Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, March 2, 2016

Sunday, 06 March 2016 18:53

Table of contents
1 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the Normandy format ministerial meeting
2 Improvement of Ukraine’s legislation on protecting rights of journalists
3 The situation in Syria and the ceasefire process
4 On the current situation in Afghanistan
5 Discussions on the safety of space activities at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
6 Desecration of a military cemetery in the Hungarian village of Moha
7 Anti-Russian statements by Moldovan Defence Minister Anatol Salaru
8 Foreign tourists’ entry to Russia
9 From answers to media questions:
10 A possible political structure for Syria
11 Russia-Azerbaijan relations
12 UN Security Council resolution on restrictions against North Korea
13 Shelling attack on journalists in northern Syria
14 UN Security Council draft resolution on North Korea
15 Rajin-Hasan Railway project
16 Russian national Anastasia Jallul
17 General Breedlove’s comments on Russia
18 Malaysian airliner
19 Russia’s position on the Syrian settlement
20 Finland- Sweden military cooperation
21 Polish draft law on foreign military presence in the country
22 EU sanctions against Russia
23 Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Paris
24 Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Staffan de Mistura and Ban Ki-moon
25 Russia-North Korea relations
 
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the Normandy format ministerial meeting
 
On March 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in another meeting of the Normandy Four foreign ministers in Paris.
The participants plan to discuss the current developments in southeastern Ukraine and analyse the implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015. They are expected to focus on the fulfilment of the political aspects of settlement in Ukraine: the implementation of constitutional reform and provisions for the decentralisation power taking into account the peculiarities of some districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions; permanent legislative recognition of a special procedure for local self-government (special status) of Donbass, elaboration of the modalities of local elections in the region, and the application of amnesty to those who took part in the events in southeastern Ukraine in 2014−2015.
 
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Improvement of Ukraine’s legislation on protecting rights of journalists
 
As you probably know, recently the Ukrainian leaders took steps to improve Ukraine’s legislation on protecting the rights of journalists, steps which we believe require our comment.
We paid attention to the new attempt of the Ukrainian authorities to declare their commitment to democratic principles. On March 1 the Law on Amendments to Ukraine’s Criminal Code (improving the protection of journalists’ professional activities) was signed in Kiev.
As we understood from its text, the main goal of amendments is to improve the legal foundation and remove shortcomings of the legislative regulation of issues linked with the current legal mechanism for protecting the professional activities of journalists. I’d like to emphasise that these amendments also provide for tougher punishment for deliberate attempts to prevent the lawful professional activities of the media workers, including illegal withdrawal of their material, confiscation of technical equipment and denial of access to information.
For our part we can only welcome Kiev’s desire to improve the national legislation on protecting the rights of media representatives. Now the main thing is to ensure that these amendments do not become a non-committal reply to the relevant international European agencies involved in protecting journalists’ rights and become mechanisms that will work in real time, protecting not only Ukrainian journalists but also their foreign colleagues. I believe in common standards in this area and the relevant law should envisage permanent monitoring of the security services, which have been recently overzealous in keeping an eye on journalists and simply prevented them from working. We assume that the provisions of the article on the inadmissibility of preventing the activities of journalists will fully apply to the work of foreign correspondents, including those from Russia who are still affected by discriminatory law No. 1853 on the temporary suspension of accreditation of journalists and technical workers of some Russian media at Ukraine’s government bodies.
Apart from anything else, it is necessary to understand that there are facts pointing to the existence of a very dangerous trend in this area in Ukraine. We know about many crimes against journalists that are not being investigated at all or are not being investigated properly. I’m referring to raids against TV channels, the psychological pressure applied on non-conformist journalists, even corporal injuries and murder. You remember well such cases. Of course, we’d like to see them fully investigated. Only in this context, and with a change in attitude, will the amended law start working.
 I’d like to say that we are not the only one to be worried about freedom of speech in Ukraine. We’d like to be optimistic and remain hopeful for some change. Specialised international agencies − the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and a number of NGOs have also noted non-compliance with legislative requirements.
 
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The situation in Syria and the ceasefire process
 
As you know, on February 27, a ceasefire came into force in Syria. On the same day, the UN Security Council adopted Russia- and US-sponsored Resolution 2268, declaring support for the cessation of hostilities in Syria. Syrian government forces and a number of opposition groups have notified Russia and the United States that they accept the ceasefire terms. As for ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist organisations, designated as such by the UN, they are completely excluded from the ceasefire regime. We have said this before. This is our firm position.
I’d like to draw attention to the fact that our colleagues at the Defense Ministry on a daily basis publish corresponding materials and news bulletins from the Russian centre for the reconciliation of warring sides in Syria.. We believe that these materials provide exhaustive information.
We’d like to offer our view on what is currently happening. During the first three days, the total number of local peace agreements has increased to 38. During the same period, 31 violations of the ceasefire have been recorded. The US reconciliation group, which is based in Amman, the capital of Jordan, was duly informed about these facts.
Russia and the United States as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) have launched a ceasefire implementation and monitoring mechanism with regard to Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups. In this context, we hope that all the remarks made by a number of high-ranking representatives in Washington related to the so-called Plan B or any other “alternative plans” for Syria, should hostilities resume, will remain just that – words. We’ve urged our US partners to honour the obligations they have assumed.
We are confident that the implementation of the Russia-US agreements on the cessation of hostilities in Syria should be treated carefully, in good faith and in a responsible manner. We continue our focused work with ISSG members and other influential international players, urging them to take practical steps to support the Russian-US plan, which can serve as a foundation for the restoration of peace and security in Syria and the successful development of the intra-Syrian political process based on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
We’ve also taken note of the fact that a number of respectable Western media outlets, in their reports on the ceasefire, have started using the “two-week ceasefire” formula, the implication being that after two weeks the ceasefire will end. This is not exactly the case. We note that this is not about a two-week or any other term of the ceasefire but the point is that the ceasefire should be of unlimited duration. This is the focus of all our efforts. Needless to say, nobody intended to become involved in this full-scale work, with contributions from a great number of experts and specialists, as well as the engagement of inter-governmental structures, just to give the sides a week-long or two-week respite. It’s important to understand this. If some groups express an opinion or if there is a collective opinion that all of this will be temporary, then it should be clearly recorded as a private opinion, not the opinion of the ISSG or the UN. It’s important to be very careful here.
 
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On the current situation in Afghanistan
 
We are seriously concerned with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Extremist groups are perpetrating more and more armed attacks and terrorist acts virtually all over the country. On February 27 alone, suicide bombers carried out two major attacks in Kabul that killed many people, 15 people in all with 31 more wounded. The Taliban movement has claimed responsibility for the attack. Over 50 people were killed and wounded in the city of Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province. We resolutely condemn these barbaric crimes, and we express our sincere sympathies to the families and friends of the deceased and wounded.
It goes without saying that terrorist attacks do not create favourable conditions for launching direct talks between representatives of the Afghan government and the armed opposition that are scheduled for this March.
We have noticed recent Western media publications about the alleged reluctance of the Russian side to cooperate with the United States on the Afghan issue. This either amounts to news leaks, of which there have been many as of late, or a purposeful attempt to shift the blame on Moscow. This is nothing but yet another case of misinformation.
I would like to recall that, in April 2014, the United States, NATO and some Western countries unilaterally stopped implementing joint projects with Russia to help Afghanistan combat terrorism and the drug threat. I repeat, this was a unilateral action.
Russia is ready to cooperate in order to stabilise the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and to launch a nationwide political settlement on the basis of national reconciliation.
Of course, we are open to dialogue on this issue in any format and at any venue.
 
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Discussions on the safety of space activities at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
 
Today I’d like to speak on the specific issue of safety of space activities, which has been discussed at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. I will speak on this in considerable detail as this is a complex issue that calls for expert assessments.
I’ll begin with the annual, 53rd session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), which was held in Vienna from February 15 to 26. The subcommittee has a broad agenda of applied research issues and has become a platform for multilateral diplomacy on the safety of outer space in parallel with the Geneva process since 2012. The subcommittee is also preparing guidelines for long-term sustainability of outer space activities. A major aspect of this issue is the safety of space operations.
Unfortunately, the 53rd session revealed Russian-US differences on ensuring the safety of space operations. Russia believes that the issue of safety in outer space should be addressed very seriously rather than limited to discussions on the need to conduct responsible space operations. Russia has advanced initiatives on all the important aspects of ensuring the safety of space operations.
Our US colleagues did not hasten to hold a concerned discussion on the relevant issues and later assumed a stance opposing ours on all of the practical proposals we have advanced. It appears that the United States has decided to do everything in its power so that the upcoming COPUOS session in June adopts an unfinished and half-worked document that would only formalise framework provisions concerning all other aspects of the safety of operations in space but of secondary importance for the fundamental issue of safety in outer space. Unfortunately, our colleagues attempted to banish all Russian proposals from the draft guidelines, but they have failed to steer the subcommittee discussions onto an anti-Russian track. In light of this unconstructive approach, the Russian delegation acted resolutely. We formulated a proposal that would block the decisions that the United States was forcing on the subcommittee. These decisions, if approved, would have derailed even the feeblest attempts to ensure the safety of space operations.
When the process was launched in 2012, all COPUOS member states agreed on one thing, but the US scenario would have resulted in the adoption of an absolutely different document, both essentially and factually, and most importantly, without the key elements related to the safety of outer space. Russia believes that one should always keep one’s word. We must take responsible decisions that will allow ensuring the safety of space operations.
The essence of the Russian proposal is that we should continue negotiations for a reasonable time based on existing prerequisites, such as the decisions of the UN Committee and its subcommittee, until we coordinate a comprehensive document that will outline a long-term strategy and methods for ensuring the sustainability and non-confrontational nature of outer space activities. One of our priorities is to find a reasonable compromise on each fundamental issue. In this context, Russia is urging the United States not to stop the dialogue but to preserve the opportunity for discussing the most important issues in this sphere.
I’d like to point out the relevant website of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, www.unoosa.org. If you are interested in the issue of space safety, you will find a great deal of useful information on this website, including Russia’s working documents on this and related issues that were prepared over the past four years. To glean the substance of Russia’s stance and to trace its development, you should read two working papers, A/AC.105/C.1/2016/CRP.14 and A/AC.105/C.1/2016/CRP.15, which were published in Russian and English in February of this year and will be later published in all the official languages of the UN.
 
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Desecration of a military cemetery in the Hungarian village of Moha
 
Regrettably, I cannot help but mention yet another desecration of a military cemetery. I am referring to a Hungarian village, Moha, in Fejer County.
Unknown vandals have desecrated a Soviet military cemetery, tearing off four memorial tablets with the names of dead Red Army soldiers. In all, the memorial commemorates 176 Red Army men.
We state with regret and indignation that this is the second case of this sort in February. Last year saw a total of six acts of vandalism against Soviet military cemeteries in Hungary, two of which likewise happened in the said county.
Given our long-standing and generally positive interaction with Hungary in the military memorial area, we proceed from the assumption that the perpetrators of these attacks will be found and brought to account and that the original look of the graves will be restored. We hope that the Hungarian authorities will give a fitting political assessment to these offences and ensure meticulous compliance with the intergovernmental agreement on the perpetuation of the memory of fallen servicemen and civilian war victims and on the status of burials of March 6, 1995.
 
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Anti-Russian statements by Moldovan Defence Minister Anatol Salaru
 
The new government of the Republic of Moldova has lately signaled at different levels its interest in providing a positive impetus to friendly relations and cooperation with the Russian Federation. Against this background, we are surprised to find – and this can cause nothing but perplexity – a series of anti-Russia statements, which Moldovan Defence Minister Anatol Salaru made in his recent interviews, both published and televised.
We leave on the official’s conscience his claim that it is necessary to revise the constitutional clause on Moldova’s state neutrality and to instead integrate with NATO. But we cannot leave without a response his openly unfriendly remarks about Russia’s role and influence in the region. I am referring not only to his repeated attempts to scare Moldova with a supposed Transnistrian military threat but also to his current allegations that Moscow and Chisinau are in a state of “hybrid war” aimed at the political destabilisation of Moldova, its economic and financial disruption, and support for “pro-Kremlin” political parties. He also suggests that the Russian peacemakers, who play a key role in what is by all accounts a highly effective peacekeeping operation on the Dniester River, should be replaced with “peacemakers operating under a UN mandate.”  
It is clear that these speculations are very dangerous. And, of course, they are in stark contrast with the new Moldovan cabinet’s efforts to work on rectifying Russian-Moldovan relations. These statements bring up the question as to what Chisinau’s official position is and who determines it.
 
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Foreign tourists’ entry to Russia
 
I cannot pass up an opportunity to comment on a particular online discussion, and I would like to dwell on its origin. I mean an open letter to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by several Russian travel agencies dealing with inbound tourism. As we are all aware, they propose that we simplify unilaterally the regulations for foreign tourists’ entry into Russia in the interests of developing the tourism industry and the opportunity for enhancing its revenues. I reiterate that media outlets, apart from the letter, amply covered this topic. I will tell you about developments in that field.
I would like to remind you that the current procedure for obtaining Russian visas is extremely liberal compared to, for instance, procedures used and legally confirmed in the European countries and the United States. Amendments made early in 2015 to the Federal Law On the Exit from/Entry to the Russian Federation allow aliens to obtain tourist visas urgently on the grounds of a simple certification by a travel agency and the completion of  a one-page form. I’d prefer not mentioning the forms used by many other countries: filling them in takes as long as reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Visa fees are calculated on the principle of reciprocity and constitute only a small part of overall travel costs. They are certainly not the determining factor in choosing itineraries.
Importantly, the percentage of refusals to issue Russian entry visas is spectacularly smaller than in Western countries. Russian consular agencies follow a promising trend to use visa centres for collecting applicants’ papers, and process them promptly, without making travellers wait.
In its work with visas, Russia’s Foreign Ministry proceeds mainly from the principles of equality and reciprocity: I mean the willingness of the relevant country or group of countries to grant similar visa preferences to Russian citizens.
 To obtain a comprehensive view of the situation, I will describe the trends existing “on the other side”. First, the European Union countries suspended their visa dialogue with Russia in 2014. Second, they introduced restrictions in the respect of Russian citizens resident in Crimea. Third, since September 2015 they use biometric procedures in drawing Schengen visas to complicate their receipt in Russia. We have made relevant comments on this score.
We hold that inbound tourism should be promoted with due regard for the country’s interests and security, and efficient monitoring of foreigners’ entry and sojourn as regional conflicts are gaining momentum, alongside international extremism and illegal migration. You know about the refugee inflow from the Middle East and North Africa. We mention it practically in every briefing. In this situation, we are called on to cancel visas – perhaps as a unilateral bonus to the European Union and other countries for their policy toward Russia: a suggestive proposal!
Despite a problem-laden international situation, Russia’s Foreign Ministry continues to simplify visa procedures, signing bilateral visa facilitation agreements or even lifting visa requirements. As of October 2015, visa requirements have been lifted for 106 countries, the citizens of 37 countries can enter Russia on their internal passports. We have signed agreements for simplified visa issuance on the basis of personal invitations with 36 countries (the European Union, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, the United States, China, India, Japan and Egypt). Direct talks on treaties for simplifying visa procedures are underway with another 40 countries – with 24 of them for visa-free travel.
Certain countries issue online visas for short-term foreign tourism. This experience is worth emulating, and the Foreign Ministry is considering the prospects for its introduction in Russia.
Such, in short, is our ongoing work. Our timely and honest response to the diplomatic community’s and other people’s concerns is very important to us because we help Russian citizens, particularly with visas and consular services. These duties matter a lot to us. We also know that much remains to be done, and we continue working to improve our services.
I would like to add that we receive many complaints and suggestions from the public through social networks. I can only say that we make it a point to answer each of them promptly.
 
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From answers to media questions:
Question: Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said at a press conference that a federation was a possible political structure for Syria. Was this idea discussed at Russian-Syrian or Russian-US consultations?
Maria Zakharova: Our stance on this issue has not changed. The system of government in Syria is an issue for the intra-Syrian dialogue, discussions and consensus-based decisions. It must certainly be decided by Syrians themselves. The intra-Syrian dialogue also has an international dimension, as many countries are involved in the settlement process, holding consultations and discussions and exchanging opinions. But it is Russia’s firm stance that the issue of Syria’s future system of government is within the Syrians’ competence. We have clearly said many times that we would like Syria to be a democratic, free, united, independent and territorially integral state populated by people of different faiths, political views, etc.
Question: The Ukrainian and Western media have taken a harder line with regard to Azerbaijan. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry think that this could be the result of Moscow-Baku rapprochement on a number of current issues, including Syria?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t have an answer ready because I haven’t read the Ukrainian articles about Azerbaijan. I believe this issue concerns the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan and Azeri diplomats. But I have a global formula: all publications must be objective.
This is not a subject within my competence, and so I have nothing more to say.
Question: As far as we know, the UN Security Council yesterday postponed the discussion of a resolution on restrictions against North Korea at Russia’s request. What didn’t suit Russia in the draft of this resolution? What proposals has Russia made?
Maria Zakharova: We openly said what doesn’t suit us and put forth our proposals. I’ll refresh your memory, although I spoke about this issue in detail at the previous briefing. We received a draft of the resolution after it had been amended by the United States, possibly in consultation with other countries, and we didn't have any time to analyse it, but were nevertheless requested to act promptly so that the resolution could be put up for a vote. We immediately issued commentary, openly saying that this issue, since it concerns sanctions that would undoubtedly also affect the Russian Federation and hence has a bearing on  Russia’s domestic legislation, should be sent for interdepartmental analysis. In other words, we need more time to coordinate this issue with the related Russian agencies. This is the essence of our request.
We have agreed with our Security Council colleagues that we should be given more time for this. This is how it should be done when an issue concerns domestic legislation and, hence, should be more carefully considered, and this process takes time. We started working as soon as we had been granted this additional time. We have since added our proposals to the text and have coordinated them with our partners. But our work is not complete yet.
But we didn’t request that work on this document be suspended or try to complicate the operation of the UN Security Council in any other way. The issue only concerns the internal coordination of work on this document. I believe you know that this implies the introduction of changes, including in bilateral relations. This is why we need time to analyse it.
Question: Can you tell us about the essence of Russia’s proposals after you completed working on them?
Maria Zakharova: No, it was conducted behind closed doors.
Question: On March 1, a group of Russian and foreign journalists came under fire in northern Syria; four of them were wounded. Do you have any information about them?
Maria Zakharova: Everyone has asked this question, including foreign mass media as well. Since we are talking about people, I think it will be right to name the media which were in Syria at the moment (I mean those who were invited there by Russian Defence Ministry), and then you can find out the journalists’ names, if you are interested, their impressions and if they were wounded.
The group included journalists from the Associated Press (US), BBC (Great Britain), ZDF (Germany), N-24 (Germany), CBC (Canada), Phoenix (China), RTI (Germany), Askanews (Italy), TV3 (NVCope, Spain), MegaTV (Greece) and Media-Most (Bulgaria).
You can receive their personal data yourself; this is not something to ask state bodies for. We are supposed to inform you about the incident and give a relevant estimate. This is what we do and I think that's fair.
Question: Is the Russian party satisfied with the corrections made to the UN Security Council draft resolution on North Korea?
Maria Zakharova: You will learn about this during the actual voting. I think there will be no questions after that.
Question: There are currently three countries involved in the Rajin-Hasan Railway project: North Korea, South Korea and Russia. Will this project be developed? What will Russia do if South Korea leaves the project? Will it look for a new partner?
Maria Zakharova: I need to learn more about this issue. Let me provide this information later.
Question: My question concerns the Russian girl Nastya Terekhova (Jallul). In 2010, her father, a Syrian national, brought her to Aleppo and she has lived there since. Are there any steps possible that can be taken by Russian diplomats to contact this girl? Is there such a goal at all? Will Moscow make efforts to return the girl to Russia?
Maria Zakharova: We were surprised about how this issue was covered in the relevant media:  biased, one-sided and politically motivated. I will explain. First, no one addressed us before this information was published. Second, this issue is not new, as  we even commented on it last year. It would be nice if the media covering this issue and coming up with meaningful conclusions were more decent when they write about the lives of people, especially children. It is sad that someone can have an impression after reading their articles that the Foreign Ministry was not involved in this problem, and Russian diplomats were not dealing with it, and this is just not true. Probably this is what the authors of these publications want you to believe. I will repeat, this is not so. We can prove that we have been actively involved in this.
I’d like to give you first-hand information. In this case, first-hand is a figure of speech, for we got involved in this problem after the relevant court verdicts were made. I will tell you what the Russian Foreign Ministry did.
In July 2010, Syrian national Abdullah Jallul brought his daughter, Anastasia Jallul, born on 26 July 2003, to Syria. The girl is a Russian citizen. He brought her to live with his first wife, with whom he had 14 children at the moment.
In 2012, the Russian Consulate General in Aleppo conducted an inspection of the living conditions of the girl, and found that the family where she lived had many children, low income and that the girl looked neglected and did not go to a Russian school because of the family’s lack of money.
In accordance with the decision of Moscow’s Lyuberetsky court of February 7, 2012, Abdullah Jallul was deprived of his parental rights. All attempts to convince him to return the child to Russia failed. He also refused to come to Moscow together with the daughter, and cited Syrian law saying that the child born from a Syrian father receives Syrian citizenship regardless of the birthplace. Such a child is considered by local authorities as a Syrian citizen without any regard for dual citizenship.
In this case, I am by no means trying to side with the father, just telling you the facts.
Taking into account that Syria is not a member of the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and there is no agreement on legal aid in civil, family and criminal cases between Russia and Syria, this issue is governed by local legislation. In this regard, Anastasia’s departure from Syria is possible only with the father’s permission. Syrian citizens receive the right to leave the country only after they turn 18.
I’d like to remind you that in January 2013, the activity of the Russian Consulate General in Aleppo was suspended due to military hostilities in the region. Thus, subsequent visits by the Consulate employees, as well as the inspection of the child’s living conditions, do not seem possible.
Let me emphasise that Russia continues dialogue with the Syrian authorities on this matter. Despite the ongoing situation in Aleppo, we have not removed this issue from the agenda.
We have additional information which is currently being verified. We hope that we will be able to find the girl and make sure she is all right. I cannot disclose all the details, but we have information that she goes to school and that there are no threats to her life and safety.
I will repeat that Russian diplomats will continue their efforts to establish contacts with Abdullah Jallul and to returnAnastasia back to Russia.
Question: As General Philip M. Breedlove, Commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, was addressing a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing the other day, he said a few harsh words about Russia. Would you comment on what he said?
Maria Zakharova: It is typical of US officials to talk tough. I haven’t had the fortune to see his statement because we returned from Geneva late last night but we will certainly read it at your request, and make relevant comments. Just what did he say?
Question: In particular, he said that Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately “weaponising” migration in an attempt “to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.”
Maria Zakharova: I don’t think comments on General Breedlove’s words should come from the Russian side at this stage. It would be wise to ask the US Department of State and its Secretary John Kerry what he can say to comment on his colleague’s opinion, and whether it is an official stance, expert evaluation or just personal position. I think this question should be addressed to our American colleagues. We are doing what we can to coordinate with the United States joint approaches to this extremely complicated problem. I think you all know that the achieved results were reached through herculean efforts, particularly Mr John Kerry’s. I don’t see why officials in Washington are trying to disavow whatever he would be doing. But we know that they are his colleagues, and we hope that the United States possesses a coordinated inter-sectoral policy on Syrian settlement.
We are an ironical lot, as you know, and General Breedlove gives ample food for irony. We will never leave his statements without response when they demand it. But I think this is a just and honest question to the American side.
Question: An aviation expert who often appears on many international TV channels, CNN among them, recently alleged Russian guilt in the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner above the South China Sea in 2014. He suspects that President Vladimir Putin ordered its seizure or hijacking. What can the Foreign Ministry say to that?
Maria Zakharova: I think we should comment on this statement just as we did with statements made by General Breedlove, SACEUR. These are matters of a similar nature.
Question: The stance of Syria on the federalisation issue is perfectly understandable. This is obviously an intra-Syrian issue, and they are addressing it. But, if a decision on federalisation is made and if the situation around Al-Raqqah does not change, will Russia be ready to cede part of Syria to ISIS?
Maria Zakharova: What are you talking about? I’m even a little taken aback. We are ready to fight ISIS, and, first of all, we are doing this both in the interests of Russian citizens and the interests of Syrian citizens and neighbouring countries. Statements that we would be ready to cede part of Syrian territory to ISIS sound blasphemous with regard to the Russian stance and to the stances of all sides. This can be explained by many reasons. I will not even talk about “high-sounding” issues, namely, international law, and instead I’ll discuss “mundane” issues. To cede any territory, be it officially or unofficially, to this terrorist organisation means assisting ISIS in its aspirations, namely, the creation of its own state. This would mean establishing a bridgehead where international terrorists from all over the world would have a reliable anchor base, a “resort” and so on. There can be a million reasons and arguments for this, and we will look more like a talk show if we start discussing them. It goes without saying that there can be no ceding of territory to ISIL or providing it with any technical means, no direct or indirect moral or ideological support. This is our unequivocal and clear stance.
Question: As you know, Finland and Sweden have been discussing the establishment of closer bilateral military cooperation for a long time, and this discussion is also taking place at top level. How can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: Media outlets of these countries immediately present any comments on military-technical cooperation (in any format, be it in line with expert assessments and findings, or of philosophical nature), including on cooperation between Finland and Sweden, as Moscow’s attempt to influence these countries’ domestic discussions, to pressure them using Russia’s authority or prestige,or to intimidate them.
If you are asking such questions, then I would very much like to ask you not to interpret them as Moscow’s statement of opinion on how these countries should implement their domestic and foreign policies. You have asked this question, and I am not imposing my opinion.
As far as the gist of the issue is concerned, we would like to note that this is a domestic affair of these countries. We are treating these issues and these countries as a whole with the utmost respect.
Certainly, we cannot but feel concerned and interested in connection with developments on our borders, in neighbouring countries or states located in direct proximity to the Russian Federation. We have the appropriate channels for dealing with this, including the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. We are able to get the specifics or learn anything of concern or interest to us. We hope very much that our colleagues in Finland and Sweden respect the same logic of openness and transparency, and that their actions are not directed, say, against the Russian Federation or other countries.
Any military-technical cooperation and expanded military ties should not, first of all, be directed against anyone else.  In the context of Finland and Sweden we are placing high hopes on this being the case. Second, it is important that cooperation should promote stability in the region where these countries are located, and stability should increase and not decrease.
The Russian stance is based on precisely these fundamental postulates. I can also suggest that you ask the opinion of Russian military experts and our colleagues from the Defence Ministry who maintain contacts with their partners in these countries. They will probably provide some additional revelations that I was unable to do.
Question: Yesterday, the Polish Government approved a bill on the stationing of foreign forces on its territory. I am referring to NATO and EU forces in Poland. The bill says that its approval is related to the worsening security situation in Poland’s vicinity and in other Central and East European countries and is explained by the changing geopolitical situation in the region and a threat coming from Moscow. How would you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: I hope this has nothing to do with the strengthening of military cooperation between Finland and Sweden.
This is not a new story. It’s simple: Military budgets, certain countries’ influence… There are a number of countries – we know these countries well and Poland, regrettably, is one of them – whose leaders constantly play games with our common history, where there were different episodes, and are winding up the population – intentionally, as it seems to me. They would scare everyone so much that they would start being afraid too. If you keep repeating that “the enemy is across the border,” the ordinary people, who lack their own understanding of the situation, would accept this as true. Next they are told that they will be saved from dangerous enemies via a number of legislative steps. This seems to me as part of the same concept – first you frighten and then you offer salvation.
What is being Poland “saved” from? From the Russian Federation? When did we threaten Poland in any way? Is there any concrete fact or date in our postwar history or in recent history, when the Russian Federation threatened Poland? I have no knowledge of that, nor does anyone else, because there is no such thing as the Russian threat. But we hear all the time about it. Poland is not alone in this regard. We hear the same statements from Baltic politicians. Know what is funny and sad? Politics, including politics in the Baltic states, has led to a huge exodus of the indigenous population. Soon there’ll be no one to scare in these countries. But they are continuing their scare campaign instead of promoting normal good, neighbourly relations, for which we are not only ready, but offer quite regularly and in various formats. We speak about this and we are open to this. The most important thing is that even during the last few years we had instances of close cooperation with Poland on some most difficult issues, including positive episodes of bilateral cooperation. It’s up to Poland to choose which road to take. Regrettably, it is choosing the road it is choosing. All of this is about European stability and security and to what extent this attitude helps to ensure them.
Here and there we see various man-made disasters, natural calamities and terrorist threats. To my mind, it has long been clear that the expansion of military presence to other countries will not save anyone from these common and really threatening disasters and challenges. They are inventing a threat that doesn’t exist and refusing to see what really threatens the lives of their people. It’s hard to understand why this is being done. A possible answer is that you’ll have to report to the population on what you were doing to avert a real threat, while opposing a putative threat will remain an equally putative affair. Here you can indulge your fantasies, telling a narrative how many people you saved from this horrible “Russian threat.”
Question: I have a question about Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Paris for a Normandy format ministerial meeting. Will they discuss the lifting of sanctions?
Maria Zakharova: As we have said more than once at different levels, we never discuss without our colleagues, including in the EU, the possibility of, opportunities for or methods of lifting sanctions. We didn’t impose these sanctions. And nobody asked for our opinion when they were imposed. This is not our problem, but a problem of the EU, each member of the union and the union as a whole. Of course, this issue concerns Russia as sanctions are damaging to us, but we don’t consider it necessary to discuss them. Moreover, in the past we saw our Western colleagues smile sceptically and say that sanctions are not a problem for the EU, but they have since become a problem. Many countries now say this, one after another. Some speak openly while others whisper in our ear and behind closed doors. In principle, the situation is clear: several years have passed and these countries have assessed their losses, including from Russia’s countersanctions. But we won’t discuss this issue.
Question: Will Mr Lavrov hold any bilateral meetings in Paris to discuss other issues, for example Syria?
Maria Zakharova: The possibility of bilateral meetings is being discussed now. Mr Lavrov will most likely meet with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault. If they do meet, they will certainly discuss Syria. We’ll keep you updated on the visit’s agenda.
Question: I want to ask about talks Mr Lavrov held yesterday with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoi for Syria Staffan de Mistura and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Mr De Mistura said after the talks that he would like to hold intra-Syrian talks on March 9. Have they reached an agreement on inviting the Kurds and on the Syrian groups that haven’t joined the ceasefire by that time? What is Russia’s stance?
Maria Zakharova: I can assure you that we raise this issue at all meetings that are concerned, in one way or another, with the launch of the intra-Syrian dialogue, the talks between Damascus and the opposition. The meetings Foreign Minister Lavrov held in Geneva yesterday were no exception. We have said and we keep saying that the Kurds must be involved in the UN-sponsored talks.
I’d like to add that the organisation of these talks is a UN responsibility. We don’t haggle with the UN and we don’t decide behind closed doors who will and who won’t be invited to attend the talks. Invitations are sent on behalf of the UN and its authorized representatives. But we can and have the right to express an opinion. We have said that the process wouldn’t be complete or effective without the Kurds, who constitute a large part of Syria’s population. They are a force and they are fighting terrorists on the ground. It’s wrong to disregard this factor only because a certain member of the International Syria Support Group (and we know who precisely) insists on this. The peace process, Syria and the ISSG must not be held hostage to the opinion of any one country. This is a collective format that takes decisions on the basis of consensus. Of course, we respect and discuss each other’s opinions. But it’s completely wrong to advance such ultimatums or to insist on one’s opinion to the detriment of the above goals.
It is for the UN to decide whether to send invitations to those groups that have not supported the ceasefire agreement, and these groups must wait for the UN’s decision. This is the point at issue. The groups that have indicated their commitment to the ceasefire agreement won’t be targeted. It’s important that they understand this and know that the process is based entirely on their choice, and that their safety depends in part on their choice.
Question: Does Russia expect relations with North Korea to worsen or improve after voting on the relevant UN Security Council resolution?
Maria Zakharova: We hope that the UN Security Council will take a consensus decision and that the resolution will be effective and will reach its main objective, that is, to help settle the problem on the Korean Peninsula, strengthen stability and prevent a repetition of recent events. This is the main objective of this resolution. Of course, we understand that it concerns the drafting and enforcement of sanctions.

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