Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 6, 2016

Tuesday, 10 May 2016 17:14

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with the Cuban Five

 

On May 10, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with members of the Cuban group of five heroes/antiterrorists. In their time, these people worked undercover as part of Cuban political emigre organisations to prevent terrorist attacks planned against the Republic of Cuba. For that, the US authorities accused them of anti-American intelligence activity and sentenced them to long prison terms.

A broad international campaign was launched in support of the group of five, who were proclaimed national heroes in Cuba. Russia was also actively involved in it. We campaigned for their release both on the political and parliamentary level, and during our contacts with Washington, constantly pointed to the use of double standards, in particular on human rights and the fight against international terrorism, in the case of the Cuban anti-terrorists, people who were subsequently declared heroes in Cuba. As a result of consolidated efforts and international public pressure, the Cuban Five were released.

To many people, the Cuban heroes became a symbol of the struggle for the country’s sovereignty, its vital interests and the preservation of national identity, and the right to pursue its own model of development. As a token of appreciation for the support provided by the international community, the Cubans visit different countries and are received at the highest political level.

The Cubans will be in Russia on May 8-13 at the invitation of the State Duma leadership. They will attend official events to mark the 71st anniversary of the Victory over Nazism.

This is perhaps another graphic example of our relations with Cuba – relations of a genuinely allied, non-opportunistic nature. For our part, we welcome the normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States. We will continue to advocate for the early lifting of the trade, economic and financial embargo on that state.

 

Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a Normandy-format ministerial meeting

 

On May 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend a meeting of Normandy Four foreign ministers in Berlin.

Preparations for this meeting began and are proceeding in full swing. A substantive discussion will continue on all aspects of an internal settlement in Ukraine, especially insofar as concerns the corresponding obligations under the February 12, 2015 Minsk Package of Measures on the resolution of key issues through Kiev’s direct dialogue with Donbass. This refers, above all, to local elections, granting the region a special permanent status enshrined in law, an amnesty and the implementation of a genuine constitutional reform.

Needless to say, consideration will also be given to upholding the ceasefire in southeastern Ukraine, as well as to security issues and the de-escalation of the situation in the region as a whole.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Belarus

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Belarus on a working visit on May 15-16.

Plans include holding talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei and discussing a wide range of bilateral cooperation issues, including implementation of the 2016-2017 programme for coordinated actions in the sphere of foreign policy of the states parties to the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State adopted at a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State in Minsk on February 25, 2016. The sides plan to exchange views on Russian-Belarusian cooperation within integration platforms such as the CIS, the EAEU, and the CSTO. We also expect to continue our customary focused and trust-based conversation about regional and international issues of mutual interest.

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov to take part in ASEAN meetings

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov will take part in the senior officials’ meetings of the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on security in Laos on May 7-8.

The participants will focus on ongoing activities of these multilateral mechanisms in the context of preparations for the upcoming meeting of foreign ministers of the EAS and the ARF member countries, which will take place in Laos in July, and the 11th East Asia Summit, scheduled to be held in Laos in September.

There will also be an exchange of views on key international issues, on a wide range of issues of regional stability and on countering new challenges and threats. The Russian side plans to emphasise the importance of joint work to form a comprehensive and reliable architecture of equal and indivisible security in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

The upcoming 16th International Likhachov Scientific Readings

 

The 16th International Likhachov Scientific Readings will be held in St Petersburg on May 19-20. Since the presidential executive order On Commemorating Dmitry Likhachov was issued in 2001, which in fact started the tradition of holding this intellectual forum in St Petersburg, it has become one of the world's largest scientific discussion platforms, which not only reflects the global efforts of our country to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations, but is always responsive to the fundamental problems of the current international political and public life.

The forum will be attended by leading Russian and foreign experts, scholars, pundits, representatives of NGOs, media and civil society in the broadest sense. The activities of these organisations, whose representatives will participate in the International Likhachov Scientific Readings, is inextricably linked with the inter-civilisational issues. This year, the main theme of the forum will revolve around the issues of modern global challenges and their links with national interests.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry provides ongoing support to the organisers of the readings. Each year, the participants receive a welcome message from the Russian Foreign Minister. The forum will be attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who will speak during a plenary session and moderate a panel discussion on interstate cooperation in fighting international terrorism.

 

The situation surrounding a Russian national hospitalised in Egypt

 

We took note of an article published in Kommersant on May 5 titled Flight for Health, which says that an 18-month-old Russian girl was admitted to a hospital in Cairo and that her condition is deteriorating. The article questions the level of involvement of the Foreign Ministry and its foreign-based agencies in helping the child's family, also Russian citizens, cope with the situation.

Unfortunately, Kommersant hasn’t asked our ministry’s press service for clarification. We haven’t received telephone or any other inquiries from them. Their information is incomplete and is inconsistent with the actual state of affairs. Since the time the father of the girl, who is currently staying in a Cairo hospital, contacted us on April 24, we have been in daily contact with him over the phone. The consular staff are in touch with the doctor. The Central Office of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the staff of the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Pavel Astakhov as well as the corresponding departments of the Ministry of Healthcare receive regular updates about her condition.

At this point, we are working on having the girl transported back to Russia.

We have on several occasions mentioned this, so once again, each time you are working on material to be published, and the Foreign Ministry is involved (which is normal practice for any other department as well for that matter), please come to us with your questions. We try to do our best to promptly respond to your inquiries.

 

The situation in Aleppo, Syria

 

Unfortunately, the attention of a number of media outlets, which we believe have an agenda on this issue, has been drawn to the escalation of violence in Aleppo, Syria. It seems to us that their position is far from disinterested because these stories are focused around traditional accusations, based on rather dubious sources, against the Syrian government, whose aggressive steps purportedly jeopardise the ceasefire regime and impede progress on the intra-Syrian track in Geneva.

The situation in Aleppo was discussed at a UN Security Council meeting on May 4 on British and French initiative. On the same day, at Qatar’s request, the issue was submitted to an emergency session of the Arab League in Cairo.

Let’s consider what is going on in Aleppo. Indeed, the situation is dramatic. Except that the main cause of the current escalation is not the actions of government forces, as [these media] are trying to have us believe – in fact, simply to impose this vision on us. In reality, the cause is the provocations by terrorists, who are doing all they can to disrupt the ceasefire established on February 27 in Syria in keeping with the Russia-US joint statement of February 22, 2016.

Specifically, the situation is as follows. Taking cover behind the backs of a number of armed opposition groups and sometimes forming tactical alliances with them, Jabhat al-Nusra is trying to compensate its earlier losses with an inflow of new militants and arms across the Turkey-Syria border. After receiving reinforcements on May 1-3, terrorists attacked Syrian army and militia positions. At the same time, jihadists subjected Aleppo’s residential neighbourhoods to massive mortar and rocket attacks.

I would like to cite concrete facts. The neighbourhoods of Sheikh Maqsood, Meidan and al-Suryan came under attack with home-made multiple rocket launch systems, known as Hellfire. These weapon systems are comprised of gas cylinders packed with scrap metal pieces and explosives, have indiscriminate effects and are aimed at killing and intimidating civilians. Such methods are used by terrorists and those who are still referred to as the “moderate” opposition, which is present covertly or overtly in terrorist organisations.

Terrorists fired rockets on the al-Dabbit maternity hospital in the Muhafaza neighbourhood, killing 17 people, including pregnant women and children, and injuring 68 civilians. Another six people were killed and dozens injured near al-Neel Street, as well as in the neighbourhoods of al-Sarian, al-Khalidyia, al-Mocambo, al-Sabil and around the Ramzan mosque by fragments of shells fired by the militants.

In the morning of May 4, terrorists fired rockets and mortars on Salah al-Din and al-Khalidiyiah. Three members of a local family were confirmed dead.

Russia, in coordination with the United States, another co-chair of the ISSG, is doing all it can to ensure the “silence regime” in Aleppo, which has proven effective recently in northern Latakia and eastern Ghouta. The problem, however, is that our US partners are not yet in a position to force the Syrian opposition groups they support to dissociate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra, whose terrorists are taking advantage of these organisations and their members for their bloody provocations. For its part, Moscow is standing firm on the need for an uncompromising fight against terrorists and those who together with them are violating the ceasefire, in particular, such notorious extremist armed formations as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam.

We reiterate our call on all international and regional forces that have influence over armed groups in Syria to use their influence for a good cause and urge their proteges to decisively dissociate themselves from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. It is critical to strictly observe the ceasefire.

 

UNESCO delegation’s visit to Palmyra

 

As we know, a UNESCO delegation visited Palmyra on May 5, as determined by the April session of the UNESCO Executive Board. The delegation included accredited Permanent Delegates of India, China, Russia, South Africa and other states – some of them members of the Executive Board and the World Heritage Committee – alongside prominent cultural figures and top experts, in particular, Mikhail Piotrovsky, State Hermitage Museum director, Nikolai Makarov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Archaeology Institute, and Mounir Bouchenaki, director of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage. Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky led the Russian delegation.

The delegation saw the historical city centre and held a meeting to evaluate the damage done by ISIS terrorists to that priceless sample of world heritage, and exchange opinions on further team action. A city restoration roadmap will be drawn proceeding from these opinions. Syria’s Culture Minister Issam Khalil, other officials and experts from the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria attended the meeting.

A symphony orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev performed a concert in Palmyra the same day. Dedicated to the city liberation and remembrance of the victims of and fighters against terrorism, it had extensive television coverage.

To carry on its efforts, UNESCO will forward an international expert mission to Palmyra to assess the scope of conservation and restoration work, and determine their methods. The 40th session of the World Heritage Committee, to be held in July, will have a detailed discussion on assistance to Syria to restore its cultural heritage.

 

The use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq

 

We have noted the interview of Ahmet Uzumcu, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to Agence France Presse, in which he mentions instances of mustard gas used in Iraq and Syria, as reported by OPCW experts. To all appearances, ISIS militants are behind these attacks. Mr. Uzumcu has considerable grounds to assume that they have access to technology, knowledge and components necessary to manufacture chemical weapons – an opinion that fully coincides with the Russian view of the present developments in Syria and Iraq, where chemical terrorism is on the rise.

It would be fair to note that we brought the problem into the foreground long ago. We have spoken about it not only at the Foreign Ministry, the United Nations and at the negotiating table. We have warned more than once at numerous international venues that non-state entities’ taking possession of chemical weapons not only presents extreme danger but is also able to destabilise the entire Middle East and possibly even a greater area.

As we understand, Ahmet Uzumcu was so circumspect and recurred to such careful wording about  terrorist access to chemical weapons only because the OPCW mission working in Syria and assisting the Iraqi authorities in investigating incidents with the use of chemical weapons is not authorised to track down the culprits. However, the OPCW-UN Joint Mission was given this right as it was established on UN Security Council resolution to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We count on that mission to draw proper conclusions on the heinous acts of chemical terrorism in Syria. That was why Russia and China suggested that the UN Security Council should issue a resolution to specify its anti-terrorist mandate. We can only regret that this initiative has come up against resistance, as before. Guess who is opposing it – our Western colleagues.

 

          Efforts to settle the Yemen crisis

 

Intra-Yemeni consultations continue in Kuwait under the aegis of the United Nations in an attempt to promote a solution to the bloody conflict in Yemen, which has been going on for more than a year. It is important that despite the remaining differences in their positions, representatives of various Yemeni forces, who gathered in the Kuwaiti capital, voiced their readiness to work towards peace and were able to begin concrete work at the negotiating table. Thus, they handed documents stating their positions to the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed that outline the parameters of a future settlement. Also, three working groups – on security, political issues and the exchange of POWs ? were created at the UN’s initiative.

It is worth noting that the positive background for moving the negotiations forward resulted from the fact that armed confrontation “on the ground” has visibly subsided and the ceasefire is, on the whole, being observed. Bombings of the Yemeni territory by the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries have virtually ceased. A direct and fairly useful dialogue, in our opinion, is under way between Riyadh and the Houthi Ansar Allah movement. It should be added that Kuwait is playing an important role in the peace process.

Russia is taking an active part in contacts on resolving the crisis in the Yemeni Republic. We will keep on working in this area and will try to encourage Yemeni delegations at talks in Kuwait City to speedily reach mutual agreement on the basis of relevant decisions of the UN Security Council and initiatives by other players involved.

 

            The situation around the Gaza Strip

 

According to media reports, Israeli troops launched an operation on May 4 to locate underground tunnels in a border area in Gaza, but came under mortar fire by Palestinian militants. Israeli aircraft carried out retaliatory strikes on various Hamas sites in Gaza. No one was hurt among Israeli forces, while four Palestinians were wounded. The sides continued exchanging fire the following day in what became the worst escalation of the situation around Gaza since August 2014.

Moscow is calling on both sides to show restraint and take steps to defuse the tension and prevent more violence fraught with unpredictable consequences. We, therefore, appreciate the mediatory efforts by the Egyptian authorities to put the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza back in place.

The current tension is further proof that there is no alternative to the resumption of talks on a two-state settlement that would stipulate, among other things, the search for reliable and long-term solutions to the situation around Gaza.      

 

The situation on the Greece-Turkey border

 

I’d like to say a few words about the situation on the Greece-Turkey border and then consider the situation around the Greece-Macedonia border.

We have to revisit the issue regarding tension in the eastern part of the Aegean Sea. This time, the reason is not so much the immigration crisis as Turkey’s growing provocative actions in respect to neighbouring Greece.

In this connection, on May 4, the Greek charge d’affaires in Russia was received at the Foreign Ministry’s Fourth European Department at his request. According to the Greek side, on April 29, a Turkish coastguard ship, in violation of international law, took aggressive action against a Greek Navy ship, as well as a Greek fishing vessel, near the Inousses archipelago (not far from the Chios island). Provocative action was also taken by the Turkish Air Force, which carried out dangerous overflights of Greek islands.

This kind of behaviour, which attests to Ankara’s complete disregard for international law, has already become commonplace, and we have repeatedly said so. Unfortunately, Turkey’s NATO partners take such behaviour for granted. Evidently, to satisfy their claims to Greece in the Aegean Sea basin, the Turks prefer to act provocatively, inciting tensions and threatening the use of force.

It is noteworthy that Turkey’s blatant behaviour coincided in time with its recent migration agreements with the EU. The impression is that Ankara feels in a position to dictate its terms to Europe and openly blackmail it.

This strange and dangerous policy on Turkey’s part is leading to the further escalation of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, which is unstable as it is, and in our opinion, is fraught with serious consequences.

 

The situation on the Greece-Macedonia border

 

The second aspect of the situation around the Greek border is related to its border with Macedonia.

The situation regarding the refugee problem on the Greece-Macedonia border has flared up, and there have been new clashes between immigrants and the police.

We have to state that the tension that has remained in this area for over a year now is becoming an increasing burden on the governments of Macedonia, Greece and other Southeast Europe nations, their budgets and infrastructure. The impression is that the migration issue is becoming a destructive factor, while its resolution is a far-off prospect, despite the well-known agreements between the EU and Ankara.

The issue is taking on a new sense of urgency against the backdrop of the unstable internal political situation in Macedonia ahead of the June 5 early parliamentary elections. The negative impact of the migration inflow on the fragile ethnic and religious balance in that country is fraught with destabilisation, including the possibility of its spillover to neighbouring countries.

 

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh

 

Recently, our colleagues have regularly been asking us to comment on the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh. Yesterday, we received a very large number of questions from Russian and foreign reporters concerning the ongoing developments in the region.

We have repeatedly stressed that Nagorno-Karabakh’s fate should be decided solely through negotiations. We believe that this issue should be addressed by political and diplomatic means. I’d like to reiterate that the principles of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement that are contained in the statements of the Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents made between 2009 and 2013 refer to the fact that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined on the basis of a legally binding expression of peoples’ will.

For our part, we reaffirm our readiness as an international mediator, in conjunction with other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, to provide all the necessary assistance to the sides in achieving this goal.

The issue remains on the agenda of the Russian foreign policy service, its central office, our agencies abroad, and contacts at the level of senior ministry officials, and is given high priority, especially at present.

 

The BBC film and the Bellingcat report

 

There have been many requests to comment on the recent BBC film about the Malaysian Boeing tragedy and the so-called Bellingcat report, which was published a few days ago.

I will begin with the film. We don’t think it is objective although its authors promised a balanced analysis of all versions. In the end, they have analysed and substantiated only one version brushing off all the others as preposterous. Who has seen the film will agree with this assessment.

The authors’ prejudice, particularly against Russia, is evident to us. I think every minute of the footage breathes such prejudice. The film does not cite a single Russian official’s opinion while amply quoting Western spokespeople. Worse than that, the film criticises Russia for allegedly refusing to comment. In fact, I myself have described and commented the situation in detail. Russian experts and officials are always willing to cooperate, and it was the BBC team that demonstrated reluctance to interact with us.

On the whole, the film produces the impression of sneering at the Russian contribution to the investigation. Versions advanced by Russian experts are subjected to unsubstantiated criticism. We have the impression that the authors are out to demonstrate that the Russian point of view is completely misguided instead of offering an unbiased analysis of all versions.

We regret that the BBC believes that’s what objective coverage is about. We are of the contrary opinion.

We could make a similar assessment of the latest Bellingcat report. Regrettably, our appeals to use the entire verified information offered by Russia on the MH17 crash in Ukraine were shrugged off. On the whole, I would like to say that the Western media and online coverage of the tragedy is extremely politicised. I regard it as mythologising the theme, to an extent – which means that professional opinions and analyses of facts and experimental finds recede under the impact of artistic devices passed for investigative journalism to produce the desired effect.

We regard the campaign as an attempt by certain destructive forces to indoctrinate the public with a fictitious and artificial picture of demoniac Russia, self-defence forces and others. That is a deplorable and very dangerous trend because we are not just dealing with a plane crash, an exciting thriller, but with innocent victims. We live in computer age – just look at all the cameras, laptops and suchlike in this room. It is especially dangerous today when attempts are made not to see, not to show the full information picture, but to keep on elaborating a single plotline.

Considering how grave this tragedy is, we believe that it should be investigated by competent experts at a high professional level. We have well-grounded concerns that double standards may be used as bloggers replace authorised professionals responsible for what they say and do. However interested and sympathetic these bloggers might be, they are not professionals. Despite this, final conclusions proceed from their assessments, and essential though provisional hypotheses are based on their opinions.

These people are only superficially informed in the relevant field. They are not professionals in it. They might be experts on IT, information retrieval, etc., but they are not experts in this particular field though they venture to draw conclusions of a global scope.

Everyone is waiting for a real investigation. We insist that it must proceed from verified facts and materials from reliable, foolproof sources – specifically, not amateur snapshots from social media sites. What we need is thoroughly checked materials providing reliable information from meticulously identified sources.

As you know, Russia has submitted a vast amount of information concerning the disaster to the Joint Investigation Team.

 

Retired judge’s comments on the Viktor Bout sentence

 

The New York Times has published an interview with Shira A. Scheindlin, retired United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, concerning the 2012 sentence in the case of Russian national Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison term in the United States. We have naturally taken note of her remarkable statement.

No longer restricted by her office, the recently retired Judge Scheindlin described his sentence as “excessive and inappropriate”. This statement was made by a person who for a long time had full access to the Bout file, not by a blogger, self-styled expert or journalist – with all due respect for the latter profession. She worked with relevant documents and was at home with related problems. I reiterate, the retired judge said the sentence was “excessive and inappropriate”. She does not think Bout was a terrorist, as the prosecutors qualified him and tried to convince the jury. The Russian national had been lured into a trap in an elaborate US government sting operation in Bangkok, where he was arrested in 2008.

Post factum statements have become a custom in the United States. The truth does not come out when it is vitally important and eagerly anticipated but after decisions are made and lives are destroyed – sometimes millions of lives. The truth comes out when it is too late.

The revelation confirms our assessment of the Bout case as a political frame-up of a Russian national. The judge’s confession shows the workings of a judicial machine we have regarded as exemplary and looked up to for years. Now, we see its reverse side, and it poses big questions.

We will make insistent demands as before on the US authorities for Viktor Bout’s early return to Russia and we will fully support his lawyers for the unjust verdict to be revoked. No one doubts it any longer.

 

US pressure on Bern

 

There is another issue related to the United States. I cannot but mention the piece by Switzerland’s Le Matin Dimanche, which said that US authorities put pressure on Switzerland to talk their business people out of attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. As you know, the preparations for the forum have already started and are actively underway. Various Russian and foreign participants of the forum are announcing their plans to attend the event, and discuss and negotiate some contracts. And now here is the article.

According to the newspaper, in early April an unnamed diplomat from the US Embassy in Bern met with a representative of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research. The meeting was aimed at informing Bern that, “like in the previous years”, the United States “expects” that Switzerland will talk their business people out of taking part in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. The sources from the newspaper claim that the US diplomat emphasised the need to refuse to do business with Russia. The article said that the Swiss Foreign Ministry confirmed the topic of the meeting that took place – in particular, it said that “the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs can confirm the topic of the US Embassy’s remarks and took notice of them.”

How can all these games be described? With today’s means of communications, such things cannot be concealed. They will come to light anyway. This all is taking place amid consistent statements and reports, including those by the US Department of State, on human rights violations in various countries, the inadmissibility of pressure on businesses and biased judicial decisions, and so on. Yet, as we can see, pressuring a sovereign country into taking decisions in order to put pressure on businesses seems to be the norm for Washington. This is an attempt at putting pressuring not only on foreign businesses but overall on all external relations of an independent state. We are talking about a neutral country here. Now imagine in what vein Washington speaks to the countries that are, say, NATO members and are under the United States’ total control. I am not sure they speak with them at all – probably, by silently sending some recommendations saying they will regret it if they do it some other way. This is probably how the dialogue is conducted. 

 

Anti-Russian propaganda in Germany

 

As we have noted, German media outlets retain an aggressively negative tone in their coverage of Russia as one outlet borrows anti-Russian rhetoric from another without introducing new themes or anything else new or any variety. They continue the same old discourse on the need to strengthen NATO in Europe to contain Russia’s “aggressiveness” and on the Russian actions in Syria, in which they discern a dark reverse side. The Crimean theme is kept in the foreground artificially, as is evident.

Some time ago, our colleagues from the German Foreign Ministry told us openly during talks, meetings and even in public about their apprehensions due to a report by Ivan Blagoi, Channel One correspondent in Germany, allegedly endangering stability in their country. German diplomats believed that one television programme could undermine stability in their country. I should mention here innumerable aggressive items on Russia in the German media.

I will not analyse the many problems that the German media address in the Russian context – its aggressive spirit, inadequacy and suchlike. It would take us hours, so you can do it yourself if you like. I would highlight only one theme, concerning Crimea, which sweeps the media again and again. A majority of German journalists probably have never been to Crimea. Nevertheless, they report living standards falling dramatically there ever since Russia “annexed” the peninsula. They especially emphasise “deliberate persecution” of Crimean Tatars by the Russian authorities. Naturally, no one informs the German public about the package of relevant measures endorsed in Russia – this would hardly arouse public interest.

Let us focus on a narrower theme, the alleged persecution of Mejlis leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, and their warm welcome at the German Federal Chancellery, Foreign Ministry and Bundestag. They are frequently interviewed without taking into account the official Russian position, and offered public platforms. They meet with numerous NGO activists. Here, I would like to address not only German journalists but also our German diplomat colleagues engaged in information and tell them that the two gentlemen had generated the idea of the Crimean water and energy blockade. No one ever mentions it. The Germans possibly don’t know that the blockade had a truly negative impact on Crimea’s living conditions and undermined its security. The Crimean population’s natural rights were violated – particularly the right to information, education and timely healthcare, which is possibly the main human right.

Blackouts forced many Crimean industrial and transport companies to cut working hours or suspend work, and their staff work part-time. These men regarded as victims inflicted colossal damage on Crimean industry. Their blatant illegal actions threatened the population with considerable casualties. It was only due to the effective and coordinated efforts of the federal, regional and municipal authorities and law enforcement agencies, as well as the public team spirit, that the danger was averted.

I would like to remind Europeans, including Germans, that the basic international instruments defining terrorism qualify blockade of energy facilities as an act of terrorism and public intimidation.

The organisers and perpetrators of the Crimean blockade are criminals. We fully realise this, and we have said so on all levels. Now, we call on you not to leave out such vital facts when you inform your public.

 

Foreign Ministry celebrates the 71st anniversary of Victory in 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War

 

On May 5, the Foreign Ministry hosted several events dedicated to the 71st anniversary of Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, including a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial plaques in the Ministry’s lobby to commemorate the employees of USSR People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade who died during the Great Patriotic War. The ceremony was attended by the Ministry’s leadership and employees, war veterans and former Ministry employees.

The Ministry’s delegation laid a wreath to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin Wall.

Also on May 5, a gala event was held with the participation of diplomatic service employees and veterans. The gala participants noted that 237 Ministry employees joined the people’s militia and the army during the war. They fought on the WWII fronts, defended Moscow and Leningrad, took part in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, the liberation of Belarus, and other military operations. More than 300 Ministry employees worked to build fortifications around Moscow. Eight Ministry employees were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and one was decorated with three Orders of Glory.

Memorial, protocol, information and cultural events, official receptions, festive gatherings, meetings with veterans, ceremonies at the monuments and memorials to Soviet soldiers will be held abroad with the participation of the Russian diplomatic missions.

The Great Patriotic War veterans living abroad, survivors of the siege of Leningrad and young prisoners of Nazi concentration camps received personal greetings from the Russian President.

Much is being done to take care of the Russian (Soviet) war burial sites located in foreign states.

As is customary, the heads of foreign diplomatic missions accredited in Moscow have been invited to attend the military parade on Red Square on May 9.

 

Immortal Regiment campaign abroad

 

A few more words about what’s going on in civil society.

Several commemorative functions, including the Immortal Regiment marches in Russia and other countries will be held as part of the 71st anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This is a public initiative, where everyone can pay tribute to their relatives and loved ones who fought the Nazis on the front and worked for the great Victory in the rear. We believe it is important to note that the Immortal Regiment is a truly popular movement that has no borders. We are confident that this initiative will continue, as it touches the hearts of the descendants of the Soviet soldiers and members of the anti-Hitler coalition who contributed to this victory.

This year, the number of countries that will join the Immortal Regiment march has increased to 40. The truly popular support behind this campaign proves once again that the memory of the feat of those who defeated Nazism is still alive.

 

Answers to media questions:

Question: The Aleppo ceasefire ends today. Is anything being done to prolong it? How do you assess the Russian-US cooperation in this area?

Answer: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a very detailed answer to this question in an interview with Rossiya Segodnya news agency, elaborating on the ceasefire issues, on what is being done to preserve it, and on the Russian-US cooperation. I can only repeat that we are aware that the cooperation could be more active, and correspondingly, more effective. We are satisfied that this cooperation has definitely entered a new level after the joint centre for rapid response to ceasefire violations in Syria opened in Geneva under the UN aegis. This should be noted and welcomed. It disavows the attempts by some of our western colleagues to distance themselves from such cooperation by claiming that there is no interaction between the military agencies. There is interaction, and this is very good since it is a foundation for ensuring that the peace process in Syria acquires a more fixed structure. We share information, including information on terrorist attacks and strikes against terrorists, and we have an opportunity to engage in direct dialogue. You can get more information on this issue from the Defence Ministry. Let me repeat that cooperation and interaction are ongoing and are sustained by the military and by diplomats.

I am not even going to speak about the number of telephone conversations between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry: we are heading for a record.

Question: What is the agenda for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting?

Answer: The Presidential Executive Office has released detailed information. We traditionally do not comment on the agenda of the President’s talks, especially as his Executive Office elaborated on that earlier.

Question: What do you think is the key element of Russia’s position on signing a peace treaty between Russia and Japan?

Answer: We think it key to have a large-scale, full-fledged dialogue with the Japanese side that would not be suspended for political reasons and would include the discussion of all the issues the parties have interest in. This will be the guarantee that any issue on the agenda will be resolved.

If we speak about the key aspects, it is just sustaining a normal, enhanced, broad, continuous dialogue on the whole range of issues. We, on our part, did not interrupt the dialogue with Japan. Unfortunately, it was suspended by the Japanese side, as mentioned by Mr Lavrov, under pressure from Washington. The dialogue is now gradually being revived. We said a number of times that in order to solve the problem, be it Japan or another country, but regarding Japan, the same rule applies: sustaining a normal ongoing dialogue.

Question: I have a purely technical question: when did the Aleppo ceasefire start – on Wednesday night or on Thursday night?

Answer: I have already told the foreign journalists that technical questions – time, ceasefire dates – should be addressed to our military. The Russian Foreign Ministry does not engage in technicalities which lie within the area of responsibility of the military experts. What time, when – these questions should be addressed to them. What we do is give a political assessment.

Question: UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the Palmyra concert “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians”. What would you say in response?

Answer: As to Mr Hammond, whose name we pronounce as Hummond, we’re sorry that he didn’t like it.

Question: This year alone, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry have had 25 telephone conversations. What is this intensity related to?

Answer: The answer here is obvious. The international relations agenda has global issues which, as we all can see now, can only be resolved exclusively with Russia’s participation. Despite anyone’s feelings of exclusivity or the global span of self-awareness, they cannot be resolved by one actor. Such issues include Syria and the overall situation in the region, international terrorism – practically all global problems our leaders are discussing.

I cannot say why we have so many calls specifically from US Secretary of State John Kerry (the number you stated is accurate).

Since today is Friday, let me make a lyrical digression. Robert Burns wrote a wonderful poem “My Heart’s in the Highlands”, which many Russians know. I am not sure if it is as well known abroad. Taking into account that the question came from Russia Today TV Channel, I would dare to answer it in English, somewhat altering the famous piece of poetry:

His heart is in Moscow, his heart is not there,

His heart is in Moscow, a-chasing a bear.

A-chasing not grizzly, but Kremlinese;

His heart is in Moscow, wherever John is.

And in Russian it goes something like this:

В Москве его сердце

Отныне и впредь.

В Москве его сердце,

Где русский медведь.

Не гризли он грезит –

А в Кремль ведом.

В Москве Джона сердце,

Неважно, где дом.

Question: The Workers' Party of Korea is holding its congress today. Was Russia invited to the congress?

Answer: Since it is a party congress, the question should be addressed to our members of parliament.

Question: Which measures is Russia taking to implement the UNSC sanctions? There was information on freezing all financial transactions of the DPRK, and that Russia has blocked one of the North Korean ballistic missile testing sites. Could you comment on that?

Answer: We fully comply with the directives of UNSC resolutions, in particular, those on sanctions. In this case we are carrying out a decision by the UN Security Council, which is mandatory for execution. I can find out the details and give you the answer later.

Question: In the Foreign Ministry’s view, how can Yerevan’s unilateral recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence affect the settlement of the conflict? What will Russian reaction be?

Answer: I spoke on this issue in detail and told you about our stand.

I can add that it is crucial to be utterly precise about what is being said in the two capitals without misinterpreting or attempting to distort the essence of what has been said. We have seen a number of instances of both parties or the media presenting steps and initiatives from the other side as a “ready-made solution”, “aggressive actions” and so on.  The media immediately constructs serious theories and hypotheses saying it is the end of the peaceful settlement, political process etc.  Considering how complicated the situation is and the recent escalation, I ask you to take a more responsible approach to interpreting any statements.

We have given our assessment of the events. We shall not speak about “what can be if”. There are a huge number of theories and scenarios, but we do not work on them; it is a matter for political scientists, analysts and the like. We work with each particular party to the conflict and with co-chairpersons of the OSCE Minsk Group. I can assure you that there is an active brainstorm in progress on the international track. There is no stagnation.

Let me reiterate, we do not theorise or analyse allegedly possible theories narrated by the media. We see that they are often of a provocative nature. This is very dangerous. We have contacts with all the parties, we listen to them, we make mediation attempts, and we clearly articulate our vision of the situation.

Question: Mr Lavrov has recently mentioned an imminent meeting with the co-chairpersons of the OSCE Minsk Group on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Do you know any details about the format of the meeting and its date?

Answer: I only know that a possibility of holding such a meeting is being actively worked out. The decision has not been made yet whether the meeting will be held or the date. The parties are currently in contact in order to understand what sort of a meeting it could be, and most importantly, which practical results it could yield.

It is premature to speak about the date, but let me repeat, it is being actively discussed. It may be a matter of the coming weeks. As to the format, it is too early to speak about it.

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