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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, December 19, 2018

19 December 201818:07

Table of contents

  1. Meeting of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad 
  2. Update on Maria Butina
  3. Investigation of the assassination of Andrey Karlov
  4. Update on Syria
  5. OPCW Technical Secretariat delaying investigation of Aleppo chemical incident
  6. Increased tension in the West Bank
  7. UN General Assembly votes on Ukraine’s draft resolution on the alleged militarisation of Crimea and parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov
  8. Situation around Nord Stream 2 project
  9. The establishment of the Council of Europe’s Working Group to compare national legislations of states that will host the games of the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship
  10. Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on visa-free travel
  11. South Africa commemorates Soviet servicemen killed in the south of Africa
  12. Cancellation of the meeting of the Russian-Czech Intergovernmental Commission on Military Burial Sites in 2018
  13. Safety of journalists

Answers to media questions:

  1. Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
  2. US withdrawal from INF Treaty
  3. US statements regarding interference in Venezuela
  4. Russia-Lithuania relations and freedom of speech
  5. Grigory Karasin’s statement on Armenia-US relations
  6. Kiev’s planned provocation in the Kerch Strait
  7. Russian-Ukrainian relations
  8. Person of the Year
  9. Ideological influence of the Russian Foreign Ministry
  10. Turkey’s intention to launch an operation against Kurds
  11. Ukraine’s provocation in the making
  12. Deportation of Ukrainian journalist from Russia
  13. Russia-Azerbaijan relations

Meeting of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad 

A regular meeting of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad will take place in the Foreign Ministry on December 24 under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The participants plan to sum up the results of the commission’s performance in the outgoing year that was capped off by the Sixth World Congress of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad. The forum was a great success. It was attended by over 400 delegates from 98 countries. President of Russia Vladimir Putin delivered a speech at the forum.

The work with young representatives of the diaspora remains the commission’s priority. Its members will review the performance of the affiliated Interdepartmental Council on Youth Affairs in 2018.

Statements by representatives of the Government of the Republic of Crimea will be a separate item on the agenda. They will share with the audience their own experience of working with compatriots abroad.

The members will also plan a schedule of the commission’s meetings in 2019.

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Update on Maria Butina

During court hearings on December 13, Maria Butina confirmed her deal with US prosecutors and pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent.

Butina made this decision under strong pressure from US authorities. Ahead of the court session the conditions of her detention were substantially toughened. So we will leave it to you to assess the situation. I think your judgement will be more objective than that of the US justice system.

Here are the facts. She was transferred to a prison block for highly dangerous criminals, was kept in her cell for 22 hours a day and denied medical treatment. There is no doubt that in this way she was shown what to expect if she refuses to cooperate with investigators.

As a result, we saw how the justice system operates in the US. It is being presented as essentially a model of respect for human rights. Others are continuously told how to behave on this track. Having created unbearable conditions and threatened Butina by citing real examples that are also unfortunately numerous, our compatriot was literally compelled to admit to absolutely absurd charges.

We continue to regard Butina’s detention, arrest and confinement under guard as political pressure and an act of political blackmail, and her as a political prisoner.

We are convinced that the criminal case against Butina is linked exclusively with the desire of some political forces in the US to fan anti-Russia hysteria and find at least something that may point to Russia’s alleged “interference” in US domestic affairs.

We will continue working for Butina’s release and return home.

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Investigation of the assassination of Andrey Karlov

Today marks two years since the tragic death of Russian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Turkey Andrey Karlov as a result of a terrorist act in Ankara.

Turkish law enforcement authorities have completed the criminal proceedings in this incident and have submitted an indictment request to the court. Russian investigators who are in constant cooperation with their Turkish colleagues will study the materials.

We expect that, as a result of the forthcoming judicial proceedings, all those involved in this crime will be identified and held responsible under the law.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Turkey continue to monitor this issue closely.

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Update on Syria

It is time to review Syria in 2018, a year that saw serious progress in the developments in and around Syria. The nature and scale of the progress are especially apparent in the capital city of Damascus and other large cities like Aleppo, Homs and Latakia. Today, these cities are living a peaceful life without the tense expectation of daily terrorist bombings and shellfire, as it was in the past. In spite of the bitter trials that the people have been through, they are preparing for the New Year, which many people mark in a traditionally tolerant Syria, and Christians are also preparing for Christmas. There is a festive mood in the territories controlled by the Syrian government.

Sadly, the approaching celebrations will likely be neglected in Idlib where Al-Nusra terrorists still reign. The administration, which they set up and called the “salvation government,” is doing its best to eliminate any signs of New Year’s festivities in everyday life as allegedly offensive to Muslims.

The destroyed city of Raqqa is no better. There is no one left to celebrate Christmas at the desecrate church ruins there, as almost all Christians have left this ghost city.

New Year’s Eve is a time of hope. For Syrians these hopes are mostly associated with further progress in settling and overcoming the consequences of the protracted war; the re-establishment of the country’s full sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity; the final elimination of the terrorist presence; a political, social and economic rebuilding; and the return of the refugees and internally displaced persons.

A very important step forward on this road is the positive results of the talks with the Syrian groups on the list of the Constitutional Committee members, which the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran handed over to UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura in Geneva yesterday. I would like to remind you that the decision to set up the committee was made at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. We expect this important committee to meet in Geneva and start work in early 2019 with the goal of preparing constitutional reform in Syria, which will be the basis for a general election organised in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on Syria.

We closely follow the developments in the northeast of Syria where tension is growing due to the continuing illegal US military presence. Washington’s continuing overtures to separatist-minded Kurdish politicians have triggered a  serious concern in Ankara over a threat to Turkey’s national security in this connection. The US cannot dispel this concern. As a result, the situation on the east bank of the Euphrates along the Turkish-Syrian border and in the areas that have recently experienced ISIS attacks has come to the boiling point and is threatening to come to a major crisis. Both the Kurdish and Syrian people will become hostages of this situation and only the remaining ISIS holdouts, who are starting to raise their heads again, will stand to gain.

We have repeatedly addressed the subject of the US occupation of a considerable part of Syrian territory and pointed out that the illegal US military presence can no longer be considered a contribution to the fight against international terrorism but can be regarded as a dangerous obstacle in the way of a settlement. This can be seen in in the Rukban refugee camp, located in the 55 km “exclusive zone,’ single-handedly set up by the US around the illegal military base in Al-Tanf. So far, the US is not admitting representatives of the Syrian government to this zone, but they are patronising militants who find refuge there, including those connected with ISIS, whom they train and arm. As a result, illegal armed groups still control the 50,000 person camp, which the majority of people want to leave and return home but cannot do so in an organised way.

Currently we continue to discuss the issue of organising the next UN humanitarian convoy to Rukban, to relieve people’s suffering as winter approaches. It is obvious that people need urgent assistance. However, to successfully carry out this humanitarian operation it is essential for the US, as the country actually occupying the area, to provide a full security guarantee to the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent Society, as well as to guarantee the targeted distribution of the humanitarian goods among the people in the Rukban camp. Otherwise, they will be supporting the militants rather than the residents of the camp.

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OPCW Technical Secretariat delaying investigation of Aleppo chemical incident

We are gravely concerned that the OPCW Technical Secretariat has not yet sent its Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the November 24 chemical attack in Aleppo despite the repeated official requests from the Syrian government.

An advance group of FFM experts visited Damascus on December 4−6, where it received a large amount of factual information concerning the Aleppo incident and assurances of every assistance from the Syrian authorities and the Russian military. As far as we know, the UN Department of Safety and Security has not issued any warnings against the experts’ trip to Aleppo.

Nearly a month has passed since that chemical incident, but the situation has not changed, regrettably. The more time elapses, the more difficult it will be for FFM experts to collect factual evidence at the site. Since chlorine, which was used in the primitive chemical bombs fired by the terrorists at Aleppo, is a highly volatile substance, the probability that the experts will find any chlorine traces is decreasing every day.

On the one hand, Syrian officials have provided information to prove that this crime was committed by the terrorists. On the other hand, high-ranking officials from several Western countries claim that the November 24 attack on Aleppo was staged by Damascus with Russian assistance so as to put the blame on the opposition. In this situation, it is extremely important to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation without delay directly at the attack site, rather than remotely as is often the case.

The impression is that the OPCW Technical Secretariat is deliberately dragging out the investigation, which amounts, by the way, to neglect of duty. I wonder if they are doing this to suit the Western trio, which, seeking to attain their geopolitical interests in Syria, used military force against this UN member state and CWC signatory before the investigation was even launched.

In our opinion, dragging out the investigation of the Aleppo incident and failure to send FFM experts there contradicts the CWC provisions and common sense, considering that innocent civilians have suffered in that chemical attack.

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Increased tension in the West Bank

Tension on the West Bank of the River Jordan has been growing since early December. Three Israelis have died in attacks staged by Palestinian extremists and the Israeli military have killed seven Palestinians in the past few days. Many people have been wounded on both sides. The situation was further exacerbated when Israel expanded the operations to apprehend the attackers, which has provoked new Palestinian protests and clashes with the Israeli military.

Claiming to respond to the “Palestinian terror”, the Israeli government took additional measures in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 to build new and legalise the existing housing units in the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, including in Ofra.

We are seriously concerned about this new outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. We urge both sides to resume effective coordination in the field of security so as to normalise the situation as soon as possible. We are convinced that the accelerated construction of illegal settlements will not strengthen Israel’s security. It is clearly necessary to boost the Israeli-Palestinian political process based on the relevant decisions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.

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UN General Assembly votes on Ukraine’s draft resolution on the alleged militarisation of Crimea and parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov

On December 17, the UN General assembly held a plenary session to review a draft resolution sponsored by Ukraine and titled “The problem of militarisation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine), as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.”

This is a politicised document built on unacceptable accusations against Russia and intended to “write off” all the problems Ukraine is currently facing in terms of domestic politics and the economy as deriving from some kind of mythical “Russian aggression,” as well as boost Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko’s record-low approval ratings.

In addition to this, the draft resolution contains a distorted and untrue interpretation by Kiev of the November 25 provocation, when three Ukrainian ships attempted to penetrate the Kerch Strait without notifying Russia in advance. The documents that were found on board these vessels, as well as the testimonies made by the Ukrainian crew members clearly suggest that this was a deliberate and premeditated initiative.

Furthermore, the Ukrainian provocation was carried out in violation of the UN Charter and international law, including Article 19 and 21 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set out the procedures and rules regarding innocent passage, as well as the rights of the coastal state to ensure safety in its territorial sea.

The allegations in the resolution on the militarisation by Russia of Crimea and parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are also at odds with reality. Russia is not building up its military presence in the Sea of Azov, and there are no naval bases there. The forces that are located there are used to protect the Crimean Bridge and ensure the safety of navigation. Let me remind you that from the very first statements on plans to build the Crimean Bridge we heard from Ukrainian officials, politicians and security establishment loyal to the current Kiev regime direct calls to prevent the construction and then to destroy this civilian infrastructure facility.

The measures undertaken by Russia (selective ship inspections, including Russian vessels) are quite adequate considering the threats coming from extremists, including Ukrainian politicians, regarding the Crimean Bridge and our country in general.

At the same time, it is Ukraine’s actions that are aimed at militarising the Sea of Azov. In fact, Ukraine announced the establishment of a naval base in Berdyansk and regularly closes specific areas of the Sea of Azov for artillery practice.

Unfortunately, even amendments to the draft resolution submitted by a number of delegations in order to reflect the essence of the November 25 provocation in a more balanced way did nothing to change its counterproductive and malignant nature.

Against this backdrop, Russia had no choice other than to initiate a vote on the resolution and to vote against it. The vote showed that positions of UN member states vary greatly, with most countries abstaining and a significant number not present during the vote, which can be viewed as eloquent proof of a one-sided interpretation of the situation around Crimea and the Sea of Azov. It is also a fact that many countries were directly pressured to support the resolution. Nevertheless, two thirds of UN member countries did not support it.

It is unfortunate that Kiev’s counterproductive anti-Russia initiatives within the UN General Assembly and other structures and bodies of this universal organisation are solely intended to veil the disastrous domestic policy of this country’s leadership and do nothing to promote the settlement of the internal crisis in Ukraine.

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Situation around Nord Stream 2 project

The other day, Washington and some European capitals have once again made statements opposing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, citing the project’s allegedly non-profit making nature and its alleged threat to European energy security. We have repeatedly noted the absence of logic as well as common sense in such statements.

In any event, Europe will buy as much Russian natural gas as it needs. We don’t hear any answer to the question why Ukraine’s monopoly rights to maintain Russian gas transits are better than the diversification of gas delivery routes.

Our opponents should also look at the map and note the fact that, in the past decade, Russia’s main gas production region has shifted to the north and is now located in the Yamal Peninsula. A route linking Yamal with Europe via the Baltic Sea’s seabed is almost 2,000 kilometres shorter than the route via Ukraine. Gas transportation prices are also different, all the more so as Ukraine has officially stipulated rates that exceed current rates three times over.

The motives of our US colleagues’ actions are clear. They want to sell US liquefied natural gas on the European market using fair or foul means. So they should not tell us profusely about market principles and fair competition. Russia is ready for precisely such fair competition, as regards the sales of pipeline gas and LNG. Washington, rather than Moscow, is coercing its clients and threatening to impose sanctions on companies implementing optimal gas supply projects for their clients. Washington is actively using sanction regimes and “big stick” as political pressure. At the same time, the corporate reorganisation of energy resources’ production and transportation with the aim to make this project more competitive amounts to our attempts to make our efforts more competitive, efficient and transparent.

Even less clear is the logic of some European politicians who are trying to force ordinary people and businesses to pay for their Russophobia. It appears that the developments in France provide a clear answer to the question whether European consumers are ready to pay much more for gas, as compared to the price of Russian gas.

Speaking of Ukraine, we would like to note that, after four years of discussions about the so-called division or un-bundling of the Ukrainian gas transportation system’s management not a single partner whom it would be possible to deal with has appeared.

We are ready to confirm that the concept of the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Steam projects does not aim to completely abandon existing routes for delivering natural gas to Europe. The same is true of Ukraine. Russian gas transits via this country can continue only if the concerned companies settle their disputes, if the Ukrainian route is profitable, and if a normal atmosphere for talks is created. So far, we don’t see any progress in any of these areas.

Nevertheless, Russia has met its European partners halfway and has agreed to continue trilateral gas-transit consultations involving the European Union and Ukraine. It was precisely the Ukrainian side that refused to hold a regular meeting this December. Unfortunately, one has reason to believe that, if this meeting takes place in January, Kiev will take advantage of it to politicise this matter and to conduct anti-Russia propaganda for scoring political points in the Ukrainian election campaign.

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The establishment of the Council of Europe’s Working Group to compare national legislations of states that will host the games of the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship

In December 2018, a working group to compare national legislations of states that will host the games of the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship, was established on the initiative of the Russian Ministry of Sport under the auspices of the Standing Committee of the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events and in particular at Football Matches.

The group’s main job is to guarantee compliance with UEFA requirements during the championship. States hosting the event have to provide the so-called guarantees that, in turn, should be formalised in their national legislations, including a visa-free regime for football fans. To the best of our knowledge, Russia has voluntarily provided more guarantees than any other country or the number of guarantees stipulated by the UEFA.

Thanks to the successful 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia has demonstrated its ability to organise large-scale sporting events and ensure the safety and comfort of the fans. We believe we can share our experience within the framework of the working group.

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Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on visa-free travel

On January 7, 2019, the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the terms of cancellation of visa formalities in mutual travel of the citizens of the Russian Federation and the citizens of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, signed in New York on September 27, 2018, enters into force.

According to the Agreement, citizens of the Russian Federation holding valid passports that give them the right to cross borders, including diplomatic and service passports, and citizens of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines holding valid national, diplomatic and official passports will be able to enter, exit from, transit through and stay in the territory of the other state visa-free for up to 90 calendar days within any 180-day period starting from the entry date.

Citizens of either state who intend to stay or reside in the territory of the other state for more than 90 calendar days or engage in work or other commercial activity must obtain a visa at the diplomatic or consular office of this state in accordance with its legislation.  

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South Africa commemorates Soviet servicemen killed in the south of Africa

On December 13 in Pretoria, the Russian segment of the Wall of Names was unveiled in the Freedom Park memorial complex, with names of 67 Soviet military personnel killed during the armed conflicts in Angola and Mozambique, which South Africa considers as stages in the fight against apartheid. The event took place as part of the systematic cooperation between Russia and South Africa on preserving their common historical memory and teaching the young generation the long-term traditions of solid friendship, in the spirit of the Joint Statement on the Strategic Partnership between Russia and South Africa signed by presidents Vladimir Putin and Cyril Ramaphosa on July 26, 2018.

The ceremony was attended by Russian Ambassador to South Africa Mikhail Petrakov, South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa and Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Small Business Development and Head of the African National Congress Subcommittee on International Relations, who stressed in her speech that modern, democratic and free South Africa owes its very existence to our country. The event participants also included ambassadors of Belarus, Angola, and Mozambique, as well as Azerbaijani charge d'affaires ad interim in South Africa and other representatives of the diplomatic corps.

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Cancellation of the meeting of the Russian-Czech Intergovernmental Commission on Military Burial Sites in 2018

" rel="111">We took note of the interview by Coordinator for War Monument Maintenance within the Czech Defence Ministry, Pavel Filipek, with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on December 11. In this interview, he accused Russia of violating the bilateral intergovernmental agreement on the maintenance of military burial sites dated December 15, 1999.

Let me explain a few things in this regard.

It is true that Russia decided that it would be inadvisable to hold the next meeting of the Joint Russian-Czech Intergovernmental Commission on Military Burial Sites on the implementation of the above-mentioned agreement in 2018. A note to this effect was sent to the Czech Republic in November 2018.

This decision arose as a result of the failure by the Czech authorities to take action in response to the placement of a plate on the monument to Soviet Marshall Ivan Konev in Prague, the text of which is at odds with his role in history. Let me remind you that Soviet troops liberated most of Czechoslovakia and saved Prague under the command of this merited officer, and we have archival evidence to prove this should anyone put this into question. Ivan Konev received more than 50 military decorations, including the Order of the White Lion, the highest order of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic that exists to this day. He was also awarded the title of Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

In the diplomatic note that I have mentioned, we proposed holding a working meeting in Moscow in order to discuss Russian-Czech cooperation on war monument maintenance. Unfortunately, the Czech Defence Ministry representative failed to mention this to the media, while providing an otherwise detailed account of our diplomatic correspondence. We have yet to receive a reply to this proposal.

Consequently, instead of a constructive dialogue on all the matters related to war monuments, Pavel Filipek reports bits and pieces that are taken out of context, perorating about the “historical myths” in the Russian Federation.

The Russian side in the Joint Intergovernmental Commission will send a detailed response to Pavel Filipek, representative of the Czech side in the Commission.

Russia honours its treaty obligations toward its Czech partners regarding war monument maintenance, promotes constructive dialogue on all matters and expects the Czech side to do the same.

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Safety of journalists

Last week, on December 15, Russia marked the Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty.

According to UNESCO, 94 journalists have been killed worldwide as a result of their professional activity since the beginning of 2018. This statistic includes both journalists covering military conflicts and those working during peacetime, defending the people’s right to receive reliable and urgent information.

The Russian Federation pays special attention to the safety of journalists, the problem of the impunity of those who commit crimes against them, and the prevention of such crimes. We are doing everything possible to bring to justice those who stand in the way of the professional activity of journalists. We monitor the violations against them and cooperate on these matters with international organisations like the OSCE and UNESCO.

We are rightfully concerned about the situation regarding the safety of journalists in Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly drawn the attention of the international community to the dangerous trends there that lead to censorship and gross violations of journalists’ rights, including their physical elimination.

There is still no progress in the investigation into the murders of journalists Anatoly Klyan, Anton Voloshin, Igor Kornelyuk, Andrei Stenin, Andrea Rocchelli, Oles Buzina, Sergey Dolgov, Vyacheslav Veremiy, Pavel Sheremet and others. Journalists in Ukraine continue to be physically abused, at the instigation of the official Kiev, which long ago embarked on the path of repression of the media and the silencing of dissent.

We urge the relevant international agencies and human rights non-profit organisations to react and condemn all forms of pressure on the media by the Ukrainian government, including the elimination of unwanted journalists.

We consider the December decision of the OSCE Foreign Ministers Council on the safety of journalists a breakthrough. The organisation demonstrated to the professional journalistic community its commitment to defend the interests of journalists.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: Last Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Baku, where he held talks with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Mr Lavrov said that Azerbaijan was willing to resume negotiations and search for constructive solutions to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and that you are pondering creative ideas that would be used as the basis for a settlement. Do you know which creative ideas Russia could propose for a settlement in Karabakh?

Maria Zakharova: He was talking about the future and that we need to find ideas [for reaching compromise solutions] and that these ideas must be creative. It is such ideas that are likely to be supported. Experts are working on them.

Question: Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that the United States has confirmed via bilateral channels that the decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty is final and is not “an invitation for dialogue.” How does Russia view this approach?

Maria Zakharova: We view it as destructive.

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Question: Can you comment on the latest statements made in the US concerning interference in Venezuela’s affairs and the danger of a provocation, which President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro noted?

Maria Zakharova: I did not see the statements you have mentioned. I don’t know what you mean, but everyone knows about the US attitude to the regional countries. Washington has not treated foreign states as equal partners or even junior brothers for a long time, unfortunately. The US attitude is disrespectful, is based on interference in the internal affairs of both adjacent and other regional states and does not stipulate an equal dialogue.

The Latin American countries have not had to prove their sovereignty for a long time. They are accomplished political, economic, humanitarian and cultural members of the international community, and they are making a huge contribution to the development of international law and the settlement of crises. Nevertheless, the United States does not view this region as an equal partner with equal rights.

Venezuela has become the target of US aggression in all meanings of this word. We have cited facts and cautioned against these activities, saying that they have nothing in common with the proclaimed US goals of protecting human rights and promoting democracy but are harming the people of Venezuela and, most importantly, hampering the country’s development.

Any political, economic or humanitarian processes must be developed in the country by the people themselves. If the country needs help and assistance, it can issue a relevant statement to other states or international organisations. I don’t remember Venezuela asking for US support to settle its internal affairs, especially since such assistance brings the opposite results. Regrettably, this is a fact. But I would be delighted – no, this is not true. I will not be delighted to see any statements on this subject, because the American politicians’ statements on Venezuela cannot be described as constructive.

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Question: It was announced today at a joint news conference of Lithuania’s State Security Department, the prosecutor’s office and the police that they had uncovered a network of Russian spies. Several Lithuanian citizens and one Russian citizen have been detained. We already knew about it yesterday, and the Lithuanian security services have confirmed at the news conference that the Russian citizen in question is Valery Ivanov, a 70-year-old historian. They broke down his door and allegedly found a gun in his flat. It is a favourite method of the Baltic security services.

One of the arrested Lithuanians is Algirdas Paleckis, a former leader of Lithuania’s Socialist People’s Front. It is said that they made public subjects that are painful to Lithuanian society, in particular, the January 13, 1991 case. It now appears that any communication with Russian journalists, citizens or business people is regarded as spying. I think they will soon bring accusations against our news agency, because Sputnik and RT seem to be involved in everything taking place in Europe. We are waiting for this to happen. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: First, this is part of the Russophobic policy of the country you have mentioned, regrettably. Second, it amounts to a huge rollback from the democratic rights and freedoms which some countries, including in the Baltics, searched for, turning to the West, and politically integrating with it, and in particular NATO and the EU, in the process. The main goal of joining these organisations was not the financial prosperity. Judging by the available data, the level of these countries’ development is incomparable to that of 30 years ago. These countries declared freedom of speech, human rights, non-interference in private life and the protection of personal rights and liberties as the goal of their chosen path. We now see a huge rollback in these areas. It could be worse than a rollback even curtailment. It could be a complete renunciation of the declared democratic policy. I see no other explanation for what is happening.

As for the possible reaction to the material and work of Sputnik and other Russian media outlets, the more you do to provide reliable and objective information and the better you do this, the less you will be liked, judging by what I have just said.

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Question: Today, State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin called for, or rather expressed hope that Armenia would be able to resist the US blackmail. Was there a reason for this statement? Is it connected with the voting on Crimea?

Maria Zakharova: I think there is nothing to add here. We will not allow blackmail to be used against a state that has barely entered the difficult path of development and is still searching for its identity and future. Why was the above statement or answer made? It was probably a reply to a question. We should ask the journalists. I don’t think Grigory Karasin just stopped a passing journalist and asked him or her to write down his ideas on this subject. No, I think he said this in reply to a question.

Question: The statement by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov concerning the memorandum to be signed with Acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been interpreted differently in Armenia and Russia.

Maria Zakharova: You simply haven’t seen this interview. Those who have seen it have no questions as to why there were conflicting interpretations and some misunderstandings. The interview conducted by the correspondents, the Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists, was overcharged with emotion. It was less an interview than a live question and answer broadcast, with the questioners interrupting Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov without giving him a chance to reply (I was present in the room where it was recorded). We have nothing against the journalists, but it turned out to be a cross between an interview and a conversation. Because of the emotional intensity and the fact that questions kept interrupting the answers, not all the t’s were crossed.  Realising that clarification was needed, we posted a transcript with all the necessary clarification regarding the terminology.

Question: Does it also apply to Russian military facilities?

Maria Zakharova: Pay attention to the transcript. It is about military laboratories.

I am grateful to the Armenian media representatives who promptly rang us up to clarify the matter without spreading what might have given rise to questions. Thank you for the clarification provided.

I repeat, it is not my intention to boost anybody’s approval ratings, but this interview was indeed a case apart in terms of the way the questions were couched.

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Question: Secretary of the Ukrainian Security and Defence Council, Alexander Turchinov, said that Kiev was again planning to send ships to the Kerch Strait. He said he had invited his partners to take part in the action. Could you comment on that?

Maria Zakharova: This is the announcement of another provocation, it has the same provocative character. It is absolutely irresponsible and is designed to aggravate the situation even as many of Ukraine’s partners are trying to defuse tension and seek de-escalation. Making such a statement against the background of the attempts being made by a number of states, including EU members, amounts to acknowledging that provocation is the Kiev regime’s calling card.

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Question: As you have mentioned, December 15 marked the Journalists’ Remembrance Day. We all know what pressure is exerted on the Russian media in many countries, including Ukraine. The recent introduction of the state of emergency may worsen the position of Russian journalists and make them still more vulnerable. Meanwhile, the situation with Ukrainian journalists in Russia is the opposite. They are free to attend any events and they encounter no obstacles. Why doesn’t Russia take tit-for-tat or at least asymmetric measures with regard to the Ukrainian journalists?

Maria Zakharova: I am at a loss how to answer your question because, unfortunately, I get many such questions, I am not only reproached, but castigated over the fact that unlike the situation with Russian journalists in Ukraine, the regime of the work of Ukrainian journalists has not changed and fully complies with the accreditation rules for all foreign correspondents.    

I receive angry letters asking why our journalists are barred not only from official events, but even from the border are (and we are talking about well-known seasoned journalists), while we not only allow Ukrainian journalists to be present at our events, but even let them ask questions.

I was surprised to see the wave of criticism, including in the public space, over allegations that the Foreign Ministry and I personally had allegedly intervened on behalf of a Ukrainian journalist who had been detained by the Moscow law-enforcers. People said that we should have shown to Ukraine, to journalists and the public how the Russian media feel in Ukraine when they are detained and interrogated for hours on end, making no distinction between men and women, seasoned journalists and newcomers to the profession.

First, it would be wrong to be like those whom we criticise. Second, we strictly follow the law. Our law and accreditation rules are the same for everyone. Third, many Russian journalists become victims of aggressive and politically motivated actions, false charges and discrimination. In such situations, we use a number of mechanisms: we try to resolve the problems on a bilateral basis and, failing that, we go one step further and write letters to specialised international organisations.

There are situations where, in addition to intimidation and political pressure, Russian journalists are directly threatened by the security forces and the authorities of this or that country, including the threat of deportation. When it comes to something like this, unfortunately, we have in recent years been forced to act in a tit-for-tat manner. Such instances occur, and not only Ukrainian, but other journalists may write out-and-out fakes and openly stage provocations. It is our duty – and we will stick to it – to offer them every opportunity to work on the territory of the Russian Federation in accordance with our laws. It is about legal culture and our commitment to the obligations we have assumed. On top of everything else, these are not just commitments, but a certain style and mode of information work which Moscow and Russia adhere to and profess.

Whatever criticism I get as a person directly dealing with such issues, I believe that we should be guided by the rules of accreditation that are the same for everyone here. But in cases like the one I have just cited, when journalists are expelled, our response has to be tit-for-tat.  

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Question: At the end of the year, everyone sums up its results. Many organisations and publications choose the person of the year. Who would you choose?

Maria Zakharova: I have no right to make personal statements from this rostrum, but I will, however, make an informal comment as someone working with the media, someone who has been working in the information sphere for a long time.

I do not like nominations like “person of the year”, “person of the last five years”, “person of the century” and so forth. Frankly, these are nothing but empty, meaningless, formalised titles to me. But in the context of the safety of journalists, which we have touched upon today, as something that we regularly discuss and comment upon, I would like to focus on the media instead of talking about some interesting people and their incredible achievements in economy, culture, peacekeeping, healthcare and filmmaking.

Tatyana Felgengauer was the person who showed me that no circumstances can break someone who is dedicated to their profession, who keeps on loving it in spite of everything. I say this with absolute sincerity.  

We often speak easily about the troubles other people face in their lives, focusing on our own minor troubles and misfortunes. But Tatyana Felgengauer went through things that most of us, thank goodness, cannot even imagine, and still found the strength to return to her profession, showing that nothing had changed. When you speak about this from the outside, there might be differing views. But when you try to fathom what the person really went through and how it felt to walk again down that same corridor in the same office where everything happened – you realise that this is what true courage is.

Perhaps, I disagree with Tatyana on many things. But the strength that she managed to find, showing that one can overcome even something like this – having a knife held to your throat – made me look at life in a different way.

This has nothing to do with analysing political views. The very fact that someone found the strength to return to their profession, despite the fact that this crime against her took place at her workplace, shows how courageous she is.

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Question: Thank you for explaining the situation around the Marshal Ivan Konev memorial. People in many cities of the Volga River area and Siberia have an extremely negative opinion of the Czech Defence Ministry’s programme. For example, people in the Czech Republic are delighted that the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the person of Valery Konnov, who heads the Russian Defence Ministry’s mission for military-memorial work at the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic, can say that it is no good to desecrate the Konev memorial by installing the plaque you mentioned on it. After that, the Mayor of Bugulma attends the ceremony of unveiling that monument, which involves the Defence Minister of the Czech Republic. Czech media outlets are saying that the Russian Foreign Ministry exerts no ideological influence on the mayors of our cities. What can you say about the Foreign Ministry’s ideological influence?

Maria Zakharova: This has nothing to do with ideological influence. We do not aim to influence anyone. Our clear task is to provide information in response to specific requests, to explain the Russian side’s main foreign policy initiatives and actions, and to comment on events taking place under the auspices of the Russian Foreign Ministry. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry coordinates Russia’s foreign policy activities. Certain provisions regulate and explain various concepts.

For example, Russian agencies, ministries and departments, as well as the country’s regions and territories, coordinate their foreign trade and international activities with the Russian Foreign Ministry. Therefore, this concerns coordination, rather than influence. 

Question: It turns out that the people of the Czech Republic have a different opinion of this. They can see that there is no coordination in a certain sense, and they appreciate this.

Maria Zakharova: Yes, some people want to take advantage of disagreements, to find some discrepancies and to turn them into major problems. But we are not divided on this issue. We closely cooperate with the Military Historical Society, with historians, activists and regional agencies.

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Question: There has been much speculation lately about Turkey’s plans to launch a military operation against the Kurds. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reportedly already discussed this matter with US President Donald Trump. Russia gave Turkey time – first until October and then until November, and now it looks like it will be next year – to separate Jabhat al-Nusra from the moderate opposition. In fact, however, according to reports, explosions continue, which means that Turkey has failed to honour its commitments with regard to Idlib. Is there a red line, after which we will step in and tell our Turkish partners that much time has passed, but progress is hardly in sight, while the Syrian people continue to suffer.

Maria Zakharova: For that, regular meetings are held with the Turkish side at various levels. Yesterday, for example, there were talks between the foreign ministers of the three guarantor countries of the Astana process. We maintain contacts with our Turkish colleagues at the level of heads of state and special representatives.

The Syrian settlement is not a pre-arranged plan that simply has to be implemented, but a dynamically changing situation influenced by a large number of players. This is not a planar situation, but a volumetric one, which makes it even more complicated. Maintaining all sorts of contacts – between diplomats, the military and experts, delegation exchanges – is not as simple as synchronising our watches. These contacts are intended to bring our positions as close as possible where we have common approaches and to do everything to find common ground on difficult matters. This is an ongoing process.

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Question: Could you comment on reports that Ukraine is preparing a provocation, something that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned in his recent interview.

Maria Zakharova: Mr Lavrov clearly said that we have corresponding information. Let me draw your attention to the fact that the same was confirmed by Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin in his interview on the Rossiya 1 television channel.

We indeed have corresponding information, which we cannot disclose as the case in point is provocative actions. All this fits into the same logic: as far as we can see, it is impossible for Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements due to the internal processes there, despite the fact that in words everyone agreed that this document has no alternative. But it is necessary to somehow resolve the situation in the region, including in the context of the upcoming election. People there are demanding an answer to the question of what has been done over the past years and how the situation will be addressed. At our last briefing, we said that, from the point of view of the Kiev government, such a military campaign is the sole, though crazy, move that might help certain candidates score points.

For more specifics, I suggest you read Sergey Lavrov’s and Sergey Naryshkin’s comments.

Question: Reports about provocations that are being plotted by Ukraine came from the Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) as well. Today, we have heard symmetrical accusations against Russia from the United States – specifically, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which claims that it is Russia that is, in fact, plotting a provocation against Ukraine, including a chemical one, and is directly seeking to escalate the conflict. Today, US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker discussed the introduction of peacekeepers in Donbas. Is the US setting the stage for a major offensive?

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly talked about Kurt Volker’s role. At first, we made delicate hints. Then, we had to put it straight, because his role is absolutely not peacekeeping. The statements and actions with Mr Volker behind them are not of a peacekeeping nature. They are not aimed at bringing closer the positions inside Ukrainian society or at organising mediation efforts to promote the implementation of the Minsk Agreements (though, what does the US have to do with them?). In any case, any constructive efforts would have been welcomed. Yet, here, unfortunately, we see the opposite.

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Question: It has been reported today that the Moscow City Court upheld the court ruling to deport a Ukrainian journalist, Yelena Boyko, from Russia. Can the Russian Foreign Ministry assist in a more detailed review of her case so as to prevent her from being deported, given the quite specific situation in Ukraine?

Maria Zakharova: There exists a certain mechanism for adopting such decisions. In some cases, we undoubtedly can express our point of view. Sometimes, within the framework of court proceedings, we receive inquiries on whether or not this or that person is indeed a journalist and whether the Foreign Ministry can provide corresponding documents confirming his or her accreditation, visa and so on.

But once a court ruling is delivered, the Foreign Ministry cannot contradict it in any way. I have just been talking about that: there are provocative materials, downright “fakes” – pre-planned or spontaneously made. But the law is the law. There are the existing accreditation rules. That means that we should work more actively in terms of providing information and being more prompt in commenting.

We get involved in the work of journalists only as a symmetrical measure in response to threats to the safety of Russian journalists abroad or direct interference in their work (the case in point is the termination of their activity and their expulsion).

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Question: How would you sum up relations between Azerbaijan and Russia in the multilateral and bilateral formats in 2018?

Maria Zakharova: I would not like to devote today’s briefing to relations with any individual state. It is my hope that next year our relations with our partners, allies and friendly countries will develop successfully.

We have big plans, including for the development of bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. New Year is a time of hope. One wants peace, stability and the implementation of constructive ideas.

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