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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, September 15, 2016

15 September 201613:46

  1. Sergey Lavrov to attend CIS Foreign Ministers Council meeting in Bishkek
  2. The 71st session of the UN General Assembly
  3. Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov’s consultations with Ms Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Indian Ministry of External Affairs
  4. State Duma elections held outside Russia
  5. September 11 parliamentary elections in Belarus
  6. Ukraine’s lawsuit against Russia over alleged breaches of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
  7. US statements on Russia’s role in Syria ceasefire
  8. The situation in Libya
  9. Removing chemical weapons from Libya
  10. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the report by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on military intervention in Libya
  11. Anti-Russian remarks by Polish politicians
  12. Answers to media questions:
    1. Outcome of talks on a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
    2. Possible publication of the package of documents coordinated at Russian-US talks in Geneva
    3. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s next meeting with Syrian government and opposition representatives
    4. Statement by WADA Director General Olivier Niggli
    5. Belarusian Paralympic athlete Andrey Fomochkin
    6. US athletes
    7. Possible ways to resolve the Cyprus issue
    8. Russia’s position on the UN Security Council’s resolution on further measures with regard to North Korea
    9. Russian-Turkish relations
    10. Iranian deputy foreign minister’s visit to Russia
    11. Implementation of the Minsk Agreements
    12. Russia’s foreign policy priorities
    13. Separation of terrorists and moderate opposition in Syria
    14. Ceasefire observance in Syria
    15. US presidential election
    16. UN draft resolution on North Korea
    17. North Korea’s naval drills
    18. Voting at Russian diplomatic missions in Ukraine
    19. Dutch report on Boeing MH-17 crash
    20. Russian-Turkish military collaboration in Syria 

Sergey Lavrov to attend CIS Foreign Ministers Council meeting in Bishkek

A scheduled meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council will take place in Bishkek on September 16, 2016, ahead of a CIS summit.

The foreign ministers will address various aspects of developing multifaceted collaboration and deepening foreign policy coordination in the framework of the Commonwealth and share their opinions on current regional and international issues.

In the context of the 25th anniversary of the CIS, the results of its activity will be analysed and the efforts to enhance the organisation’s efficiency, improve its work procedures and adapt it to modern realities related to integration processes will be reviewed.

The participants will discuss draft statements on fighting international terrorism and drug trafficking that will be submitted to the CIS summit in connection with the organization’s 25th anniversary, also on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trial.

The CIS Foreign Ministers Council meeting will be attended by a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. We will keep you up to date.

The 71st session of the UN General Assembly

The 71st session of the UN General Assembly opened in New York on September 13.

One of the primary objectives of Russia’s foreign policy course is the strengthening of the UN’s central role in international affairs, the fundamental principles of its charter, and the main responsibility of the UN Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The UN remains an organisation that has no equivalent in terms of representation and universality. In our opinion, it is a unique venue for equal dialogue aimed at the search for and development of mutually acceptable compromise solutions.

Amid today’s foreign policy challenges and the growing threat of terrorism, the Russian delegation, in the course of the current session, will follow a line toward the resolution of conflicts by politico-diplomatic means, respect for sovereignty and the right of nations to independently define their path of development and search for collective responses to global and regional challenges based on the principle of equal and indivisible security.

The session agenda contains 170 points in such areas as facilitation of economic growth and sustainable development, the maintenance of international peace and security, ensuring the rule of law, promoting human rights, disarmament, drug control, prevention of crime and the fight against international terrorism.

The general political discussion within the framework of the session (a high-level session) will take place in New York on September 20 through 26. The Russian delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov’s consultations with Ms.Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Indian Ministry of External Affairs

On September 16, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov will meet with his Indian counterpart Ms Preeti Saran in Moscow, in the course of which the officials will synchronise their positions on the situation in the Asia Pacific region and exchange opinions on current Russian-Indian collaboration within various multilateral organisations in the Asia Pacific region, including the East Asian Community (EAC) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

State Duma elections held outside Russia

The elections to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly are a political focal point in Russia this week. The Foreign Ministry is involved in the preparations by organising polling stations at Russian offices outside Russia. I will share the related information with you now.

Russia’s diplomatic and consular offices have opened 364 polling stations in 145 countries for the State Duma elections. Those who show a Russian passport will be able to vote in these locations.

We maintain close contact with Russia’s Central Election Commission. We have said this more than once, and you can read the relevant materials on our website. We have coordinated the procedure for early voting with the Central Election Commission, including in the countries where Sunday September 18 is a workday for local reasons.

We have received information on the number of Russian citizens who have voted early at polling stations outside Russia. As of September 14, 9,182 Russian citizens have cast their ballots.

We will keep you posted and will answer questions on voting at Russian offices abroad and media access at the Russian embassies and consulates general. Ask your questions, if you have any. 

September 11 parliamentary elections in Belarus

Elections to the Belarusian Parliament’s House of Representatives were held on September 11, 2016.

Russian representatives were among international observers as part of delegations from the CIS and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, at the Belarusian elections. We’ve noted the high election activity in Belarus. According to the Central Commission of the Republic of Belarus on Elections and Republican Referendums, the turnout was 74.32 per cent. The majority of deputies are politically uncommitted, although there are also representatives of political parties, including some opposition parties, among the newly elected members.

We share the assessment of the elections in Belarus, which CIS Executive Secretary Sergey Lebedev made public at a news conference in Minsk on September 12. He said the elections were transparent, open and free, and that the election campaign proceeded calmly in the spirit of open competition and was very well organised.

We congratulate the newly elected members of the Belarusian parliament and look forward to cooperating with them to strengthen Russian-Belarusian relations.

Ukraine’s lawsuit against Russia over alleged breaches of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

Many asked us yesterday to comment on the news about Ukraine’s notification of initiating proceedings at the arbitration tribunal against Russia over alleged breaches of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

We have heard about this lawsuit, but we have not received any notification so far.

As we have said, Russia as a responsible signatory faithfully honours its commitments under this Convention, including with regard to the bodies of water around the Crimean Peninsula.

As far as we can see, Ukraine believes that its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction as a coastal state are applicable to these bodies of water. This interpretation of the status of water bodies around the peninsula is unacceptable. Ukraine lost its status as a coastal state with regard to the bodies of water around Crimea after Crimea’s reunification with Russia, and hence has no rights over them. This Ukrainian initiative is nothing more than another claim on Crimea, but the state affiliation of dry territory is not subject to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As for activities in the bodies of water around the Crimean Peninsula, we have repeatedly expressed a willingness to discuss the practical aspects of such activities with Ukraine. We spoke about this in this very room a few weeks ago. Time moves on, but we have not managed to start a dialogue with our Ukrainian partners: our first meeting was our last one because Ukraine has refused to talk.

As for the notification, we’ve heard about it. But we have not received it. We will provide detailed comments on the essence of this document after we receive and analyse it.

US statements on Russia’s role in Syria ceasefire

We took note of the remarks from the White House with regard to Russia’s role in observing the cessation of hostilities in Syria. For some reason, the Americans are skeptical about Russia’s willingness to comply with the agreements. They regard the ceasefire as a test for Russia’s reputation. This is a strange approach but on the other hand, perhaps it has a positive element because if reputation is at stake therefore it exists. In this case our US colleagues have something to envy. Before saying these kinds of things, think what [others] will think about you.

We regard such statements, made in a situation where Syria’s years-long conflict has not been resolved yet and all international efforts are aimed at achieving a peaceful settlement, as illogical and counterproductive. This is why we are concerned and worried by the fact that despite the positive achievements that were reached in Geneva less than a week ago, we are hearing remarks of a completely different kind. We understand their nature but they do nothing to help the cause. It is necessary to work constructively. We have examples of this kind of work. When the United States wants to work, it can work. We act on the assumption that statements of this kind should be followed by responsible efforts to implement the agreements that have been reached.

The situation in Libya

According to media reports, over the past few days, Libyan National Army units under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, who represents the political forces of Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), took control of ports in the country’s so-called oil crescent along the Mediterranean coast, where Libya’s main oil infrastructure is concentrated, including oil terminals, refineries and storage facilities.

Without engaging in an argument or speculation on the possible consequences of this re-division of spheres of influence in the country’s oil sector, we urge both of Libya’s opposing centres of force – the authorities in Tripoli and their opponents in Tobruk – to act within the bounds of the Skhirat Agreement, which has laid the groundwork for national reconciliation. We consider it important that parties to the intra-Libyan process continue their constructive dialogue to reach consensus-based solutions that, in our opinion, should put an end to this fratricidal conflict and lead the country to a path of stable post-conflict development. The formation of unity government bodies, including the army and police, remains a priority here. These bodies should ensure security, law and order, as well as effectively counter the terrorist threat. This accords not only with the desires and aspirations of the Libyan people but also with the interests of the entire Middle East and North Africa.

Removing chemical weapons from Libya

On September 8, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the chemical agents removed from Libyan territory on August 31 by sea safely arrived at a chemical facility run by the German company GEKA (Munster), where they will be destroyed.

The operation was carried out under UN Security Council Resolution 2298, adopted on Russia’s initiative, and the corresponding decisions of the OPCW Executive Council under close international supervision. These documents have created the essential legal framework, making it possible to go beyond the bounds of the Chemical Weapons Convention that allows the destruction of toxic agents solely in the territory of the state that has the agents.

No incidents were reported during the removal, which is of principal importance to us, especially considering the difficult internal political situation in Libya, which in fact necessitated these extraordinary international efforts.

At the same time, it needs to be said that the OPCW has yet to clear up the circumstances behind the “evaporation” from the Libyan storage facility in Ruvaga of 220 tons of chemical weapon precursors, that is about one-third of the remaining amount of highly toxic chemicals.

The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the report by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on military intervention in Libya

We took note of a piece published by The Wall Street Journal on the report released by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on September 14, which recognises that the British military intervention in Libya in 2011 was based on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the situation, leading ultimately to Libya’s political and economic collapse, a humanitarian and migration crisis, tribal feuds, and the expansion of ISIS in North Africa.

    When The Wall Street Journal publishes such articles, we get a clear idea of how much time the Western media needs to realise what's going on. We proceeded from the assumption that, given the traditions, the history and the professionalism of the Western media, they should be able to analyse, predict and provide deep political insight into the possible implications of steps taken by their respective governments, including as part of alliances or coalitions. We can see now that the Western press – which is genuinely respected and has an impressive track record – needs over five years to realise what happened and the outcomes of the actions of their governments in the context of international relations and the international situation in general.

In this regard, I can’t help but recall another report released in July by another independent British commission led by Sir John Chilcot, which for seven years studied British involvement in the military campaign in Iraq. Its findings, as you may be aware, were that the invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake and the decision of Tony Blair’s government to get involved in this reckless enterprise was a hasty one based on inaccurate information. Many Western politicians have admitted on many occasions that it was a mistake. Most recently, on September 11, French President Francois Hollande said the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to chaos and increased the terrorist threat. It would be nice if all these analytical conclusions that our Western colleagues make five to six or seven years after the event were not used to congratulate themselves or elicit forced confessions. Such realisations are needed in order to prevent mistakes in the future, particularly in the context of the situation in Syria, before it’s too late. Why not base approaches to and assessments of what is happening in Syria now on their own analyses of what happened in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere?

Let me reiterate what we all know already: the Iraqi and Libyan campaigns resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties, millions of broken lives of people who lost their families and loved ones and any semblance of normal living conditions, who were forced to move to other countries and other continents. It is unclear who is responsible for their fate. Who will give them back the life that they had?

Anti-Russian remarks by Polish politicians

We receive regular requests to comment on our Polish colleagues’ statements. I will provide such a comment, but, honestly, do so with reluctance: I would like to be able to talk about the Russian-Polish relations in a positive way, but things that we hear from Warsaw don’t let me do so.

In particular, we are talking about Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz and Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski who recently made a series of Russophobic statements, which, we believe, approach or even go beyond the point of absurdity. These statements boil down to the assumption that Russia was allegedly involved in organising the Polish president’s plane crash over Smolensk on April 10, 2010. Of course, it is a challenge to comment on the latest flurry of anti-Russian attacks, especially such extreme ones, even if they come from ministers. We can only conclude that such irresponsible and provocative remarks, on the one hand, reflect the political situation and complex reality in Poland and, on the other hand, lead to the further erosion of relations between our countries, which are already not going through the best of times right now.

Notably, the other day, Vaclav Berchinsky, head of the Sejm Subcommittee for Re-Investigating the Crash of Poland’s Air Force One outside Smolensk – which was created for unknown reasons – told the media that there was new evidence related to the crash, referring to a previously unknown recording of an exchange between the air traffic controllers at the Smolensk-Severny airfield. I would like to emphasise that all the records of the exchanges between the air traffic controllers at the control centre, as well as their exchanges with the pilots, were published back in January 2011. An official video reconstruction of the crash, which included recordings of these exchanges, was posted online. All these recordings were thoroughly studied by an international commission, which was comprised mostly of Poles. The recordings were deciphered and studied jointly. Furthermore, all these materials were then officially handed over to Poland, which published them.

If Poland claims that it now has some additional materials on this crash, we urge it to immediately present them to the international community and, of course, to us, in order to avoid speculation and further misunderstanding. This is important.

As we have repeatedly stated, the causes of the crash outside Smolensk have been identified a long time ago. The Polish experts took part in all the investigations conducted by the IAC technical commission. Poland received all the necessary materials in accordance with Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation of December 7, 1944. It is regrettable and perplexing that the resumed investigation involves inserting into the public space the thesis that the work that was already done by experts from Russia and Poland had allegedly facilitated the concealment of evidence and important information. This is beyond the pale.

It looks like the masterminds behind this campaign – which is, of course, political, informational, and anti-Russian, or is part of a Polish domestic political agenda – and this obscurantism, are beyond the law and human morality.

Moreover, all of that will be further fueled by the creation of the latest myth through films and publications.

Unfortunately, I could not help but comment on this topic.

Answers to media questions:

Question: Can you tell us about the results of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s September 8 talks with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement? Will any practical steps be taken soon? Are there any plans for a high-level meeting, for example at the ministerial level?

Maria Zakharova: We published reports on this meeting and its results immediately after it ended. The participants discussed the process and the possibility of a settlement. I don’t know if any other meeting is planned for the near future. If such a meeting is added to the agenda, we will tell you about this.

As for the UN General Assembly session, which a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend, I would like to say that Sergey Lavrov will hold a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings within the framework of political discussions on the sidelines of the session. Sergey Lavrov will also attend events related to the UN Security Council and General Assembly. We are now working on the agenda of the Minister’s attendance of the General Assembly. I cannot tell you about the planned meetings so far, because we are working out the details now. It will be a good opportunity to talk with colleagues from around the world. Some meetings have been confirmed, and we are waiting for confirmations of other meetings. We will certainly inform you if there are events on issues of concern to you.   

Question: What is the reason behind Russia’s desire to disclose the details of Russian-US agreements [on Syria]?

Maria Zakharova: The agreements that have been reached in Geneva are comprised of a package of documents that were coordinated in the process of Russia-US talks, during long meetings between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Since the very beginning of these talks, when coordinating these documents and after finally coming to terms, Russia proposed, or even urged its US partners, that the entire package of documents should be made public. We believe that this can and should be done to prevent any speculation.

You know that secret documents have been leaked to the media on many occasions, often not through Russia’s fault but at the initiative of our US colleagues. Of course, we do not suspect or accuse anyone of planning to do this. But unfortunately, we encounter such leaks nearly every week. Moscow has proposed, and we reaffirm this proposal, that the document be made public to avoid any misinterpretation and to prevent the use of such leaks to influence or manipulate the parties to the conflict, who are not aware of the details of our agreements. We see no problem in this. We don’t understand why these documents cannot be disclosed. The term agreement means that there are several parties involved. Since we reached these agreements with the United States, the decision on whether these agreements should be disclosed must be coordinated with it. This is what we think. No one ever had an occasion to question Russia’s scrupulousness in this respect.

Question: Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov said on Monday that the next meeting between the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and representatives of the Syrian Government and the opposition could come in early October. Do you have anything more to say on this score?

Maria Zakharova: This issue is being coordinated, but you should go to UN officials for details. The UN Information Centre in Moscow is open, so you can ask the centre’s staff. We certainly maintain contact with the UN, and we definitely believe in the importance of launching and ramping up the political track to achieve a settlement in Syria.

Question: Could you comment on yesterday’s statement by WADA Director General Olivier Niggli, who urged the Russian authorities to stop their hacking campaign against the organisation, suggesting that otherwise this could affect the reinstatement of Russia’s rights in the international sport arena?

Maria Zakharova: As in the rest of the world, hackers in Russia are outside the law. We are fighting them. We have a host of laws to this end. We can only influence this process through the law and this is exactly what we do. We have no other methods. When I am asked whether hackers are supported, whether there are “Kremlin” or “pro-Kremlin” hackers, I never tire of repeating that the issue is clearly defined by our country’ laws. Of course, I defer to Russian sport experts, but I consider it inappropriate that WADA makes a connection between hacking attacks ascribed to one country or another and the reinstatement of Russian athletes to participate in international competitions. It is totally incomprehensible how international officials link the issue of hacking and the issue of information security to the restoration of athletes’ right to participate in particular competitions.

Every day more and more people become confused about the principles that guide WADA. There is an increasing number of questions about this organisation. How does it work? What principles  is it guided by in making decisions? Your question is a case in point. It is wrong to connect the fight against cyber attacks with the reinstatement of athletes. These are totally different issues. We would like to hope that since the organisation lays claim to such a role in international sport it should formulate clear-cut, comprehensible criteria for its activity, based on international law, not on some strange statements.

Question: I would like to ask a question about Belarusian Paralympic athlete Andrey Fomochkin who “dared” to carry a Russian flag. He was disqualified. Leaving aside all emotions and taking a look at the issue from a legal perspective, Belarus and Russia are members of the Union State. What’s wrong with a Union State citizen raising the flag of one of its members? For some reason no one has taken this approach although this is precisely what it is about.

Maria Zakharova: Allow me to call you out on some naivete. You understand very well that world sport has become an object and arena of political battles. This is obvious. If in the past this was talked about indirectly, by dropping hints, now it is objective reality. No one can understand the motives behind the decisions that are made by a number of international sport functionaries. No one understands the actions that have been taken recently. Everyone has seen (this is no secret: I have often cited Western analysts and political experts) that this battle, which is no longer competitive but simply political, has moved into the most holy of holies –  sport. Its victims are people who have absolutely nothing to do with either politics or political intrigue. They simply got caught in the gears of this political machine designed to isolate, in particular, Russia.

We are not the only ones who have been steamrolled like this. History, including the history of international sport, contains more than one such situation. The harassment of the Belarusian citizen who, as you rightly said, “dared” to carry the flag not just of a fraternal state but of a state that has made an enormous contribution to the development of international sport, is also part of it. What’s more, Russia was a pioneer in many areas of international sport. However, all of this is a political battle that is affecting more spheres that were previously considered off-limits. Now, unfortunately, we are observing a process where the political machine – which is designed to isolate, to combat – has gone beyond the bounds of the permissible and is moving where it should not.

Question: What do you think about a situation where facts about US athletes using doping are made public but their diagnosis or the reasons for using banned substances are not disclosed?

Maria Zakharova: This is not the most shocking thing. This situation is for the experts. The shocking thing is that they are seriously saying it’s unacceptable to publish personal information in the media, although the names and personal information of many of our outstanding athletes had been made public alongside information about other people who were proved to be doping and using banned substances. These athletes, who never were involved in doping, were discredited in the eyes of the global public and their colleagues. These are not just double standards but evidence of trying to win at all costs in this battle of isolation.

I would like to close this subject now, because it falls within the authority of those who deal with sport professionally, that is, sport officials, including international ones.

Question: Yesterday we saw a glimmer of hope for the 42-year-old Cyprus issue. A heartening press release, which was published following a regular round of talks between the two Cypriot communities, mentions substantial arrangements that could open the door to a peaceful settlement of the Cyprus issue. It is the only conflict that has a chance for a peaceful solution in decades. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: We closely monitor the progress of talks between the communities in Cyprus. I’d like to remind you of Russia’s principled and unwavering position and assessment of the Cyprus issue. We are for a comprehensive, fair and viable solution in the interests of all Cypriots. We will support whatever solution the Cypriots themselves come up with. We will judge progress at the talks by their concrete results. As I said, we believe that progress at the negotiating table should be judged by practical results.

At the same time, we consider some of our Western partners’ persistent attempts to speed up negotiations and push for a solution at all costs to be unacceptable. This is not right. The failure of the Annan plan for Cyprus, as we all remember, is evidence of the destructiveness of such external pressure.

Question: The UN Security Council is drafting a new resolution on further measures with regard to North Korea in connection with its nuclear test. Some believe this is useless. What is Russia’s position on the issue?

Maria Zakharova: As is known, following the nuclear test conducted by North Korea, on September 9 emergency consultations took the place at the UN Security Council, resulting in a coordinated position of members of the main UN body in the form of a press release. Among other things, it strongly condemns the test. We certainly condemned it in our national capacity and as a member of the UN Security Council. UN Security Council members express their readiness to go ahead with developing corresponding measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which requires the adoption of a new Security Council resolution. As of yesterday evening New York time, none of its members submitted a draft document to that effect, so it is too early to talk about its substance yet.

I can reiterate that Russia’s fundamental position in connection with North Korea’s nuclear tests is well known and was reflected in the Foreign Ministry’s statement of September 9.

Question: About a month has passed since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow. Has any progress been made in restoring Russian-Turkish relations during this time, primarily in the diplomatic sphere?

Maria Zakharova: I already responded to this question. The restoration is moving along gradually. We act in line with the instructions issued by President Vladimir Putin after Ankara met Russia’s demands.

To reiterate, the restoration is moving steadily, without fits and starts. We are in contact with our Turkish colleagues via the Foreign Ministry and our missions abroad. The outlook is good.

Question: Iran’s deputy foreign minister is currently in Russia. Who did he meet and what issues were addressed?

Maria Zakharova: I’ll look into the details and get back to you.

Question: Do you believe German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit to Ukraine will facilitate compliance with the Minsk agreements and the ceasefire announced on September 1? Could you also comment on the ceasefire in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the issue of the Syria ceasefire in detail only yesterday. I will not repeat myself. You can look at the Minister’s remarks at the joint news conference with the Luxembourg foreign minister.

As for Mr Steinmeier’s visit to Ukraine, we believe that the most important thing is to exert maximum pressure on Kiev to implement the Minsk agreements. This is a priority. Here, it is very important to intensify this pressure to get Kiev to start moving forward.

Mr Lavrov has had several telephone conversations with his German counterpart. It may be recalled that Germany is the OSCE chairperson in office. Its responsibility is increasing. Germany is a member of the Normandy format and it bears additional responsibility via the OSCE.

We act on the premise that today it is very important to do everything to ensure that Kiev begins to implement the Minsk agreements.

Question: Yesterday, Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov stated that the Turkish navy’s domination in the Black Sea is no longer an issue. Is the domination of any country in the Black Sea an issue for Russia’s foreign policy?

Maria Zakharova: The main issue for Russia’s foreign policy is to build neighbourly and mutually respectful relations with all countries in the world, primarily of course with its neighbours, based on international law and the principles of the UN Charter. This is our basic premise.

Making comments on any parameters related to weapon systems or military collaboration does not fall within my purview. This is the purview of the Defence Ministry. I’ve already talked about our priorities.

Question: It was announced that over 20 armed groups have refused to observe the ceasefire. Many of them are controlled by the Western coalition. How will the principle of separating terrorist groups from the moderate opposition, agreed to by Russia and the United States, be followed then?

Maria Zakharova: The application of this principle in practice was the focus of months-long talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry. To us, it was an issue of paramount importance. To this end, an entire package of documents was adopted, which, as we said earlier today, has not been made public through no fault or decision of ours. It spells out specific mechanisms, procedures and most important, the responsibility of our US colleagues on the issue, among others.

I wouldn’t like to think that the non-disclosure of this document is related to concerns that once its substance comes to light, the public may ask Washington why it is or is not performing certain functions. To reiterate, I wouldn’t like to think so and assume the best-case scenario.

Question: Ahrar al-Sham, a group that is closely affiliated with Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, is openly flouting the ceasefire. Are any talks under way with the United States regarding the group’s inclusion on the list of terrorist organisations? What is the outlook for the creation of a joint centre with the US after seven days of the ceasefire? Are you optimistic about this?

Maria Zakharova: We are not simply optimistic. We are looking at the specific documents that the Russian delegation has been looking at for months and proposing corresponding amendments. Today we are looking at these documents as such – not at political declarations, not at statements of intent, but at the documents that Moscow and Washington have signed. Their implementation is our direct responsibility. Furthermore, all explanations were given as soon as the agreements were reached. In this context, it is necessary not to take an optimistic view, but to look at it as a document that needs to be implemented, since so much effort has been put into it and compromises were reached.

As for Ahrar al-Sham, our position on this organisation and generally on the issue of separating terrorists from the moderate opposition is well known. This position does not coincide with the US position on some points. To us, this is the main issue. In this sense, our position is clear and unequivocal.

Question: On September 13, US President Barack Obama, at the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia, said it is now time “to pass the baton,” meaning, of course, to US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I know that Hillary is going to take it and she’s going to run that race, and she will finish that race,” he said, hinting at the state of her health. Could you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: I have a question. Did President Obama watch the Olympic Games at all? Such remarks are pretty dicey. To reiterate, we have a principled position of not commenting on the course of the election campaign in the United States. However, regarding this statement, the most important thing is that the baton does not fall and that no decision has to be made to start a new race. As for the statements that we are now hearing from Washington, they are reminiscent of “demob-happy” rhetoric. It is important to see this through to the end. There is not so much more to go.

Question: Media reports say the United States has sent China its proposals on sanctions and a UN resolution. Has Russia received this document and will it join additional sanctions against North Korea and to what extent?

Maria Zakharova: As I said, at least as of yesterday evening, no one country had circulated a corresponding draft document at the UN Security Council. As soon as a draft or some proposals on a future document are submitted we will be able to discuss them in a substantive way.  

Question: Recently, US State Department Spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the United States hopes North Korea’s naval drills will not escalate tensions in the region. Could you comment on the ongoing drills?

Maria Zakharova: We would like to say that stability, openness and transparency are very important in this regional issue. We act on the premise that all ongoing activities there now should be balanced and carefully thought out and not increase instability but, on the contrary, strengthen stability and mutual understanding and serve as a solid foundation –  indeed the only possible one – for the resolution of conflicts, among other things.

Question: You’ve mentioned election voting at Russian diplomatic missions abroad. Will it take place in Ukraine?

Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the Central Election Commission, issued statements on voting in Ukraine, in particular at the previous briefing, which were posted on the ministry’s website. Polling stations on Ukrainian territory will be set up at the Russian Embassy in Kiev and our general consulates in that country. Our diplomatic missions are Russian territory and there is nothing to discuss here. We explained our position in these statements and urged the Ukrainian side to do all it can to ensure security. I don’t know what else I can add.

I can say that we have sent invitations to international observers. There is an understanding that in keeping with the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, there will be close monitoring in areas near the four Russian diplomatic missions. We have received such assurances from the SMM and the OSCE. Russia has already stated everything clearly and published corresponding documents.

Question: Yesterday, the first part of a Dutch report on the Boeing MH-17 crash was released. Will Russia respond to it or will it wait for the second part, which will be released on September 28?

Maria Zakharova: I’m not in a position to comment on this yet. This document needs to be studied. It’s simply not possible to comment on something that has not been studied.

Question: Recently, talks took place between the chiefs of the Russian and Turkish general staffs [of the armed forces] Valery Gerasimov and Hulusi Akar. How will Russian-Turkish collaboration in Syria proceed in the future?

Maria Zakharova: This is the Foreign Ministry. I realise that the BBC is a rare guest here, but the General Staff is not located here. All questions within the purview of the General Staff should be directed to its representatives. I’m not authorised to issue any statements that fall within their purview. So I request that the allocation of our official responsibilities be treated with understanding. Regarding collaboration and cooperation between Russia and Turkey, I have just responded to that in detail.

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