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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, February 15, 2017

15 February 201716:34

Visit by UN Secretary General Special’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to Russia

On February 16, Moscow will host talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. The meeting will be held in the run-up to the inter-Syrian talks scheduled to convene in Geneva on February 23 under UN auspices. Mr Lavrov and Mr de Mistura will exchange views on the full range of issues related to the Syria settlement, including progress in the so-called Astana process launched by Russia, Turkey and Iran to facilitate talks between the Syrian Government and the Syrian armed opposition.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov will hold a separate meeting with the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

In its contacts with the UN Envoy, Russia will focus on ensuring that the February 23 inter-Syrian talks in Geneva under UN auspices strictly comply with the parameters set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which provides for inclusive and equal participation of various segments of the Syrian opposition. We believe this to be the only way to achieve progress in settling the crisis in Syria and reaching agreements reflecting the interests of all segments of the Syrian population.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend G20 foreign ministers’ meeting

On February 16-17, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Bonn, Germany. The meeting will be held as part of Germany’s G20 Presidency in 2017.

The general subject of the meeting chosen by its hosts will be ‘Foreign Policy Beyond Crisis Settlement.’ The conversation is expected to focus on foreign policy goals regarding global governance, taking into account UN’s role, especially UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, conflict prevention and implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as cooperation with Africa.

What this means is that the G20 countries are becoming increasingly active in their foreign policy efforts not only when it comes to settling crises, but also working together to come up with solutions to global challenges in the long run. Russia shares these global priorities and supports efforts to find coordinated approaches to dealing with the root causes of crises the world is facing today, as well as devising lasting solutions to political and economic issues.

The upcoming meeting and its topic are consistent with the trend of opening up the G20 agenda to issues at the confluence of politics and economics. Apart from the financial and economic block, which remains at the core of the G20 agenda, there is growing attention in this forum to issues like countering financing of terrorism, fighting corruption, resolving the refugee crisis, international information security, promoting development, and fighting climate change. Taking all this into account, the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting appears to be quite relevant.

Overall, Russia has a positive view of the priorities put forward by the German Presidency in this forum in all areas of cooperation. There is certain continuity with the Chinese Presidency, especially on issues like the digital economy, innovations and the 2030 Agenda.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that apart from the UN, the G20 has become an essential platform for coordinating the positions of the leading states. Russia believes that this format could be used to achieve progress in key areas such as ensuring sustainable economic growth, coordinating approaches to structural macroeconomic reforms, stimulating investment, strengthening multilateral trade and making it more open.

Russia is committed to remaining proactive in this area. Specifically, Russia is preparing to take part in a number of ministerial meetings, as well as the Leaders’ Summit, the highlight of Germany’s G20 Presidency, scheduled to take place on July 7-8, 2017 in Hamburg.

Events on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting and the Munich Security Conference

Many bilateral meetings and contacts between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterparts are planned on the sidelines of the events. I am prepared to comment on them today.

On February 16, Foreign Minister Lavrov will meet with Foreign Minister of Germany Sigmar Gabriel, in Bonn. We are working on arrangements for a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is a possibility of a meeting with our Chinese counterparts. Arrangements are being made for a meeting with the foreign ministers of Brazil and South Africa. These are the meetings I can confirm at the moment. More meetings are possible considering that the forum will be attended by foreign ministers of twenty countries. We will keep you informed about additional contacts and, of course, their results. We are currently planning meetings for February 17 with the foreign ministers of Italy and Japan on the sidelines of the forum. Once again, more meetings are possible.

Also, during the Munich Security Conference, a significant number of bilateral and multilateral meetings are expected. On February 17, Foreign Minister Lavrov will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif.

On February 18, bilateral contacts in Munich will continue. Minister Lavrov will participate in a traditional meeting with representatives of the Russian and German business communities. A meeting is planned with President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Foreign Minister of Croatia Davor Ivo Stier, Foreign Minister of South Korea Yun Byung-se, Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu, Foreign Minister of Slovakia Miroslav Lajcak, and Foreign Minister of France Jean-Marc Ayrault. Also for February 18, a meeting in the Normandy format is being organised. There is a possibility of it happening. We will be able to confirm the date and exact time later. Contacts with Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, are planned for the same day. We are bringing together a meeting with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, and several other meetings.

Let me point out again that these are the meetings we are still working on and the schedule may change. We will keep you informed.

Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Alpha Barry, Burkina Faso's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Burkinabe Abroad

On February 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Alpha Barry, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Burkinabe Abroad, who will be in Moscow on a working visit on February 19-20.

February 18 will mark 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Burkina Faso. During this time, the traditions of friendship and mutual understanding in Russian-Burkinabe relations have grown stronger. The two countries have maintained an active dialogue and there are prospects for advancing mutually beneficial cooperation in the trade, economic, and humanitarian areas, among others.

The ministers will discuss regional and international issues, including the situation in Africa’s hot spots, as well as ways to deepen bilateral ties in various spheres. 

Internationally, the Russia-Burkina Faso relationship is based on a harmonious approach to such urgent critical issues as strengthening the UN’s role in the world affairs, the fight against terrorism and extremism, and political settlement of regional crises.

We are thankful to our partners for supporting Russian candidates to UN bodies, and co-authoring a number of important resolutions that Russia has introduced to the UN General Assembly including the resolution on combatting glorification of Nazism.

Trade and economic ties are developing. Bilateral trade is still low but has been growing. According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, trade was $5.57 million in the first 11 months of 2016 as compared to $1.958 million in 2015.

Moscow expects to pursue meaningful cooperation with Burkina Faso to develop trade and economic potential, and strengthen the legal basis of bilateral relations. We will continue to provide practical assistance to the country in the humanitarian sphere, in particular, by educating Burkinabe students at Russian universities.

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Sweden Margot Wallstrom

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Sweden Margot Wallstrom will be held on February 21.

Plans are in place to discuss Russia-Sweden relations and cooperation in multilateral regional associations in Northern Europe and the Arctic, as well as to exchange views on current international issues and activities of the UN Security Council in which Sweden started its two-year membership on January 1.

We will provide more information on the agenda of the talks and the dynamics of bilateral relations as we get closer to the talks. All materials will be posted on the Ministry’s official website.

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Edward Nalbandian

Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Edward Nalbandian will come to Moscow on an official visit on February 21−22 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The visit is part of the intensive Russian-Armenian dialogue aimed to promote allied cooperation in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres.

The talks will focus on bilateral issues and a number of important foreign policy issues, including the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. The participants will focus on interaction within common integration associations and other international organisations.

Meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi will visit Russia on February 21−22. This will be Mr Grandi’s first visit to Russia as head of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Filippo Grandi is a recognised professional with vast experience in the sphere of humanitarian and refugee issues. He also participated in providing humanitarian relief to areas of major conflicts of the last decades.

On February 22, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Mr Grandi to discuss migration issues and prospects for cooperation between the UNHCR and Russia. Grandi will also meet with the officials of the Interior Ministry and other federal executive bodies.

Russia considers providing assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons as one of its priorities in the humanitarian sphere. In this connection, Russia advocates continued multilateral cooperation with the UNHCR designed to enhance its efficiency within the existing mandate based on the principles of neutrality, humanity, independence and impartiality.

UN Security Council to consider North Korea’s recent missile launch

On February 13, the UN Security Council issued a press release strongly condemning Pyongyang's missile tests held on February 12, 2017 and October 19, 2016. As you may be aware, the Foreign Ministry promptly posted its response on its official website. The UNSC statement points out that such launches, designed to develop nuclear weapon delivery systems, constitute a flagrant violation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and increase tensions in the region. The statement also expresses the Security Council's concern that North Korea uses its resources to stage provocative military actions at a time when its people continue to suffer from unmet basic needs.

The UN Security Council members note the importance of preserving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia at large, and promoting a peaceful and comprehensive solution to the region’s issues.

The situation in Syria

The ceasefire regime in Syria introduced December 30, 2016, is being observed. Its zone continues to expand with units of the Southern Front armed opposition joining the ceasefire. The ceasefire is guaranteed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, with Jordan making a substantial contribution to it.

The fight continues against ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorists. The Syrian Army and militia units, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces, are methodically pushing terrorist elements out of the country. About 1,400 square kilometres of territory have been liberated since January 1, 2017. It became possible to force ISIS terrorists out of a fortified outpost in the village of Tadef near the city of al-Bab, to establish a bridgehead near the city and to gain control of the Raqqa−al-Bab motorway. Over 650 terrorists were eliminated in Tadef, and a route for supplying ISIS with reinforcements, equipment and financial assistance was cut off.

Government forces continue to advance on Palmyra. The Russian Defence Ministry has published drone footage showing the barbaric destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites by ISIS militants in this city. Unfortunately, it is already clear that little remains of these ancient architectural and cultural landmarks. The terrorists have razed the façade of an ancient Roman amphitheatre, as well as Tetrapylon columns, to the ground. They are also highly likely to blow up the remnants of the historical architectural complex and nearby residential areas. The jihadists have shelled the Homs refinery with mortars, and they also set fire to natural gas fields while retreating.

As you know, Astana will host the second international meeting on Syria over the next few days. The Russian delegation that has already arrived in the capital of Kazakhstan will hold working consultations today. We hope that the upcoming meeting in the capital of Kazakhstan will provide an additional boost to the inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue under UN auspices in Geneva. Hopefully, it will become possible to resume this dialogue on February 20.

Against this backdrop, we note the attempts to aggravate the intra-Syrian conflict still further and to exacerbate contradictions between the warring parties. This is the only way to interpret the media leaks by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Atlantic Council of the United States, via CNN, about the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in Aleppo, mass executions at Sednaya military prison near Damascus, and the methodical destruction of Syrian socioeconomic infrastructure by the Russian Aerospace Forces. The evidence backing up these so-called “sensations” leaves a lot to be desired, but, as we can see, their authors don’t seem to care. Their purpose is to torpedo any chance for launching a political peace settlement that has appeared largely through Russian efforts and to thwart emerging prospects for broad, equitable and mutually respectful international cooperation in the interests of eradicating a terrorist hotbed in the Middle East and stabilising the region.

Media response to the United States using depleted uranium in Syria

Given how many sensationalistic stories are planted in the media, as I mentioned earlier, it’s fun to watch world media juggernauts and institutions dealing with freedom of speech get busy with creating websites to oppose the spread of “fake news,” which has become a widespread practice. On the one hand, they say it’s imperative to not just counter it, but to do all it takes to prevent the spread of "fake news," while they themselves engage in spreading precisely such news.

Against the background of this data, the information provided by the United States Central Command, whose operational responsibility includes, primarily, the Middle East, to the effect that the US Air Force used munitions with depleted uranium in air strikes on ISIS positions in Syria, came as a shock to many who did not believe us when we said so. As you may be aware, such a statement was made by an official representative on Tuesday when he spoke about the US air operations with the use of toxic substances which cause cancer and birth defects.

As you may recall, Russia has stated this more than once. Back in October 2016, citing independent experts, we presented such information and called on the public to pay attention to it. At that time, our American partners denied all the accusations against them. A couple of months later, these accusations were not merely confirmed, but confirmed by the United States itself. The only difference is that we provided this information a few months ago, when the previous team led by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was at the helm. Clearly, he was the one to give the go-ahead to using these weapons − any other scenario is unlikely, since such things must be approved at the highest level. I would like to say that the goal pursued by US officials was noble, that is to fight terrorists. But the point is that the traces of these weapons will remain in Syria forever. You can find out more about it if you read some professional literature. The number of missiles that were used is simply devastating. I would like to quote the same US official, who said that out of 1,790 missiles fired on November 16, 2016, 1,490 contained toxic materials, and 3,775 missiles of 4,530 fired on November 22, 2016 contained toxic materials. Thus, there were five rounds with depleted uranium for every conventional missile. Each operation involved four A-10 jet aircraft. You can look up these numbers.

I would like to remind you that earlier the United States, particularly the Pentagon, claimed that the United States has never used ammo with depleted uranium during the international anti-terrorist operation in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, in 2003, these munitions were used during the US invasion of Iraq. I reiterate, it is better to read up on this subject in specialised literature, make inquiries, perhaps, even with independent expert institutes, and ask the experts specialising in this area to provide their opinion. They will tell you what the use of weapons with depleted uranium is all about, and what its implications are for the lives and livelihoods of the local people.

I mentioned this with regard to fake news and the role of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s team in resolving international conflicts. Incidentally, people live in Syria. The scary thing is that the focus was on isolated cases which were clearly propaganda shams where individual Syrian citizens, unfortunately, were propelled to the status of international stars, and the information campaign regarding these people was used as a front to cover up what was really happening in that country.

Information campaign to glorify the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in Ukraine

On February 8, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory announced the launch of the information campaign, “The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists: A Response of the Unconquered People,” which aims to change the established historical assessments of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s activity in the minds of the Ukrainian people and the international community.

Such actions, ostensibly aimed at uniting the Ukrainian nation (such activities are always motivated by this), will only deepen social division. Such initiatives, supposedly proposed by civil society, take place against the background of what is happening in Donbass. The aim of this absolutely anti-Ukrainian campaign is obvious. As part of this Russophobia campaign, radical nationalists of all kinds try to do everything possible to destroy the common Russian-Ukrainian historical, cultural and civilisational space created over centuries. This is done in order to please all those who build their concepts of the primitive perception of Russia as an enemy of Ukraine.  This is a very simplistic concept, which is being embedded in the minds of Ukrainian citizens.

Moreover, Ukrainian fake historians try to convince everyone, perhaps including themselves, that the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought both the Nazi invaders and “the Soviet occupation regime.” All this takes pace against the background the recently disclosed archival documents about their collaboration with the Nazis, which caused a shock. These documents tell about their collaboration with the Nazis and with US secret services after the war (by the way, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army is referred to as ‘a terrorist organisation’ in CIA documents). Not mentioning the fact that such glorification and praising of some ‘national forces of resistance to the communist regime’ is a manifestation of outright disrespect for the exploits of a great number of Ukrainians, who fought in the Red Army, the partisan movement and behind the lines against the German Nazis and their collaborators, including various nationalists, to liberate Europe from fascism. Such things override the dominant challenge faced by Ukraine – uniting the nation. This, if we are talking about Ukraine, requires the peaceful and equal coexistence of people of different nationalities and beliefs. Such things divide an already divided country.

Fake news about Russia

Today I’d like to focus on the subject roiling the western world – another interesting story about “Kremlin hackers.” We saw media reports on Russia allegedly hacking the Italian Foreign Ministry and other Italian institutions last year. At the Italian media’s request, we made a comment without delay. Today I’d like to focus on this subject again because we have carried out an analysis of the situation and checked the information. I can say that Russia has not received any formal address from the Italian administration with a request to clarify the situation. Apparently, the Italian authorities themselves got this information from the media. This information requires appropriate expert verification. As we understand, Italy intends to do this.

Naturally, we did not see anything fundamentally new in how this information was put out there. This is not the first time that such absolutely unjustified charges were made against Russia. It has become standard practice and is persistently being implanted in people’s minds. The strategy is clear and the ways to implement it are also evident. We regularly comment on this subject and we will continue doing so. We certainly understand that this subject is being artificially boosted by the media, so as to frighten ordinary people with the “threat” allegedly posed by Russia. The irony of it is that all the dishonest practices of many western colleagues become common knowledge either some time later when facts are confirmed (for example, using toxic weapons that are destructive to human health), or when independent investigative reports are published. The media do not consider these things to be a threat. It does not matter that an entire region, a large country is contaminated as a result of using cancer-causing weapons. This is not a threat to peace and security, this is normal. It does not matter that it has been proved that intelligence agencies of a whole range of countries engage in bugging and shadowing other countries’ officials. This does not count either. As for mythical hacker stories being made up all over the world, that’s what is of interest. This is what creates a threat to peace and security in Europe and the West as a whole.

The issue of hacking attacks involves not only Italian agencies but France as well. As you know, the campaign headquarters of the French movement En Marche that has nominated presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has reported cyber-attacks on the campaign headquarters website and its database from servers in Russia. One gets the impression that Mr Macron is trying to one-up Hillary Clinton. This is a dubious path. Moreover, the movement’s leader Richard Ferrand has not missed a chance to accuse the Russian media of publishing daily “fake news” about their candidate Mr Macron. We have checked the news quoted by Mr Ferrand. It has nothing to do with the media outlets mentioned by him. In effect, Mr Ferrand himself has spread “fake news.” It may be paradoxical, but it’s a fact. According to Mr Ferrand, Mr Macron is being targeted because he advocates a strong Europe that would show its might, including with regard to Russia, while other candidates are voicing much friendlier positions towards Russia. Why do a strong Europe and a friendly position towards Russia seem mutually exclusive? When did Russia perceive a strong Europe as an enemy? Please read statements by Russian leaders over the past three years – a period marked by an obvious crisis in relations with Europe. In all his interviews here in Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discusses what we want, which is a strong and powerful Europe, and we want to cooperate with Europe as a strong partner. Are there any opposing opinions expressed in any speeches or interviews? You will not find them. Europe is our historical, geographic and natural partner. Instead of merely showing our respect for Europe, we have always voiced our desire to cooperate and work with it. We have seen how Europe’s attitude towards Russia has changed. I would like to stress that, quite possibly, Mr Ferrand does not know that it is Europe, rather than Russia, that has changed its attitude under US pressure. This is a proven fact. American representatives have openly said that it is only under US pressure that Europe had imposed sanctions against Russia. Our European colleagues have also openly told us so, and they continue to say this. Today, this is no talk but a virtual groan because incoming statistics convince those involved in foreign policy and international relations, and not just them, who the real victim of the policy of sanctions is. Of course, Europe, ordinary Europeans, farmers and representatives of small and medium-sized businesses are the main victims of the sanctions war. Please take a look at the statistics before drawing such conclusions.

I would like to once again note the paradox of people talking about the threat of spreading “fake news” when they don’t understand what they are talking about. They use wrong the names, confuse names and media outlets. This means that, to be honest, they are not the ones behind this, and that this process is being orchestrated by certain people behind the scenes. I cannot rule out this idealised approach, but when this approach is being implemented independently, information is being studied to some extent, and preparations are being made. It appears that certain instructions are being sent to various countries to use this methodology in a certain context. We see the same mistakes repeated. They not only repeat allegations of hackers and “fake news,” but copy the exact mistakes in different countries. One gets the impression that these instructions originated in the same place, and that they are being distributed all over. We have seen such approaches involving the distribution of materials in European countries at the height of the sanction wars when materials were distributed among representatives of major companies and businesses. Indeed, those materials were prepared in the same ideological centre. Quite possibly, history is now being repeated, and this process involves certain Russian hackers. I repeat, there are no data, no facts and no specific information. This entire propaganda campaign is absolutely groundless.

The US media reported the other day, while quoting their own sources, that Russian secret services or the Russian side have allegedly decided to extradite former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden to the United States as a gift for US President Donald Trump. This is not the first time that US media outlets quoted anonymous sources, and we have already commented on these issues. First, no one has asked the Russian side to confirm or deny this information prior to publication. Second, the Russian side has already commented on the absolute absurdity of these statements at various levels. How do you fight “fake news” when you are doing everything to create it?

Here is another paradoxical example of the alleged fight against “fake news” that directly concerns our Ministry. This involves ideas about the division of Macedonia which are being ascribed to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. As you know, we have published a denial and commented on this issue. Why am I mentioning all this as deliberately created and concocted “fake news,” rather than mistakes? You see, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to whom these absurd ideas are being ascribed, openly and publicly discussed the Balkan situation in his speech before members of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly. For example, he noted that certain political circles are discussing greater “federalisation” of Macedonia and the creation of a “flexible federation”, and maybe even a “confederation.” The Minister also noted that he had heard that ideas about dismembering the country, which is allegedly an artificial state, are being voiced.  The media obviously has access to the original Russian position on this issue. But, instead of seeking comment, they completely ignore the clear position that has already been set forth with respect to the news they concocted themselves.

To conclude this section, I would like to say that we will continue to comment on such cases individually and systematicallу. Quite soon, we will launch our own project on the official Foreign Ministry website where we will collect “fake news” from leading foreign media outlets and the statements of official representatives of various countries. We will expose them, publish original sources and data, and we will prove that the Russian side has already responded to the specific issues in question.  We will work on this.

The Lapshin case

At our previous briefings we received a lot of questions from different media outlets, as well as from the Russian and foreign public, asking us to comment on the situation around Russian citizen Alexander Lapshin. As you know, we have devoted considerable attention to this issue but since questions were asked, I’d like to bring you up to date.

Despite the fact that Russia’s position regarding the unacceptability of the extradition of Russian citizens to other countries was repeatedly made known to Minsk, on February 7, Mr Lapshin, a Russian and Israeli citizen who was apprehended in Belarus, was extradited to Azerbaijan.

On February 9, representatives of the Russian embassy in Azerbaijan visited Mr Lapshin at a pretrial detention centre in Baku. He made no complaints during the meeting with the Russian diplomats.

The embassy is in contact with law enforcement agencies, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, as well as with the Israeli embassy in that country. We are doing all we can within our purview to protect our citizen’s rights and are closely watching his case.

Mr Lapshin is receiving professional legal assistance pending trial.

We urge you not to use any unverified information as a basis for your stories. We will keep you informed about this situation. We’re willing to respond to your questions if there are any. It is better to run it by us than disseminate unverified information.

The Yeldanov case

We have received a large number of questions about Russian citizen Marat Yeldanov and there have been even more news stories reporting unverified information citing his relatives and close friends. As such, I’d like to set the record straight.

The investigation into Yeldanov’s case is ongoing following his arrest in Azerbaijan. He is still in the pretrial detention centre of the Azerbaijani State Security Service. According to the Russian embassy in Azerbaijan, the holding conditions meet European standards. His health is generally satisfactory. Considering a large number of publications on his health in the past 24 hours, we looked into the matter further and I’d like to tell you that, in contrast to what was reported, our citizen is receiving medical care as needed and he has also taken a course of treatment as required. We have ample material to confirm that. Mr Yeldanov has a state defence lawyer he chose during a preliminary inquiry.

Contact with the Azerbaijani authorities on the Yeldanov case is maintained at different levels. The embassy in Baku has been directed to keep a close eye on the Yeldanov case and immediately report any new developments.

It was also incorrectly reported (even though we informed you beforehand) that the Russian citizen has not been visited by representatives of the embassy or the consular service in Azerbaijan. This is not true. Mr Yeldanov was visited twice (July 28 and December 16, 2016). The last meeting lasted two hours. A new visit is pending.

Given the sensitivity of this issue, we urge you to request corresponding comment from us before publishing your stories so as to avoid spreading inaccurate information.

Six-party consultations on Afghanistan

Today, February 15, regional consultations on Afghanistan are taking place in Moscow with the participation of senior officials from Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India. We will duly inform you about the results of this meeting

Answers to media questions:

Question: If I understand correctly, a meeting of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with his Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference is not on the list.  Is a meeting in this format possible in the near future?

A referendum on introducing amendments to the Constitution is planned in Nagorno-Karabakh on February 20. The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan has already called this move on occupied territory illegal.  It is also known that the referendum will be held without the OSCE Minsk Group’s approval. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess the forthcoming event?

Maria Zakharova: Responding to the first question, I can say that I have no information about a meeting of the Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers in the near future. If I have such information I will certainly share it with you.

As for the second question, Nagorno-Karabakh issues will be discussed in the near future during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with his Armenian counterpart.  I can say that contacts with Azerbaijani officials at the appropriate level are planned in the medium term. Naturally, the subject of Nagorno-Karabakh will also be discussed there. We will give you more information on this score later. I will look into the matter further.

Question: What is your response to the latest statement of the White House that Donald Trump’s Administration expects Russia to return Crimea?

Maria Zakharova: We do not return our territories. Crimea is Russian territory.

Question: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has proposed providing 700 million pounds from the national budget to support [British] allies in countering Russia, including with soft power. Do you believe this can help expand the UK’s influence in the world and how will it affect relations with Russia?

Syrian opposition representative Qadri Jamil has denied reports that United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has sent invitations for intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. How will the Geneva talks be affected by the absence of certain forces or parties from the coalition?

Maria Zakharova: On the first question, following his statement, another characteristic will be added to all of Mr Johnson’s lofty epithets: generosity. At this point, I have nothing more to say on the issue. I will definitely look into it and may make a more detailed comment next time.

As for the sending of invitations to representatives of the Syrian opposition to the Geneva meeting, this is within the UN’s purview. Questions about who should be sent invitations to and when and whether replies have come from those who received these invitations, should be addressed to the UN. There is a UN information centre in Moscow. I believe they will be able to answer this question.

Naturally, the more widely the Syrian opposition is represented at the talks, the more effective they will be, because their main goal, which can be achieved only through broad representation (this is regarding the question about the importance of this representation, the comprehensive scope and inclusiveness of the processes related to the talks between the government and the opposition), is to achieve a broad consensus, which will not be later denied but, on the contrary, supported.

Question: Over the weekend, several British media outlets ran stories accusing the Sputnik news agency of spreading fake news stories. What is the Foreign Ministry’s position on the issue?

Maria Zakharova: This is what we have been talking about, and it’s a trend. Unfortunately, in recent years, the world media have been working in a style that used to be known as mainstream but today it is simply about running information campaigns, following set trends. “Russian hackers” are a trend and now “fake news” is a trend. Today we looked at several examples, one of them being the use of toxic agents by the US military against Syria. This information was reported, among others, by the Russian media, and it was also dismissed as fake and misleading.

Regarding the situation that you mentioned, we took note of the latest attack against the Russian media in the UK. Unfortunately, that country is ceasing to be media friendly, and this is plain to see. It is more and more difficult for media outlets from different countries to work in the UK. This is a fact. It is also obvious that official agencies and those who are supposed to represent civil society in the UK take a politicised approach to media, journalists and correspondents. That is also hard to deny. It would be hard not to notice such a coordinated salvo of propaganda clichés against the Sputnik agency from a number of leading British media outlets. It seems that they do not even quite understand how obvious it is. People who are involved in information technology and information in general see all this. They keep an eye on it and note how an information campaign is launched. This time it was joined by the BBC, The Independent, The Times and The Sunday Times, which, by citing officials who are biased against Russia, such as Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu and other veterans of the propaganda war against Russia, conferred all sorts of epithets on Sputnik. For example, the “Kremlin’s Soviet-style disinformation machine.” They cited NATO experts who have counted a whole 124 “post-truth” stories reported by Sputnik on its newswire and blogs.

With regard to fake news, I’d like to give you a simple example. Why is it necessary to fight us all the time? There is a website, Buzzfeed, which has published a story alleging that there is some compromising material against US President Trump. That story cited Russian representatives, in particular Foreign Ministry officials, who at that time or until recently worked in the Russian Embassy in Washington. We published a denial. Do you think Buzzfeed noted it and apologised or ran a follow-up story? No! This is regarding Sputnik’s 124 fake news stories. For all my respect for these instances and the agency in general, the information damage that Buzzfeed has caused, in particular, to concrete people, who had no idea about such allegations made against them, is enormous. This report has made the rounds of the world and it was published by a media outlet, or at least this is what Buzzfeed calls itself. To reiterate, even though we directly addressed it, no retractions or additional materials were published. Is this normal? Who is fighting whom? What fake news? You fabricate it yourselves and then make up some nonsense about the Russian media.

The situation was further dramatised by a comment made by UK National Cyber Security Centre chief Ciaran Martin, who said that there had been a “step change” in Russia’s online aggression against the West as well as more attacks on “soft targets” such as local councils and charities. The feeling is that they will spook the public to such an extent that people will be afraid of turning on the lights at home because electrical wires can also carry a threat from Russian hackers.

What is the point of scaring people, telling them about some demonic force that Russian reporters and hackers are a part of? This is creating a kind of conglomerate, an infernal machine that combines propaganda and attempts to undermine information security. Why does London need all this now? There is an obvious answer to this question. The fact is the aforementioned Cyber Security Centre opened recently, and taxpayers, possibly the next victims, who have to pay for the creation of the new service, should understand where their money goes. I can’t rule out that in this case it is just a matter of justifying spending on a new bureaucratic agency.

I’d also like to note that we welcome and work with the British media in Russia and we do not divide reporters into good and bad. Our approach is devoid of ideology. I urge them to put themselves in their Russian colleagues’ shoes, those who work in the UK, and think what their reaction would be if Moscow took a similar approach toward the British press.

Question: Can you comment on the death of Kim Jong-nam, the stepbrother of the DPRK’s Kim Jong-un?

Maria Zakharova: What is the source of your information? We have just been talking about fake news. Do you have confirmation?

Question: This is a Malaysian police report.

Maria Zakharova: Do you have North Korean confirmation?

Question: I don’t know.

Maria Zakharova: Is there confirmation in Tokyo?

Question: No idea.

Maria Zakharova: I think it’s worthwhile to know the North Korean position first. As a Japanese media representative you should also inquire about the Japanese position and then possibly inquire with us.

Question: Will the Minister address the media during his visit to Germany? If he does, what formats will he use? Will Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu participate in the Munich Security Conference?

Maria Zakharova: The second question should be addressed to the Russian Defence Ministry’s press service.

As far as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s putative contacts with the press are concerned, there is no planned news conference on his schedule. But I think he will meet with media representatives. We are not making any announcements because our priority for now is his programme and we are focusing on upcoming bilateral and multilateral meetings. As soon as the schedule is finalised, we can set aside some press time and will inform you on the location.

" rel="111">I would like to say that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions in Munich will be aired live on television. We are planning some additional contacts with the press. But it depends on a finalised schedule of bilateral and multilateral meetings.

Question: Yesterday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov decorated Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area Governor Dmitry Kobylkin. What role do Russian regions play in shaping Russia’s foreign policy? How has the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area distinguished itself?

Maria Zakharova: The Foreign Ministry carries out and coordinates the implementation of national foreign policy. Of course, it also focuses on economic and regional cooperation. We have mechanisms for interaction with the regions. There are Foreign Ministry offices in the regions. The Council of the Heads of Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation under the Russian Foreign Ministry meets regularly, with the Foreign Minister attending the meetings. You can find information about all these events on the Foreign Ministry website. We also work with the regions and organise various out-of-Russia events with the participation of regional authorities, businesses and civil society, which are directly supported by Russian missions abroad. Russian diplomats in countries of residence are most actively involved in all these events from visits by the heads of Russian regions or their official representatives to exhibitions, concerts and other undertakings. As far as this particular region is concerned, I will provide additional information later.     

Question: What is the agenda of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Will they discuss Washington’s position on Crimea?

Maria Zakharova: The agenda is being coordinated but, naturally, it includes bilateral relations. As you know, and as we have said on a number of occasions, the previous US administration has led our relations into a deadlock and we now need to find a way out of it. There are many issues on the bilateral agenda that should be addressed as a priority or in the short or medium terms. We also intend to discuss the international agenda and the largest international crises on which our countries have cooperated or should cooperate. We will certainly discuss regional issues. I believe that our foreign policy chiefs will start by getting to know each other, because it will be their first meeting. Sergey Lavrov has not met Rex Tillerson before, as he said in an interview to Irada Zeinalova from NTV, and so their meeting will begin with the introductions, following which they will discuss the issues mentioned above.

As I said, this is a rough plan, because the meeting’s agenda is still in the making. We will update you as soon as we coordinate it.

Question: Early last year, several Balkan politicians proposed creating a political alliance of neutral sovereign states in the Balkans that would include Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. How far has this initiative progressed? What is Russia’s position on it?

Maria Zakharova: On June 26, 2016, delegates from nine parties in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia signed declarations to create a territory of neutral sovereign states in southeast Europe, draft and implement a policy of a new international détente and develop common approaches to European security as a whole. We believe that it is a useful initiative that can contribute to strengthening stability on the continent and also highlights the active role of the concerned countries. This is logical, considering that stable neutrality is in keeping with these countries’ historical traditions irrespective of which countries or unions they were incorporated before. We hope that the Balkan politicians and MPs will thoroughly analyse this concept and its practical implementation based on international law and within the framework of democratic procedure.

Question: Many European politicians and experts believe that the world has become less safe after Donald Trump assumed office. What is Russia’s position?

Maria Zakharova: Do you think that the use of weapons with low-enriched uranium has made the world more stable and secure? The Obama administration was in power in the United States for eight years. Has the world moved closer to stability and security during that period? Has the number of international crises decreased? I think their number has increased, and the crises themselves have become deeper and more dramatic. Paradoxically, the United States, which unleashed many of them, abandoned them halfway.

The then US President Barack Obama said at the UN General Assembly three years ago the same you have said now, that the world has become safer and more stable. You remember what happened after that – a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe. Have these attacks not affected Germany? Is Germany not trying to solve migration, which has become the main security and stability problem for it? Isn’t this a destabilising factor for your country? But the “global leader”, as Obama described himself, told us that the world has become safer.

Let us look at the situation realistically out of the framework of mainstream concepts. We know that political fighting is underway in Washington. But the affairs of Washington are Washington’s affair, while Germany should deal with its own affairs. We need to take a realistic view on internal developments in Germany. You can look at the issue of stability and security in your country and decide if the situation has improved in the past few years.

Question: US politician John McCain has said that according to his information Russia has deployed nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the INF treaty. Has Russia really violated international law?

Maria Zakharova: We will publish a large comment by our experts on this issue soon. At this point, I can only say that Mr McCain really exists. We are preparing other information related to this issue.

Question: You mentioned that the Western media often publish information citing unspecified sources. Just today, CNN and The New York Times alleged that Donald Trump’s advisors had regular contacts with Russian diplomats. Can you comment on that? If this was really the case, is there something illegal about it, since this is what CNN and the The New York Times are insinuating?

Maria Zakharova: We understand that when it comes to legal matters in the US it all boils down to how you look at it. When needed, the law can be interpreted in one way to benefit some political figures or public officials, but it can also be turned upside down if the need arises.

As for Russian representatives and diplomats, they perform their work as per the instructions coming from their capital, Moscow, which is standard practice for diplomats around the world, but also comply with the relevant international conventions regarding diplomatic relations and what foreign diplomatic missions are entitled to do.

These reports not so much raise eyebrows as they prove what we have been saying all along: there is a lot of dealing and bargaining going on within the US political system. There are different ways to describe it. As you can see, this is what experts and political observers are saying. All the possible arguments and newsworthy developments are being used in this game.

Question: Kurdish representatives from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey arrived in Moscow today to take part in the conference Dividing the Middle East into spheres of influence: Current state of affairs and possible outcomes. Will Russian representatives take part in this conference?

Maria Zakharova: Foreign Ministry experts do not take part in this event. You should raise this question with the organisers.

Question: In the beginning of the briefing you mentioned the position adopted by the UN Security Council regarding the recent DPRK missile launches. Will additional sanctions be discussed following these tests? If so, will Russia join them?

Maria Zakharova: This question refers to the operations of the UN Security Council. If this subject appears on the agenda, you will be informed. For now, I have told you everything there was to say about it.

Question: Why will the meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom take place next week in Moscow? Does Russia need good relations with Sweden?

Maria Zakharova: When arrangements of this kind are made, a number of factors have to be taken into account, including schedules. This is a matter of diplomacy and protocol. Taking turns hosting meetings is an important aspect. For example, if the last meeting was held abroad, when taking the decision on arranging bilateral talks in one city or another, the factors that are taken into account are, first, whose turn it is to host the meeting, and second, the schedules of the ministers, and whether the time and venue suit them.

I can get more details on whose turn it is to host talks between the foreign ministers of Russia and Sweden, and where the last bilateral meeting took place. I’ll get back to you once I have the details.

If your question is why Moscow and not some other Russian city, I can say that it is traditional to hold talks of this kind in the Russian capital. When foreign ministry talks coincide with a regional agenda, the meeting usually takes place in another city. I’m not aware of any proposals to this effect, so I find it quite natural for the talks to take place in Moscow.

As for the relations, as I’ve already said, we will release a brief on the state of bilateral relations shortly, including data on political and economic relations. Of course, we are committed to stepping up cooperation with this country and attach great importance to improving bilateral relations.

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