Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 31, 2016

Friday, 02 September 2016 15:08

Table of contents

    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Second Eastern Economic Forum
    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine Martin Sajdik
    Consultations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs on Nagorno-Karabakh
    Political consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov
    Attack on China’s embassy in Kyrgyzstan
    The situation in Syria
    Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria
    Statement by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura
    Terrorist attack in Somalia
    The death of journalist Alexander Shchetinin
    Demolition of the Soviet Navy memorial in Latvia
        Answers to media questions:
        On Russian-US talks on Syria in Geneva
        On a Turkish operation in Syria
        On the release of Russian citizen Sergei Mironov in Armenia
        On the UN Security Council’s possible adoption of a new resolution on Syria
        On the report by the OPCW
        On the possible meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Moscow"

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Second Eastern Economic Forum


Vladivostok will host the Second Eastern Economic Forum on September 2-3. The main purpose of this annual event, initiated by President Putin in 2015, is to promote the strategy for expanding multifaceted cooperation between Russia and the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition to thematic sessions covering a wide range of issues related to developing the Russian Far East and deepening regional economic integration, the programme includes a number of important bilateral and multilateral activities.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony of the Russia-ASEAN University Forum, which is organised as part of the 20th anniversary of the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership this year.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming meeting with Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine Martin Sajdik


Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine Martin Sajdik will be in Moscow on a working visit on September 8-9 to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The meeting will involve a substantive discussion of efforts to achieve a settlement in Ukraine with an emphasis on immediate implementation by the parties to the conflict of their obligations under the Minsk Package of Measures. Regrettably, despite diligent efforts by Mr Sajdik and his colleagues in the Contact Group, as well as the working subgroups’ coordinators, and the willingness of the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk to achieve a compromise, the implementation of the Minsk agreements has stalled. The ceasefire is periodically violated, and civilians continue to die and suffer. Homes as well as social and industrial infrastructure continue to be destroyed. The political settlement is treading water, in particular with regard to Ukraine’s adoption of a law on the special status of individual districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, on amending the Constitution of Ukraine, and on local elections and amnesty.

The meeting will focus on various aspects of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). The Russian side will draw Mr Sajdik’s attention to the need to improve the objectivity and impartiality of reporting done by the SMM. Certain issues, such as increasing the number of observers to the authorised maximum of 1,000 and prospects for strengthening the SMM presence on either side of the contact line, remain unresolved.

While in Moscow, Mr Sajdik will also meet with Russia’s authorised representative in the Contact Group Boris Gryzlov and Foreign Ministry officials.


Consultations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs on Nagorno-Karabakh


The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs Igor Popov (Russia), James Warlick (United States), Pierre Andriёu (France) and Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk will hold consultations in Moscow on September 8. They will have a meeting with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s senior officials, which we will have a special announcement for later.

The participants will discuss current issues related to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement focusing on implementation of the agreements reached during the summits on Nagorno Karabakh in Vienna on May 16, and St Petersburg on June 20, as well as the prospects for continued cooperation.

These are planned consultations, which are regularly held in Moscow, Washington and Paris, the main goal of which is to coordinate the efforts of the three countries toward a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.


Political consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov


The consultations between Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Mexico’s Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Miguel Ruiz Cabañas will take place in Moscow on September 2. They will discuss a wide range of international issues, including non-proliferation and arms control, ensuring global security and sustainable development, cooperation in the sphere of human rights, newly emerging challenges and threats, including the war on drugs, international terrorism, violent extremism, and conflict prevention in the cyberspace. The sides also plan to review international efforts to ensure energy security and combat climate change.

We consider the upcoming meeting as part of an evolving political dialogue with Mexico, which is one of Russia’s leading dialogue partners in Latin America.

Three months ago, on June 1, in Moscow, Sergey Ryabkov held consultations with First Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Carlos de Icaza on bilateral and regional issues. Now, the sides will discuss interaction in the UN and other international forums.


Attack on China’s embassy in Kyrgyzstan


The morning of August 30, the PRC Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, located in Bishkek, was attacked by a terrorist suicide bomber. As a result of a car bomb explosion, the terrorist was killed and several security guards at the diplomatic mission were injured.

We firmly and unequivocally condemn attacks against foreign diplomatic missions as displays of terrorism that have no justification. The incident once again highlights the need to deepen cooperation between all states in the fight against international terrorism.

The Russian embassy in Bishkek is continuing to operate as normal. Essential measures have been taken to ensure the safety of personnel and visitors of the diplomatic mission.


The situation in Syria


The events in Syria remain in the focus of Russian and international media attention. The central development, of course, is the reinstatement of the Syrian government’s control over a suburb of the capital, Daraya. The area has been freed from militants, who had controlled it since 2012, through dialogue and negotiations. Civilians, as well as former members of illegal armed formations who stated their desire to lay down arms and take advantage of the declared amnesty, were relocated from the war-ravaged town to temporary accommodation centres in the Damascus region. To save civilians, the Syrian authorities granted intransigent jihadists safe passage to the Idlib province after they laid down their arms. The importance of this event is that through negotiations, the Syrian military has eliminated a key base of illegal armed groups in southwestern Damascus.

It is essential to note that this course of events has infuriated certain Syrian oppositionists, in particular the Istanbul-based National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. They expressed outrage over the course of events, and in this context, even came up with the term “forced displacement of people.” Interestingly, this term occurred to them at a time when the situation that had been unfolding in Syria for many years has forced hundreds of thousands of people both in and outside the country to leave their homes, not so much in search of a better life as to save their lives. But no one in the opposition was concerned about displacement then. Let this remain on their conscience.

Russia hopes that the Daraya experience will be used in the future so that violence and fierce fighting will come to an end on Syria’s entire territory. There are already indications of this. The Syrian authorities have reached an agreement on the restoration of control over the town of al-Maadamiya in line with a procedure similar to the one used in Daraya.

Illegal armed groups of Jaish al-Tahrir, Liwa Suqour al-Jaba and Falak Al-Sham, affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, which got a second wind due to external financial and logistical assistance, mainly from Turkey, are advancing to the south and west of Jarabulus, engaging defensive Kurdish paramilitary detachments. Under these circumstances, the command of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, the core of which is constituted by Kurds, has decided to postpone preparations for an operation against ISIS to free Raqqa in order to focus on the fight against Turkish aggression.

We urge all parties in the conflict to concentrate on accomplishing the common, vital task of eradicating the hotbed of terrorism in Syria.

Ethnic and religious cleansing conducted by terrorists, as well as persecution on religious grounds, is a brutal manifestation of the Syria conflict. We have repeatedly addressed the issue in our briefings. We are regularly asked about the fate of two prominent Syrian religious leaders who have fallen victim to terrorist arbitrariness. The Christian priests – Orthodox Metropolitan Pavlus Yazici and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim of Aleppo – have been closely involved in dealing with humanitarian problems of the local population in Syria (not only of the Christian population), including mediation efforts to free hostages. These two religious figures were kidnapped by members of illegal armed formations in Kafr Dael, an Aleppo suburb, on April 22, 2013. We continue to do all we can to secure their release, including through contacts with the Syrian authorities, our international and regional partners, as well as with the Syrian opposition.


Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria


We are following closely the Turkish armed forces’ actions in northern Syria.

We share Turkey’s desire to combat the international scourge that is “Islamic State”.

At the same time, we again underscore the need to respect international law and approve all military action on a sovereign state’s territory with the country’s legitimate government. The Russian Federation has followed this consistent policy from the outset and our position has not changed at all on this point.

We urge our Turkish partners to select carefully their targets in this antiterrorist operation and avoid strikes against positions held by opposition and ethnic minority groups, including the Syrian Kurds, already combating ISIS.

Let me say once more that the main task now is to fight as a common front and direct the efforts of all concerned parties against the terrorist threat, above all ISIS.   


Statement by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura


We have carefully read the statement by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on the situation in the Damascus suburb of Daraya on August 26.

For our part, we note that the agreement on the peaceful resolution of the Daraya issue has ended the presence of armed gunmen in the suburb. These gunmen had controlled the suburb since 2012. Civilians and former members of illegal armed groups wanting to make use of the amnesty have been transported to temporary shelter in the Damascus region. Nine Syrian military servicemen have been released as part of the package deal. I note again that militant jihadists were also given the chance, after surrendering their weapons, to depart with the Syrian Red Crescent’s help for Idlib province via a safe corridor.

We think the response of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is very revealing. They hastened to condemn the agreement and accused the Syrian authorities of displacing people by force. They have no desire to work towards the goal that is the priority today – fighting terrorism and building a peaceful Syrian state based on the principles set out by the UN representatives and the members of the International Syria Support Group, and no desire to even look objectively at the truth and analyse the situation.     

They have also criticised the UN, which, as their representatives say, “took part” in organising the transport of fighters out of the suburb. Jihadist internet sites have called the peacekeeping operation in Daraya “betrayal and shameful capitulation”.       

Let me stress that this agreement has effectively eliminated the illegal armed groups’ main stronghold in the southwest of Damascus. It is especially important that this was achieved through negotiations. We think that this positive practice deserves the international community’s support and can and should serve as a model for local peace agreements in other hotspots in Syria.


Terrorist attack in Somalia


According to reports, gunmen from the radical group Al-Shabaab have detonated a truck filled with explosives near the Somali Youth League hotel in central Mogadishu, where a government meeting was underway. Twenty-six people are reported killed and around 50 injured, including several cabinet ministers.

Crimes carried out by extremists that kill innocent civilians deserve the strongest possible condemnation. This terrorist attack clearly was intended to disrupt the Somali peace process, particularly the general elections that will take place in September-October this year. 

Russia, including in its capacity as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will continue to support the Somali federal government’s efforts to restore the country’s statehood and achieve national reconciliation.


The death of journalist Alexander Shchetinin


As you are aware, there is sad news from Kiev on the death of Russian journalist Alexander Shchetinin. It will still have to be investigated and we hope that investigation will be unbiased and transparent.

This is far from the first death of a journalist, our compatriot, in Ukraine. Ukraine’s failure to create safe and favourable conditions for the work of media representatives has long been a source of deep concern. Ukraine is obviously not coping with one of its major international legal commitments. Numerous cases of direct or indirect (psychological) violence towards journalists have come as a result of connivance and lack of action on behalf of specialised international agencies. Their assessment of the situation in this sphere could be more resolute and tough than we used to hear from the OSCE.

This time we definitely note that the OSCE is starting to give more objective   assessments. I’d like to recall that just two years ago there was no response at all from the OSCE to such tragic cases (which we mentioned during our briefings at the Ministry’s Information and Press Department), although we waited for its response, insisted on it and raised this question to it. We are glad to note that now we are hearing its voice and it is fairly promptly commenting on tragic media-related cases in Ukraine. However, this positive change is brought to naught by the negative fact that the number of tragic cases involving Russian and other countries’ journalists is growing all the time. If an adequate, prompt and tough response had been given to the mistreatment of journalists (seizures, abductions, beatings and threats) two years ago, probably today there would be no need to react to new similar cases. Regrettably, the time and opportunity to fundamentally change the situation were wasted.

Mr Shchetinin occupied a civic position of principle on a number of political issues. Recently he published discrediting information about a number of dishonest Ukrainian high-ranking officials and businesspeople, and about instances of corruption at the top. As he said himself many times, he did not feel safe in Kiev because of his professional activities and involvement in important journalistic investigations.

We would like to convey our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Alexander Shchetinin. We hope that the Ukrainian authorities will conduct an objective and prompt investigation of all deaths of journalists in the country. Regrettably, very often they remain unpunished.


Demolition of the Soviet Navy memorial in Latvia


We believe that the demolition of the Soviet Navy memorial is unacceptable and runs counter to the bilateral intergovernmental agreement dated April 30, 1994 on social guarantees to military retirees of the Russian Federation and their families residing in the Republic of Latvia, Article 13 of which binds the Latvian side to tend, landscape and preserve the memorials.

The Russian Embassy in Latvia sent a note of protest to the Latvian Foreign Ministry. No answer from Riga has yet been received. We hope to obtain a prompt response from the Latvian official authorities to this outrageous incident.


Answers to media questions:

Question: Which issues the parties have agreed and which are still a source of disagreement following the Russian-American talks on Syria in Geneva?

Maria Zakharova: Of course, there are concrete results. Heads of the Russian and US foreign policy departments mentioned them during a news conference. Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Syria Staffan de Mistura provided a detailed account of his involvement in the negotiation process. There are specific results. For obvious reasons, I cannot discuss the details, since the talks are still underway, but I can share a couple of points with you.

Speaking of positive developments, our respective experts have stepped up their activities. Prior to this, contacts between them slowed down not because of Russia, but, unfortunately, at the initiative of the United States (although in this particular case we would like to see an initiative aimed at speeding up and intensifying the negotiation process). We stated that contacts between our experts had become few and far between. Of course, the Geneva talks gave a new impetus to this process. The contacts resumed to the extent that is truly useful and can make the process more dynamic. That’s the upside.

The most important task that needs to be resolved right now, but is unfortunately not being addressed at all, is drawing a line between terrorists and the opposition. There must be no terrorists hiding behind the opposition and vice versa. There must be a clear understanding (and this represents our global position) that playing around with terrorists is impossible and unacceptable. This runs contrary to international law. In this situation, it is important to remember that all the documents adopted by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) not only were reviewed by experts, but were also approved by the UN Security Council. It is important to remember that the international community urgently called for developing a settlement plan for the intra-Syrian conflict. These documents are based on a call to the parties concerned to do their best to draw a line between terrorists and opposition as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. The call to give up any and all military action and join the talks was intended for the opposition in the first place. You may remember the enthusiasm with which the ISSG members took up the implementation of these documents.

Unfortunately, until now, despite all the assurances by the United States to the effect that it will take their experts two weeks to draw a line between terrorists and opposition, the things haven’t budged an inch. This means that an essential component for the implementation of the entire package of measures adopted by the ISSG and the UN Security Council is lacking. It is impossible to start an all-out war on terrorists until certain states, claiming that the ranks of terrorists include moderate opposition, cannot or will not use their influence to take these opposition members away from the terrorist groups. This is the key problem that we still have to deal with. You are already familiar with Russia’s take on this situation. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, other Russian senior officials and experts have provided their opinions on this account. Unfortunately, this is a problem which we still have to deal with, and most importantly, spend large amounts of time and negotiating efforts. We're wasting valuable time. Once again, we keep working on all tracks, and we are willing to cooperate. As you are aware, we are open about existing issues and provide clarifications as to why it is crucial to overcome them.

Question: What did Russia agree with Turkey regarding Turkey's operation in Syria? Were the Kurdish units discussed?

Maria Zakharova: Are you talking about the ongoing Turkish operation in northern Syria? We have already provided our comments and assessments. I have nothing to add to that. Furthermore, Russian military officials have spoken on this subject on many occasions. Everything related to the participation of the Kurds has just been commented upon in full. I will say again what we have already said many times. Even when we combat terrorism and carry out operations against ISIS and terrorists, we should be guided by international law and coordinate our activities with the government. Also, we cannot kill civilians as we destroy terrorists, let alone conduct any military operations against specific ethnic or religious groups. This is our uncompromising position, which we have announced publicly. This is what we believe.

Question: Today, Russian national Sergey Mironov, who was detained in Armenia at the US request, was supposed to return to Russia with his family. Was the Foreign Ministry involved, through diplomatic channels, in securing his release? How does the ministry assess the fact of Mr Mironov’s detention, at the US request?

Maria Zakharova: Considering that the matter concerned a Russian citizen abroad, the Foreign Ministry, through its diplomatic missions, has been actively involved in our compatriot’s fate.

Regarding the overall assessment of what is going on, we have repeatedly stated that the US is “hunting” Russian citizens. We have already warned Russian people that Washington and the relevant law enforcement agencies in the US are truly hunting our compatriots. We believe that this is an element of an anti-Russian campaign. Such actions on the part of the US violate all conceivable norms of international law. To reiterate, this not only impedes the normalisation of bilateral relations, the need for which is stated by a number of US representatives, but also runs counter to the basic principles of cooperation and coexistence of states. There are clear-cut mechanisms and procedures in international law. Everything that we are now seeing, hearing and observing from Washington is part of a global anti-Russian campaign of revenge and the realisation of some unrealised ambitions. We regard this “open season” on Russian nationals as part of this campaign.

Question: I’d like to draw your attention to a comment made by US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power, who said on Tuesday that Washington expects UN Security Council members to adopt a Syria resolution in the near future. This resolution should be based on an OPCW report. According to US media reports, Ms Power was referring in particular to the provisions of the 2013 resolution, some of which envisioned measures in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter. It concerns the possibility of taking tough measures against offenders, including the use of force. As we recall, in 2013, the resolution did not provide for any tough measures. Many were satisfied with the outcome regarding the withdrawal of chemical weapons, Damascus’s recognition of the existence of chemical weapons and its readiness to completely eliminate them. Why are observers, who should have been focusing on the problem of chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, again talking about the presence of [chemical] weapons in Damascus? Why is a solution to this problem based on the use of force again under consideration?

Maria Zakharova: Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin always responds to Samantha Power, and he does this so professionally that I don’t even have anything to add. In particular, he said everything that has to be said regarding chemical weapons. I’d like to draw your attention to Mr Churkin’s remarks, which are well argued and substantiated.

Scenarios involving the use of force in diplomacy – and diplomacy is precisely what the UN Security Council is engaging in – are a very dangerous indication of powerlessness, as this degrades the situation even more. This has been evidenced by numerous international conflicts. It is clearly unwise and uncreative to constantly scare everyone with such a measure as the use of the UN Security Council’s enforcement mechanisms and capabilities. To reiterate, the outcome of such operations based on the use of force and pressure is very sad.

I believe that we should pose this question differenly: Is there at least some consistency in US diplomacy today in what it is doing? Hours-long, grueling talks between the heads of the Russian and US foreign services have just ended, in the course of which the settlement of the Syria crisis was discussed along two tracks: the fight against terrorism and the political process. What forcible scenario could be considered in a few days, when for several hours and in the course of numerous telephone conversations, which are definitely not going to end any time soon, the issue of a peaceful resolution of the Syria conflict has been constantly discussed? There should be some consistency.

There is the sense that sometimes our US colleagues use the UN Security Council to their own PR ends. This is another dangerous trend, because the UN Security Council is the supreme executive body of the entire present system of international law. It is unacceptable to use it as a platform for one’s own PR campaign, including possibly for some domestic political purposes.

The International Syria Support Group is taking certain steps toward the peaceful resolution of the crisis. The Russian initiative, which was supported by a number of UN Security Council members (unfortunately, not all), aims to resolve the issue of chemical weapons, in particular their falling into the hands of terrorists. This initiative is nothing new. We put it forward two years ago. What is hindering the use of international legal instruments, not allowing the situation to deteriorate to the point where the use of force becomes inevitable? Something is preventing the US from sitting down together and working out a document to prevent chemical weapons from falling into terrorists' hands.

The main question is what the US, our American colleagues, are after, because unfortunately, at least on the Syrian track, we have lately been seeing a kind of “shooting with both hands,” so to speak, in an unknown direction. [Their] aims are incomprehensible. [Their] actions are chaotic. There is no consistency.

Question: What do you expect from the OPCW report?

Maria Zakharova: We commented on the report in detail at the previous briefing. You can take a look at the record. I don't want to repeat myself.

Question: Does Russia agree with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Saeed el-Sisi’s proposal, made last week, that Russia should invite Israeli and Palestinian authorities to meet in Moscow?

Maria Zakharova: If any decisions to hold such meetings are made, we will inform you. I’d like to remind you that Russia is doing all it can in search of specific solutions on the Middle East track, in particular, on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. We regularly take concrete, practical steps. This includes the activity of our missions abroad (not only our embassies but also our missions to international organisations), and of course, contacts between top ministry officials – Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Ministry Mikhail Bogdanov, in particular – and the relevant representatives both in the region and in Moscow.

To repeat, if such decisions are made, we will inform you. In general, we are closely involved in this matter.

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