Briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 24, 2016

Saturday, 26 March 2016 14:42

Table of contents

18 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni

19 Meeting of Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Foundation Board of Trustees chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

20 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic

21 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry

22 Former Pentagon Chief William Perry on the reasons behind the aggravation of Russian-US relations

23 Plans to resume inter-Yemeni consultations

24 International organisations assess situation in Yemen

25 Situation around Russian sailor

26 The prospects for development of US-Cuban relations: Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba

27 Turkey-EU summit

28 Criticism of the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees

29 Russia’s response to Russia Today’s investigation of events in Cizre

30 Opening a Facebook account for the Consular Department

31 Procedure for the evacuation of Russian nationals from abroad

32 PolitRussia publication on compatriots issue

33 Comments by US media on Russia’s reaction to Belgium terror attacks

34 From answers to questions:

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni

 

On March 25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds talks in Moscow with Italian Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Italy is one of Russia’s most important European partners. Bilateral relations with that country are based on a solid foundation of international law, economic cooperation and the traditions of mutual respect and friendship.

Despite the current restrictions related to the Western course towards pressure on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, the political dialogue with Italy is notable for its stability and consistency. We maintain contacts with our colleagues and address outstanding issues.

The Italian side shows interest in continuing and developing constructive interaction with Russia on the international arena and seeks to preserve the extensive positive potential of Russian-Italian relations that has been accumulated over many years, which was repeatedly confirmed during the numerous meetings and contacts between President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi this year and last.

The upcoming talks are expected to continue the substantive discussion of current international political and security issues, which are of interest to both parties, as well as opportunities for further strengthening our bilateral cooperation and dialogue.

Meeting of Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Foundation Board of Trustees chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

 

On March 28, a meeting of the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Foundation’s Board of Trustees will take place chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to review the results of the organisation’s work in 2015 and approve the basic areas of activity for the foreseeable future.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic

In keeping with a prior agreement, Ivica Dacic, first deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Serbia, will make a working visit to Moscow on April 1.

He is due to have talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which will be devoted to the implementation of the agreements reached as a result of President Vladimir Putin’s meetings with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on March 10 and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on October 29, 2015, including joint economic and investment projects, as well as interaction on the international arena.

Mr Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Mr Dacic will provide an opportunity for an exchange of opinions on key issues on the international agenda and aspects of the Kosovo settlement, as well as the situation in the Balkans.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry

Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, which lasted for nearly four hours.

The talks focused on bilateral and current issues on the international agenda. The parties addressed the situation concerning the internal Ukraine crisis, the Syria peace process and a number of other international issues.

As is known, today, US Secretary of State John Kerry will have a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The talks will be followed by a joint news conference between Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry. A video and transcript of the news conference will be posted on the Foreign Ministry’s official website after it is over.

Former Pentagon Chief William Perry on the reasons behind the aggravation of Russian-US relations

On the eve of John Kerry’s visit, many analysts wondered what led to the deterioration of Russian-US relations and how to improve them. I think this is a question for political science discussions.

Recently I read a very interesting article that was published by The Guardian in the first half of March. The author quotes the words of former Pentagon Chief William Perry who described in detail the reasons for the aggravation of Russian-US relations. I’d like to read excerpts from this article to draw your attention. These are very interesting assessments. They don’t claim to be absolute truths but we can hardly talk about absolutes in this context. This is simply an opinion. 

Speaking on The Guardian Live, Perry explained the tensions in Russian-US relations as a result of Washington’s scornful attitude towards Moscow’s concern over security issues after the Cold War. He emphasised that the first wrongful action by the United States was NATO’s expansion. NATO began to admit East European countries, some of which border Russia, despite Russia’s requests not to do so.

Perry thinks Washington’s second mistake was to deploy missile defence systems in Eastern Europe, ostensibly for protection against Iran’s nuclear missiles that Iran didn’t have. He recalled that Russia’s objections were again brushed aside.

Perry believes that Washington’s support of “fighters for democracy” during “colour revolutions” in former Soviet republics, including Georgia and Ukraine, was a third factor that contributed to the worsening of ties between Russia and the United States.

I think this is a very interesting view that gives one food for thought. Let me repeat that Perry’s opinion does not claim to be an absolute truth. But sometimes it is a pleasure to say there are analysts in the United States as well. But why are they not heeded?

Plans to resume inter-Yemeni consultations

We were content to hear a statement by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed that he has negotiated with the conflicting sides the start of another round of inter-Yemeni consultations in Kuwait City on April 18. These talks should be preceded by ceasefire planned to begin at midnight on April 10.

The sides are expected in Kuwait City to continue discussing the agenda endorsed during the previous meeting on Yemen in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, last December, first of all, on de-escalating the armed conflict and launching a full-fledged process of its political settlement.

Moscow is actively supporting such plans. We have always advocated an early end to hostilities on Yemeni soil, which led to thousands of civilian victims and exacerbated the humanitarian situation in the country to the limit. As before, we are convinced that only negotiations based on relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the results of the conference on national dialogue will make it possible to ensure long-awaited peace in Yemen and restore its statehood. For its part, Russia will continue to actively facilitate this.

International organisations assess situation in Yemen

I would like to cite several quotes and specific statistics from international organisations on the humanitarian issues.

According to the latest reports from the International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2.4 million people have been temporarily displaced as a result of the 12-month conflict in Yemen. Their humanitarian and socioeconomic living conditions are quickly getting worse, and the situation continues to deteriorate without a political settlement, as I just mentioned.

The IOM and the UNHCR have urged the belligerents to provide humanitarian access to areas most affected by hostilities. According to their reports, most temporarily displaced people are staying in precisely these areas. They believe that the provision of humanitarian access is feasible. The delivery of humanitarian relief aid last month to Taiz, one of the most war-torn Yemeni regions, is an example of this.

More temporarily displaced people are being registered in areas where clashes have resumed and intensified, including Taiz, Hajjah, Sana’a, Amran and Sa’dah, and they account for 68 percent of all temporarily displaced people in Yemen. Most displaced persons, over 555,000 people, are in Taiz, which has been besieged for several months. Taiz is followed by Hajjah (353,000), Sana’a (253,000), Amran (245,000) and Sa’dah (237,000). The latter was hit by air strikes recently, and the local population has decreased considerably. In fact, two-thirds (69 percent) of the local population have become temporarily displaced.

At the same time, a reverse trend is also being seen. About 420,000 people have returned to their homes, mostly in southern Yemen. The truth is that they were forced to relocate as a result of cyclones that hit the Arabian Peninsula, but unfortunately, not as a result of an armistice or ceasefire.

Serious shortages of resources and aid are being posted. Many temporarily displaced people are seeking shelter with relatives or friends. They are also staying in schools and abandoned buildings; they are building slums or living out in the open. As the humanitarian organisation notes, about $2 billion is needed for a Yemeni humanitarian relief effort. This money would be for basic aid to 14 million needy people. To date, only 2 percent of the current necessities have been financed.

The assessments of the situation in Yemen lead to the conclusion that the humanitarian crisis in that country could escalate out of control, unless a political settlement is achieved and the hostilities continue to escalate.

Situation around Russian sailor

We continue to monitor the situation with Russian citizen Ivan Rudny, who was seized by pirates February 23 in Nigerian territorial waters together with another crew member of the French vessel Bourbon Liberty 251.

Some foreign and Russian media outlets said the other day that he had reportedly been killed during the attack on the vessel. The Russian Embassy in Nigeria cannot confirm this information. According to available reports, a representative of the ship owner had a telephone conversation with Mr Rudny on March 20.

The Russian Embassy in Abuja is doing what it can to expedite the Russian sailor’s release.

The prospects for development of US-Cuban relations: Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba

US President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba on March 20-21 is an important milestone in international affairs. This is the first top level visit between the two countries in 88 years. We hope this visit will culminate the ongoing normalisation of bilateral US-Cuban relations. We have been watching the talks. 

Russia has welcomed the building of a US-Cuban dialogue from the start. We are convinced that this process is long overdue. It should contribute to correcting Washington’s historical mistake and objectively reflect changing realities. This is our principled position, as well as the fact that the dialogue should proceed on an equal and mutually respectful basis without imposing any political or socioeconomic models, and certainly without a “pat on the shoulder”.

We totally agree with our Cuban counterparts that a dialogue should be progressive and irreversible and that it should be aimed at comprehensively resolving the numerous issues that have accumulated around Cuba for half a century. Lifting the trade, economic and financial blockade of Cuba, including the unilateral US sanctions, is a matter of priority. It is odious that the US is keeping the Guantanamo military base that has been turned into an illegal prison.

Awhile back, when this positive direction in US-Cuban relations had just emerged, we were asked how a US-Cuban dialogue would affect Russian-Cuban relations and whether they could be made worse. I’d like to note that Russia and Cuba have the potential for further expanding bilateral cooperation on a range of mutual issues. We are seeking consolidation in accordance with our long-standing foreign policy priorities and in the spirit of strategic partnership.

We also support strengthening Cuba’s position as a political coordinator in resolving important global issues and as a specific platform for dialogue, reconciliation and seeking breakthrough solutions for the most delicate issues, as it is the case regarding the talks between the government and the rebels in Colombia, or, for example, the meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis.

Turkey-EU summit

The agreements reached by the EU and Turkey, primarily on Turkey’s integration into the EU, are only the concerns of the EU and Turkey. As for their plans for the large-scale migration from the Middle East and North Africa, we believe that they should comply with international legal standards on the rights of migrants, and human rights in general.

At the same time, we believe that measures to settle the migration crisis should take the following issues into account. As far as we can see, EU and Turkish efforts are primarily aimed at reducing the migration burden, which has increased in the past few years due to the inflow of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. We can understand the concern of the involved countries over the forced migration. However, as we have said repeatedly, the current migration problem did not develop today or a month ago. It is the result of lengthy or lingering turbulence in the region engendered by many years of Western and Middle Eastern policies aimed at removing or replacing undesirable governments, to forcibly change the affected countries’ political systems and fundamental principles.

We are convinced that a solution to the migration problem lies not just in dealing with the symptoms. This problem can be reliably straightened out only through collective international efforts to facilitate a comprehensive peaceful settlement in the Middle East and North Africa.

Regarding the Syrian conflict, we believe that all members of the international community must comply with the relevant key agreements, such as UN Security Council Resolution 2254, statements made by the International Syria Support Group in 2015 and 2016 and, of course, the basic document on this issue – the 2012 Geneva Communique. They must also promote strict compliance with the ceasefire agreements in Syria and avoid taking any steps that would exceed the framework of the settlement parameters approved by the UN Security Council.

It is alarming in this context that, in his comments on the outcome of the Turkey-EU summit, the Turkish Prime Minister again advocated the questionable Turkish initiative for creating so-called safe zones in a sovereign state. Moreover, he presented this as a matter already settled and a vital element of collective efforts towards a viable and lasting solution to the migration crisis. We’d like to point out that such “safe” zones have never been among the international efforts to resolve the migration problem or to settle the Syrian crisis in general. The Turkish authorities should abandon their attempts to sell this initiative – this issue has been discussed at length not just in Moscow but also at the UN – especially without the approval of the legitimate Syrian government and in circumvention of the UN Security Council.

Criticism of the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees

I’d like to cite several notable statements made by UN officials after the EU and Turkey signed the agreement on refugees. 

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said the UN refugee agency had suspended some of its activities at all the closed refugee centres on the Greek islands that “had become detention facilities” after the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement. She said: “UNHCR has until now been supporting the authorities in the so-called ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, where refugees and migrants were received, assisted, and registered. Under the new provisions, these sites have now become detention facilities.”

She further said that UNHCR is not a party to the EU-Turkey deal and will not be involved in returns or detention. We will continue to assist the Greek authorities to develop an adequate reception capacity. According to the UN refugee agency, “at present, Greece does not have sufficient capacity on the islands for assessing asylum claims, nor the proper conditions to accommodate people decently and safely pending an examination of their cases.”

Before the EU and Turkey signed the refugee deal, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi expressed concern about the planned arrangement and urged the sides to comply with the refugee protection safeguards under international law and the EU member countries’ commitments. UNHCR also called for protecting refugees rather than infringing on their rights.

For its part, UNICEF expressed concern that the EU-Turkey deal does not address the pressing humanitarian needs of children, who make up 40 percent of the refugee and migrant population in Greece.

Unfortunately, the issue of refugee and migrant children has not been addressed anywhere other than at briefings by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson. If you see any mention of this issue anywhere, please refer us to it so that we can take note of such public assessments. Also, I’d like to remind you about missing children. This is a big problem without a solution so far, yet we don’t see that appropriate attention is given to it.

Russia’s response to Russia Today’s investigation of events in Cizre

At the previous briefing, we promised to share our assessments of Russia Today’s materials on the investigation of events in Cizre (Turkey).

After Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov received the materials from Russia Today, he sent a letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in which he expressed perplexity at the absence of the UNHRC Office’s comment on the events in Cizre.

Indeed, we are surprised and perplexed. We believe that these assessments will be provided in the near future. In our view, failing to react to the tragedy, which, according to the information available to us, claimed about 150 victims who were burned to death, is unacceptable.

Opening a Facebook account for the Consular Department

The Foreign Ministry, the Information and Press Department and the Russian embassies receive numerous messages, information and links to internet materials regarding the unsatisfactory provision of consular services by our consular representatives. We also note that many materials can be found in social networks and blogs, rather than in journalists’ and media materials. People post information on their own experience and feedback on the internet. Sometimes, there is positive feedback, which is pleasing. However, the bulk of comments are critical and at times unjustified. We check everything and try to take measures.

To improve and accelerate this work, we will launch a Facebook account for the Consular Department today. We respond to all media materials. But, as I’ve already said, people mainly comment in social networks. Now you have a resource for that. I am referring to both the average person and representatives of travel agencies and professional organisations that work in the travel industry, meaning that they can leave their comments on the work of our consular representative offices on this page. They will be reviewed in the social network at the same place. Naturally, this doesn’t mean we will stop receiving direct feedback from individuals or responding to media inquiries. This is a supplementary resource that will improve our work.

The consular information portal has long existed on the internet and has shown good results. Let me repeat that we have created and will open a Facebook account for the ministry’s Consular Department today . We hope that the account will serve the many social network users and will promote expeditious provision of the latest information on consular issues to them and improve the quality of the services provided by the Foreign Ministry.

Procedure for the evacuation of Russian nationals from abroad

As the vacation season approaches, we’d like to issue a reminder about the current regulations on health insurance coverage when traveling abroad.

I’d like to point out that unfortunately, this is one of the most frequent problems that our citizens raise, among other things, in the social media. We regularly receive reports via Foreign Ministry accounts saying that Russian citizens traveling abroad as tourists or for other purposes, for example, were involved in a traffic accident or they had a health problem or they did not have a health insurance policy or it did not provide sufficient coverage.

In this context, it may be recalled that in accordance with Article 14 of the Federal Law on the Procedure for Exiting and Entering the Russian Federation, medical assistance provided to a Russian citizen abroad is covered under the terms of a healthcare service contract or a voluntary insurance policy. This procedure also applies to cases related to the need for medical evacuation from a foreign state to Russia and in the event of death, the return of a person’s remains to Russia.

In the absence of said policies, the obligation to cover all costs lies with the citizen in question or those interested in providing medical assistance to him/her or in returning his/her body to the Russian Federation.

We strongly advise all Russian citizens traveling outside Russia, regardless of the purpose of their trip or the duration of their stay abroad, to purchase a voluntary insurance policy in advance. When taking out an insurance policy it is important to pay attention to the insurance coverage limits – minimum coverage has been established at 2 million roubles at the Central Bank’s rate of exchange as of the date a voluntary insurance policy was purchased.

Naturally, I’d like once again to bring this information to the attention of tour operators who we hope will help encourage it.

PolitRussia publication on compatriots issue

We have taken note of a blogger’s publication entitled How Russia Finances the Right Sector via Switzerland. We have received requests from a large number of people to confirm or deny this information. We always seek to respond to such materials concerning the possible subsidising or sponsoring of activities that in some way or another are related to Nazi ideology.

In this publication, the author used the rule of “five handshakes” and followed on the social media a chain leading from the Russian Embassy in Bern, which supports the local Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, to Ukrainian activists raising funds in Switzerland to provide equipment and assistance to the Right Sector, a Ukrainian extremist organisation that is banned in Russia. Based on this chain, the author comes to the conclusion that the Russian Embassy in Switzerland is purportedly sponsoring the Right Sector.

The Russian Embassy in Bern promptly posted a reply to this publication denying the transfer of [state] budgetary funds to Swiss associations related to the Right Sector.

We believe that this issue is closed, and I’d like once again to refer you to our embassy’s comment. I’d like to draw two conclusions and stress two very important aspects. First, we are grateful – and these words are sincere – to all those who conduct such investigations. There is a great deal of information in social media and we may miss something. Such stories help us promptly respond to situations, especially those related to the life of our compatriots which we might have overlooked due to our workload or for other reasons. In this case we looked into it and it was a false alarm.

There is another aspect that is no less important. Such publications – even if their primary goal is to investigate, disclose a problem – should not divide the diaspora at this difficult time (say, the internal crisis in Ukraine has drawn a dividing line within families between fathers and their children) and should not confront [people] with the choice of taking one side or the other, the “Whites” or the “Reds”, to consider themselves compatriots. There are fundamental issues. Support for and participation in Right Sector-affiliated groups is prohibited under Russian law. These are self-evident truths that are not even subject to discussion.

Persecuting people and identifying their political views if they remain within the bounds of law – this is not the best of practices during this trying period. We are always willing to comment and provide materials for a journalistic investigation but only if it does not involve a deliberate attempt to ratchet up tensions.

What is to be done about this, and is there a remedy? Of course, there is. Had the author of this material asked the Foreign Ministry or our Embassy in Bern for a comment and simply checked the facts, he would immediately have been provided the relevant information and that would have taken care of the issue. If he had come to the conclusion that the issue was not closed and that the materials provided by the Russian side were not convincing, this is his right. We are always open for comment.

Comments by US media on Russia’s reaction to Belgium terror attacks

I regret to raise this issue on the very day of the US delegation’s visit to Russia. A number of US media outlets, including those funded with taxpayer’s money, have published critical comments on Russia’s reaction to and condolences on the Belgium terror attacks. These articles are outrageously ignominious.

It all started with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda), followed by other US journalists, saying that Russian officials “sneered and exulted over the Brussels terror attacks”.

Let me remind you that Russian government bodies and officials, including the president, the prime minister, cabinet members, spokespersons of ministries and agencies, members of parliament and executive bodies have expressed their deepest condolences and support to the victims of these inhuman attacks in the first minutes after reports on the Brussels explosions were confirmed. Russia reiterated its principled position that there is no justification for terror attacks, terrorism or related activities regardless of the principles, goals and objectives behind them. Let me also remind you that Russia has been second to none in consistently making this case. We will never acquiesce to terrorism, and we share the same vision as our colleagues regardless of the aims pursued by the terrorists.

I would add that the Russian Federation has always supported statements and resolutions condemning actions of this kind regardless of the country or capital where terrorist attacks take place and whom they target.

I would like to remind the US media that dared accuse Russia of some kind of malicious glee that, unfortunately, it was the US that failed to support us when Russian embassies suffered terror attacks. I can give you some examples. It was our US colleagues who blocked UN statements condemning terror attacks against Russian embassies in the Middle East. Statements to this effect have been issued not so long ago. This goes to show the lack of substance in the articles written by journalists who had the nerve to raise this issue.

Reports by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty can be regarded as purely fake and simply not worthy of appearing online. This is pure and simple forgery. To give you an example, instead of quoting my statement, my quotes were taken from third party Twitter posts, while ignoring the statements I made on the day of the tragedy.

There is another point I wanted to make in this respect. When I asked several US journalists who wrote these articles what made them describe Russia’s reaction in such a way, they told me that having expressed condolences Russian officials moved on to highlight the causes behind the terror attacks.

How could we not talk about the causes? This is not the first terror attack in Europe. Unfortunately, every time it happens, all our calls to unite efforts in fighting terrorism are ignored.

I also faced criticism for mentioning NATO, whereby Russia started talking about NATO when the bodies of those who died in the attacks were still warm and relatives had yet to lay them to rest. This, according to these journalists, attests to Russia’s biased perspective.

I think that the relative of those who fell in the terror attacks should know, just like any other taxpayer in Western countries, that the structures funded with their money, such as NATO, have unilaterally opposed and lately went as far as refusing to engage in dialogue with Russia on counterterrorism actions. They should know also that Russia has been regularly proposing to launch a full-fledged dialogue with NATO on the issue of combatting terrorism, and in recent months initiatives to this effect have become a daily routine. How can I fail to mention it?

Any effort related to condemning terrorism and morally opposing this scourge has my support, not just as a member of the Foreign Ministry, but as a human being. That said, you can’t defeat terrorism by simply changing an avatar. This will never work. We must tell terrorists that they will never morally compromise us. And we are not afraid to say it. In order to prevent future terror attacks, there is a need to act. However, when we are told that you can’t mention one issue or another on the day of the terror attack, let me remind you that we are saying the same thing between terror attacks, but these statements go unnoticed. Maybe we really should have started raising such issues right on the bloody heels, if I can say so, of such acts to make sure that we are heard?

Every citizen in EU and NATO member states contributes to funding NATO and should be aware of the fact that this alliance refuses to engage in full-fledged dialogue with Russia on combatting terrorism.

Single countries or regional alliances will never overcome terrorism. The fact that the terror attacks took place in Brussels is a challenge to Russia and the peaceful Middle East region, as well as NATO, since it shows that terrorists no longer know any boundaries in their outrage. When an attack is perpetrated near NATO and EU headquarters, this is a signal that terrorists are no longer afraid of anything.

Let me remind you that when in Brussels, people are not even free to use their cameras because many facilities are operated by NATO and are heavily protected. However, the terrorists were able to carry out not one, but a series of terror attacks in the heart of Europe, a city that is home to international organisations and is viewed as the capital of the European Union.

What we are now seeing, and what the US media confirmed by blaming us for trying to get to the underlying causes, is an attempt to apply a band aid to a flesh wound while the gangrene below spreads uncontrolled. If we remain focused on how the band aid looks and the general state of the patient while leaving the gangrene (and terrorism is a gangrene) untreated, we can lose the patient. In this case, we are the patient.

It is for that reason that I believe publications of this kind to be ignominious.

From answers to questions:

Question: Does Russia intend to raise the question of combatting  terrorism on a global scale in the UN Security Council? Is a relevant resolution being drawn up?

Maria Zakharova: In the context of the latest developments, we were asked whether it is worthwhile to raise the issue in the United Nations or establish a new counter-terrorist agency. The problem is that the available counter-terrorist agencies are not coping, however numerous they might be. They are not using their full capacity, not because they are badly arranged (they are well arranged, in fact) or because they are inefficient (on the contrary, they are efficient), but due to political factors. That is something we should say out loud. A number of nations have blocked these agencies’ work unilaterally. I think it is up to the European Union to raise the issue of terrorist acts in the UN Security Council. We will support any counter-terrorist efforts if Brussels deems another Security Council resolution necessary. No end of resolutions can be passed, any kind of statements made and user images changed, but we will not make any progress unless we have, first, information exchanges and, second, full-blooded and comprehensive cooperation between secret services – people who have made anti-terrorism their profession.

Question: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Moscow yesterday and US Secretary of State John Kerry today. Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is expected tomorrow. As far as I know, yesterday’s and today’s agendas concerned the Syrian and Ukrainian problems. Does Russia raise the issue of lifting Western sanctions?

Maria Zakharova: We don’t mention the matter at all. I would like to avoid ambiguity in my evaluation of it. Ever since the sanctions were introduced, we have never talked about their lifting or mitigation with any country or union of countries. We have not done it, not because we enjoy these sanctions (as things really are, we dislike them) and not because they don’t influence our life (in fact, they do impact it) but because, first, it wasn’t us who imposed these sanctions and, second, they were imposed on us under a far-fetched pretext. It is pointless and unpragmatic to discuss things introduced just as pointlessly and unpragmatically.

I reiterate that our Western colleagues have made repeated attempts to discuss the sanctions. But why should they be discussed with us? Let those who introduced them discuss them between themselves. How can one discuss with us something we have no bearing on? Honest, we don’t intend to discuss sanctions with our Italian colleagues tomorrow just as we did not discuss them with our German and American colleagues yesterday and today.

Question: What is the Ministry’s opinion of the draft statement following the Geneva consultations, suggested by Staffan de Mistura,  UN Special Envoy for Syria? US Secretary of State John Kerry is optimistic about his visit to Moscow because this is a crucial moment for resolving the Syrian conflict. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the resolution of this problem could positively influence the resolution of other issues.

Maria Zakharova: We maintain permanent, virtually daily contact with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Geneva and in New York when he’s there. We assess and review his initiatives very attentively. We have also responded to this initiative with the same attention.

Question: This is apparently a 12-point document that has been suggested by Mr Staffan de Mistura. Do you have any information about this document?

Maria Zakharova: Yes. I know that our experts are reviewing it. So far, this is our assessment.

Regarding your assertion that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Moscow is crucial for resolving the Syrian conflict, I can say that the full-fledged launching of permanent and constant work of Damascus with the opposition to chart a common future, rather than visits, are indeed crucial. This includes work on the constitution and the country’s political and other systems. It is precisely this process which is a crucial aspect and guarantee of the Syrian settlement. We maintain dialogue with our US colleagues as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group, with other members of this group and UN representatives in order to make the process successful and to keep it from stalling.

It goes without saying that John Kerry’s visit is an important event. This allows us to evaluate and chart opportunities for progress. But comprehensive contact between Damascus and the opposition as they work at their future is a key to success and the only way to achieve a comprehensive Syrian peace settlement.

Today, I’m deliberately disregarding the Syrian issue because joint news conference today with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry will be dedicated to this and other issues. Let’s wait and see what they tell us about their initiatives on Syria. Let’s leave the Syrian issue to these officials.

Question: There was no place for the Kurds at the negotiating table in Geneva. Damascus has declared that the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria is illegal. The Syrian opposition has not supported this initiative either, and it has called on the people of Syria to maintain unity. What do you think about the establishment of a Kurdish federation in northern Syria?

Maria Zakharova: We’ve already responded to this question. We believe that any changes in the Syrian state system are, first of all, a domestic Syrian issue. Second, this issue should be addressed by the country’s entire population, rather than by separate segments of the Syrian population – through representatives, through dialogue between Damascus and the opposition, through efforts to draft a new constitution and through work on the country’s new political system. Unilateral actions will not help today. At the same time, we realise perfectly well that the Kurds should be represented in Geneva as well as  at any place where talks between Damascus and the opposition are underway. This dialogue cannot be considered complete without Kurdish representatives.

Question: Was the case of Nadezhda Savchenko discussed at the meeting between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, the issue was raised. More information on this issue will be provided at the news conference. I’m not sure this information will be detailed, but the foreign ministers will definitely be able to share their views on this matter.

I’d like to remind you that Mr Lavrov spoke about Russia’s stance on this issue yesterday. As for today’s dialogue, you’ll have to wait for the ministers’ accounts.

Question: Can you comment on the reappearance of Syrian fruit and vegetables in Russian stores?

Maria Zakharova: You should address this question to the Russian Ministry of Agriculture or any other agency responsible for fruit and vegetables. The only thing I can say on this issue is that last year I ate Syrian cherries and they were delicious.

Question: Did the foreign ministers discuss the idea of an international conference to promote the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Maria Zakharova: We expect Pierre Vimont, the French Foreign Ministry envoy for the preparation of the international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, to arrive in Moscow in early April, where he will officially present the France’s initiative and share official information. We welcome anything that can really bring about a comprehensive, lasting and fair Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on international law.

Question: It has been reported today that 80 Pakistani citizens were detained at Domodedovo Airport. The Pakistani Embassy said they have sent a note to the Russian Foreign Ministry. What do you know about this? Are you taking any action on this issue? According to the Pakistani statements, the detained Pakistanis have all the proper papers.

Maria Zakharova: We are working on this with active assistance from the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department. According to preliminary data, the proclaimed intentions of these Pakistani citizens while visiting Russia do not correspond to what is listed in their papers. We’ll keep you informed. We are definitely involved in the efforts to settle this problem. As I said, this is only preliminary information. We continue working on this.

Question: Can you give us the precise date for the planned visit by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Baku? Do you know about the visit’s agenda?

Maria Zakharova: We are still preparing this visit. You will be informed as soon as we coordinate the date with our Azerbaijani colleagues.

Question: We’ve brought fresh evidence. The RT television network will present a documentary today that was shot in the Syrian regions, which the Kurds liberated from ISIS. The film included numerous pieces of evidence that could be of interest to the Foreign Ministry and the international community in general. They include jihadists’ passports with Turkish stamps, various documents that point to Turkey’s involvement in oil trade with ISIS, and testimony by an ISIS prisoner on the scale of this trade. Although much has been said on this issue, including in the Turkish media, the West continues to view Turkey as a partner. What do you think about this?

Maria Zakharova: I know that your colleagues have recently provided information to the Russian Foreign Ministry, such as photographs and other materials. Our experts are analysing them. Like last time when you provided information on the inhumane treatment of the Kurds in Turkey, we’ll provide a political assessment after analysing these new materials. If the information you have provided is proved to be true, we will certainly circulate it through specialised UN agencies and send it to our colleagues. We regularly raise during talks with our international colleagues the issue of the persecution and murder of the Kurds. As soon as our experts make their conclusions, we’ll announce our assessment of these documents.

Overall, I can tell you that this is not a new subject for us. We have information about the illegal transit of commodities, including oil, across the Syrian-Turkish border, and we have proof that Turkey had cosy relations with the terrorists and was actually deeply involved in this activity. We were probably among the first to start saying this at international venues, urging our colleagues to provide appropriate responses to the steps taken by Turkey, in particular, by the Turkish authorities.

Question: Is it possible to draw a similarity between terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, France, and at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria in 2012 and the explosion at the Brussels Airport? As far as I’m concerned, this is a blow to secret services and state leaders. At the same time, no one has resigned, and people are simply advised to stay home for security reasons. The United States is now conducting a special operation on the Bulgarian-Greek border, waving its fists after a fight. 

Maria Zakharova: You are asking why no heads are rolling among representatives of secret services, why people are advised to be vigilant, to stay home, etc. You should address the question on the future employment of officials in the Belgian secret services to the Belgian authorities rather than to me. I can only say that the fight against terrorism is a complicated issue requiring a combination of professionalism, knowledge, information, cooperation and, certainly, good luck, and it’s impossible to do without good luck. We know of cases and examples of terrorist attacks that were perpetrated despite tremendous preventive work, exertion and a combination of all the above. At the same time, we know of positive examples when terrorist attacks were prevented. I’ve seen reports that another terrorist attack was prevented in Brussels using information from a taxi driver. This information was analysed, and used to prevent another attack. In any case, the luck factor certainly exists, but this is a combination of a lot of effort and preliminary work. That’s why I’m not inclined to talk about firings or to reach unequivocal conclusions. This is not within my purview. I know this work is very serious and complex.

Regarding the string of terrorist attacks you mentioned, I am not an expert on this issue, and it’s hard for me to say whether they are interlinked in some way. I know one thing: international terrorism has a common environment and platform. There may be some differences or similarities in perpetrating terrorist attacks, but there is one thing: there should be no double standards in assessing terrorist attacks or terrorists. Terrorism is terrorism. We should condemn the terrorist activities of organisations that are not recognised as terrorist organisations, and we shouldn’t justify them in any way. We’re consistent on this issue.

Question: Bombs went off in France, but a football match continued…

Maria Zakharova: This is a complicated and controversial question, maybe, even philosophical and psychological. How should we respond to terrorist attacks and terrorism? It goes without saying that we should show sympathy for the victims and express condolences, we need to talk of the total rejection of these actions, display solidarity with people, display consensus in our feelings and emotional responses, find time for sympathy, compassion and mourning. At the same time, we should constantly say that, no matter where we may be, we will not yield to psychological pressure.

You mentioned a football game. Of course, all public events are, as a rule, canceled on the days of mourning and during terrorist attacks. At the same time, people need to fly aircraft, operate trains, treat people, etc. In this context, we should be guided by feelings, human understanding and an evaluation of developments, rather than rely on some common rule, common reproach or support for what our emotions should be like. No rule can tell people when they should play football, or when it should be banned; nor can it tell them when to cry or laugh. All people decide this for themselves and display their emotions as they can. A rejection of terrorist activity and a display of sympathy and solidarity with people who have suffered even in another part of the world should, certainly, be the main rule.

Question: What is Russia’s perspective on renewed relations between Cuba and the US? To what extent could these two countries forge a close and strong relationship?

Maria Zakharova: I’ve elaborated on this issue in my opening remarks. This is a matter between the US and Cuba. We believe that this dialogue should be mutually respectful and equal. This is what matters the most.

Throughout these years, both the Cuban people and their economy suffered from a decades-long blockade and had to withstand political pressure.  Economy affects the people. Nevertheless, these people survived, stood firm and haven’t lost faith in themselves or their country, they continued to move forward and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. I have talked to many Cubans, and visited the country on a number of occasions. Cubans want to be treated in a respectful and equal manner, and don’t accept anything else. If these conditions are met, they will be able to decide without us on the areas of cooperation.

Question: On March 19, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev delivered a Nowruz speech, saying that some of the actions by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group were provocative. Specifically, in an attempt to explain why the Council of Europe has not adopted a pro-Azerbaijani draft resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh, Mr Aliyev said that “the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, who received a mandate to work on this issue, are helping freeze the conflict with their destructive activities. By interfering with the work of an international organisation they have exceeded their mandate.” Russia co-chairs the Minsk Group. Do these accusations target the Russian Foreign Ministry, among others? To what extent are they true?

Maria Zakharova: On the one hand, you need to refer to Azerbaijan in order to find out whom of the co-chairs they are talking about. On the other hand, I can say that we don’t believe that this reproach targets Russia due to its long track record of constructively contributing to the negotiations. The sincerity of our commitment to this process is beyond any doubt. Just like Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia is eager to resolve this challenging situation that has been a matter of great concern in terms of bilateral relations. We want this issue to be finally removed from the agenda, and to be settled under international law based on the principles of equality and respect of the parties.

Question: The UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against DPRK contains a paragraph on denying DPRK-flagged vessels entry to international ports. According to recent media reports, a North Korean vessel was denied entry to Vostochny port. Can this be regarded as confirmation of Russia’s full adherence to this UN Security Council resolution?

Maria Zakharova: I don’t have all the details on this issue right now. Nevertheless, I can say that Russia honours all obligations it has assumed under binding UN Security Council resolutions. Russia has voted for these resolutions and regards them as binding.

Question: Did Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula during their meeting?

Maria Zakharova: Yes, this issue was raised during the meeting. We’ll have more details for you once all the talks scheduled for today are completed.

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