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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, November 28, 2019

28 November 201915:55

Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Azerbaijan
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in an upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming participation in the Fifth International Conference “The Mediterranean: Roman dialogue” in Italy
  5. Update on Syria
  6. Crimes committed by foreign troops in Afghanistan
  7. Implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning Iran’s nuclear programme
  8. OPCW expert’s letter posted on WikiLeaks about falsification of information from the investigation of an incident in Douma, Syria
  9. Venezuela update
  10. Bolivia update
  11. Road accident with Russian tourists in the Dominican Republic
  12. Investigating the case of Russian special services’ meddling in Spain’s domestic affairs
  13. UK failing to comply with UNGA Resolution 73/295
  14. Public criticism from Spokesperson of the European External Action Service Maja Kocijancic regarding Russia’s passing of legislative amendments to the status of foreign agent for the media
  15. Czech initiative to install a monument to the Vlasov army in Prague
  16. Reciprocal visits of journalists from Azerbaijan and Armenia as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process

Answers to media questions:

  1. Consultations between the three countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava on December 5−6, 2019
  2. Attempts to suspend Russia from international sports competitions in view of the World Anti-Doping Agency recommendations
  3. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on supporting Ukraine and the need to pressure Russia
  4. Russia’s stand on the upcoming Normandy Format summit
  5. Activity of the White Helmets non-governmental organisation
  6. Refusal by a Bolivian television operator to broadcast Russia Today
  7. Illegal oil production in eastern Syria
  8. Colombian ambassador’s statements regarding the work of the US Department of State
  9. Implementing the Sochi Memorandum on Syria

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov

On November 29, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will arrive in Moscow, where he is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin.

During the upcoming contacts, the parties will exchange views on the prospects for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular in light of recent US decisions aimed at demolishing the internationally recognised legal framework for the Middle East settlement. This includes Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and of the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. The latest in a series of steps violating international law was Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s statement that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan to be illegal.

The meeting with Nickolay Mladenov will focus on ways to bring the current situation out of the deadlock. Russia will continue making efforts needed to achieve a just solution to the Palestinian problem, which implies the creation of an independent and sovereign state of Palestine within the 1967 borders with the capital in East Jerusalem. This is exactly as we are told about and as it is prescribed in international legal documents.

By the way, the meeting will be held on International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed annually by the international community, including by the UN.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Azerbaijan

In accordance with the existing agreement, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to Baku on December 2-3. The programme of his visit includes meetings with President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and talks with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.

The talks will focus on key issues pertaining to the development of bilateral relations in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian areas. The officials plan to sign a schedule for foreign ministry consultations in 2020.

Intensive political dialogue at the highest and high level ensures the steady development of Russia-Azerbaijan partnership. In 2019, the two countries’ presidents met on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (Beijing, April 26) and the Valdai forum (Sochi, October 3). On November 20-25, First Vice President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva visited the Russian Federation. The two countries maintain close cooperation at the level of governments, parliaments and public organisations.

Bilateral trade is on the rise: in 2018, it increased by almost 14 per cent to reach $2.5 billion; in January-September it increased by another 26 per cent to reach $2.2 billion. The two countries are successfully implementing the roadmaps on the main areas of bilateral cooperation until 2024.

Over 700 joint ventures, including about 200 with 100 per cent Russian capital, are operating in Azerbaijan.

The Inter-Governmental Commission on Economic Cooperation is working effectively. It plans to hold a regular session in Baku on December 9.

By tradition, cultural, humanitarian and educational cooperation are maintained at high level. In 2019, Days of Russian Culture were held very successfully in Azerbaijan. Days of Azerbaijani Culture in Russia are scheduled for 2020. The leading Russian universities – Lomonosov Moscow State University and Sechenov First State Medical University – have branches in Baku. Over 11,000 Azerbaijani citizens study at Russian universities. The tuition of over 1,000 students is paid from the Russian federal budget.

During the talks the foreign ministers will review a broad range of issues related to cooperation in the CIS, UN, OSCE, Non-Aligned Movement, Council of Europe, BSEC and other international venues. The parties will also focus on regional security, including prospects for Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in an upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to attend the 26th OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava on December 5-6.

Russia is committed to an engaged and constructive exchange of views about the current state of the European security system, common challenges and opportunities for cooperation between the OSCE states. We expect the discussion to help restore confidence and promote military-political de-escalation, to improve the organisation’s standing in combating transnational threats, to give a boost to the efforts designed to settle conflicts in its area of ​​responsibility, and to develop consensus-based approaches to important issues of cooperation in the economic, environmental and humanitarian dimensions of the OSCE activities.

During the meeting in Bratislava, the Russian side will focus on the issue of fragmented security in the Euro-Atlantic space and exacerbated tensions stemming from NATO’s confrontational course to “deter” Russia and build up its military infrastructure near our borders. The Russian delegation is expected to motion for reaffirming the principle of indivisible security and the role of the OSCE as a platform for dialogue and equal cooperation between the participating states and their associations. It is also expected to express its support for the OSCE efforts to settle the conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, and the OSCE co-chairing the Geneva discussions on stability in the South Caucasus and work in the Balkans. It is also planned to separately discuss violation of ethnic minorities’ rights, attempts at segregating and discriminating against media outlets, and the rise of aggressive nationalism in Ukraine and the EU countries, especially in the Baltic countries.

In the run-up to the Ministerial Council in Bratislava, Russia has put together a large package of draft decisions on topics that are important for all participating states, including the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II (in conjunction with its CSTO allies); the 20th anniversary of the Charter for European Security and the Platform for Co-operative Security; responsible conduct of the media in the interests of a society free of terrorism and extremism; strengthening the OSCE’s role in preventing and combating terrorism; strengthening the OSCE’s role in resolving the global drug problem; free public access to information; freedom of peaceful assembly; and building up efforts to protect linguistic and educational rights of ethnic minorities. We expect to see them approved. In all, over 20 draft documents will find their way to the negotiating table.

Sergey Lavrov will hold bilateral meetings with the ministers of a number of participating states, and the OSCE and other international organisations’ senior officials on the sidelines of the Ministerial Council. We will keep you informed about the schedule of these meetings.

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming participation in the Fifth International Conference “The Mediterranean: Roman dialogue” in Italy

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Italian Republic on December 6-7. The minister will speak at the conference “The Mediterranean: Roman dialogue” and hold a series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of this event.

Mr Lavrov will hold talks with Italy’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Mayo. This will be the first personal meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister after a new Italian Government was formed in September.

The talks will be used to conduct a thorough exchange of views on a wide range of issues on the bilateral agenda, primarily, in the context of implementing the agreements reached during President Putin’s official visit to Rome on July 4-5.

The ministers are expected to focus on international issues, including the settlement of regional crises in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, and the developments in Latin America.

A schedule of bilateral meetings will be provided soon.

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Update on Syria

In Syria tensions persist in the territories that are not controlled by Damascus.

In Idlib, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist alliance continues to shell the positions of Syrian government troops and nearby residential areas more than 20 times per day and is trying to seize new territories. In the de-escalation zone, locals increasingly often stage rallies against terrorist outrage but the militants cruelly suppress any protests. Obviously, the Idlib problem cannot be resolved as long as the terrorist groups qualified as such by the UN Security Council continue operating there.

Efforts to stabilise the situation in line with the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of October 22, 2019 continue in the country’s northeast. Russia and Turkey jointly patrol the Syrian-Turkish border on a regular basis. In addition, efforts are taken to reduce tensions along the perimeter of the zone of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring.

However, the situation to the east of the Euphrates has become much more complicated due to the revival of the ISIS sleeping cells and the growth of terrorist attacks against Kurdish units. The actions of the United States, which decided to remain at the oil fields and rob Syria of its national wealth, are not conducive to firm stability and security in northeast Syria, either. We regularly comment on this reckless disregard for international law by a military-political group that is supported, among others, by the US armed forces. Such conduct has nothing to do with logic because, on the one hand, Washington keeps casting doubt on the legitimacy of Syrian government’s actions and, on the other, is acting in total disregard of international law.

We consistently advocate the restoration of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity on the basis of dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds, as well as other ethnic groups to the east of the Euphrates (Arab tribes, Assyrians, Armenians and others). The goal is to overcome internal differences and ensure reliable consolidation of Syrian society. We proceed from the need for fair account and protection of the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria, without any discrimination or suppression of rights.

In addition, we note that the Syrian Constitutional Committee continues its work. The second session of the Committee’s drafting commission opened in Geneva on November 25. The commission consists of 45 representatives of the Government, the opposition and civic society. 

We consider it necessary to support the process of political settlement of the Syrian crisis by invigorating comprehensive international humanitarian assistance to that country without any politicisation or discrimination. In particular, this will facilitate voluntary and safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes. Over 476,000 refugees and 1.3 million IDPs have already returned home since the launch of the relevant Russian initiative in July 2018.

On December 10-11, Nur-Sultan will host the 14th international meeting on Syria in the Astana format. It will be attended by representatives of the guarantor countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey), delegations of the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition, observers (UN, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon) and experts of the UNHCR and the ICRC. By tradition, the agenda of the meeting covers a broad range of issues, including the discussion of the situation on the ground, ways to improve the humanitarian situation, assistance in the return of Syrians, steps to promote the political process and confidence measures, including the release of persons held by force.

We believe that to reach a sustainable and long-term settlement in Syria it is important to normalise the situation around it and to break its artificial international isolation. In this context we would like to mention regular visits of different delegations to Damascus. Last week, a German parliamentary delegation visited the Syrian capital. Its head Frank Pasemann came out in favour of settling the conflict in Syria without outside interference and supported the resumption of cooperation between Berlin and Damascus. In addition, the Damascus Diplomatic Club conducted a charity bazaar for the first time since 2011, which was attended by representatives of 12 countries, including Russia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Brazil, Pakistan and Sudan.

The signing of cooperation agreements between the Hermitage Museum and the Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) of Syria took place on November 25 as part of the visit by Hermitage General Director Mikhail Piotrovsky to Damascus. The document provides for the restoration of Syrian cultural landmarks.

Also on November 25, the National Museum of Damascus hosted the Two Palmiras exhibition, which showcased the photos of architectural landmarks in St Petersburg and Palmira. As you know, Russia is working hard to restore the cultural and historical heritage of Palmira. The whole world was horrified by the enormous damage did by the terrorists to this historic site – a landmark of our civilisation. We hope that UNESCO and other relevant agencies will support Russia’s efforts.

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Crimes committed by foreign troops in Afghanistan

We have noted the recent reports in the media (journalistic investigations) that contain evidence of war crimes committed at different times by the British military in Iraq and Afghanistan with the connivance of UK politicians and intelligence agencies.

More specifically, I can cite the data that we have gathered from these reports. There is evidence of 52 cases of the murder of local residents by the British military in Afghanistan before 2017, although investigations into those cases were closed without charges. In particular, there was an execution of four Afghan children by a British commando. The children were definitely not engaged in any terrorist or dangerous activities, and were not involved in any extremist attacks. They were having lunch at home. A spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defence commented on the publications by calling them “unsubstantiated allegations.”

Earlier, as part of a major investigation by the British police code-named Operation Northmoor, it was reliably established that the British intelligence agencies forged documents to shift the responsibility for the killing of unarmed persons to the Afghan army. The investigators obtained videos that show how British, not Afghan, soldiers shoot at unarmed Afghan civilians. According to media reports (we have articles and links, and I am sure you have them as well – this data was published back in 2017), the UK Ministry of Defence was going “to avoid any of the detail of the accusations getting into the press and thereby undermining, in their view, national security, public trust, [and] work with allies.” Even this phrase alone is enough to understand the scale of the event and the British authorities’ approach to concealing the information and facts regarding major international problems and issues, as well as generally to deliberate misinformation, deliberate stretching of facts and various circumstances in carrying out provocations. We have repeatedly witnessed such provocations prepared by the official London. Moreover, London called the evidence gathered during the investigation credible and very serious and threatening to bring down the government.

The investigations mentioned above only concern the British military, but if you look at the situation from a wider angle, similar crimes in Afghanistan were committed by representatives of other states. In particular, there were reports of 17 injured Afghans, including the death of seven children in 2014 (these facts need to be verified), as a result of the New Zealand military’s negligence when they failed to properly clear the grounds they no longer used from mines.

It seems that the lack of regard for the local population has created a favourable environment for these crimes. It looked like those same people the international forces were stationed there to help, to restore stability, security and defeat terrorism, were treated as some second-class people whose lives can be sacrificed in the name of selfish political or other interests. These flagrant attempts to conceal such facts give the perpetrators a sense of permissiveness and impunity.

We strongly condemn the crimes against civilians in Afghanistan and urge the British and New Zealand authorities to complete the investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice, and stop concealing the evidence. We also demand that the command of foreign military contingents deployed in Afghanistan take comprehensive measures to prevent future crimes against civilians. We are confident that it will be difficult to defeat international terrorism without restoring justice.

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Implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning Iran’s nuclear programme

A JCPOA Joint Commission meeting at the level of foreign ministers will be held on December 6. 

Such meetings are held regularly once a quarter. The main objectives remain the same: to establish conditions for the consistent implementation of the JCPOA with account of all commitments undertaken by the signatory countries and ensure a reliable protection of agreed projects from external assaults, primarily from the United States. We expect a detailed and productive discussion on all the aspects of the implementation of the comprehensive agreements, which are in need of the broadest international support, and additional efforts from all JCPOA participants aimed at maintaining its viability and sustainability.

On December 12, the UN Secretary-General’s regular report on the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is scheduled for debate in New York. Let me remind you that it was this resolution that approved the JCPOA. We hope, as always, that the UN leadership’s assessments will be balanced and objective and will contribute to the stabilisation of the situation around the JCPOA.

Since the United States announced the withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018, the implementation of the JCPOA has not had any smooth periods. Washington’s defiant non-compliance with the UNSC Resolution 2231 is a grave challenge to the entire system of international relations based on the central role of the UN and its Security Council. It is this fact coupled with European countries’ reluctance to set conditions for Iran obtaining trade and economic advantages from its participation in the nuclear deal that causes all the challenges facing the JCPOA.

Unsurprisingly, many colleagues in Western countries do not speak out about it or prefer to recall it only backstage, in a hushed voice, and trying to channel the focus of the international community towards Iran’s suspension of its commitments under the JCPOA. Meanwhile, nobody bothers to remember that the JCPOA is based on a thoroughly calculated balance of interests and the principle of reciprocity. This was undermined by the US’ illegal actions, which culminated, in particular, in its withdrawal from the deal outside the framework which provides for an opportunity to leave the agreement. We give credit to Iran’s regular statements regarding its readiness to promptly return to complying with JCPOA requirements as soon as its lawful interests within the nuclear deal are honoured.

Those who incessantly criticise Iran (we see these publications and official statements from a number of countries) for its nuclear activities are stubbornly evading such crucial details as the fact that Tehran complies with its obligations to the IAEA in full. Only those elements of the nuclear deal are suspended that extend beyond the NPT and the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. It seems to be an “uncomfortable” truth that Iran remains the IAEA’s most-monitored state and conducts all its nuclear activities under the agency’s permanent control. The Additional Protocol to the IAEA Safeguards Agreement plays an important part in that. 

We believe that our colleagues should stop viewing Iran as an object for exerting their efforts devoid of any international legal basis, an object they can manipulate in any way at their discretion. Iran is a full-fledged partner for cooperation on the JCPOA platform.

We proceed from the premise that all the JCPOA participants must be equally interested in preserving the agreement and its further full-bodied, real, comprehensive (as stated in the document’s title) implementation in accordance with the parameters, provisions and schedules agreed on in 2015. The commitment of all the parties involved to the common goal was stated in the joint statement following the ministerial meeting in New York on September 25. This is the starting point for all subsequent discussions within the JCPOA Joint Commission and at the UN. We believe it is counterproductive to persistently try to determine for whom the JCPOA matters most.  Its preservation is a common task for all the participants in the 2015 comprehensive agreements. Moreover, time and global trends show that the document has no valid alternative.

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OPCW expert’s letter posted on WikiLeaks about falsification of information from the investigation of an incident in Douma, Syria

We have noted a publication on the WikiLeaks website that was widely reproduced and quoted in the media. I am talking about a letter by an OPCW expert about the falsification of information by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria from an investigation into the incident in the Syrian city of Douma which occurred on April 7, 2018, and the analysis that appeared in connection with this publication.

This letter addresses many of the issues that have been raised by Russian and international experts for a long time. Russia and a number of other countries have repeatedly questioned the validity of conclusions presented by the Fact-Finding Mission following this investigation. We have said many times that the chemical and toxicological analysis carried out by the Mission, as well as the ballistic calculations and interviews with witnesses were not convincing from the point of view of a professional approach and at the same time had every indication that they had been politically predetermined. The publication on WikiLeaks is yet another proof of the bias in the Mission’s report, to put it mildly.

The situation with the report has already provoked an international outcry. We hope that the leadership of the OPCW Technical Secretariat will nevertheless provide an opportunity for the Fact-Finding Mission experts involved in the investigation of this episode to answer the questions that the Organisation’s member countries have. I want to remind you that all insistent and compelling requests for direct contact, so that experts could pose all their questions to the Mission’s representatives, have been rejected so far.

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Venezuela update

The national dialogue roundtable in Venezuela has made evident progress. According to public opinion polls, the roundtable is supported by the majority of Venezuelans. This format is bringing about tangible results. A process has been launched to renew the National Electoral Council, which is vitally important as regards the preparations for democratic elections to the national parliament and bringing the political struggle back to the constitutional track.

In this context, the radical opposition's attempts to provoke new rallies look simply absurd. They testify to the disappointment of the anti-government groups of citizens in the policy of confrontation pursued by Juan Guaido, who has failed to achieve any results during nearly a year of his quasi-presidency. On the contrary, a dialogue launched between the Bolivarian government and moderate opposition in September is considered by many members of anti-government forces to be a real alternative on the way to political, social and economic change.

At the same time, we can see that the radicals are actively promoting the idea of strengthening external pressure on the Venezuelan government as well as on government agencies and legitimate authorities of other countries in the region. Washington's drive for a stubborn policy of sanctions pressure on Caracas speaks volumes and is confirmed by new statements made by US officials. In particular, I am referring to the statement by United States' Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. The impression is that the US Department of State, which is called upon to seek diplomatic solutions to international issues, is becoming increasingly focused on the anti-diplomatic style, at least, towards Venezuela.

The telephone conversation between the ambassador of Colombia to the United States with the newly appointed Colombian foreign minister, which has been recently published in US media, only shows that the pretexts for such regular campaigns are absolutely contrived. You can read the transcript: it is available online. The foundation of the anti-Venezuelan policy of Nicolas Maduro’s opponents can only be defined as fake. The entire policy, ideas and ideology as regards overthrowing the regime, change of power and shift in policy are based on misrepresentations, fake reports and misinformation.    

I would like to urge our colleagues in the US administration to be more realistic in their assessments. A considerable part of Venezuelans has taken first steps towards resolving contradictions on the basis of inclusiveness and accord. Measures should be taken to expand the national dialogue roundtable and thus strengthen the emerging process of internal settlement through the efforts of Venezuelans themselves – of course, if that is what all of us want. Russia wants this unequivocally and resolutely. It’s now up to the United States.

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Bolivia update

We have noted the recent stabilisation of the situation in Bolivia thanks to the mediation of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. The so-called transitional Bolivian government (the people who are now running the country), the leadership of the Movement for Socialism party and other political forces agreed on the algorithms for holding early presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as a draft law on reconciliation and respect for the citizens’ rights, in accordance with which the authorities undertake not to persecute for political reasons the supporters of the former head of state Evo Morales.

In this situation, the opponents of his removal suspended protests in some parts of the country, as a result of which transport links and food supply to the population of large cities have been restored.

The country got a chance to calm down and return to relative stability after the turbulent events of the past month. The extent to which this opportunity will be realised depends, first of all, on whether the interim authorities and politicians (including those who have already declared their intention to run for presidency) can abandon aggressive rhetoric regarding their opponents, representatives of indigenous peoples and low-income citizens.

There is a strong need to promote the unifying agenda through an inclusive dialogue of all leading political forces. This is the only realistic way to peacefully overcome the internal crisis in the country.

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Road accident with Russian tourists in the Dominican Republic

As you know, on November 26, a bus with 39 Russian tourists was involved in a very serious accident on the way to La Romana airport.

As of yesterday evening (given the time difference), six people were seriously injured, and 23 had moderate injuries. There are children among them. The rest received minor injuries and were assisted on the spot. Some of the tourists have already flown back to Russia, and the rest were accommodated in hotels.

The Russian Embassy in Punta Cana is monitoring the situation. It is in touch with insurance agencies and interacts with the Russian citizens in distress and with their relatives in Russia. We received a large number of calls and offers of assistance from Russian civil society. We have already expressed gratitude to the public, to the caring people who helped Russian citizens on the spot. We must pay tribute to the public figures who offered to provide assistance to the victims; one of them was Dr Leonid Roshal. We are in constant contact with the injured, including through insurance agencies, with their families, with the Anex Tour travel agency, as well as with local authorities. We are monitoring the situation closely.

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Investigating the case of Russian special services’ meddling in Spain’s domestic affairs

Again, we are witnessing unwholesome interest on behalf of certain Spanish media and bloggers in the “almost forgotten” theme of Russia's interference in Spain’s internal affairs in connection with the Catalan events. In addition to fake news about alleged Russian special services’ involvement in the so-called "sovereignisation process" in Catalonia, they are rehashing ideas about our country's attempts to weaken the EU, including through disinformation and fake news. It is likewise mentioned that Spain has allegedly refused to cooperate with Russia in matters concerning cybersecurity. That’s an enormous amount of senseless copy that they are trying to pass for analytical material.

Notably, Acting Foreign Minister of Spain Josep Borrell debunked these fabrications as "pure slander" and "fruit of feverish imagination" during a news conference in Madrid on November 21.We share these estimates in full.

Interestingly, we have company. Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, known for his love of Russia and disagreement with Russia’s official point of view, spoke in the same vein. He not only said that he didn’t have any evidence of Russia’s interference in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom during the Brexit referendum (the media material was very similar to what we saw regarding Catalonia), but, in his characteristic manner of using figures of speech, compared these statements with the Bermuda Triangle myth. Why the Bermuda Triangle? The myth of the Loch Ness monster would have made more sense. However, he claimed quite the opposite not so long ago. He spoke about Russia’s failed attempts to intervene in the referendum results, but what we are now witnessing is solid residue. There are no facts. There is nothing to show except for official statements circulated by the media.

We have repeatedly stated that the hysterical waves of anti-Russia campaigns in the foreign media accusing Moscow of some kind of interference will backfire and hit its perpetrators. This is what is happening now. Just 12 or 18 months ago, it was hard to imagine that those who orchestrated such campaigns would be disavowing them now. What we are seeing is that the key players who initiated or supported the anti-Russia rhetoric are now forced to balance realising that the facts are missing, and without facts these allegations make no sense.

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UK failing to comply with UNGA Resolution 73/295

Pursuant to Paragraph 3 of General Assembly Resolution 73/295 of May 22, 2019, which was supported by Russia and titled “Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965”, and with due account taken of the court’s opinion rendered in February 2019, the United Kingdom was required to withdraw its colonial administration from the archipelago within six months of the adoption of the resolution. We noted the African Union’s communiqué of November 22, which expressed concern that Britain had not comply with the General Assembly's instruction by that deadline. I feel like adding: and was not going to.

I’d like to say a few words about the archipelago and international law. The archipelago includes the island of Diego Garcia, which, since 1973, has been home to guess what? No, not the Loch Ness monster, but a US military base, which, I think, is even worse. The checkered past of this archipelago has much to do with this circumstance. It was under British rule until 1965 as part of the Mauritius colony. After Mauritius was granted independence, Chagos remained under British control, but its inhabitants were relocated. Then, the correspondence or analytical material of the corresponding Western political figures came to light and dispelled any and all thoughts about tolerance and even respect for the people who are not your country’s nationals. The UN General Assembly resolutions adopted back in 1965 and 1966 reiterated that this kind of practice is at odds with the UN Charter and the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960.

Even though the UN General Assembly does not have a mandate for the status of territories, and the advisory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice is not applicable for resolving bilateral issues, the resolution focuses precisely on decolonisation, and the General Assembly has a special responsibility regarding decolonisation. Our country has consistently adhered to the generally recognised principles of international law, including the right of peoples to self-determination, and has made a significant contribution to the decolonisation process by supporting the peoples of Africa and Asia in their struggle for independence. We are contemplating General Assembly Resolution 73/295 in this context and hope that Great Britain will comply with it, and the decolonisation of Mauritius will thus be completed.

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Public criticism from Spokesperson of the European External Action Service Maja Kocijancic regarding Russia’s passing of legislative amendments to the status of foreign agent for the media

We have taken note of the criticism from the Spokesperson of the European External Action Service Maja Kocijancic regarding Russia’s passing of legislative amendments to the status of foreign agent for the media.

The European, I dare say, diplomat called them as “yet another worrying step against free and independent media and access to information” and expressed concern for “independent voices in Russia.” According to her, the space for free media in our country is already limited whereas the new legislation amendments “go against Russia's human rights obligations and commitments.”

Dear Maja Kocijancic, we will shortly be sending you our detailed expert assessments of what is going on in the EU in this critical field. Obviously, you are not aware how media outlets are being ill-treated, segregated and discriminated against in EU countries. It is not only the Russian media but from other countries as well. I think that the absence of quality information, true and reliable data afforded time for the European External Action Service for analysing the situation in Russia. If she had the data, she wouldn’t be able to spare a second on reviewing the situation in Russia since she would be completely immersed in the absolutely outrageous attitudes and actions the European states dare to resort to in the context of media activities in their countries. I can give a short list. Journalists who covered protests in Paris were not only detained and arrested but also beaten. The facts regarding those being beaten were recorded and, presented to the local authorities via diplomatic channels, and also to the OSCE, to the official who is supposed to be defending journalists. Maja Kocijancic is becoming another partner for this dialogue with us. Now we know whom we should copy our material too since she is so preoccupied with this topic.

I would like to ask a question. Regrettably, publicly. Once such statements are made public, we have to respond in kind. I don’t know if such a statement should be taken as a sort of politicised demarche by the EU or if this was caused by the ignorance of the true developments in the world, the EU and our country. We have to sort it out, and we will certainly do this. In any case, we would like to recall that Russia completely follows up on all its international commitments in the area of freedom of expression, the media, and equal access to information.

Sometimes we get the impression that our EU partners are so totally overburdened by the weight of “double standards” (although they doubled them on their own without outside help) that they lost the ability of critical analysis of reality. They neglect the real state of affairs and facts. Even though we are speaking about the EU now, we perfectly well understand that Brussels, which formerly expressed the EU’s opinion, does not have an independent policy. This is why we say the EU but we actually mean NATO. They are guided exclusively by the principle “NATO has freedom and democracy whereas elsewhere in the world there is only authoritarianism and human rights abuses.” This is wrong. We will work on this situation, we will be correcting it.  

As to the above amendments, it was repeatedly stressed (I cannot believe that Ms Kocijancic is not aware of this) that it is a response to Washington’s actions against the Russian media. As long as everyone lived and was guided by common rules, in particular, proposed, drafted and approved by the OSCE, including the principle of interaction with the media, ensuring their rights and freedoms, there were no amendments or a respective package of measures, laws and recommendations that are being drafted now. The latter has become a response to the actions by the US and other NATO and EU countries. We constantly speak about it.

While London is still in the EU, Ms Kocijancic has a chance to correct something. To bring to their notice that that the UK denied visas to two Russian journalists, bona fide and professionally fulfilling their duties. Take a look at those under your wardship, those who are members of your union. Tidy up at home first, make yourselves irreproachable. We will definitely follow suit and we will start correcting our faults following the EU’s highest benchmarks. While you still have something on your plate, why should you try and make such a weird presentation of what is going on in this area in our country?  Probably, Ms Kocijancic was unaware that an OSCE conference on media freedom was held in Moscow. Various opinions were presented, people with totally different political views and outlook were engaged in a dialogue. It was attended by people from different generations and a whole range of professional communities, representatives of various branches of power, etc. We were discussing problems the whole day. I do not believe Ms Kocijancic is unaware of what is taking place here. Once new players in the European Union prefer to forget that this is all a response measure, we will remind them. 

We would also like to draw Ms Kocijancic’s attention to a disastrous situation with the media in Ukraine which is striving to become a member of the EU.  The European Union has been supporting Ukraine so far. Maybe something can be corrected there? There is a chance to improve the situation as the UK leaves the EU and Ukraine joins its. Let me remind you about the colossal discrimination of Russian-language media in the Baltic states: blocking Russian channels, the persecution of Russian journalists, endless manipulations with visa issuance/denials.

We call on our EU partners to stop trying to boost the role of “double standards.” You should not cash in on human rights issues, especially since you do not know what is going on in your own house. Fix things up there, make the situation iconic. We also hope that in the future EU officials will study more diligently the facts and the details of the issues before making such statements on Russia. We will help them in this.

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Czech initiative to install a monument to the Vlasov army in Prague

There is yet another truly horrible report from Prague. We did not expect it. I am referring to the new, horrible initiative (we usually say outrageous or unacceptable) aimed at not simply falsifying history but at reincarnating neo-Nazism, fascism and everything linked with them, dragging them out of their historical grave. Yet another district head in Prague has decided to insult the memory of Soviet liberators by announcing his plan to install a monument to war criminal Andrey Vlasov, who headed the so-called Russian Liberation Army.  Now he will be honoured as a hero of Prague. So, the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev will be dismantled and replaced with a monument to Vlasov. You have probably seen the reaction of our Embassy in the Czech Republic to this statement. This is especially appalling ahead of the 75th anniversary of Victory over Nazism.

We would like to remind the initiators of this horrible plan that the so-called Russian Liberation Army was a collaborationist armed unit established by the Nazi leadership of the Third Reich. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg qualified the crimes committed by Vlasov and his associates as Nazi war crimes and crimes against humanity, and abetting such crimes, none of which have a statute of limitations.

The attempts of a number of municipal heads to implement exterritorial policy in their districts have not met with an appropriate response from the Czech Foreign Ministry and other agencies that are called upon to ensure the state’s compliance with the international documents signed on its behalf. This is not a philosophical or theoretical issue. Nor it is linked with public opinions or historical preferences. This is an issue of international law and implementation of a state’s commitments. We consider this to be a case of clear connivance with the criminal rewriting of history. 

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Reciprocal visits of journalists from Azerbaijan and Armenia as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process

We have received a question about the recent reciprocal visits by journalists from Azerbaijan and Armenia as part of humanitarian measures to prepare the public for peace in the framework of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process. We were asked to qualify these moves, to assess their role and say whether Russia supports further progress in implementing these and other humanitarian measures and to express our opinion on prospects in this regard.

At the meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement held last April in Moscow at Mr Lavrov’s initiative, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to start practical work on a number of humanitarian issues. These include reciprocal visits by journalists, as it was agreed at the summit on Nagorno-Karabakh in Vienna in March. Such visits took place on November 17-21 with the coordinating role of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. Journalists from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh took part in them.

We consider this joint event as evidence of the sides’ intention to facilitate contacts between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. We believe it is necessary to continue such humanitarian initiatives aimed at preparing the public for peace. For instance, it is possible to improve the conditions of those who are imprisoned on the territory of the sides, as was mentioned in the Moscow statement of the ministers and co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

For our part, we will continue rendering the required mediation to the sides.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: The OSCE Ministerial Council will be held in Bratislava on December 5-6. Will the foreign ministers of the countries that co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group hold a separate meeting on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement? Will Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hold any such meetings?

Maria Zakharova: The Nagorno-Karabakh issue has been regularly discussed at the OSCE in the past few years. The three co-chairs of the Minsk Group are planning to hold consultations on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava. The consultations will be held at the level of ambassadors at large. If any additional decisions are taken to hold meetings in some other format or at a different level, we will issue a comment. You know that we have always supported dialogue on this issue.

At this moment I have no information regarding ministerial meetings. We will comment on the bilateral and multilateral meetings to be held on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava later, when we know the schedule.

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Question: Given WADA’s recommendation to bar Russia from international competitions, there are negative expectations regarding the decision to be made in Paris on December 9. Does Russia have any plans to try to influence the decision in the remaining two weeks?

Maria Zakharova: We have commented on this subject at all levels, primarily at the level of the Ministry of Sport. The Presidential Executive Office has made a statement, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has done the same. I don’t think there is any sense in making any more comments.

However, I would like to repeat what has been said on this matter. We are firmly against the politicisation of this issue, as we have seen happening over many years now. Regrettably, we can see that a certain team, or lobby, is using every possible pretext, and not only facts but also anti-facts, to elbow Russia out of global sports. We can see that this team has established a connection with the international media. This is obvious. There is no escaping the fact that the focus on the doping problem, which exists and is being combated in all countries, as you can see from the UN conferences on this topic, has been limited exclusively to Russia. The doping problems of the other countries are not even discussed, even though there are numerous facts showing that these problems do exist and that the countries in question are either unable or unwilling to hide them.

Why Russia? Why is the international attention focused on Russia? We have answered these questions before over the past years: politicisation and an attempt to squeeze Russia out. You know the term unfair competition. It is more than that; it is fighting with no holds barred and possibly even a war. The politicisation of this matter and the use of political methods and all the other instruments are absolutely unacceptable. We are taking all the necessary measures that have been recommended to be taken by the state. The concerned agencies regularly update you on this. The Foreign Ministry is a foreign policy department, which is why we are talking about the political aspects of this situation.

Over the past few years, when this problem grew to a dramatic scale, we have seen not dozens but hundreds of facts, as far as I know, proving that quite a few countries have problems with doping and are unable or unwilling to deal with them. Nobody has proposed adopting very or even moderately harsh sanctions against these states. They expressed regret, made comments and issued recommendations. Nobody has proposed anything even slightly resembling the actions taken against Russia, even though the facts of doping rules violation were glaring, including the use of prohibited substances by foreign athletes, strange manipulations with samples and tests, and strange tolerance with regard to the use of narcotic substances. None of this was taken into account, even though these were not individual instances or the position of individual athletes and sports associations, but a state-sponsored system.

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Question: A few hours ago, US Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted the following: “The United States stands with Ukraine in their efforts to reach a peaceful resolution in eastern Ukraine. Our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty is unwavering, and we are committed to working with our Allies and partners to keep pressure on Russia to live up to its commitments.” How does Russia estimate such remarks ahead of the Normandy format summit in France on December 9?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to remind you that the Normandy Format includes [four] countries and the United States is not one of these. We always welcomed the United States’ constructive role where it succeeded in playing one. But the meeting that has been planned, announced and confirmed and the preparations for which are proceeding in an active manner, does not imply the attendance of US representatives.

Maybe they would like to feel a part of the process. Then they had better send humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine. All of us can see that each delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to Donbass is accompanied by the growing concern and harsh comments on the part of Kiev. So, who is against it, if the United States sends food, medicine, clothing, or necessary components for the civilian infrastructure? Who is against this? There is a good pretext and a fine target for assistance, aid, and a display of real care for the population. The United States is a wealthy country and can afford this kind of aid. I do not think that Kiev will get nervous. Of course, it is easier to tweet than send humanitarian aid. But we would like to recommend [the latter]. I do not know whether or not [this aid] will be accepted at its destination. But we are not the party to which this question should be addressed. Anyway, it is an interesting proposition and a chance to display care for the population.

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Question: What are the conditions, under which this summit will be successful for Russia? What are the expectations associated with it?

Maria Zakharova: It is an interesting formula that you are suggesting – as if the initiative for this meeting came from Russia. I think this question should be addressed to those who came up with the initiative to hold it. Russia was asked to endorse this meeting. We said that it made no sense to hold a meeting for the meeting’s sake. Specific steps are needed on the ground for the meeting to make sense, namely, disengagement of forces and equipment and certainty on the “Steinmeier formula.” After we saw steps being taken in this direction, the meeting was confirmed. But the question about success should be addressed to those who put forward the idea.

You seem to be asking this question in order to create the opinion that it was Moscow that needed the meeting the most or that the initiative for it came from Russia. Moscow’s position is that there are the Minsk Agreements and the only thing needed is Kiev’s political will to implement them in full, including on the ground. No additional meetings can become a “magic wand” for the Minsk Agreements to be implemented of their own accord. They must be implemented and implemented by Kiev. Despite this clear-cut position, we were informed that Kiev, Berlin and Paris would like to hold such a meeting. We agreed after it was prepared based on the steps I have just mentioned. I think this question will be answered by many people, including political scientists.

What is important for me is to stress that Moscow sees the success in an early implementation of the Minsk Agreements rather than meetings. In this sense, maybe, your question has a streak of genius, because the word “success” and the category of success should be used to assess the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the concrete situation on the ground in keeping with the targets enshrined in the Minsk Agreements, and certainly not in the context of meetings. This must be stressed and perhaps this should be our task.

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Question: A secret witness, under the code name KN568, appeared at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and testified about CNN and specifically Christiane Amanpour who first published fake news on the basis of which sanctions were imposed against Yugoslavia and then both blamed each other for the actions that resulted in deaths. Now the same thing is happening in Syria. There are fake victims in Syria now. Doesn’t the entire world understand that the White Helmets are only generating fake information?

Maria Zakharova: No, not the entire world. If the entire world understood this, many problems would not exist. The thing is that, with all the funding provided to the White Helmets and the administrative resources that support them in the form of grant-aids and nominations for various awards, it is almost impossible for the average person to realise this. Unfortunately, the entire world does not understand this. Unfortunately, the information is only starting to reach the public through independent investigations and facts. But it is very difficult for it to break through.

Question: This could escalate and, although until now there have been fake victims, it could lead to actual victims as was the case in Yugoslavia. It all started with fake victims and then hundreds and thousands of Serb Muslims were killed.

Maria Zakharova: Are you asking me how this can be prevented? It is very easy. We have spoken about this repeatedly. Whenever we obtained relevant information we made an announcement (if that is the right term), in advance, about the potential provocations being engineered by the White Helmets themselves, with their direct involvement or by terrorist organisations under their patronage. Several times during briefings and news conferences, we spoke about what may happen and drew the attention of the international community, at the UN platforms and other negotiation formats, to such planned provocations. This is one of the most effective mechanisms to prevent this. Another method (for use in cases where the provocations are impossible to prevent) is to expose the White Helmets’ ugly role in such orchestrated projects when more new proof emerges about their involvement. Thirdly, it is high time the non-government organisations cooperating with the White Helmets, as well as international organisations, raised concerns about this organisation on a global scale.

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Question: I have a question about our Spanish-speaking colleagues, RT Spanish, whose broadcasts will be terminated in Bolivia on December 2 by Cotas, the country’ leading private television operator that has 30 percent of the local paid television market. Cotas has not replied to our request for explanation and has only quoted a decision by the board of directors. What could be the motives behind this decision? What can this mean? And will the Russian Foreign Ministry react in any way?

Maria Zakharova: We are indeed concerned about the deteriorating positions of the Russian media outlets in Latin America. It has been announced today that the Bolivian operator has decided to shut down RT. It is alarming that this has happened so soon after RT was barred in Ecuador on November 15. This cannot be a coincidence. And saying that it simply coincided in time with the ongoing changes in the country would be treating the problem lightly. No, this is not simple at all. There is no doubt that it is a result of the new political line, in particular in Bolivia. We are often told that this or that is just a coincidence, but it turns out later that it is not a coincidence but that it is a system.

One of the factors and evidence in favour of this conclusion is that no explanation has been given for the termination of our broadcasts in either case. Because there is none. They cite some decision, and this is all. Nobody provides any facts; there is nothing but a decision to terminate our broadcasts. Yet more vital proof is that our broadcasts are terminated without any prior notice. Economic factors, such as financing or changes in the viewing grid, are planned and discussed with the board of directors, or the regulatory authorities, or any other agencies that monitor operations on this market to ensure an objective attitude of the company’s administration to channels. Our channel has not been given any time to prepare for the termination of its broadcasts. There was no warning. It just happened overnight.

I would like to repeat my arguments. First, there was no explanation, and second, no prior notice or any time to prepare for the termination of the broadcasts. We hope that this is not a global attempt to clamp down on the alternative sources of information by discriminating against one of them. Otherwise, we will have to regard this as the movement of both Bolivia and Ecuador away from their international commitment to ensure free access to information and the freedom of expression. The media must not be held hostage to political change. The rights of journalists and media outlets to safety and freedom to publish their material must be guaranteed regardless of how they cover events.

Of course, there is a matter of the compliance with or the violation of laws. But in such cases complaints are made and time is given to the violating media outlet to provide solid evidence that can change the situation and prevent the termination of broadcasts or any other punitive action. Or the evidence it provides is inconclusive and the decision is made against the channel in question. Anyway, there are legal instruments for this. But when it happens as it did in Bolivia, and before that in Ecuador, this raises very many questions.

We urge the international organisations concerned and human rights NGOs to take a stand on this.

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Question: Who is behind the theft of Syrian oil in eastern Syria, where US troops are deployed? Are some private security firms to blame?

Maria Zakharova: It could be both ways. But in any event, the decision to leave them [in Syria] was adopted by the US administration. This is why the form of involvement – the armed forces or private security firms – is less important. It is important, of course, but in this case the main thing is that the decision on the production of oil (it is clear to everyone that the word “security” means that oil will be extracted from Syrian territory and exported) was approved by the US leadership. It is of secondary importance what people and what organisations will be employed and whether they will operate on the basis of agreements or contracts, or whether regular forces will be used. The most important thing is that the relevant decision was approved by the official US authorities. It was not only publicly announced but was also received online via social media.

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Question: You have mentioned comments by the Colombian ambassador to the United States. Could you please dwell on this in more detail?  

Maria Zakharova: It was an agency report. I checked it, no one has disavowed it. The Colombian ambassador to the United States criticised the US State Department and said that it was destroyed. He expressed this opinion while talking with the new Colombian foreign minister. The transcript was published by [Colombia’s] Publimetro. He even compared the Department of State to a NGO. There are many details there. Some unseemly details are surfacing in the light of what the United States is masterminding in the region, and how all this works. These or similar stories reveal the essence of developments.

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Question: On September 26, the National Security Council of Turkey called on Moscow to live up to its commitments under the Sochi Memorandum of September 22. What is meant is the withdrawal of Kurdish units from the border areas. As we know, the Russian Defence Ministry reported on November 1 that the Kurdish units had been withdrawn earlier than planned. Another point is that the Turkish military and the armed opposition they support are conducting an operation to seize Ayn Issa, which is beyond the security zone delineated by the Sochi Memorandum and located 40-45 kilometres from the border. How could this Turkish approach be evaluated? Who is failing to abide by the Sochi agreements – Turkey, Russia, or the Kurds?

Maria Zakharova: Firstly, the situation there is changing by the hour. What could raise questions in Russia regarding the implementation of agreements signed by Turkey or what could raise questions in Turkey with regard to Russia can change within several hours. Therefore, our military and diplomats are in contact on a 24/7 basis and are removing problems during the contacts. If there are some questions that cannot be removed, we share our critical assessments, present them to each other, report them to our leaders, and in some cases submit them to the public for discussion. We are working closely with our Turkish colleagues on this.  

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias