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

Monday, 10 October 2016 06:56

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault


Today Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet in Moscow with Foreign Minister of France Jean-Marc Ayrault at the request of the French side.

The talks will focus on the Syrian issue and cover individual aspects of the Russian-French agenda.

The talks will start at 3 pm to be followed by a news conference.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with General Secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People  Andros Kyprianou


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with General Secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People (Republic of Cyprus) Andros Kyprianou in Moscow on October 11.

The parties will discuss the current state and prospects of the Russian-Cypriot cooperation and also the ongoing negotiations on the settlement of the Cypriot problem.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Foreign Minister of Angola Georges Rebelo Chicoti


On October 11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Foreign Minister of Angola Georges Rebelo Chicoti, who is in Moscow on a working visit.

The talks will highlight the pressing issues of bilateral political, trade and economic cooperation and also key aspects of the regional and international agenda.

The meeting will also be attended by Angolan Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technologies José Carvalho da Rocha.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with university graduates admitted to work at the Foreign Ministry


On October 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to meet with 2016 university graduates who have been accepted to work at the Ministry.

Such meetings are a good tradition. Young diplomats will have the opportunity to speak directly with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Their career and creative work at the Ministry begins with meeting the head of the Foreign Ministry to discuss the most urgent and important foreign policy issues.

The meeting is traditionally attended by the Ministry’s top officials, veterans of the Russian diplomatic service, whose expertise and knowledge are crucial for the new generation.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a joint meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council, the Defence Ministers Council and the Security Council Secretaries Committee

On October 14, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will participate in a joint meeting of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council, the Defence Ministers Council and the Security Council Secretaries Committee that will take place in Yerevan to prepare for the next session of the CSTO Collective Security Council.
The meeting will cover topical aspects of further improvement of the collective security system, counter-terrorism measures, development of military cooperation, as well as a number of documents to be submitted for the approval of the CSTO heads of state.
The meeting participants will also discuss several issues regarding CSTO organisational, administrative and financial matters.

Situation in Syria

I have to start this briefing with a phrase that has opened many of the briefings in the past few years: the situation in Syria remains tense. It is particularly complicated in the north of the country, mainly in and around Aleppo where government forces continue fighting Jabhat al-Nusra militants and groups affiliated with it.
Every day civilians die as a result of the so-called “blind” shelling of western Aleppo controlled by the government forces. Militants from various illegal armed groups have occupied eastern Aleppo and at least half of them belong to Jabhat al-Nusra. They are basically holding the locals hostage and use them as live shields blocking their escape through the humanitarian corridors created by the Syrian Armed Forces and the Russian reconciliation centre at the Hmeimim air base. One of the favourite tactics of the illegal armed groups is using civilian facilities, schools, hospitals and residential buildings, as their headquarters and defence centres, and to open sniper fire from these buildings at Syrian personnel and civilians. A Syrian swimming champion and her 12-year-old brother fell victim to this kind of shooting the other day.
Armed opposition groups and their so-called governing bodies, such as the Aleppo local council, continue to prevent humanitarian aid access into eastern Aleppo. Our opinion is that the foreign “patrons” of the militants – those who provide assistance to them – should have started handling this problem long ago. It is necessary that they influence the militants’ commanders. So far, we have mostly seen attempts by Western forces to protect Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated militants – literally, helping them out of danger – rather than relieving the humanitarian crisis.
Another odious crime happened on October 3 near Hasakah where suicide bomber killed over 30 and injured 90 at a wedding. As we reported before, the Russian Embassy in Damascus was under mortar attack on September 3. The strike came from the suburban town of Jobar, currently controlled by the terrorist groups Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and Faylaq al-Rahman. Fortunately, there were no victims, but the embassy building sustained some damage. We suspect a connection between this terrorist attack and the vague threat of attack recently passed on by Washington. It is indicative that the attack happened in the midst of a discussion to possibly supply the militants with man-portable air-defence systems and other military equipment that could be used from anywhere.
We get the impression that our Western partners are forgetting that Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), ISIS, Jund al-Aqsa, Ahrar ash-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and other similar groups are basically the same evolving Al-Qaeda that conducted the horrible terrorist attacks in the United States 15 years ago. Why do our American colleagues not remember that and why do they not remind their people about it on a daily basis at public events? It is beyond my understanding.
The US is protecting Jabhat al-Nusra by all possible means. For the past two years, almost every day we hear tragic reports of American police killing ordinary citizens who only looked like they could hypothetically be a threat to the police or the public. Some police officers thought they were armed, the others thought they could be dangerous, etc. Those were ordinary people who were only suspected of being a threat. Now imagine that two or three people from Jabhat al-Nusra – so thoroughly protected by the US government – walk down the streets of Washington. Imagine what the police would do to those people if they walked down the street in Washington, Chicago or any US city looking the way they usually look. Nobody would have any doubt that those people clearly pose a threat to civilians. Then why is it that those people would be immediately destroyed in one geographic location with complete public support but in another location, they are presented as fighters for justice, as the moderate opposition, a group that is not yet on the genuine path to political resolution, a group that needs refinement but does not yet meet the high standards completely? It is a very strange approach.


The West’s anti-Russian campaign in connection with the Syrian crisis


We are facing another round of the anti-Russian information campaign in connection with the Syrian crisis, and this is not for the first time. Several years ago, during the concluding phase of the Arab Spring, our Syrian policy and position were criticised as well. Since then, we have seen several phases when Russia’s actions were criticised and the negative information campaign was launched against us.

We are currently facing the extreme, even extremist, round of this campaign. It’s not even a campaign, it’s hysteria in which everyone is involved: the UN Security Council, news conferences by government officials, newspapers, TV, articles, heads of foreign ministry agencies, observers, and others. This time, they are trying to make us look like a bloodthirsty aggressor, an outlaw. On September 29, The New York Times published an article branding Russia “an outlaw state” and saying that Russia kills hundreds of innocent children and women in Syria.

Surprisingly, such statements are voiced by the countries and people that have a huge record of real, not made-up, crimes against civilians all over the world.

Let’s remember hundreds of thousands of civilians killed during the bombings of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, conducted either by mistake or on purpose. We can see that the military equipment of those countries, which is highly accurate due to huge budgetary allocations spent on it, ruthlessly bombs weddings, markets, maternity hospitals and clinics. And after that they say that it is the Russian Federation that kills civilians, while their bombings of civilian objects are nothing but “technical failures.” Why did these countries turn a blind eye on US bombing of Yugoslavia using munitions (you can read online about the type of munitions they used)?

Somehow, these people, who are currently human rights activists, do not tell the truth about what happened in Iraq, in particular, during the second battle for Fallujah.

I’m addressing those who argue about what is happening in Syria: you can start by taking a hard look at yourselves, talk to each other about Fallujah, and I’m sure you will remember a few things. You can also tell the world about what weapons you used there. It would be very interesting and we will finally learn the truth. This is not an isolated example; there is not enough time to name them all.

There is another thing that proves that what we are witnessing is an information campaign. Recently, about six months ago, the same countries called Russia a constructive partner on Syria, and its contribution to counteracting global terrorism received praise.  I’m sure you remember as these were public statements. So what has changed? Did we come too close to Jabhat al-Nusra? Yes, it happens. Their opinion has changed radically. We all remember the leaked NATO report in March 2016, which praised Russia’s Aerospace Forces for professionalism. That is, in March the operation was called accurate and efficient, and now we are bloodthirsty killers. Seems the experts had a good time on holiday this summer.

It is impossible to speak about an adequate and unbiased approach when it changes so drastically within a few years.

And of course, again the media are used as a means for promoting their own interests, in particular, for stirring anti-Russian sentiments, demonising our country’s image and promoting the political interests of one or another party. The world is not perfect, unfortunately.

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the Pentagon paid a PR company more than $500 million to create propaganda terrorist videos right after the Iraq invasion. I would like to find out what Washington’s official stance on this is. In particular, on September 29 the Conflicts Forum website published excerpts from a report on the US Special Forces by Jack Murphy, a former Green Beret, saying that the CIA and the Pentagon armed and trained groups that were clearly terrorists.

When we ask our colleagues about where they get the information about Russia killing thousands of children, they say in social networks. There is also information about terrorist training on the internet, you can read it, it’s fascinating.


Anti-Russian statements by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in an interview with The Sun tabloid


We could not leave unnoticed an interview with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, carried by the British tabloid The Sun on October 1. Commenting on Russia’s operation in Syria, Mr Johnson said, “They drop one bomb and then they wait for the aid workers to come out, civilian people pulling the injured from the rubble, and then five minutes later they drop another bomb.” “We have evidence. We have good ground to believe that the Russians themselves have been doing that,” he said.

If you are accusing the Russian Federation so openly, why don’t you provide the evidence (satellite data, geolocation, or any other material that can back up your statements)? Professional people, especially in countries with a long-standing tradition of a law-based state, normally offer facts and proof first, before they hurl accusations, and not the other way around. The Foreign Office chief believes the solution lies in retaliatory measures aimed at making Russia change its policy on Syria.

We heard such accusations before. No evidence, just a head-on attack. We understand that these statements are the choice of London but the more you resort to unsubstantiated statements, the more obvious it is that you are losing control in the region as the situation unfolds contrary to your expectations, hence the accusations.

When such statements are made by unnamed “experts”, it is one thing, but this phrasing belongs to the country’s chief diplomat. Diplomacy is about looking for solutions, not complicating the situation.


Consultations on security and stability in the South Caucasus


On October 4-5, representatives of Abkhazia, Georgia, the Russian Federation, the United States and South Ossetia gathered in Geneva for the next round of consultations as part of international discussions on the South Caucasus. The meeting was co-chaired by the UN, the OSCE and the EU, with the Russian delegation led by State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.

Delegates from Abkhazia, Russia and South Ossetia expressed protest against Georgia’s unilateral initiative voiced in the UN Human Rights Council to organise external monitoring in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have long been outside of Georgia’s sovereignty.

The delegates highlighted Tbilisi’s ongoing destructive and politicised actions at various international venues, made with no input from Sukhum or Tskhinval. We believe this directly undermines the efforts of both the humanitarian group and the entire Geneva format. Tbilisi’s “initiatives” seek to satisfy the political ambitions in this area and, unfortunately, they are normally of no practical use to the local population. Representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia said the “facts” of alleged human rights violations on the so-called “occupied territories” reported by the Georgian Foreign Ministry had nothing to do with reality and were not facts. Tbilisi, nevertheless, continues its policy line, and sadly, prevents the two independent republics from establishing contacts with other countries. Georgia’s unconstructive position has resulted in suspending the refugees’ subject from Geneva International Discussions.

The delegates had a constructive discussion of the current situation on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders with Georgia. The majority of the participants, including representatives of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, agreed the security situation remained calm and stable. Occasional incidents are mostly administrative clashes largely due to the local residents’ confusion over the border checkpoints location. Tbilisi has been refusing to discuss the border demarcation. Sukhum and Tskhinval have to address the issue unilaterally. South Ossetian delegates said they had registered seven border violation incidents by the Georgian police this year.

It was noted that the border checkpoints on the Abkhazian-Georgian and South Ossetian-Georgian borders were operating in due order, ensuring people’s and transport movement across the border.

Regular meetings within the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders with Georgia along with hotline communication have heavily contributed to the stability in the border areas of the three countries.

Delegates from Abkhazia, Russia and South Ossetia once again expressed serious concern over the more frequent NATO exercises in Georgia whose scale in terms of staff and military hardware involved have been expanding every year. Tbilisi’s intensified military activity indicates the need for further negotiations on the draft Geneva discussions’ joint statement on the non-use of force as a step towards bilateral agreements on this crucial issue between Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the one side and Georgia on the other. Discussion of the issue was once again postponed as Georgia said it was not prepared for it.

Geneva Discussions participants reiterated readiness to address humanitarian issues, including preserve the cultural heritage through exchanging archives, looking for missing persons and ensuring freedom of movement.

The next meeting in Geneva has been scheduled for mid-October this year.


Moldovan Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu’s remarks


Moscow took note of the remarks by Moldovan Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu, which were distributed by a number of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the ABC, NBC and Fox television networks, groundlessly accusing Russia of interfering in the preparations for the upcoming presidential election in Moldova, to be held on October 30. In fact, we are blamed for all of the country’s problems, including the serious, critical state of its internal political system.

We regard these remarks as speculation, an absolutely pathetic attempt to blame their own internal development problems on Russia. Probably, there is a personal interest to boost one’s ratings and gain media “exposure” as a result of these kinds of remarks. This is difficult to imagine. Possibly, the idea was to improve the image that was marred when the name that I already mentioned today ended up at the top of a draft resolution submitted to the US House of Representatives providing for the introduction of sanctions against a number of high-ranking Moldovan officials, condemning rampant corruption in the country and the stealing of $1 billion from the state treasury.

As for the upcoming election in Moldova, Moscow hopes that the election process will be up to international standards and will not go beyond the bounds of the law.


Escalation of the situation around the Gaza Strip


On October 5, the Israeli Air Force delivered over 20 airstrikes against different targets of the Hamas Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip. According to media reports, the attacks came in response to the launch of an improvised Qassam rocket against the Israeli town of Sderot. No Israeli was hurt and one Palestinian sustained a fragment wound.

The latest surge in tensions around Gaza arouses serious concern in Moscow. We again urge all parties involved to show restraint, take measures to maintain calm along the perimeter of the strip and preclude the recurrences of confrontation with unpredictable consequences and most importantly, the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

Taking into account the dangerous course of events, which threatens an impasse along the Palestinian-Israeli track, we reaffirm the pressing need for progress, including via the restoration of Palestinian unity, toward the resumption of the negotiating process between the Palestinians and Israelis to reach a two-state solution. This requires the termination of unilateral steps on both sides, including Israeli settlement activity on the occupied Palestinian territories.


UK participation in South Korea air drills


As has become known, the South Korean Defence Ministry announced plans to hold tactical air drills codenamed Invincible Shield with the participation of the South Korean, US and UK air forces on November 4-10, to rehearse airborne combat operations and deliver airstrikes against North Korea in case of an armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

We noted that for the first time these maneuvers will be conducted with the participation of the UK, which plans to provide four Typhoon EF-200 tactical fighters, a Voyager А-330 MRTT aerial refueling tanker and a C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. The key tasks of the exercise include testing the interoperability of the command, control and communication systems of the three countries’ air forces, as well as studying the specific features of the theatre of military operations on the Korean Peninsula by UK aircraft crews.

We will not go into detail now as to how appropriate or justified this muscle-flexing exercise is, considering that the situation in the region is far from calm, and in fact is explosive. We believe that under these circumstances, every step, as well as the consequences of such steps, should be carefully thought out and thoroughly analysed. Of course, this is a subject for a separate, more wide-ranging conversation. Our point is different. If the US and the Republic of Korea have a bilateral military alliance and if US military bases are stationed on South Korean soil, this suggests that the armed forces of these two countries in some way or other collaborate within the framework of their allied obligations. It is another matter in what forms or whether such actions are timely.

There is another interesting point. What is the UK Air Force doing in Northeast Asia? I believe this is the right question to ask now. As far as we know, the UK has no military bases anywhere in the area. We hope that it does not have any post-colonial interests, either, at least none that have been declared. A logical question arises then: why do UK aircraft crews need to know the specifics of the theater of military operations on the Korean Peninsula? Did they not get enough when bombing Libya?

The impression is that London is affected by the phantom pains of the former British Empire. Just to reiterate, these distant times are history now. We would like to hope that there will be no return to this. Everyone, including London, should understand very well that this does nothing to address regional security issues and only makes the situation worse. If [they] want to become involved in resolving regional conflicts, it should be done through the existing mechanisms of international law, by using the diplomatic experience accumulated in the world.

In any case, the striving by certain countries (and this is only one example) to deliberately escalate situations in certain parts of the world, far from their own borders, is obvious to us. This line, which involves destructive action and at the same time rhetoric about the need to resolve problems in a democratic way, is deplorable. This has always been the UK’s distinctive feature.


Answers to media questions:

Question: Russia and the United States bear the utmost responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The world has every reason to be concerned with the current state of relations between the two countries. What is needed to resume positive dialogue between Moscow and Washington?

Maria Zakharova: I’m not sure whether you should address this question to us. For several years, we were surprised to read new aggressive remarks against Russia online, in the newspapers and on TV. We did not curtail any dialogue formats, nor did we withdraw from any existing bilateral or multilateral organisations. Everything that happened in the past few years took place on Washington’s initiative. This concerns the Russia-US Bilateral Presidential Commission and its work at various subgroups. There are many other examples.

I understand your concern for the future of the world perfectly well. But, as I see it, we should not forget that a presidential race is now underway in the United States, and that many statements are subordinated to the laws of the “pre-election genre,” so to say. I understand that all countries are horrified to read new White House statements on Syria and on cooperation with Russia. But try to analyse what is going on. Several days ago, our US colleagues stated absolutely openly, clearly and unequivocally that they were breaking off bilateral diplomatic dialogue with the Russian Federation on resolving the situation in Syria, and that they had stopped, ended and curtailed this dialogue. We have made our statements that we consider this to be mistaken and unconstructive.

A short time afterwards, Washington started voicing new narratives on this issue. It turned out that this only involved bilateral dialogue, and that the US side would continue to cooperate with Russia in multilateral formats to achieve a peace settlement for Syria. We took note and modified our positions. Later yet, we heard new narratives from Washington that they had temporarily suspended, rather than severed, bilateral cooperation with Russia on Syria, and that it can be resumed if Russia fulfils some new demands. We also took these new narratives into consideration. And US Secretary of State John Kerry unexpectedly called yesterday.

To my mind, we should react more calmly to what is now being said because many statements are being made solely in line with heated pre-election passions. They don’t reflect any short-term Middle East strategy, not to mention a long-term strategy. It appears that these spurts are due to the need to add some fire to the election campaign.

Question: On August 30, Armenian political scientist Stepan Grigoryan was denied entry to Russia. The Armenian Embassy in Moscow said the Russian Foreign Ministry had asked the concerned agencies to explain the reasons for the ban. Have the reasons been clarified a month later?

A really difficult situation has shaped up in Syria. People, including members of the many-thousand-strong Armenian community, are being killed during shelling and air strikes. Many of them are openly voicing their desire to relocate to Armenia, their historical homeland. Is Russia prepared, if need be, to help Armenia relocate them?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the first question, I can say that the Armenian side has received the appropriate information.

As for the second question, if you have any official information, letters and requests from ethnic Armenians living in Syria about their desire to return to their homeland, then they should duly inform the Armenian Foreign Ministry and Armenian government agencies that would examine this issue. In the event of a positive decision, they would contact any party capable of providing such assistance. This is an absolutely normal practice and procedure. To my mind, this issue should be discussed in line with specific practical aspects, rather than just publicly. I have briefed you on a well-known procedure for resolving it.

Question: Several days ago, US State Secretary John Kerry announced that the conditions for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are not ready yet and currently there is no possibility for a settlement. Can you please comment on this statement? Do you agree with it?

Maria Zakharova: Frankly, I believe that a resolution depends not on statements but on the practical work that we are doing.

Question: How would you comment on yesterday’s UN Secretary General election? What do you think? Some foreign media reported the interesting fact that Russia has already rejected the idea of a female Secretary General. Is this true?

Maria Zakharova: It would be too crude to say. The media that feed on leaks should remember that the official sources of information on this issue are not closed yet. The UNSC president still meets with the international media and answers their questions. The same was done yesterday by Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin as a representative of the Security Council’s presiding country. He met with journalists, not to talk about rumours or allegations but to provide official information on the election of a new Secretary General. He talked in front of any interested journalists rather than behind the scenes. This view is the one to rely on. Don’t make it more complicated. Russia’s representative, a country currently presiding in the UNSC, went to the public and made a statement. I have nothing else to add to this information as it was shared in a prompt and professional manner. Do you have any specific questions? I think it is hard to imagine a more clear answer.

Question: What do you think about the UN Secretary General not being a woman?

Maria Zakharova: Vitaly Churkin talked about a candidate that had the majority of votes and did not meet any negative reaction from the UNSC permanent members. No gender issue was not raised.

Question: Serbia is expressing more criticism on the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre. Russian and Serbian rescuers are undergoing extensive training in Nis, which is disturbing the Western media. Particularly, there have been concerns that Russia is only hiding behind humanitarian goals to train its military personnel there. Who do you think could benefit from these allegations and how should Russia react?

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly addressed the European Commission and several European countries with specific proposals to join the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre. Those requests, while always supported by our Serbian counterparts, went without answer. EU and US representatives consistently ignored our invitations to presentations and briefings held in cooperation with the Serbian officials at the centre.

Our view is that the allegations regarding the military nature of the training you mentioned and which frequently appear in the media regarding this centre, get reprinted again and again. These allegations are not based on facts or evidence. Since its establishment in 2012, the centre and its staff have provided humanitarian relief aid in the wake of various natural disasters and emergencies across Serbia, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Slovenia and Macedonia. Thousands of people have witnessed their efforts in southeastern Europe.

The answer is simple. Anybody can visit the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre in Nis and see what we are doing. We have nothing to hide. You can see for yourself.

Question: It’s been almost a month since North Korea’s nuclear tests. The global community agrees that there must be extra measures taken in this respect. This month, Russia is presiding in the UN Security Council. Are there any differences between the stance of Russia and China and the stance of the US, Japan and South Korea on additional sanctions?

Maria Zakharova: The work on this issue is underway. I can’t talk about the details. If anything comes up, I will immediately comment.

Question: You said that unsubstantiated accusations are being constantly made against Russia. The problem is that most of the bombings are carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s forces while Russia supports him as an ally in this war. Russia is criticised precisely for supporting Bashar al-Assad, who bombs and kills people.

Maria Zakharova: The fact is that there are terrorists in the region. What is the problem? Jabhat al-Nusra, which everyone tiptoes around so delicately, is on the UN’s list of terrorist organisations.

I hope that you are trying to be objective and establish the truth. Even if you are more inclined to favour the US, Canadian or Australian standpoint, try to hear what I will now try to tell you. What was the purpose of the bilateral Russian-US agreements? Their essence is to produce not a political but a concrete document, based on which we would be able to set up a corresponding joint centre not simply for global information exchange but for the exchange of concrete data: the location of civilian facilities, including those held by militants that are passed for civilian facilities where terrorists are based.

Let me just spell it out for you. A US military expert tells a Russian military expert: You have dropped a bomb on an area where civilian installations are located. Our expert presents satellite imagery showing members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist organisation, leaving that installation. They bring out a grenade launcher and they bring in a new grenade launcher. Russian and US experts sit down and work. This is what we wanted to do. And we did. On September 9, agreements on which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry had worked so hard were reached. But they were blocked. In particular, we encountered the violation of the point related to the Castello Road. The situation became extremely complicated following the US airstrikes against Deir ez-Zor. It went downhill from there.

We worked together (let our US colleagues try to refute that). Russia provided these materials to our US colleagues, working with them at the level of military experts for several months. However, we received nothing from them. The problem is that we came very close to the main issue: the future of Jabhat al-Nusra. There is no getting away from the fact that it is surrounded by what is cast as civilian installations, civilians (some of them are members of the political opposition and some are family members of this moderate or immoderate political opposition). This is the point. Let us sit down and separate them, saying where these terrorists are and where there are none, and start working together. Is there an alternative? Simply get out of there? Or stop everything and forget about terrorists? That is not an option. I would not like to repeat how many UN Security Council documents stress the necessity of fighting terrorism, and Jabhat al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation. This is not an option, just because everyone already understands that something has to be done there to block this terrorist threat.

Of course, we realise that combat operations are in progress and that civilians are being hurt and killed. But this is precisely why the centre was needed – to work together. However, there are forces in Washington that have repeatedly blocked joint Russian-US efforts. In the end, despite the joint agreements, they stood firm on not supporting the dialogue with Russia. This is not to say that they will not change their position tomorrow, but today, the break in this dialogue with Russia is beneficial to certain forces.

Today, the mainstream topic is “how the Russian Aerospace Forces are killing civilians in Syria or whether this is being done by the Syrian Army with support from the Russian Aerospace Forces.” Who was killing civilians in Syria four years ago? There were no Russian Aerospace Forces there at the time. Nevertheless, civilians were being killed – beheaded – and terrorists were just as active. See films and reports by our correspondents Anastasia Popova and Evgeny Poddubny, among others, who worked there. Give me the names of US journalists working in Aleppo. There are none. Neither US nor European journalists worked there. Only our guys did, bringing video footage, disseminating it at the UN, in Geneva, showing what was happening to civilian installations in Syria. There were no Russian Aerospace Forces nearby.

Another question. What has the US coalition been doing there for two years if there were no civilian casualties there? There were. They went there, as they said, to protect civilians against terrorists. You cannot be selective. You have to admit that civilians are suffering, that they are blocked, taken hostage and encircled by this very same Jabhat al-Nusra. Let’s decide where civilians are and where non-civilians are, and let’s act together. This is precisely what is being blocked.

Now discussion will resume as to what is to be done about Syria. Everyone understands very well that the efforts of the ISSG co-chairs are crucial. However, these efforts are blocked, because they have closely approached what has been cultivated for so many years: Jabhat al-Nusra. These are, in fact, new-look Mujahideen. Read history and see how al-Qaeda was formed. It was exactly the same, absolutely. The same financing, support and moral encouragement. What did the wooing of the Mujahideen lead to? To al-Qaeda. And you know what this is. You cannot oversimplify things to such an extent. You cannot move with the mainstream: Russia is killing everyone, and everyone is trying to stop that. This is nonsense. You know, stupidity is far more dangerous than even the most terrible threat. I believe that this kind of oversimplification in the media is even more terrible that the terrorist threat. This is an oversimplified, one-sided picture.

Question: After the bombing of Deir ez-Zor, the shelling of a humanitarian aid convoy caused a public outcry. But the West stopped talking about this crime, after the international commission conducted an investigation.

Maria Zakharova: The investigation has not been completed yet, and of course, we are waiting for a full-length result.

Question: How would you comment on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement (you’ve already talked about it today in you interview to a British outlet), that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov praised the War and Peace film by the BBC in a conversation with him? Is it true?

Maria Zakharova: It’s well-known that everything the BBC makes is excellent as long as it is not fact-based.

Question: You said that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is going to visit Yerevan to attend the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council meeting. Is he going to discuss the Nagorno Karabakh problem with the Armenian colleagues?

Maria Zakharova: No special event will be held on this issue, but the officials may exchange views on the sidelines of the meetings.

Question: Montenegro will hold the parliamentary elections on October 16. The Montenegrin opposition, which calls itself pro-Russian and has strong ties with the United Russia party, threatens to stage some kind of a Montenegro October revolution. Moscow’s attitude to colour revolutions is well-known. How would you comment on this? Is it possible that the situation will develop according to the Macedonian scenario?

Maria Zakharova: There was only one October Revolution, don’t trench on sacred things.

Russia has consistently advocated respect for the sovereignty of all states and for the observance of international law. It is well known that we are opposed to the outside interference in internal affairs, be it of Russia or other countries. This is our position of principle.

You know very well that many of our Western colleagues often used the methods of colour revolutions to address a variety of issues.

Since you mentioned the Macedonian scenario, I can say that the political destabilisation and the protracted crisis in Macedonia are a direct consequence of such external actions. I think that the destructive outcome of this approach is obvious. We hope that the Macedonian government will be able to overcome this crisis and do away with problems imposed from without.

As for Montenegro, we proceed from the need to hold fair and democratic elections in strict compliance with the international obligations of Podgorica, and the generally accepted norms and standards. The acute conflict between the Montenegrin political forces is caused by the fact that the ruling regime persistently ignores public opinion. First of all, the government is insisting on Montenegro joining NATO, disregarding the citizens’ will. We have spoken about it a great deal. You can learn about Russia’s principled position on the issue. We have repeatedly warned that this policy is misguided. We believe that it threatens with the destabilisation in Montenegro and the Balkans as a whole.

Question: Primaries took place in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics over the weekend. What is the Foreign Ministry’s position on dragging out the conduct of local elections in Donbass, no date for which has been set yet?

Maria Zakharova: I will address the situation around the implementation of the Minsk agreements in detail separately, not now.

Question: Many people in Japan believe that President Vladimir Putin’s December visit to Japan may see a breakthrough in bilateral relations. To what extent do you share this optimism?

Maria Zakharova: We do not comment on the President’s upcoming talks. There is the presidential press service for that. This is established practice. We are ready to make comments on the bilateral agenda in real time but not about the upcoming President’s visit. 

Question: US officials have asserted that two US diplomats were drugged in St Petersburg last year, claiming that was part of a campaign to ratchet up pressure, among others, on US diplomatic personnel. Did Russian officials slip drugs to two US diplomats?

Maria Zakharova: Presumably, you have not been in Russia for very long. This story is now making a second round, so to speak. Reports saying that US diplomats were exposed to pressure in Russia came four or five months ago. Now they are coming again – the same references, sources and leaks. This information was used before. I did not know that media outlets casting themselves as respectable can publish information that was already published, passing it off as “breaking news.” This is precisely what is happening now. I would not like to say this, but this news has not only already been “chewed” but also “digested.” There is no getting away from this. Apparently, journalists have no qualms about that.

Regarding your question of whether Russian officials poisoned US diplomats, I can say that Russian officials did not poison US diplomats. I really don’t know whether you were serious when asking this question, but I can say that when these reports came in, we tried to find out to what medical institutions the “victims” went. A probe revealed that at that time no Americans had sought treatment at any medical institutions. Whether they were treated at home, how or with what results, the US side is also silent about that. So these leaks and planted stories are the only sources regarding the “victims.” Their fate and names are unknown. I hope all is well with them.

Question: Does, in your opinion, the US pose a direct military threat to Russian interests in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: This question falls within the Defence Ministry’s purview.

Question: The Wall Street Journal, citing sources privy to the situation, reports that the German government has begun consideration of new sanctions over Russia’s actions in Syria. Could you comment on these reports? What could be the outcome of this discussion?

Maria Zakharova: I believe they should use a ledger to record all of their sanctions so as not to become confused. We are a little slow in keeping track of reports about new sanctions, and then these very same countries announce the lifting of previous sanctions. The most important thing is that they get everything right: new sanctions on the left-hand side and the lifting of old sanctions on the right. I believe that this is a maximum programme.

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