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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, April 4, 2018

4 April 201819:17

Table of contents

  1. Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Sirodjidin Aslov’s official visit to the Russian Federation
  2. The official visit to the Russian Federation of the Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Ri Yong-ho
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa Lindiwe Sisulu
  4. Meeting of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad
  5. Syrian developments
  6. Anniversary of US missile attack on Syria
  7. Civilian losses from air strikes in Afghanistan
  8. Statements by US representatives about Russia’s alleged support of the Taliban
  9. The Russian agenda at the extraordinary session of the OPCW Executive Council
  10. Russians’ reaction to the so-called Skripal case
  11. Contacts with Viktoria Skripal
  12. The situation surrounding the ongoing investigation into the Skripal case in the UK
  13. US Department of State leaks on Novichok chemical agent published by Wikileaks
  14. Anti-Russian rhetoric by UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson
  15. Handelsblatt newspaper’s material on OPCW’s potential role in investigating the Skripal case fabricated against Russia
  16. Friedrich Engels on the Skripal case
  17. Bulgarian independent journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva’s expose of Porton Down chemical research laboratory
  18. Russian citizen’s opinion on so-called “Skripal case”
  19. US compliance with Chemical Weapons Convention
  20. Situation around Konstantin Yaroshenko
  21. Anti-Russia statements by French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian
  22. Situation with Russian fishing vessel The Nord
  23. Latvian officials’ decision to assign the Latvian language as the language of instruction in schools for ethnic minorities
  24. The blocking of Federal News Agency accounts by Facebook and Instagram
  25. Developments in Kosovo
  26. The situation around Bulgarian Metochion in Moscow
  27. A statement by the JIT on primary radar data provided by Russia in the Malaysia MH17 case
  28. Excerpts from answers to media questions:
  1. On the upcoming visit by North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho to Russia
  2. Russia-US relations 
  3. Korean Peninsula developments
  4. Baltics-US relations 
  5. Blocking Russian media outlet Facebook accounts
  6. Russia’s questions to OPCW
  7. Russian-Bulgarian relations 
  8. Cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran 
  9. Situation in Yemen
  10. Blocking Russian media outlet accounts
  11. Appointment of new Russian ambassador to Azerbaijan 
  12. British lords at 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin
  13. Russian-Polish relations 
  14. Russia-NATO relations 
  15. Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi 
  16. Regarding so-called Skripal case 
  17. Regarding financial compensation for expulsion of Russian diplomats 
  18. Possibility of initiating legal proceedings against US over CWC violations 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Sirodjidin Aslov’s official visit to the Russian Federation

On April 8-9, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan Sirodjidin Aslov will be in Moscow on an official visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

During the talks, the ministers will exchange views on a wide range of important issues related to the international situation and bilateral foreign policy interaction based on the principles of strategic partnership and alliance.

Particular attention will be paid to implementing the results of the Russian-Tajik summit held in Dushanbe on February 27, 2017, with an emphasis on the trade, economic and cultural spheres, and cooperation within the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO. The ministers will compare notes on their approaches to regional security in Central Asia, the situation in Afghanistan and combating extremism.

A cooperation programme between the foreign ministries of the two countries for 2018 will be signed during the visit.

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The official visit to the Russian Federation of the Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Ri Yong-ho

On April 9-11, Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Ri Yong-ho will pay an official visit to the Russian Federation.

The foreign ministers will hold talks on April 10 to discuss bilateral relations and to exchange views on key international and regional matters with an emphasis on resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa Lindiwe Sisulu

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa Lindiwe Sisulu will visit Moscow on April 12-13 to participate in the 15th meeting of the Russia-South Africa Mixed Intergovernmental Committee for Trade and Economic Cooperation as its co-chairman.

The meeting will be preceded by Minister Sergey Lavrov’s conversation with Minister Sisulu to discuss ways to further strengthen the strategic partnership between Russia and South Africa, including building up investment cooperation and strengthening foreign policy coordination on important international and regional matters. The participants will focus on the forthcoming BRICS summit in Johannesburg on July 25-27.

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Meeting of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad

On April 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair a regular meeting of the Government Commission Compatriots Living Abroad.

Commission members will focus on the active involvement of compatriots living abroad during the March 18 Russian presidential election.

They will review the results of the efforts of the Russian Federation’s federal and regional executive agencies to implement the 2017 state policy with regard to compatriots living abroad.

Commission members will discuss a separate matter, namely, the implementation of a state programme to facilitate the voluntary resettlement of compatriots living abroad to the Russian Federation. In all, 61 Russian regions are currently implementing this programme.

They will chart future plans and approve the 2018-2020 comprehensive plan of main measures to implement the Russian Federation’s state policy with regard to compatriots living outside this country. Russian NGOs and specialised humanitarian foundations took part in drafting this document together with the concerned ministries and agencies.

The 6th World Congress of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad, scheduled for late October and early November, will become the main event of 2018.Itis perceived as highly important. Meeting participants are to discuss the relevant concept for holding the congress.

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Syrian developments

In the past few days, service personnel from the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria have helped reach agreements on evacuating militants from Douma town, the last community in Eastern Ghouta being controlled by them.

The evacuation began last Sunday, April 1, with militants from the Faylaq al-Raḥman group leaving the town. Over 1,100 people, including their families, were relocated to areas of Idlib Province, that are not controlled by Syrian government forces. On April 2, the first group of the so-called “die-hard” Jaysh al-Islam militants followed in their wake.

This implies precisely “die-hard” militants because members of illegal paramilitary units who have decided to lay down their weapons under the Syrian President’s executive order can take advantage of the amnesty law, improve their legal status, resume normal life and even join the Syrian Army. There is no reason for them to relocate to Idlib or Jarabulus in the northern sector of Aleppo. 

Radical militants are trying to hamper the negotiating process, they are circulating rumours about an impending massacre and violence with regard to civilians staying behind in the city. Few people believe this misinformation. Douma residents have had more than enough of bandit tyranny and arbitrary rule. As has been the case in other Eastern Ghouta towns and villages, they are looking forward to reinstating the legitimate government capable of guaranteeing their safety and tranquil life, of giving them an opportunity to work normally, to raise their children and to resume their peaceful lives.

In other Eastern Ghouta areas, local residents have already started returning to their homes. This fact also dispels the propaganda myth, created by radicals and their sponsors, that certain “Shia settlers” will enter the enclave after its native population leaves. But people who have awakened from the long terrorist nightmare no longer believe these lies which are being spread very actively.

One can also see changes in Damascus itself. The multi-million Syrian capital whose population recently feared daily sporadic shelling of residential areas from Eastern Ghouta is marked by a positive atmosphere linked with hopes for quickly and finally overcoming the crisis by restoring the country’s unity and through a political peace settlement.

Russia continues to exert vigorous efforts in this area, including through efficient cooperation with its partners, guarantors of the Astana format, namely, Iran and Turkey. The situation in Syria is a highly important subject of discussions at the second trilateral Russian-Turkish-Iranian summit in Ankara.

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Anniversary of US missile attack on Syria

On April 7, 2017, the US launched a large-scale missile attack on Syria’s Shayrat Airbase located south of Homs, in violation of the UN Charter and international law. The pretext they used was the media allegations that Syrian aircraft based at Shayrat were responsible for the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that claimed many lives on April 4, 2017. The US administration, allegedly shocked by the Syrians’ suffering, decided to use military force on a UN member state without investigating or verifying the tragedy. They even forgot that US experts played a major role in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in 2013−2015.

After 60 cruise missiles were launched at the Syrian pilots who were protecting their homeland from international terrorists, the West had no doubts left that Damascus was guilty of the chemical weapons attacks.

I would like to remind everyone that international experts refused to go to the site of the tragedy in Khan Sheikhoun for security reasons. Neither did they go to the bombed airfield at the Shayrat Airbase despite the security guarantees they received, although it would have been logical to search for the traces of toxic agents there.

There is only one explanation for this: the experts probably felt certain that they would not find any evidence of the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian pilots, because that version was based on provocation.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has recently made a statement indicating that Washington has no evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government. It figures.

Soon afterwards, President of France Emmanuel Macron said that if France acquired such evidence it would definitely use military force. This means that Washington and Paris do not have any evidence. Come now, what about the samples from Khan Sheikhoun, which the French and British scientists allegedly analysed?

Despite this, it has become clear during the recent counterterrorist operation in Eastern Ghouta, which the Syrian government forces conducted with assistance from Russian military, that the West is likely to use the chemical weapons pretext again.

Makeshift workshops with large stocks of toxic agents, including chlorine, have been found in the populated areas after their liberation from the terrorists. Local residents told the authorities that the terrorists were preparing chemical provocations together with the notorious White Helmets. The goal of such attacks is clear: to create a pretext for bringing new “irrefutable” accusations against Damascus.

It is alarming that these questionable preparations were underway while US officials were allegedly issuing harsh warnings. In particular, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned that that if the Syrian Government used chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, Washington was prepared to act as it did over Khan Sheikhoun.

As you know, Russia has taken resolute measures to stop this dangerous game. On March 13, Chief of the Russian General Staff and Deputy Defence Minister Valery Gerasimov said that the Russian Armed Forces would take response measures if Russian military lives in Syria were endangered.

We believe that in Syria, just as in any case that involves a global political issue, all international and regional players must act in strict compliance with international law based on the UN Charter. Collective efforts to facilitate the Syrians’ movement towards a settlement must be based on UNSC Resolution 2254 and respect for the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria, whose future can only be decided by the Syrian people themselves. Any measures taken outside the international legal framework can only aggravate the situation and increase the conflict potential, which tends to grow with the increased involvement of external forces that are pursuing their own goals in Syria.

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Civilian losses from air strikes in Afghanistan

Reportedly, the Afghan Air Force attacked a madrasah in northern Afghan province of Kunduz (Dasht-e Archi district) killing and wounding over 60 people, including Taliban militants. However, according to eyewitnesses, a large number of civilians came under the attack along with the Taliban, since a graduation ceremony with over 300 people in attendance was being held in the madrasah building at that very moment.

This causes us serious concern. This kind of “mistakes” on the part of the government forces, and especially the Western coalition, which lead to loss of life, are occurring increasingly more often and have become almost routine. In March alone, the US air force used drones to carry out several attacks on targets in the provinces of Nangarhar, Helmand, Kandahar and Farah, which resulted in casualties among the Afghan non-combatants. On March 19, the Parliament of Afghanistan sent an appeal to the Afghan President demanding an investigation into the bombing by the US aviation of villages in the provinces of Nangarhar and Kandahar. The appeal noted that the Americans delivered three air strikes in these areas on March 17−18 killing 19 and wounding 24 civilians.

We are aware of other similar cases that the Afghan command and its Western allies try to keep under the radar.

Civilian losses cause us major concern. All this goes to show once again that the new US-led strategy in Afghanistan, which emphasises wider use of force, is a failure that multiplies crimes against humanity and implicates their allies in them. Such military solutions only lead to an increase in the number of opponents of the current government in Afghanistan and reduce the support for the recent peace initiatives of the leadership of that country.

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Statements by US representatives about Russia’s alleged support of the Taliban

Certain media continue to circulate absolutely unsubstantiated allegations by US representatives about Russia’s military assistance to the Taliban. Above all, the matter is about recent statement by General John Nicholson, the commander of US Forces Afghanistan. US officials continue to repeat these charges without even bothering to provide the slightest bit of evidence.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of evidence (acknowledged by the US political circles) that the Taliban have successfully and in sufficient numbers been acquiring weapons in Afghanistan itself, including from batches of arms and equipment made available to Kabul by Washington.

Thus, a report of the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Defence released on March 21 admits that the Pentagon is unable to account for military assistance to Afghanistan in the amount of $3 billion. You can imagine the number of weapons involved. This does not rule out the possibility of misuse or theft of delivered ammunition, fuel and vehicles. For example, there are no inventory records for tens of thousands of military vehicles.

In 2016, the Pentagon's report, in particular, claimed loss of about half of the 1.5 million small arms supplied to the security forces of Iraq and Afghanistan, including 978,000 M4 and M16 assault rifles. According to the Special Inspector General of the United States for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, in 2014, 43 percent of the weapons provided to the Afghan armed forces probably fell into the hands of ISIS or the Taliban. In his book Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, US journalist Douglas Wissing estimates the Taliban's revenue from US aid to Afghanistan in the amount of $1 billion a year. The 2010 report of a Congress committee entitled “Warlord, Inc.” states that the US military contribute to replenishing income of extremists by paying tens of millions of dollars in compensation to the Taliban for the unimpeded passage of their convoys across the territory controlled by them.

Notably, all this is not Russian propaganda, but information taken directly from official US sources.

In this regard, we once again stress the futility of the US attempts to shift responsibility for degrading situation in Afghanistan to our country. Earlier, we repeatedly stated that we are supportive of direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban (our contacts with them were aimed precisely at this), and are pleased that the Americans, eventually, reached the same conclusion and supported the call of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to direct talks with this movement during the recently held forums in Kabul and Tashkent.

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The Russian agenda at the extraordinary session of the OPCW Executive Council

Today, on April 4, Russia has convened an extraordinary session of the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) under the clause “Addressing the situation around the allegations of non-compliance with the Convention made by one state party against another state party with regard to the incident in Salisbury, and measures that may be adopted in this connection.” We are initiating a comprehensive analysis of the situation in the light of the incendiary actions undertaken by the United Kingdom, the official London and the Government of that country, which began by baselessly accusing Russia of “involvement” in the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on March 4 and later, based on their own false accusations, provoked the biggest diplomatic scandal in modern history and an absolutely groundless expulsion of Russian diplomats from a number of Western countries.

For a month now, we have been seeking a speedy and objective investigation into this unsavoury affair. But none of the questions we posed to the UK received a coherent response.

We realise that our concrete questions bearing on the substance of the case (you could ascertain that they were not politicised and were only related to the course of the investigation, provision of evidence and the granting of access to the Russian citizens) may have perplexed those countries that made haste to show incomprehensible “solidarity” with the UK. But this has nothing to do with solidarity and is only a travesty thereof.

But even under these circumstances, we are prepared for an all-round, highly professional and open cooperation with the UK both on a bilateral basis and within the OPCW, including with the participation of Technical Secretariat representatives as well as other parties concerned in the so-called Skripal case.

" rel="111">I would like to note once again that, as it transpires from the Western media, including UK and US media, the European public and ordinary people are absolutely certain that Russia has refused to provide information to the UK and to discuss this matter, rejecting all opportunities for cooperation. This is essentially an absolute lie. From the first moment, we used note correspondence, diplomatic channels, our Embassy in London, and contacts with British colleagues in Moscow to insistently ask for, offer and later demand a reciprocal discussion and study of the classified materials available to London.

The UK, at its own initiative, has officially and even publicly refused to have any contacts with the Russian Federation, while doing its best to mislead the public that it is the Russian side that is refusing to cooperate.

By convening this special session, Russia hopes that it will be possible to resolve this problem based on international law by using the entire potential inherent in the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is important to stop fomenting tensions and focus on the search for truth and solutions to the existing predicament. We are absolutely certain that it is only a thorough and comprehensive investigation of this incident based on multilateral cooperation that will facilitate the clarification of all circumstances of what has happened in Salisbury. Russia is ready for this.

It should be realised that all participants without exception will sooner or later have to answer the questions posed, given the seriousness of charges against Russia and the subsequent concrete anti-Russian actions.     

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Russians’ reaction to the so-called Skripal case

Another important aspect is not just that a whole state has been accused of this crime but that a crime involving toxic agents, and possibly even chemical weapons, has taken place in a state that is affiliated to the EU in one way or another.

As I have said, we only have at our disposal the scanty information that is published in the media. Even the statements that were made yesterday by officials at Porton Down, a secret laboratory of the UK Ministry of Defence, have not been provided to us officially. 

We are drowning in a steady stream of misinformation regarding this topic. The absurd part of this is that the UK is accusing Russia of spreading fake news.

We can understand the Russians’ outrage over this matter. We have received hundreds of letters from Russian citizens who demand that we give a harsh response to the UK and offer their versions of such answers. This public outrage, which is based on solid ground, is, regrettably, turning into sarcasm. A growing amount of sarcastic material has been posted online, including videos, photo collages and the like. This could actually be really funny, but I am asking you to remember the difficult situation in which these Russian citizens have been placed. So far, we have only received official information about the health of Yulia Skripal and gather all the other information from the media. We ask you to respect people’s privacy and remember that this matter concerns Russian citizens who are in a very tough situation. 

I would like to repeat that we continue to ask and will never stop asking for official information regarding the Skripal case and to request consular access to these Russian citizens.

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Contacts with Viktoria Skripal

The Russian Embassy in London has contacted Viktoria Skripal, a relative of the Russian citizens and victims of the Salisbury attack, Sergey and Yulia Skripal. Our diplomats share the available information regarding the health of her relatives with Viktoria and update her on the efforts to gain access to them and to receive official UK information about the progress of the investigation.

It is difficult to imagine the feelings of the victims’ relatives amid a deep stream of misinformation and in almost total absence of official information. 

Viktoria Skripal is planning to go to London to visit her relatives so as to offer them moral and psychological support. We consider this an absolutely natural and sincere desire, and especially important now, as Yulia Skripal’s condition has reportedly improved.

Viktoria is preparing the necessary travel documents. We hope that the UK Embassy in Moscow will issue her a visa without delay. She has probably already received her visa. At the least, according to our information, the visa was supposed to be ready today. We believe that this humanitarian situation should be considered outside any rules and regulations.

For our part, we are ready to provide assistance and consular support to Viktoria Skripal during her trip to Britain.

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The situation surrounding the ongoing investigation into the Skripal case in the UK

Yesterday, head of the British Porton Down laboratory (an extremely off-limits and non-transparent agency by all accounts) Gary Aitkenhead said that he could not confirm that the nerve agent used to poison Sergey Skripal and his daughter was produced in Russia. According to Aitkenhead, the laboratory did not track down its origin, but provided scientific information to the British government, which then used a number of other sources to draw its conclusions.

We are well aware of these findings from the British media, which literally on a daily basis provide numerous versions of what happened referring to sources close to the investigation.

We have heard accusations coming from Britain that Russia engages in disinformation. They have counted about 20 “fake” scenarios that were allegedly voiced by the Russian side. However, this list includes experts, researchers, political scientists and journalists, whose opinions are presented as official versions of the attempted murder, which Moscow is “throwing in”.

I would like to emphasise that Moscow has not “thrown in” any scenarios whatsoever. This is about us trying to get something from the British side for a month now. We receive huge numbers of questions from Russian and foreign journalists regarding the accusations that London made against Moscow. Some allegations, I can’t even call them scenarios, are made public only in response to these questions in attempts to find at least some clues that could lead to an understanding of what happened. The official position is provided in our response to the questions and requests that we receive from the media.

What do we see in Britain at a time when Moscow does not have any official information and is trying to find at least some bits of information? The UK has all the materials on hand, but they are classified. At the same time, the media churns out vast numbers of versions with vast numbers of references to unnamed experts and representatives of obscure official agencies. Here are some of them.

Initially, it was claimed that the Skripals had been poisoned by Fentanyl, an opioid analgesic. Then, it turned out that the flowers they brought to the cemetery could have been poisoned. Then, there was a story that the poison agent was disseminated through the ventilation system of the vehicle, or that a vehicle part was treated with poison. They also said that the Skripals could have been poisoned outside. With reference to the police, it was reported that over 100 Salisbury residents could have been poisoned by the nerve agent, and the UK health authorities recommended everyone who visited the Mill pub and the Zizzi restaurant, which the Skripals visited on the day of the alleged poisoning, wash their clothes and clean their phones. This kind of advice was given after yesterday's information from the Porton Down laboratory that it was a chemical warfare agent. Indeed, this is what you would normally do in case of a chemical attack, wouldn’t you?

Then, there were reports that the poison was allegedly found on the door handle of the house where Skripal lived. Then there was another version that the agent could have been planted in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase, and also that it was used to poison the cosmetics, clothes or a personal gift to Sergey Skripal. One of the most recent versions has it that the poisonous agent could have been brought in with a package of buckwheat, or a package with “bay leaves and spices,” which Yulia Skripal didn’t have time to pick up before leaving for the UK and asked her friend, who was flying with her husband to London on another flight, to bring along.

This is being done purposefully in order to confuse people and to keep the subject afloat. Every day, more versions are thrown in with reference to “sources.” At the same time, the UK has all the official information, and it is all classified. This is nothing short of barbarity. As we are told, the people are in critical condition. Their relatives do not understand what is going on. International experts come to conduct lab tests and take samples of certain substances. Meanwhile, Russian officials from the consular service in the UK are unable to identify these people. Meanwhile, endless numbers of subjects are thrown in, which divert attention from the main questions.

Amid these constantly changing leads, from the door handle to the buckwheat, one conclusion remains unchanged: a “highly skilled team of Russian murderers” is involved in poisoning the Skripals. This is a quote from the Daily Telegraph. This is an example of classic misinformation: take a half-truth, constantly spin the subject and not provide any official statement about the course of the investigation with actual, not fictional leads.

Here’s another example. As the New York Times concluded, smearing a chemical agent on a door handle is so risky and sensitive that only superprofessionals, hence, Russians, could have done it... The fact that no one has so far been able to establish whether Putin personally gave the order to dispatch Skripal is accounted for by the fact that the Russian President is good at hiding information. It's just terrible that an officially registered media outlet is currently engaged in truly disruptive activities. This is nothing short of an information con game staged by official London and Western media.

It is puzzling why, instead of generating inferences, British law enforcement agencies don’t start a professional investigation into the incident and are reluctant to cooperate with the investigation, which could shed light on the case opened in Russia. They come up with their verdicts without bothering to wait for at least initial assessments by the OPCW, and do not ask for cooperation with Russia. Why, despite numerous requests, are we not provided with any investigation materials, including transcripts of telephone conversations from the Skripal family, records from surveillance cameras, evidence of consistency, the security and reliability of the entire chain of evidence gathering, detailed findings of the Porton Down laboratory on samples, including biomaterials allegedly taken by British experts from the people affected by this attack?

I want to remind you once again of a very important point: the British have not yet responded to our Embassy’s request to provide access to communication with the Porton Down laboratory. I understand that the idea of ​​direct communication with their experts is not received with enthusiasm. Why? Just because there are things to hide. After all, until now, Porton Down has not answered the key and simple question about whether Porton Down engaged in working with this substance. Did they produce, synthesise and study it? Do you have a sample of the Novichok family (by western qualification) that is talked about so much? Porton Down has not answered these questions.

Unfortunately, in violation of all generally recognised international legal rules, we have not been granted consular access to Russian citizen Yulia Skripal. We are making constant attempts to obtain this permission.

In addition, we now have information (we checked it, but I didn’t see it in the media) that Skripal had pets.

Is this relevant? Very much so, if the issue is about using chemical agents and the availability of numerous scenarios, which in one way or another are related to the house where Skripal lived. Where are they now? We have an understanding of how many of them there were, but this is a question for Britain. Where are the animals? What is their condition? Why did Britain, so active in “leaking” information to the media about the investigation as it refers to unnamed sources, hide such an important fact? After all, we are talking about living organisms, and if a poisonous agent was used in the house, they must also have been affected.

Why, without trial or investigation, was Russia so quickly accused, even though this toxic agent could potentially be made in 20 countries, including in a lab located only a few kilometres from the site of the incident? This is a big question, and no one has answered it.  

While the Russian side, from all venues, is calling for logic and transparent investigation and a dialogue on the incident, Britain prefers to stage a misinformation campaign, refuses to provide evidence or facts, and builds its entire case on the assumption that it is “highly likely.”

This is more than just a violation of the generally accepted principle of presumption of innocence. We are talking about the reluctance of a UN Security Council member state, a subject of international law that possesses nuclear weapons and has a special responsibility for international stability and security, to conduct a logical, open and fair dialogue with another state through bilateral channels and international platforms, primarily, the OPCW.

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US Department of State leaks on Novichok chemical agent published by Wikileaks

I would like to draw your attention to online material that has been on the internet for rather a long time but has failed to induce the UK media or the political establishment to start asking questions.

According to Wikileaks, the US and the UK have been actively suppressing international discussion on the now “popular” book on the Novichok nerve agent by Vil Mirzayanov, ever since its publication.

As it transpired, in April 2009, Hillary Clinton compiled drew up instructions for a DOS delegation due to attend an Australia Group meeting as a precaution against the eventuality of Novichok nerve agent and/or the Mirzoyanov book being mentioned during the talks.

The instructions were not a chance occurrence. After Mirzayanov published his book, experts from a number of countries working on chemical weapons problems, including within the OPCW framework, asked the Americans some uncomfortable questions. So, the instructions included five points. It would be a good thing if a State Department spokesperson commented on this information at a briefing.

1. Avoid any substantive discussion of the Mirazayanov book “State secrets: An insider’s chronicle of the Russian chemical weapons program” or so-called “Fourth Generation Agents.”

2. Report any instances in which the book is raised.

3. Do not initiate or provoke conversations about the book or engage substantively if it comes up in conversation.

4. Express a lack of familiarity with the issue.

(Please remember that these are US State Department instructions for chemical experts, who know about the book and the problem itself and who are going to attend meetings of relevant panels.)

5. Quietly discourage substantive discussions by suggesting that the issue is “best left to experts in the capitals.”

On March 28, 2009, not long before the instructions were written, Prague-based US diplomats reported by cable that they had informed their Czech colleagues at the Foreign Ministry that in future, it was undesirable to “publicly discuss next generation agents.”

The Czech media have attacked us for constantly mentioning Prague in the context of the Skripal case. We are doing this for a reason, because there are a lot of questions. But Czech citizens should answer these questions, as I see it, for themselves rather than for us. They need to understand what games they have become involved in and are being forced to play. Do the citizens of the Czech Republic understand what is going on in their territory within the framework of NATO-sponsored research? Do the country’s officials and representatives of relevant services have access to research pursued by NATO members on their territory?

These materials are available online. All of this can and must lead to a serious national investigation.

Besides, as is shown by a March 26, 2009 US cable from The Hague, where, incidentally, the OPCW Headquarters is located (earlier this fact was known only to experts, but now, I think, even children know as much), “The UK Ministry of Defence has spoken to its counterparts in the Netherlands and Finland, apprised them of the conversation, and asked each country to provide guidance to its delegates not to raise this issue in future.”

All of this is piecing together into a horrible jigsaw puzzle that shows the entire picture of what the world is being dragged into by the Western “grandees,” London in this case, behind whose back Washington is looming large.

In the 1990s, intensive research into agents of this type was conducted by the Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre of the US Department of Defence. In 1998, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, an organisation registering all newly synthesised organic compounds, added A-234 spectral characteristics to its database.  But by 2000, the entry was deleted, seemingly for reasons of national security.

Nevertheless, the structural formula of Novichok, which makes it possible for any high-tech chemical laboratory to resynthesise this nerve agent, was first published by Mr Mirzayanov in his book.

It should be kept in mind that under Clause 1(a) of the Chemical Weapons Convention, each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone.

Thus, the publication of the formula at the initiative of, or with the connivance of the then US administration can be seen as a transfer of knowledge about chemical weapons, that is, an indirect transfer of chemical weapons per se, and, accordingly, as a gross violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. No wonder that the Department of State recommended its staff to avoid the theme.

It is also notable that after the publication of Mirzayanov’s “revelatory” book, the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board repeatedly considered the expediency of adding A-234 to the CWC Schedules of Chemicals but invariably came to the conclusion that there was no verifiable data on its existence and it was not feasible to classify it as a warfare agent. British and US scientists, among others, associated themselves with this approach, while drafting the “instructions” that they sent to their experts.

Washington and London reversed their stand only after the March 4 Salisbury incident. As we see it, this U-turn and their unexpected interoperability is just further evidence of the preplanned and provocative nature of these developments.

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Anti-Russian rhetoric by UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson

We noted the article by UK Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson in the Sunday Telegraph. He claims in the article that Russia’s development “of new long-range missiles and nuclear weapons” is “a serious threat” and it is allegedly proved by the “cold-blooded” chemical attack in Salisbury. Correspondingly, the UK needs to modernise its army. A direct link is made here: Russia attacked Great Britain – give us more money – we need more weapons.

Apparently, London’s anti-Russian rhetoric remains off the scale whereas officials’ statements increasingly leave the domain of common sense. Logic has abandoned UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Unfortunately, such things will be voiced again and again and will be talked about while we will be commenting on all that.

If we ignore British politicians’ striving to contain our country internationally and to feed an anti-Russian campaign, which has become a tradition with them, there has now emerged another reason that testifies to London’s interest in launching the Skripal case. We are constantly told that we have motives. Meanwhile, look how many motives our western partners have. By making an enemy out of Russia in the context of the Salisbury incident, the UK government is trying to solve a number of its own opportunistic and very costly tasks using such publications.

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Handelsblatt newspaper’s material on OPCW’s potential role in investigating the Skripal case fabricated against Russia

The Foreign Ministry has to closely follow various publications regarding the Salisbury incident. In particular, we noted a recent article in the German newspaper Handelsblatt, which overreached itself in distorting Russia’s positions and approaches. The article was published on March 29.

Whereas Russia from the onset called on the UK to cooperate within the OPCW, the article’s author claims that “Moscow keeps silent and secretive, lies regarding the Novichok gas development and is trying to start a dishonest game with the Organisation by asking for an investigation on the clause of the OPCW which will allow Russia to remain unstained in the end.” The Handelsblatt takes no notice of the available material – either Vil Mirzoyanov’s book, or the US State Department’s instructions, or a huge number of mismatching theories being spun in the media, none of which leads them to the idea that the act must have been pre-planned. 

In our opinion, the rhetoric used in this case not just by that German newspaper but also by a number of other western media outlets, clearly proves the inadequacy of the trumped-up accusations against Russia.

We would like to reiterate that it was on the British territory that illegal actions were committed against two Russian nationals. For that reason Russia has been insistently and consistently demanding a comprehensive, highly professional and open clarification of all the circumstances in order to ensure favourable conditions for finding solutions under the current circumstances.

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Friedrich Engels on the Skripal case

It is highly indicative and possibly symbolic if not a mere coincidence that it is the German media that is so insistent in bringing across the message that Russia is to blame. 

Media campaigns like the one we are witnessing have been used by our Western partners for long time. When I say that it has been used for a long time, I don’t mean contemporary history or even modern history. The Skripal case campaign on discrediting Russia has been cooked up and trumped up along fairly old patterns. It is not even retro, it’s an antique.

In late 19th century, the attention of the public in many countries was drawn to a series of explosions in London in 1883−1885. The media was naturally flooded with a wave of conjectures. German political figure, philosopher and entrepreneur Friedrich Engels came up with a theory that suggested Russia’s involvement in his article “Real Imperial Russian Privy Dynamiters” published on January 29, 1885 in the German newspaper Der Sozialdemokrat. The article is available in the 1961 Russian edition of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s collected works, which was published by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. So this is a credible source. The article contains a citation of the original, the newspaper I mentioned, and is available in Russian.

Naturally, we had to double-check everything – on the screen you can see a photo of that newspaper; its archival number is also available. We have checked and the Russian translation completely corresponds to the German original. I would like to quote the article written by Friedrich Engels, let me reiterate, on January 29, 1885 in connection with a series of explosions in London in 1883−1885. “I do not hesitate, for the time being, to lay blame for the explosions in London […] at the door of the Russians […] it is more than probable that a Russian brain and money were behind it.” “Everybody knows that the Russian officialdom will shrink at nothing if only it leads to a desired end.”  “The history of the Balkan peninsula during the last one hundred years shed enough light on the abilities of Russian officialdom in removing troublesome individuals by means of poison, the dagger etc.” “The timing of these explosions is too opportune not to raise the question – Whose interests do they serve? Who has most to gain from these otherwise pointless shots of terror aimed at nobody in particular, to which not only low-ranking policemen and bourgeois fall victim but also workers and their wives and children? Who?” Let me remind you that this was written in 1885.

I would like to stress that at the time of writing the article Friedrich Engels was living in Great Britain and was closely engaged, let’s call it that way, with the UK’s political establishment. It is worthwhile to emphasise that official Berlin called Mr Engels a spy and demanded his extradition from London but to no avail – British Prime Minister John Russell kept refusing Berlin’s requests. Does that remind you of anything?

As was established later as time passed, many countries and political interests were involved in that complicated story. Historians described the situation later relying on the investigation reports and Scotland Yard materials, the culprits behind organising and perpetrating a series of terrorist attacks in the British capital were extremist organisations with a dense network in Europe and the US. The police also found the suppliers of dynamite. They were citizens of different countries. But none of them ever had anything to do with Russia.

We very much hope that the current Scotland Yard officers will follow this historic example and resist unprecedented political pressure from their own government, which ultimately frames them as it pursues its own political agenda. We hope that all the true reasons behind the so-called Skripal case will be uncovered.

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Bulgarian independent journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva’s expose of Porton Down chemical research laboratory

At the last briefing, Bulgarian journalists asked me about the March 27, 2018 publication of an expose by independent Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva about the British chemical laboratory in Porton Down. I did not have her story at that time, but I read it later. This story analyses scientific reports, articles, media publications, data from the register of US federal contracts, and information from the British Government under the 2002 Freedom of Information Act. The journalist has reached the following conclusions.

First, it turns out that the Porton Down facility never stopped testing various viruses, including the Ebola and Marburg viruses, encephalitis and anthrax, as well as the impact of mustard gas, phosgene and nerve gases on animals. In all, the laboratory’s experts have conducted experiments on over 122,000 animals since 2005, and it is unclear how many of them have perished.

Second, the journalist notes that such activities at Porton Down had been ordered and lavishly financed by the United States, a country that has so far failed to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal, citing a shortage of funding. It makes sense for the US to sponsor a British lab and at the same time not to find funding for destroying its own chemical weapons. The Pentagon has paid tens of millions of dollars (about $70 million) to the British chemical laboratory. The Defence Threat Reduction Agency has set aside over $2 million. I very much hope that the US Department of State will also comment on this information. Their employees mostly specialise in monsters from the deep sea, but this information is also quite exciting.

According to the expose, apart from the above-mentioned activities, Porton Down conducted classified work with war gases. For this purpose, the facility received about $40 million from the Pentagon over the past few years. Where are all those people from the Pentagon and the US Department of State with their Twitter and social network accounts and briefings? This information deserves to be commented upon.

Obviously, US representatives should, first of all, officially comment on this data. Second, experts from all over the world should study it. Third, if this information is confirmed, then it would run counter to this chemical laboratory’s officially declared goals and tasks. This might point to violations of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

We analyse all publications on this subject, and we appreciate every author’s contribution. We are trying to dispel the lies that we see. At the same time, we draw attention to incoming data and try to find out whether it really has something to do with real life facts.

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Russian citizen’s opinion on so-called “Skripal case”

I cannot help but tell you about a letter that we have received from a resident of Kazan with a PhD in pedagogics who has no experience when it comes to chemical laboratory research. He wants to know why British Prime Minister Theresa May is constantly saying “highly likely” during her discourses, and why no one in the West interprets this as being doubtful, but a doubt, nonetheless. The Russian citizen is asking us this question, and he is also asking it to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Legal practice interprets any doubt to the benefit of the defendant; but, for some reason, no one has paid any attention to this. To quote the Russian citizen’s letter, the defendant does not have to make any excuses and remains innocent unless proved otherwise.

I would like to thank everyone for sending letters to us. We read all of these letters, reply to most of them, and we will continue to do this.

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US compliance with Chemical Weapons Convention

The United States remains the only signatory state of the Chemical Weapons Convention to possess chemical weapons. The US retains 2,616 tonnes of blister gases (mustard gas) and nerve gases (VX and sarin). Over 700,000 multi-caliber field artillery and howitzer shells, as well as over 60,000 free-flight 115-mm rockets for multiple launch rocket systems, contain these deadly chemicals.

Indicatively, the elimination of US chemical arsenals has virtually ground to a halt in the past few years. The United States has eliminated just 230 tonnes of chemical weapons over the last five years.

In the early 1990s when talks were underway to coordinate the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention, it was precisely Washington that insisted on extremely short deadlines for eliminating these weapons. At Washington’s insistence, under Article IV of the Chemical Weapons Convention that entered into force in April 1997, all signatory states were given only ten years to accomplish this task.

To be honest, that was an impracticable task. These schedules were repeatedly put off after 2007. In 2012, the Convention’s signatory states decided that it was necessary to eliminate the remaining chemical weapons as soon as possible.

Russia completed its chemical weapons elimination programme in September 2017. At the same time, the US side is in no hurry to fulfil its obligations, citing financial, organisational, technical and environmental difficulties. According to official estimates, there are plans to eliminate US chemical weapons stockpiles only by the fall of 2023.

This sounds strange for such a country as the United States that boasts cutting-edge technology and sufficient financial resources. One is inclined to ask why the United States is so reluctant to get rid of its chemical arsenals. What deters them? What considerations prevent them from eliminating these toxic agents? It is possible to ask more questions in this connection.

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Situation around Konstantin Yaroshenko

We were seriously alarmed in connection with the appeal of the daughter of Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, illegally abducted by US secret services from Liberia in 2010, that has been received by the Foreign Ministry. She has drawn attention to the fact that her father is once again subjected to constant unjustified searches and humiliating body checks in the rudest form. Diplomats from the Russian Consulate General in New York immediately secured a meeting with the Russian citizen and prison authorities. Representatives of the Russian Embassy in Washington also met with US Department of State officials. This was done to stop the never-ending violations of his rights.

We believe that the behaviour of US prison officials is unacceptable, especially in the light of the fact that Mr Yaroshenko’s health has been seriously undermined by brutal beatings during his abduction. The creation of unbearable conditions during his detention is beginning to resemble medieval torture.

Nevertheless, we continue to hope that high-ranking US officials capable of influencing Mr Yaroshenko’s future will display humane behaviour, no matter what. For our part, we will also continue to take every action to prevent the violation of rights of all Russian citizens serving prison terms in the United States and to ensure their speedy repatriation.

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Anti-Russia statements by French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian

Unfortunately, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian has recently made a number of openly unfriendly statements with regard to Russia, which evoke dismay. As the French say, only a feeling of light sadness remains.

During his visit to Kiev on March 23, the French minister called for putting pressure on Russia and demanding that it honour its obligations under the Minsk Agreements. In his opinion, it is precisely Russia that must ensure a complete and sustained ceasefire on the ground.

We want very much to advise French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian to reread the Package of Measures for fulfilling the Minsk Agreements, all the more so as this will not take very long. Russia’s obligations under this document are in no way different from those assumed by France and Germany. So, if anyone wants to make us responsible for the ceasefire, it would be logical to demand the same from them.

The three presidents issued their joint statement together with the Package of Measures, with France and Germany pledging to provide technical support for reinstating the banking system in the conflict zone, including through the creation of an international mechanism for facilitating social payments. Naturally, one would like to ask the following question: Do our “Normandy Format” partners plan to honour this obligation assumed by them?

To be honest, one gets the impression that Paris’ claims to play the role of an “honest broker” in the Ukrainian peace settlement are a mere pose. In 2014, the Europeans did not dare ask “Euromaidan authorities” to honour the then agreements with Viktor Yanukovich that were violated the very next day. Nor do they want to see Kiev’s ostentatious refusal to fulfill the Minsk Agreements, they prefer to shift the blame onto others and to demand something from Russia which is not party to the conflict.

Last week, Jean-Yves Le Drian also made a number of statements on the so-called Skripal case. His statements contained nothing new. Please forgive me, but claims that only Russians can manufacture the “Novichok” toxic agent and that there is therefore no other plausible explanation, remind one of Lewis Carroll. This does not sound serious for the Minister of Foreign Affairs from a serious state.

We expect the French side to stop hurling groundless accusations and to respond constructively and down to the point to our ten questions on the “Skripal case” that have also been addressed to Paris.

[By comparing Russia to Rodion Raskolnikov, the fictional murderer from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment,”] British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has given us ample food for thought with his quotations from Fyodor Dostoyevsky. We would like to follow his example and to remind French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian of the book “The Children of Captain Grant” by Jules Verne. I don’t know whether this author is popular in France, but the people of Russia love him, and this book is wildly popular with every child here.

According to the book’s Chapter 16, “Jacques Paganel touched upon this important matter of native tribes while talking to his fellow travelers. Everyone unanimously agreed that the colonial policy doomed native tribes to extinction and to exile from places where their ancestors once lived. This deleterious British policy affected all of their colonies, especially Australia. During initial colonisation, exiles and colonists themselves viewed natives as wild animals. They hunted them with rifles, killed them and ravaged their villages, citing influential lawyers who claimed that Australians were outlaws and that the murder of these outcasts was therefore not a crime. Newspapers in Sydney even suggested mass poisonings as a radical method for getting rid of the native population, especially near Lake Gunter.”  

Incidentally, our citizens are sending us many allusions to works of fiction or documentaries.

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Situation with Russian fishing vessel The Nord

On April 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry invited Ukraine’s charge d'affaires ad interim in Russia to serve him a note with a strong protest against the unlawful detention of the Russian fishing vessel, The Nord, by the Ukrainian state border service on March 25 in the Sea of Azov, its convoying to the port of Berdyansk and the unlawful detention of its ten crew members, all Russian nationals.

It was pointed out to the Ukrainian side that the crew is being held in inhuman conditions and has not been allowed to see officials from the Russian Consulate.

It was stated that these actions contravene the 2003 Treaty on Cooperation in the Use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait between the Russian Federation and Ukraine and are a grave violation of the Agreement between the Russian Fishery Committee and the State Ukrainian Committee on Fishery and Fishing Industry in the Sea of Azov of September 14, 1993, as well as Ukraine’ obligations under Article 19 of the Consular Convention between Russia and Ukraine of January 15, 1993.

Russia requested immediate release of the unlawfully detained Russian nationals, the return of The Nord to its legal owner and prevention of similar provocations in the future.

We are outraged by yet another  Ukraine’s provocation with respect to The Nord’s captain Vladimir Gorbenko who was on April 4 taken to Kherson in a service vehicle by the Security Service of Ukraine.

The Consular Department of the Russian Embassy in Ukraine immediately contacted the Russian national’s lawyers and found out that the Security Service of Ukraine’s Kherson Directorate for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea will petition the court for Gorbenko’s pre-trial arrest.

The lawyers reported that The Nord’s crew had to leave the ship due to unbearable sanitary conditions (as the entire catch had gone off) and go down to the pier where they are being held at gunpoint.

The Russian Consulate General in Odessa was instructed to continue insisting on a meeting with the captain. Ukraine has been rejecting our diplomats’ requests for visiting the Russians claiming that the entire crew, including the captain, are from Kerch and, therefore, are Ukrainian citizens. The Russians’ lawyers have drawn attention of local human rights organisations to the Ukrainian officials’ thuggish behaviour.

This is not the first provocation of this kind. There have been cases involving Alexander Baranov and Maxim Odintsov, who are currently being held in a detention facility, (V.) Vysotsky, who is serving a sentence, and others.

We continue to insist on the innocence of our nationals who have been submitted to unlawful and aggressive actions by the Ukrainian security and judicial bodies.

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Latvian officials’ decision to assign the Latvian language as the language of instruction in schools for ethnic minorities

Recently we already spoke out about this issue. We cannot but feel concerned about the Latvian ethnocracy’s steps to force the Russian language out of all aspects of the country’s public life, in violation of a number of international legal instruments. It is deeply regrettable that Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis decided to sign the bill into law and ignore the opinion of a significant part of his own country’s population.

We have repeatedly pointed out to international competent bodies that the Latvian officials are pursuing a discriminative policy against our compatriots and are waiting for their adequate response. Of course, Riga’s unfriendly actions will be considered in the context of our bilateral relations.

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The blocking of Federal News Agency accounts by Facebook and Instagram

We took notice of Facebook and Instagram blocking the accounts of a number of Russian media, including the Federal News Agency. We also took notice of Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zucherberg’s statement to the effect that Facebook was stepping up the fight against so-called Russian “troll factories.” It is clear that the blocking followed in the wake of the US official campaign to whip up anti-Russia rhetoric and to clear the information space of undesirable Russian media under the pretext of alleged Russian interference in the US elections.

Oddly enough, the social media intended to encourage openness in communication and information exchange, transparency and democracy are starting to use undisguised totalitarian control and censorship methods, based on dubious criteria of affiliation with the notorious “troll factories.”

We are well aware that Facebook, its heads and managers are in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they have to demonstrate loyalty to the US political establishment, which is seized by anti-Russia rage (let’s be more realistic: it’s not about demonstrating loyalty but saving the company and protecting it from outside pressures involving a range of repressive tools), while on the other, the company is positioning itself as an entity committed to free speech and upholding democratic values. We understand their attempts to steer a course between Scylla and Charybdis and find a path of their own. But when all is said and done it is the United States that declared freedom of speech an absolute value.

I would like to remind you again that every year the US delegation tries to do what it can to avoid voting on, and preventing other countries from voting on, the Russian draft of the UN General Assembly resolution concerning the unacceptability of certain new practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism and neo-Nazism. Our US partners claim that this could hypothetically interfere with the freedom of speech. In the meantime, the document is calling for only the good things, such as precluding a return to the times we left in the past, which led to global disasters. But we are told again and again that freedom of speech could suffer.

We call on our colleagues to do all they can to avoid turning the media into a weapon of information war and a means to serve timeserving political interests, which really do harm and are at odds with the principles of freedom of expression and equal access to information for all.

We hope that the response by the human rights community and the relevant international agencies responsible for online observance of these principles will not be long in coming.

It is not these hundreds of resources that they should block but rather the editions that publish absolute gibberish accusing Russia of having committed a grave crime, which they can’t prove through facts or arguments, and using the words and expressions that describe all of this. These are nothing but sheer accusations, but in the same breath they are giving up on the presumption of innocence and any principles of international law or respect for it.

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Developments in Kosovo

At our previous briefing,  I was asked a question about an unprovoked surge of violence against Serbian residents in northern Kosovo, where there is a European mission and a NATO contingent to ensure safety. Are there any international documents? What should the Serbs do if these documents are not respected? In this connection, I would like to say the following.

We proceed from the assumption that the international presences deployed in Kosovo under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of June 10, 1999, bear the main responsibility for assuring the safety of the non-Albanian population in the area. The relevant duties are recorded in their mandates.

KFOR is one of these presences and it is actively cooperating with the Kosovo police. KFOR service personnel are regularly used to maintain law and order during visits of foreign delegations and public events.

The EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) was established under a UN Security Council decision and is formally based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244. EULEX has a function to assist the consolidation of rule of law in Kosovo in accordance with European standards. One of its main duties is to monitor Kosovo police operations.

Nevertheless, both KFOR and EULEX openly connived in the detention in Kosovska Mitrovica on March 26 of the director of the Serbian government office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Juric. They just watched and made no effort, in breach of their mandate, to prevent the Pristina authorities from engaging in wrongdoing.

This incident and the January 16 assassination in northern Kosovska Mitrovica of Oliver Jovanovic, leader of the Freedom, Democracy, Justice Kosovo Serbian opposition political movement, have sent tensions soaring in Kosovo. Ignoring the interests of Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs, the Kosovo Albanians are actively trying to use the lack of real rule of law in the territory and the inactivity of the international presences – KFOR and EULEX – to implement their plans to transform the Kosovo Security Force into full-blown “armed forces.” This runs counter to the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1244, the main instrument for Kosovo settlement.

We took notice of press leaks on certain extra-regional forces being ready to give them every kind of assistance. Specifically, different publications quote US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Aaron Wess Mitchell as saying that the United States has supported most closely the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force and will continue to support this transformation at all levels. So we can assume that the Kosovo army will hold NATO standards. Serving this purpose are the resources and potential of the Camp Bondsteel base maintained by the international presence, which could be expanded under the pretext of rising tensions in the area. These developments will certainly do nothing to strengthen security in the region.

We count on all parties to a Kosovo settlement reaffirming their commitment to scrupulously implement UN Security Council Resolution 1244. We hope that NATO’s KFOR contingent will operate in strict conformity with its peace and security mandate rather than support one of the parties to the conflict.

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The situation around Bulgarian Metochion in Moscow

In reply to a question that we received, I will say that there are indeed some difficulties regarding the issue of the legal status of the area on which the Bulgarian Metochion (Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God) is located. The problem dates to the early 1990s and was never ultimately settled. Bulgaria’s request is being considered by the Moscow authorities and the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate.  

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A statement by the JIT on primary radar data provided by Russia in the Malaysia MH17 case

We were asked to comment on a statement by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with regard to the primary radar data provided by Russia. “The Russian radar data was examined by two independent experts. The experts confirmed the JIT’s earlier conclusions. The fact that there is no missile in the radar images can be explained by several things and does not mean that the missile was not in the air space.”

Here is what I would like to say. Specialists at Almaz-Antey Concern presented their expert assessments of the so-called conclusions by Dutch prosecutors. The concern refuted every postulate of the above experts, whose arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. As was explained at length at Almaz-Antey, Russian radar could not have failed to detect a missile if it had been launched from the site on which the Joint Investigation Team has been stubbornly insisting.

As a matter of fact, this is a strange approach. In Russia, entire departments, relevant organisations and corresponding agencies were involved in the analysis of the primary radar data that was subsequently handed over to the investigators, while the JIT entrusted this analysis to two unnamed experts. Who are these people? What kind of experts are they? What do they know? What can they do? Have they ever dealt with similar cases before? Nothing is clear. Anyway, this does not seem to be a professional, high-skilled approach.

The impression is that JIT representatives are looking for the slightest possible argument that more or less fits into the necessary version, looking for any justification that would support their initial assumptions. The experts they employed do not examine in their analysis the possibility of a missile flying from another direction, although the Russian radar data obviously points to that.

Let me remind you again what the initial radar data handed over by Russia represents: this is irrefutable, objective data which is impossible to forge, edit or change. Any expert in this area, above all an international expert, will confirm this. The data clearly shows that the missile that supposedly downed Malaysia Airlines MH17 could not have been launched from the area indicated by JIT representatives.

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Excerpts from answers to media questions:

Question: Are there any plans for a meeting between DPRK (North Korean) Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho and President of Russia Vladimir Putin in the presence of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?

Maria Zakharova: Spokespersons from the Presidential Press Service or the Presidential Executive Office comment on meetings involving the President of Russia in the presence or in the absence of the Foreign Minister.

While you and I were reading Jules Verne, we received a message (I always check everything, I hope this report is authentic, but we will certainly check it) that the British Foreign Office had deleted a message on its Twitter account that the substance used to poison Sergey Skripal had been manufactured in Russia. This makes a powerful point, doesn’t it? The deleting of Twitter accounts shows the price of all this. By the way, British Prime Minister Theresa May based her speech before members of parliament on these tweets. They are acting like real “shell-game artists.” They have published a tweet, made a million retweets, and now they have deleted it. Then they will say that we failed to understand them correctly, that in reality the “highly likely” statement did not imply direct accusations, that they wanted to investigate the matter on their own, but that Russia did not want to cooperate, and that everyone failed to get everything right. Such is the price of this entire terrible performance. In reality, the condition of the two people remains extremely serious, and it appears that a toxic agent/war gas was used on the territory of a European state which is a member of the relevant agencies for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

This is the real price of all these stories. Once again, I will confirm whether they deleted these tweets, but this story has been circulated by wire services. So it seems highly likely that this is true. We will certainly recheck this many times.

Question: It is possible to say that the United States is now trying to stage a provocation involving the unprecedented expulsion of Russian diplomats? Is the United States trying to technically expel Russia from the UN Security Council?

Maria Zakharova: This provocation is not linked with the expulsion of the diplomats. If, at long last, we obtain materials confirming the critical condition of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, confirming that they had been attacked using  the substance now being discussed, we will assume that this was a terrorist attack. Foreign Ministry representatives have noted this in the past. All this amounts to a provocation. And the expulsion of diplomats is a continuation needed to make this process look legal and to legitimise the accusations against Russia.

There is no specific evidence; London has classified everything, and no materials are available. Official British agencies will not share any information. How can this affair be used to the detriment of Russia? By demonstrating a certain solidarity, the international community’s unity, and by punishing Russia through the expulsion of diplomatic mission officials.

Let’s look at the diagrams that the United Kingdom shows in its new accusations regarding Russia every time, including in the so-called “Lisa case,” and the so-called “hacker attack,” etc. They will show the Skripal case in the same way. And when future journalists and investigators try to find out who was behind it and try to gather evidence, they will be told that so many countries had supported London, and that they could not possibly be wrong. But these countries acted in line with intra-block discipline, and they toed a common line, although all discussions of this issue at the European Union’s summit took place behind closed doors. After these discussions, the so-called EU common opinion was voiced, and it turned out that a number of countries asked extremely loaded questions to British representatives. Despite EU and NATO intra-bloc discipline, a number of countries tried not to follow the line as much as possible. So it took them several days to make a decision on the expulsion of Russian diplomats. Each country made this decision under pressure from London and Washington, and therefore different measures were made public. These measures were taken on different days. Different data is available on this matter – at first, some countries announced one decision, and later they changed it due to pressure from their superiors. But we recall all these details only here and now. Some time later these details will eventually be erased, and a simple diagram, a six-page presentation with a catchy headline will be compiled, and everyone will know that Russia is also “guilty” of the “Skripal case.” Therefore the West and London have expelled diplomats to legitimise their accusations against Russia.

Question: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has recently had a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and will soon meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump. We wonder if he will also visit Russia. Or will Russia remain outside the efforts to settle the problems on the Korean Peninsula?

Maria Zakharova: First, it is strange that a Japanese television company is concerned about a visit by the North Korean leader to Russia. Are you not wondering if Kim Jong-un will visit Japan?

Second, we maintain very close relations with all parties. Today I have told you about plans for a meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and North Korea. Don’t worry, everything is fine.

Question: Two years ago tomorrow, a new ceasefire and a new status quo was coordinated in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. How would you describe progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement over the past two years? What is the possibility of finding a solution to this problem?

Maria Zakharova: We regularly report on this. I will ask the experts about the latest developments there so as to provide a detailed review of the problem at the next briefing.

Question: During a meeting with the three Baltic leaders, US President Donald Trump assured them that the US would supply over $100 million worth of weapons to them. Will you comment on this?

Why did President Trump hold a simultaneous meeting with the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia? Is it because of his busy schedule, or is this evidence of vassal relations between the Baltic countries and the US?

Maria Zakharova: Businessmen sell everything. As for arms supplies and global security, the US is located over the ocean. This is Europe, and it is Europeans who will pay for the supply of US-made weapons. The US will get benefits and the money, but what will Europeans have? Weapons? What for? On the one hand, weapons are supplied, and on the other hand, European countries are pitted against each other. What can this lead to? Historians have different answers to this question. 

Question: Will the Russian Foreign Ministry apply the principle of reciprocity against Facebook, which has deleted the accounts and pages associated with the Russian “troll factory”?

Maria Zakharova: First, we will discuss the blocking of Russian media outlet accounts in the interdepartmental format, because this issue concerns not just the Foreign Ministry but also other specialised Russian agencies. Second, we will send letters to the OSCE and other organisations. And third, we are waiting for the official US reaction to this situation, because they are our counterparts. We would like to see the official comments by the US Department of State. When such steps are taken, we will analyse the statements, opinions and comments before making a decision. We want to know what officials at the US State Department and other US agencies think about the blocking of Russian media outlet accounts by a US social network. We also need to see an official reaction. We will analyse everything and subsequently make a decision. We will do so publicly.

Question: Yesterday President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that Russia had 20 questions it wanted to ask at a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council. What questions are these?

Maria Zakharova: We have already published everything on our website. Have you not seen it? We have a website, It is the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Our briefing is being broadcast there right now. We often publish interesting materials on foreign policy and international relations there. Just a few days ago we published the list of questions we have for Great Britain, France, Germany and the ORCW. All of them are available.

Question: 13 questions have been sent to the OPCW, but yesterday night the President talked about 20 questions…

Maria Zakharova: In total, there are many questions, for the OPCW and various countries as well. We received the OPCW’s answers before the briefing, and we are going to analyse them. Today a special session is taking place. Our permanent representative to the OPCW is planning to talk to the media after it is over. Either he or we will promptly inform you about the OPCW’s answers. Other countries have not given us their answers yet. There are more questions in total, not just 13 or 20. There are lots of them.

Question: What does Russia want to achieve at the meeting? In two words…

Maria Zakharova: I will try to sum it up in two words. The situation is difficult. It is a matter of truth and verity.

Question: That is more than two words.

Maria Zakharova: OK. Truth, verity.

Question: Can you introduce visa-free travel for Bulgarian citizens?

Maria Zakharova: This is an issue of bilateral agreements. The two countries’ corresponding agencies are responsible for this.

Question: Can you do it unilaterally?

Maria Zakharova:  You have already become an international relations expert by visiting all our briefings. You understand very well that this issue cannot be resolved by one person, by the head. This is an issue countries discuss based on their commitments and on the legal side of this issue.

Question: Are there any discussions about using the Russia–Turkey–Iran format not only to resolve Syrian issues but other cooperation issues as well?

Maria Zakharova: We have bilateral cooperation with Iran and Turkey. This format is designed for cooperation on the Syrian settlement process due to the importance of the situation and the role each country plays in this matter. If it is found useful and necessary to use it to resolve some other issues, I think there will be no problems. However, this is the question of corresponding agreements between the parties.

A meeting at the highest level in this format is taking place now. Let’s wait for information from there. It will definitely be firsthand.

Question: Uncompromising opposition groups are leaving the Douma zone for Jarabulus. Does this mean that the de-escalation zone in Eastern Ghouta will continue to operate? Or will some part of Jaysh al-Islam’s units remain in Douma?

Maria Zakharova: This is a question for military experts. You should ask them about the situation on the ground.

Question: Russian representatives have often stressed that the intra-Yemeni settlement process became more difficult after Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death. Meetings were held with Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son. Sergey Lavrov said that the Houthis were getting more radical. Does this mean that now Moscow works more closely with Abdrabbuh Hadi’s government?

Maria Zakharova: We are maintaining relations and close contact with the parties involved in the intra-Yemeni settlement process as well as other actors, taken the gravity of the international situation around Yemen. Experts on the Middle East and North Africa monitor this matter carefully. I can give you more details at the next briefing. But let me say once again that we maintain very close contacts that must help overcome the deadlock the situation has come to. We will provide you with additional information.

Question: You have already mentioned Mark Zuckerberg. Could you please comment on the “troll factories” and what has been done with regard to Russian-speaking citizens, including in Azerbaijan and other CIS countries? Why was it done? Where has Mark Zuckerberg got such data from?

Maria Zakharova: He has never concealed it. During the past months or maybe even longer, the corresponding US agencies have been working hard with representatives of these “new media,” as they were called. Now they are beginning to act a bit differently. US special services had a serious “talk” with representatives of the social networks, who found themselves under serious pressure. So, US social networks had to take some measure, but so far not very radical.

It would be interesting to know what information Facebook based its decision to block the accounts on, what US agency had provided the data and what data it was. We believe this data could have been first of all provided to Russia via official channels, because it concerns Russia and media outlets registered in Russia. We have experts in this area. But we have not received any data. In addition to this, I do not know of any accusations against Russian media that have accounts in social networks that Facebook made during the company’s contacts with official Russian representatives (such contacts have taken place recently.)

In any case, Facebook, being a channel of free information distribution, could have provided some of its data to Russia. I would like to point out once again that Russia supports the idea of “playing by the rules” and playing on equal terms, in particular, in social networks. If there are any accusations of some accounts or their moderators having violated some laws, we would like to understand what laws. These were not Facebook rules, because in that case each account would have been blocked, one by one, after a relevant complaint is received, instead of blocking a hundred of accounts at one fell swoop. This is not what happened. This means that some other rules, instructions or laws were violated. Which ones? Not Facebook’s, for sure. US laws? Please let us see. Who else infringes on US laws? Let us analyse it and make sure this will not happen in the future. How was the decision made and why? In addition to everything else, this means huge reputation losses for those media. This is more than just financial issues, or technology of reaching out to the audience. The social media accounts have been blocked for no good reason, based on conjecture and closed materials.

Question: One gets the impression that Facebook is tracking Russian and Russian-speaking citizens in other countries. Will the Foreign Ministry make an official inquiry?

Maria Zakharova: Of course we will. I have already said this. It goes without saying that we will try to understand what this is all about. What decisions motivated this action? What’s wrong with these accounts? What are they talking about? So far, Facebook’s statements have failed to clarify these issues. But they also faced tremendous pressure and were forced into showing their rejection of alleged election-meddling by Russia using social networks. This is obvious, and no one even tried to conceal it.

Question: Has the candidacy of Mikhail Bocharnikov been approved for the post of Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan? What were the Foreign Ministry’s motives for submitting his candidacy? When should we expect an agrément?

Maria Zakharova: In the 1990s, we set the rule that, just like any other federal agency, the Foreign Ministry does not comment on the appointment of ambassadors. We will comment on these appointments, talk about these ambassadors, present them and introduce them after the presidential executive order on appointing a given ambassador has been issued. The Foreign Ministry did not invent this rule. This directive was approved in the 1990s.

Certainly, the Foreign Ministry presents all ambassadors. In the past few years, we have seen to it that Russian ambassadors be interviewed by the media, that their biographies and articles are published before they leave for other countries. All this takes place after their appointment and after the relevant presidential executive order has been issued. All discussions on this issue and regarding any country take place after the presidential executive order has been published.

Question: At your previous briefing, you showed a very interesting brochure listing members of the British Parliament’s House of Lords who had attended the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Can you post this online or provide a link, so that everyone can “enjoy” this?

Maria Zakharova: This is authentic brochure that was not found online but printed in Germany in 1936. We can give it to you so that you could look through it and make sure it is authentic, and we can also post screenshots. I have seen no hyperlinks for this document, but we can provide you with the title, and maybe you can find it in some archives.

Question: Could you comment on the Polish Internal Security Agency’s detention of a certain Marek W., employee of Poland’s Ministry of Energy, who allegedly was in contact with Russian intelligence officers and passed on information about Warsaw’s plans regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline?

Maria Zakharova: We learned about this from the media. The Russian Embassy in Poland knows nothing about this person. We do not rule out the possibility that this topic is getting more popular in the wake of the expulsion of diplomats, the anti-Russian sentiment, the Salisbury incident that is the object of much speculation. It does not have any basis in reality.

Question: A week ago, the Polish Foreign Minister announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats claiming that their activities were illegal. What do you think about his statement?

Maria Zakharova: Clearly these are accusations in the “highly likely” vein. If there are specific allegations, they must be communicated to the Russian side and the public, when it is critically important. Do you know something about this? We do not.

Like I said at the previous briefing, every time our ambassadors visited their host country’s Foreign Ministries to obtain a list of expelled diplomats and corresponding notes, they asked that these decisions be explained. They were told that the reason was to show solidarity with London.

Referring to your question, I will also recall the strange footage published by some media outlet, when journalists tried to take pictures of expelled diplomats returning back home. We did not take pictures of them leaving for obvious reasons – people had just a couple of days to pack, there were many family members, including little children, too. We do not think that it was right to take pictures of these people under such extraordinary circumstances. However, somehow, local media managed to find out about the time of the diplomats’ departure, their vehicles and airports, so there were people taking pictures from behind corners and cars, practically hanging from the trees. The Russian media representatives were not very tactful either, as they were lying in wait for arriving diplomats. By the way, the list of people returning back home included pregnant women as well. No one was taking this into account – not the country expelling these people, not the media. We do understand that it is your job, too. Apparently, it is impossible to stop people who do not understand that doing this is not exactly ethical.

In order to put an end to all speculation that allegedly these diplomats were not being photographed on purpose, or that these were not the diplomats who got expelled and that the expelled ones were transferred in secret, I would like to state that in the near future (we will announce the date later) the Russian Foreign Ministry will organise a meeting with these diplomats, which will be attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. To prevent speculation, we will make this meeting as open as possible, invite media representatives, too. People returned home, they had an opportunity to get their lives back in order. No one is hiding them, this is absolutely absurd. How can one hide people who used to work and live abroad, whose names were made public in their host countries? We would like to put an end to such speculation.

Question: Russia is currently retaliating against European countries that expelled Russian diplomats. NATO has recently reduced the size of the Russian mission by ten people. Will you take response measures against this organisation and its office in Moscow, the so-called NATO Information Office? Will you take tit-for-tat or asymmetric measures?

Maria Zakharova: Nothing goes unanswered with us. Let me check with our experts how we can respond to this absolutely hostile gesture by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and answer this question later.

Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, tomorrow. What time will they meet tomorrow?

Will Foreign Minister of North Korea Ri Yong Ho only visit Moscow, or will he travel to other Russian cities? 

Maria Zakharova: The talks between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be held at midday tomorrow. They will include the talks, a news conference and a working lunch. These are the plans.

As for Mr Ri Yong Ho’s agenda, you should ask our North Korean partners, for example at the North Korean Embassy. If we have any additional information, we will share it with you.

Question: Will the talks between foreign ministers Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov be held in Moscow?

Maria Zakharova: I have no information to the contrary.

Question: First, we would like to thank you for supporting the Federal News Agency. We would like you to monitor this issue and possibly report on your findings at the next briefing.

Maria Zakharova: We received questions from CNN regarding this. There is a representative of the Federal News Agency, the accounts of which have been blocked, in this room. I suggest that you meet to discuss this problem, probably ask this person for an interview and ask why access to the agency’s resources has been blocked. Maybe you can also tell US audiences that there are journalists who are open to the public. By the way, I see this person much more often than I see you. I don’t know what they do or why their accounts have been blocked, but I can assure you that they are actual journalists. If only you could express solidarity with your colleagues whose accounts have been blocked! I would like to repeat that if there is any information showing that the Federal News Agency engaged in activities that run counter to Facebook values, we would like to see it, not as representatives of government organisations, but because these media outlets are asking us about this situation. You can make many reports for US audiences, or you can talk directly with representatives of the blocked media outlet who are here today not because this problem concerns their agency, but because they come here every week and provide broad coverage of foreign policy issues.

Question: There has already been disinformation coming from London regarding the notorious Salisbury incident but it is unclear what the purpose of the provocation is? Is this the vial we will be bombed over?

Maria Zakharova: We have spoken many times about this topic. First, discussing these topics without facts is a thankless task, like reading tea leaves. However, when we try to formulate answers to your questions, London blames us for making up and imposing theories. We are trying both to answer the question (to guess why it was done) even though information is lacking, and at the same time to remain within a legal framework so as to avoid spreading information that does not correspond to reality.  

We said that judging from what we observe, from the meagre facts that we have due to the absence and deliberate nondisclosure of facts, we conclude that it could be beneficial for diverting the international community’s attention, for instance, from Eastern Ghouta. It was a focus of attention for three months, and they either had to keep talking about it or to divert attention, because it appears that all the accusations made by western colleagues and their predictions were not borne out. Second, chemical weapons on the territory of Syria are definitely a factor, because the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” for all parties in terms of making decisions. The West and the US-led coalition ties the Assad regime’s legitimacy to chemical weapons. Previously we were told that he must go because he is so bad. Later they sidestepped this idea, they said that he is bad and should go because he violates international law by using chemical weapons. Now we started saying that facts need to be scrutinised. However, there were no facts again. By inventing a story about Russia’s using chemical weapons on British territory, they are trying to evict us from the legal domain for discussing Syrian chemical weapons in general under the pretext that it is impossible to speak with Russia about chemical weapons in Syria because look what it is doing in Europe. This is as regards motives. We hear a lot from Great Britain about Russia’s motives. However, none are named.

The suggestion that Russia took out the Skripals is just absurd. Russia had swapped Sergey Skripal. He had been duly convicted in a court of law. He served his time. His guilt was admitted and proved. He was given to the British side in good health. He arrived on British soil where he was living and where the British side, including their secret services, was responsible for his life as it was them he was working for. Consequently, there could not have been any motive for Russia to take out Skripal in principle, especially on the eve of the election. Everything that is unfolding now, all these factors undermine the absurd notion that Russia has a motive. The other side, meanwhile, has a great many motives.

Let me reiterate that speculating on these matters without facts in hand is a thankless task. I have listed all the facts we need. And not only we. These facts are now also needed by UK citizens, as they are being deceived on such a large scale. I think it is the United Kingdom that must explain itself, including to its own subjects.

Question: Diplomat expulsions from different countries come at a price. When Russia prevails and all our enemies fall, will we demand reimbursement for the expulsions of the diplomats?

Maria Zakharova: This is the first time I am hearing such a perspective in discussions of this problem. I have never thought about or contemplated it before. It is the first time I am hearing of a financial approach, even in history. Measures were taken, and there has been a symmetrical response to them.

Question: I would like to elaborate on my colleagues’ question about the forthcoming talks of Russian and North Korean foreign ministers. Is the issue of a summit meeting going to be raised, among other issues?

Maria Zakharova: My answer is similar to the previous one. Various aspects of summit meetings are commented on at the top level.

Question: You have mentioned Vil Mirzayanov’s book. Can Russia institute legal proceedings for violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention against the United States for publishing that book?

Maria Zakharova: This is exactly what our experts on non-proliferation, including of WMD, spoke about in this room. It was a briefing by military experts. This is exactly what they spoke about within these very walls, but to the diplomatic corps, not journalists. They spoke frankly, saying the publication of such materials directly violates the provisions of the Convention I mentioned today.

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