Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 18, 2017

Thursday, 25 May 2017 19:34

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
The Foreign Minister’s participation in the 29th meeting of the Council of the Heads of Russian Federation Regions at the Foreign Ministry
Special meeting of the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers
The situation in Syria
Statements by Acting US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones on the alleged mass executions in Syria
The preliminary report by the OPCW FFM on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province, Syria
Developments in Venezuela
The situation in Macedonia
Situation in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire
US plans to deploy a permanent military contingent in Afghanistan
A new series of US media fake stories on a Russian theme
US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s comments
Marat Ueldanov’s case
Comments by an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman
Besmearing a memorial stone to Soviet war pilots in Kiviõli, northeastern Estonia
Statements by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker
Answers to media questions:
Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
Ban on Russian social media in Ukraine
Launch of a ferry line between Russia and the DPRK
US plan to supply weapons to Kurdish paramilitary units
Possible meeting between US President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin
Response of Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to the launch of a ferry line between Russia and the DPRK
Expanded counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Turkey
Appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election
Approval of a bill to rename the intersection in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC as Boris Nemtsov Plaza by the US Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
Referendum on the independence of Kurdistan

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier

On May 22-24, Davor Ivo Stier, Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, will be in Moscow on a working visit. The visit is timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Croatia, May 25.

The talks with Foreign Minister Lavrov, set for May 23, will focus on the status of and prospects for Russian-Croatian political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation and joint efforts in the international arena. As is traditionally the case, special attention will be paid to issues of peace and stability in Southeastern Europe, as well as other current issues.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

On May 25 and 26, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be in Russia on an official visit at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s invitation.

In the course of the upcoming talks, the foreign policy chiefs will address current issues on the bilateral and international agenda with a focus on key issues of Russian-Chinese cooperation in international affairs, including within the framework of multilateral formats such as the UN, BRICS, the SCO and RIC. The two officials are expected to exchange views on pressing regional problems, including the situation around the Korean Peninsula and efforts to resolve the Syria crisis.

The Foreign Minister’s participation in the 29th meeting of the Council of the Heads of Russian Federation Regions at the Foreign Ministry

On May 26, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair the 29th meeting of the Council of the Heads of Russian Federation Regions at the Foreign Ministry.

The agenda will focus on fostering ties between Russia’s regions and their partners from countries of the Caspian region. The participants will address current issues of trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation and map out measures to deepen their industrial and agricultural cooperation and invigorate the efforts of Russian regions within the framework of exhibition and presentation events.

Special attention will be given to the participation of Russian regions in a forum on interregional cooperation between Russia and Iran, as well as similar events with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

The governors of the Astrakhan and Penza regions, the Stavropol Territory and the Khanty-Mani Autonomous Area -Yugra, as well as representatives of the Presidential Executive Office and the Federal Agency for Tourism, are expected to speak.

Corresponding recommendations to Russia’s regions and federal ministries and agencies will be made at the conclusion of the meeting.

Special meeting of the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers

On May 21, a special meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) member states will take place in Istanbul under Turkey’s chairmanship, within the framework of which preparations for a meeting of BSEC heads of state and government will take place on May 22, devoted to the organisation’s 25th anniversary.

The meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers will be attended by ministers or deputy ministers representing Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, as well as representatives of BSEC observer countries and partner countries in the sectoral dialogue. Russian representation at the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers is currently under consideration. We will announce the level of our country’s representation at this forum later.

The main item on the meeting’s agenda is a draft final declaration of the BSEC summit. The document addresses the prospects for expanding multilateral economic cooperation between the BSEC countries, increasing the practical impact of the organisation’s activity and its future priorities.

The BSEC countries have been and remain Russia’s major economic and political partners. The further development of multilateral ties within the framework of BSEC will help consolidate our ties and ensure stability and security in the Black Sea region.

At the same time, Russia consistently advocates preserving the depoliticised nature of BSEC’s activity to prevent confrontation, which is destructive for its purposes and goals. We urge our partners to take into account the fact that there are formats with a corresponding mandate to deal with political conflicts and address regional security issues.

We are convinced that the focus on achieving concrete results and the implementation of mutually beneficial projects is key to BSEC’s success.

With a view to expanding the organisation’s project potential, during its BSEC presidency in the first half of last year, Russia initiated the creation of a mechanism to foster project cooperation in the Black Sea region. The Russian Government has provided $1 million for these purposes.

Other BSEC countries joining the Russian initiative will help make the organisation’s activity more effective.

The situation in Syria

Recently, some positive trends have emerged in the evolution of the military and political situation on Syrian soil. They are largely related to the implementation of the memorandum on the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria, which was signed on May 4 at an international meeting on Syria in Astana.

Ceasefire monitoring is ongoing. Russian Defence Ministry experts assess the situation in de-escalation zones as stable. Most cases of sporadic small-arms fire have been reported in areas controlled by the Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS terrorist groups.

Amid the strengthening ceasefire regime and the defeats suffered by the terrorists, internecine conflicts between the various illegal armed groups are spreading. Syrian government forces are continuing operations to destroy ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, as well as other terrorist groups affiliated with them in the Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Dara’a provinces. ISIS militants are sustaining losses in personnel and equipment and have to abandon their positions.

The Syrian Army has freed the Syrian Air Force Jirah airbase in eastern Aleppo not far from the al-Assad water reservoir on the Euphrates River. The Qaboun district in northeastern Damascus is now under control.

Syrian democratic forces, represented mainly by Kurdish fighters, and the Manbij Military Council have expelled the militants from areas around the town of Tabqa and the eponymous dam on the Euphrates. Kurdish detachments are gradually advancing on Raqqa.

In the small hours of May 15, 23 local residents were killed as a result of an air strike by the US-led so-called anti-ISIS coalition against the town of Abu Kamal. According to some reports, the target of the attack was ISIS militants in that town, but Syrian civilians fell victim to it.

Terrorist gangs are trying to attack vulnerable elements of Syrian civil infrastructure. In Deir ez-Zor, ISIS militants fired mortars at the residential districts of al-Jura and al-Qusur, injuring at least 15 civilians, mainly women and children.

I would like to highlight another issue and bring it to your attention. This week the US State Department published a new report on the “Assad regime’s crimes.” The document contains a well-known set of unsubstantiated clichés. All allegations regarding the numerous violations of the norms of international law by Damascus, including human rights and the conduct of military operations, are not backed up by any facts. Incidentally, our assessments of the US missile attack against the Syrian Air Force’s Shayrat airfield on April 7, a gross violation of international law, are well known.

As is traditionally the case, Washington cites human rights organisations and US intelligence reports, which, unfortunately, cannot be verified or analysed. The same goes for the methodology of preparing those materials. In this context, we hope that instead of standard proposals that their assertions be accepted at face value, our US colleagues will make public conclusive evidence to substantiate their high-profile statements. Otherwise they can only be treated as an element of information warfare against Syria.

We took note of a video featuring the testimony of a mercenary soldier from the armed Syrian opposition to the effect that the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was staged. It states in no uncertain terms that the chemical attack was staged to discredit the Syrian Government ahead of Russian-US contacts. A former member of the pseudo-humanitarian organisation White Helmets confirmed that this provocation was designed to provide false evidence of Damascus’ failure to honour its obligations to destroy chemical weapons, which were used against Idlib civilians. Earlier, citing a US veterans’ movement, the media reported that the videos of Khan Sheikhoun civilians being treated in the aftermath of the gas attack were made by the film crews of Qatar’s al-Jazeera and Britain’s Reuters news agency in the course of four days. We hope that this evidence will be closely studied and, if confirmed, corresponding conclusions will be drawn, especially considering that it is high time to build a dam to stop this fake river.

Statements by Acting US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones on the alleged mass executions in Syria

We have taken note of the May 15 statement by Acting US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones about the alleged mass executions and the burning of bodies in a large crematorium in the Sednaya prison complex near Damascus. We have also noted that the US official has not provided any factual evidence of the US accusations against the Syrian authorities.

This is yet another example of US “test-tube” propaganda, which may be impressive but lacks substance. Regrettably, such statements have a negative effect on the situation in Syria, fuelling the conflict and hindering a peaceful settlement.

However, we hope that the new US administration will take a constructive stance and will shift its focus from trying to change the regime in Damascus, including with the use of mass media as a tool, to fighting terrorism. The Obama administration did not regard fighting terrorism as the core task, but was instead doing its best to protect the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group from Russian Aerospace Forces strikes, even though al-Nusra is a division of al-Qaeda, which killed 3,000 Americans in the September 11, 2001 attack. Although supporting terrorism is a serious crime in the United States, the Obama administration pursued a no holds barred policy aimed at overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad and was ready to use the services of the al-Nusra cutthroats and terrorists. We suggest that the American public take note of this highly ambiguous and outrageous fact.

The preliminary report by the OPCW FFM on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province, Syria

We continue to monitor the activities of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals in Syria. We have taken note of the preliminary FFM report on the April 4 chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province, which was published on May 12. This report has concluded with a high degree probability that chemical warfare agents, presumably sarin or a sarin-like substance, were used.

We regret to say yet again that judging by the report, the FFM experts’ conclusions are still based on indirect evidence that was provided by a certain NGO and the armed Syrian opposition. We are convinced that the true picture cannot be established without visits by FFM experts to the site and also to the Shayrat Airbase, where sarin was allegedly stored by the Syrian Air Force for use at Khan Shaykhun.

We welcome the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s steps taken towards this end with UN assistance. We urge the new leadership of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism to urgently join the effort to study the situation on the ground, including by using alternative sources of information as per UN Security Council Resolution 2319 on fighting the threat of chemical terrorism in the Middle East.

Developments in Venezuela

Violence continues to escalate in Venezuela. The confrontation between supporters of the Nicolas Maduro Government and the opposition is accompanied by increasing protests and clashes. Unfortunately, there have been casualties on both sides, and their number continues to grow.

Russia’s position on the settlement of political differences in Venezuela remains unchanged, and it is a position you know well. Fuelling a conflict by provoking street riots and clashes is a road to nowhere fraught with chaos, bloodshed and more human tragedies. A rigorous negotiating process without any preconditions is the only possible way to address problems facing the country. Any actions by both sides, be it the Government or the opposition forces, should be completely in line with the law, in full compliance with the Constitution of Venezuela and without any counterproductive outside interference. All this equally applies to the convocation of the Constituent Assembly by President Nicolas Maduro.

We would like to stress once again that Russia has always advocated the resolution of domestic disagreements in Venezuela by peaceful and civilised methods. We are ready to negotiate with all Venezuelan political forces that are willing to engage in political dialogue and are sincerely interested in their country’s sustainable and stable development. We will provide the required amount of assistance, as requested, if Russia is asked to help normalise the domestic processes in Venezuela. We expect our partners, including international and regional players wishing to provide Caracas with mediatory services in resolving the domestic situation, will also adhere to this stance. Good offices must not be forced on anyone.

Regarding consultations on the Venezuelan issue at the UN Security Council, we believe that the situation in that country does not threaten regional peace and stability.

Naturally, we have taken note of the statement by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley after this meeting. She said the situation in Venezuela could escalate into a Syrian-type scenario. Was that a Freudian slip? According to Haley, the United States would like to prevent such developments. Indeed, all reasonable people want to prevent this. But we know what factor caused Syrian developments to take on such a deplorable scale. Therefore let’s work together, so that tensions in Venezuela subside instead of being artificially aggravated from the outside.

There is another crucial aspect. We believe it is vitally important that developments in Venezuela receive unbiased coverage. The media has a special role to play in this respect. Media outlets should not turn into a tool for inciting violence, nor should they promote the interests of those forces that want to aggravate the situation to benefit their own ambitions and often portray events in a distorted and one-sided manner.

The situation in Macedonia

On May 17, President of the Republic of Macedonia Gjorge Ivanov authorised Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, to establish a new government after early parliamentary elections were held on December 11, 2016.

We note the principled stance of the head of the Macedonian state, who deemed it possible to take this step, provided that Zoran Zaev publicly reaffirms that he has abandoned any plans undermining the country’s sovereignty and constitutional system.

We hope that political forces in Skopje will independently chart the way to overcome the crisis that has been caused by outside interference in the domestic affairs of the Republic of Macedonia.

Situation in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire

We are monitoring the developments in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, where, since the beginning of this year, servicemen (most of them former militants integrated into the armed forces in 2010-2011) have staged protests demanding large financial compensations and improved conditions in the army as the government had promised.

The unrest that began on May 12 in Abidjan and several other cities has paralysed the work of government agencies, banks and schools; some roads were blocked. Unfortunately, there have been casualties.

The country’s government urged the protesters to end the unrest and search for a compromise. The population supported the government and an agreement was reached on May 15.

As of now, the situation in the country is returning to normal. According to media reports, the military have returned to their bases.

In Abidjan, including the area where the Russian Embassy is located, the situation is relatively quiet. There is no threat to the members of the diplomatic mission and their families. There were no Russian citizens among the victims of protests in Côte d’Ivoire.

US plans to deploy a permanent military contingent in Afghanistan

We noted the report, with reference to US Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, about Washington’s plans to deploy US military contingent in Afghanistan on a permanent basis.

In this context, I’d like to remind you that US and NATO troops have been in Afghanistan for over 15 years. The results of their presence are disappointing: a fierce armed conflict continues in the country and drug production keeps growing. At the same time, the claimed “successes” in the economic development are doubtful, because the local unemployment rate is 25 percent and over a third of the population live below the poverty line.

We firmly believe that the only way to settle the crisis in Afghanistan is to reach national accord using political means. Russia and its partners are working on this within the framework of regional consultations on Afghanistan in the Moscow format.

A new series of US media fake stories on a Russian theme

We have received many questions from US media outlets. For example, you have followed the Foreign Ministry’s comments in connection with another spiral of paranoid US media publications on the results of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to that country.

It is impossible to overlook the latest incredible US media stories on a Russian theme. Claims that the Russian side had, in the past, repeatedly requested similar meetings with Barack Obama have become another media sensation after Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent meeting with US President Donald Trump. For example, Politico correspondent Susan Glasser claims that, since 2013, the Russians had allegedly begged to organise a White House meeting for Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. As usual, she is quoting some anonymous senior officials from the Obama administration. Ms Glasser, this is a lie.

Certainly, we have always remained open to any multi-level contacts, including those on a high level. Although the Obama administration moved to freeze bilateral cooperation, we, nevertheless, strove, tried and did everything possible to conduct active dialogue with the United States. We needed this dialogue because it was also in the interest of international security.

Since 2013, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had 64 meetings and 192 telephone conversations with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Over 90 percent of these meetings and conversations were organised on the US side’s initiative. This shows who was falling down at someone’s feet. In 14 months, from May 2015 up until July 2016, the US Secretary of State visited Russia four times, with President Vladimir Putin patiently receiving him each time. There have also been numerous top-level contacts. I would like to deviate from our tradition and recall that President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama met each other 11 times and had 26 telephone conversations, many of which were quite lengthy and it was the White House that mostly displayed the initiative.

Given such a tremendous amount of top-level and high-level contacts, there was no need for a brief conversation and protocol meeting at the White House, all the more so as we remember perfectly well that the previous administration never heeded the voice of reason and did not show a desire to do at least something for changing Russian-US relations for the better.

Here is a specific example of yet another fake story, a conjecture and nonsense from a publication that has claimed over the few years of its existence that its stories should be quoted; and, unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening. For example, the US media acts as a Big Brother in European countries which blindly reprint all their stories, sometimes word for word. Here is a specific story by a certain female journalist who has invented something, while quoting an anonymous person. And this is happening all the time in all areas.

US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s comments

We have noted US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s interview with NBC News. He declared that Russia’s interference with the US presidential election in 2016 was well documented and there is no question that “the Russians were playing around in [US] electoral processes.”

I would like to point out again that there are absolutely no grounds for such accusations that have been replicated and spread around in the United States for months in various versions. We have heard this for a while and have asked many times for any evidence or any kind of supporting materials in any form, but to no avail. There has been no response. So far, the evidence has been limited to a fictional dossier by Christopher Steele and the infamous January report by US intelligence services that was initiated during the Obama administration and which looks more like a school essay with not a single true fact.

Our opponents have no proof, nor can they have any. Needless to say, they have nothing to show us because they can’t just pour hackers into a test-tube.

All the stories about Russia’s alleged interference are a fake through and through, one that has been artificially generated for use in US domestic political squabbles.

We have become used to this. And those who write these things will have to get used to our refutations which we will continue to publish. Such statements by high-ranking US State Department representatives cannot but cause disappointment.

These signals from our American colleagues clearly contribute to nothing but complications in our dialogue and are at odds with to what we hear during our bilateral contacts. In the past few months, we have been working in a completely different direction. Specifically, we have set our sights on establishing pragmatic and mutually beneficial relations, on dropping any artificial or contrived elements that hinder normal interaction.

Once again, we urge our partners to be more serious about what they say and do. It is time to put an end to this farce.

Marat Ueldanov’s case

On April 28, the trial of Russian national Marat Ueldanov came to an end. The Baku court sentenced Ueldanov to eight years in a general security prison on charges of illegal purchasing, possession and trafficking of drugs in large amounts. The hearings were attended by a representative of the Russian Embassy in Azerbaijan.

An appeal was filed. Marat Ueldanov has been held at Detention Facility No. 1 in Baku since April 29. It is possible that the convict will be transferred to the Russian Federation to serve his sentence.

The Russian Embassy in Baku is maintaining regular contact both with Ueldanov and his attorney and with Azerbaijani officials. We are making every effort to ensure comprehensive protection of Ueldanov’s rights and interests.

Comments by an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman

We were perplexed by comments regarding the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve a Russian public organisation, the All-Russia Azerbaijani Congress, because of its repeated violations of federal laws, which were made by the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan and published by a local agency.

We deem it inappropriate that the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan makes comments about Russia’s domestic policy, “the balance of inter-ethnic relations, the reform concept and prospects for an inter-cultural dialogue” in our country. It is strange that the press service has estimated the Russian Court’s ruling on a Russian public organisation as an “unfriendly step” in relation of Azerbaijan.

It is deplorable that the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan has once again used media speculations about some “Armenian connection” and reproduced them in public.

We do not need dubious advice on how to build inter-ethnic relations in our own country. Russia is a multi-ethnic democratic nation, where the rights of every individual are protected and ensured regardless of their ethnic origin. This country has created all conditions for self-organisation and full-blooded activity by ethnic cultural and public associations. In particular, over 260 non-profit organisations represent the interests of Russian citizens of Azerbaijani origin. At a federal level, the Azerbaijani Youth Association of Russia is successfully operating, as are the Union of Azerbaijani Organisations of Russia, the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of the Azerbaijanis of Russia, and the World Azerbaijani Cultural Foundation.

Russia highly values its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan, whose course for an all-round strengthening of this partnership has been defined by the heads of the two states. We are confident that the just cited comments (possibly, not quite well thought-out ones) will not do harm to Russian-Azerbaijani relations.

Besmearing a memorial stone to Soviet war pilots in Kiviõli, northeastern Estonia

We are deeply shocked by yet another act of vandalism in relation of the memorial to Soviet war pilots who died in 1944 fighting for the liberation of Estonia near the village of Ryaza. These cynical acts cannot be regarded as anything other than an outrage against the memory of those who sacrificed their lives in the fight against the Nazis.

We hope that the Estonian side will take all measures necessary to bring the culprits to account and to prevent such incidents in the future. The Russian Embassy in Tallinn has already addressed a relevant request to the local authorities.

Statements by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker

We have noted statements by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker during his visit to Romania. In the context of the anti-Russian rhetoric that has become so common and is based on a pattern of Russophobic clichés, the statements by Mr Juncker turned out to be level-headed and quite constructive.

In his interview with the newspaper Adevarul (“Truth”), the president said that relations between the European Union and Russia must be restored and it is possible. “Even if our relations are currently overshadowed by problems and a lack of trust, it does not mean they are ruined.” As Jean-Claude Juncker noted, despite disagreements, the communication channels must stay open. His address to a Romanian audience at the National Museum of Art had a similar tone.

Unfortunately, the statement was not widely publicised. The media stayed “eloquently silent” as we like to say in such cases.

We hope that this constructive and positive attitude will prevail in our relations and will help everybody abandon the Russophobic claims that we have to address too often.

Answers to media questions:

Question After the trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on April 28 in Moscow, Yerevan and Baku have been sending signals that another meeting may be organised again and that it will focus on more specific actions to settle the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, as you know, there was recently an abrupt escalation on the contact line with casualties on both sides. Do you think that after another major incident, the possibility of arranging this trilateral meeting still exists or should we forget about it for now?

Maria Zakharova: Russia, as a mediator in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, condemns the violation of the ceasefire and calls for the parties to take the necessary measures to prevent further escalation of tensions in the conflict zone.

It is true that, according to various sources, on May 15, the Azerbaijani side shelled a military facility across the contact line. Therefore, the other party retaliated. The data on the nature of the facility, the damage as well as casualties among personnel are contradictory. I just voiced Russia’s principled stance on this issue.

As concerns a meeting and further contact, I have nothing to announce yet. If such a meeting is planned, we will inform you.

Question: Ukraine has recently introduced a ban on Russian social networks, with Ukrainian politicians saying this is a way to protect the public from false information. Many organisations have already voiced their indignation. What is the purpose of this decision, and what can it lead to?

Maria Zakharova: No one is hiding the motives behind this decision. It is needed to block as many sources of alternative sources of information as possible. Obviously, it does not even amount to censorship. On the contrary, this policy, which directly violates Ukraine’s obligations to guarantee the freedom of speech, began to be implemented immediately after the 2014 anti-constitutional coup. Russia has repeatedly drawn the attention of our partners to this fact. Back then they told us it was a time of troubles, a transitional period and a certain moment of chaos. They also said that after the presidential election Ukraine would have to adhere to the same standards and would be urged to reinstate the rule of law and various norms that were adopted by Ukraine as a member of the international community. How many years has the president of Ukraine been in office now, the man who is recognised by the international community as a legitimate head of state elected by the people of Ukraine? He assumed office under the slogan that he was a president of peace, not war. In the end, there is no peace, nor are there any generally accepted democratic principles, including those aiming to honour the freedom of speech and to protect journalists. I don’t have to tell you what is happening to journalists there. As a journalist working for Life News, you know first-hand that your own correspondents have been abused in every conceivable way and have endured every conceivable suffering at the hands of nationalists. It is hard to describe everything that has happened to them. Russian and Ukrainian journalists are treated the same way, and not just those voicing alternative viewpoints. The Kiev regime has gone even further and included in its sanctions those very same Western media outlets that have always been loyal to the Kiev regime. Unfortunately, all this will only get worse. I can say clearly and unequivocally that Russian social networks, internet resources and other media products will continue to be blocked, as well as the resources of other countries.

I would like to draw your attention to the treacherous tactics employed in accomplishing this task. These huge lists stipulating additional sanctions contain some 1,500 positions, so we can conclude that it did not take a day or two, or even a month to put this list together. It was finalised down to the smallest detail, and this idea was conceived a very long time ago. I would also like to point out the specific deadlines: this was done just a day or two after Kiev hosted the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. It turns out that, despite all the European bonuses received as an incentive for democratic processes in Ukraine, Kiev has once again deceived Europe after reaping all the fruits of the so-called approval of Ukrainian developments by the European family. Another helping of these absolutely undemocratic measures was issued the very next day. This is not the only example. I repeat, this is only the beginning of a major rollback.

I would also like to note that the Verkhovna Rada has approved a bill banning the manufacture and wearing of St George ribbons. People who don’t understand and don’t know history might think this is not very important. However, those who have a good understanding of history and the etymology of the current Ukrainian crisis understand clearly that there is no political will in Kiev to reunify people in its own country. This is not at all on Kiev’s agenda; in fact it pursues the opposite goal: to disunite and divide people to the greatest possible extent.

I repeat, uninitiated people who are not familiar with the history of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Russia, the Russian Empire and Rus may perceive this as an unimportant fact that means nothing. In reality, this drives a colossal wedge between people living in Ukraine and, of course, it is an indication that Kiev is not even thinking of fulfilling the Minsk Agreements in any way. As always, all this is superficial, illusory and deceptive. The same can be said about all those measures being implemented by the European Union, which turns a blind eye to many things and which incentivises Ukraine, one way or another, to engage in reforms. To put it simply, Ukraine blatantly deceives the EU – not Ukraine as a country but the Kiev regime. Once again, you will find out about this, and you will read it for yourselves. This is the beginning, and things will only get worse.

Question Russia is planning to launch cargo and passenger maritime traffic to and from North Korea soon. The pilot ferry vessel arrived today in Vladivostok. Regular operations will begin on May 25. Is this launch of cargo and passenger maritime traffic subject to the UNSC sanctions?

Maria Zakharova: No, it is not.

Question Why were journalists not allowed to cover this event, including the filming of the ferry vessel’s arrival?

Maria Zakharova: I was not aware of this. We were not the organisers of this event. But I can clarify it. If you wish to tell your audience about this facility we can find the entity responsible for it and see what we can do to arrange a visit for you.

Question What do you think of the United States’ intention to supply arms to the Kurdish armed groups that are fighting ISIS over Raqqa in Syria?

Last May, during the election campaign, President Trump proposed establishing safety zones in Syria. Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council. Does this indicate a development in Russian-US cooperation on Syria?

Maria Zakharova: All arms supplies must conform to the laws of the country. This is how Moscow acts in its relations with the Middle Eastern countries. It is important to always refer to this fundamental rule.

We are doing everything we can to begin constructive interaction with the new Administration. We have invited the United States to cooperate in the Astana talks where its ambassador currently serves as an observer. We are willing to cooperate with the US at a higher level. Our embassies maintain regular working contacts.

Undoubtedly, particular attention was given to Syria during the talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US President Donald Trump. Syrian settlement is widely discussed during telephone conversations with our American counterparts at the level of the Minister and deputy ministers, as well as during personal contacts. All of this is to develop concerted actions and to start a constructive dialogue. We are ready for cooperation within the UN.

Question The US media reported that during the talks in Washington, President Trump passed on classified information to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Will Russia present the transcript of the meeting?

Are talks in progress regarding the upcoming meeting between President Trump and President Putin at the G20 summit?

Maria Zakharova: President Vladimir Putin announced that it is possible, if a relevant request is made.

Your second question is within the competence of the President’s administration and his press service. Russian President’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have repeatedly commented on this.

Question Not so long ago, Novaya Gazeta published an article about a Russian officer, Sergey Dubinsky, suspected of transporting the Buk system that downed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 in July 2014. Does the Russian Government know Sergey Dubinsky? Is he really paid a pension? Could you comment on him saying that this was done by “the monsters from Moscow?”

Maria Zakharova: We will prepare a reply and provide it to you shortly.

Question A sea route was launched between the DPRK and Russia earlier today. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has made a statement that Tokyo is watching closely how Russia’s actions will impact international efforts to solve the North Korean nuclear problem. Your response?

Maria Zakharova: We see no connection between the launch of the project and the DPRK nuclear problem. We are sufficiently active in our position on the DPRK nuclear problem, in promoting it at the UN Security Council, which is the proper venue for this issue to be considered. You know about our efforts in this area in bilateral and multilateral formats. This issue has been raised with our colleagues at relevant levels. There are special representatives and experts who are dealing with this issue.

Question: There are many apprehensions about this North Korea – Russia project. Does the Foreign Ministry have a position on this issue?

Maria Zakharova: We have no apprehensions in this regard. There is no link between an infrastructure project and what we discuss at the UN Security Council and other international organisations.

Question Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had a different response to the ferry’s launch. He said he would contact the Russian Foreign Ministry through diplomatic channels and state his position. Has contact been established? Do both countries’ positions coincide?

Maria Zakharova: We are in permanent contact with the Japanese side both through the Japanese Embassy in Moscow and the Russian Embassy in Tokyo. Contacts between Russia and Japan are very effective. I can find out whether a Japanese request of this kind has been made.

Question: Today, a number of Japanese citizens have visited the islands on a visa-free basis and expressed concern that they were unable to visit their former villages. What is your comment?

Maria Zakharova: I didn’t see these reports. We will provide an official comment.

Question: US President Donald Trump has promised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey that he will support his country in its fight against terrorism. How far will this go toward establishing a global antiterrorist coalition, given that Turkey has maintained successful cooperation in this area with Russia and Iran?

Maria Zakharova: Each country has the right to establish a dialogue of its own with any other country, including on issues of terrorism. The United States and Turkey also have this right. It is the legitimate right of two sovereign powers to promote their counterterrorism cooperation. The US and Turkey are actively involved in projects where the topic of counterterrorism, particularly with regard to Syria, is being actively addressed, for example, at the Security Council and the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). The issue of counterterrorism should be addressed collectively. There is a need for collective action, since we know the history of this crisis and the number of countries or groups behind various militant forces. Both countries have the right to cooperate. We proceed from the assumption that this cooperation should be constructive and should not contradict the documents approved within the framework of this project.

Question: A special envoy of the new president of the Republic of Korea is arriving on May 22. Will he be meeting with anyone from the Foreign Ministry? What issues will be discussed?

Maria Zakharova: I do not have any information about his meetings at the Foreign Ministry. We will update this information and let you know the answer in the near future.

Question: US Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier appointed former head of the FBI Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to investigate Russia's interference in the presidential elections in the United States in 2016. I would like to know Russia's position on this appointment.

Maria Zakharova: We have no position whatsoever on this issue. This is an internal matter of the United States, part of the internal political wrangling. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to move on from the election cycle and resume the normal course of affairs. Unfortunately, this election campaign has become a drawn-out affair, or at least the post-election period has dragged on, and there’s no sign of the situation in the United States calming down. On the contrary, there are major suspicions that this post-election wave won’t die down before the next elections to the US Congress. The issues will remain the same, such as confrontation with Russia and countering the existing Russian threat and cyber attacks.

As we draw closer to US congressional elections, there will be more stories about their servers being hacked. We have a corresponding mechanism with the United States to prevent cyber threats and cyber attacks. This is an officially established mechanism, a clear-cut structure, which has its own procedure.

If the United States suspects there have been cyber attacks in the United States originating in Russia, then the relevant information must be provided via this channel, and the competent Russian authorities will immediately begin to work on these issues. They use their capabilities to find out what the problem is, and begin an internal investigation and checks. Throughout the entire existence of this mechanism, it was used only once. It was not used in any other cyber attacks, since it was necessary to provide specific data, such as location, the part of cyberspace affected, and the time the signals were registered. These data are not available in the public domain or within the existing mechanisms for tracking cyber attacks. The story about Russia's involvement in the US elections is a campaign story of one candidate, at least with respect to international matters. Clearly, they weren’t able to accept defeat and start looking into the mistakes in their own policies and failures after the election, so they needed an “eternal” enemy.

Question: The other day, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill proposing to name an intersection in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington after Boris Nemtsov. What is Russia’s reaction?

Maria Zakharova: This shows what the political establishment in the United States is like at this moment, its level. You may expect me to say that it’s wrong, bad and destructive. I won’t say that, because this story is much deeper, more cynical and more terrible than you might think. I’m not sure if there are US journalists or journalists who specialise in such issues in the United States. I saw these reports. The fact is that the spot in question is now vacant, a barren plot of land. Some time ago, the municipal authorities informed the local community and the Russian Embassy in the United States (as our building is located in this area) about their plans to build a homeless shelter in this spot. Just think of the place the legislators decided to name after the Russian politician. You can think whatever you want about legacy, the activities, and life of Mr Nemtsov, agree or disagree with his ideas, but he represented our country. He was one of the most vibrant Russian politicians of the early 1990s, a member of the Government.

Why do that to this person's name? Either it’s an act of stupidity on behalf of the political forces that make such decisions in the United States, or it’s some kind of devilish cynicism. Who did they want to hurt? The memory of Boris Nemtsov? You have to be inhuman to do so. Of course, as soon as we were informed, we immediately asked for clarifications. The local residents even held the meetings after the local municipality announced its plan to build a homeless shelter there. We asked for information about whether these intentions have become legally binding or still remain that, intentions. After today's decisions, we have even more questions. Clearly, they believe they would hurt Russia if they did so.

Question: The House of Representatives of the US Congress has adopted a new bill, which provides for imposing new sanctions on the countries that bomb civilians in Syria. How do such bills affect US-Russia relations in their joint fight against terrorism?

Maria Zakharova: The worst part here is the type of people who make such decisions. They have a very vague idea of what’s happening in the region, engage in lobbying and are very far from reality. Basically, they are relying on what their own media put out, and its quality leaves much to be desired. However, there are specific organisations and people who engage in counterterrorism cooperation and are well aware of the situation. We maintain contact with these people in various multilateral and bilateral formats, and are prepared to interact with them and encourage them to do so as well. You are well aware that these pieces of paper are churned out in order to keep the topic of Syria and Russia afloat, and just to go through the motions. Unfortunately, we cannot expect anything constructive from such statements.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you and your colleagues on the occasion of receiving a well-deserved award. As I recently learned, the Spanish-language version of the Russia Today television channel had received a special prize of the Mexican Club of Journalists for contributing to diversity of perspectives, which is awarded jointly with the Autonomous University of Carmen. No matter what countries we visit as part of the delegation led by Minister Sergey Lavrov, we are told every time, even if people do not agree with the point of view of your television channel, the things that were praised in Mexico – your contribution to diversity of viewpoints.

Question: The leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan said they would hold a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan this autumn. If the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan asks Russia to send its observers to the referendum, will Moscow do so?

Maria Zakharova: This is a hypothetical question. I think that actions matter more than predictions here. It is imperative to proceed based on concrete steps taken by a given state and to respond to them. In this particular case, I would leave such futuristic ideas to experts and political scientists. We will proceed based on the official position of Baghdad and the processes that will take place in that country. We are in touch with the Iraqi leadership and representatives of foreign ministries, and we are holding meetings and talks. So, I repeat that we will act based on Baghdad's official position and we will respond to it.

Question They did say they will talk with Baghdad and try to agree on this issue. In this case, will Russia be willing to send its observers?

Maria Zakharova: We will comment on it when it becomes a reality.

Question: In one of his interviews, Russian political scientist Igor Shatrov said that the Astana talks on Syria dealt with more pressing issues than the Geneva talks. In Geneva, they discussed overarching but at the same time complex issues, in particular, the future political structure of Syria. Issues on the Astana process agenda included compliance with the truce zone, and delineating the zone of responsibility. According to a Russian political scientist, the Geneva talks have become a philosophical discussion club. What would you say to that?

Maria Zakharova: I treat it like a comment by a Russian political scientist. You are aware of the official point of view on both processes. We see them as two concurrent processes where one stimulates the other, and the other is enriched by the first. So, both these processes must be considered together. They are mutually dependent, advantageous and important.

Question: Early on during your briefing, you mentioned Russia’s willingness to provide Venezuela with assistance of every kind. Could you specify the kind of support in question, diplomatic or other?

Maria Zakharova: Of course, I made it clear that we are talking about mediation efforts, if any are required to overcome the political crisis in the country.

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