Briefing with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 12, 2016
12 May 201619:13
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in Vienna events
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a ministerial meeting of the International Syria Support Group
- Upcoming ASEAN-Russia Summit
- Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs Meeting
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Hungary
- Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s tour of African countries
- US missile defence base in Romania placed on combat duty, construction of missile defence base launched in Poland
- Brazil Senate’s decision to suspend President Dilma Rousseff
- Turkish authorities’ refusal to hold Alparslan Çelik accountable
- Answers to media questions:
- The Russian draft of a UN Security Council Resolution
- Russian-Japanese relations
- The disclosure of personal data of journalists working in southeastern Ukraine
- The issue of recognizing Kosovo
- The situation in Iraq
- The situation in Syria
- The media situation in Ukraine
- The US missile defence system base in Romania
- The Russian-US statement on a ceasefire in Syria
- The European Parliament’s resolution on Crimea
- The situation on the Korean Peninsula
- The Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
- Prospects for Sweden’s NATO membership
After Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov completes his stay in Belarus, as I mentioned at the previous briefing, the delegation headed by him is to leave for Vienna. Today, there have been comments, including those by the OSCE, that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are to meet in the capital of Austria next week. The foreign ministers of countries, co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, the United States and France – are also expected to take part in these talks. The possibility of these consultations, which are currently being contemplated, is primarily aimed at trying to consolidate the ceasefire regime, reduce military risks and agree on strengthening specific confidence-building measures. I would like to stress that the plans that are currently being actively finalised contain all these provisions. We will certainly inform you at a later date after agreement on the format, date and time has been reached.
We believe that this meeting should and will help stabilise the situation in the conflict zone and create the essential conditions for resuming the negotiating process, which aims to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement.
We have already posted materials concerning the results of telephone conversations between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry on the Foreign Ministry website. As you know, they have agreed during their contacts to invite participants in the International Syria Support Group to the May 17 ministerial meeting in Vienna.
The Russian side believes that a substantial framework has already been created in order to ensure the Group’s successful performance, including statements adopted by the ISSG in Vienna and Munich, the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012 and the joint Russian-US statement on the cessation of hostilities of February 22, 2016. It is important that the UN Security Council confirms all these documents, including its resolutions 2118, 2254 and 2268.
As you know, another joint Russian-US statement on Syria was passed on May 9. This document updates and details the main aspects of essential international efforts directed at achieving peace and a political settlement in this country as soon as possible and at eliminating a hotbed of terrorism in Syria.
The appropriate framework has been created to ensure the Group’s success. Some countries, members of the International Syria Support Group, work to the best of their ability, while some simply work; but, technically speaking, both approaches are good. We believe that the well-coordinated and complete implementation of adopted decisions by both Syrian belligerents and all other members of the International Syria Support Group is currently the most important aspect.
At the same time, we intend to underscore the need to stop reinforcing terrorists with manpower and weapons. We continue to tell our partners about this. These reinforcements mostly arrive via the Turkish-Syrian border. We also insistently demand and actively work to seal off the remaining channels for financing these groups.
It is important that all Syrian participants in the ceasefire process resolutely distance themselves from terrorists, including geographically. This is our stance and one that we have repeatedly confirmed. Much depends on those direct participants in the International Syria Support Group who can influence the appropriate armed groups.
We continue to press for the non-politicisation of events, to strive for an objective approach in improving the humanitarian situation and to consider the interests of all groups of Syria’s affected and needy population.
The substantial expansion of efforts of the ISSG and its separate participants in the interests of ensuring sustained and effective intra-Syrian talks in Geneva under UN auspices is key as it strives to ensure the all-inclusive representation of the Syrian opposition, including the Riyadh Group that earlier suspended its participation in the Geneva process and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria whose equitable participation in the Geneva talks is still being blocked by Ankara.
The current period can be called a turn of the tide in the context of Syrian developments. The Russian side continues to consistently do its best, including within the format of the International Syria Support Group, to make sure that the trend towards normalisation and the channeling of the intra-Syrian conflict towards a political settlement prevail as soon as possible. We hope that this initiative will be met with the understanding and support of all members of this Group.
On May 19-20, Sochi will host a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It will be held under the slogan Russia-ASEAN: Towards Strategic Partnership for the Sake of the Common Good. The event has been called on to sum up the results of cooperation over the past 20 years. What’s more, the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership will mark its 20th anniversary in 2016.
After Vienna, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will leave for Sochi where he will attend events of this summit, which has great significance for us.
I would like to recall that a number of momentous events, including the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum, the first meeting of ministers of culture and a culture festival, part of the Russia-ASEAN and ASEAN-Russia Years of Culture, are timed to coincide with this event. The ASEAN-Russia Business Forum aims to expand contacts between business circles and to search for new promising projects in trade, economic and investment cooperation.
A series of joint events involving the concerned agencies and expert think tanks have been implemented in order to prepare for the Commemorative Summit.
Cooperation in areas of security has acquired a new dimension. In April 2016, Moscow successfully hosted the first informal meeting of Russian and ASEAN Defence Ministers.
Work is underway to promote systematic emergency response cooperation.
New mechanisms of cooperation in the area of renewable energy sources, agriculture and education have been launched. The parties have reached agreement in order to continue boosting the quality of tourism services and to reliably guarantee the safety of tourists.
The ASEAN-Russia Eminent Persons Group, which includes leading diplomats and academics, was formed for the Summit. It has prepared a report on their strategic vision of the future of our bilateral relationship, and will present it at the Summit.
On May 23-24, Tashkent will host a regular meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs.
The meeting will focus on preparations for the SCO Summit to be held on June 23-24 in Tashkent and devoted to the 15th anniversary of the organisation. Foreign Ministers plan to discuss draft documents and decisions to be submitted to the SCO Council of Heads of State, in particular, the Tashkent Declaration on the SCO’s 15th anniversary, the 2016-2020 Action Plan to implement the SCO Development Strategy Towards 2025 and a number of projects aimed at further promotion of cooperation in the fight against terrorism, extremism, organised crime and illegal drug trafficking.
In the context of decisions adopted by the heads of state in 2015 in Ufa on SCO’s expansion, the ministers will consider the progress of admitting India and Pakistan to the Organisation.
The agenda also includes exchanging views on current regional and global challenges.
Following the meeting, an Information Statement is expected to be made.
On May 25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to visit Budapest at the invitation of Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto.
The ministers plan to continue discussing current issues of bilateral relations with an emphasis on the implementation of agreements reached during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on February 17 in Moscow, as well as exchange views on international issues, including the fight against terrorism, Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO, the migratory crisis in Europe and the situation in Ukraine.
I will say a few words about Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s African tour. Mikhail Bogdanov is also the presidential representative for the Middle East and Africa. The tour, taken on May 10 through 14, promotes our long-time friendly ties with various African countries. I will summarise his contacts and tell you about the agenda of his upcoming visits.
President of Angola Jose Eduardo dos Santos received Mr Bogdanov in Luanda on May 10 for a detailed discussion of bilateral trade and economic partnership and political interaction, particularly at the UN Security Council, where Angola is a non-permanent member for 2015-2016.
On May 11, Mr Bogdanov met in Kigali with the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Louise Mushikiwabo, and took part in the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa, which had gathered leaders from many African countries and executives from transnational and Russian companies.
Mikhail Bogdanov is spending May 12-13 in Kampala to represent Russia at the inauguration of Yoweri Museveni, who won another presidential term in February. The Russian diplomat is expected to discuss the prospects for stronger bilateral ties with top Ugandan officials, with an emphasis on closer trade and economic contacts and on stepping up political, cultural and other interaction.
Mr Bogdanov will spend May 14 in Burundi. The agenda of his meetings with the country’s top leaders will include a wide range of bilateral issues and prospects for Russia, as permanent member of the UN Security Council, to promote political stabilisation in that country.
On May 12, the US Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System, deployed near Deveselu, Romania, was placed on combat duty. The United States has now completed the second stage of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), announced in 2009 to deploy elements of the global missile defence system in Europe. Washington is now launching the third phase and is set to deploy another Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System with upgraded Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile interceptors in Poland. The so-called groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for May 13 in the village of Redzikowo.
Russia has, for several years now, repeatedly noted the risks to international security and strategic stability by the unilateral and unhindered deployment of the US strategic missile defence system.
We have suggested various options for resolving the situation around the missile defence system, and we were willing to cooperate, even suggesting the establishment of a sector-based missile defence system in Europe together with NATO that would be able to effectively shield the region from hypothetical missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic zone and that would not undermine strategic parity. I would like to focus your attention on this aspect which conceals the gist of the problem. However, the United States and its allies have refused to move in this direction. Nor would they agree to sign a legally binding document stating that the new missile defence system is not directed against Russia.
A discussion of possible ways of resolving the global missile defence issue with Russia was stopped by Washington. At the same time, the missile defence system’s potential considerably exceeding declared goals continued to be accumulated.
We continue to see the unconstructive activities of the United States and its allies in the area of missile defence as a direct threat to international and regional security and stability. The European strategic situation is now more complicated.
We cannot but note other serious issues linked with missile defence facilities in Europe. For example, Aegis Ashore systems being deployed in Romania and Poland feature launching devices virtually identical to those being used aboard US Navy warships for launching missile interceptors and Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles. We view the deployment of ground-based launchers as running counter to a key provision of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The United States has therefore violated the INF Treaty. We have to state this openly, without any additional diplomatic wording.
Russia has repeatedly noted the danger of negative missile defence developments, but our concerns continue to be ignored. We are reaching the appropriate conclusions from this, including in terms of a military-technical response.
I would like to comment on a statement by William Stevens, Spokesman for the US Embassy in Moscow, made today, 30 minutes before our briefing. He said the US had made three specific proposals to Russia. First, it was suggested to maintain missile defence transparency under Russia-NATO Council exchanges, and Russian experts were officially invited to watch NATO missile defence system tests. Second, the US suggested holding joint Russia-NATO missile defence exercises. Third, the US suggested establishing two joint missile defence centres, including a data exchange centre and a planning support centre. According to Mr Stevens, Russia rejected the proposals and stopped the dialogue unilaterally in 2013. I have said who it was that stopped this dialogue and how.
And now, let’s analyse the comments by Mr Stevens. The devil is, as usual, in the details. It is impossible to deny the facts. Indeed, the statement lists specific aspects of cooperation that were suggested. Let’s brush PR casuistic aside and see what the real situation is like.
In reality, everything is very simple. There is no need to list the names of launchers, to make complicated statements or to provide quotes. The problem is simple: the United States and NATO, which are already seen as twins, have decided to deploy their own missile defence system in Europe. We have repeatedly said that, in our opinion, the stated goals do not meet their public objectives. Proceeding from our concerns and an understanding that this system would drastically upset security and strategic stability on the continent, we suggested finding a joint way out of the current situation. We suggested creating a system that would help alleviate fears, apprehensions and concerns on the part of the United States, NATO and Russia, all the more so when they told us this system was not directed against Russia. To prevent any speculation at any level and by anyone, we suggested doing this in the form of a legally binding document – agreement or treaty. As I see it, this was a very fair, open and honest stance. If you have any concerns not linked with the Russian Federation but which exist on the continent, then let’s build a joint system that takes both parties’ apprehensions into account, and let’s sign a legally binding document, just like honest partners are supposed to.
What did our US partners do? Indeed, they suggested exchanging information and a certain type of partnership and cooperation on this issue but solely in line with their own programme and system. What was the purpose of this? This was needed in order to legalise their own system whose preparation, as we now realise, they did not plan to stop even for a minute. Judging by their logic, information should be shared only in a segment and to an extent allowed by the United States, and cooperation would focus on issues also allowed by only the United States. Is this comprehensive and equitable cooperation? Can this cooperation be seen as a partner-like attitude towards each other? Of course not.
Therefore the choice was simple: Either to choose between unilateral decisions stipulating solely limited cooperation in a segment allowed by one party or to suggest a system that would be built, established and contemplated by Russia and NATO and that would heed real, rather than some far-fetched goals or undisclosed real goals. We favoured the second approach. In this connection, it is very important to understand what is going on, what goals are being pursued and by whom.
We are closely watching the development of the situation in Brazil, where impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff have been launched. As of May 12, she was suspended from office with former Vice President Michel Temer stepping in as interim president.
Clearly, what is going on in Brazil is the country’s internal matter. It is important that these processes move strictly within the framework of their constitution and in keeping with national law. It is also of the utmost importance that the outcome of the events – whatever it might be – does not lead to a split in society or to the escalation of political confrontation. Any destructive interference from the outside is definitely unacceptable.
We have an interest in Brazil being a stable, democratic and dynamically developing country, one that would play an important role in the international arena. To Russia, Brazil is an important foreign policy partner both in Latin America and in the world as a whole. We closely collaborate at the UN, BRICS and the G20. Our trade, economic, humanitarian and cultural ties are constructive. We note with satisfaction that the course towards the steady development of cooperation with Russia is supported by a broad spectrum of political forces in Brazil.
Many Russian media outlets have asked for a comment on the situation regarding how the Turkish authorities refuse to prosecute Alparslan Çelik.
We have followed the Turkish media, including social media, for information regarding the refusal by the republican prosecutor’s office in the city of Izmir to initiate criminal proceedings against Alparslan Çelik over his involvement in the killing of Russian pilot Oleg Peshkov on November 24, 2015. This decision was made due to the purported lack of evidence, as well as the fact that Çelik’s Turkish national accomplices have not been caught.
Turkish law enforcement agencies’ position cannot but arouse serious concern and raise a large number of questions. The overall impression is that Turkish justice is persistently trying to exonerate a person who has publicly admitted his involvement in the perpetration of a serious crime. There is no openness, clarity or transparency about what is going on. In effect, Ankara acknowledges its reluctance to assume part of the blame for what has happened, considering that its treacherous and malicious actions led to the destruction of the plane and thus caused the Russian pilot’s death.
In this context, we urge the Turkish authorities to take exhaustive measures to find and hold accountable all those guilty in the death of the Russian pilot. This refers not only to Çelik but also to other persons involved in the bloody execution of our pilot that was perpetrated by militants under Celik’s direct command.
To reiterate, we are confused, have a large number of questions and do not understand why the situation, which lies in the legal domain, is so non-transparent and convoluted or why there are so many planted stories on this issue.
Question: You’ve mentioned Turkey’s negative role with regard to Russia, Syria and regional politics as a whole. Could Turkey behave so defiantly if it was not supported by the United States?
Maria Zakharova: No, it could not.
Question: Recently, the UN Security Council blocked a Russian draft resolution that sought to designate Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaish al-Islam as terrorist organisations. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: This is a manifestation of the extremely unconstructive approach adopted by our colleagues. All of this runs counter to the commitment not only to normalise the situation in Syria, but also to the roadmap for doing this, all of which have been recorded in international documents: that is, by suppressing militant terrorist activity and support for terrorist groups; and by holding talks only with forces that have declared their noninvolvement in and their rejection of terrorist activity.
Our efforts at the UN Security Council are visible and obvious. We act openly. The most important aspect, the essence of the Russian approach is openness and logic. As for openness, we explain every step we take to our partners on a bilateral and multilateral basis, as well as to the media: We make public statements and comments, which are in sync with the position that we enunciate to our partners behind closed doors in the course of closed talks.
Naturally, we cannot publicly discuss all details, plans and nuances of our ongoing work, including the work that is conducted in private. However, I can reaffirm that everything that we say in public is in keeping with the documents that are adopted, including with Russia’s participation, and the position that we put forward to our foreign partners in our joint efforts.
As they say, if you don’t praise yourself, nobody will. However, as far as logic is concerned, even our opponents are hard put to deny this. No one can or will deny the logic of the Russian approach that has been for many years and still is consistent and non-contradictory. Even if we start with our position on Iraq of 10 years ago or on other issues, on the whole, our policy with regard to countries of the world and the region, when we addressed Middle East issues, always stood out for its logic and its unambiguous and consistent approach. We believe that our activity at the UN Security Council is a logical step in expanding the efforts that are taken by ISSG co-chairs or participants. We are working to translate these statements into practical steps. This was, in fact, one example of our attempt to give much of what is declared a practical, applied dimension.
Question: After the recent meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that consultations on a peace treaty at a deputy foreign minister level will continue in June. What is planned to be discussed during that meeting, and what should we expect from it?
Maria Zakharova: You described the essence of the meeting correctly. It is a matter of continuing discussions on an issue that appears on the bilateral relations agenda. Similar meetings between deputy foreign ministers have been held before. This is a traditional format, not an invention. We are not applying any new formats but will just pursue our work with regard for the recent top-level contacts.
As far as expectations are concerned, you are well aware of them, I hope. We, on the whole, expect Russian-Japanese relations to acquire a stable, full-fledged and broad footing, which should be based on the implementation of the interests of our peoples in various areas, so that our relations are not dominated by just one problem, no matter how very important it may be. We believe that these should be full-formatted relations. The current mechanism is designed to help consider and impart dynamism to the issue that is on the agenda.
Looking at bilateral relations from a global viewpoint, we want them to become more active and truly full-formatted.
Question: Recently, a list of 4,000 journalists from 26 countries with their personal data was posted on the Myrotvorets (Peacemaker) website. Ukrainian officials were involved in that. The posting refers to our colleagues as “accomplices of militants from terrorist organisations.” What can you say about this incident?
Maria Zakharova: Yesterday, after this information was released, and we saw that it was not stovepiping, but an actual list containing personal data of reporters who are working in Ukraine, we immediately issued a statement to this effect. Importantly, what happened yesterday drew attention from not only the Russian side. That came as a surprise, but could that be a pivotal moment? Pivotal, because all our previous calls were ignored by many of our foreign colleagues and international organisations. Unfortunately, it took such an absolutely unprecedented move by the Ukrainian nationalist forces to make it happen. Perhaps, it’s a case of a blessing in disguise. Perhaps, finally, it will serve as a turnaround moment in putting an end to the permissiveness that Kiev believes it can get away with.
What is the crux of the matter? When journalists refer to the Myrotvorets website, I think it's time to add the “so-called” attribute to it. No one has any doubts about its true goals: it’s not about peacemaking, and never was. The one thing this website is focused on is fomenting hate and xenophobia, and pitting people against each other both in Ukraine, and with regard to foreign journalists.
We understand that this was done with approval of the Kiev authorities. This move is completely inconsistent with the provisions of Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s at odds with the new Ukrainian legislation, as well, although there still are issues to be discussed.
As for the media, it is almost impossible to figure out which particular piece of legislation in Ukraine governs this sphere. As soon as you start acting and thinking logically, asking questions about where the rules of accreditation of foreign correspondents can be found, and what guidelines foreign journalists working in Kiev should follow, all you get is statements made by the security forces, which come into force immediately and overrule all legislative acts. The Ukrainian legislation provides fertile ground for (to put it mildly) oppressing, but what by and large represents the persecution of journalists based on their ethnicity. Even the few remaining norms of Ukrainian legislation were violated by yesterday’s online posting. According to Ukrainian law, everyone has the right to protection against arbitrary unlawful interference with their privacy or family life.
The state has an obligation to ensure compliance with these laws in Ukraine. It is alarming that such actions (this is not an isolated incident – it’s just that yesterday it happened on a large scale and didn’t go unnoticed) cause hatred towards those who perform their professional duty and who, according to their professional duty, should be objective and impartial. This is a blow to objectivity and impartiality, which should be at the core of the reporters’ job.
Of course, one can’t help but be reminded of the tragic events that took place in Ukraine, in particular, the fate of a public figure, a reporter, and a political writer, Oles Buzina, who was killed a few days after his personal data became publicly available. Already today, we received calls from Russian journalists who told us that media representatives who are in contact with the Russian journalists and work in Ukraine already received threats over the phone. However, this is not something that is happening only now. Over the past 18 months, we have been receiving lots of requests from Russian media, who no longer hope to get any help or protection from the Ukrainian state. They ask us to bring up the issue of protecting Russian journalists in Ukraine during the talks at the level of foreign ministers.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raises this issue each time he meets with his Ukrainian counterpart. The issue always concerns either closing Russian channels, or normalising the situation with providing accreditation to the Russian journalists in Ukraine, etc. This is abnormal, when the media have to apply directly to a public body of their country with a request to let an official department of another state, which deals with these issues, know about this absurd and dangerous situation.
I’d like to touch upon another subject. Today, someone sent me a link to a Ukrainian information website, which posted information to the effect that criticism of foreign countries by the OSCE is unjustified. Statements and comments by the Russian Foreign Ministry are particularly cynical, as it regularly leaks or posts the personal data of foreign journalists.
To that, I will say that for about 15 years now, we have been updating the Foreign Ministry website’s For Journalists section. This section shows (and this is normal international practice) the names of the heads of bureaus of foreign media accredited in Moscow, bureau phones, officially granted mobile phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Again, this information is provided to assist foreign journalists in their work and largely upon their own request, so that their Russian colleagues, government agencies, or just any Russian national could contact foreign media offices for various reasons. This is absolutely normal business, which is open and takes place by mutual consent with journalists and largely upon their request. If a bureau of a particular media outlet is unwilling to share, for any reason, its contacts with the public, which, of course, would be strange, but can still happen, then such contacts are withheld. However, official and approved information about the bureaus and their heads has been posted on our ministry’s website for 15-20 years now.
I took a look at the list of journalists posted on the so-called Myrotvorets website. What it shows is not official phones or bureau contacts, but the personal information about all the journalists working in Ukraine. All of that is taking place amid never-ending intimidation. If you ask Russian journalists working in Ukraine, even in your television company, which has also filed a request with us, they will say that they constantly receive threats on their phones, or text messages with direct threats to their lives or health. Their personal data is posted in such a form and with an indication that they are the enemies of Ukraine, which is a direct invitation to a crackdown on reporters. At the same time, they are trying to cover their actions with some international experience. Those of you behind the so-called Myrotvorets website, you have no idea of the civilised international experience. You have a long way to go before you get any of that civilised international experience.
We are doing our best to have Ukraine and official Kiev return to the civilised approach to basic concepts such as democracy, freedom of speech, respect for people and their right to freedom of expression, religion, and opinion. Another track of the Normandy format talks was held. It's all about respecting people. All of this is taking place against such information background. It's not only wrong. It is dangerous and brings Ukraine closer to some kind of a major disaster.
I’m sorry for going into that much detail, but it’s an important issue.
Question: The FIFA Council has recommended that the FIFA Congress accept the Republic of Kosovo as a member. What is your take on this? Georgia is against this proposal. Won’t this be a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
Maria Zakharova: Our attitude toward the Kosovo recognition issue is well known to everyone. It has remained consistent and unchanged. Of course, we have been monitoring Pristina’s steps to join various international unions and organisations. In all evidence, Pristina thinks that these initiatives will help it achieve international recognition as an independent sovereign state. FIFA membership seems to be yet another such attempt. It is not up to us to judge what the organisation will decide. As you may understand, Russia is not supportive of this issue.
As for our attitude to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which you have just mentioned, our position on this issue is well known too. We have recognised these states and are promoting interstate relations with them. We are well aware of what you imply, but our position is absolutely clear. We are not using double standards with regard to this issue and we substantiate our position in either case.
Question: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that the Black Sea was turning into a Russian lake. How would you comment?
Maria Zakharova: I am not a doctor.
Question: Could you comment on the situation and crisis in Iraq? What is Russia’s role in settling the military, political and economic crisis in that country?
Maria Zakharova: If we are to speak of the Iraqi crisis in global terms, it has two dimensions: the historical realities and a clear understanding of the etymology and origin of this crisis. We are well aware that the military intervention, the disruption of the country’s day-to-day life, the absolutely thoughtless attempt to build a state while relying on external forces rather than internal realities, and complete disregard for Iraq’s internal particulars have led to sad and tragic consequences for that country and the region as a whole.
Another aspect is its current state. We maintain relations with Iraq in various areas – political, military-technical, and economic – and are holding talks at different levels. We are interested in having Iraq become a stable, prosperous and independent state capable of balancing all of its internal processes. We think that our contribution to this could be divided into several tracks: maintaining, as I said, friendly and partner relations with that state in different areas; assisting the fight against terrorism and bringing about calm to the region as a whole. This is how we characterise our position on and our attitude toward this issue.
Question: US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia that it could sink in a “Syrian morass.” How would you comment?
Maria Zakharova: It’s not a morass but a fire that we are facing there. These are different things. What we are doing is aimed at extinguishing the flames of this fire. But despite all our efforts in this area, they are not being supported entirely by our partners. I’ve mentioned this at the start of my briefing. Many, regrettably, are fanning the fire.
I was asked earlier today, whether Turkey could be doing what it is doing with the militants, its trafficking in of what has been stolen from Syria and their support for terrorist groups without the West’s (US and European) aid? I said we believed that it couldn’t. It’s dishonest and incorrect to say that someone will sink somewhere without doing one’s utmost, among other things, to prevent the Turkish partners from directly harming the situation and the ISSG process.
As you may have noticed, we maintain regular dialogue with our American colleagues. The parties openly say what doesn’t suit the other (Moscow and Washington) and are not afraid to name things they disagree with. But in so doing, we understand that there remains a sphere of public rhetoric where each party holds its own.
I consider this statement as a necessary element of Washington’s “information aggressiveness.” We think that all concerns, if any, should be addressed over the course of our contacts, which are quite numerous and occur at Washington’s initiative. We should do our best to prevent anyone from sinking in Syrian problems. All the necessary mechanisms and opportunities for this exist.
Question: Following up on a pervious topic: My colleague, a staff reporter in Crimea, has received threatening messages this morning. We are very worried.
Maria Zakharova: I would like to reiterate that we do everything in our power. We make public assessments of developments in the Ukrainian media. We are in a permanent, thorough dialogue with the OSCE on freedom of speech, specifically on the rights of Russian journalists harassed due to their work in Ukraine and other countries on ideological or national grounds. We address the problem again and again on international platforms and inform the Ukrainian side about our concern. We raise the issues we cannot put up with, and we will keep doing so – not because we want to be seen in a good light or because we want the media people to know that we care. We do it not only for those reasons.
We are true to all our commitments, and we act within the legal limits. We have also another motivating factor: Russia and the world have had the opportunity to receive alternative information from Ukraine for more than two years thanks to Russian journalists, who are sometimes the sole source of such information. Their work is priceless and should not go unnoticed. We are grateful for it, and we realise that, in your professional and personal heroism, you still count on the Foreign Ministry’s protection. I reiterate that we will offer such protection.
Question: Does the new missile defence system deployed in Romania pose a threat to Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I have spoken in detail about the current situation in Romania.
I can say again, in a few words, that we proceed from such categories as strategic stability, security in Europe, and the strategic balance of forces. We think that though sovereign nations certainly have the right to make alliances, participate in leagues and organisations, and establish military-technical partnerships, they should proceed, above all, from the realisation of how vulnerable strategic stability and the balance of forces and interests in Europe are. It is very easy to upset this balance by removing just one brick from the house foundation, while it takes years of painstaking work to rebuild confidence. We see on many countries’ example how hard it is to restore mutual trust and raise it to the previous level.
Question: Is Moscow considering walking out of START-3 following the US missile defence base placed on combat duty in Romania?
Maria Zakharova: Again, I can refer you to my previous answer. I said that it was more than just concern, but a whole series of concrete moves, measures, proposals, events, conferences (a large conference was convened in Moscow where our defence and foreign policy officials, scientists, specialists and experts proved that a unilateral approach to the missile defence issue leads to a deadlock, presented our analysis and calculations), and all that was globally ignored. Let me repeat that as this has not been and will not be our choice, we reserve the right to retaliate by adopting appropriate military-technical measures.
Question: The ceasefire in Syria, which was agreed upon by Russia and the US, has enabled the terrorists that have rejected it to strengthen their positions and carry out attacks. What is Russia’s position on this issue?
Maria Zakharova: I am not sure I can figure out which terrorist attack is the case because I did not fully understand what you mean. If I heard you correctly, this is how your question was formulated: despite the fact that Russia and the US as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) concluded an agreement on the introduction of a ceasefire, it has been violated by terrorist organisations.
You forget a very important component of this process. From the conclusion of the said agreement to the violations, which do take place, it should be noted that work between the ISSG co-chairs has not stopped for a day. Our military experts are constantly in touch with each other. As you may know, a special UN-based coordination centre recently opened in Geneva. The exchange of information between military experts, something the Russian side has insisted upon, is designed to promote coordinated efforts, including in the counter-terrorist struggle by Russia and the coalition, tracking militants and attempts to disrupt the ceasefire regime. Work has not stopped for a single day.
I would not like to you to believe that Moscow and Washington work for the mere purpose of concluding some agreements, while nothing happens “on the ground”. This is not so. The agreements lay the necessary legal and political foundations for work “on the ground”. And this work is being done. This is the most important point to which we draw the attention of regional players and our colleagues at the UN and the ISSG. This theme will also gain priority now. This is precisely what was behind our proposals at the UN Security Council to ban those terrorist groups in order to make it a universal and global struggle from the point of view of international law as well.
Question: Today, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Crimea, providing for lifting anti-Russia sanctions in exchange for abandoning Crimea as part of Russian territory and the peninsula’s transfer to Ukraine. What is the Foreign Ministry’s reaction to this resolution and what is being done to ensure Crimea’s recognition as part of Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I give credit to the lobbyists who are working on behalf of Kiev, for Kiev or for some other parties or states that have an interest in raising issues regarding the return of Crimea to Ukraine. These people are doing their business, doing what they are paid to do.
With your permission, I’d like to tell you a joke that is appropriate in this context. A not entirely unknown Ukrainian leader prays to God and says: “Help me return Crimea,” to which God replies: “Crimea has already been returned; now it’s time to return the money.” Therefore, everything that is related to the issue of returning Crimea has been closed once and for all. Crimea is Russian territory. Any attempts on any level – activities in the European Parliament or the demonstration in European capitals of some maps with hand-drawn borders – all of this is a waste of time, money and effort. The issue is closed and is not subject to discussion.
Question: Earlier this month, Russia blocked the UN Security Council’s statement regarding Musudan medium-range ballistic missile tests. Tests were conducted in late April. What is the rationale behind Russia’s move?
Maria Zakharova: Our position regarding the situation on the Korean Peninsula is well known to you. Our main efforts are designed to bring the parties back to discussion and find a political and diplomatic solution to the issues on the peninsula. On the one hand, we are moving in line with the recent UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. At the same time we urge all parties and all those who are in some way or other involved in this situation to refrain from escalating tensions in the region and follow a different path, i.e. trying to stimulate and promote an atmosphere that would help achieve the goal I mentioned earlier, i.e., promote an atmosphere conducive to a political and diplomatic solution to the existing problems. This is our fundamental, global approach.
Question: Do I understand it correctly that Russia started putting forward initiatives that you said are based on equality long before the Ukraine crisis broke out, when it was still “business as usual”?
Maria Zakharova: Let’s separate these two problems. I cannot even understand at what stage they began to be mixed. The missile defence issue and the internal crisis in Ukraine are different problems. I understand that everything in the world is interrelated but these are two different problems. The work on missile defence and efforts to resolve this issue have been going on for many years along different tracks: on the political, military and political, military and technical and expert levels. A huge number of press publications were devoted to this. They are all available. Visit the Foreign Ministry’s website, enter the words “missile defence” in a search engine and you will see that Russian initiatives have been put forward maybe for over a decade, that this issue has been raised with our Western partners and so on. Where does this linkage between missile defence and Ukraine come from? I believe it should only be regarded as an attempt to put history on a false path. This is a separate problem. Evidence of this is the fact that it was addressed on different tracks by representatives of different agencies in different parts of the world: in Brussels and Moscow, where conferences and talks were conducted. The conference that I mentioned (I think it was held somewhere not far from the Foreign Ministry and was wide ranging) was an absolutely independent, global event designed to consider this issue on an expert level, address the parties’ concerns and try to find common responses to threats, if they were real. This should be absolutely clear.
Question: Considering that the current political situation is different from what it was in those years, what can be expected from the West? Perhaps if both parties recognised that there will be no more “business as usual,” as you say, on many tracks, then the old initiatives should not be resurrected and perhaps Russia’s reaction should be tougher? Is this so? Is our country going to change its position in this respect?
Maria Zakharova: Remember, only recently, our US colleagues linked the missile defence issue to the Iran issue. The linkage was absolutely clear. With God’s help and a bit of diplomatic wisdom, the Iran issue was not simply moved off dead centre but also effectively resolved. After that, the US side was asked at various levels whether its missile defence plans should be reviewed now that the Iran problem was resolved. Our US colleagues changed their position and started invoking absolutely different goals and objectives to justify the missile defence issue, saying that they were again misunderstood, and so on. Here, it is important to bear in mind not so much the principles that are followed in this case as the fact that, unfortunately, our colleagues act inconsistently. Earlier today, we talked about this with regard to the Middle East peace process. I believe the situation is similar. Our position is absolutely clear and consistent and it has been such for many years. We were ready to sit down at the negotiating table and put in place a system that would address the concerns of our European colleagues, our NATO colleagues, primarily our US colleagues, who are calling all the shots there, and at the same time take into account our own interests. We believed that this approach is universal for all times, including the times of political turbulence and turmoil. Negotiations and consideration for mutual concerns always provide a chance for achieving mutually acceptable results. A one-sided approach always leads nowhere. This is a question, of course, for our US colleagues, while our approach has been and still is what I said it is.
Question: My first name and my family name are on the list of the so-called Myrotvorets (Peacekeeper) website. I also worked in Donetsk for several months and in this connection I would like to ask how the Foreign Ministry would advise me to deal with such threats, if they are made.
Maria Zakharova: We strongly recommend that you make them public, as this is extremely important. It is one thing when we say this, quoting sources, when we are asked to, but it’s another thing when you talk about this. It would not be a bad idea, possibly also by bringing in the professional community, for example, journalists unions (we have various journalists unions: the Russian Journalists Union and local journalists unions), to think about creating a database or putting such threats on record. Why not make them public so that the relevant agencies, for example, European agencies could get this information from the original source, while the Journalists Union would guarantee that this is not propaganda, not paid-for stories, but indeed Russian journalists’ calls for protection. Therefore, we would be able to disseminate this information via international organisation channels and through our colleagues and raise this issue in the course of talks. So it is essential, above all, to make this information public. This will allow us to respond promptly, but most importantly, to bring this issue to light out of the shadows where our Ukrainian colleagues are working hard to suppress it, alleging that there are in fact no questions. This falls under the definition not even of double standards but global cardsharping. Today, in the context of Donbass elections, the issue of allowing the media to go there and ensuring journalists’ rights is critical for our Ukrainian colleagues. Consider: This is said by Kiev, which expelled, deported Russian journalists in droves, did nothing to ensure equal rights, in particular, for many Russian journalists in covering elections on Ukrainian territory! So it is of paramount importance to make these facts public, so that there are no blank spots that are off limits to us or we are told not to look into this issue. You asked for advice and I have given it to you.
Question: While in Donetsk, I met with representatives of the Russian Armed Forces who work with the Joint Centre for Ceasefire Control and Coordination there. Russian military personnel that have arrived in the city work there. I was a bit surprised when I first saw people wearing Russian military uniforms and Russian insignia in Donetsk. It was later explained to me that military personnel had officially entered the country via Kharkov, that they were granted access rights and transported to Donetsk by special convoys. Why are there no problems with the work of representatives of the Russian Armed Forces arriving in Donetsk via Kharkov, rather than via the border with the Rostov Region, and why do journalists face these problems?
Maria Zakharova: As far as I understand, this implies the Joint Centre for Ceasefire Control and Coordination, established at the request of Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko, so that Russian military personnel would be present there.
You are very much misled when you say that there are no problems with this. Problems also arise in this respect.
Question: Probably, there were no problems in the past.
Maria Zakharova: It is possible that there were no problems in the past. I would like to stress once again, all Russian representatives openly state that the Joint Centre for Ceasefire Control and Coordination was established precisely at the request and initiative of the Ukrainian side, let’s call it the “new Ukrainian democracy.” Nevertheless, Russian military personnel face exactly the same double standards, tactless attitude and harassment, to put it mildly. We have issued the appropriate comments about this, and they are posted on the Foreign Ministry website.
Regarding journalists, there are no “double standards” in this respect. They discuss double standards when specific nuances are implied. In this context, this implies physical and media efforts to oust a certain category of journalists, to prevent their physical presence in Ukraine, in order to keep them from voicing an alternative viewpoint.
Question: Last week, the official website for posting information about the drafting of regulatory documents by federal executive agencies and the results of their public discussion published a draft presidential executive order On Measures to Implement UN Security Council Resolution 2270 of March 2, 2016, submitted by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The above-mentioned website notes that an independent anti-corruption check is currently being conducted. How can you comment work on this executive order?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t have any specific information. I will look into this issue.
Question: How, in your opinion, can the conflict between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan be resolved?
Maria Zakharova: If you allow me, I would like to slightly rephrase your question, and I would like to say how we see the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. This can only be accomplished by peaceful political and diplomatic methods on the basis of internationally recognised documents that have already been approved and signed by Baku and Yerevan. It is necessary to implement the appropriate political-diplomatic settlement based on this international legal framework. We hope that this will be done. There is no alternative, including the use of force. We can see the results of attempts to decide, predetermine or change the pace of the peace settlement by force. This is a road to nowhere.
Question: Several weeks ago, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned a possible Russian response if Sweden joined NATO. What measures can be implemented?
Maria Zakharova: Unfortunately, you were not attentive enough when you read Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview given to Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper. When asked about a possible retaliatory response, he redirected the question to military experts specialising in these issues. This is probably not your fault. Quite possibly, the problem is that the Swedish publication abridged Foreign Minister’s interview to Dagens Nyheter, to put it mildly. This situation is rather new for us. We realise that printed media are unable to publish the entire text of the interview, but websites exist for this purpose. We cooperate in this way with media outlets almost every week. Many of those present here know that printed media outlets publish abridged interviews, and that the website posts the entire interview. Unfortunately, the website of the Swedish publication also posted an abridged interview. The complete interview is posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.
Question: What does Moscow think about the Russia-NATO dialogue?
Maria Zakharova: As you may be aware, a Russia-NATO Council meeting at the level of permanent representatives was held recently. This meeting was held upon the proposal of NATO, which apparently began to realise something based on current realities. Unfortunately, few people in the West understand this in theory. Clearly, they are hit by a crisis of thought, but based on practical realities NATO has started to realise the absolute futility and hopelessness of having no dialogue on core issues that underlie our contradictions. Of course, there’s no issue about any full-fledged interaction. This was the first attempt. The parties took time to agree upon the format and the topics to make sure that this conversation is a constructive exchange of opinions, rather than a PR campaign providing some PR arguments to a NATO country. Instead, we wanted to talk about the essence of our mutual concerns. Such a meeting did take place.
We are open to dialogue. Our only condition is that the dialogue is mutually respectful and takes into account our mutual interests. We are not satisfied with a situation when only one of two microphones is on.
Question: An 18-month-old girl is staying in a hospital in Egypt where her parents took her for treatment. She contracted an infection there. Are there plans to return the girl to Russia on a special flight? Will this situation affect our relations with Egypt?
Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this issue recently. We cannot disclose all information, as personal information is involved, especially that of a child.
We continue to monitor the situation with Russian national Sofia Shurigo who is staying at a children's hospital in Cairo.
The Russian Embassy in Egypt continues to maintain regular contacts with the girl's parents and her doctor.
The local doctors confirmed that her condition has slightly improved recently. Of course, the situation may have changed, but this is the information that we have from yesterday. However, the girl still needs to stay at the ICU, which is what the Egyptian doctors are doing.
Medical evacuation is discussed by the Russian and Egyptian experts. They will decide on the day of her return. This work is underway.
Question: I would like to hear from you about the Immortal Regiment march, which was held not only in Russia and the CIS, but also in other foreign countries. Residents of the latter showed a variety of responses to it, one of which I would like to quote. “The Immortal Regiment march is a manifestation of the continuing militarisation of Russian society.” A fairly well-known Polish journalist said this on the Polish radio. That is not a trivial question, as it turns out that people are saying that this march is a manifestation of the Russian society’s militarisation ... I’ll put an ellipsis here and ask you about your opinion.
Maria Zakharova: I think all of this is happening for several reasons. First, people who do not speak Russian, or misinterpret the word “regiment,” may think that the issue is about some kind of a paramilitary march or a military regiment march. As you know, this is not the case. It is a civil society campaign, which has nothing to do with militarism. I think it’s an all-out pacifist drive. I believe it is all about an attempt by civil society to carry on, from generation to generation, the memory of the Second World War, and the memory of each individual, whose families celebrate their contribution to victory. This is all done to ensure that there’s no anonymity, so that the WWII soldiers do not remain some “impersonal crowd,” and we understand what exactly each of them did. Many people now say that WWII is mythologised and generalised. Of course, mythologising and generalisation will invariably take place, as WWII is a major event that changed world history. However, people were walking holding pictures of their relatives precisely to remember individuals behind the overall war effort. Perhaps, the plain misunderstanding the phrase “Immortal Regiment” is the first reason for people passing such judgments. They may incorrectly translate it to begin with.
A second possible reason may be deep-rooted hatred for our country. It cannot be attributed to anything, but personal makeup of a particular individual. I will digress. In my opinion, hatred is a powerful emotion, and getting rid of it is a challenge. I apologise for digressing. It seems to me that some people hate much stronger than they love. My advice? Just get rid of this hatred for Russia and our people. There’s no need to love us – we will, probably, survive without these people loving us – but hatred is a destructive emotion. I think it is all the more dangerous when it emanates from journalists. I understand that you quoted journalists. Hatred stands in the way of objectivity and the truth.
We do not have any specific numbers or facts, as it was a civil society drive. Speaking about foreign countries, our compatriots, the citizens of the Russian Federation who live and work in other countries, took part in these marches. Also participating in these marches were citizens of other countries who are in no way related to modern Russia, whose ancestors were either originally from Russia, or fought shoulder to shoulder with the Soviet troops. Some of the march participants did not have anything to do with Russia, but joined in because they share the feelings of the organisers of this event.
Question: On May 9, taking a reporter's question about why Russia continues to supply weapons to Azerbaijan, Russian Ambassador to Armenia Ivan Volynkin had the following to say: “Selling again” doesn’t mean actually “selling.” The Armenian leadership took this statement as a halt on supplies of Russian weapons to Azerbaijan. What do you, as a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, know about supplies or continued supplies of weapons to Azerbaijan?
Maria Zakharova: As a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, I know that Mr Volynkin is a professional of the highest order. He is an Ambassador with a capital A and someone who wants Russian-Armenian relations to expand for the benefit of our two nations not only as part of his job, but also on a personal level. His personal contribution to this process is very sizable.
I believe that the Russian leadership has a clear position on this issue. The military and technical cooperation officials have articulated it clearly and exhaustively. There’s no need to look for verbal subtleties or to try to detect underlying meanings here. You are aware that Russia carries out military and technical cooperation based on a clear international and bilateral legal basis. Our military and technical cooperation is open, and we talk about the motivation and the prospects of this cooperation. Again, we understand the complexity of the situation and we believe that certain methods can realistically lead to a calmer situation.
We have said unequivocally that these methods include, above all, political and diplomatic settlement, the intention and the desire of the parties – with the support of the mediators (the OSCE Minsk Group) – to seriously address existing problems and work towards peace. I think that our position was clear from the time of the flareup. It boils down to the fact that the answer to the question which Armenia is concerned with – how to stop the bloodshed – lies in the political and diplomatic track. That’s what diplomacy is for. To do so, we are working on holding a meeting in Vienna. You may be aware that Russia plays an important role in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. You may also be aware that in recent years Russia has made a number of proposals, which brought the sides closer to the final solution. Unfortunately, for various reasons these agreements fizzled out before reaching the final phase, but you should also be well aware that it was Russia, which constantly initiated various proposals seeking to stimulate the settlement process.
I realise that the media should be objective and cannot lose from sight an important factor such as military and technical cooperation. However, media should also be guided by facts and realise that things that Russia does, it does them openly and in line with the law. It is important to realise that the key to resolving the situation lies in the political and diplomatic plane.
I would like to make an announcement. We are not going to see each other next week. We are working on holding the next briefing not in the building of the Foreign Ministry on Smolenskaya Square, but in Sochi on the sidelines of the meetings that will take place there. This is connected with the schedule of the delegation led by Minister Lavrov, and the fact that, as we understand, most of the journalists will then be working in Sochi. The briefing is transferred to Sochi for their convenience. See you in Sochi.
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