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

Thursday, 29 December 2016 19:50

    The year’s foreign policy outcomes
    Developments in Syria
    UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remarks on Syria
    On Bulgarian-made military goods in Syria
    Developments in Mosul
    Developments in Lebanon

 

The year’s foreign policy outcomes

 

Today the official Foreign Ministry website will publish extensive and comprehensive content on the main foreign policy results of the outgoing year. Considering the large format and scale of this material, I will not announce it here, but you will have an opportunity to read it on our department’s official website.

It will be possible to receive a more detailed coverage and ask questions at a special news conference with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which will be held, by tradition, in January 2017 (most likely after the first ten days in January). We will announce accreditation in advance but I already invite you to attend it.

 

Developments in Syria

 

We are pleased to note positive changes in the military-political developments in Syria.

On December 22, Syrian Government troops occupied the districts of east Aleppo, which were controlled by illegal armed units and from which militants were cleared. The Syrian command announced the restoration of security and stability in the city and its full liberation from extremists. We view Aleppo’s liberation from criminal gangs as a major stage on the way to stabilising Syria, while preserving its unity and territorial integrity and preventing the degradation of its state institutions.

Although the militants left many ruins in their wake, left behind weapons and ammunition and mined many buildings and key facilities of the city’s infrastructure, peaceful life in gradually being restored in Aleppo. Russian soldiers are helping the local population to do this. Military engineers from the International Mine Action Centre of the Russian Armed Forces cleared up mines and explosives on several dozen hectares of urban territory. A military police battalion transferred from Russia was immediately deployed in Aleppo. It will carry out various tasks as part of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria. One of its tasks will be to ensure the security of Russian service members, personnel of mobile hospitals and humanitarian convoys.

Celebrating the city’s full liberation, its residents went into the streets of Aleppo. They congratulated one another on the victory. Many people carried Syrian and Russian flags and thanked Russian and Syrian service members. But to use an expression we all know well, this is a holiday with tears in the eyes.

We are learning more and more details about the city’s life under terrorists and extremists. Mass graves containing many dozens of people were discovered in Aleppo. It turns out these people had been tortured and brutally murdered. Regrettably, there are grounds to believe that more terrible discoveries lie ahead. In the near future, Russian soldiers will give the media evidence of war crimes committed by terrorists in Syria, which will receive wide media coverage. We hope that the international community will ultimately give a proper assessment of the mayhem of violence and the bullying of Syrians by bandits and terrorists.

 

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remarks on Syria

 

We have taken note of a very strange statement by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, although at this point perhaps nothing should come as a surprise to us anymore. He said that UN representatives should not be allowed into eastern Aleppo, adding that this is unacceptable. The [Syrian] regime and those who support it should immediately comply with their obligations, and with UN Security Council Resolution 2328, to ensure that all civilians are protected. He went on to say that the Syrian army’s control over Aleppo does not mean a complete victory, as Bashar Assad is extremely dependent on foreign armed groups and Russian air support, and has also caused large-scale destruction in the country, including atrocities, and so on. It was a wide-ranging statement.

I understand very well and am aware of the fact that UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is not a career diplomat. But not to such an extent!

We will not comment on these passages – which, in my view, have already become “antiquated” – to the effect that “Bashar Assad must go.” If Boris Johnson is not aware, only the most rabid opposition, extremists and militants are continuing to talk about that. His colleagues have long changed their vocabulary on the issue.

I would like to set the record straight on humanitarian monitoring in Aleppo, including in the context of the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2328 on the issue. Judging by the statements made by our British colleague, he has no idea whatsoever about what is going on there. However, that is hardly surprising if one is only guided by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Even before the resolution was adopted, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Health Organisation were instrumental in providing direct humanitarian assistance to the people of Aleppo. ICRC personnel also monitored and accompanied the evacuation from eastern Aleppo. At the same time we have repeatedly spoken in favour of UN agencies’ involvement in these efforts. Corresponding agencies became involved in the effort on December 15. As of right now, there are over 100 UN officers, with more than 30 acting directly in the eastern part of the city, which was freed from extremists. More personnel are expected to be sent there. It is strange that Mr Johnson does not know about that, or pretends not to know.

As such, we note that UN Security Council Resolution 2328 is a “suprastructure” to the ongoing work, which is, on the whole, being successfully conducted by international aid agencies.

 

On Bulgarian-made military goods in Syria

 

Our European colleagues regularly attempt to make Russia accountable for inciting the civil war in Syria and for the humanitarian situation. I have just quoted a statement by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. We constantly hear claims and accusations that are devoid of substance, context or any evidence. They take absolutely no trouble to try to search for, collect and analyse any facts. Of course, this is in vain, as once you read the press that, by the way, some of them cite, then many things become clear.

For example, I discovered an article in a central Bulgarian newspaper, Trud, from December 12, which reports about Bulgarian military ammunition found in a rebel munitions depot in one of the liberated districts of Aleppo. And the report is about serious munitions, and in large quantities. In particular, dozens of cases were found containing 122 mm missiles for the Grad multiple missile launcher, 73 mm shells for anti-tank weapons and 40 mm mortars for portable anti-tank mortars. With reference to cover documents, the article names the producing and the exporting companies. Moreover, the Syrian army is reported to have found another eight depots abandoned by the terrorists, with 2 million munitions for heavy machine guns and 4,000 missiles for Bulgarian-made Grad multiple missile launchers.

All the above products are manufactured, as you understand, under expired Soviet licences that were given to Bulgaria. I would like to stress that Russia has been conducting negotiations with Sofia since the late 1990s on signing a bilateral agreement on licensing that would regulate, primarily, the export of military goods to third countries. Regretfully, the Bulgarian side is in no hurry to conclude the agreement. Apparently, the lack of regulation in this area suits some Bulgarian officials perfectly well.

Of course, this is a convenient position: selling to some country that does not use Russian military equipment and armaments, and the Bulgarian producers do not care where the middleman is going to sell their products. The issue is quite different, as this is not a matter of selling safety pins, it is about selling deadly goods that kill, among others, Syrian civilians, whose fate is of such great concern to  the European Union. This discrepancy is confounding. A great many questions arise in this respect. For example, in which other conflict zones could these illegally produced weapons land? As far as I understand, this question does not worry anyone other than us: neither Washington nor Brussels.

This is not the only instance showing that the Western bloc countries, in fact, assist in stoking, extending and inciting the Syrian conflict. This is why I am calling on our Euro-Atlantic critics to speak less and to do more to take up measures on curbing supplies of weapons to terrorists. As to the loss of innocent life our partners are so fond of recalling, why don’t you immediately recall whose weapons kill them all? Here is an example for you. I know that everyone in the European Union nowadays is concerned about the spread of information, propaganda and fake news. Here is a particular article, and those structures can definitely check its credibility, speak with the author, look into the materials and dismiss or confirm it. Will you finally start taking care of business?

 

Developments in Mosul

 

It has been over two months since the operation to liberate Mosul from terrorists began. However, the situation is still far from being resolved. ISIS still controls the western, right bank part of the city, and about 20 per cent of its eastern, left bank part. They also control over half of the Nineveh Governorate, of which Mosul is the administrative centre.

Such state of affairs in no way derogates from the efforts by Iraqi forces, the Iraqi People’s Militia and the Kurdish units, which have done a lot to liberate Iraqi territories from ISIS. We welcome their further steps in this regard, difficult though they may be. We will provide further support to the friendly Iraq. It is important that this spot of international terrorism is exterminated in that long-suffering country.

At the same time, civilians cannot be treated as “collateral damage” in the context of this anti-terrorist operation. The number of victims in the air strikes and shellfire by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition is rapidly increasing.

The humanitarian situation is deteriorating. According to the Iraqi authorities, the number of civilians who fled besieged Mosul has reached 125,000. Their situation remains very serious, they are out in the open. The assistance provided by, among others, UN agencies, is clearly not enough. The forecasts seem even more dismal.

Amid the events in the north of Iraq, our western partners and the mass media they control continue to “smooth over” the representation of the events around Mosul. But concealing the actual state of affairs becomes more and more difficult day by day, given that the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo no longer gives cause to hold the full attention of the western public.

 

Developments in Lebanon

 

We are pleased to note positive developments in Lebanon. Despite the unstable situation in the region, the Lebanese have managed to overcome the more than two-year-long power vacuum crisis. Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s approval of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri has become a landmark event on this thorny path. This became possible due to the implementation of a package of agreements between major Lebanese political forces, which had worked out joint compromise solutions aimed at restoring and maintaining the activity of the executive power in Lebanon. As expected, this week Saad Hariri will address the parliament with a governmental statement, aiming to receive a vote of confidence.

Russia adheres to a coherent policy of supporting the Lebanese in their own solutions to the intra-Lebanese issues, developed through a dialogue and solely within the legal framework. We are certain that the efficient work of all state governance bodies will allow Lebanon to look to the future with confidence, counter all of today’s challenges and threats, and support peace and stability on the Lebanese territory.

We also reiterate our commitment to further supporting the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Lebanese Republic.

 

Distortion of Russia’s policy in Yemen by Saudi media

 

A few words about Yemen. Not about the situation in the country but about Russia’s approach to resolving this crisis since our country’s policy in this area is clearly being distorted by the regional media – particularly, in Saudi Arabia.

We are surprised that Asharq Al-Awsat, a very influential and respectable newspaper in the Middle East, published in Great Britain, is unaware of Russia’s stance on Yemen. It has been repeatedly stated by Russian officials at various levels and constantly commented on by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department. Our stance on Yemen has always been principled and consistent. This is where we cannot be criticised. Russia strongly supports the UN efforts to stop the war in Yemen as quickly as possible. We believe there is no military solution to the Yemeni problem. If anybody has such intentions, this is a dead-end track that will sabotage the work of UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to reach a long-term peace and hold the next round of intra-Yemeni talks. Moreover, the situation is threatening Yemen’s integrity as a state. We insist on resuming the political process and restoring Yemen’s statehood. The unsubstantiated accusations of “double standards” put into a headline (I am talking about a particular publication) are nothing but an attempt to shift the responsibility for the consequences of a destructive military operation in Yemen from those who are in fact employing these double standards, on us, a country that is pursuing a very clear and consistent line with regard to Yemen. We are ready to repeat our statements made on November 30 that Russia, as required by UNSC Resolution 2216 mentioned in the article, does not welcome any unilateral action from the parties to the Yemeni conflict, be it establishment of separate government bodies or removal of government institutions from the capital, even more so the termination of international flights to and from Sana’a, which is aggravating the already disastrous humanitarian situation in the country. By assisting the UN in finding a solution for Yemen, we, through the Russian ambassador to Yemen, who is currently in Riyadh, are maintaining contact with the legitimate authorities. At the same time, through our temporary charge d’affaires in Sana’a, we interact with those who are in opposition to the legitimate government, that is the Ansar Allah movement and the General People’s Congress party. Frequent meetings with Yemen’s representatives are held in Moscow, as we regularly report.

Perhaps this media outlet does not think it necessary to follow official information from Moscow and would rather rely on some secondary indirect sources. This is not the right practice. We regularly publish our comments after every meeting of the Foreign Minister and deputy foreign ministers. Russia’s unique opportunities are in demand and are welcome by all Yemeni people to return peace as soon as possible, and by no means obstruct the efforts to resolve the crisis by political means, which is claimed by the article’s author in a very biased and unjustified manner. This does not stand up to criticism. I don’t even think it is worth commenting on the absurd claim that Russia is allegedly using the events in Yemen to its advantage to pursue its own geopolitical goals and as leverage to fulfil its ambitions in the Syrian problem. I have stated our principled approach. We will continue to inform you on our efforts to resolve the crisis in this country.

 

The UN Security Council vote of December 23 on the draft resolution for further sanctions against the Republic of South Sudan

 

On December 23, the draft UN Security Council resolution proposed by the United States delegation, which demanded an arms embargo and extended targeted sanctions against South Sudan, failed to receive the nine votes necessary to adopt it, as stipulated by the UN Charter. Eight Council members – Russia, China, Malaysia, Venezuela, Japan and all African representatives, i.e., Angola, Egypt and Senegal – abstained from voting on the document, which might seriously undermine the prospects of a peaceful settlement of the South Sudanese conflict, if approved.

The authors of the draft obstinately turned a blind eye on the recent progress of the South Sudanese settlement, particularly the national dialogue launched by President Salva Kiir and Juba’s accord to deploy regional defence forces in the country. They ignored the opinion of regional forces, mainly members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose leaders spoke out against more UNSC restrictions of South Sudan at their summit of December 9. Their opinion was also shrugged off by the authors of the draft, as well as the legal concern of countries that send peacekeeping contingents to South Sudan and are justifiably wary of the negative impact of the proposed sanctions on the host party with the blue helmets.

All that did not stop our American colleagues, who knew from the start that their draft would not score the necessary number of votes but tried to get it through the UNSC nevertheless. It’s no surprise, then, that their action was stopped by the Council majority. In this connection, we would like to express satisfaction with the responsible position of the Council members who did not approve the dubious and counterproductive document.

We, on our part, would like again to underscore that there is no alternative to a political settlement of South Sudanese problems, and the necessity of an urgent resumption of full-fledged dialogue between the government and the armed opposition to stabilise the situation in the country and bring it back to normal as soon as possible.

 

The developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

The complicated domestic situation persists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the issue of the presidential elections has not been settled. Oppositionists crop up sporadically in some cities to demand the incumbent president’s resignation. According to official reports, nine people died, including a police officer, and 275 demonstrators were detained during the December 20–21 clashes with police.

At the same time, some signs  of stabilisation have become visible over the last few days. The dialogue between the authorities and certain opposition forces resumed in Kinshasa on December 21, mediated by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo. Government institutions, public transport and retail trade are being conducted normally in the country’s capital.

We are monitoring Congolese developments closely, as before, and will keep you informed about them.

 

Release of Russian sailors from the Saronic Breeze vessel

 

On December 23, crew members of the Saronic Breeze refrigerator ship, Russian nationals Nikolai Troshchikhin, Alexander Vilms and Nikolai Frolov, who were captured by pirates on November 30 to the south of the coast of Benin, safely returned home.

We would like to express our gratitude to all those assisting and participating in their release.

 

Trilateral consultations on Afghanistan held in Moscow

 

Moscow recently hosted the third round of trilateral consultations on regional issues involving envoys for Afghanistan and senior officials of Russia, China and Pakistan. The participants also met with Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.

The parties noted the deterioration of security in Afghanistan and expressed particular concern over the increasing activity of extremist groups in the country, including the Afghan wing of ISIS.

The participants agreed to continue taking efforts to further promote the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan, under the leadership of Afghans themselves, and maintaining the known principles of the armed opposition’s integration into civilian life. The Russian federation and the People’s Republic of China, as permanent UN Security Council members, reaffirmed their readiness to take a flexible approach to exempting certain persons from sanctions lists in the efforts to establish a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban Movement.

The parties agreed to continue consultations in an expanded format, and would welcome the participation of Afghanistan in this regard.

 

Situation in Ukraine

 

Unfortunately, the outgoing year was virtually wasted in terms of resolving the Ukrainian crisis. The Ukrainian authorities are mainly responsible for this as they continue talking about the need to consolidate society, to reunite the country, and do nothing in practice to overcome the current split, avoiding direct dialogue with their compatriots in Donbass as well as ignoring people’s suffering caused by the region’s isolation introduced by Kiev. Judging by the latest events in the country’s southeast involving fierce armed clashes near Debaltsevo last week, the Ukrainian “party of war” is trying again to take the upper hand, to distract the population from the problems they are facing, and of course, the blame for the tragic consequences of these misguided actions has been put on Russia.

This totally immoral policy fails to surprise anybody in our country, and it no longer surprises many abroad too. We are talking about European politicians and Kiev’s American partners who have clearly expressed their perplexity, to put it mildly, about Kiev’s actions. Sadly, this behaviour, actions and steps have become normal for many officials in the Ukrainian government. We are completely taken aback by the wild jeering concerning tragic events in our country. We are talking about Ukrainian officials and public figures, who have a good tandem on these issues. Unfortunately, we cannot see any unity from them on other more important issues, but when something tragic happens, in Russia for example, part of society gets consolidated. And then we witness their civic stance, sharp wit and various artistic talents. How crazy this is.

For example, some politicians in Kiev have made an absolutely immoral comment about the murder of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara. The entire civilized world, I mean officials, heads of state, foreign ministers, public figures, most of the media, nearly all, except extremists, terrorists or ISIS members, expressed their condolences. One of the most important messages was made by the UN Security Council president. However, Ukraine, which has declared itself part of the civilised world seeking to civilise itself even more, failed to find any official who would publicly express a few words of condolences. Let me say this again, even official representatives in the countries that do not share Russia’s position on many issues said Andrey Karlov was an outstanding diplomat. But Ukrainian officials did not utter a single word. Moreover, their officials asked us whether we understood why they refused to express condolences to Russia on such occasions. We do understand why. The current authorities in Kiev rely on extremists and nationalists. You are simply afraid to express condolences. We know many officials in Kiev with whom we met at the negotiating table. We know they have a good command of the diplomatic etiquette. But they are afraid that the nationalism and extremism that form the basis of their government would simply sweep them off and never forgive them for their sympathetic statements. This is a very dangerous trend (and we have discussed it at length) to comply with this extremist beast at all times, feeding it this motivation. We know only too well what these nationalist beasts grow into. I am talking about a situation when they are aware of their power or of the authorities’ weakness and encouragement.

Instead of condolences over the murder of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Turkey, Kiev either rushed to justify the culprits and make heroes out of them, or engaged into some absurd speculations. I have an impression that instead of implementing the Minsk Agreements and their direct social  commitments to the people of their country, particularly residents of Donbass, instead of looking for solutions to the many years’ crisis (we have been witnessing only its active phase in the past three years, but it had been building up for a long time!), I have an impression that the whole Kiev officialdom is concerned about the problem of Russian hawthorn.

 

Ukraine – arbitration claim under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

 

On December 22, the tribunal was formed according to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to consider Ukraine’s arbitration claim for the sea waters adjoining the Crimean Peninsula.

The tribunal includes Judge of the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Vladimir Golitsyn appointed by Russia, Vaughan Lowe (UK) appointed by Ukraine, and judges of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Boualem Bouguetaia (Algeria), Alonso Gomez-Robledo (Mexico) and Jin-Hyun Paik (South Korea) appointed by the Deputy Chairman of the Tribunal under the 1982 Convention. Jin-Hyun Paik is the President of the tribunal.

In response to Ukraine’s claim, the Russian Federation says it is a responsible participant in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has been meeting its international law obligations in the sea areas adjoining its coast, including the Crimean Peninsula.

Its participation in the tribunal formation has no impact on the Russian Federation’s positions regarding any aspects of this case.

 

A bill on protection of and state support for the Russian language in Ukraine

 

Yesterday, a bill was registered in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on the protection of and state support for the Russian language. Information about this was published on the Ukrainian parliament’s official website. Though this is, undoubtedly, an internal matter for Ukraine, it has an international dimension in accordance with obligations with regard to honouring human rights, assumed by that country in relevant international organisations.

We welcome this initiative by people’s deputies from the Opposition Bloc. Given the illegal pressure on the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and the closure of Russian cultural centres, the fact that the bill has been registered is a very important and timely move. The document contains clauses that will make it possible to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population at the state level. You can read this document on the Ukrainian parliament’s official website.

The bill describes initiatives such as the introduction of quotas on the Ukrainian radio as an infringement on the rights of Russian-speaking citizens and a violation of Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution. The bill obliges executive authorities to prevent harassments against the Russian language.

The Russian language should be used in such areas as education, culture and state administration without any restrictions.

I would like to note that voices calling for normalising ties with Russia are becoming louder in Ukraine. Dozens of people’s deputies and public figures have urged the revival of trade, economic and cultural ties between our countries.       

 

Circulation by terrorists of a “hit list of Russian diplomatic missions”

 

We have received a lot of questions from the media regarding the so-called “hit lists of Russian diplomatic missions” that have been circulated by terrorists and have been publicised by the media without proper commentary and with direct coverage of the demands, appeals and terrorist ideologies contained in them. Doubtless, such actions are beyond the law as they directly encourage and disseminate terrorist ideology. On the other hand, this is yet further evidence of the extremely high terror threat level and of the fact that the terrorists have long forgotten any notions of law, morals and basic humanity.

The emergence of the lists was a sensation. We have been approached and asked what we think about it and how we can comment on all that. It must be understood that if there are those who kill tens of thousands of civilians, including women and children, without spreading any lists and without asking anyone, what would they care about diplomats and diplomatic missions? Any subtleties of international law mean nothing at all for the terrorists’ ideology, they will stop at nothing. The question is solely in how we are going to respond to it. For our part, I mean the media and public opinion more than the foreign office. Such information assaults are definitely targeting public opinion, and it is also a provocation for society, for people of a certain mindset, as well as an incentive for them to take up certain activities.

The threats to our embassies are an apparent sign of political impotence, of course, of ideological bankruptcy of the characters who have lost their human identity. We see them being defeated in one conflict zone after another, and this is why, failing to win face-to-face, they are starting to shoot in the back.

We understand that under such conditions, we have to be better protected, including better protection for our diplomatic missions and diplomats. Certainly, a great deal depends on the Russian side, but the role of the host states is also very important, in fact, it is paramount according to international law. I would like to stress that professionalism of respective agencies and effective, honest partnership are required here. Unfortunately, we sometimes lack both.

These “hit lists” appeared on the internet not just in the name of terrorist ideologues. Some “respected” western media outlets do not just publish them without proper commentaries, they relish them. Rather than analysing them from the point of view of their compliance or non-compliance with their local legislation, they start projecting these scenarios on the future. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are a young democracy, of course, our democratic process is not as old as many democracies in Europe, but under our legislation any mention of a terrorist organisation should include a reference to the fact that the organisation is banned by Russian legislation, with clarifications. This does not affect freedom of speech in any way and has nothing to do with it. But if the UN declares an organisation to be a terrorist one, one should not be shy to say so.

Our foreign colleagues, journalists, unfortunately, do not explain much to the public, they do not accompany those publications by the mandatory and much needed commentaries, explaining who is right and who is to blame, who is a criminal and who is a threat for the whole world. This leads to an absolutely intolerable situation, and western political and public circles get lost in the issues of fighting global terrorism, and confuse the public.

 

Anti-Russia statements

 

Unfortunately, the threats we receive don’t always come from terrorists. This is surprising, and I spoke about this in an interview, but I nevertheless want to say a few words about it at today’s briefing. It will be an update with quotations. Before that, I spoke broadly and quoted from memory. Today I will provide the exact quotations about the threats we received this year not from terrorists but mostly from our civilised colleagues and officials from many countries.

Out colleagues said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting on September 27, 2015 that countermeasures will be found to our military victories, that the forces we are fighting on the ground may get hold of new shoulder-fired manpads with which they will be able to down our helicopters. It was not the moderate opposition but our “civilised” partners who said this. “We have been asked to give you, Russians, a very tough signal. It will be very difficult to keep back the fury of the people and the controlled opposition, a fury that has been provoked by your actions.” This was said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 30, 2015, during talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his “civilised” colleagues. “Be informed that this will face Russia with yet another new wave of jihadism,” they said.

To clarify, let me reiterate that I am quoting official representatives of Western countries.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said on October 8, 2015: “This will have consequences for Russia itself… in coming days the Russians will begin to suffer casualties in Syria.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and CIA Director John Brennan voiced increasingly tough views in White House meetings, calling for new measures to “inflict real pain on the Russians”.

State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said on September 29, 2016: “Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources – even, perhaps, more aircraft… The war will continue. And … more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down.”

On August 8, 2016, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell called for “covertly” killing Russians and Iranians in Syria. He said: “We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price.”

You understand that such statements made by former rather than current officials are designed to influence public opinion and send a clear signal to certain forces in certain countries.

Professor Roman Kuzniar, former Foreign Affairs Adviser to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, said on April 21, 2016 about the incident with the USS Donald Cook: “The Russian aircraft could have been shot at. It’s a pity the Americans did not do it.” This is a clear call to action, and it’s clear where this action would lead.

Another of our “civilised” European colleagues, head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag Volker Kauder called for holding demonstrations against the Russian policy in Syria. He said he cannot understand why demonstrations are not held at the Russian embassy in Berlin against Russia’s intervention in support of Bashar al-Assad. What is this if not a direct call to those who later did what he had recommended? They acted differently, shooting at Russian embassies in some cities, holding demonstrations that disrupted public order and threatened the safety of Russian offices in other cities. And then a Russian ambassador was killed.

Similar calls were made in October 2016 by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. He described Russia’s actions in Syria as incommensurate horror. You probably remember him saying that he would like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy, and two or three weeks later such protests were held, and these were very generously funded and well-orchestrated protest actions, not some weak demonstration with two or three posters. Where did the protesters find the money? Who paid for their protests? Who called them to Russian embassies? Who fuelled this hatred, which eventually led to the assassination of a Russian ambassador? All of this was done by the “civilised”.

Of course, US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power holds the pride of place in this anti-Russia campaign. She has been openly spreading lies at the UN Security Council, which is a very special place for international law and history.

There are also voices that are not very loud, even if they tried hard. I am referring to our Baltic colleagues. Former Defence Minister of Lithuania Rasa Jukneviciene said that Russia would draw benefits from the murder of Andrey Karlov “first, by using it to prove that they are also fighting terrorism, second, by expecting that this will stop protests over the Aleppo atrocities, and third, by continuing to sow chaos, anxiety and fear.”  Zygimantas Pavilionis, former Lithuanian Ambassador to the US and currently a member of a nationalist-oriented party, spoke in the same vein. According to him, Russia will use Karlov’s murder to try to split the alliance. Are you in your right mind? “The Kremlin needs this to sweet-talk the Trump administration.” I cannot imagine a more plain admission of one’s mental illness. They don’t seem to understand that by saying this they expose their diagnoses, which are best kept secret. Mr Pavilionis also added that “Kremlin’s connection to Islamists is a fact.” He said this so that the world would find out about him.

This deliberate anti-Russia propaganda, which was conducted for a long time at various levels, has resulted in the murder of a Russian ambassador. The blame is on all those who contribute to this propaganda campaign.

 

Alleged Russian cyberattacks

 

An unprecedented anti-Russia campaign has been recently launched at the prompting of the outgoing US administration.

The biggest accusation is that Russia allegedly launched cyberattacks at the US information space with a view to interfering in US internal affairs, in particular, the election system. Russia is being presented as a monster that is ready to encroach on the holy of the Western holies – its democratic principles. Of course, these allegations have not been supported by any facts. You probably remember that we appealed to the United States to produce evidence of this at our briefings, in the Foreign Ministry’s comments and in statements made by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and interviews he gave. We asked for at least something, even the smallest facts. We did this publicly and during bilateral talks. You can ask our American colleagues how often Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has asked US Secretary of State John Kerry for this evidence. In response, we heard nothing but another helping of nonsense and accusations. It was an orchestrated campaign; nothing was left to chance.

The current trend in the West is to explain their failures by Russia’s alleged high-tech interference in their internal affairs. The media have branded Russia as a global aggressor and cyberbully. Yet another full-blown anti-Russia campaign is gaining momentum in the West. At the same time, the uproar caused by Edward Snowden is subsiding; he is not recalled and quoted as often as before, and his revelations are all but forgotten. Snowden’s accusations were backed with undeniable facts and exposed the US activities to create a global cyber-spying and cyberattack system, going as far as to tap telephones all over the world, including the leaders of allied states, which undermined the fundamental Western principle – the right to privacy. They are trying to hush this up.

The story about the alleged Russian hackers is an attempt to counterbalance the revelations made by Edward Snowden and other employees of US companies who are connected with cyberspace and real exposures. A few years ago, everyone was talking about them, and investigations were launched into the US cyber policies. Nobody is talking about this now. There is only one country that is involved in cyberattacks, but there is no proof of its alleged crime. Instead of begging for forgiveness and stopping its doings in the global information space, Washington and its partners are working hard to shift the blame on Russia. In fact, they are nurturing a specific image of Russia and the belief that it is guilty of the crimes they themselves have committed.

There is one more vital aspect of this anti-Russia hacking campaign – doublespeak, when the Russian media’s highly professional work is presented as cyber-interference in the Western information space. Everything is thrown in – cyberattacks, hackers and the Russian media – to create a negative image of our journalists. The purpose of all these actions is to prevent the public from getting access to full and reliable information.

 

Excerpts from answers to media questions:

Question: What are the prospects of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in 2017? What steps is Moscow planning to take in this regard?

Maria Zakharova: We continue dealing with this issue as a co-chair of the Minsk Group. We will do everything to intensify the normalisation process. As for the schedule, we will tell you about it as we receive relevant information.

Question: Before asking a question, I would like to say that the tragedy of the Russian plane crash caused pain in the hearts of millions of people all over the world – there were our friends, colleagues and comrades among the dead. I would like to express sincere condolences to the families and friends of the dead and to all Russian people in connection with this tragedy.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by telephone with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. There were many reports about preparations for a meeting in Astana. Are there any details on this score?

Maria Zakharova: I have seen many reports that contain inaccurate information. I don’t think this is done on purpose. Some people simply do not understand what this process is about. First, this is a planned meeting. In other words, work is in progress on its date, format and participants. Second, this meeting will by no means replace the Geneva process. This is a different venue, different format and different goals that will be specified. Naturally, the main goal remains the same – peace settlement in Syria. The meeting in Astana will be slightly different. Right now this is all work in progress. It would be wrong to say that much will be achieved in the next few days or weeks because this will require time. All experts believe that this will take place in the medium term. This process cannot be put into the pending tray. That is all I can tell you at present.

Question: In early December three pro-Russian political writers were detained in Belarus. One of them is our author Yury Pavlovets. Another one is Sergey Sheptenko and I don’t know the name of the third one. They are accused of fanning strife whereas in their articles they called for rapprochement with Russia and warned the leaders of Belarus from flirting with Belarusian nationalism and moving towards the West following Ukraine’s example. They have been arrested and are still behind bars. I would like to find out the Foreign Ministry’s position on this issue because Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov has made only a vague statement about them, saying that they are Belarusian citizens and it is up to Belarus what to do about them. Meanwhile, de facto they are our compatriots and I think Russia should pay attention to this problem.

Maria Zakharova: I do not agree that our Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov gave a vague comment on this score. On the contrary, he commented in detail on the detention of Yury Pavlovets, Dmitry Alimkin and Sergey Sheptenko. They did cooperate with Russian publications, for instance, Regnum, and so the ambassador expressed Russia’s view on this issue. I would like to say that we share the ambassador’s opinion that it is inadmissible to use such words as “inferior people” or “inferior state” as regards Belarus and Belarusians. You are saying they warned Belarus against moving to the West and flirting with nationalism. This was your quotation and I cannot comment on it. I must say that words like “inferior people” and “inferior state” are simply taboos for people who influence public opinion because they can fan ethnic strife and xenophobia. They do not help create a positive atmosphere in Belarus although you are saying that this was the goal of their work.

Question: Yury Pavlovets, who was published in Russia, did not say these words.

Maria Zakharova: We are talking about three journalists and I must say we have given a very clear assessment of the words and expressions they used and not in private conversations but in their published materials. We reaffirm our absolute commitment to the freedom of speech and understand the need to protect the rights of journalists and media representatives. As it follows from the comment by Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov, we are in constant contact with our Belarusian colleagues on this issue. Let me repeat that we are fully committed to the freedom of speech and are ready to protect it as well as journalists. We can hardly be accused of failing to observe these standards or neglecting the destinies of journalists cooperating with the Russian media. We keep these issues at the forefront of our attention, in response to your persistent requests and inquiries.

Question: I have a question about the Obama administration’s performance in the sphere of foreign policy. According to the State Department, Secretary Kerry has made America safer over the past four years. His key achievements include the Iranian deal, the Syrian peaceful settlement, and fighting the Ebola virus. What’s your take on John Kerry and his department’s achievements?

Maria Zakharova: I’m not going to provide any assessments. I think that this question would be best addressed to John Kerry’s colleague Minister Sergey Lavrov. You will have this opportunity during a news conference on summing up the foreign policy results for this year. Interestingly, you quoted a representative of the State Department, and I mentioned an interview with Michael McFaul, who was a prominent representative of US diplomacy here for several years. He gave an interview to the Russian media in which he said that all global foreign policy decisions were made not by the State Department but the White House. Could you do me a favour and ask someone at the State Department who was behind the major policy decisions – the State Department or the White House? We will then be able to assess the contribution of each of them to their implementation.

Question: Recently, online media reported that during the operation to liberate eastern Aleppo, the Syrian government forces captured several dozen military and political advisers who happened to be NATO countries’ citizens. Is that true? If yes, how will Russia react?

Maria Zakharova: Of course, you should ask this question to the Syrian side. That would be the right thing to do, because you say that they have been captured by the armed forces of Syria. I can check this information, as I haven’t heard that before.

By way of a comment that is unrelated to this particular case, I would like to remind everyone that we have always talked about large numbers of mercenaries who posed as democracy fighters in Syria, while, in fact, they were nationals of different states and professed an ideology that had nothing to do whatsoever with Syrian democracy. It is no secret at all. It’s scary and sad. We’ve been saying that even the armed moderate wings of the opposition were led by vast numbers of such foreign mercenaries and instructors who made their way to Syria and proceeded to articulate a corresponding agenda there, which was not peaceful at all.

There was some information about the “instructors”. Remember that memorable Train and Equip programme conducted by our Western partners for the opposition groups? It’s unclear how it all ended and how many people they’ve “trained and equipped”. Where are all these people now? What has become of them? How many of these people who were “trained and equipped” were from Syria and from other countries is also unknown. Many people were brought there under the guise of Syrian opposition. We spoke about it constantly. How else can we define what’s happening in Syria other than a fight against international terrorism? There are all kinds of terrorists in great numbers there. Again, terrorists aside, we have always talked about mercenaries and people who were brought there from other geographical regions. Unfortunately, this is not new.

Question: The Parliament and the Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that representatives of Afghanistan were not invited to a meeting attended by representatives of the foreign ministries of Russia, China, and Pakistan to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. What do you think about that?

Maria Zakharova: At the beginning of the briefing, when I spoke about today’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry, I mentioned that “the parties agreed to continue the consultations in an expanded format and, in this regard, would welcome the participation of Afghanistan.” I believe there isn’t much I can add to that.

Question: Which Russia-Kazakhstan initiatives deserve mention this year? What is the outlook for our bilateral relations next year?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the development of bilateral relations, the Foreign Ministry is an executive agency responsible for implementing the foreign policy as it is outlined by the President, and therefore our outlook for the Russian-Kazakhstani relationship is based on the foreign policy concept that has been recently adopted. We will be developing our relations with Kazakhstan based on this concept’s provisions. We have a very positive view of the future of our bilateral relations, because Russia and Kazakhstan are partners, colleagues and friends in many spheres, including politics, the economy, business, culture and everything else that brings people together. We have a great deal to say on any of these elements and we have very big plans. I can answer your question in greater detail, with facts, figures and additional information.

Question: What can you say about the Tu-154 tragedy, considering the openly anti-Russia statements by some foreign officials? What about the terrorist attack version?

Maria Zakharova: Before making any statements, we should wait for the experts to present their conclusions. So far, they are not investigating the crash but are collecting the debris and material and other evidence.

I see what you are referring to. There have been many publications and television programmes to this effect, but I suggest that we don’t listen to those who believe that they have the right to speak about it. In my opinion, nobody has the right to speak about it now, because, as I learned before this briefing, only one flight recorder has been retrieved from the sea, but the data it contains is yet to be decoded. What is there to talk about? First, experts must assess the information at their disposal in accordance with the established procedure and Russian law. We will be able to talk about versions after that, not before.

We have agencies that regularly provide available information, but I will not direct you to them, because it would be unprofessional to talk about any versions now. No official can discuss versions now, because the matter rests with experts. Versions will be discussed after they accumulate the material evidence and make their conclusions.

And any statements and political assessments are inappropriate at this stage. Let the experts do their work in peace. Everything possible is being done to establish the truth, to learn what happened; this work involves many people, equipment and other components. The search for the plane’s parts and human remains goes on around the clock. The Defence Ministry and other ministries and agencies involved in this process regularly provide information virtually in real time. Therefore, it will be inappropriate now to speak about any versions, which include a broad range of issues.

Question: I have a question about the talks on Syria to be held in Astana. I would like you to explain the following: Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said last week that the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which represents the main opposition force supported by Turkey, the Gulf countries and the West, is not expected to attend these talks. Why is that? Mr Gatilov said the talks would be attended by the Moscow, Astana and Cairo groups of moderate opposition, as well as representatives from the armed opposition. The HNC is closely connected with Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most important opposition groups in Syria.

Maria Zakharova: As I said, I cannot speak about who has been invited and who is expected to take part in the talks at this point. As far as I know, the process has barely started. We have not even sent out invitations; we are only discussing the approach to these talks and the general concept of the meeting. The format and number of participants have not been determined yet. Work is still underway on this. There are certain trends. The so-called armed opposition groups will be a large part of the negotiations. This is probably the most important distinction of these talks from the Geneva process. At the same time, Syrian political opposition forces will also be represented. Once again, the format and participants are still being discussed. I will stay in touch with our experts to keep you updated.

Question: The Israeli Foreign Ministry has announced a decision on the temporary restriction of ties with the countries that last week voted for a resolution condemning Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories. Will this decision affect the Russian-Israeli dialogue? What practical consequences will the UN resolution have for Israel?

Maria Zakharova: I believe you should ask the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Since they announced this decision, we need to understand what is implied. When our Israeli colleagues explain their statement, we will know how this will or will not affect our dialogue. Quite frankly, I do not know what exactly they mean. I only saw the statements. As for our position on the vote, we have put it forth in a statement published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Question: First, I would like to make a short remark about your statements. Probably, it is good that Bulgarians raised the issue of arms themselves – we read this article. I think this puts emphasis on the existence of different political views and the coverage of interesting events in Bulgaria. Second, I would like to bring up the issue of Crimea and sanctions. A very interesting event took place in Belgrade on October 21, which, regrettably, was not covered by the Russian media. This was the presentation of the Republic of Crimea. On December 19, the UN General Assembly voted on the Ukraine-drafted resolution which condemns the alleged human rights violations in Crimea and urges Russia to allow international observers to visit the peninsula. Do you think this is linked with the fact that not a single Russian media outlet – neither Russia Today nor Sputnik – attended the Belgrade presentation? We took an active part in it. You spoke about the highly professional work of the Russian media in Western countries.

Maria Zakharova: When did it take place?

Question: October 21. We think this was a unique event. Practically all Crimean leaders are under sanctions, but they left Russia and conducted an interesting event yet the Russian media virtually did not cover it.

Maria Zakharova: Why are you asking me? Why don’t you discuss this with Russia Today or Sputnik? They will tell you why they were not there.

Question: My question is different. Russian President Vladimir Putin joked about Russia’s attitude to sanctions. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev extended a ban on imports to Russia of several types of agricultural products, raw materials and foods. Has the Russian Foreign Ministry changed its attitude to sanctions? We have the impression that the issue of lifting sanctions from Russia (imposed, in particular, because of Crimea) is not urgent altogether.

Maria Zakharova: President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev and the Foreign Ministry are parts of the same power vertical. I think it is simply inappropriate to separate their positions. We have a common government position on this issue. Many people – both public figures and ordinary citizens – have various views on this issue and may engage in polemics, but a government position is drafted in the course of discussions and is then implemented. We, as an executive body, are carrying out the course determined by the Russian President. Our position is the same. There are no three attitudes to sanctions. There is only one attitude, and it is the same.

Question: I will continue. Today Crimea is in the focus of attention of the Western media. Regrettably, the Russian media ignored this event. Maybe you have a personal position or the Foreign Ministry has its position on this issue?

Maria Zakharova: I think you are after something but you are concealing something. If you have something to say, maybe, about your personal participation, go ahead please.

Question: Personal participation is absolutely irrelevant here. When we took part in the presentation, everything was very inconvenient for visitors. Not only me but also our Serbian colleagues had the impression that today “the Crimean issue” is in cold storage and that Moscow has a very specific attitude to it.

Maria Zakharova: No, we do not have a specific attitude to either sanctions or counter sanctions. As for Crimea, if you think the said presentation could have been conducted on a large scale, I respect your opinion.

Question: Yesterday, the English-language Ukraine Today channel was officially closed in Ukraine. According to its executives, the channel was of a strictly social nature and was used for propaganda purposes. The project was launched with great fanfare, in defiance of Russia Today, early on during the events in Ukraine. What can you say about the reasons for closing the channel?

Maria Zakharova: To do something in defiance of Russia Today, one needs not launch TV channels, but have the right people. It’s a question of intellect, skills, professionalism, conscience and devotion to the journalistic profession. Technically, you can launch all the channels you like, but they won’t work without the right people. The secret of Russia Today is in the people who work there.

Question: Was 2016 a good year for Russian diplomacy in general?

Maria Zakharova: A 20 page document titled “Key foreign policy outcomes for 2016” was posted on our official website. It provides a clear account for the year with headings and all.

Question: Do you think this year was more difficult than 2015? How successful was the Foreign Ministry in improving relations with the South Caucasus countries?

Maria Zakharova: Again, I can’t put it in one word. If we start talking about it, it might take a while.

The overview of our foreign policy activities was released today. Minister Lavrov will discuss in detail the outcomes of the year in the middle of January 2017, and will take questions.  This issue will also be covered, and I will try to provide you with this information later.

Question: Could you comment on a new US law on defence spending, which makes it possible to supply MANPADS to Syria? What are the possible ramifications?

Maria Zakharova: With regard to arms supplies to Syria from the United States, we are well aware of who these supplies will go to – definitely not the official Damascus. Something tells me that this is not about legal supplies under a contract signed with the Syrian government.

The issue is about a complicated situation in Syria with an ongoing domestic civil conflict, and fighting terrorism, where Washington failed to cope with the task for 12 months having made a commitment to divide moderate opposition from terrorists. How can they supply arms when the United States doesn’t know who are terrorists and who are moderate opposition or, as they refer to them, “moderate militants”? Who will these arms go to? Today, you make MANPADS available to moderate militants, and tomorrow they will become terrorists, as was the case elsewhere, with Libya being a graphic example.

Arms supplied by France to Libya later surfaced in Yemen. This has happened to all the countries of the region. First, it is not merely counterproductive but extremely dangerous for the region, which is already teetering on the brink of collapse. Second, who will the arms be supplied to if Washington itself failed to draw a line between the good and the bad guys whom it controls? To be sure, there are forces that are beyond control of the United States and other countries, and have for a long time remained in their own global terrorist isolation.

From any point of view this is, to put it mildly and diplomatically, counterproductive. This is dangerous, harmful, and contrary to all the agreements that were made and signed. The first thing to do is to ask yourself the following question: if everyone including Washington and Brussels have proclaimed the peaceful solution and settlement of the Syria conflict and global settlement of the situation in Syria as their main goal a long time ago, who will these weapons go to then? Is there an established mechanism for doing so? Is it not and will it not be a repeat of the mistakes that Washington and the US-led coalition have already made in other countries?

With regard to signing the package of draft laws, it is now premature to provide any comment given that just a couple of months from now there will be a new administration in the White House, which announced the possibility of revising a great deal of what has been done with regard to such draft laws by the previous administration. I have provided a theoretical comment. I believe there’s not much time left before the new US team articulates its foreign policy course and starts implementing it. We’ll see.

***

This is my last briefing in 2016.

I wish us all a more peaceful 2017. I wish you more good news. I wish our ministry not to be a newsmaker on bad occasions, and bring you more good and constructive events, which we will promptly cover.

There were many terrible, tragic, and bad developments, but there were good things as well. We can’t forget either. This is our history, and if we forget it, we will condemn ourselves to more mistakes. We are heading into the New Year with new hopes and dreams.

Have fun celebrating the New Year. See you in 2017. All the best, and congratulations to you and your family on the occasion of the New Year holiday!

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