Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 27, 2016

Monday, 31 October 2016 16:01

    Meeting of the Russian and Syrian foreign ministers
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Moscow
    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
    Upcoming meeting between Russian and Cypriot foreign ministers
    World Compatriots Theme Conference Together with Russia
    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Greece
    Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove’s upcoming visit to Moscow
    St. Petersburg selected 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly venue
    Terrorist attack in Syria
    Developments in Syria
    Presumed US heavy weapons to Syrian opposition
    Fourth Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism on the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
    Petition by 80 NGOs to drop Russia from the UN Human Rights Council
    The list of war crimes committed by the US and its allies in Syria
    Developments in Iraq
    Rising civilian casualties during hostilities in Afghanistan
    Terror attack in Quetta, Pakistan
    Situation in Venezuela
    Approval of the UN General Assembly resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”
    The 25th anniversary of the institution of non-citizenship in Latvia
    Estonia unveils a bronze bust of former Waffen-SS legionnaire Harald Nugiseks
    The dismantlement of a monument to Soviet soldiers and a memorial plaque to Sergeant Karim Sultanov in Goleniow, Poland
    Detention of Russian citizen in the Philippines
    A visit to Moscow by Chair of Poland’s Kursk military-patriotic society Jerzy Tyc
    Answers to media questions:
    Humanitarian pauses in Aleppo
    Statements by President Erdogan on Syria
    Iraq’s initiative on an extraordinary UN Security Council meeting
    Autonomous republic status for Nagorno-Karabakh
    Inability for Northern Fleet warships to call at Ceuta port in Spain
    Foreign ministers of Iran and Syria to visit Moscow
    Turkish actions in the Syrian conflict
    Licence of a private Russian school revoked in Latvia
    Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
    Ukraine’s note of protest over President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Crimea
    Possibility of disengagement in Donbass


Meeting of the Russian and Syrian foreign ministers


On October 27-29, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem will pay a working visit to Russia at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

On October 28, the officials will discuss the military-political and humanitarian situation in Syria, focusing on the developments in Aleppo, the efforts of the Russian and Syrian militaries that continue fighting against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, and humanitarian relief for the population.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Moscow


On October 28, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif will pay a working visit to Russia. Mr Lavrov will hold talks with him on the same day.

The foreign ministers will focus on the current state of and prospects for further development of bilateral relations, primarily as regards the implementation of the agreements reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Baku on August 8.

Iran is playing an important role in the developments in the Middle East. We consider this visit timely and important, in particular, for discussing the current international developments, including conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


On October 28, Mr Lavrov, Mr Muallem and Mr Zarif will hold a trilateral meeting in Moscow. The foreign ministers will focus on the developments in Syria based on the common commitment of the three countries to carry on an uncompromising fight against the terrorists, ensure ceasefire and end the suffering of civilians as soon as possible, resolve humanitarian problems and launch a political process on the relevant basis of international law.

The foreign ministers also plan to discuss the military-political developments in Iraq, in particular, ways of effectively fighting ISIS terrorists.


Upcoming meeting between Russian and Cypriot foreign ministers


On October 31, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, the next chair of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, will be in Moscow on a working visit. His agenda includes talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They will discuss bilateral relations and several international issues, especially with regard to the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which will begin in November.


World Compatriots Theme Conference Together with Russia


A World Compatriots Theme Conference Together with Russia will be held in Moscow on November 1-2. The conference of compatriots living abroad will begin with remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chair of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad.

The conference will be attended by the heads of federal ministries and agencies, representatives of several Russian regions and large public and expert agencies that are concerned with the issue of compatriots living abroad. Over 150 delegates from 90 countries, including the heads and active members of public organisations of Russian compatriots, will come for the conference.

The main goal of this conference is to discuss the most important issues of partner relations with the Russian diaspora and the protection of compatriots’ human rights and legitimate interests. Discussions will also focus on the development of Russian companies’ economic ties with compatriots’ businesses, as well as issues that bring the Russian diaspora together such as the Russian language, culture, history and traditions. The conference is expected to boost discussions on using the information space to promote an objective image of Russia.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming visit to Greece


On November 1-2, Sergey Lavrov will visit Greece.

He will meet with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including trade and economic, investment and energy cooperation.

The agenda also includes current international issues such as Russia’s relations with the EU.

The parties will sign a plan of consultations between the Russian and the Greek foreign ministries for 2017-2019.

Sergey Lavrov and Nikos Kotzias will unveil the fourth Greek-Russian Civil Society Forum and an exhibit of archive documents as part of the cross-cultural year between Greece and Russia.

A ceremony to award Sergey Lavrov the title of honorary doctor will be held at the University of Piraeus.


Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove’s upcoming visit to Moscow


On November 2-4, Foreign Minister of Abkhazia Daur Kove will visit Moscow at Sergey Lavrov’s invitation.

On November 3, the Russian and Abkhazian ministers will exchange views on the key issues on the bilateral agenda and the strengthening of Abkhazia’s international standing. They will also focus on improving cooperation at the Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus.


St. Petersburg selected 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly venue


We have just received a report from Geneva which is currently hosting the 135th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly. The Russian delegation, headed by Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, is attending the Assembly. The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union has selected St. Petersburg as the venue of the 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in October 2017. This once again confirms the prestige and role of Russia and its Parliament in global affairs. The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks among the largest and influential organisations; it unites 170 countries, and it is also called the UN’s parliamentary dimension.

We see this decision as the undoubted success of Russian parliamentary diplomacy. Members of the Russian Parliament have accomplished a lot during bilateral and multilateral contact within the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at other international venues, as well as bilaterally.

The decision to hold the 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in St. Petersburg confirms the striving of an overwhelming majority of states to establish international relations on the principles of equality, democracy, respect of and consideration for mutual interests.

Russia has informed the leaders of the Inter-Parliamentary Union that we intend to create an atmosphere of open dialogue, constructive cooperation, consideration for and respect of all positions and all viewpoints and an atmosphere aiming to actively search for a consolidating agenda of international cooperation in St Petersburg.


Terrorist attack in Syria


We have received tragic news from the village of Haas in Syria’s Idlib Governorate. Over 20 schoolchildren have been killed there. All international institutions must unhesitatingly take part in investigating this terrible tragedy. A number of international media outlets, including The Independent, Al Jazeera and others, instantly launched a direct information attack against Russia. They have immediately accused the Russian Federation and the Russian Aerospace Force, stating directly that Russia and Syria conducted an air strike there. This is a lie. The Russian Federation has nothing to do with this terrible tragedy and this attack. We demand that attention be focused on this tragedy and an immediate investigation. Currently, the Russian Defence Ministry is studying objective control data, and its officials will issue the appropriate statement soon.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, apart from the media stories I’ve mentioned, some other media materials have been circulated. For example, The Independent claims that this implies air strikes that are allegedly being conducted or have been conducted by the Russian Federation. Their stories are based on the accounts of anonymous activists and local residents. This is precisely how these accusations are formed.

Please note that, in violation of any professional ethics, claims that air strikes have been conducted by Russia and Syria are not placed in quotation marks. They are not being quoted as the statements of certain individuals, and they are presented as the claims of these media outlets at the beginning of publication.

I repeat once again, Defence Ministry officials will issue the appropriate statement soon.


Developments in Syria


We are still concerned over the developments in Syria, where hotspots of instability persist as a consequence of the criminal activities of ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, and similar terrorist groups.

We note with regret that the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition is increasingly a destabilising factor in Syria and only complicates the already tense military, political and humanitarian situation. This force continues to conduct its operations without the official approval of the Syrian Government, thereby grossly violating both that country’s sovereignty and international law. I am referring to the parties' compliance with international law.

Russia has been criticised for the operations of its Aerospace Forces in Syria, with critics alleging that some “violations of international humanitarian law” have occurred. As before, these allegations are absolutely groundless and unsupported by facts. But Russia’s rebuttals, specifically presentations by the Russian military of photographs and videos and the well-reasoned exposure of lies and mistakes in the relevant statements made by the mercenary media, remain unheeded. In this connection, we once again would like to convey to our opponents the simple idea that the Russian military are in Syria in order to fight international terrorist organisations, not “exterminate” civilians.

We noticed a statement by a spokesperson for Amnesty International’s office in Beirut, who said that the US failed to take into account possible civilian casualties in Syria as it carried out air attacks against ISIS.  I quote: “We fear the U.S.-led coalition is significantly underestimating the harm caused to civilians in its operations in Syria. … As many as 300 civilians have been killed in 11 attacks conducted by the U.S.-led coalition since September 2014. Analysis of available evidence suggests that in each of these cases, coalition forces failed to take adequate precautions to minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

In the meantime, Russia, in coordination with the Syrian authorities, continues to take measures with the purpose of overcoming the dramatic humanitarian crisis in Syria. I would like to remind you that a “humanitarian pause” was introduced in Aleppo a few days ago to ease the intensity of confrontation and allow civilians to exit from areas of combat operations. Nevertheless, the terrorists have done all they could to prevent civilians and members of smaller terrorist groups from leaving eastern Aleppo. Moreover, the jihadists operating in the Aleppo area continue to be supplied with weapons and ammunition. It would be nice if The Independent and Al Jazeera at last would write directly, without citing anyone, who is sponsoring the jihadists in eastern Aleppo and replenishing their ammunition stocks, thereby bringing them back to life again.

There are cases on record of US-made antitank missile systems and portable antiaircraft missile systems being handed over to the militants. We are concerned over the lack of effective efforts on the part of the Damascus-based UN Humanitarian Coordinator’s team to organise medical evacuation of wounded and sick individuals. By October 21, only two fighters out of the original 200 people who were in need of urgent medical attention remained on the list. But they turned down the offer of transportation as well. Let me remind you that 10 days ago the international community urged the use of all resources to this end and to discontinue bombing attacks against the terrorists in Aleppo under the pretext that it was necessary to allow the sick and the wounded to leave that territory.

In the meantime, Russian-organised centres offering free food, medicines and living essentials continue their operations in various areas in Syria. We also appreciate other countries’ fair share of contribution. Last week, for example, a Russian military transport aircraft delivered from Serbia to Syria the first batch of humanitarian cargo intended for needy civilians. This included more than 40 tonnes of canned food, flour, vegetable oil, clothes and medicine. Russian military will airlift this aid to the most war-ravaged populated localities.


Presumed US heavy weapons to Syrian opposition


White House press spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday, in effect, that Russia was complicating Washington’s search for a peaceful settlement in Syria. That was what he really said. You can check. It takes utter incompetence or total ignorance of the facts to say this, and we can set the matter straight.

We noted an item in The Washington Post on October 23, which Mr Earnest overlooked, on the US administration considering the prospects of supplying heavier weapons to the so-called moderate opposition in Syria. The writers alleged that though pressured by the CIA and the Pentagon, President Barack Obama would prefer leaving the matter to his successors to the White House after the November 8 elections. This is unconfirmed information from the media, and we don’t know what decision the White House has really taken and how it has been discussed.

We sincerely hope that the US administration will lean toward a rational approach rather than rash actions that could bring unpredictable military and political consequences. We will closely monitor, as before, Washington’s actions, that tend to put a nation’s fate at stake to satisfy its geopolitical ambitions in a gamble where, as a rule, it is unscrupulous about the tools it uses to remove governments not to its liking.

I dare remind our American partners again that they voted for UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which envisages a political settlement of the Syria conflict, and approved the relevant decisions of the International Syria Support Group, which the US co-chairs with Russia. It is as if Washington recognises only in word that peace talks have no alternative while accusing Russia of meddling with the Obama administration as it chooses peaceful settlement options. Indeed, as we have seen, the alternatives do not rule out one of the most doubtful behind-the-scenes options including direct aid to the militants. You may recall the direct aggression options discussed publicly in 2013. Now, arms supplies are being discussed as we have heard from various sources.

We still remember the results of the United States’ expensive Train and Equip operation, which Josh Earnest does not mention, that attempted to train opposition fighters in 2015. As Pentagon officers acknowledged at Congressional hearings, only four or five out of the first 54 first trainees went to battle. That would be funny if only we didn’t know that the other fifty, well-trained and equipped, and with American weapons, not only deserted but went over to the terrorist side. More than that, as far as we know, many of them joined ISIS and al-Nusra. Again, they use skills they received and practised during training. I don’t think their curricula included terrorism, but simple warfare. However, they use the skills in terrorist organisations. Judging by this experience, it is easy to expect the heavy weapons the CIA might send to the moderates to soon pass into the hands of jihadists.

Regrettably, only few people in Washington – at least, among the decision-makers – have drawn a lesson from the sad experience of military and financial support of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, which Al-Qaeda used eventually against the US itself. The public understands and remembers this, and does not want to repeat it, while the lobbyists and decision-makers are ready to run the risk again.


Fourth Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism on the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria


We have carefully analysed the Fourth Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria, according to which the Syrian Arab Armed Forces are responsible for the chlorine gas attack at Qmenas.

Overall, the fourth report is very similar to the previous one in its lack of reliable facts and JIM methodology. Absent from the JIM conclusions are many technical parameters, and there are many inconsistencies. We will submit our views on this in detail to the member countries of the UN Security Council and will also inform the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) about our position.

At the same time, it would be amiss not to mention the positive elements of the fourth report, such as the need to carefully investigate the criminal actions with the use of toxic agents in Syria committed not only by ISIS, but also by many other terrorist and extremist organisations in Syria, in particular Jabhat al-Nusra. We believe that they and their foreign patrons are responsible for the numerous chemical weapons attacks that have been staged to discredit the Syrian government.

We will have to scrutinise many aspects, including within the framework by the Chemical Weapons Convention and that includes an internal investigation, with OPCW assistance, of facts from the JIM report.

Considering that the JIM’s fourth report will be discussed at the UN Security Council on October 27, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the JIM’s conclusions carry no legal weight and cannot be used for passing guilty verdicts or for taking legally binding decisions. We also reject any attempt to use JIM’s conclusions to feed the desire of some pseudo-friends of Syria to take political and geopolitical advantage of the situation.


Petition by 80 NGOs to drop Russia from the UN Human Rights Council


We see a growing number of participants joining yet another anti-Russia campaign that has been launched by certain countries. This campaign is being held in the media and also humanitarian agencies. We see this campaign growing: some 80 human rights and aid groups and NGOs have urged the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to deprive Russia of its seat on the council over its activities in Syria. Their letter has an intriguing title: “UN: Russia’s Role in Syria Raises Questions About Bid for Human Rights Council.” The text is available online.

Few people remember that several years ago a group of such organisations, including some NGOs that have signed this letter, signed a completely different document. It was entitled “Civil Society: UN General Assembly should suspend Libya’s UN Human Rights Council membership.” The letter was initiated by the Libyan League for Human Rights, the leader of which recently admitted in a documentary by Julien Teil, “Lies Behind the ‘Humanitarian War’ in Libya,” that their arguments were based on unreliable and unverified data, which we saw very well later, and that these NGOs were “acquainted with each other,” which means that they were accountable to the same umbrella organisation.

Have any of the NGOs that signed their letter on Libya several years ago, a letter that actually catalysed decisions that resulted in the Libyan tragedy, been called to account? Perhaps they have publicly admitted their guilt and dissolved after seeing the horror they were involved in? Not at all.

Every conflict begins with an information campaign launched in the media, followed by an outcry from NGOs, which write letters which people believe simply because these are non-governmental groups. And ultimately, binding decisions are initiated based on these data. I am just showing you how it works. Today, 80 NGOs have spoken up on the issue of Syria. There were 70 NGOs in the case of Libya. You can find which NGOs these were and see that they are continuing to operate and are generally very well off. But the most important thing is to look up their financial sponsors. Do this, and everything will become clear to you.


The list of war crimes committed by the US and its allies in Syria


To wrap up the Syrian issue, I would like to mention that we are constantly hearing allegations of Russia failing to deliver on its commitments under the Russia-US agreements and the Syria peace plan, and sometimes these claims are made publicly. We face allegations of failing to carry out our obligations, infringing on them, etc.

In order to put an end to all those allegations, the Russian Federation has decided to circulate in the UN Security Council, in the UN headquarters in New York, as well the UN Office in Geneva, and in other UN bodies and agencies, an official document that sets forth all the relevant facts showing that Russia has fully implemented its obligations under the Russia-US agreements, while the US has not. This document contains facts, dates and figures, and is quite voluminous. It has been already circulated in Geneva by the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Geneva Office, and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York will do the same today.

Let me point out that we have time and again raised the issue of using photographs and other visual material as evidence of what is happening in Syria. We see how our US colleagues and US media use these materials. We note that while using materials that were prepared in advance, fabricated and orchestrated, huge volumes of information provided by the Russian Federation are disregarded, despite the fact that they are publicly available, including on the social media that the US and other partners refer to so often.

Today, I would like to draw your attention to a selection of images portraying the initiatives by the US-led coalition that resulted in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Syria. These materials also tell the story of the actions and crimes committed by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which also resulted in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

I would like to comment these images. On July 29, 2015, the air forces of the US-led coalition carried out a strike against El-Gandura, a village 23 kilometres from the Syrian city of Manbij. It was civilians who suffered from the attack. The strike left 77 people dead and destroyed several buildings.

On February 15, 2016, the US-led coalition carried out an air strike against a Doctors without Borders hospital near Maarrat al-Nu’man, leaving seven people dead and more than 10 people wounded.

On July 19, 2016, 125 civilians were killed and several buildings were destroyed in Tawhar village to the north of Manbij (Aleppo province) in an airstrike by the US-led coalition.

At 5 pm on September 17, 2016, two F-16 bombers, two А-10 fighter jets and a combat UAV of the US-led coalition conducted air strikes against Syrian government troops six kilometres to the south of Deir ez-Zor, killing 62 people, and leaving more than 100 Syrian army personnel wounded. In addition, ISIS fighters occupied Tharda mountains, a strategic point.

Here you can see the Temple of Bel before the explosion and how it looks now.

Let us move on to images showing crimes committed by ISIS and terrorists from other groups. On August 28, 2014, a video was released showing ISIS fighters staging an execution of 250 almost naked men, who were presumably soldiers from the Syrian army. They were surrounded by ISIS flags. The prisoners were taken out in the open and shot in the back one by one. Their bodies were left under the sun to decompose, and the cruel video showing all this was made public.

There is footage in which ISIS fighters shoot children. I would like CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to take note of these images.

On May 24, 2015, more than 400 people, most of them women and children, were killed in the Syrian city of Palmyra by fighters. Islamists accused these people of “entertaining ties with the Syrian government”.

I would like to dedicate the next image to Samantha Power, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, who has recently attended commemorations of Babi Yar. Yes, this tragedy did happen. But why do you fail to see what is happening right now? Why does it take the US mission to the UN so many years to start paying attention what is happening in front of its eyes, why can’t they stop contributing to the atrocities we see in these images?

On September 14, 2016, more than twenty Syrian civilians were accused by fighters of working for foreign intelligence agencies and killed. This happened in Deir ez-Zor, a city in northeast Syria.

This is just a few images that were included into a handbook that will also be distributed at the UN Secretariat in Geneva and New York and among the members of the UN Security Council.


Developments in Iraq


An operation that was launched October 17 in Iraq to expel ISIS terrorists from the city of Mosul continues. During the first ten days, Iraqi forces retook an area of about 800 square kilometres and dozens of communities near Mosul. In some areas, advance elements of the Iraqi Army, supported by units of the people’s militia and Kurdish self-defence units, reached the city. Strike aircraft and artillery systems, including those of Baghdad’s allies from the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, are being used in the operation.

At the same time ISIS militants have staged diversionary operations in other Iraqi cities, including Kirkuk (260 kilometres north of Baghdad) and Ar-Rutbah (425 kilometres west of Baghdad). Iraqi forces thwarted both attacks.

People in Mosul continue to flee the city. ISIS militants are hampering this process in every possible way; they are holding civilians hostage as “human shields”. This tactic is widely used in Iraq and Syria. We are receiving reports of the disobedient being massacred, including Iraqi service personnel and Kurdish militiamen.

We support the efforts of the Iraqi authorities to reinstate constitutional law and order all over Iraq and to eliminate ISIS, the hotbed of international terrorism.

At the same time, we are noting with increased concern the further degradation of the humanitarian situation as a result of the mass exodus of civilians from Mosul and its environs. These civilians are trying to escape reprisal on the part of extremists and the air strikes of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. In this connection, we are urging participants to do everything possible to prevent the suffering of Iraqi civilians who are already tired of violence and terrorism in their own country. It is common knowledge that such violence and terrorism are the direct consequence of foreign military involvement in Iraq.


Rising civilian casualties during hostilities in Afghanistan


We are becoming increasingly concerned about the increasing civilian casualties during the continuing hostilities in Afghanistan. We have noted the regular report of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that mentions civilian casualties in Afghanistan as a result of hostilities during the first nine months of 2016.

During that period, UNAMA experts have recorded 8,397 civilian casualties, including 2,562 killed and 5,835 wounded. I would like to repeat that, when CNN journalists take a photo of a child and use it for show, why then, don’t they take photos of the 2,562 people killed on a territory for which the leaders of their states were responsible?

We are particularly worried about child mortality levels that continue to increase, and we have been talking about this for some time. We have been posting this since 2013. In all, 639 children were killed and 1,822 wounded over the nine months of 2016. This is 15 per cent more than the same period in 2015. Neither Al Jazeera nor The Independent nor CNN care about this. They don’t care, and they are simply fulfilling the current, October 2016, political order.

We have also noted the fact that 1,897 civilians (23 per cent of total casualties) have been wounded as a result of operations involving government forces and those of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan supporting the former. This is 42 per cent more on 2015. The substantial casualties can largely be explained by the fact that most armed clashes take place in residential areas, and that they also involve air strikes.

We urge the warring parties in Afghanistan, primarily the leaders of the Taliban movement, to renounce violence and to take the necessary actions to launch the real process of national reconciliation as soon as possible.


Terror attack in Quetta, Pakistan


In the early hours of October 25, 2016, a group of terrorists stormed a police college in Quetta, Pakistan, killing 60 and injuring at least 120. The majority of victims were cadets of the college. The Pakistani authorities said that the Lashker-e-Jhangvi Islamist group was behind the attack.

We extend our condolences to the victims’ families and wish a speedy recovery to those injured in the incident.

We condemn the barbaric actions of the terrorists, which cannot be justified. We hope the organisers and perpetrators of this crime will be exposed and punished.

We are confident that this incident will contribute to the Pakistani authorities’ determination to continue its uncompromising fight against terrorism and religious extremism. Russia will in turn provide practical assistance to the Pakistani Government’s counter-terrorist efforts.


Situation in Venezuela


There are further complications in the internal political situation in Venezuela. The National Assembly, in opposition to the government, has scheduled hearings to consider the “political responsibility” of President Nicolas Maduro. The decision came after the National Electoral Council chose to continue collecting signatures in support of a referendum to terminate the current president’s authority. Tensions are increasing in uncompromising rally confrontations, which may result in a loss of control over the situation.

We’d like to reaffirm our opinion that the solution to the domestic political crisis in Venezuela, as in any other country, should be solely based on respect for national law and above all the Constitution.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other senior officials in the Ministry have recently had a number of meetings and contacts with their Latin American colleagues. As a result, we must say that nobody in the region is interested in escalating the confrontation, with full understanding of the serious consequences such destabilisation may have for Venezuela, its neighbours and all of Latin America.

The Venezuelan people should sort out their problems themselves, through dialogue, while external powers should help them do so without playing into anybody’s hands or flaring up one of the sides and accusing the other, whatever the excuse. In this connection, we welcome the Vatican’s commitment to facilitating negotiations between the Government and the opposition in order to launch a national dialogue in the interest of resolving the differences within the constitutional framework.


Approval of the UN General Assembly resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”


We welcome the approval by the UN General Assembly on October 26 of the resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The results of the voting were unprecedented: 191 out of 193 countries supported the resolution, with the US and Israel abstaining rather than voting against it for the first time in 25 years. It’s important to understand the cosmic nature of this vote. To reiterate: the United States abstained as the General Assembly was taking a vote on a resolution regarding the necessity of ending the economic blockade it had imposed on Cuba. It is a very interesting precedent for international lawyers.

We regard these results as an expression of the international community’s joint and unanimous striving for an immediate abolition of this notorious relic of the Cold War and a sign of rejection of the counterproductive, illegal practice of using unilateral sanctions as a means of pressure and of imposing one’s will on others.

I would like to remind you that Russia has consistently abided by its principled policy. We are resolutely in favour of a full-scale abolition of the blockade as an anachronism, contradicting the requirements of modernity. In so doing, we are guided by the fundamental principles of the UN Charter on the inadmissibility of any discriminatory measures or interference in the internal affairs of states.

We hope that the Administration and the US Congress will at last take to heart this clearly expressed joint international appeal and will take measures dictated by the realities for an early lifting of the anti-Cuban embargo, including in following the logic of the process of normalising relations between Havana and Washington.


The 25th anniversary of the institution of non-citizenship in Latvia


October marks the 25th anniversary of the shameful institution, unprecedented for modern Europe, of “non-citizenship” created by the “independent and democratic” Latvia.

Riga’s 25-year-old ethnocratic experiment has turned hundreds of thousands of people into outcasts in the state where they were born and live.

Currently over 11 per cent of the population, or about 250,000 residents of that country, are still deprived of a number of fundamental political – including electoral – and socioeconomic rights. I must point out that a similar situation is characteristic of neighbouring Estonia, where over 80,000 have the humiliating status of “non-citizens”.

We once again call on the world community, including international NGOs, to focus on the unfortunate state of affairs in human rights in these Baltic countries and to move this issue out of deadlock by inducing Riga and Tallinn to comply with their international commitments and to take concrete measures towards complete eradication of mass-scale non-citizenship. 


Estonia unveils a bronze bust of former Waffen-SS legionnaire Harald Nugiseks


On October 22, Estonia added yet another ignoble episode to the series of its initiatives to glorify Nazism. A school in Laupa, central Estonia, hosted a ceremony to unveil a bronze bust of former Waffen-SS legionnaire Harald Nugiseks. The ceremony participants stressed that by perpetuating the memory of this “hero” they intend to bolster patriotism and love for the homeland among students.

Bear in mind that Harald Nugiseks is known for receiving the Knight’s Cross in 1944 for this exploits in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS in Estonia. This military honour was awarded to only 43 non-Germans who fought on the side of Nazi Germany. I wanted to mention this so that you understand the importance of what is happening.

Harald Nugiseks, whom the former Estonian Defence Minister and current Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu called a “legendary Estonian soldier”, was buried with military honours in 2014. Prominent politicians and public figures attended the ceremony. School students stood guard by the coffin, and displays of Nazi military awards were placed near the flag of the Republic of Estonia. You can still watch footage from that ceremony, but it takes some nerve to do that.

In this regard, we would like to call on the relevant human rights organisations, as well as the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe secretariats to assess this outrageous fact. Did you see what happened? Or didn’t you receive any images from the ceremony? We can submit them to you once again.

Events glorifying Nazi criminals of the past prove once again the relevance and timeliness of Russia’s efforts put forward at every UN General Assembly session a draft resolution “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly’s 71st Session will launch a discussion of this draft resolution in just a few days.


The dismantlement of a monument to Soviet soldiers and a memorial plaque to Sergeant Karim Sultanov in Goleniow, Poland


 We are outraged by the ongoing campaign in Poland to dismantle monuments to Soviet soldiers who liberated Europe during the Second World War. White has turned black, black is turning white. This time, the monuments that have fallen victim to lawless deeds by the authorities in defiance of Poland’s international commitments are a monument to Soviet soldiers and a memorial plaque immortalising the combat feat of Karim Sultanov, who silenced a fascist machine-gun by throwing himself against the embrasure. 

This is further evidence of Warsaw’s total neglect of the norms of behaviour accepted in a civilised society, let alone violations of international commitments, something we repeatedly pointed to on numerous other occasions.

In short, acts of desecration against Russian history and against monuments to our common history are continuing in Poland. And this is certainly outrageous.


A visit to Moscow by Chair of Poland’s Kursk military-patriotic society Jerzy Tyc  


From October 30 to November 2, Chair of Poland’s Kursk military-patriotic society Jerzy Tyc will be visiting Moscow at the invitation of the Combat Brotherhood all-Russian veterans’ public association. As you may remember, we have even had public dialogues with him. He won’t come alone, but will be accompanied by three of his fellow members. I would like to remind you that the above-mentioned society, headed by Polish citizens, mainly deals with the restoration and proper maintenance of Soviet war burial sites and monuments.

There will be a number of events in Moscow and the Moscow Region on his visit’s schedule. The programme will start off in the Solnechnogorsk district of the Moscow Region on Sunday, October 30, with a visit to the Solnechnogorsk Local History Museum.

On October 31, our Polish colleagues will meet with Executive Director of the Russian Military History Society Vladislav Kononov at the headquarters of that all-Russian public organisation.

The main highlight of the day will be a roundtable meeting at the Russian Civil Chamber, attended by representatives of the Kursk society and Russian veterans’ movements. The topic is “Resisting Attempts to Falsify History. International Experience, Immortalising the Memory of World War II Heroes”.

We will send out materials through our Foreign Ministry channels so that journalists can get accreditation to cover that part of the programme.

I have also received a request from Jerzy Tyc for a meeting, which was publicly announced. The meeting will take place, and you will learn about it.  


Detention of Russian citizen in the Philippines


Prior to this briefing, we received a question from TV Dozhd (TV Rain) asking us to comment on a Russian citizen’s detention in the Philippines.

On October 5, Russian citizen Yu. Kirdyushkin was detained at Manila’s international airport on suspicion of drug trafficking.

Presently, Philippine law-enforcement authorities are continuing the investigation.

The Russian Embassy in Manila has provided the necessary consular support for the detained Russian citizen and is closely cooperating with the local investigators to protect the rights and legitimate interests of this Russian national. We have also established contact with his lawyer and are helping him collect the evidence to defend Mr. Kirdyushkin.

Embassy officials have visited the detainee in the pre-trial detention centre several times.


Answers to media questions:

Question: Today, President Bashar al-Assad of the Syrian Arab Republic issued an executive order to extend the amnesty deadline for three months for armed people who will lay down their weapons and stop fighting. Russia and Syria have extended humanitarian breaks in Aleppo many times. But the West and their regional allies continue to bemoan the humanitarian situation in Syria. Can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: Today, we will submit materials proving that the Russian and Syrian parties are honouring the obligations stipulated by Russian-US agreements to members of the UN Security Council.  All these steps, including humanitarian corridors and pauses, are a direct and practical contribution to the peace settlement, to improving the humanitarian situation and the plight of the suffering people. You know perfectly well what we see from the other side. We are urging, holding talks, citing facts and statistics.

It is pointless to say that this is all double standards. Today, such a concept as double standards with regard to Syria no longer exists. We are witnessing an attempt to directly assist militants and terrorists. As we understand it, this is being done to move towards a regime change one way or another. But time has already been lost. Stable terrorist groups have emerged during this period, and tremendous casualties have been recorded among civilians.

Here is a philosophical question: Who is luckier in this situation, those who have perished or those who are suffering? I cannot answer this question for you. You realise the entire horror of events when they show photos of one murdered child. But you become even more terrified when you realise that all these armless and legless children have a completely ruined mentality, that they have lost their childhood, and that they have no idea what peaceful life looks like. An entire generation of children has grown up in five years. When you realise how many children there might be, even those who managed to escape from this hell and went to Europe and simply disappeared (10,000 children are reported missing), and that they are now being raped, used as human drug containers and who have to work for no pay, then the situation looks even worse. This is what it’s all about.

Question: Can you comment on statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkish forces will advance on Syria’s Raqqa and Manbij?

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly commented on this. Our military experts have also analysed this, and I therefore don’t want to return to the issue.

Question: Russia is heading the UN Security Council this month. Iraq is pushing to convene an extraordinary Security Council meeting in connection with the Turkish military presence in its territory and Turkey’s interference in its internal affairs. Will Russia support the Iraqi initiative?

Maria Zakharova: The issue of convening a UN Security Council meeting on any topic is addressed under the UN Charter and in accordance with the Council’s own rules, procedures and practices. So far, according to available information, no steps that conform to the parameters that would compel the UN Security Council to review relations between Baghdad and Ankara have been taken.

As you may know, there are procedures and mechanisms that can be legally used to have this issue, like any other, placed on the UN Security Council’s agenda in keeping with the rules.

Question: In his recent televised interview, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan advanced an initiative to consider the possibility of giving Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous republic status, provided the sides to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict come to terms. How, in your opinion, could this initiative influence a settlement?

Maria Zakharova: The key phrase in this sentence is “provided the sides come to terms.” So, the sides must come to terms in the first place.

Question: We learned yesterday that the Northern Fleet’s ships couldn’t dock in Ceuta, Spain. Can you comment? Will this decision affect relations between Spain and Russia in the future?

Maria Zakharova: The Russian Ministry of Defence has commented on this situation. I have nothing to add. All routes, port calls and refueling fall within their purview.

Question: The foreign ministers of Iran and Syria, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Walid Muallem, will arrive in Moscow tomorrow. What main topics and meetings have been planned for the three ministers?

Maria Zakharova: Let me say it again: Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem will pay a working visit to Russia at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The ministers will consider the bilateral agenda and the situation in Syria in the context of progress towards a peaceful settlement.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif will also arrive on October 28 and Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him. I have already commented on the agenda of these discussions.

Taking advantage of the fact that the two foreign ministers will be in Moscow at the same time, a trilateral meeting will be held, since Iran, Russia and Syria are directly involved in Syrian settlement.

Question: You said the international coalition in Syria has a destabilising impact and plays a destructive role in advancing the political process in the country. How will Turkey’s actions be seen in this situation, when, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, about 150,000 sq km have already been occupied?

Maria Zakharova: We have a global vision of steps on a Syrian settlement and the fight against terrorism, for example, in Iraq. First, they should be taken in keeping with international law and comply with internationally recognised norms. There should be either a UN Security Council resolution (and we understand that there is none) or it must be approved directly in contact with Damascus or Baghdad. We understand that a number of countries conducting this counterterrorist fight are in contact with Baghdad but not with Damascus. From our perspective, this is, of course, an act of noncompliance with international law.

Second, the objectives should be absolutely unambiguous and clear-cut. If an antiterrorist campaign is declared, then precisely this activity should be conducted in coordination and cooperation with corresponding official capitals – definitely not any other activity, let alone activity that will further destabilise the situation.

Question: Could you comment on media reports that a Russian-language private school in Latvia had its license revoked over its representatives’ purported participation in the Immortal Regiment event?

Maria Zakharova: I’ve seen these reports. There can be no other reaction than indignation and incomprehension of the lack of a reaction from the relevant agencies, including international agencies. The trend to exert pressure on the language education sphere in the name of creating an obedient society and eradicating dissent in Latvia is acquiring sophisticated forms. It is unacceptable for children to fall victim to the fight against historical memory that is already gaining momentum in Riga.

We believe that this is an outrageous incident, which should become an object of close attention on the part of relevant international organisations and human rights institutions, because this is further evidence of the systematic violation of the country’s linguistic minorities’ rights.

Question: This week, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs went to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, meeting with the presidents and foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia. A preliminary agreement was reached for the presidents to meet next year. After half a year of fighting, to what extent, in the Foreign Ministry’s opinion, has the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process been steered back into a diplomatic course and to what extent has the danger of the resumption of hostilities been eliminated?

Maria Zakharova: No use of force can be conducive to a peaceful settlement. This applies to the Nagorno-Karabakh situation and in principle to the theory and practice of international relations and political and diplomatic settlement.

Question: Ukraine has protested President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Crimea. How, in your opinion, can such escapades on the part of Ukraine be terminated forever?

Maria Zakharova: As a diplomat, it is very difficult for me to answer this question so that my answer would not be at odds with professional ethics. The Kremlin has already commented on this situation and I have nothing to add.

Question: Could you comment on the prospects for the disengagement of forces in Donbass and the Foreign Ministry’s position on the introduction of a “police mission” there. Could an “armed mission” in Donbass play a destructive role?

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for this question, which is the last one today. There has been a lot of misunderstanding, based, among other things, on phony news stories that are bought and paid for by Ukraine. Everything has been mixed up. Few people can make sense of this issue.

I would like to set the record straight and provide not simply our interpretation but also our vision of the issue. I understand that Kiev will insist on its own interpretation and its own vision of the situation. The statements by Ukrainian politicians about some agreement on the deployment of an “armed police mission” in Donbass simply do not correspond to reality.

What is involved is the organisation of intensive round-the-clock monitoring of the disengagement of the sides’ forces and equipment on the line of contact by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. This was the point of the Normandy format summit in Berlin on October 19. You all know about that.

The disengagement of the sides in Donbass is based on the Contact Group’s Framework Decision of September 21. As of today, the disengagement has taken place at Zolotoye and Petrovskoye. We hope that it will soon take place also in Stanitsa Lugansksya and then in new areas, which, as we hope, will be coordinated by the sides.

This process is being watched by the OSCE SMM, which has been deployed in Ukraine, including Donbass, since March 2014. It is a civilian mission. Its monitors are unarmed. The question of giving them the right to carry department-issued sidearms, notably only in disengagement areas and for self-defence purposes, was discussed at the OSCE this past summer but was not followed up due to a lack of consensus. In the course of the discussion, Russia raised no objections to OSCE monitors being armed with service weapons in disengagement areas.

I very much hope that this will bring clarity to the issues under discussion.

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