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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 14, 2016

14 January 201620:33

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Michael Christidis, Secretary General of the BSEC Permanent International Secretariat

On January 18, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Michael Christidis, Secretary General of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Permanent International Secretariat.

The officials will discuss relevant activities of this full-fledged international organisation tasked with promoting mutually beneficial cooperation and good-neighbourly relations in the Black Sea region.

There are plans to focus on key and organisational aspects of Russia’s presidency of the organisation in January-June 2016.

Upcoming meeting of Foreign Ministry’s Business Council, chaired by Sergey Lavrov, on business and human rights issues

On January 18, the Foreign Ministry’s Business Council, chaired by Sergey Lavrov, will hold its meeting on business and human rights issues.

The Foreign Ministry focuses on cooperation with the business community on human rights issues and on promoting the business community’s social responsibility. This is confirmed by the fact that Russia has a substantial legal framework in the areas of labour, anti-monopoly, nature-conservation and environmental-protection legislation, as well as by a number of federal concepts and programmes protecting the rights and interests of citizens during the implementation of private companies’ projects.

Russia is taking an active part in elaborating on human rights and business issues at the UN. It is a co-author of resolutions stipulating the mandates of the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises and the mandate of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights that functions under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.

Russia is also actively involved in discussing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which carry a recommendation status.. For example, these issues were discussed at the 4th session of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva in November 2015.

We are confident that participants in the upcoming Business Council meeting will help the ministry and business community representatives to more effectively promote Russian approaches toward accelerating the development of business and human rights, the concept of the business community’s social responsibility (including through the use of financial leverage) at international venues. It is common knowledge that Russia spends part of its voluntary donation to the budget of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for financing UN projects in this area.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry

As you know, during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry, the parties agreed to hold a bilateral meeting in the near future. I can confirm the media reports that this meeting is being arranged and will be held next week. We will inform you of the exact time and location of the meeting.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming news conference

Running ahead, I would like to announce Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s traditional news conference, which is held at the start of the year to sum up the foreign policy results of the past year.

This year, a comprehensive news conference by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled for January 26 and will be held in the Foreign Ministry’s Building No.1. Tomorrow, the Ministry’s official website will announce this event and launch on-line accreditation. We invite accredited Russian and foreign media to take part.

The detention of Russian citizens in Turkey on suspected involvement in ISIS-related international terrorist activities

Yesterday, having been informed by Turkish officials of the detention of Russian citizens, we promptly commented on the matter. Russian embassy services immediately requested access to the detainees. According to the Turkish side, the detained Russian citizens refused to meet with Russian embassy officials. It’s an uncommon case. After we received additional information revealing who these Russian citizens were, much became clear, especially as to why they had declined to see Russian officials.

As reported by Turkish law enforcement agencies, one of the detainees is Aydar Suleymanov, born in 1984, who, on August 10, 2015, was indicted by the Interior Ministry of Tatarstan in absentia on charges of involvement with the ISIS terrorist group, which is banned in the Russian Federation, and recruiting terrorists for that group. I can give you the official document, it is protocol No. 2015/3907 of the Interior Ministry of Tatarstan.  Then, on November 25, 2015, Aydar Suleymanov was put on Interpol’s list of internationally wanted persons. According to our information, Suleymanov left Russia as far back as July 26, 2003.

These facts are important in understanding the circumstances of this detention and their refusal to meet with officials. Let me note and draw your attention to the fact that all countries that cooperate with Interpol, including Turkey, have been well aware of Suleymanov’s ties with ISIS. Russia’s official warrant for him, on ISIS related charges, passed all the necessary formalities.

Again, we see that extremists charged with terrorist activities in Russia, deplorably, have lived freely in a number of countries for years. Terrorists live there, fully confident that they are safe and out of the reach of Russian justice. Often, local authorities refuse to cooperate, including with Russia and its law enforcement agencies, despite the fact that the fundamental data and the necessary evidence have all been collected and properly submitted in line with the established procedures.

Regrettably, and it’s also a fact, sooner or later this attitude towards terrorists wanted by Russia for prosecution on its territory as it seeks their extradition, using the established channels, in order to bring them to justice, and these experiments to shelter them or provide them with semi-comfortable conditions end tragically both for the country that hospitably gave them shelter and for foreign citizens who happened by chance to be at the scene of a terrorist attack. All this proves that a country that flirts with terrorists and lures them and ignores requests for extradition can face sad consequences like the ones we have just seen.

Regrettably, this is not an exception, but is common and fairly widespread.

Suffice it to recall the tragic events during the Boston marathon on April 15, 2013. You know well that the perpetrators of that terrorist attack were the Tsarnayev brothers. Let me remind you that in 2011 Russia informed Washington through its secret services of suspicions that Tamerlan Tsarnayev was a supporter of radical Islam which has nothing in common with the true values of this religion, and that he was an extremist-minded person who was plotting a number of terrorist attacks. Back then, our signals were not properly heeded. We were assured that everything was normal and that everything was under control. We all remember what that “under-control” situation led to.

Still more surprising is a statement by US congressman William Keating, a member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, who said: “The US should not be reliant on Russia to provide domestic security. We should not depend on Russia for the information to make the US safe.” Unfortunately, this logic repeats itself time and again.

This morning, when my colleagues sent me an overview of major events, they added a note, saying: “Many explosions have occurred in the world today.” Regrettably, these are 21st-century realities.

International terrorism has no borders and, unfortunately, we see its manifestations at home, in Europe, across the ocean, in the Middle East and in Asian countries. Is it not clear that only through cooperation and joint efforts can we achieve concrete results and defeat this evil? If we go on acting unilaterally and let the current political climate hamper counterterrorist cooperation, we won’t achieve the desired goal. Those guided by this logic are making innocent people hostage to it.

It seems to me that it’s time to stop thinking self-reliantly that we can do without each other’s help and to stop being driven by the logic of momentary political considerations.   

Terrorist attacks in Jakarta

A series of terrorist attacks rocked Jakarta at about 11 am on January 14, perpetrated by suicide bombers and gunmen in the centre and other parts of the Indonesian capital. Preliminary reports suggest seven people died, including police. There has been no information of victims among Russian citizens.

Let me remind you that our diplomatic and consulate representatives have been actively commenting on the situation and providing all required information.

The Russian Embassy in Jakarta is maintaining close contact with Indonesian law enforcement authorities.

In December 2015, the Russian Foreign Ministry recommended that Russian citizens leaving for Indonesia be highly cautious, avoid crowded places and do not leave guarded resort areas unless they really have to.

In case of an emergency, they have been advised to contact the Russian Embassy in Indonesia (tel. +62-21-522-29-12/14, round the clock). Contact phone numbers are available on the websites of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Jakarta.

Syrian settlement

A series of international meetings have taken place in Geneva to discuss the Syrian settlement. First, co-sponsors, co-chairmen of the Vienna-format talks at the level of deputy foreign ministers of Russia (represented by Gennady Gatilov) and the United States met for negotiations attended by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. The meeting was followed by talks between the Five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, with de Mistura present. Then the Russian representative continued contacts with members of the Syrian opposition in Geneva.

I’d like to refer you to a detailed summary from Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on the results of these negotiations available on the Ministry’s website.

French Foreign Minister’s latest comments on Syria

Following his recent meeting in Paris with coordinator of the so-called high negotiation committee for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces Riyad Hijab, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius showed photos of starving residents of Madaya and other towns “besieged by the Syrian regime” as he put it. He then accused Russia of military actions against Syrian civilians and even of bombing a school.

It all looks bizarre and unsubstantiated coming from the head of the French Foreign Ministry. It is even more so, considering the recent visits by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French Chief of Defence Staff Pierre de Villiers to Moscow when they discussed cooperation between our countries in the fight against international terrorism, including in Syria.

It is striking how ungrounded the allegations are, without any detailed research or hard evidence. The main source of information cited by Mr Fabius is “people say” – the phase the French Foreign Minister used as the key proof.

In its allegations against Russia, the French Foreign Ministry relies on someone’s speculations and propaganda clichés rather than on specific facts.

Let me remind you that it was Russia that has been calling on all countries opposing international terrorists in Syria to unite their efforts, to share information and to clearly coordinate their activities to the point of setting up a joint coordination centre, and also to participate in the work of the centres that have already been established and are operating in the region. This is the only way to avoid duplicating air strike targets and ungrounded mutual accusations of striking civilian targets in the conditions of war (and this is a real war on terrorism).

Turkey’s continuing allegations of Russian airstrikes against civilians in Syria

Unfortunately, we are hearing assertions not only from a French diplomatic official but also from our Turkish colleagues.

We have taken note of the ongoing allegations made by high-level Turkish officials (to the effect that the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces continue to attack civilians in Syria) that are aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the world community.

It is amazing that Turkish leadership, the country’s Foreign Ministry has stooped to using dirty tricks such as accusing our country of killing children, women and elderly people in Syria. Presumably, a principle that was enunciated more than 70 years ago is at work here: The more horrible and preposterous a lie, the easier it is to believe.

At the same time, Ankara is trying to cast the fight against terrorism that is being waged by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces in Syria on a legal basis and in collaboration with the country’s legitimate government and a number of other countries in the region as some criminal act. Several conspiracy theories have been invented (I cannot think of a more appropriate verb to use here) and spread regarding the “true” reasons for Russia’s presence in Syria and attempts to create – and I quote Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan – “midget quasi-states” on its soil.

In this connection, yesterday, we were forced to publish excerpts from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks, starting from 2012. The result was a fairly good compilation of quotes, several pages long. Time after time, Mr Lavrov kept saying that Russia acts on the premise that Syria should be a single, territorially integrated state. We have repeatedly stated this, time and again. We had to make this compilation especially for our Turkish colleagues. Maybe they hadn’t heard these statements and so they went ahead with their strange claims.

The assertions that “the problem with the Russian plane” – this is precisely how they refer to the tragedy with the Russian bomber that was shot down by the Turkish Air Force in Syrian airspace on November 24, 2015 – was used by Russia as a pretext to aggravate relations between our countries are equally cynical and absurd. This is terrible and unreasonable, because when I stood at this lectern a couple of months ago, fielding your questions, I said we saw nothing that could compound our relations with Turkey. Naturally, this was before the tragedy.

Meanwhile, unlike Russia, whose goals in Syria are absolutely transparent and understandable (this is what the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry are saying almost every day), Turkey is playing a covert game in the region, pursuing narrow, opportunistic interests and abetting the smuggling of ISIS oil across its territory in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. This is to say nothing about the regular support, including arms supplies that the Turkish authorities provide to various extremist groups in Syria, some of which are openly terrorist organisations or groups affiliated with them.

Ankara is clearly trying, by taking advantage of the chaos in Syria, under the pretext of fighting ISIS, to change the ethnic configuration in the north of the country in its favour. Under this strategy, it is taking steps to weaken one ethnic group that is selflessly and successfully resisting jihadist groups and at the same time strengthen another. Turkish special services provide military and other support to Turkoman armed groups that include openly extremist nationalist elements and volunteer militants from Turkey.

We condemn this destructive line, which further escalates the situation in the region. We call for constructive action as part of international efforts to launch an inclusive political settlement process in Syria and fight ISIS and other terrorist groups in the region.

Sometimes we hear the same kind of strange and contradictory remarks from Washington, in particular from our colleagues at the State Department and the White House. Just a few days ago, we read a statement by State Department spokesman John Kirby to the effect that the US cannot confirm the accusations made by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the Russian Aerospace Forces bombed a school in Aleppo. And then, in the same breath, in order – God forbid – not to erode the US position “of principle”, Mr Kirby repeats what he said earlier, namely, that by US estimates, up to 70 percent of Russian airstrikes are delivered on opposition groups or innocuous civilian targets.

Now, this is interesting: When a concrete question is asked about whether a particular civilian target was bombed, citing a source used by US representatives, there is no answer to this question and nobody can confirm the information. At the same time, the allegation regarding “70 percent of strikes directed against civilian targets”, which was made over two months ago, is constantly being repeated. In other words, they have reached a conclusion but are unable to substantiate it because there is simply nothing to substantiate it with.

Yemen developments

We continue to monitor developments in the Republic of Yemen and efforts to resolve the crisis in that country. In December 2015, the concerned parties held another round of intra-Yemeni consultations under UN auspices that yielded positive results. However, the military confrontation in that country continues unabated. Both sides of the conflict repeatedly violated the ceasefire, declared on the eve of the meeting in Biel, Switzerland. In early January 2016, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab countries officially ended the ceasefire and resumed attacks on Yemeni territory. For their part, Houthi insurgents and military units supporting them started more actively rocketing Saudi Arabian districts that border on the Republic of Yemen. Armed clashes are taking place in Yemen’s Sanaa, Hajjah, Taiz, Maarib, Ibb and Al-Bayda governorates.

Several days ago, the media reported the shocking destruction of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Saadah Governorate, northern Yemen. When Russia is being accused of bombing civilian facilities, no one can confirm these attacks or provide any authentic information about them. In this case, all evidence has been provided by representatives of this organisation.

A dangerous situation persists in Aden, southern Yemen, where the authorities are trying to subdue Al Qaeda and ISIS extremists who have established control over several districts of this city and some other southern provinces.

We remain convinced that it’s impossible to resolve the Yemeni issue by force.  The main tasks for resolving this situation are an immediate ceasefire and the convening of the next round of intra-Yemeni consultations, which should be mediated by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen (scheduled for January 2016, in line with the joint understandings reached in Biel).

At the same time, we are urging the warring sides to display constructive approaches and political wisdom, to rise above narrow clan interests and to renounce any pre-conditions for resuming talks capable of paving the way for implementing the appropriate UN Security Council resolutions and the decisions of the National Dialogue Conference.

Damage incurred by Yemen

It is absolutely fair and correct that the international community be extremely concerned with the humanitarian situation in various war-torn regions.

I would like to cite some statistics that have been provided to us by the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and which deal with damage incurred during the Saudi Arabian military campaign in that country.

The Saudi Arabian military campaign has killed almost 7,500 people, including 1,729 children and 1,309 women. In addition, another 14,000 people, including 1,500 children and over 1,300 women, have been wounded. In all, air strikes have totally destroyed 922 industrial facilities, 122 power stations and electric generators, over 500 food warehouses, over 300 marketplaces, over 100 poultry factories, almost 150 drinking-water reservoirs, over 200 petrol stations, 450 bridges and overpasses, ten seaports, 14 airports, 140 communications lines, 51 cultural landmarks (including those listed by UNESCO), 101 tourist facilities, 45 sport centres (including 31 stadiums), almost 1,000 mosques, over 500 schools and educational institutions (over 4,000 schools have closed due to relentless air strikes), 36 universities and over 200 civilian and military hospitals. Hundreds of thousands of residential buildings have been damaged beyond repair.

According to experts, the country has been hurled back by at least ten years as a result of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s air strikes. It will take many years and huge funding to restore Yemen’s destroyed infrastructure. Obviously, the country lacks these resources.

The UN Security Council’s discussion of the situation in Mali

On January 11, the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Mali.

Along with certain positive trends in the context of implementing the peace agreement by the Malian parties, the Security Council noted the slow progress of institutional reforms, including the establishment of local government in the country’s north. The council members urged Malians to step up their efforts in this regard.

The work of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is still complicated by the growing number of extremist attacks and the spread of terrorist activity in the country’s southwest, which used to be relatively peaceful. The UN Secretariat will conduct a strategic review of the mission’s activity to appropriately assess its capabilities and coordinate them with the situation on the ground.

The Security Council urged Mali to fully implement the settlement agreement, which would guarantee the stability of a political process in the country. A number of Security Council members stressed that a comprehensive settlement in that country directly depends on normalising the situation in neighbouring Libya.

So that positive aspects of the political settlement influence the daily life of the Malian people as soon as possible, they should be supported by effective steps to address pressing socioeconomic problems. In a statement following the meeting, the Security Council urged donors to honour the commitments made during the international conference for the economic recovery and development of Mali, held in 2015 in Paris.

The Middle East peace process

The situation on the Israeli-Palestinian track of the Middle East peace process can be described as a deadlock. Violence between the parties, which has lasted since October 2015, has claimed the lives of 24 Israelis and over 150 Palestinians. The bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks remain frozen. The situation is aggravated by continuous Israeli settlement on the West Bank. According to the media, Israel’s Defence Ministry approved the expansion of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in early January. Construction and building infrastructure in other Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are also continuing.

Moscow cannot help feeling concern over this situation. We believe it is necessary to create conditions in which Israeli and Palestinian civilians would feel safe. We call on both parties to refrain from unilateral steps that would anticipate deciding the final status of the Palestinian territories and that would be fraught with further stagnation in the Middle East peace process. We will continue political and diplomatic efforts aimed at unblocking the Palestinian-Israeli peace process as soon as possible, leveraging the potential of the Middle Eastern Quartet of international mediators.

Afghan reconciliation

A meeting of Quartet representatives (Afghanistan-Pakistan-China-United States) took place in Islamabad on January 11 to discuss reconciliation within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Judging by the initial official statements of the participants, differences remain on approaches to launching a dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban. On the whole, it is too early to make any conclusions on whether the quartet format established in December 2015 is productive; relevant assessments will be made based on the results of their activity.

Yet, the very fact of holding the meeting and the preceding contacts, including between the Afghan and Pakistani leadership, indicate that the active phase of negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban movement has been resumed.

In this connection, we believe that stabilising the situation in Afghanistan requires a dialogue with Taliban representatives who can ensure that possible agreements will be observed by all Taliban groups.

We in turn confirm our willingness to assist in the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan, given efforts on this track are made above all by Afghans themselves with the authorities in Kabul taking the lead role.

Contact Group on Ukraine meeting in Minsk

This year’s first meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine took place in Minsk on January 13 and was attended by Permanent Member of the Russian Security Council Boris Gryzlov, who was appointed Russia’s envoy to the Contact Group last December.

The Contact Group said the situation in southeastern Ukraine remained complicated and a complete ceasefire had not been achieved so far. Therefore, the Contact Group called on all the armed groups on both sides of the front to introduce a “silence regime” and subsequently observe a complete ceasefire. It is generally acknowledged that this would be an essential prerequisite to further promoting political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

The agreement to exchange POWs once again will also help to increase mutual confidence and de-escalate the situation.

The work to find practical solutions to the Ukrainian crisis will continue at the next Contact Group meeting scheduled for January 20.

Incident of a pretend execution of the Russian Su-24 pilot

The Russian Foreign Ministry could not ignore the incident when a video of a pretend execution of the Russian Su-24 pilot was shown in a night club in Kiev late last month. The video was made to imitate the videos featuring hostage executions by militants of the Islamic State terrorist organisation, which is banned in Russia.

Such criminal actions testify that aggressive Russophobia is becoming increasingly blasphemous and anti-human in Ukraine and turning into undisguised terrorism propaganda.

Surprisingly, the Ukrainian authorities have failed to come up with a clearly formulated reaction to the incident.

The Russian Foreign Ministry is urging Ukrainian authorities to hold the organisers and perpetrators of this criminal action responsible and to take all possible measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area

Russian Foreign Ministry briefings are often attended by Armenian and Azerbaijani media representatives. We are often requested to comment on the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area, and we would like to do this today as well.

In 2015, we witnessed a stirring-up of armed confrontation involving heavy artillery, heavy machineguns and multiple launch rocket systems, which caused a significant rise in military casualties and a higher loss of life among civilians. This is a very alarming situation.

We believe it is necessary to intensify the negotiating process in order to achieve a durable peace.

We are calling on both sides to honour the existing agreements designed to bolster the ceasefire.

Russia’s assessment of Greece’s and Denmark’s withdrawal from UNIDO

Greece’s and Denmark’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) is regrettable. UNIDO is one of the leading UN special agencies intended to make a significant contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was approved by world leaders at the UN Summit in September 2015. This organisation plays a key role in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals with regard to promoting inclusive industrialisation and supporting innovations (Goal 9). The validity of the UNIDO mandate and the high demand for the organisation’s expertise are beyond dispute, and the results of the UNIDO General Conference, held in December 2015, are convincing proof of that.

The withdrawal of countries from the UN development agencies’ system, including for financial reasons, does not contribute to partnership in the interests of effectively handling tougher challenges to sustainable development, and it clashes with decisions adopted at major global forums with a view to strengthening the UN role in matters of multilateral socio-economic cooperation.

Russia, for its part, as a responsible UN member-state and an international development donor will continue to enhance and deepen cooperation with UNIDO in the interests of socio-economic progress and prosperity for all countries. 


Red herrings

We took note of the fact that in the last two weeks, during the New Year holidays, news of extremely dubious origin was planted online, mainly on Russian newswires.

Presumably, the realisation that Russian-speaking people were in a state of active recreation prodded people working on this “information front” towards active “combat” operations.

On Friday, January 8, some websites with the ua domain name suffix posted reports about an Airbus 330-300 that purportedly crashed in China en route from Moscow to Beijing with 285 passengers on board. The “news story” was picked up by social media users, who had got a sneak preview, and was widely disseminated.

Given the lack of news that is typical of New Year holidays, any sensational story spreads like wildfire. This one was reprinted not only by official media outlets but also quickly spread on social media, reaching many tourists and the relatives of passengers on board the airliner, who turned to the Foreign Ministry for an explanation.

Here is another example. Evidently, everyone saw online references to remarks attributed to Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in his interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta on December 22, 2015. In reality, it turned out that a few websites and bloggers, without batting an eyelid and without checking anything or maybe even knowingly, “rewrote” Mr Patrushev’s interview with the correspondent and passed it off as a real interview. The fake one was instantly disseminated by online “specialists.”

In this context, I would like to remind you about the need to check information in the original sources.

Lithuanian appeal to Sweden alleging “incitement to discord and warmongering” by RTR-Planeta, a Russian TV channel

We regard this step as a continuation of Vilnius’ counterproductive policy of ousting Russian media outlets from the country, which is at odds with the fundamental international standards in freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Now an attempt has been made to get the Swedes involved in persecuting a Russian TV channel that is registered in Sweden.

We will see what Stockholm’s reaction will be in this situation. We remember how long the Swedish authorities supported the operation of the Kavkaz Centre website in their country, notorious for its extremist orientation, citing freedom of expression and the relevant provisions of the Swedish Constitution. Stockholm invariably rejected Russia’s repeated calls (you can look this up in the Foreign Ministry’s archives that are available on its website) to shut down the site, which was a mouthpiece for the Caucasian Emirate, a terrorist organisation on the UN Security Council’s Consolidated List 1267/1989 on sanctions against al Qaeda and individuals and entities associated with it. Unlike the groundless allegations against the RTR-Planeta TV channel, the portal really spread extremist and terrorist calls across Sweden, as well as throughout the world.

We’ll see what Stockholm’s reaction is going to be.

Excerpts from answers to media questions:

" rel="111">Question: Are the issues on the agenda of the upcoming Russian-Polish consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers to be held in Moscow on January 22 already known? Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said a couple of days ago that "with the permission of the Russian side, we will ask questions about the debris of the presidential plane in Smolensk, and current progress regarding the Russian investigation into this crash." Will the Russian side allow us to pose such a question?

Answer: We believe that in the course of bilateral talks, especially when it comes to meeting with our diplomatic colleagues, no one is supposed to ask anyone for permission to pose certain questions. The purpose of consultations is precisely to exchange views and raise concerns that either party may have. We believe that the Polish side doesn’t need permission to discuss particular issues. Got questions? Fine, pose them, and we will work on them. Of course, in line with diplomatic practice, the parties normally identify the subjects that they would like to discuss before the consultations. So I think we should just follow our established course and discuss all the issues, having identified them in advance to be able to prepare proper arguments and information.

Our position on the plane wreckage that you mentioned is widely known and hasn’t changed. The investigation is underway; the debris constitute evidence. They are not just some historical artefacts. Our position has remained unchanged. We are not hiding anything from our Polish colleagues and are willing to discuss this issue again and provide answers to all their questions.

Regarding the agenda of the consultations, I’m prepared to specify the issues and provide answers to you personally.

Question: Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Bert Koenders said that a tribunal for the Malaysian plane crash may be established in Ukraine. Why does the West need this, and why is Moscow opposed to such a tribunal?

Answer: This question why the West needs that should be asked to the West. We talked about our understanding of what’s going on. As you may recall, the day after the crash there were statements, including by officials, who clearly said that Russia was involved in the deaths of civilians who were on board this flight. This approach means only one thing: regardless of the plane or the country, they are not trying to find out what really happened; instead they are instantly pronouncing as guilty those who have been designated as such from the get-go.

We are against creating such tribunals. First, there are legitimate tribunals created under the auspices of the UN. All tribunals established outside the UN are not legitimate for the countries that do not participate in them. Most importantly, creating any tribunals at a time when the investigation is still underway is at least at odds with common sense. Our task is precisely to shed light on what happened, dig up all possible information, find and present it to understand what really happened. As you may know, today, the Russian side published the materials on this issue with our facts and findings.

Question: Does Russia count on Germany’s support in blocking the creation of permanent NATO bases in Poland and other countries in the region?

Answer: We are working with our European colleagues both on a bilateral and multilateral basis on strategic stability and security in Europe based on one simple strategy — do these steps (I’m talking about creating new bases or increasing military contingents in particular European countries), provide extra stability and security in Europe, or do they, conversely, destabilise it? We ask this question to everyone. Unfortunately, no one can provide a clear answer to it and confirm that the increased presence, including of non-European contingents, in Europe improves European security. The problem is not in our contacts with a particular party, but rather in the main issue that Europe must ask itself: Why is it doing this?

Question: I have a standard question. Deputy Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan Masahiko Komura recently visited Moscow. We are also aware that Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Japan in 2016. Do you have information about the dates of his visit and what issues will be discussed?

Answer: We have a standard answer to your standard question. We will inform you about the dates of our political contacts with our Japanese colleagues as soon as they become available. We do so regularly either during briefings, or by posting proper information on our website. To date, I have no information about specific dates.

Question: Since the Syrian talks will in fact take place in Geneva, is there any reason to believe that the outcome of the planned meeting between Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry in Zurich will form a new area of focus in such talks?

Answer: As they make arrangements for a meeting between Foreign Minister Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry, our experts believe that it will largely focus on the Syrian settlement. Given that Russia and the United States co-chair the Vienna format, sit as permanent members on the UN Security Council and are actively involved in the Syrian settlement, we hope that this issue will be widely discussed and help promote the Syrian settlement. Of course, Syria will be actively discussed during the planned meeting.

I can also say that this is not the only issue that the upcoming meeting will focus on. This was mentioned in a statement for the media published following a telephone conversation between Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry.

Question: You mentioned a Russian citizen who was detained in Turkey – Aydar Suleymanov. As is known, another two Russians were also detained. Yesterday, some Russian media reports said that only Suleymanov was on the Interpol wanted list, while others said the two others were also wanted. Do you have any information about the other two?  

Maria Zakharova: We have the names of the other two Russians. They were provided to us by Turkey. I believe we’ll disclose them soon. Regarding whether they were on the wanted list, I don’t have such information. I only have relevant data concerning Suleymanov.

Question: In 2013, the Russian authorities acknowledged that there was a civil war in Syria. Is Russia today considered to be a party to the conflict? If not, then in order to avoid, as you just said, “propaganda and provocative assertions by third countries” over the killing of civilians in Syria, does Russia plan to get international organisations – for example, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, or some other organisations – involved in monitoring its operations in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: I feel like using some special detergent to cleanse your question of “extraneous matter.” Let’s set the record straight. First, what is happening in Syria is a very complicated process. On the one hand, we are seeing civil confrontation and, on the other hand, Damascus’s fight against international terrorism. This has been recognised by everyone, including, most importantly, the UN Security Council. So, there are no doubts about this. These processes are complex.

Second, is Russia, as you put it, “a party to the conflict”? This assertion is absurd for the simple reason that the grounds on which the Russian Aerospace Forces are operating in Syria are known even to your newspaper – Hurriyet. What Russia is doing there is simple, clear and, most importantly, transparent. We responded to a request from official Damascus to provide assistance in fighting international terrorism – ISIS and other organisations and groups professing a terrorist ideology. What everyone else is doing there is a big question.

Third, regarding the involvement of international humanitarian organisations in monitoring our operations in Syria. We are inviting not some humanitarian organisations or NGOs – we have invited other countries to interact with us through various channels that are convenient to them to address whatever concerns there might be with respect to Russian operations. We have proposed interaction in various formats. If this can be done on a bilateral basis, you are welcome; if the existing centres in Baghdad or Amman are better suited for this, you are also welcome.

You’re asking whether we would like to bring in other organisations to monitor our activities. We invite countries to interact with us and ask them to provide data, to state their concerns so that we can address them in our national capacity or through some supranational association.

One such association is the North Atlantic alliance. After all, NATO has terminated all contacts with Russia, including in counterterrorism operations. So there was simply no interest. Presumably, from NATO’s perspective, there is no need for monitoring. Look at how persistently we kept inviting military attachés to visit the Defence Ministry to clear up all issues. By the way, many of them did visit. We are open to interaction through the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry and we had 2+2 formats with many countries, when their foreign and defence ministers meet with Russian counterparts, which have now resumed. We are also willing to provide any information during these talks. Paradoxically, we offer international collaboration in various convenient forms, but, as you know, not all of our proposals get a reaction.

Question: On January 6, commenting on the reported H-bomb tests in North Korea, you said you waited for confirmation of the report. Has it already been confirmed and was there in fact an H-bomb test, considering that the US State Department still doubts the fact?

Maria Zakharova: We’re gathering the relevant data and information via relevant national and global monitoring services (for example, IAEA) to reach a conclusion. Experts are still at work.

Question: What is the status of the talks on the settlement of the Soviet foreign debt to the Republic of Korea?

Maria Zakharova: I’ll need to take the issue up with our experts and then I’ll get back to you.

Question: Russia and the United States have a different vision of a solution to the Syria crisis. On January 25, the Syria talks will take place in Geneva. Do Russia and the United States have similar positions on the Syrian settlement as a whole and the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad in particular?

Maria Zakharova: The most important thing that was done near the end of 2015 is that not only Russia and the United States but also many other countries, which are leading, major and active players in the region, in particular with regard to a political settlement in Syria, were able to achieve a general understanding that the focus should be placed on the political settlement of the situation in Syria, leaving aside the issues that many continue to regard as fundamental even though they realise that no consensus can be reached on them.

The future of President Bashar Assad was not discussed at the International Syria Support Group either in Vienna, or in New York. This has made it possible for countries involved to make headway in harmonising their approaches. To reiterate, we understand very well and we have heard statements from our colleagues to the effect, that Bashar Assad’s fate is a matter of concern to them and that they still consider this to be a fundamental issue. We believe it is solely up to the Syrian people to decide. This is what diplomacy is for – to look for solutions to even dead-end, formidable issues. The realisation that we should not get “fixated” on an issue that seems to be insoluble but should move forward on issues where agreement can be achieved has paid off. As you know, the result is that we have a UN Security Council resolution that has paved the way for everyone to move forward. The most important thing now is to draw up (finalise), among other things, a list of opposition delegates for the January 25 meeting to go ahead and be productive.

Question: In Donetsk, French human rights activists obtained evidence of brutal war crimes on the part of Ukraine. Can these facts change the attitude of the West to the situation in eastern Ukraine?

Maria Zakharova: This evidence of crimes is not an isolated instance. I can even cite a personal story as an example, when about six months ago, a lady from Odessa approached me in the hallway of one of the Russian TV companies and gave me photos, materials and data about that terrible tragedy, when people died in a fire, that they had published in Odessa using their own funds. She said that many people in Ukraine pooled their own resources to collect and compile the data. Many are doing so because their family members died there. They realise that at this stage they have no chance of being heard by official Ukrainian authorities, but they don’t want these crimes to “drown” in the flow of crimes and atrocities that are taking place there. They want them to go down in history. Maybe someday justice and objective analysis will be possible in Ukraine, and these data will be useful.

Lots of materials are being published. I’m aware that in addition to civil society in Ukraine, Russian and international human rights activists engage in this. I can give you an example which you may already know: the Russian public authorities are also gathering evidence of human rights violations. It's hard to refer to this as violations of human rights, since these are egregious crimes in the humanitarian sphere. All of that is also being generalised and passed on to international organisations in the form of books, pamphlets and through digital media. All this is done in order to attract international attention to what’s happening in Ukraine, not in order to jab Kiev or hurt the feelings of Ukrainians, but in order for them to understand that this is not a proper way to live their lives. Perhaps they can’t see it amid the heat of confrontation, but maybe a year or so later they will become aware of what has happened and is still happening. That's why we are gathering all these facts.

At first, they didn’t want to see or hear it. But now the understanding that the problem is there is sinking in with the Westerners. It is obvious. There is less and less blind and thoughtless applause to everything that Kiev is doing. People start developing a realistic view on the settlement process and the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The data provided by human rights activists and civil society played a major role here.

This is a major historical lesson of what may happen if you break down a state and bring it to the situation which we now see in Ukraine.

Question: Some time ago, Hillary Clinton, the then-US Secretary of State, made loud statements that the United States should replace Russia in the negotiations in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh. In the opinion of the Russian Foreign Ministry, how counterproductive can such attempts be to the entire peace process?  

Maria Zakharova: As for Nagorno-Karabakh, in our Minsk Group activities we proceed from the international legal status, which is undisputed by its participants. As for statements by certain politicians, they are free to make them. Whether such statements are “realistic” has been tested by time. It would be proper to ask Armenia and Azerbaijan, rather than the United States, about Russia’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.

Question: What’s your assessment of the statements that the Syrian opposition will be represented by two delegations, since the one set up by Riyadh contradicts UN Security Council Resolution 2254? 

Maria Zakharova: My assessment is that this is bad. A delegation from the opposition should be all-inclusive as that’s the main condition that was put forward not because it’s Russia’s whim, but because it’s the only chance to advance towards a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis and lay solid and durable foundations for Syria as a free, democratic, united, whole and secular state. This requires negotiations between official Damascus and the opposition, in which the latter should be represented on a wide scale. If anyone feels hurt during this process, it will put a big question mark on the entire negotiations. It is now necessary to lay really firm and solid foundations and lay them professionally as any “curve” at the initial phase will make the entire building shaky.

Question: Can you confirm reports that a ministerial meeting of the six world powers on Iran may be held next week? It’s been reported with reference to various sources that the so-called implementation day” for the Iran nuclear deal is coming. Can this happen in the nearest future?

Maria Zakharova: As regards a ministerial meeting of the P5+1, so far I have no information concerning possible plans to hold such a meeting. As for the “implementation day”, you know, very intensive work indeed is underway and we are expecting the results to be announced officially. We believe that it may happen soon. The only thing I would like to recommend all of you is not to use information from dubious, especially anonymous sources. There are official structures and delegations, so let’s look up to their statements. True, the process has slightly dragged out, but in this particular case, let us be patient. I think that the ultimate point is not far away, but let us wait till this work is completed in a professional manner and be guided by statements by official spokespersons, rather than sources from which we hear several reports per day.

Question: Not long ago, US President Barack Obama said that when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look up to Beijing or Moscow, but call Washington. Could you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: Here is an interesting trend: people do, perhaps, call Washington first on every important international issue, but then, as you may have noticed, Washington always calls Moscow. This probably explains why the number of US-initiated telephone calls to Russian leaders has visibly grown lately.

Question: The South Korean Foreign Ministry has announced an upcoming meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of Russia and South Korea. Could you give more details? Will it be held in an open or closed format?

Maria Zakharova: I will clarify this and give you more information.

Question: As far as I understand, the meeting is scheduled for January 19.

Maria Zakharova: I will clarify and reply to you by all means.

Question: Let me thank you for your participation in my last question concerning students from Tajikistan. Specialists are working on this problem. Could you comment on the escape of a Tajik citizen, Maruf Odinayev, from a Moscow detention centre, using another man’s papers, and how Russian media, which have already dubbed him a Monte Cristo, are covering this incident?

Maria Zakharova: Media must work in a professional manner, especially when it comes to reports about concrete persons, mentioning their names. I am perfectly aware of your concern, as this matter concerns a native of your country. I do not represent law enforcement agencies, but can help you contact my colleagues in relevant departments and draw their attention to how the matter has been covered. The only thing I can say to justify the journalists (though, perhaps, from your point of view, they cannot be justified) is that the Count of Monte Cristo is a favourite character of Russians.

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