Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova Moscow, September 29, 2016
29 September 201620:59
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Senior Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia Prak Sokhonn
- Reception on behalf of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in honour of ambassadors of member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in IMEMO anniversary meeting
- Developments in Syria
- Report by an Italian NGO on air strikes on medical facilities in Syria
- Latest statements by US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
- Izvestia article “Libyan Army Asks Russia for Weapons”
- Mistaken US air strikes in Afghanistan
- EU migration crisis
- MH17 crash investigation
- Desecration of Soviet memorials in Poland
- Unveiling of a monument to members of the 190th Rifle Division in Mudanjiang, China
- Answers to media questions:
- Russia-US agreements regarding Syria
- Election of the UN Secretary-General
- Update on the situation with the Russian Embassy in Bucharest
- Russian journalists in Estonia
- Developments in Syria
- Armenia’s possible participation in the humanitarian operation in Syria
- MH17 crash investigation
- Possible tightening of sanctions against the DPRK
- President Vladimir Putin’s possible visit to Turkey
- Recent statements by US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power
- US plans to tighten sanctions against Russia
- Russian delegation at the UN General Assembly
- Statement by Polish Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz
- Russian-Turkish cooperation on Syria
On October 3-4, Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia Prak Sokhonn will arrive in Russia on a working visit.
Talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and an inter-sessional meeting of the co-chairs of the Russian-Cambodian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade-Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation (IGC) are scheduled as part of the visit.
These contacts will involve discussing the state of and prospects for expanding bilateral cooperation in various fields with emphasis on the implementation of top-level agreements which have been reached over the past two years, as well as comparing approaches to pressing international and regional issues.
I would like to recall that this year marks the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between our two countries (May 13, 1956).
On November 3, as Muslims around the world are celebrating the Islamic New Year, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a reception in honour of the ambassadors of member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) who are accredited in Moscow. Also attending will be officials of federal bodies of the Russian Federation, political, public and religious figures who contribute to the development of Russia’s relations with Muslim countries.
The OIC is the world’s second largest international body after the UN, bringing together 57 member states. The Russian Federation has observer status in the OIC.
The reception will feature a display of Islamic art from the collection of the Shigabutdin Marjani Moscow Foundation in Support of Research and Cultural Programmes.
On October 6, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend and deliver a speech at the 60th anniversary meeting of the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO – Russian acronym) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Over the past six decades the institute has gained vast experience, created wonderful traditions and firmly established itself as one of our country’s leading centres for the study of international relations and the world economy. Prominent scholars, many of whom have made significant contributions to Russian and world science, have been working within its walls from the beginning. From 1985 to 1989 the IMEMO was headed by Yevgeny Primakov, whose name the institution now bears.
The Russian Foreign Ministry appreciates its close and fruitful cooperation with IMEMO. We believe that our cooperation provides an effective intellectual and analytical resource for Russian foreign policy and aids in the search for optimal solutions to the numerous problems of our age. And we believe that its research will continue to be applied in the practical work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We highly appreciate the institute’s contribution to the Research Council under the Foreign Minister of the Russia Federation.
The situation in Syria remains tense, especially in its north, primarily in and around Aleppo, where government forces continue fighting the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated groups.
Dozens of cases of shelling residential areas by the terrorists are recorded in Aleppo every day. In general, the tactics of the extremists remain the same. Attacks are mounted using civilians as human shields. Snipers are actively involved in the fighting. They fire not only at Syrian army servicemen but also at civilians in government-controlled areas. “Infernal machines” – improvised explosive devices – have been used more than once. The militants lay mines in the areas they abandon. They have shelled cities and villages in the Aleppo and Latakia provinces and the Damascus region using improvised artillery rocket systems, tube artillery and mortars.
Terrorists are going all-out to prevent civilians from leaving eastern Aleppo via established corridors by subjecting them to intimidation and physical abuse.
According to the latest reports, the militants in eastern Aleppo stopped supplying water to the residents of government-controlled western Aleppo, which may sharply aggravate the humanitarian situation in this part of the city.
Moscow noted the interview given to the German publication Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger by a field commander of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – this is how Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists now identify themselves. He bluntly told the journalist that his group is supported from the outside and requires even more advanced arms to fight the war in Syria till final victory. In this context we would like to emphasise once again the need to separate units of the so-called “moderate” opposition from terrorists. We are primarily urging the United States and all those who have influence in the region to ensure such separation in accordance with the decisions of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), UN Security Council resolutions and the Moscow-Washington agreements on Syria.
We would also like to draw your attention to a report of the Italian NGO “No war network” that refutes the accusations that the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Force have carried out strikes on Syrian medical facilities. It notes that the bulk of reports of attacks on Syrian hospitals come from districts controlled by militants and for the most part these facilities are covered field hospitals that are deployed in residential buildings and have nothing to do with the healthcare system. The report also notes that such medical facilities have no universally accepted logos, which makes it impossible to identify them as medical either from the air or on the ground.
We join the authors of the report in expressing doubts about how the information on air strikes on medical facilities is collected. It is difficult to accept the notion that the militants that are controlling different regions of Syria are the main source of such information and that their information is credible because they have a direct interest in discrediting the Syrian Government, the Russian Federation, its Aerospace Forces and those Russian citizens who are helping Syrians to fight terrorism in their country.
The NGO’s representatives note that in some cases the agencies that are collecting such statistics poll local people and then quote a source from a “field medical facility.” They cite as an example the work of the NGO Physicians for Human Rights that interviews so-called witnesses in Turkey.
Regrettably, the methods described in this report are already producing what is perceived as credible information that is used to reach very serious conclusions. This information is used in drafting international documents. This is a very dangerous trend.
I would like to say a few words about the latest statements from Washington, which were made late at night on Wednesday Moscow time. As we started receiving them, we hoped they would be disavowed by morning, because these outrageous statements are completely at variance with any diplomatic norms and even normal human standards. Unfortunately, we waited in vain. On the contrary, these inappropriate statements have been reinforced with even more unacceptable statements.
US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby yesterday warned Russia about the possible turn of events in the Middle East and North Africa if Russia persevered with its approach to the Syrian crisis. He said, in part, that the consequences of this would be that “extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources – even, perhaps, more aircraft.”
This was said by a diplomat and spokesperson of the US Department of State. I do not want to get personal, because we are colleagues, but I would like you to note that this statement has been made by a person who had a long military career in the past. When people resort to such cynicism and use such a tone when they talk about their colleagues, one wonders what will come next.
I would like to draw your attention to the phrase about the vacuums, probably the vacuums of power, in the above statement by Mr Kirby. It is Washington and its regional allies who demand that the legitimately elected Syrian President step down. If Washington thinks the current vacuum is dangerous, what would happen if the legitimately elected president and government ceded their positions? After all, there should be logic in one’s actions.
Actually, Mr Kirby blames Russia for the growing activity of extremists in Syria, although it is the United States who has been consistently presenting these extremists as moderate armed opposition. Who did Mr Kirby have in mind when he said that extremist activity would become increasingly more violent? Was he talking about the self-same opposition, which Washington is patronising?
I would like to remind you that the United States has publicly pledged to bring to reason these opposition forces, with which Washington has maintained direct or indirect interaction all along, as we can see now.
In fact, the above statement by the US State Department spokesperson is nothing other than a call to action issued to the radicals. We cannot consider it in any other way because this statement has not been disavowed.
Just one example. Following the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, Russia immediately expressed condolences and sympathy and offered help. But many media outlets, including those sponsored by the US, wrote that the condolences by Russian representatives and officials were insufficiently sympathetic. They claim that we are insufficiently compassionate, yet they seem undisturbed by words about Russia sending more troops home in body bags?
Imagine the press secretary of the Russian President or the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry making statements such as the US State Department spokesperson made today after the terrible terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, which the White House interpreted as an attack on the country and not a local attack or an attack by international terrorism? Can you imagine what would have happened if a Russian official said there would be more of such terrorist attacks unless Washington changed its policies in the Middle East or any other countries? No, this is impossible to imagine, not even in theory. It is impossible to imagine this in Moscow, but it was also impossible to imagine in Washington in 2001. Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, said the following about those events and the actions of the Russian political leadership: “America could have had no better ally on September 11th than Russia and Putin.” This was said by an American official who knows and remembers history. I know that the current American politicians are no longer of the same calibre, but I never thought they would sink so low.
What I can say is that in our opinion, Washington’s current actions and the public stance in the media environment adopted by the US government target not so mush state-to-state relations as they do the relations between the peoples of our two countries. The US Department of State should be aware of the fact that Russians hear and understand statements coming from it. How do you expect Russians to view the US when John Kirby says that “Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and there will be more terrorist attacks?” Just think about it! Even Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will probably stop quoting US representatives.
There is another thing I would like to highlight. Statements coming out of the US Department of State, the White House and especially law-enforcement agencies show that Washington’s position is inconsistent and that it is on the verge of hysteria regarding the Syrian issue, and in general regarding the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. It is clear that this nervous response is caused by the White House’s misguided strategy in the Middle East, as well as its inability to deliver on the commitments that it had publicly declared. I am referring to the obligation to separate the opposition and al-Nusra fighters. We cannot rule out that the misguided strategy that led the US into an impasse in the region is attributable to the fact that the US Administration simply followed some of its so-called regional allies who wanted the US to take specific action in order to bring about regime change in certain countries. Of course, one of the reasons is that Washington lacks solid expertise in this area. Acknowledging errors is not shameful; what is shameful is continuing a policy while understanding that it is erroneous and leads into an impasse, ripping through all reasonable, logical options and the right solutions.
This was not the only statement we heard today. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that it is hard to see how Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis “benefits Russia’s national security.” What I can say to Mr Earnest in this regard is that Russia’s national security should not be a matter of concern for the White House, which instead had better focus on US national security. It would be great, for example, if the White House lets EU countries take care of their national security. It would make things easier in many ways. Russia will take care of its own national security, the EU will try to develop its own independent national security framework, and Washington will only have to deal with its domestic national security issues.
In addition, there was also a statement by State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner, who surprised us with his statement whereby the self-identification principle should be used to separate moderate opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra. This is something new in the Syrian settlement. We haven’t heard anything like it before. Maybe Mr Toner simply didn’t care to look through the documents that were adopted and agreed by Russian and US experts (they are available in both Russian and English), clearly setting out the obligations undertaken by the US with respect to the so-called moderate opposition. It is hard to grasp how Mr Toner expects the opposition to separate itself from Jabhat al-Nusa on its own.
I would like to remind the US Department of State that a certain period of time was set aside for this process six months ago. During the period designated by the ISSG, all groups were offered to accept the cessation of hostilities regime and engage in a political settlement by joining the UN-led indirect dialogue with Damascus. The problem is that while many groups accepted these terms, some of them, having joined Jabhat al-Nusra and become an integral part of this group, refused to do so. It feels really strange having to explain this to the Department of State. In fact, the real problem is that during these six months they have been refusing to dissociate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra, while initially Washington said that they will able to do it in a matter of one or two weeks.
These are simple facts, but unfortunately we have to keep repeating them. I would like to conclude this unpleasant part of today’s briefing by calling on Washington to immediately provide Russia with all available information, if they know anything about the planned terrorist attacks or possible attacks on Russian cities, as mentioned by John Kirby yesterday, or about provocations or terrorist attacks against Russian citizens. Otherwise, we will have no option but to believe that they are concealing information.
Yesterday the Izvestia newspaper published an article “Libyan Army Asks Russia for Weapons” which, quoting “sources close to diplomatic circles,” reported that lifting the international arms embargo and supplying armaments and military equipment to the Libyan National Army (LNA) were discussed at a recent meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry with LNA Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s special envoy Abdel al-Badri, Libya’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Such requests were reportedly contained in Haftar’s messages to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu delivered by the Libyan emissary.
Regarding this article, we would like to stress the following.
During Al-Badri’s stay in Moscow on September 24, not 26 as reported by Izvestia, these issues were not discussed, nor were any messages delivered to the leaders of the Russian Federation.
I would like to reiterate that the Information and Press Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates seven days a week with no days-off, we never make any exceptions for anyone, we work with everyone. If someone wants to write something about the Ministry, please ask us, and we will always comment so as to avoid such ridiculous reporting.
As this issue has gotten a lot of play in the media, I would like to address it in some detail. Guided by an interest in preserving the unity of Libya and reviving the Libyan state, Russia is working and intends to continue working with all Libyan parties. We consistently call on them to engage in a constructive dialogue in order to arrive at mutually acceptable solutions on all remaining disputed issues, first of all concerning the establishment of nation-wide government authorities and law-enforcement bodies. This was stressed, among other topics, during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting on September 23 with Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly session in New York during ministerial week. We said the same to Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Libya, who visited Moscow on September 9, and later to Ambassador al-Badri.
Regarding weapons deliveries, Russia strictly adheres to its obligations, like all members of the international community, arising from the relevant resolutions of the UNSC on Libya. Moreover, in contacts with our foreign partners we call on them to carefully weigh all the pros and cons when considering the possibility of lifting or softening the arms embargo on Libya, taking into account the specific features of the internal political situation in that country. We believe that the issues of providing Libyans with this sort of assistance and special military operations in Libya should be addressed with the utmost care and consideration so as not to damage the UN-led political process underway there.
That’s what one little article can do.
We are increasingly alarmed by the growing number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan due to regular mistaken US air strikes. Thirteen civilians were killed in yesterday’s anti-terror operation in the Nangarhar province.
Of particular concern is the September 19 incident in the Afghan province of Uruzgan, when US drones carried out two strikes at a unit of the Afghan national security forces, killing 8 and wounding over 20 Afghan policemen. In this context we cannot but recall the recent case of US air strikes on the Syrian army in Deir ez-Zor. Considering that they hit military and law enforcement in this or that country, there is always the urge to ask our Washington colleagues who they are working for.
It is noteworthy that the air strike was conducted in violation of the plan – previously agreed on by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry and commanders of the US contingent in that country – for an anti-terror operation against militants belonging to the Taliban Movement (TM), which, judging by the available information, never implied any air support from the USA. As a result, the operation failed and the Taliban unit managed to escape.
In Syria, people fighting ISIS were killed by mistake, and in Afghanistan people hunting down Taliban militants were killed by mistake. Seems like everything happens by mistake.
The US reaction to the accident is also very telling. Washington once again fell back on well-worn methods of distorting reality and claimed the killed police were rebel field commanders.
For our part, we strongly condemn the US Air Force strikes in Uruzgan and Nangarhar provinces. Of course, a thorough investigation should result in the punishment of those responsible. We convey our condolences to the victims’ families and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.
The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) has noted a decrease in the number of illegal migrants arriving from Turkey, but it would be premature to say that the European Union has completely overcome the migration crisis. The number of asylum seekers entering the EU in circumvention of routes known to Brussels continues to increase steadily and systematically, and this trend has not been rectified to date. In July alone, the European Union recorded over 117,000 asylum applications, with the total number of asylum applications received by EU member countries in the first seven months of 2016 exceeding 750,000.
A complicated situation is shaping up with the implementation of already adopted decisions to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and Italy. EU countries simply don’t have enough time to process incoming asylum applications. According to Eurostat, as of late June, there was a backlog of 1.1 million applications. The situation is aggravated by current disagreements between EU member-countries regarding efforts to rectify the situation.
As we understand, the migration crisis was at the focus of the September 24 Vienna conference involving heads of government from the concerned European countries, the President of the European Council and the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. The discussions centred on the Balkan route issues. We hope very much that this event will promote further mutual understanding between the concerned states and eventually improve the migration situation. At the same time, we have noted that a number of European human rights activists have a critical opinion of the Vienna conference’s results. In their opinion, the conference has formalised the priority of restrictive measures in migration issues and has virtually annulled the hospitality policy.
We assume that, while implementing measures to regulate migration flows, European states will unfailingly honour their international obligations with regard to the rights of migrants and refugees. It is also important to prevent an upsurge of intolerance, xenophobia and social tensions at a time when media outlets of various EU member-countries regularly report such incidents.
We believe that the main task today is to eliminate the root causes of the current migration problems, primarily by reaching a peace settlement in Syria and Libya. Russia advocates more active and better-coordinated efforts of the international community aiming to find political solutions to persisting conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and to combat international terrorism, primarily ISIS.
As we see it, our partners from the European Union could make their positive contribution to assisting efforts in this area.
I will state once again that Russia deeply regrets the poor quality of criminal investigation of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 crash in Ukraine in 2014 and the fact that it is politically motivated, which became absolutely obvious after the yesterday’s report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).
The JIT made absolutely groundless and unsubstantiated statements implying that the military equipment that downed the plane had crossed the Russian border. There were many dramatic words and vivid images, links to photo and video footage from the internet, images from US satellites that had never been released, and completely vague intelligence data from Ukraine (another reason to question Ukraine’s involvement in the investigation). The report put particular emphasis on unintelligible recordings of intercepted phone conversations, allegedly between the Donbass militia members, which JIT dramatically presented as unquestionable evidence of the DPR self-defence forces’ involvement in the crime.
Competent Russian experts scrutinised one of such recordings, which was posted on YouTube. A professional examination established that it was a hundred percent fabricated recording. The recording was broken down into several fragments and unrelated comments were inserted, which makes it impossible to establish the location and timing of the conversations. Therefore, it is impossible to confirm their authenticity. I don’t understand how someone can draw any conclusions without the most important source data.
Despite our expectations, once again, we did not hear anything specific and based on facts. What we saw was another storm of dramatic statements pretty much meaning “we have all the evidence but we will never show it to you and you can find everything online.” It seems that such statements have become a good tradition.
We are not losing hope and again demand that our counterparts look into facts and begin working with trustworthy information and, of course rationalise it. As before, Russia is willing to provide any assistance in the investigation.
The vandalism targeting Soviet WWII memorial sites continues in Poland.
The monument at the burial of Red Army soldiers in Makow Mazowiecki (Masovian Voivodeship) was desecrated for the second time in the past two months. The monument to the fallen Red Army soldiers near Sobotka (Lower Silesian Voivodeship) was also defaced. Notably, the memorial was recently renovated by the “Kursk” Polish public organisation.
I get the impression that Warsaw officials are no longer able to control what is happening on the ground. However, it is important to understand that all that is happening, the war against monuments and “ideologically inconvenient” memorial sites, is to a large extent instigated by the authorities. We qualify disregard for our legitimate requests to stop the spree of vandalism as a proof of the Polish officials’ intention to persistently build up tensions in our bilateral relations.
We demand that the original appearance of both memorials be restored, the vandals be found and penalised, and that the officials take thorough measures to prevent similar incidents from now forth.
Russia and Poland have a complicated history. There were many good and bad chapters. We admitted to any wrongdoing and really hoped we could move on.
On September 22, Mudanjiang, China, hosted an unveiling ceremony of the monument to Soviet soldiers from the 190th Rifle Division. This solemn event has become the highlight of the Memory Watch (China 2015), a Russian-Chinese joint project to commemorate Soviet soldiers who fell in China.
The Memory Watch project helped us recover the names of Soviet soldiers who fell in combat in the Far East during the Second World War. Here are their names: Sergeant Timofei Melekhin, Red Army soldiers Mikhail Petrenko and Maidar Smagul, Lance Bombardier Grigory Solomenko, Junior Sergeant Ivan Gritsayenko, Red Army soldiers Nikolay Slatenev and Nikolay Faleyev and Captain Mikhail Sukhikh. The recovered remains were buried with military honours, as these heroes deserve.
We provide the names of the heroes so that no one, neither the current nor succeeding generations, forgets the price that was paid for ensuring a free future for Russia and China. A monument was erected to honour the heroes, and work to decorate the mass grave was completed.
It should be noted that our Chinese partners have been devoting a lot of attention to preserving and maintaining Soviet memorials, without sparing funding or other resources. We would like to thank them for their efforts.
Question: What is the future of the Russia-US agreements on Syria? When will the Russia-US consultations resume in Geneva? Are there any discussions going on right now about a possible meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State?
Maria Zakharova: Again?
Question: Of course, they have to meet again in order to ease tensions.
Maria Zakharova: You do not need foreign ministers to meet in order to ease tensions; it is far better to avoid creating tensions in the first place. Let me share a secret with you: every day, late at night, I read messages online, horrified by the thought of discovering new hysterical rhetoric against Russia coming from US partners. Of course, the Pentagon and the White House have a leading role in this respect, and everybody else follows suit. The Department of State seems to be about to adopt a similarly “powerful” and harsh stance.
You can have as many meetings as you want, wasting physical and mental energy on devising agreements, and then leave, turn on the TV and see how the audience is submerged in inhuman statements that Russian troops will be sent home in body bags.
Maybe this is a tradition for the US, I don’t know. I used to work there, and every month or maybe every two or three weeks The New York Times would publish photographs of US soldiers killed during the Iraq campaign. That was an illegal and deceitful campaign. Those handsome young men, 25-27 years old, of different ethnic background and race, were lured into this war by their own government. Many went there under contracts, but many thought that they will be defending freedom and other people from weapons of mass destruction. But even despite the fact that this campaign was deceitful at its core, the US government treated the fallen service personnel with respect (this goes to say that they do understand that soldiers killed in combat should be treated with dignity, so they do know what dignity means). How can they say that Russian soldiers will be sent home in body bags? This is not just about creating tensions in bilateral relations, this is simply inhuman, which is a different story.
Why am I saying that this hurts people-to-people ties more than it affects state-to-state relations? The way they view us is unacceptable. I cannot image a normal response to this situation. It is simply impossible. Many things may change, but unfortunately the scars from such statements will remain forever in people’s hearts.
As for resuming the Geneva contacts, we did not stop them, we did not slam the door behind us or refuse to cooperate. I cannot say that meetings are in full swing, but we do exchange information and some contacts remain in place.
As for the future of the Russian-US agreements, we are ready to move along the path traced by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and the UN Security Council. It is a very important topic and a priority for us. Russia and the international community as a whole have put a lot of effort into this. We are ready. We have done a great deal. In fact, it was Russia who initiated the process that got underway one year ago. It was based on the Russian approach, whereby all interested countries, all actors with influence over various parties sat down at the negotiation table, gave up, at least for some time, on the precondition that Bashar al-Assad should leave (I say “for some time” because we understand, that no one will forget about it) and started searching for a way out of the crisis. And the approach started to yield results. In early 2016, two tracks were launched: indirect political negotiations between the opposition and Damascus and counter-terrorist cooperation aimed at promoting joint actions by ISSG co-chairs, Russia and the US. For that, we needed to develop a legal framework, and you are now able to examine it. But then, all of a sudden, the international coalition started to bomb the Syrian army, and blocked all progress in the separation of opposition forces from Jabhat al-Nusra, followed by the recent statements.
Question: How would you comment on Bulgaria’s nomination of another candidate for the post of UN Secretary-General?
Maria Zakharova: I would like to emphasise that we have nothing to do with Bulgaria’s decision to replace its candidate. This is a decision of the Bulgarian leadership. We hope very much that it is sovereign. In any event, you should ask the Bulgarian leadership to specify its motives.
As soon as various leaks and insinuations concerning Russia’s involvement in Bulgaria’s decision to replace its candidate were made, we immediately and absolutely clearly set forth our stance and said that we are not involved in such backstage or any other games. This should be clearly understood. I would very much like to ask you to take advantage of this opportunity and to inform the Bulgarian people that Russia has nothing to do with this. Although there was a great desire to involve us in the process, at least in the media coverage, and to make us responsible. I repeat, this has nothing to do with us.
Question: How will Russia vote?
Maria Zakharova: This is a very interesting question. Time will show. As you know, work is underway, and senior Foreign Ministry officials are meeting with the candidates. We have stated our views on the Eastern European candidate. All contacts with the candidates are open. After that, we publish the relevant report that these contacts have taken place. This is international practice. When candidates to such a high post request a meeting, their requests are not turned down. We report all contacts. Voting is a process.
Question: What do you think about statements that a woman from Eastern Europe should assume this post?
Maria Zakharova: I believe our stance is very clear: we need a professional. This is the most important thing. Professionalism is the pillar of any challenging and responsible work.
Question: How would the Foreign Ministry comment on the demarche of the Russian Embassy in Bucharest? I am talking about the decision to donate money to the campaign to raise funds for buying the sculpture Wisdom of the Earth and also a film posted on social networks. The Romanian Foreign Ministry has already summoned the Russian Ambassador and voiced dismay about posting this video clip.
Maria Zakharova: Our Embassy comments on this issue. I have nothing else to add to the comment. The Russian representative in Romania has set forth our position in great detail.
Question: A crew from the St Petersburg Life’78 TV channel has been denied entry to Estonia and is stranded at the border. They were headed for Tallinn at the invitation of the city hall and had all the required documents. The Russian journalists on the bus were to cover the cultural programme of St Petersburg Days in Estonia. The TV employees were ordered to get off the bus at the border, while the rest continued on their way to Tallinn. The Life’78 crew was kept at the border for two hours, after which they got their passports back with their visas cancelled. They are now on their way back home. Can you explain this selective approach? What is the reason behind this? All the documents were issued properly, and the Estonian authorities provided an official who accompanied the journalists at the checkpoint, but this did not help them.
Maria Zakharova: The question about the selective approach should be addressed to those who have applied it to our journalists. I would like to add that, according to our information, not only the Life’78 crew but also journalists from NTV were denied entry to Estonia. We will certainly investigate this problem and will provide assistance to our journalists, if necessary. I would like to speak about the history of this problem, though, because we have a great deal to say on this issue now.
You do not know that last May the Russian Foreign Ministry sent an official letter to the EU Delegation to Russia to request information on the EU rules for the accreditation and stay of foreign journalists. We had to do this because cases similar to that on the Estonian border happened to several Russian TV crews or groups of Russian journalists every month or even more frequently. Journalists who had entry visas and were entering an EU country on an invitation or to attend an event to publish a press release were stopped at the border or after entering the said country, and were sent back to Russia without explaining the reason for this or on a far-fetched pretext, such as incorrectly issued documents or a discrepancy between documents and visas.
You know that by entering a Schengen country you can freely travel all over the Schengen zone, moving from one country to another. Where can journalists learn which documents they should provide and which accreditation system they should comply with to enter and move around the Schengen zone? We received a great deal of requests from the Russian media asking us to do something, to analyse the problem and, most importantly, to request reliable information from the EU regarding the requirements for Russian journalists. This looked simple. But what happened next was very unusual. We wanted to distribute the information we would receive among Russian journalists or make it public, so that there would be no more questions or any suspicion of political reasons for preventing Russian journalists from entering the EU countries.
First the EU Delegation told us that they have lost the Foreign Ministry’s letter.
Question: What do you mean lost?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, lost. The answer surprised us, too. But we eventually received an answer, more than two months later. We know because such letters are registered by date and are assigned a number. According to the answer, rules for the accreditation and stay of foreign journalists differ from country to country, and that the EU Delegation would notify the EU member states about our request and believe that we would be issued the required information.
This was happening while international organisations such as the OSCE were criticising Russia for allegedly hindering the entry of foreign journalists to its territory. Most interestingly, we were told that we have the wrong system of accreditation, visa and visa support for foreign journalists, that it does not correspond to the accepted standard, is non-transparent, and so on and so forth. I can tell you that this system has been in place for decades: it was created in the early 1990s and has not been changed since then. The most important thing is that these rules are available online on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Any journalist wishing to enter Russia for a short or long period can go online to read them – these rules are not a simple instruction but part of the Russian legislation – in order to get proper documents. Unfortunately, although we started exchanging letters with the EU Delegation to Russia last May, we have not received the requested information to this day.
Frankly, what happened on the Estonian border makes us wonder if the EU legislation on journalists should be standardised, so that the EU countries’ rules correlate with each other, and so that the requirements for the accreditation, entry and exit of journalists are based on common and clear rules. This is very important for an association that has common regulations on the import of chewing gum, chocolate and poultry. Furthermore, these rules should be transparent. We would be glad if the EU Delegation posted this information on its website, for example, the unified requirements for Russian journalists who plan to enter the EU, or the individual requirements of each member country. We would know then whether Russian journalists violate European legislation, or whether refusal to let them enter the EU is politically motivated. We would know then which countries are biased against Russian journalists, whether Brussels is biased against them in general, and what the EU bureaucracy can do to convince these countries to revise their bias. These rules of the game must be clear, because being a foreign journalist in the EU is very difficult when there are no clear rules, which should be published somewhere.
Question: US-led Western countries are accusing Damascus of using chemical weapons. They are trying to railroad anti-Syrian sanctions through the UN Security Council. It was recently reported that militants are preparing to use chemical weapons in Aleppo. Do Russia and Western countries cooperate on the use of chemical weapons or the prevention of their use?
Maria Zakharova: We raise this issue during bilateral contacts with our Western colleagues. We discuss incidents involving the use of chemical weapons by terrorists and militants.
Speaking of cooperation, we believe that it should take place on a platform using the mechanisms of the appropriate UN family organisations. There are specialised organisations where this issue should be discussed and where specific decisions should be made. We have done everything possible to make sure that the UN Security Council would monitor this issue. Unfortunately, our Western colleagues did not share our concern in full measure. You are absolutely right: Damascus alone is being attacked, and some attacks are absolutely groundless. At the same time, they refuse to see that militants have been using chemical weapons not only in Syria, and that chemical weapons continue to spread further and further. As we understand, for some reason, our Western colleagues are very anxious about honouring the interests of many so-called moderate groups.
Question: Several days ago, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan raised the issue of Syria in one of his speeches and said Armenia’s possible involvement in a humanitarian operation in Syria was currently being discussed. Is it possible that the international humanitarian operation will continue in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: This issue is being discussed with UN representatives. This issue involves the UN, and not so much the Russian Federation, and, of course, it involves the UN’s cooperation with specific countries, as regards their possible contribution to the appropriate activities.
Question: What further actions will Russia take in connection with the current situation concerning the investigation of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash in Ukraine? What will Russia do if it or pro-Russian forces are found guilty of perpetrating this disaster?
Maria Zakharova: This sounds rather interesting! Even the way this question is worded means that public opinion has already been formed. Public opinion is solidifying. Your question serves as direct evidence of the fact that, for two years, much afford went into forming public opinion, rather than searching for evidence, facts and data. Despite the lack of a decision and any visual materials, you are asking what we will do when we are found guilty. Do you understand what this is all about? This is fantasy, but it is the year 2016!
What will we do? I believe that we have accomplished a lot. All Russian representatives who could provide information, one way or another, about what had happened, have done a tremendous amount of work. The Almaz-Antey Concern alone has almost accomplished the impossible. They have conducted experiments, compiled surveys, and studied materials and recordings. We will continue to submit factual materials, and we will work with evidence being submitted by the Joint Investigation Team. We will examine evidence, trying to find what can really be used as evidence, rather than as simply elements of propaganda.
Question: There has been discussion about toughening sanctions against North Korea, including a total ban on trade with the country and possible penalties for companies conducting business with North Korea. Can you comment on Russia’s stance on the sanctions? Is Moscow ready to uphold tougher sanctions?
Maria Zakharova: Any issues related to additional sanctions against North Korea are within the competence of the UN Security Council, not an individual country. The council is now discussing the possibility. We condemned Pyongyang’s actions that violated UN Security Council resolutions and said that those actions certainly required an international response. We expect constructive cooperation with the UN Security Council on this matter. We also said that the measures the UN Security Council is taking, and in general, the essence of UN efforts is to solve the problem and not just to take steps that benefit one group of countries to the detriment of other countries. Therefore, the decisions the UN Security Council is working on must be commensurate and serve the set goal. This is our understanding. I cannot give you any more details about our communication with regard to these decisions.
Question: Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov announced that Vladimir Putin may visit Turkey as soon as this October. How is the Foreign Ministry preparing for this trip?
Maria Zakharova: We cannot comment on the preparation and possibility of the Russian President’s visits as well as dates of when his international contacts take place. It is a responsibility of the President’s Executive Office and Press Service. We only answer questions on the Foreign Ministry’s activity.
Definitely, our countries are in the process of restoring relations and re-establishing contacts between the foreign ministries and embassies. But, as you may expect, this will be my only comment at the moment.
Question: Unfortunately, we are hearing an increasing number of inappropriate statements, including from the top-level tribunes such as the UN. Last week, US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power said that “what Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism.” Are these statements links in a chain, or is each side trying to make a name for itself?
Maria Zakharova: Of course, these are links in a chain, interconnected statements which can be explained by the same reason that I already mentioned. The Americans did not fulfil their obligation to separate Jabhat al-Nusra from the moderate opposition, and this is why the process is stalled. Therefore, they had to somehow deflect the blow and shift the focus to looking for the guilty. The election race kicking into gear in the US is another reason. For many years, we have repeatedly stated that, unfortunately, every time the entire world is dragged into the election debates against its own will. The tension is whipped up (there is simply no other explanation) so that candidates could base their argument on the current agenda, which is deliberately aggravated. This whole media campaign and these statements are part of the election race. I said that before.
It is all very sad not only because these statements are rude and at variance with the facts but also because we are wasting time and this undermines the international community’s efforts of the past year to find common ground. Even if our positions have not become closer, at least the antagonism has been put on the back burner. A very important process has been launched. Now everything is put at risk.
Question: The United States plans to toughen sanctions against Russia again, this time over Syria. Is this a kind of pressure? What does Russia have to do with Syria?
Maria Zakharova: You ask why sanctions are imposed on Russia over Syria and what Russia has to do with Syria. There is no explanation. The move is designed for ordinary people who do not follow developments. They are led to believe that Russia is evil, and, as our colleagues in the journalistic community have said, it will be blamed for the Malaysian Boeing tragedy soon. And so it should be also blamed for the situation in Syria. Those who monitor the developments will tell you that this is complete nonsense, because all of Russia’s actions are aimed at finding a solution in Syria. It’s another matter that Russia’s approach to settlement differs from what many Western and regional countries consider as a solution for Syria.
It is true that our approaches differ. They see only one solution – to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and then see what can be done to reunite the country. They may be comfortable with this logic, but it is unacceptable to us for a very simple reason: it has not been successful in any of the regional countries. There are no successful examples, not even illegal ones, where the implementation of this logic created a comfortable life for the people. Everyone is now trying to rebuild life out of debris in Libya and find a solution in Yemen, and many other countries hung in the balance, too. This is not to mention Iraq, which has been an open wound for over a decade, and the situation is only getting worse. I do not need to tell you about the developments on the Turkish border or terrorist attacks around Europe.
We have a different approach. We said that if Syria has internal problems that have developed into international issues, we are ready to help settle them without destroying the constitutional system but based on law and respect for the legitimate government. We are ready to promote political reform and political process there and also to fight against terrorism jointly. This is our approach.
The trouble is that when they did not get what they wanted, when they failed to drag Russia on board their ship that is rapidly taking in water, they launched an information campaign, which the United States sees as part of the global campaign to isolate Russia. As far as we can see, the current US administration has not abandoned these plans. They are grasping at any opportunity to add new sanctions to the picture.
Question: What did you mean when you tweeted from the United States that you were walking? This looks like the first case in UN history when high-ranking officials – ministers and other delegation members – went somewhere on foot. Was this due to mismanagement? And what do you think about the weather in America?
Maria Zakharova: As you see, it is quite hot there. Judging by the recent statements, there must be something wrong with the weather.
It is true that traffic was restricted in the city. This is always done for UN General Assembly sessions, when Manhattan is closed to traffic. But many delegations, including those that are led by the heads of state, can move around comfortably thanks to a smart organisation of transit. I must say that the organisation of traffic regulation is beyond reproach there. But there is one exception to the rules – the motorcade of the US President. It is worth watching the videos on the internet. It is something out of this world. I never thought one could move around one’s own country in such an exalted manner and with so many bodyguards. Traffic is blocked completely and for a long time. But why wait in a traffic jam when you can walk to the UN building? This is exactly what we did.
Question: Today Polish media published the text of Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz's remarks in Washington. He said a lot, including that Moscow is supporting Islamic terrorists to destabilise the West. He claimed that much more proof has emerged that the Russian version of the presidential plane crash near Smolensk is untrue. Moreover, he urged everyone to think about the notion that the Smolensk disaster was an element of a longer process spanning the war in Georgia and what he called the intervention in Ukraine.
Maria Zakharova: My international journalistic education does not qualify me to comment on subjects like this. Honestly, I mostly paid attention to Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz’s claim that Moscow is supporting terrorists. The rest we knew before. To be honest, it’s a clinical case. What specifically did he mean in saying that Moscow is supporting terrorists?
Question: He said that Russia is supporting and creating radical Islamic terrorism.
Maria Zakharova: Could he at least say where? In what region of the world have we done that? It’s useless to listen to the rest after these statements. It's impossible even to imagine what he might have been referring to. Where did Russia ever support Islamic terrorists? In this case I have no words, because it’s mind-boggling how anyone could refer to such a thing as Russian support for international terrorism. I can only convey my condolences that people like him hold such important positions in such a wonderful country as Poland.
Question: In your interview with the Russia-Greece 2016 website, you said that there is a trend towards Russian-Turkish interaction on Syria becoming constructive: dialogue has been resumed, an exchange of views and information is under way, and cooperation is possible when necessary. Could you specify what cooperation is meant?
Maria Zakharova: The interview was not the only place where I talked about this. In fact, mechanisms existing between Moscow and Ankara and opportunities for dialogue are being revived. Discussion of the Syrian crisis and the fight against terrorism is entering a normal stage, where no one is trading accusations, but seeks to be constructive about dealing with issues that we may see differently. Being “constructive” isn’t about being accommodating, or renouncing one’s position, or submitting to someone else’s will. Being “constructive” means finding arguments, solutions and compromises with an understanding that both Russia and Turkey have their own national interests. Being “constructive” is about hearing each other and being intent on solving problems.
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