Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 9, 2018

Thursday, 09 August 2018 14:42

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in the Meeting of the Caspian Littoral States’ Foreign Ministers 

On August 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the 8th Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Caspian Littoral States dedicated to hosting the 5th Caspian Summit.

The most recent such meeting was held in Moscow on December 4-5, 2017.

I would also like to draw your attention to a detailed interview with State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin published today in the Kommersant newspaper on Caspian issues and preparations for the events, which I just mentioned.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Turkey

On August 13-14, at the invitation of Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu, which was extended in February, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a meeting of ambassadors and permanent representatives of Turkey to international organisations.

As part of his visit, Minister Lavrov will speak at the meeting and meet with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The focus of the Russian-Turkish meeting will be on important issues on the international agenda, including the state of affairs in the Syrian settlement process, the Middle East, the Transcaucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine and the Black Sea region, and other important matters.

The ministers will consider the agenda for promoting bilateral trade and economic relations with an emphasis on monitoring the implementation of key energy projects, in particular, the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline and the construction of the first nuclear power station in Turkey at the Akkuyu site, as well as expanding ties in new areas. The upcoming schedule of meetings at various levels will also be considered.

We will keep you posted of changes in Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s schedule.


The situation in Syria

Overall, the situation in Syria remains tense. However, positive dynamics are taking hold. Hotbeds of terrorism have been eliminated in southwestern Syria. Control over the border with Jordan was restored. The process of normalisation of life in the areas liberated from terrorists is nearing completion. The infrastructure is being restored in the reconciled provinces of Quneitra and Daraa, and assistance is being provided to returning civilians. The Syrian Red Crescent Society, in cooperation with UN World Food Programme, sent 64,000 food packages to Daraa over the past month. About 1,500 people received proper medical care at Syrian Red Crescent Society’s three mobile clinics. The legal status of former members of illegal armed groups continues to be settled. In particular, over the past months, over 500 militants and deserters in Teyiba and Amtaya towns have taken advantage of presidential amnesty.

With the elimination of terrorists near the Golan Heights, the UN Disengagement Observer Force received an opportunity to resume patrolling in the Ubur post area, which was interrupted in 2014. Syrian and Russian military are deployed along this UN demarcation line.

Syrian government forces launched a large-scale counter-terrorist operation in eastern Suwayda province. Artillery and aviation are working on the remaining ISIS strongholds.

In response to provocations staged by Jabhat al-Nusra and its associated illegal armed groups, the Syrian army is delivering strikes on their positions in western Idlib, as well as in the mountainous areas in northern Latakia province. An attack by Nusra in northern Hama province has been successfully pushed back.

Within the framework of the Syrian leadership's stated course on the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland, the Syrian government decided to create a special Coordinating Committee headed by Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf who reported the return of over 3 million internally displaced persons to their homes.

In addition, according to the UN, about 890,000 refugees may return to Syria in the coming months. The administration of the town of Rastan in northern Homs province reported that about 1,500 local residents returned there over the three months since the city was liberated from terrorists. In the neighbouring town of Talbiseh, the population grew from 5,000 to 12,000 with many civilians returning home.


Progress of the investigation into the deaths of Russian journalists in the CAR

On August 7, officials of the Russian Embassy in the Central African Republic (CAR) held a meeting with the leadership of the National Gendarmerie of the CAR. Local law enforcers updated the Russian diplomats on the facts uncovered during the investigation of the journalists’ murder, and allowed them to talk with the chauffeur who drove them, an eyewitness of what happened.

According to the driver’s testimony, on July 28, the Russians met him in one of Bangui's cafes and asked him to accompany them in his private car for ten days.

On the next day, the journalists attempted to get into Berengo training camp, where Russian instructors train Central African soldiers, but, since they had no official approval from the Central African Defence Ministry to visit the military facility, they were denied access by the Central African soldiers guarding the camp.

On July 30, at about 11 am, the journalists went to the town of Bambari, north of the capital of the CAR. They stopped in Damara, 70 km away from Bangui, and spent one and a half hours filming and talking with the locals. After that, without explaining their motives, the journalists abruptly decided to deviate from the original itinerary, asking the driver to go to Dekoa. On arrival at Sibut, a town on the way to Dekoa, around 6.30 pm, their car was stopped by a Central African military patrol, who strongly recommended not going further and spending the night in Sibut, because beyond the city laid an uncontrolled area. However, the journalists insisted on going, saying they were in a hurry, and after a long dispute, they were allowed to go on.

Concerning the crime, the driver mainly repeated his previous account of the attack by unknown armed robbers on the Dekoa road between 8 and 9 pm.

CAR law enforcement authorities continue to investigate the attack. The laptop, removable storage media, and mobile phone with Russian and Central African sim cards belonging to one of the journalists could be important evidence for the investigators. A request is being prepared to the local cellular operator to provide information about calls and messages made from that phone.

In response to the Russian Investigative Committee, the director of the CAR National Gendarmerie confirmed to our embassy in Bangui that they are open to cooperation with Russian investigators, ready to receive them in the CAR and provide the necessary conditions for their work, including security and organising a visit to the crime scene.

We note the CAR authorities’ willingness to cooperate with the Russian side to clarify all the circumstances of the tragedy. We are satisfied with the way the interaction with the Central African authorities is currently proceeding.

The Russian Foreign Ministry continues to prioritise this matter and, as information becomes available, will report on the progress of the investigation, in cooperation with Russian law enforcement agencies.


Update on Maria Butina following her arrest in the US

A special focus for us is the case of Maria Butina, who was arrested on July 15 in the United States on charges of being an agent of a foreign government.

We are taking all possible measures to improve the conditions of her confinement, where she has faced outright discrimination on the part of the US authorities. This Russian woman is being subjected to overt psychological pressure, including frequent searches of her cell, denial of medical assistance, as well as various restrictions that do not apply to other prisoners.

It is quite obvious that all these steps are being taken in an attempt to force Butina to plead guilty. It stands to reason because all the accusations against our citizen are clearly contrived and based on social media messages taken out of context.

Therefore, we demand an immediate end to the criminal prosecution of Maria Butina, a victim of the internal politics of the United States, and her release.

For our part, we will continue to press the US authorities to respect her rights and legitimate interests.


Russian citizens’ detention in the United States

We are concerned about new reports of Russians arrested in the United States. Last week, FBI agents detained Maxim Suverin, Nikolay Tupikin, Stanislav Lisitsky, and Alexey Livadny on charges of fraud and money laundering as part of a criminal group.  

The Russian Embassy in Washington appealed to the State Department for clarification, and the Consulate General in New York contacted the local FBI office and met with Suverin at the detention center. At present, we are determining the whereabouts of the others and working on organising a consular meeting with them.

We continue to closely monitor the situation, while taking all possible steps to protect the rights and legitimate interests of our citizens.


US decision introducing new anti-Russian sanctions

Unfortunately, we again have to return to the issue of Washington’s sanctions against Russia.

Yesterday, the US Department of State announced a new set of restrictions. This time the Skripal poisoning case was chosen as the trumped-up pretext. The Russian leadership is directly accused of using the nerve agent Novichok in spite of the fact that up to now the UK has failed to present any evidence of Russia’s involvement in what happened in Salisbury and has been refusing to cooperate with Russia in the investigation. Nevertheless, despite the absence of any evidence whatsoever, the US administration, hiding behind some notion of allied solidarity, considered it necessary to introduce odious new sanctions.

The announced restrictions, which are due to take effect on August 22, include a ban on any foreign assistance to Russia except humanitarian, a ban on the sale of military and dual purpose goods and a denial of government loans or other financial assistance. The demands that have been made as a condition for the sanctions to be lifted are patently unacceptable to us. And this is just the first phase. We are being threatened with tighter sanctions pressure.

In this way, the US is deliberately seeking to further aggravate bilateral relations that have already been reduced to almost zero through its own efforts. Instead of earnestly searching for ways to improve relations, as discussed during the recent summit in Helsinki, the US administration has done everything to make the situation even more complicated.

The goal of those who are behind the latest twist in the so-called Skripal case is obvious. They are seeking to keep the anti-Russian theme going for their own benefit in order to continue demonising Russia. Moreover, this is an attempt to portray our country as a state that fails to honour its international commitments. In this specific case, these are commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), although it is well known that Russia eliminated all its chemical weapons last year in strict compliance with its CWC obligations, whereas the Americans have yet to destroy their own chemical warfare arsenals and keep postponing the deadline for the implementation of the corresponding programme. Against this background, all these groundless accusations look utterly cynical.

Russia has repeatedly warned that talking to us from a position of strength and in the language of ultimatums is futile and pointless. We will consider counter measures to this most recent unfriendly move by Washington.

In this context, assurances by the US administrations that it will nevertheless continue working towards improving relations with Russia look bizarre. This is unconcealed hypocrisy. Unfortunately, Washington’s deeds suggest otherwise. One gets the impression that the US and its allies have adopted a new standard of conduct, levelling at Russia all sorts of odious accusations unsubstantiated by any evidence.

I would like to add that in response to a direct question by a Russian representative, who was invited to the US Department of State, as to whether the investigation into the “Skripal case” had concluded, no answer was forthcoming. What this means is that the accusations were not built on any legal foundation whatsoever, despite invocations of international law, compliance with legal norms and honouring of commitments. There was no answer to a direct question because there was nothing to say. This is evident because UK investigative authorities are scant of comments.

This is not the only u-turn that the US administration has made lately. There are also the new economic restrictions against China and the resumption of sanctions against Iran, which I will discuss in more detail. It looks like part of the political elite in the US has completely lost their senses.


Resumption of unilateral sanctions against Iran by the United States

On August 6, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that restores the anti-Iranian sanctions in two stages. The sanctions were suspended in 2016 in connection with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. The first restrictions came into force on August 7. They were related to financing and banking in the Islamic Republic and a number of commodities, including civilian aircraft. The second wave of sanctions is planned for November 5 and is aimed against Iran’s oil and energy sectors.

These are exterritorial restrictions, that also include individuals and organisations from third countries, against cooperating with Iran in the areas banned by US laws.

We have emphasised more than once that Washington’s course towards destroying the JCPOA and restoring the full-scale pressure of the sanctions on Iran is absolutely destructive. By taking this step, the US is again acting against the opinion of the majority of states and is pursuing its own narrow, opportunistic interests, flagrantly violating international legal standards, including UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that nobody in the US would have considered vetoing at one time.

Obviously, Washington’s grievances against Iran’s fully legitimate nuclear activities are just a cover up for its efforts to maintain political pressure against Tehran under far-fetched pretexts. In the process it is overtly ignoring the interests of other countries, including US European allies. Washington is twisting their arm by compelling them to give up mutually beneficial trade and economic relations with Iran.

It is clear that these voluntary actions by the US administration will have long-term negative consequences for global non-proliferation and will impart an additional destabilising effect on the situation in the Middle East.

Russia remains committed to the JCPOA and continues to be guided by the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. As far as we know, the other participants in the JCPOA intend to adhere to the same policy. It should not be forgotten that this so-called nuclear deal is an asset of the entire international community that has repeatedly confirmed interest in preserving it and in maintaining long-term sustainable implementation for enhancing world and regional peace and security, as well as a nuclear non-proliferation regime. 


Developments around Salisbury and Amesbury

The British media have started a new round in the London-initiated information and propaganda game. When official London claimed that Russia had come up with several versions of this situation in order to confuse everyone, we decided to count the number of versions published by the British media. We were unable to do that as there are not dozens but hundreds of versions and suppositions. The situation has been completely tangled up.

Clearly, the journalists won’t leave this urgent subject alone, but we consider mainly the official position of the investigative bodies to be the most important. We believe they are working under political pressure. We think this pressure is aimed at directing the investigation towards the line of absurd accusations that the UK political leaders made shortly after the incident. No pressure should be exerted on the investigation or investigative bodies. This was a Western dogma. Can you imagine what investigators working on this case in the UK and trying, as we see it, to understand what happened in reality feel when they suddenly learn that Washington is adopting a package of what our Embassy in the US called “draconian” sanctions against Russia, saying that these sanctions are imposed on Russia for taking part in this crime? What position of distance between politics and law-enforcement investigations can one speak of when a country considered by Britain as one of the largest in the world and which protects it in many areas is taking such steps? This amounts to direct pressure on the investigation. This is also psychological pressure on the people that are meticulously restoring the picture of the incident. Seeing how a guilty verdict is summarily handed down against an entire state, British police and investigators understand full well what awaits them if they unexpectedly reach a conclusion that does not follow the mainstream. This is direct psychological pressure on those that are investigating the incident.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said recently, “chemical weapons have been used on the streets in England – something that we believe was authorised by the Russian government.” This is again confirmation of the political, psychological, and emotional pressure that politicians – people with power – are exerting on the investigative bodies.

The London police recently published a statement on the incident in Amesbury, the first in three weeks. It indicated that they are continuing to discover poisoned locations and items with the participation of the chemical lab at Porton Down. This is a kind of a vicious circle or a merry-go-round that carries, one after another, the British Government, the investigative bodies and the fog-enveloped lab at Porton Down. There is simply no way off this merry-go-round.

Given that Russian citizens sustained damage in Salisbury, Russia insists on a truly independent, objective and transparent investigation of the two incidents by the British authorities. As before, Russian law-enforcement agencies are willing to render them any necessary assistance.


Porton Down laboratory releases annual report and accounts 2017/2018 

We took note of the annual report and accounts released recently by the Porton Down chemical laboratory on its performance in 2017-2018.

The Salisbury incident is mentioned very briefly and merely states the fact. Nothing is said about the type of agent that was allegedly used in Salisbury or the results of the analysis conducted by the OPCW. The laboratory’s chief executive, Gary Aitkenhead, is quoted in the report’s overview as saying that a “nerve agent attack” took place in Salisbury while refusing to talk about any finer details, citing an ongoing investigation and “reasons of national security.” So, what do we see? While political forces in Washington and London are undertaking new measures justified by what is presented as a clear insight into the incident, experts and specialists who are directly involved in the investigation and are in charge of these matters refer to an ongoing investigation, the sensitive nature of the file, and shy away from any clear-cut conclusions.

The report also stresses the challenges that the Porton Down chemical laboratory has been facing in recent years. Most of the incidents reported in 2017 and 2018 were “high potential/actual incidents” related to the institution’s safety. Considering that the laboratory’s profits have been declining in recent years, it is obvious that apart from technical matters the human factor is at play.

Was it a coincidence that the incident with the Skripals and the British couple in Amesbury took place not so far away from the famous Porton Down laboratory? This question is far from idle. We proceed from the premise that it is up to the investigation to provide answers to this and many other questions.

There is no doubt that the investigation should remain focused on the Porton Down chemical laboratory. Considering what has happened, we deem any reference made by the UK to some kind of “national security interests” to be inappropriate. If you take decisions and decide to drag the entire world into this affair, you must take responsibility before the international community and answer questions it has been asking for a long time.

Accordingly, we insist that the British authorities disclose data on the laboratory’s work to synthesise chemical warfare agents, including those referred to as Novichok in the West.


Daily Telegraph article on the outcome of investigation into the death of Alexander Perepelichny, a Russian national 

We paid close attention to an article published by The Daily Telegraph, which attempts to question yet again the results of the investigation into the death of Alexander Perepelichny, a Russian national, carried out by the UK police, as well as the results of his autopsy conducted by experts from the Home Office in Great Britain.

In fact, the British media compete against one another in making up various incredible versions, and are interested in this case because part of the investigation was carried out behind closed doors and was accompanied by the decision made by the UK Government to classify material from its secret services on this incident, citing national security concerns.

Some media outlets were quick to fill the vacuum left by the lack of reasonable transparency in this investigation, which makes all the parties involved responsible.

At the same time, there are obvious attempts to make a political affair out of the coroner’s report, and add a pronounced anti-Russian twist to the results of the investigation. We believe this to be unacceptable. The Foreign Ministry continues to insist on creating conditions for drawing the line under this investigation in an unbiased and independent manner.


Detention of RIA Novosti Ukraine Editor-in-Chief Kirill Vyshinsky in Ukraine 

Kirill Vyshinsky’s situation remains unchanged. The Kherson City Court has extended his arrest to September 20. Even though Russian consular officers are still being denied access to the detainee under the pretext that he is a Ukrainian national, the Russian Embassy in Ukraine and the Odessa Consulate General keep the situation under their constant control and provide every possible support to Vyshinsky’s defence.


UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths’s intention to summon intra-Yemeni consultations in Geneva 

We noticed the plans to arrange intra-Yemeni talks in Geneva on September 6 under the auspices of the United Nations. The talks will focus on the de-escalation of the continuing armed conflict in the Republic of Yemen, to outline measures to strengthen mutual trust and other steps towards a political resolution of the Yemeni crisis.

We hope that the initiator of this meeting, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, will succeed in achieving the declared goals. Moscow has always supported and will support any efforts to ensure that the military confrontation in Yemen is replaced by peaceful talks, and to help the Yemeni nation in reaching an agreement on the future political system in the country.

We would like to remind you that the upcoming consultations in Switzerland will become the first direct contacts for two years between the Yemeni conflict parties. Therefore, it seems extremely important that these contacts do not share the same fate as the previous rounds of this dialogue in Geneva, Muscat, Biel and Kuwait City, and that they are fully oriented at achieving specific results and help to actually facilitate the long-awaited peace and stability in Yemen.  


Situation in the Gaza Strip 

The situation in the Gaza Strip has become tense once again. On August 7, an Israeli tank shell killed two members of Hamas’s militant wing in the area near the border with Israel. On August 8-9, some 150 missiles and mortar shells were launched from Gaza at the Israeli territory. As a result of these attacks, two Israeli nationals and a national of Thailand were injured, and several infrastructure facilities were damaged in the borderline Israeli towns.

During the same days, the Israeli Air Force struck more than 140 facilities belonging to Hamas and other Palestinian groups. The media reported three Palestinians dead, including a pregnant woman and her 18-month old child.

Moscow is deeply concerned with this dangerous escalation of events. As the tension on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip has persisted since May, there is a significantly increasing risk of a full-scale military confrontation around the strip, which may cause new victims among civilians on both sides and a drastic deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian enclave.

Once again, we call on the Palestinians and the Israelis to exercise restraint and to take measures in order to reliably prevent any repeated violence with unpredictable consequences. However, as we have stated many times before, to break this cycle of armed opposition it is necessary to move towards a speedy establishment of a constructive negotiation process based on the two-state formula of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement and existing UNSC and UN General Assembly resolutions as well as the Arab Peace Initiative. Any unilateral decisions bypassing the existing international legal framework of the Middle East peace settlement will not help to achieve the goal.


Earthquake in Indonesia

On August 5 at around 7 pm local time, the island of Lombok (Lesser Sunda Islands, the Republic of Indonesia) was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake that killed around 130 people and injured around 1,500. Residential construction, energy and transport infrastructure were seriously damaged.

The airports on the islands of Lombok and Bali were partially damaged, which resulted in the suspension of their operations. The flights from these terminals are currently operating as normal.

No Russian nationals were reported to be among the dead or injured. The Russian Embassy in Jakarta sent a diplomat to Lombok and is closely monitoring the developing situation in the region. The websites of Russian foreign missions have contact information for 24/7 inquiries from the public. The media are strongly encouraged to use these contacts to inform our nationals currently staying in the region.


To bt continued...

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