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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 10, 2016

10 June 201619:54

Table of content

  1. Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea Yun Byung-se
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Vice President and Chairman of Uruguay’s General Assembly Raul Sendic
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Slovenia Karl Erjavec
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana Carl Greenidge
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's speech at the Government Hour
  6. The Foreign Minister’s participation in the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum
  7. Results of the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots
  8. Turkish authorities’ failure to prosecute Alparslan Celik
  9. The situation in Syria
  10. The current situation in Afghanistan
  11. US Department of State's Country Reports on Terrorism in the part concerning Russian anti-extremism legislation
  12. The suspension of ABM dialogue with the US and NATO
  13. Western guarantees of NATO’s non-expansion to the east
  14. India’s joining the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation
  15. The initiatives in Italian regions and in France to lift sanctions against Russia
  16. Russia’s unchanged position on the South China Sea dispute
  17. Tbilisi’s latest media provocation
  18. Safety for Russian fans at European Football Cup
  19. Monument to Garegin Nzhdeh
  20. Answers to media questions
    1. The 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum 
    2. Developments in the East China Sea
    3. Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
    4. Russian journalist attacked
    5. Special economic zones within BRICS, SCO, MERCOSUR and ASEAN
    6. French bank closes accounts of Russian diplomats
    7. Results of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow
    8. Customs and passport control on Novorossiysk-Burgas route
    9. Statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
    10. Developments on the Korean Peninsula
    11. The situation with Polish media
    12. Saudi Arabia’s pressure on the UN
    13. Recommendations for Russian citizens
    14. Possible meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Jean-Claude Juncker

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea Yun Byung-se

Regrettably, we will have to spend part of the holidays in the office. On June 13, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart from the Republic of Korea Yun Byung-se will hold talks in the Foreign Ministry’s residence. Detailed information about the forthcoming talks will be published on the Foreign Ministry’s website today.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Vice President and Chairman of Uruguay’s General Assembly Raul Sendic

On June 14, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive Vice President and Chairman of the General Assembly of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay Raul Sendic who will arrive in Russia for an official visit at the invitation of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly.

Uruguay is our long-standing, reliable partner in Latin America. Next year our countries will celebrate the 160th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations. We are cooperating productively in the UN, including its Security Council to which Uruguay has been elected a non-permanent member for 2016-2017, as well as in other international venues. As the current MERCOSUR Chair, Uruguay is facilitating the association’s cooperation both with the Russian Federation and the Eurasian Economic Union.

These facts show that our two countries have considerable opportunities for productive cooperation in the interests of developing trade and economic ties, upgrading the bilateral political dialogue and consolidating relations between the regional integration associations. Additional opportunities for this are opening up in connection with the participation of the Sendic-led Uruguayan delegation in the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Slovenia Karl Erjavec

On June 14-15, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Slovenia Karl Erjavec will pay a visit to Moscow. As the Slovenian Co-Chair of the Russian-Slovenian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, he will meet with his colleague, Minister of Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation Nikolai Nikiforov, the Russian Co-Chair.

On June 14, Mr Lavrov will hold talks with Mr Erjavec. They plan to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues in the political, trade, economic, and cultural spheres, paying special attention to war memorials.

The foreign ministers will also discuss the status and prospects of Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO, the migration crisis in Europe, the developments in Ukraine and Syria, the efforts against terrorism, current issues on UN agenda, and other topics of mutual interest.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana Carl Greenidge

On June 15, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet for talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana Carl Greenidge. The two officials will discuss a wide range of issues on the bilateral, international and regional agendas.

I should note the importance of Mr Greenidge's visit to Russia and its role for bolstering the political dialogue and taking bilateral relations to a new level of partnership with long-term prospects. The Agreement on the Foundation of Relations, developed by the sides and to be signed following the talks, is designed to facilitate this.

On June 16-18, Mr Greenidge, along with his numerous colleagues from different countries, will take part in the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum and the special Latin American part of its programme.

Guyana is one of Russia's promising partners in the Caribbean sub-region. Our countries have long been bound by friendship and constructive interaction. On December 17 last year, we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. During this period, we have accumulated vast experience of constructive cooperation in various fields and established a firm legal foundation for bilateral relations – a foundation that we continue to adapt to the new environment. On November 27, 2015, an intergovernmental agreement on reciprocal visa-free travel came into effect.

Russia's RUSAL is the leading company in our economic cooperation with Guyana. RUSAL, which is implementing a large bauxite extraction project in Guyana, is one of the major investors in this country's economy. Russia and Guyana are also actively expanding educational and youth contacts.

In the political field, we are united by the proximity and commonality of our stances on strengthening of the United Nation's central role in global affairs, our commitment to the principles of the rule of international law and non-interference in other countries' affairs, and our mutual willingness to expand cooperation in facilitating sustainable development.  

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's speech at the Government Hour

On June 15, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak during Government Hour at the Russian State Duma's plenary session.

The discussion at Government Hour will focus on pressing issues of global politics, in particular, the situation in Ukraine and Syria, the fight against terrorism, integration processes in the Eurasian space, and developing comprehensive cooperation with leading nations.

Mr Lavrov's annual meeting with State Duma deputies is an opportunity to promote interaction between the executive and legislative branches, exchange opinions on the current international situation, and identify ways to more effectively carry out Russia's foreign policy. 

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The Foreign Minister’s participation in the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum

The St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), which will mark its 20th anniversary this year, will be held on June 16-18. A large number of meetings, contacts and talks have been scheduled for these days. One segment is related to the Foreign Ministry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the forum’s work.

The slogan of this year’s forum is “On the Threshold of a New Economic Reality.” The number of foreign guests is record-breaking. This is not the chief measure, but it’s a very significant one. The forum has a packed programme, which includes discussions of key issues related to the global and Russian economies. The BRICS and SCO business forums, the B20 forum, the presentation of the Global Energy Prize and the Development Prize, and other events will be held as part of the forum. The organisers will keep the public informed about them.

At present, I can announce Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club scheduled for around 2 pm on June 16. The meeting with the Foreign Minister will be open to the media. You can find updates on the forum’s website. We invite you all and look forward to seeing you there.

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Results of the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots

The 26th meeting of the World Coordination Council (WCC) of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad was held in Moscow on May 31 - June 1. The traditional annual meeting of Chairman of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Commission’s presidium with WCC members was held as part of the event. Chairs of regional coordination councils of Russian compatriots took part in the meeting for the first time.

During the two-day WCC meeting, participants exchanged opinions on the implementation of decisions made by the fifth World Congress of Compatriots in Moscow in November 2015. They summed up the results of major events that took place in Russia and abroad through the Foreign Ministry and coordination councils of compatriots. They stressed the need to step up efforts to protect the rights and legitimate interests of Russian compatriots, including preserving the Russian language and culture to which they want to belong. Participants also discussed preparations for the next World Conference of Compatriots with the slogan “Side by Side with Russia!” scheduled for November 1-2 in Moscow. There was an exchange of opinions on further promoting stable cooperation between the Civic Chamber of Russia and the WCC. The final decision of the meeting is posted on the WCC website. I will not comment on it, you can read it yourselves.

During the meeting with members of the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, Kyrgyz and Mexican representatives asked me to give their best regards to Russian-speaking communities in Kyrgyzstan and Mexico, assuming that our compatriots in those countries watch the briefings. I cannot deny their request, so I pass along their best regards to all our compatriots, not only in Kyrgyzstan and Mexico, but especially in those countries. We work to preserve these ties, and we do this through your representatives and directly. I hope that you will express a positive attitude on our efforts, or at least some aspects.

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Turkish authorities’ failure to prosecute Alparslan Celik

I cannot but comment on the latest information that has appeared in the Turkish media about an indictment forwarded to the Izmir court concerning Alparslan Celik, who is charged with illegal carrying and possession of firearms. However, the charge of his complicity in the murder of Russian pilot Oleg Peshkov on November 24, 2015, has been dropped. As you know, we have monitored the case closely and commented on it regularly.

The decision is motivated by alleged lack of grounds for Celik’s prosecution for this war crime, and the assertion that his possible accomplices of Turkish nationality have not been detained. For some reason, Turkish law enforcers do not regard the dead Russian pilot’s four bullet wounds as sufficient evidence to charge the Turkish fighter with complicity in his murder.

We all remember statements and information circulated in the media and social networks immediately following the tragedy of November 24, but the Turkish police have decided to disregard it.

The Turkish prosecution’s stance cannot but arouse grave concern. The Turkish justice system appears to be deliberately trying to botch the Celik case, to present the arrest of the “common criminal” as completely unrelated to the November 24 tragedy and to cover up the truth about his role in Peshkov’s death.

We call on the Turkish authorities again to do everything in their power to locate and bring to justice all those responsible for the Russian pilot’s death – not only Celik but also all the fighters under his direct command, who were involved in this heinous crime.

We will be monitoring the case especially closely.

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The situation in Syria

The situation in Syria remains turbulent. Anti-ceasefire provocations persist, some of them very serious. However, the ceasefire is holding on the whole.

The terrorist units of Jabhat al-Nusra, supported by Ahrar al-Sham and other militants, have violated the ceasefire to attack the government troops’ positions again north and south of Aleppo, aiming evidently to lock the siege of the government-controlled districts. The Meydan, al-Muhafaza, Sheikh Maqsood, al-Khalidiyah and Amriya neighbourhoods are shelled heavily, killing dozens of civilians. Just one such shelling killed over 40 and injured about a hundred in Sheikh Maqsood. The attacks involve up to 2,000 jihad fighters, according to media reports. According to journalists, they are under Turkish military instructors’ command.

Heavy lorries with arms and munitions are reported to be travelling from the Turkish border under armed guard to the north of the Aleppo and Idlib provinces. Over 200 armed fighters were sighted as they crossed the border to Syria near Baysun to join Jabhat al-Nusra in the vicinity of Binnish in the Idlib province.

All this appears to be a coordinated stab in the back of the Syrian army after government troops entered the Raqqa province with support from militias and the Russian Aerospace Forces to liberate several towns on the road to Raqqa, the unofficial ISIS capital. The government forces have advanced considerably into the province’s heartland from the west.

Kurdish militias from the Syrian Democratic Forces, active in the north with the aid of the US-led coalition’s air force, have also declared the start of a campaign to liberate Raqqa. Importantly, Kurdish militias have ousted ISIS from several towns along the Euphrates and approached Manbij in the northeast of the Aleppo province.

Another mass grave has been discovered southwest of the Palmyra airport with roughly 150 bodies of local people and Syrian soldiers massacred by ISIS.

The Syrian authorities are continuing their efforts to de-escalate the conflict. They have amnestied 489 fighters who had laid down arms and signed a pledge not to resume illegal combat.

The government continues to provide humanitarian aid to the population in coordination with the relevant UN agencies and Russian military representatives. This aid spreads to localities that are not under government control. It has been agreed that 15 UN humanitarian convoys are to be granted access this month. Two lorry convoys arrived in Darayya and Muadhamiya on June 1.

The People’s Council of Syria opened its 2nd convocation’s first meeting in Damascus on June 6 to elect its new head. For the first time in history, Syria has a woman parliament speaker: Dr Hadiyeh Khalaf al Abbas, who holds a PhD in Agricultural Engineering.

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The current situation in Afghanistan

The military and political situation in Afghanistan remains tense. Despite regular operations by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban remains active. The situation is most difficult in the Helmand province in the south, where on June 5 US photographer David Gilkey and his Afghan interpreter, Zabihullah Tamanna, were killed in a mortar attack. We offer heartfelt condolences to our colleagues' loved ones. We believe that a journalist calling requires not only personal responsibility but also relies on the government’s measures to guarantee their safety, particularly when it comes to reporting from hot spots. This is special, very difficult and responsible type of work – and certainly one that is highly necessary as it is only thanks to journalists that we have an opportunity to find out and understand what is taking place in hot spots and get an objective and unbiased picture.

The number of armed outings and terrorist attacks by extremist groups across all of Afghanistan has not decreased. In the northern province of Kunduz, Taliban militants blocked the traffic on the road and took 220 bus passengers captive. Later they released most of them but 12 were killed and eight are still missing. In Kabul, member of the Afghan parliament Sher Wali Wardak was killed in a bomb explosion. In the provinces of Ghazni and Logar, armed attacks were made on local court buildings, resulting in civilian casualties. Unfortunately, these are only some of the numerous facts I could site here.

In this situation, attempts by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States) to induce the Taliban to seek reconciliation with Kabul remain futile. Unfortunately, establishment of direct contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the near future cannot be expected either.

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US Department of State's Country Reports on Terrorism in the part concerning Russian anti-extremism legislation

We have noted to the annual Country Reports on Terrorism issued by the US State Department on June 2 in its part concerning the Russian anti-extremist legislation.

Unfortunately, while reviewing the part of the document that concerns Russia, we must once again state the authors' attempt to make this document politically charged, and to do this by making use of the traditional groundless accusations against Russia as well.

Here are a few examples. Unfounded accusations over Russia's persecution of "peaceful citizens and organisations" under the guise of fighting terrorism and extremism absolutely contradict the actual state of affairs. The bogus statements are made despite the fact that Russia, unlike the United States, has never fought terrorism in circumvention of the international law, the UN Charter, the UN Security Council decisions, and the country's own legislation in this area. The incontestable efficiency of Russia's actions in this area is evidenced by specific results, with the main one probably being the military and ideological victory over the epicentre of international terrorism in Russia's North Caucasus. I am sometimes tempted to add that this happens to the annoyance of many our western partners. Our experience in developing optimal legal, organisational and tactical practices in tackling terrorism and extremism is highly sought after by our international partners. We explain to all those who want to listen the core and the specifics of applying and using the laws and our experience by Russian competent state agencies.

Apparently, the Country Reports on Terrorism refers to the efficient Russian Federal Law No 114-FZ On Countering Extremist Activities of July 25, 2002. The report also mentions the Strategy for Countering Extremism in the Russian Federation until 2025, approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 20, 2014. We have to note that Russia’s approach to the concept of extremism, comprehensively featured in these two documents, lays the groundwork for treating this phenomenon primarily as an ideology and practice, as well as propaganda of non-legitimate violence and activities to stir up ethnic, racial and religious animosity and hatred. We should note that the aforementioned documents contain a clear legal definition of the term "extremism". The main criterion for considering specific actions as "extremist" is their danger to society. Moreover, it is preventive efforts, including education and information campaigns aimed at averting extremist activities, that are a priority for our country. It would be a good thing if our American colleagues realised this.

In such conditions, the "analysis" of the Russian law by the Americans appears just plain unprofessional and absolutely subjective. It seems the US State Department chooses to consistently use political clichés instead of being governed by interests of counteracting terrorism and violent extremism. I think that the State Department would only benefit from channeling its energy into resuming interaction with Russia in the antiterrorism sphere instead of publishing such biased reports.  

Naturally, as could have been expected, the report omits to mention the shortsighted Western tactic that has become popular of late of using extremist movements in some countries to achieve short-term political and geopolitical objectives, including the fight against "undesirable" regimes. Entire regions of the world have fallen victim of this approach, and now extremists and terrorists of all stripes fill the political and legal vacuum that has been created as a result.

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The suspension of ABM dialogue with the US and NATO

Over these past few months, we have observed the United States’ unabated interest in the missile shield agenda. As in the preceding instance, it does not seek to promote the negotiation process or analytical approaches but keeps piling accusations on Russia – particularly of stopping the ABM dialogue with the United States and NATO. We will continue to pay close attention to this theme and not merely offer prompt responses but raise the issue regularly because what we are dealing with is not the truth.

Since US officials allege that Russia has stopped the nuclear shield dialogue with the United States and NATO unilaterally, I would like to remind you the real stage-by-stage development of the situation.

To begin with, it was the United States that announced leaving the ABM Treaty in 2001 – not Russia but the United States. In 2002, no longer bound by the treaty, Washington began implementing its plans for a global anti-missile system. Despite these unilateral moves and the emerging situation, Russia was still guided by the global goal of minimising the damage to strategic stability and worked for a long time to continue the dialogue with the United States on this agenda.

When President Vladimir Putin met with then US President George W. Bush in Heiligendamm and Kennebunkport in 2007, he suggested building an anti-missile shield together. I think the American side remembers it. The matter was recorded.  I would like to say that the US side rejected this initiative although we were advancing practical proposals and were ready to discuss in detail how to organise efforts in that area. Later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates visited Moscow to make counterproposals, particularly on Russian observers’ presence at ABM sites and the use of monitoring equipment. However, even these palliative measures were soon forgotten.

In September 2013, Russia made proposals to Washington again concerning its idea of the tentative settlement of the ABM issue, proceeding from guarantees, based on verifiable geographic and military technical data, that the US anti-missile system is not spearheaded against Russia. Three years have passed since then, but America has not yet given a response to the practical and realistic project which, we believe, takes US security interests into consideration.

The ABM agenda came under intense discussion by ad hoc teams of the Russian-US Bilateral Presidential Commission, established in 2009. However, Washington froze its activity unilaterally in March 2014, and its decision has not been revised to this day. At that time, Defence Department spokesmen declared officially that since the dialogue with Russia on military issues has been suspended, the ABM dialogue would also stop.   

In May 2016, the Pentagon flatly rejected again the opportunity to provide legally binding guarantees that the ABM system is not directed against Russia. At about the same time, Russia was named among the greatest threats to the United States.

We have now assessed the Moscow-Washington dialogue on the ABM problems, and promoted a similar multilateral discussion proactively. It was at Russia’s initiative that the heads of state and government ordered, during the Lisbon summit of the Russia-NATO Council in 2010, to make a joint and comprehensive analysis of the possible framework terms for partnership in that sphere. The summit also reached an understanding on anti-missile theatre defence interaction and joint assessment of the ballistic missile threat.

Regrettably, this understanding did not bear practical fruit due to principled differences between the parties’ approaches to the problem. The Russian position envisaged joint elaboration of a concept and architecture of the missile shield with Russia as fully-fledged participant because, as we see it, our equal participation is at the essence of Russia’s approach. 

The NATO approach is different. It envisages an entirely autonomous ABM system with opportunities to undermine eventually the strength of the Russian strategic deterrence forces. Our colleagues advise us to remove our concerns through practical interaction which, as we realise, would boil down in practice to extremely limited information exchanges with the American ABM architecture preserved intact.

The two sides’ threat assessments turned out to be diametrically opposed to each other. Specifically, NATO, just as the United States, chose to focus on Iran’s alleged aggressive schemes (and we have also talked about this at length), while Russia’s suggestion was to deal with hard facts based on real data.

Preparations for joint comprehensive analysis were also fruitless: Even its basic principles were not formulated as our Western partners were not ready for practical cooperation.

The situation brought the Russia-NATO Council anti-missile dialogue into a deadlock. We said so to our partners in October 2013. However, Russia did not shut the door on the dialogue. The council programme for 2014 included an item that envisaged further discussion of the ABM agenda as may be required, including the Lisbon instructions.

However, the NATO countries’ foreign ministers determined on April 1, 2014 to suspend practical cooperation with Russia, so it was none other than the US-led West that put an end to the practical ABM dialogue in the given format.

The US side is certainly aware of all these facts, and we don’t see why Washington is eager to shift the responsibility for the situation it has made onto Russia. All this looks bizarre, to it mildly. We think that these steps are merely another attempt to retouch the deplorable results of the outgoing US Administration’s foreign policy, which only deepened the ABM problems instead of addressing them. On the whole, the strategic stability cause has suffered a loss with that policy. 

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Western guarantees of NATO’s non-expansion to the east

There is another theme that has been raised by our past and present US colleagues: It is their circulation of the idea that Russia is responsible for NATO’s eastward expansion. There is a dualism here. On the one hand, there are official representatives of government agencies and former US diplomatic representatives who spare no effort in shifting the responsibility for everything onto Russia. On the other hand, there are people active in the media who belong to what is known as old-school diplomacy with its intellect, responsibility and analytical approach. It appears that two concepts are duelling in the media, Internet and social networks.  

We have noted an interview of France’s former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas carried by the Foreign Affairs magazine, where he comes down on the United States for breaking its political pledge not to expand NATO to the east. During the unification of Germany, the powers agreed that NATO troops would not approach the former borders of the communist world. Now, the diplomat says, Americans allege that it was not so and the obligation was not recorded in writing. Roland Duma says that it does not matter at all. What really matters is public mentality. At that time, there was talk of easing tensions, which supposes the withdrawal of troops and arms as far as possible. Now we have to state that the United States and NATO did not keep their word. One can also remark cynically that NATO survives while the Warsaw Treaty Organisation was disbanded.

I would also like to site the views of another French spokesman, incumbent Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who told the same magazine that there had certainly been some misunderstood gestures, for instance, the way the United States organised NATO’s expansion during George Bush’s presidency. The Russians may have regarded it as provocation rather than response to the interested countries’ lawful wishes. The diplomat says that they can reproach themselves on the loss of historical intuition. Some people wanted the collapse of the USSR to spell the end of history. Now, he says, we know that this was not so.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger spoke in the same vein in an interview to the Mezhdunarodnoye Obozreniye television programme.  Specifically, he pointed out the absence of relevant formal documents and admitted that the Russian leadership received informal comments. He believes that the Russian leaders cannot be accused of inventing such comments.

As for NATO’s expansion closer to the Russian borders, he thinks it cannot be justified by the illusory Russian threat to certain Eastern European countries. The American diplomat and political expert says it must be realised that Russia should not be treated as a country that is out to finish NATO. 

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India’s joining the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

On June 1, India joined the Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC) against Ballistic Missile Proliferation and took part in its June 2-3 plenary meeting in Vienna as a full-fledged member. India became the 138th HCOC participant.

We welcome the breakthrough decision of the Indian leaders. India is the first missile-significant state to join the HCOC since its creation. We believe that India’s joining the states that signed this document will increase confidence, global transparency and security.

Russia believes the HCOC is extremely important and sees it as the first step towards the creation of a legally binding multilateral agreement on the global missile non-proliferation regime. We take part in the HCOC activity, seeking to make it more universal and efficient. Russia meets its obligations in good faith.

We call on all states that have not joined the HCOC so far to do so as soon as possible.

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The initiatives in Italian regions and in France to lift sanctions against Russia

Yesterday, we met with the senior executives of one of the world’s leading information holdings and discussed the sanctions against Russia.

We are aware that two regional councils in Italy adopted resolutions calling for lifting sanctions against Russia (Tuscany, in October 2015 and Veneto, in May this year).

We regard these statements with understanding. Although they have no binding force, they prove the indisputable and obvious fact that the existing illegal decisions to impose sanctions against Russia are a double-edged sword that affects both the Russian economy (which has clearly been affected) and the vital interests of many countries that joined them. We have repeatedly said these sanctions are a road to nowhere and we can reiterate this.

Naturally, deputies from the regional councils in Italy and other countries (the process is gaining momentum), which work in close contact with the economy, protecting business interests of companies that suffered losses as a result of a reduction in trade with Russia, cannot but respond to these processes, which are painful for their electorate. This is basic political science. There is no conspiracy here. We are often told that this is the result of our propaganda or some other steps. There is a discontented group of citizens who choose to act through people’s representatives, the parliamentarians, and that gives rise to certain processes.

It would not be true to say that the political elite in many countries fails to realise the outcome of the sanctions policy, but they carefully conceal their understanding of the situation. This is paradoxical, but true. They understand everything but pretend not to understand or to be unable to do anything. Indeed, many people are unable to do anything because they have no voice of their own or an independent foreign policy.

We can also see that some countries, including France, submit anti-sanction resolutions for consideration by national parliaments. Following the National Assembly of France, the upper house of the French parliament, the French Senate, adopted a resolution on June 8 to ease sanctions against Russia and normalise relations with Russia. Let me remind you that 301 senators out of 334 present voted in favour of the resolution.

We believe that the state system and government officials should pay attention to these positive signs from their voters. Let me repeat that this will benefit everyone, not just us but all Europeans.

I believe that even what happened to the euro and dollar exchange rate over the past 30 months should serve as a good lesson for Europeans.

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Russia’s unchanged position on the South China Sea dispute

We have noted the recent foreign media reports, some citing Russian high-ranking officials, about Russia allegedly becoming increasingly involved in the problems of the South China Sea (SCS). Moreover, these publications claim that we are inclined to support one or another side to the territorial disputes in this area.

In this context, although we have been vocal enough on the subject, we would like to make a comment today.

We are closely monitoring the SCS developments, as a significant factor affecting the security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region (APR).

Russia is not a party to any SCS territorial disputes, and will not be drawn into them.  Neither do we intend to take anyone’s side. We strongly believe that a third party meddling in the dispute would only fuel the tensions in the region.

All the parties involved in those territorial disputes should strictly abide by the principle of non-use of force, should continue searching for ways of political and diplomatic settlement of the existing problems on the basis of international law, above all the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, in the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea signed by ASEAN and China in 2002, and the July 2011 guidelines for the implementation of the 2002 Declaration. We believe that the consultations and negotiations on the SCS territorial issues should be conducted directly between the parties involved, in the format they have chosen.

We believe that a new Asia-Pacific security architecture based on the collective non-bloc principles and international law could be the key to the resolution of conflicts in the sub-region. We call all our partners to take an active part in implementing Russia's initiative to develop framework principles to strengthen security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. We, in turn, will continue to support China and ASEAN efforts to develop the SCS Code of Conduct.

Please refer to Russia’s underlying position while preparing reports on the subject, and do not be tempted by the example of certain writers, but proceed from our stated position, which remains unchanged.

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Tbilisi’s latest media provocation

On June 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Security Service of Georgia released yet another batch of accusations against Russia over the installation of border markers on the Georgian-South Ossetian border, near the village of Avlevi. These statements are nothing new; unfortunately, it has almost become a tradition – even though not the best that could be – to escalate tensions in the region in the run-up to important international events. This time, the confrontational statements were voiced on the eve of the upcoming June 14-15 round of Geneva discussions on the stability and security in the South Caucasus. This time Georgia at least was able to avoid the absurd allegations about Russia “moving the boundary into Georgia”, which we often heard earlier; they did not this year. Of course, this is not true.

I can explain that the new statements were prompted by the routine maintenance works on the South Ossetian border, where border guards are installing information signs. On June 6, two border landmarks were relocated within the territory of South Ossetia, closer to the roads used by the residents of the border areas. Once again: as before, the signs are located strictly on the South Ossetian land, at a distance of 50 metres from the border. I would also suggest it is time we moved from confrontation and destabilisation, including information wars, to improving the relationship. Incidentally, the regular damaging of border markers on the Georgian side does little to alleviate the situation, but serves to aggravate instability and nervousness.

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Safety for Russian fans at European Football Cup

Extremist groups have threatened to commit terrorist attacks at the European Football Cup opening today in France.

In this connection, we call upon Russian fans and tourists planning to attend this extraordinary international sporting event to be cautious and vigilant and to treat law enforcement agencies and local laws with respect.

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Monument to Garegin Nzhdeh

The previous briefing raised a question about the monument to Garegin Nzhdeh and our attitude to it, which I promised to comment on.

Our attitude to the Great Patriotic War and to reviving and glorifying any forms of Nazism, neo-Nazism and extremism is well known. Our position is laid down in international documents. We don’t understand why the monument has been erected, considering the selfless exploit of the Armenian people during the Great Patriotic War and WWII.

We continue to proceed from Armenia’s official position on preserving historical truth about the Great Patriotic War, which is reflected in its attitude to May 9 – the day of our shared victory. Armenia is also a co-author of the UN General Assembly’s traditional resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. Moreover, it was the Armenian delegation that voiced the statement of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation in support of this crucial initiative adopted at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly.

We believe this is the official position of Yerevan and the Armenian people.

We will continue to express our attitude to events that undermine respect for the memory of the Great Patriotic War heroes. These things must remain untouched – this is our fundamental position.

Answers to media questions:

Question: I would like to clarify some questions pertaining to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. It is no secret that Italy is participating in it this year. What forum events will Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov take part in? What does Russia expect of this SPIEF?

Maria Zakharova: As we know, a very representative Italian delegation will participate in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov does not intend to hold any separate meetings with his Italian colleagues. Relevant sources will inform you later about the upcoming contacts of Russian representatives with the Italian delegation and the level of such contacts.

As for our expectations, they are traditional and come true every year. We expect SPIEF to bring good deals and good prospects, and create a good atmosphere. I mean not only in economic and financial spheres but also in politics. There is an opportunity to use the forum’s platform to address ongoing problems with a view to the future. The forum will be a formidable job even despite its friendly and well-wishing atmosphere. I think our teamwork with the Italian delegation will bear fruit.

I reiterate that you will receive updated information on the relevant level  of Russia’s representation in contacts with the Italian delegation at the SPIEF. For the time being, we do not envisage any Foreign Ministry contacts with the Italian side. We will tell you if any such contacts are planned.

Question: You have spoken about the Foreign Ministry’s position on the South China Sea. My question concerns the East China Sea. Two nights ago Russian and Chinese warships passed close to Senkaku (Diaoyu) – islands which are a subject of dispute between Tokyo and Beijing. Official Tokyo asked Moscow yesterday to pay attention to the situation. What would you say in comment? Significantly, the Russian and Chinese vessels appeared simultaneously.

Maria Zakharova: If these were warships, this question should be addressed to the Russian Defence Ministry. I have nothing to say to you in this instance because it falls under the responsibilities of another agency. I will certainly call my colleagues’ attention to the issue and I expect that you will receive a detailed answer.

Question: The Foreign Ministry website carried information yesterday about Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin’s meeting with French Ambassador to Russia Jean-Maurice Ripert. It was said that preparations for a tripartite summit on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement were discussed, among other themes. The summit is expected to gather in St Petersburg at the end of June. This item was later removed from the Foreign Ministry’s statement. Why? Dmitry Peskov, Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office and Presidential Press Secretary, said today that the Kremlin does not rule out prospects for such a meeting.

Maria Zakharova: I have commented on this message for your colleagues, addressing them directly immediately after it was published. I would like to repeat my explanations for those who did not address me yesterday and raised the question today. This situation arose due to an inaccurately worded statement published on the Foreign Ministry website. It was certainly inaccurate because it formed the impression that an event was being announced. In fact, we changed the wording as soon as we saw that the message was formulated the wrong way and could be understood differently from what was actually meant. The message was corrected to make it clear that it concerns a discussion of a hypothetical opportunity of any contacts, as Mr Peskov, Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office and Presidential Press Secretary, said today. I answered questions about the opportunity for such contacts at my previous news briefings. All the parties have referred to them, too. I reiterate, none other than the opportunity for such a meeting was discussed. We took it into consideration that the information was interpreted as an announcement of such a meeting and so we corrected it. I would like to apologise. We are aware that this is an extremely sensitive situation, and we will be more careful about our wordings in the future.

As for the extent to which it is realistic to make this opportunity practical, this is certainly within the competence of the Presidential Executive Office. We always proceed from this rule and follow it closely. If any practical moves are made, they will be announced by the Presidential Executive Office and the Presidential Press Service.

Question: If you are considering holding such a meeting, why choose St Petersburg? Yesterday’s announcement left the impression that this hypothetical meeting might be held without the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. If it’s true that you’re considering a meeting without the Minsk Group’s co-chairs, does this mean Russia has taken control of the situation? What proposals could Russia make at the upcoming meeting?

Maria Zakharova:  I’ll take your idea about Moscow taking control of the situation as a compliment.

Joking aside, I believe that the fact that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has been discussed by a deputy foreign minister of Russia and the French Ambassador to Russia is evidence that we are not excluding anyone from the process, let alone the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. We share our ideas, including those that have not yet taken a practical form. We hold talks, maintain contacts and share the results of our groundwork. We very much appreciate the role played by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. We are partners, and we don’t merely respect the OSCE Minsk Group, we work within its framework. 

Question: Can you comment on the incident in which the German journalist who shot a documentary about doping in Russian sport attacked a female Russian journalist?

Maria Zakharova: As the agency in charge of foreign affairs, we have always defended and will continue to defend Russian journalists. Until I saw the footage of the scandal this morning, I thought that one of our tasks at this stage in history is to protect Russian journalists from attacks by foreign government agencies, extremists and members of political movements in foreign countries. Today I can say that realities have changed, and this is a completely new world. This was the first time I saw a member of what is praised as a democratic and free press, and a man at that, attacking a female journalist. I know that Russian journalists have to be strong always and everywhere, but I never thought they should be that strong. The footage I saw shocked me and changed my understanding of developments in the Western media. I watched the footage several times and then asked the VGTRK about its veracity, which they have confirmed.

You can see from the footage that the Russian journalist did not ask a single question that could be interpreted as humiliating the honour or dignity of the German journalist. She did not humiliate his political, religious or other beliefs, as she only asked questions related to his and her profession. The most she asked was to provide concrete documents that would prove the allegations he made in his documentary, because the allegations do not concern an individual but the country as a whole. Also, we have not refused to discuss the issue or to cover up the problem. Instead, everyone here, starting with President of Russia Vladimir Putin, has said that we need to see the issue through to the end. As I see it, this was the subject of the interview in the first place.

As I said, today I was shocked, and it’s not just me. I have no ready formula or philosophical ideas on the best way to respond in such situations. I don’t know what you should do when a male journalist kicks at and pushes a female journalist out of his room. I don’t think we should expect a reaction from the Foreign Ministry of Russia. What we need is to try to understand what happened, although I have taken note of this and will think about this scandal some more. I believe that it is the professional community – journalists – who should respond to this incident. Such actions are unacceptable. To me, talking about this is embarrassing. I feel embarrassed and ashamed for our German colleagues.

Question: You mentioned cooperation with BRICS, the SCO, ASEAN and Mercosur. Will special economic zones be created in these associations for small and medium-sized businesses?

Maria Zakharova: I will have to check; I’m not an expert on small and medium-sized businesses.

Question: Diplomatic sources have said that Societe Generale is closing the accounts of Russian diplomats working in Paris. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: I will check whether this is directly related to this bank. We have had situations where bank accounts, including those of diplomatic missions, were frozen, and then later these decisions were reversed. I need to double-check this information.

Question: What can you tell us about the outcome of the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow? What is his position on the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the outcome of Mr Netanyahu’s visit, we have released a statement at the appropriate level – the Presidential Executive Office. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also touched on this issue at a news conference; in particular, he mentioned the problems in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the context of the discussions that took place during Mr Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow.

Your question, obviously, refers to the Foreign Minister’s statements during his news conference, as we have already had similar questions from journalists, specifically, the statement that the Arab Peace Initiative was discussed during the talks with the Prime Minister of Israel in Moscow. As Mr Lavrov said at the news conference, they simply mentioned the Arab Peace Initiative in a general context, as a fact. They certainly had no actual talks on this subject. Israel's position on this matter, as we understand it, remains unchanged. There has not been any special discussion of this in Moscow.

The subject was raised in the context of discussing the global situation in the region, but with the understanding that Israel's position on this issue has not changed.

We believe this is promising for future negotiations between the parties. This initiative could be the potential subject of future negotiations, sometimes referred to as eventual. This is possible, but it was not the case at the Moscow talks.

Question: Is it possible to establish customs and passport control for passengers on the ro-pax ferry Drujba running between Novorossiysk and Burgas?

Maria Zakharova: I will check and give you information on this question.

Question: Yesterday, on June 9, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO seeks to increase defence spending, “not to provoke a conflict but to prevent a conflict.” He explained what security threats NATO means to respond to, and that is “a more assertive Russia to the east and we see all the turmoil and the violence to the south.”  How would you comment on his words?

Maria Zakharova: As a comment, I would quote, not Russian representatives, but people who over their lives have earned sufficient influence in their own countries, such as former French and US Foreign Ministers whose statements I quoted today with regard to NATO’s expansion and the “potential threat from Russia” to its neighbours. Even foreign diplomats admitted that there is no threat of aggression, no possible attack; it's all a myth, a bluff, etc.

Once again, I would like to say that Russophobia has turned into profitable business, because you started your question with the statement that NATO is increasing its defence budget. Behind all this are the interests of those who produce weapons; these people would certainly lobby for their interests. They need a reason, they need to somehow win the general trust, including civilians, win support in favour of the increase and promotion of military spending. How could they do this in peacetime? Only by speaking about a potential threat. What threat, exactly, we can never understand. There is a real threat that comes from international terrorism. Unfortunately, this real threat does not seem good enough to allocate funds for and, most importantly, is generally neglected. Perhaps this is the hidden motive behind their actions: not responding to the real threat – because it will eventually lead to a real test of how Europe, NATO and the West in general are ready to repel this real threat – while building up the Alliance’s potential for fighting this mythical “threat.” Although we are tired of this, we will continue commenting on the subject, because it is part of this awareness campaign. For some, Russophobia is a state of mind; others see it is business.

I’ll tell you a secret. A very high-ranking Western diplomat once said during talks with a visiting Russian delegation: “Unfortunately, Russophobia has been used as a career tool by many in the West.” And he was actually sincere.

Question: Recently, the media have reported that North Korea has resumed the production of weapons-grade plutonium. Japan and many other states are concerned about this in the present context. What is Russia’s position on the issue?

Is it possible to share any details of the June 13 meeting between the Russian and South Korean foreign  ministers, in particular whether the deployment  of a  missile defence system on the Korean Peninsula will be discussed?

Maria Zakharova: As for the first question, we believe that it is necessary to resume the political process to resolve all issues, in particular the issues of security and stability in the region. It is necessary to create a favourable atmosphere to launch the respective talks which, unfortunately, were halted, rather than to use unilateral or multilateral provocations both on the peninsula and around it. This is our principled approach. It is possible to resolve any questions that the parties are concerned about at the negotiating table. We have already had the relevant experience.

As for the second question, at 3:49 pm the Foreign Ministry’s website published a detailed story on the June 13 upcoming talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his South Korean counterpart. The parties will discuss pressing issues of bilateral relations, including stepping up Russia-South Korea trade and economic cooperation. Dialogue on economic issues will focus on expanding cooperation in practical spheres and expeditious implementation of comprehensive investment projects, mainly in the priority development areas in the Russian Far East, and in the Free Port of Vladivostok.

The ministers will also exchange views on topical global issues and discuss the interaction between the two countries at the UN and other international organisations. The parties will discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, including in the context of maintaining the balance of forces in the region. We believe that it is necessary to resolve the existing issues in the region using only political and diplomatic means. Progress towards peace and stability in Northeast Asia should be mutual and reciprocal, involving all those interested. In our opinion, this approach will help switch to practical work to create multilateral security mechanisms and cooperation in the region on an equal and, what is important, non-discriminatory basis for all participants.

The parties will set the goals to improve the legal framework for bilateral relations and discuss the prospects for the expeditious signing of a number of joint documents in various areas. The ministers also intend to sign the plan of foreign ministerial meetings between Russia and South Korea for 2016-2017.

The South Korean leader will take part in a political and economic forum, Russia and the Republic of Korea in a Changing World, at St Petersburg State University as part of the Russia – South Korea Dialogue, initiated by the presidents of the two countries.

Additional information on bilateral ties is available in the story which has already been posted on the ministry’s website.

Question: Yesterday, the National Broadcasting Council of Poland confirmed its decision to revoke Radio Hobby’s licence. Hobby is a small private Polish radio station outside Warsaw, which broadcasts the signal of Radio Sputnik.

Maria Zakharova: Well, let’s do as follows. Given the focus of the radio station, we promise an exclusive interview about hobbies, to support the station’s employees at this difficult time, particularly as their broadcasting was not cancelled and they continue to broadcast on the Internet.

Question: Do you mean that Radio Hobby or Radio Sputnik can call you?

Maria Zakharova: Both Radio Hobby and Radio Sputnik can call me. We are ready to talk to them in order to support the Polish media in their struggle against the regime. I can assure you that the material will be very interesting. I will speak about a hobby that no one is aware of so far.

Question: It was acknowledged not so long ago, including by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, that Saudi Arabia had been pressuring the UN to have it removed from the list of countries violating the rights of children. How can you comment?

Maria Zakharova: I have no knowledge of these facts. If you pass along the information, we’ll check up on it. We should verify it again and understand what it is all about. It is only then that we’ll formulate our stance. I think this will happen shortly.

Basically, however, bringing pressure to bear on the UN is absolutely inadmissible. We can pursue our views and interests or insist on some things, we can even disagree with something and discuss this with representatives of the UN Secretariat, but applying pressure is inadmissible.

The UN is a unique tool and a mechanism for reaching agreement between countries with different ideologies and interests, which are rivals on a number of issues. The UN induces all world players to balance their interests. It is this unique tool and organisation that should be safeguarded and preserved, because it can guarantee that all disputes will be addressed at the negotiating table and will stop short of escalation.

Question: Some people have gone on holiday, while others are getting ready to do the same. For Russians, foreign travel is beset with warnings and restrictions. What sources are used by Rostourizm as it makes its recommendations on visiting certain countries?

Maria Zakharova: You’d do better to ask Rostourizm itself for comment on its sources. I will only say how the relevant regulations are carried out. There is an administrative regulation for providing state services, including with regard to informing tour operators, tourist agents and tourists about security threats in a country or a place of temporary stay. Under the administrative regulation, this is within the purview of Rostourizm.

The administrative regulation makes it incumbent on Rostourizm to provide relevant information both at applicants’ requests and on instructions from a competent authority.

A federal competent authority can be such a source of information. Considering this circumstance, there are relevant legal grounds for Rostourizm to publish information reports on its official website or hand them over to the media regardless of it having or not having recommendations coordinated with the Russian Foreign Ministry. This means that Rostourizm has a subdivision charged with preparing content of this sort. The Foreign Ministry is often urged to act as a source of information on bans, permissions and the like. Our official website has an information section, where we publish Rostourizm content, among others. But to reiterate: under the administrative regulation, it is within Rostourizm’s purview to inform tour operators, tourist companies and tourists about security threats.

The competent authorities are Russian government agencies authorised to provide relevant information. The Foreign Ministry is one of these agencies. We operate strictly in conformity with the regulations.      

Question: Are there plans for a meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum?

Maria Zakharova: As of today, there is no separate meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s schedule. What I can share right now is that Foreign Minister Lavrov will attend the Valdai Forum. He will also join the talks to be held by President Vladimir Putin as a delegation member. If meetings are approved and scheduled between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterparts at the St Petersburg Economic Forum, we will certainly inform you.

Question:  Does this mean that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker?

Maria Zakharova: Questions regarding the formation of the Russian delegation headed by President Vladimir Putin should be addressed to the Press Service of the Presidential Staff.

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