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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 28, 2016

28 June 201616:45

Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to France
  2. Ambassadors meeting at the Foreign Ministry
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a Foreign Ministers Council meeting
  4. The situation in Syria
  5. Developments in Syria
  6. Developments in Iraq
  7. Federal Law on the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Foreign States and the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation
  8. The Washington Post publishes an article against Russia
  9. Answers to media questions:
    1. Russia-Turkey relations
    2. Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
    3. Possible meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Mevlut Çavusoglu
    4. Redeployment of Russian armed forces
    5. Outcome of the UK referendum
    6. Parliamentary elections in Georgia
    7. Slovakia’s EU presidency
    8. Construction of Moscow House in Vilnius
    9. Outlook for Normandy format meeting
    10. EU plans to create own navy and coast guard 
  10. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson to hold a briefing in the Artek children’s recreation centre

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to France

This afternoon a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will leave for Paris. On June 29, Mr Lavrov will be in France on a working visit at the invitation of French Foreign Affairs and International Development Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. This will be Mr Lavrov’s fourth meeting with Mr Ayrault since March.

During the upcoming talks, the ministers will continue their in-depth conversation about interaction along the antiterrorist track and review progress on the most topical issues on the international agenda, such as the situation in Ukraine, Libya, Syria and the Middle East as a whole.

The foreign service chiefs of both the countries will exchange opinions on Russia-EU relations. In this context, they will address the possible implications of the British referendum on its EU membership. They will also share their evaluations of the agenda and current international issues under consideration at the UN Security Council where Russia and France closely collaborate as permanent members.

In connection with the April flare-up of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, the two ministers will discuss further steps that the two countries’ foreign ministries are to coordinate as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, taking into account all the agreements that were reached at the Vienna summit on May 16 and the tripartite meeting in St Petersburg on June 20. Therefore, the issue that was a source of concern to many people, including reporters representing the countries in the region, remains on our agenda in contacts with our partners, members of the OSCE Minsk Group. We regularly speak on this and will continue to do so in the future.

France is one of Russia’s leading partners in Europe and the world. Diverse political, economic and cultural cooperation, including people-to-people exchanges, has been established between our two countries. Despite Paris’s participation in anti-Russian restrictive measures, which were initiated by Brussels, we have significant potential for the development of bilateral ties, as we never get tired of repeating publicly and in the course of our business meetings.

The status and prospects for Russian-French cooperation on the bilateral track will be analysed in depth. The situation in trade and economic cooperation remains unfavourable – we acknowledge this – and bilateral trade continues to fall. In 2015, it fell by almost 36 [percent], year on year, to $11.6 billion. Russian exports were down 24.6 percent to $5.7 billion and imports dropped by 44.3 percent to $5.9 billion. Nevertheless, business circles in both countries show interest in continuing cooperation and rectifying the situation and the current negative trends. None of the 500 French companies operating in Russia have left the Russian market. This is a very important trend.

The two heads of state will also review the implementation of the Russian-French Year of Cultural Tourism (2016-2017). This bilateral programme envisions the establishment of tourist routes connected to places associated with the work of cultural figures – Russian ones in France and French ones in Russia; holding Moscow Days festivals in a number of large French cities; and opening a Russian tourism office in France, among other scheduled events that we will keep you updated on.

The talks will also include the opening a Russian Orthodox spiritual and cultural centre in the very heart of the French capital, on Quai Branly, to underscore the special nature of relations between our countries and people.

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Ambassadors meeting at the Foreign Ministry

We have informed you about the events organised by the Foreign Ministry this week. This week’s central event will be a meeting of Russian ambassadors. It is held once very two years. A host of interviews and comments by Russian representatives abroad – ambassadors and permanent representatives, each from the country where they work – are posted on our website, telling about the status of bilateral relations and multilateral cooperation. We will regularly keep you up to date on the preparation and conduct of this major foreign policy event.


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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a Foreign Ministers Council meeting

On July 4, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a regular meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council in Yerevan.

The foreign ministers will address current international and regional security issues and interaction between CSTO member states in the international arena in the context of the situation now prevailing in the world.

Considerable attention will be given to combating international terrorism and extremism in light of trends in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The ministers will address a draft CSTO collective security strategy through 2025, updated collective directives to CSTO member states’ permanent representatives to international organisations, a plan of consultations of CSTO member states’ representatives on foreign policy, security and defence issues for the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017, and a list of joint statements in 2016.

We hope that the Yerevan meeting will make an important contribution to the implementation of the agreements reached by the CSTO member states’ presidents on the further development of allied cooperation within the organisation.

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The situation in Syria

In a few days, the holy month of Ramadan will end. I would like to remind you that Russia, in conjunction with Egypt, has appealed to all parties to the Syrian conflict to refrain from hostilities and strictly observe the ceasefire during this time.

However, unfortunately, we have to note that far from all armed groups fighting in Syria have heeded this call. Many of them, encouraged by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, have not stopped committing crimes but have also proceeded with direct armed provocations. We have regularly commented on this.

For their part, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are continuing their acts of intimidation against civilians. For example, in the Aleppo province, ISIS militants are targeting ethnic Kurds. According to Kurdish activists, over the past week, terrorists took hostage about 800 people, killing 11 and injuring over 20 as they tried to escape.

According to Lebanese media reports, ISIS fighters have fired shells with toxic agents at the positions of Syrian armed forces in the Raqqa province. According to some reports, terrorists used a nerve gas; according to others, chlorine.

I’d like to stress that the call to support the ceasefire in Syria still holds. We hope that it will be heeded some day soon.  

Russia attaches particular importance to the provision by Russian armed forces and NGOs of humanitarian assistance to Syrian people who have been affected. Recently, Federation Council member Ziyad Sabsabi, deputy head of the Hero of Russia Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov Regional Public Fund, visited Syria on a humanitarian mission. Under the fund’s charity programme, 25,000 Syrians are receiving free daily meals throughout the month of Ramadan. About 250 local volunteers representing various political movements and students’ associations are involved in the mission. The fund intends to distribute 120 tons of food (12,000 10-kilogram packages) to Damascus residents.

Unfortunately, even these humanitarian programmes and gestures, this specific humanitarian contribution, are opposed by the terrorists. As you know, on June 15, in the Homs province, Andrei Timoshenkov, a serviceman of the armed escort for a Russian humanitarian aid convoy of the Russian Centre for Syrian Reconciliation, at the cost of his own life, prevented a car bomb from breaking through to a humanitarian aid distribution point.

According to local media reports, four US military advisors were injured with rocket fragments following a jihadist attack in northern Syria. Kurdish armed groups are advancing near the Manbij area in the north of the Aleppo province. They have significantly expanded their control over the city perimeter, freeing a number of local villages from terrorists.

On the whole, we believe that the difficult situation in Syria requires the consolidation of all patriotic forces of that country by maintaining and strengthening the ceasefire in the intra-Syrian confrontation and at the same time building up efforts in the fight against terrorists and eradicating their base on Syrian soil.

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Developments in Syria

The United Nations and the member states of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) have recently noted substantial progress on ensuring humanitarian access to several villages in need of it on Syrian territory. About 334,000 people received humanitarian relief as compared to 240,000 last March. It was provided to 16 out of 18 besieged regions. UN officials and the Syrian authorities are conducting talks on the remaining two regions, in part, specifying the number of beneficiaries. New convoys are expected this week.

In all, almost a million people from difficult-to-access areas received humanitarian aid. It is worth mentioning the constructive cooperation of Damascus officials with international relief agencies. These are very important activities that are required as never before. We are witnessing a steady trend that should not be interrupted. It should be noted that the Syrian authorities fully approved the UN humanitarian plan for July.

At the same time it would be wrong to reduce Syria’s humanitarian issues to access to its problematic regions. The number of people requiring help far exceeds the number of recipients. According to verified data from international agencies, 13.5 million Syrian residents need such relief, primarily displaced persons who fled hostilities or who are returning home after their villages were freed from terrorists. Naturally, we are working with humanitarian and international agencies to orient them to provide priority relief to these categories of people.

Regrettably, attempts to manipulate the humanitarian issue for political purposes continue. This is absolutely disgraceful because so much is being done in this regard. It is necessary to understand that humanitarian aid is being rendered not in peacetime but amidst a tough counterterrorist operation. There are no conditions for implementing such programmes, not to mention the existence of some degree of political consensus in Syria. All this is not easy. Today it is very important to encourage what is being done in the public and other areas as much as possible and to prevent attempts to use the humanitarian issue to push one’s own agenda on what a settlement of the Syrian crisis should look like. It is unacceptable to exploit this subject but, regrettably, this is being done. I’d like to mention some examples. Some ISSG members insist on dubious plans to drop humanitarian cargoes on parachutes into a number of besieged regions in circumvention of Damascus' consent. We believe that instead the Damascus opponents should step up their work with the armed units in Syria that look to them and that are preventing humanitarian access to the territories they besieged. The UN assessment mission has failed to reach the villages of Fua and Kefraya for many months because they are being blocked by militants.

As for expensive operations (especially due to obvious underfunding) on air lifting humanitarian aid, the UN officials will fall back upon them only as the last resort. They are considering using a humanitarian “air bridge” from Damascus to Qamishli, which may soon be required because the Turkish authorities are preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Al-Hasakah Province in the most rational way – via the Nusaybin-Qamishli check point on the Syrian-Turkish border.

The anti-Syrian sanctions introduced by the United States and the EU are seriously aggravating the situation in Syria. Those Westerners that are focusing on the humanitarian issue in their public speeches should not forget that they represent the countries that have introduced sanctions against Syria. We know full well whom these sanctions hit the hardest. In the estimate of the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia and the Pacific (ESCWA), they have started exerting strong negative influence on the humanitarian situation in Syria since the middle of 2012. Banking restrictions are considerably limiting humanitarian activities, first of all those aimed at restoring infrastructure, paralysing the pharmaceutical industry and driving up inflation. We are urging the immediate lifting of these illegal unilateral sanctions, which are seriously undermining the humanitarian conditions of Syrians.

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Developments in Iraq

According to the available information, the Iraqi government army, supported by citizen militia, has almost completed the liberation of Fallujah, a town located 65 kilometres to the west of Baghdad, from the ISIS terrorists and allied terrorist groups. The Iraqi forces are mopping up the streets of the remaining terrorists and suppressing resistance pockets. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has visited the liberated town.

We consider the liberation of Fallujah as a major achievement of the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS. Moscow is supporting Iraq’s efforts against terrorist threats and for the country’s integrity. At the same time, we are urging the Iraqi authorities and the country’s responsible political forces to take measures towards sustainable national reconciliation based on respect for the interests of all ethnic and religious groups. We believe that this would create a reliable barrier to terrorism, help stabilise the country and create conditions for the peaceful development and prosperity of all Iraqis.

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Federal Law on the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Foreign States and the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation

On June 23, President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 186-FZ On the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Foreign States and the Permanent Representative (Observer) of the Russian Federation at International Organisations (Foreign States).

The law will come into effect on December 21, 2016.

I would like to say a few words about this document. It was drafted as per the instruction of President Putin issued on June 13, 2014 within the government-approved concept of strengthening the resource and human potential of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo).

The law sets out the legal status of the Ambassador and the Permanent Representative, requirements for the candidates for these positions, their rights and duties, bans and restrictions, and state guarantees for persons who are holding or have held these positions and their families.

The law will lay the groundwork for the effective implementation of duties by the ambassadors and representatives in the official capacity of representing the Russian Federation in foreign states or at international organisations, as well as the duties of the heads of the Foreign Ministry’s offices abroad.

I would like you take note of the important fact that the Foreign Ministry will not require additional budget funds for the implementation of this law. I believe that this is very important in the current situation.

Speaking about the work on this law, I can tell you that the efforts to create a modern legal framework for the Russian diplomatic service will not stop with the adoption of this law.

The text of the law will be posted on the official website of the Foreign Ministry today.

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The Washington Post publishes an article against Russia

People working in journalism say that it is better to refrain from quoting negative articles so as to avoid further publicity. This is not what I believe. The world should know its heroes. So let me highlight this issue in all the details. I’m talking about an article by the Washington Post. Judging by the number of comments and responses, I think that almost everyone read it yesterday. We received letters from many countries expressing indignation and puzzlement. For this reason, we could not fail to respond to the article on the presumed harassment by Russia of US diplomats working in the country. The article purports that US diplomats are being harassed not only in Moscow, but also in other countries.

Let me remind you how this started. During the previous press briefing we noted that Russian diplomatic missions to the US were subject to increased pressure. I provided a number of examples, saying that we do not need any deterioration in bilateral relations. Nevertheless US authorities constantly come up with new restrictions for Russian diplomats. They have to deal regularly with provocations by the FBI and the CIA who are not concerned about using unacceptable measures, including psychological pressure in the presence of family members. There have been cases where such incidents have involved the staff members of Russian foreign missions when accompanied by their pregnant wives. Unfortunately, there seems to be no limits anymore.

We raised this issue in order to send a signal that actions of this kind should not take place, so that those on the other side of the Atlantic can consider ways to improve the situation in order to create an atmosphere that will improve, not worsen, relations. Instead of responding to this signal constructively and viewing it as an attempt to highlight an issue and renounce aggressive behaviour, the US decided to turn everything upside down, as it usually does. The Washington Post published an article saying US diplomats are being harassed in some way or other not only in Russia, but in other countries as well. It is obvious that this was a set-up: the article is shallow, does not contain the whole picture, was written in haste and based on indirect evidence. All in all, this is a spectacular example of propaganda.

This is easy to prove. In fact, former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, is one of the main “experts” quoted in the article. We remember all too well what he was doing while in Russia. Generally speaking, he proved to be totally incompetent. He is often quoted by US media. For no clear reason, he has unfortunately become an expert on Russia-US relations. Let’s call things by their names. The mission of former US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul was a complete failure. Now this man, who, it can be argued, contributed to worsening bilateral relations, provides comments, including for the article in question.

Let me remind you how it all started. The US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul called Russia a “wild country.” I think that he created the environment in which he worked in Russia all by himself. Having worked in Russia for several years without any success, he now talks about how hard it was back then. Other speakers quoted in the article voiced similar opinions. I would like to reiterate that the article is shallow, based on indirect evidence and was clearly written at somebody’s order. How do we know that it was a set-up? Because the US Department of State instantly picked it up at its briefing and seemed to take it seriously. There is no doubt that this does nothing to improve bilateral relations and only makes them worse. Instead of considering an issue, they only further complicate things.

Let me remind you that several years ago it was Washington who said that sanctions imposed on Russia were aimed at generating social instability and promoting a regime change in Russia. I would like to call on the journalists who have questions and are ambitious enough to deal with subjects of this scale to look a little further at the history of this issue in its entirety. Of course, this policy, proclaimed by the White House, failed. It did not succeed, although attempts are still being made to keep the conversation going on ways to isolate Russia. We do understand that these attempts are made by a specific group of people who lobby specific interests, not ordinary Americans. Let me remind you that against this backdrop US Secretary of State John Kerry is taking what we see as real steps to overcome the deadlock in our relations that resulted from the actions of amateurish politicians and others lobbying for the deterioration of Russia-US relations. US Secretary of State John Kerry has initiated visits to Russia three times in less than a year.

As we have noted, the US Congress is already working on a special law with a wording that we thought to be outdated and reminiscent of the witch hunt policies of the past. This law introduces steep restrictions on the work of Russian diplomats in the US. It seems as if they are laying the groundwork for encroaching on the normal functioning of Russian diplomatic missions. It was not Russia who came up with this law. This is another question for the author of the Washington Post article: You did not see it coming and did not want to see it; did somebody ask you not to mention it? Why have you written this tabloid rubbish?

Let me reiterate once again what we have been saying all along. When it comes to diplomats there is reciprocity. I think that our colleagues have to understand what it is that they really want: end the deadlock in our relations or at least avoid it by not making relations worse, or publish articles like this one, initiate them and then promote them at media events. The main conclusion that should be drawn in this respect is that by contributing to deteriorating relations with Russia (unfortunately the author of the article failed to grasp this), Washington creates complications for the work of its own diplomats abroad. We are not the ones behaving in this way, and certainly not the way the article describes it. I urge all of you to read this incredible article. I don’t even want to quote from it; it’s degrading and ridiculous. Again: by pursuing a path of deteriorating relations with Russia using these and other methods, Washington makes life harder for its own diplomats abroad. I hope that we can work with the US and our colleagues constructively. Russia is open to it.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Is Russia satisfied with Turkey’s efforts to normalise bilateral relations? In what way and how fast will Russia-Turkey relations improve now?

Maria Zakharova: Yesterday and today, representatives of the Presidential Executive Office, in particular Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov reported in detail on the current status of Russia-Turkey relations and on Russia’s assessment of the issue.

You justly noted certain initiatives and efforts on Turkey’s part. This is a major step in the right direction and we have taken notice of it. I’d also like to draw your attention to the comments regarding the issue. We’ll comment on other issues and developments when necessary, as the situation develops.

Question: Recently, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has commented on the results of the trilateral meeting in St Petersburg and noted that a certain status could be granted to Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, Mr Aliyev has stated that Nagorno-Karabakh will never gain independence. However, Azerbaijani media reported quoting diplomatic sources that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a “plan” that envisaged transfer of five regions to Azerbaijan in exchange for a stronger status. Which status are they referring to?

Maria Zakharova: We believe that Nagorno-Karabakh settlement should be discussed in a certain format. We realise that, given the history and the pressing nature of the issue, there is great desire to comment on it or clarify certain points. However, we should make a distinction between explanations and public debate, as well as the attempts to use the public space to resolve this highly complex issue. To do so, there is a negotiation process that has various formats: summits, bilateral and multilateral meetings. The St Petersburg meeting was a success, according to participants and the observers who were concerned at the outset about the possibility of not being allowed to attend. However, they were fully informed and satisfied with the way things went. The meeting concluded with the adoption of a declaration that was published and, to the extent that is currently possible and agreed by the parties, disclosed the details and results of the meeting, as well as the ways and prospects for moving forward. It is very important not to fritter away the positive achievements through public announcements and rhetoric. They should be preserved to be further implemented in specific steps.

I realise that this is an ultra-diplomatic answer. I’m sure you would  like to find out more details and forecasts, but there are issues that require silence, not to conceal something but because they concern the work of diplomats and experts. The public should demand and know all information, but there is a difference between informing and using the public space for a tug of war. It is important to seek ways to resolve the issue and put the solution into practice rather than focus on who is stronger and better or who scored more points. We support the first approach, although informing the public is an important part of our work.

When specific facts become available to us, we’ll comment on them. Let me repeat that to advance the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement we initially called on all parties to debate the issue through the negotiation processes, not in the public space.

Question: Are there plans for Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Sochi?

Maria Zakharova: As for Russia-Turkey contacts, either in person or by phone, the issue is in progress. I can’t add any information regarding Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s schedule during the meeting of the BSEC Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Sochi; it is being agreed now. The issue of Russia-Turkey contacts is in progress.

Question: German Defence Minister Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen has noted that Russia should report its troop movements during exercises. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: Defence Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov has commented on this question. I have nothing more to add. Germany’s official spokespersons should assess the information being submitted by Russia on the appropriate issue.

Thank you for touching on this because there is one more thing here I want to say. If you have questions, why don’t you ask them through the appropriate channel? If you don’t have enough information, we are always ready to provide it. When things are published in a negative context, it is to form a certain public opinion on a specific issue rather than to obtain information. This is obvious. There are several ways that we can be reached on any issue. If you don’t have enough information, just call us and ask. And we will provide all the necessary information.

Question: Does Russia see the results of the Brexit referendum as an unfavourable development or can we expect anything positive from it?

Maria Zakharova: Let’s divide this question into two parts. The referendum itself is the first question. We have always been clear on this, during and after the referendum. The UK and its people have the sovereign right to decide their destiny on important issues related to the development of their country. There can be no double standards here, nor is it possible to deviate from this position. Of course, this domestic British affair affects the European Union because the referendum was on exiting the EU. We did not comment on it because it’s not our business and not because we didn’t analyse it. We talked about it while responding to media questions. This is our position.

The second part of the question, regarding the consequences of the referendum, is that the referendum has taken place, and the official results were made public. But, as far as we understand, this decision has not yet been legally formalised as a decision of the state. It has not been formalised in government resolutions. We should wait until the expression of the people’s will becomes an official UK policy, we should see how it will be executed, what decision will be reached, how it will be promulgated and how specific plans will be announced. Then we’ll reach a conclusion as to what awaits the UK and the European Union. After that, we’ll be able to talk about a Russian response to the appropriate and legally formalised decisions of the UK. Of course, this will influence the decisions and statements of the EU which will on the basis of the British official decision also release a statement. We will respond accordingly. Certainly, we are interested in continuing our cooperation with Brussels and London. This doesn’t change, regardless. Cooperation is the goal, and formal UK-EU relations are their internal business.

Again, we will cooperate in whatever format these countries see as acceptable and announce publicly. Our relations will be based on their official statements and positions. I would like to note for the third time that we advocate expanded cooperation.

Question: I would like to ask you a personal question. The sixth season of the Game of Thrones television series ended yesterday. Do you watch it?

Maria Zakharova: No, I don’t watch the Game of Thrones. To be honest, I don’t have enough time. Are you disappointed with me?

Question: A new round of talks between State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and the Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze. Karasin told the media after the talks that October 8, the day of parliamentary elections in Georgia, will be “a very interesting day for Russia.” He also expressed hope that the election results in Georgia would not be as sensational as the outcome of the referendum in Britain. Why are Georgian elections interesting to Russia? What would be so surprising?

Maria Zakharova: Parliamentary elections in Georgia lie within the competence of the Georgian people. This is our principled position. At the same time, Georgia is our neighbour, and so we cannot remain indifferent to the outcome of the political processes underway there. These elections will decide who will assume power in Georgia and determine the country’s domestic and foreign policy. Therefore, we are closely monitoring these processes in Georgia, just as in other countries. I would say that we are watching developments in Georgia especially closely because it’s a neighbouring country. I will be able to comment on the election results after the elections.

Question: I have a question about the next country presiding in the EU. Slovakia will take the rotating EU presidency on July 1, and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico will hold the post of President of the European Council. What does Moscow expect from the new European Council president?

Maria Zakharova: We have always expected the same thing from all European Council presidents – we want normal, comprehensive relations with the EU with due regard for the experience we have gained in the process, especially the experience of the past few years. Our aim is cooperation. We understand that this is a difficult period for the EU. We perceive some hidden implications and subcurrents and know that there are specific institutional mechanisms for EU development. These include the migration and economic crises, the consequences of sanctions and action/inaction on the international stage, and the fact that Europe has accepted external management. These problems have been compounded by the Brexit referendum. Brexit is a very serious issue for the EU that will need to be dealt with. But, for us, cooperation with the EU is an important part of our foreign policy, and we expect the EU to act likewise.

Question: The situation could change when Slovakia assumes the six-month EU presidency, compared to what Poland would have done had it held the EU presidency now. These, as they say in Odessa, are two big differences.

Maria Zakharova: I would not formulate it like this for a simple reason: international relations are a source of never-ending surprises. Interesting processes are underway in Poland, which Russia and the EU are watching. The processes that are underway in the EU could not have been predicted even recently. Unfortunately, we have to say that the situation is completely unpredictable. Regarding the essence of the issue, we can say that this situation is the result of irresponsible steps that have been taken contrary to logic and common sense. This is why I would not look too far into the future and would avoid any speculation about what could happen in this or that case. The situation is changing so fast now that we barely have time to react to the changes.

I believe we need a system of Russian-EU relations that will not be subject to personal or national views on relations with Russia. This concerns the European Union as a whole. We know that consolidated opinion is an institutional priority and a decision-making mechanism in the EU. So, the election of a new president should not make us run hot or cold. We want stability, equality, mutual respect and lasting interaction. At the same time, we will not forget our experience, including the experience of our relations with the EU.

Question: Does Russia believe that last week’s launches [of two mid-range ballistic missiles] in North Korea were successful?

Maria Zakharova: I have already commented on this issue and have nothing to add at this point.

Question: Can you comment on a recent statement by Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius, who again spoke against building a Moscow House in the Lithuanian capital?

Maria Zakharova: We are surprised by the Lithuanian official’s intention to appeal to the court to revoke the construction permit for the Moscow House, because the building is nearly complete. We view this as a deliberately anti-Russian action taken within the context of the anti-Russian rhetoric of the parliamentary election campaign underway in Lithuania. This could explain the mayor’s calls for removing “this tool of propaganda under the Russian banner” from downtown Vilnius.

Based on this logic, exhibits of Ancient Greek art around the world should be prohibited as Greek propaganda. Positions like this are unacceptable. It is an unprofessional stance that is unhistorical and unscientific, because it rejects historical facts.

It is regrettable that such attacks, which are undertaken for political reasons, are part of Lithuania’s policy of curtailing relations with Russia. We fear that they can have a negative impact on relations between our capital cities.

If the mayor of Vilnius has his way, we will have to reciprocate.

Question: What are the prospects of the next Normandy format meeting?

Maria Zakharova: As soon as we have information we can share with you, we will do so. So far, the only thing we know is that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will exchange opinions on this issue with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, during their talks in Paris tomorrow.

Question: What do you know about the EU plans to create an EU navy and coast guard?

Maria Zakharova: We are monitoring developments in the EU, including this. We should wait to see which EU plans will be implemented. In general, the EU leadership’s attention to the naval issue can be explained by the need to protect commercial shipments and by the unprecedented increase in the number of illegal migrants from the Middle East and North Africa who reach Europe via the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has become the top priority for the EU. Faced with the consequences of the massive inflow of migrants, the EU had to adjust its policies related to the implementation of the 2014 Maritime Security Strategy. We will act based on the practical actions they take.

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The Foreign Ministry spokesperson to hold a briefing in the Artek children’s recreation centre

I would like to announce the next briefing, which will be quite unusual. I have received an invitation from Artek, a legendary place about which I only heard from those who had been there. Everyone in Russia knows about Artek, and those who don’t can read about it. So, I will hold my next briefing on July 7 in the Artek international children’s recreation centre in the Republic of Crimea. I am inviting all of you there. We will publish an announcement regarding accreditation on the ministry’s website next week. Come to Artek. I believe we should expand the geography of our work. Artek has the necessary conditions for this.

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