bilateral issues, giving priority to the need for the coordination of joint actions on the world scene. The ministers also intend to sign a joint statement on not being the first to deploy weapons in space.

We hope that Mr Lavrov’s visit to Caracas will give an additional impetus to the development of our versatile ties, enable us to promote cooperation in vital economic spheres and facilitate our foreign policy coordination.

Detailed information on bilateral relations and the visit programme will be published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly

Considering that President Vladimir Putin will lead the Russian delegation at the 70th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly, the schedule for Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be tailored to the President’s programme. By tradition, Mr Lavrov has a busy schedule of intensive working contacts and events. About 55-60 events, mostly bilateral meetings and talks, have been planned for the time being. Mr Lavrov also plans to take part in the events that I will describe in more detail.

On September 27, Mr Lavrov will speak at the summit on the post-2015 development agenda and participate in traditional foreign minister meetings in the multilateral and regional formats, including the ministerial meetings of the CSTO, BRICS and International Quartet of Middle East mediators. Mr Lavrov will also take part in other multilateral meetings. In addition, he will participate in high-level thematic meetings on topical issues on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Mr Lavrov is also scheduled to meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

As part of Russia’s September Presidency of the UN Security Council, the latter will hold a ministerial meeting on maintaining international peace and security, settling conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and countering the terrorist threat. This meeting will be held under Russia’s Presidency and Mr Lavrov will deliver a speech there. We hope for the large-scale participation of all member countries at a high level in the open debates of the UN Security Council.

I will not describe in detail bilateral meetings because there are too many and the working schedule allows for some adjustments. We plan to report on the results of the meetings on a daily basis – please follow the updates on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Tentatively, Foreign Minister Lavrov’s news conference on Russia’s Presidency of the UN Security Council will take place on October 1 at the UN headquarters. Media representatives who will be in New York at the time are welcome to attend.

Ministerial meeting of International Quartet of Middle East mediators

The ministerial meeting of the International Quartet of Middle East mediators is planned for September 30 on the sidelines of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. The foreign ministers of Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – and the Arab League’s Secretary General have been invited to take part.

The long-term lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian settlement and the growing tensions on occupied Palestinian territory increasingly emphasise the need to search for mutually acceptable solutions of the Palestinian issue on universally recognised principles of international law. Moscow proceeds from the premise that under the circumstances it is important to convene a ministerial meeting of the Quartet that remains the leading UN-authorised mechanism of a peace process.

At the meeting, the participants will sum up the preliminary results of the steps undertaken by the Quartet since the start of 2015 to establish close cooperation and regular contacts with key regional players. This is what Russia stands for. We also welcome the potential assistance of other international parties in establishing peace and security in the Middle East as soon as possible.

Developments in Lebanon

Reports indicate that protest sentiments in Lebanon over a waste disposal (rubbish) crisis are not abating. In light of this, security was tightened at the third round of the internal dialogue between the leading political forces, chaired by Speaker Nabih Berri, on September 22 to prevent possible attempts by protesters to break through police cordons.

We regret that the politicians who attended this round of consultations have not come to an agreement on the key issues on the internal Lebanese agenda. The next meeting as part of the domestic dialogue is scheduled for early October.

We urge Lebanese political forces to forget their ambitions in order to boost the internal Lebanese settlement, using the traditional Lebanese talent for negotiation. The absence of an incumbent president, a stymied parliament and acute differences in the Lebanese Government, amid the persistent terrorist threat and growing socioeconomic problems, have affected governance efficiency in the country, including the army. Russia, which has consistently positioned itself as a sincere friend of the Lebanese people, wants to see Lebanon united, stable and sovereign, with efficient government institutions.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to meet with the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Tammam Salam, on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly. Russia will also attend a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in New York.

Migration crisis in Europe

We continue to monitor the unprecedented migration crisis in the European Union, that is, the thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. On September 22, participants at the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting decided to create a temporary mechanism for the relocation of 120,000 refugees from Greece and Italy within two years. On September 23, the EU heads of state and government agreed to strengthen controls at their external borders, to establish reception centres (hotspots) in Italy and Greece to identify and fingerprint migrants and refugees by late November 2015, to assist countries bordering Syria in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis and to help the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme and other agencies with at least an additional 1 billion euros.

The relocation of 120,000 people within two years, or 5,000 a month, amid the growing inflow of migrants to the EU cannot resolve the problem, since some 5,000 people arrive to the EU every day, but it is a much needed and important step towards this goal.

We hope the EU countries will promptly implement the agreed upon measures aimed at settling the crisis, with consideration for international commitments on refugees.

We see the growing awareness in the EU that, apart from coordinating a common refugee policy, they also need to deal with the root cause of the migration crisis, primarily through a peaceful settlement in Libya and Syria. We reiterate Russia’s policy for coordinating and redoubling international efforts towards a political solution to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and countering international terrorism, primarily ISIS, within the international legal framework and with the leading role of the UN.

Developments in Ukraine

We are noting with satisfaction that the sides are observing the truce that has been declared since early September 2015. This certainly helps stabilise the overall situation in southeastern Ukraine. Reduced military tensions create certain prerequisites for more active work to implement and resolve military issues and other provisions of the Minsk agreements.

We still believe that the quickest possible additional coordination of a draft agreement on the withdrawal of tanks, artillery systems with a calibre of under 100 mm and mortars with a calibre of under 120 mm would facilitate eventual de-escalation in the region. Unfortunately, it was impossible to accomplish this objective once again during the regular meetings of the Contact Group and the security sub-group in Minsk on September 22. At the same time, a search for a compromise continues. We hope that proposals by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, now being studied by the sides prior to a detailed discussion at the scheduled September 25 meeting/videoconference of the Contact Group involving representatives of Donbass, the Joint Centre for Monitoring and Coordinating Issues of the Ceasefire Regime and the Stabilisation of the Situation and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, will facilitate this process. The sides have also agreed to hold a regular meeting of the specialised sub-group in Minsk on September 28-29.

All experts, journalists and concerned parties have noted a new development, namely, the public decision of Donetsk and Lugansk representatives to hold parts of local elections in the region on October 18 and November 1, 2015 and to hold the remaining elections on February 21, 2016. This step will leave open the possibility to continue the discussion on key issues in the political settlement, and this chance should be taken. In this context, we praise the agreement of the members of the concerned sub-group to meet again on September 29 in Minsk. We would like to recall once again that our position and expert analysis implies that the successful implementation of Minsk agreements boils down to one thing: launching a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass which has now become an urgent necessity.

Comments on U.S. Attempts to Present Ukrainian Servicewoman Nadiya Savchenko as a POW

We could not ignore the statement of Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department Mark Toner who said that “Nadiya Savchenko, who is a Ukrainian soldier, and now a member of Ukraine’s parliament, who was kidnapped by Russian-backed separatists in June 2014, spirited across the border to Russia against her will, and then charged with murder.”

Washington’s position as set out by Mr Toner is that “the United States remains deeply disturbed by the Russian Federation’s decision to move forward with this baseless case,” adding that “the only true justice would be to dismiss the charges immediately and return Nadiya Savchenko to her Ukrainian home.” Our American partners believe that this is part of the “commitment that Russia made when it signed the Minsk agreements.”

Both the international community and also Mark Toner, in particular, can access the Minsk agreements. There is no mention of Nadiya Savchenko in the document but it does state the need to establish a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass. If Mr Toner makes the most of his current position and urges Kiev do its best to pursue this dialogue, then Russia will welcome such statements from the US State Department.

I dread to think what would have happened to Nadiya Savchenko had she been suspected of murdering American journalists. On a human level, it is hard to imagine how and from where she would have been transported and what her life would have been like. I hardly think we would have heard the US State Department making any statements expressing concern over her fate. But as this case involves the murder of Russian journalists, there’s reason to engage in political hypocrisy.

If Mark Toner one day comes to Moscow, it will be my pleasure to show him the city, the Kremlin and other sights, but also I will show the American diplomat the graves at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery where the two Russian correspondents – Igor Kornilyuk and Anton Voloshin - are buried.

The selective approach of the United States and some European countries to Ukraine’s sanctions against journalists

The other day we witnessed another example of the “double standards” that are being practiced by the US administration and some European countries when it comes to assessing the observance of human rights in countries with regimes that are politically close to them. As a rule, our partners most willingly criticise the authorities of other countries on the slightest suspicion of encroachments on the freedom of expression and the media activities.

It is very strange that, regrettably, they did not find words to denounce Ukraine’s recent adoption of a list of sanctions against dozens of Russian and foreign journalists. So how adequate are Washington’s words on support in Ukraine of “the genuine pluralism of opinion” and the appeals “to remember about the importance of unbiased and fact-based journalism in a democratic society”? If Kiev had not imposed massive sanctions and bans on journalists, it would have had more opportunities to let the world's public know more about it. Obviously, this is being done not to prevent some Russian information threat but to conceal what is going on from those few who are capable of independent judgment.

As a person dealing with information and working with journalists, and being a journalist by occupation, I find no less indicative the selective reaction of the executives of some global media, trade unions and human rights NGOs to the introduction of sanctions against Russian journalists. One case in point is the BBC’s reaction. The BBC came to the defence of several of its correspondents but once their names were removed from the list, it lost interest in other media representatives. The fervour for fighting for freedom of speech ground to a halt. It would be appropriate to remind (probably BBC employees and British colleagues of Russian journalists are not in the know) that Russian journalists are still blacklisted. We would be glad if our BBC colleagues would display corporate ethics, lend a hand to Russian journalists and urge Kiev to go further and remove not only British journalists but also Russian journalists from the black list.

We support the appeal of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, to the Kiev authorities to remove the names of journalists from the sanction list. We understand that this is not enough and it is necessary to go further and take measures in the framework of international organisations to prevent sanctions against journalists in principle.

Kiev’s decision to compel foreign journalists, human rights activists and representatives of international organisations to receive a permit for visiting Crimea

First of all, I would like to calm foreign journalists accredited in Russia: they have no restrictions on entering and working in Crimea. All they need to do is observe Russian legislation, notably, the federal Law on the Media, and the rules for accreditation and stay of foreign correspondents on the territory of the Russian Federation. Relevant documents are accessible on the Foreign Ministry’s website. Or one can call the Ministry’s Information and Press Department for help. So, those who truly want to get first-hand information on the actual state of affairs in this Russian region are free to do so but, let me repeat, in accordance with Russian legislation.

Kiev’s new sanctions against foreign journalists, as well as the similar decisions we discussed before, can only be qualified as a glaring violation by the Ukrainian authorities of not only international legal standards but also their own international commitments on the freedom of expression and media activities.

 It is abundantly clear that the introduction of mandatory “special permits” and preliminary approvals for those working as journalists in Crimea will very soon result in the blacklisting of more journalists against whom sanctions will be imposed. Apparently, Kiev has a very peculiar interpretation of freedom of the press. It is necessary to point this out with more emphasis on the international organisations dealing with this issue.

Answers to questions:

Question: Can you comment on a statement by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin, who has all but accused Russia of training ISIS terrorists?

Maria Zakharova: I’ve provided my comments on this issue as an expert. You can read them on my blog, on the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook account in the #Opinion rubric, as well as on the Ekho Moskvy radio station website.

I can only add that speaking on any issue is the sovereign right of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin. But Kiev would be better off focusing on the crisis at home and restoring order where the international community expects this, in particular, implement the Minsk Agreements. If it has the time and heart for other regional crises, this would require a detailed analysis. Mr Klimkin has alleged that the ISIS terrorists were trained by Russia, that Russia trained Saddam Hussein’s army. Only those who don’t know the history of international relations can make these assertions. Saying that Russia coached Hussein’s army, which now forms the backbone of ISIS, is as absurd as describing the liberators of Auschwitz as “Ukrainians.”

I won’t say much about this. I’ve said everything I wanted in my post, which includes the relevant links. But I do want to say that the origin of ISIS and its terrorists is a moot question. I’d like to remind you that one of Russia’s major moves, taken over 10 years ago, when it was encouraged to join the illegal Iraq war, was to explain to the international community (the US, the EU and also Ukraine, which joined that illegal undertaking) that disrupting the balance of religious and ethnic interests and the very statehood of Iraq, which was done based on far-fetched pretexts contrary to international law, would only have one outcome – to spur international terrorism and create new challenges and threats in the region, chaos and everything else that we are fighting now.

So who was right? It has been admitted that the anti-Iraq coalition has failed in its mission. Old issues remained unsettled, and we also face new global threats. Despite its problems, Iraq has never been an international terrorist centre. Iraq’s main objective now is to survive the onslaught by multinational terrorists. The outcome of this battle is unclear.

We saw similar developments in Libya, and the current target is Syria. Our argument for those who claim the right to overthrow foreign governments is that they should be aware of the consequences. In the past, there was the illusion that a country’s involvement in political engineering and ideological export would not endanger its integrity and safety, because that country is strong and rich. But this illusion has been shattered. About 400,000 refugees have fled to Europe over the past six months. Their very arrival has showed Europeans and Western advocates that it’s impossible to bomb Middle Eastern countries and hope not to be involved in a global crisis.

I’d like to say once again that you can find my comments on Mr Klimkin’s statement in my post. Of course, he should focus on his country’s internal problems. But being a foreign minister, he definitely has the right to deliberate on international issues.

Question: The Foreign Ministry has been doing much to help our compatriots, yet they are the first to suffer from the migration crisis. What is the ministry’s stance on Russian compatriots? Are there any particular concerns?

Maria Zakharova: I wouldn’t consider the European migration crisis in terms of “who suffers more,” Russian compatriots or members of different religions and ethnic groups. It’s not a matter of who suffers the most, but about the problems this crisis has brought into focus, and there are several. The first can be explained by the saying, ‘you reap what you sow.’ This may sound like a trite or simplistic explanation, but it’s true. You can’t change the world by acting contrary to international law and to the standards that have been approved by many countries and have been effective for decades, while at the same time disregarding the situation at home. This may have been possible in the past. On the other hand, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York has shown that even the most prosperous countries are not safe from global problems such as international terrorism.

As for the problems the migration crisis has highlighted, Europe, with its huge technical and military potential, has proved unable to deal with ordinary people and their problems. Like many centuries ago, Europe, one of the largest and richest continents, has been hit by a massive inflow of people, which spells trouble. It’s unclear how many criminals have entered Europe along with the migrants, if there are ISIS terrorists among them, or when they could deliver the blow.

Another issue that has been brought forth by the crisis is the lack of an effective system for protecting human rights during a crisis. There are many international legal documents and concerned international organisations. But the provisions in them remain on paper during the current crisis or are used for political pressure. In terms of the common person, human rights are no more than fine sounding but empty words.

You’ve seen footage showing mothers giving birth on the way to Europe and feeding their babies in unsanitary conditions, you’ve seen families divided and children separated from their parents.

We’ve heard many statements on this or that country’s concern about an individual journalist or prisoner, when the world’s attention seems to be focused on the fate of just one person. All of this is good, provided there is no political bias. But why are hundreds of thousands of people worse than one individual for whom the world seems to care so much? The whole world, focused on the plight of one person, doesn’t seem to care for the suffering of hundreds of thousands, who are not guilty of any crime and are fleeing their countries just to survive. This is terrible. I’m talking about Europe, the birthplace of the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights. Until now, many countries, including Russia, used to learn from Europe.

Another issue concerns the loss of human dignity, in the way the Europeans are treating the refugees. I understand that they are protecting their homes and wellbeing; they didn’t work hard to see someone hang their dirty laundry on their fences. But there are crises and emergencies when people should remain human.

Refugees have come to Europe not for a better and more prosperous life. Some of them could be seeking this, but the overwhelming majority of them have come to Europe because they can’t live in their home countries. It is said that they are adventurers who could have gone to neighbouring countries. I could have agreed, if not for one thing: these people have not lived in peace in their countries for the past 10 years. Had they known for sure that a similar trouble such as a military operation, bombing raids or change in government would not afflict neighbouring countries, they would have gone there. But they know that the region is not safe from a repetition of the Lebanese, Syrian or other scenario like this.

As for our Russian compatriots, as you said, we have been working on this issue, but much is still to be done. As you know, the compatriot issue is not new, but it has not been thoroughly researched either. We are preparing for the next World Conference of Compatriots. I hope you’ll attend it.

Question: What does Russia know about alleged US contacts with the ISIS terrorists?

Maria Zakharova: I’d rather not comment on this before the US Department of State answers this question. I suggest that you direct this question to US officials.

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