Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, May 25, 2017

Monday, 29 May 2017 12:00

Foreign and defence ministers of Russia and Egypt to meet in the two plus two format
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to hold talks with his Nigerian counterpart Geoffrey Onyeama
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Zambian Foreign Minister Harry Kalaba
Africa Day
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's participation in the 21st St Petersburg International Economic Forum
Collective Security Treaty turns 25
The situation in Syria
ISIS testing chemical weapons on humans
Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova's election as chair of World Health Assembly's anniversary session
Official ceremony to open the department of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute at the University of Havana's Faculty of Foreign Languages
CNN’s attacks on Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak
New outbreak of anti-Russia propaganda over 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
The 22nd international charity golf tournament
Answers to media questions:
Russian-Azerbaijani relations
President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Paris
Visit by President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte
Russian citizens’ visits to Great Britain
Implementation of the Minsk Agreements
Statements by President of Macedonia Gjorge Ivanov
Metochion of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Russian-Bulgarian cooperation within the BSEC
NATO decision to join the fight against ISIS
Combating terrorism
Cancellation of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s visit to Moscow
US-Saudi Arabia arms deal
Meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Nerchirvan Barzani
Briefings on 2018 FIFA World Cup
The Foreign Ministry’s channel on Telegram
The possibility of sending a special envoy to North Korea
The fate of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko
Ukraine’s possible introduction of visas with Russia
EU position on Russia
Russian-US relations
Putin-Trump meeting



Foreign and defence ministers of Russia and Egypt to meet in the two plus two format

On May 29, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu will pay a working visit to Cairo. They will conduct separate talks with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry and Defence Minister Sidqi Subhi, as well as consultations in the two plus two format. The ministers expect to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The visit to Cairo in this format continues the practice begun in November 2013, emphasises the special character of the strategic partnership between Russia and Egypt and reaffirms their mutual desire to continue steadily developing and consolidating it.

During the forthcoming talks Mr Lavrov and Mr Shoigu plan to discuss with their Egyptian colleagues key regional and international issues, primarily the developments in the Middle East and North Africa. They will also discuss practical tasks of building up cooperation across the board, including the political, economic and military-technical spheres.

The visit to Egypt will take place against the backdrop of complicated developments in the Middle East and North Africa, including the spread of crisis areas, the unprecedented increase in the threat of terrorism, and the aggravation of the migration crisis. The participants in the forthcoming Russian-Egyptian talks will focus on the political and diplomatic settlement of regional conflicts on the basis of international norms and the escalation of the unwavering struggle against terrorist groups.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to hold talks with his Nigerian counterpart Geoffrey Onyeama

Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Geoffrey Onyeama will pay a working visit to Moscow on May 29-31.

Mr Lavrov will hold talks with Mr Onyeama on May 30. The foreign ministers will discuss issues pertaining to the steady development of bilateral ties in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian areas. They will concentrate on prospects of cooperation in the nuclear industry, hydrocarbon processing, infrastructure projects and exports of Russian industrial products to Nigeria.

The ministers will hold an in-depth exchange of views on international and regional issues, focusing on countering terrorism and extremism, settling crises in Africa, primarily in the Sahara and the Sahel, and fighting pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

We hope that the forthcoming talks will impart a powerful impetus to the further consolidation of the traditionally friendly relations between Russia and Nigeria.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Zambian Foreign Minister Harry Kalaba

On May 30 – June 1, Foreign Minister of Zambia Harry Kalaba will come to Moscow on a working visit.

On May 31, the Russian Foreign Ministry will host talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Zambian Foreign Minister Harry Kalaba. The ministers will discuss the status and prospects for strengthening traditionally friendly bilateral ties in the political, economic, humanitarian and other fields. They will also exchange views on current issues of the regional and global agendas, including the settlement of crises in Africa and the efforts against international terrorism.

Africa Day

Today, May 25, marks Africa Day – a holiday that symbolises the unity of African peoples and their success in securing national independence and building a new life. On May 25, 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established, which initiated the continent’s onward movement along the path of political and economic integration. The African Union (AU) continues the OAU’s activities by uniting all the states of the continent. Its main goal is to devise collective approaches towards ensuring peace and security, develop human potential and strengthen democratic processes.

On the occasion of Africa Day, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message to the leaders of the continent’s states. It reads, in part, that African states have made significant progress in socioeconomic, scientific, technical and cultural development. The message also notes the friendly and partnership nature of relations established between Russia and African states, and confirms Russia’s commitment to further building multifaceted and mutually beneficial ties.

As per the annual tradition, Foreign Minister Lavrov is holding an official reception with invitations to the heads of African missions accredited in Moscow, representatives of Russian government agencies and business leaders working with African states. The event is scheduled for May 31.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's participation in the 21st St Petersburg International Economic Forum

On June 1-3, the 21st St Petersburg International Economic Forum will take place, under the patronage and with participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This year's forum, held under the slogan Achieving a New Balance in the Global Economic Arena, will focus on the most pressing issues of the global and Russian economies.

The forum programme includes about 300 roundtable discussions, panel sessions, business dialogues, and other events. Over 12,000 guests from over 100 countries are expected to attend the forum, including high representatives of foreign countries and international organisations and the media, heads of top international companies, and members of the academic and expert communities.

On the sidelines on the forum, President Vladimir Putin will hold bilateral meetings. You will receive corresponding information from the Presidential Press Service.

These meetings will be attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who will also hold talks with German Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit, and with his foreign counterparts.

Mr Lavrov will also take part in a panel session of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

We will inform you later about Mr Lavrov's working schedule for the 21st St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Collective Security Treaty turns 25

The Treaty on Collective Security was signed in Tashkent on May 15, 1992. Ten years later, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) was established on its basis.

The Treaty unites Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

The CSTO was set up in the absence of bloc confrontation. It operates on the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. Decisions are adopted by consensus with due account of the national interests of all members. This makes the CSTO strong and gives it good prospects. Today we are celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The CSTO trod an uphill road of development and became an efficient regional agency. In accordance with the Treaty and the Charter, its chief goal is to create favourable and stable conditions for the comprehensive development of its members. Its main activities are aimed at ensuring regional security, promoting political and military-economic cooperation, countering terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, and responding to emergencies.

The CSTO has observer status in the UN General Assembly and is actively cooperating with its specialised agencies, as well as the OSCE and other international organisations.

On May 2, Yuri Khachaturov (Armenian citizen) assumed the position of the CSTO Secretary General.

We will continue informing you about Russia’s participation in the CSTO activities.

The situation in Syria

Over the past few days, we have noted with satisfaction the consolidation of positive trends in the military-political situation in Syria. This is directly related to the implementation of the memorandum on creating de-escalation zones in Syria, which was signed by Russian, Iranian and Turkish representatives at the international meeting on Syria in Astana on May 4.

Ceasefire monitoring is ongoing. The Russian Defence Ministry assesses the situation on the ground in de-escalation zones as stable. Violations are reported mainly in areas controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS terrorists. The Russian centre for reconciliation in Syria continues to run regular relief operations, supplying basic necessities to Syrian people in affected areas. It is also continuing its efforts to encourage residential areas to join the ceasefire.

The situation in the Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Darayya provinces has visibly stabilised. Hostilities are reported in several areas of Eastern Ghouta controlled by jihadists. Syrian government army forces are advancing in the north and east of Homs province, fighting back terrorist attacks in Darayya and Suwayda. ISIS militants are trying to advance and counterattack government positions in eastern Hama. Refugees, who are fleeing their homes along the line of contact, are concentrating in Salamiyah.

Syrian government forces are engaging the jihadists’ most effective fighting groups in eastern Aleppo and Hama, as well as in ISIS-besieged Deir ez Zor. At this point, ISIS fighters are avoiding contact with the advancing subunits of the Syrian Democratic Forces that have urged the residents of Raqqa and adjacent areas fighting on ISIS’ side to lay down their arms and surrender within 10 days. Factoring in Ankara’s threats to launch a large-scale operation against the Syrian Democratic Forces, as well as regular clashes between the Kurds and pro-Turkish illegal armed groups, violence in northern Syria is likely to escalate.

In Idlib province, militants of al Nusra-led Hayat Tahrir al Sham are building fortifications along the Haram-Darkush-Saramid-Akhima-al Dana line to repulse possible “Turkish aggression.” Against this backdrop, internecine fighting has intensified between different illegal armed formations, particularly Hayat Tahrir al Sham and Ahrar al Sham.

We note the improvement of the humanitarian situation in so-called “pacified” districts (Qaboun and Zabadani, among others). The Syrian authorities are working hard to rebuild the damaged infrastructure of populated areas, actively sending aid there and deploying field hospitals that provide medical care to the public free of charge. Peace talks are ongoing with groups controlling several Damascus suburbs.

On May 16-19, the sixth round of intra-Syrian consultations took place in Geneva. On the whole, we take a positive view of their results. Russia has provided assistance to Staffan de Mistura, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Syria, primarily in making contacts with representatives of the Syrian government, as well as the Moscow and Cairo platforms. A technical consultation process on constitutional and legal issues was launched, laying the groundwork for a discussion of constitutional issues.

Ramping up the Geneva process is more relevant than ever. It is important to make the most of the progress on creating de-escalation zones, which was achieved in Astana.

Against this backdrop, we would like once again to draw your attention to the airstrike launched by the US-led coalition against a convoy of Syrian pro-government forces near the town of al-Tanf in southeast Syria in proximity to the Iraqi border on May 18. We regard the attempts by the US command to justify that airstrike by claiming that those subunits allegedly posed a threat to armed opposition forces cooperating with the US-led coalition, as well as to US service personnel deployed in the area, as unacceptable. Whatever the motives behind the attack might have been, it constitutes a gross violation of international law, the UN Charter and Syria’s sovereignty. One gets the impression that our Western partners still refuse to acknowledge the need to consolidate the efforts of all players who are countering ISIS and al-Nusra terrorist in Syria on the ground and in the air.

ISIS testing chemical weapons on humans

We took note of reports in the British media, in particular, the Times newspaper that cites documents found by Iraqi special forces during the liberation of the university in Mosul, showing that ISIS is conducting inhuman tests of toxic agents on people. Importantly, foreign chemists recruited by terrorists, primarily experts that were once involved in the military chemical programmes in Iraq, Syria and Libya, are already experimenting with commercial chemicals that are fairly accessible in the international market. The numerous cases of chemical weapons being used by terrorists, which has become standard practice in the defence of Mosul even in the opinion of the Western media, show the scale of the chemical terrorism issue in the Middle East.

To our deep regret, Russia has tried, to no avail, to draw attention to the endless recurrence of chemical terrorism in Syria and Iraq for more than three years. This recurrence has become systemic and cross-border and threatens to spread beyond the Middle East. We have repeatedly urged our partners to jointly counter the new fact existing “on the ground” – chemical terrorism at different international venues, above all the UN Security Council and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This was the purpose of the joint Russian-Chinese draft UN Security Council resolution and the broadly supported Russian initiative to elaborate a new international convention on countering acts of chemical and biological terrorism at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament.

It is unfortunate that once again we have to acknowledge that our colleagues from Western and other countries either fail to provide proper support for our efforts or are openly blocking them. What can be more obvious than the need for cooperation in countering terrorism, and especially chemical terrorism? Apparently, resistance to our attempts to draw attention to this issue is explained by geopolitical ambitions. Our colleagues continue to practice double standards in the anti-terrorist struggle in Syria and Iraq. Unfortunately, the numerous outrageous incidents involving the use of chemical weapons by terrorists and extremists are being cynically ignored. In an effort to remove the existing regime in Syria at all costs, it is more useful, apparently, to blame everything without any evidence on the lawfully elected Syrian Government that displayed its political will in 2013 by voluntarily renouncing its chemical weapons. This unacceptable situation is only playing into the hands of terrorists that continue using with impunity not only chlorine and other toxic chemicals but also own-produced real chemical warfare agents wherever they want.

Regrettably, when the terrorists ousted from Iraq move their chemical research base to war-torn Syria, the number of incidents involving the use of chemical agents is bound to grow. It is easy to guess who will be accused of them – of course, the armed forces and the Government of Syria.

The infamous provocation staged by the opposition, which relies on the use of force, is indicative in this respect. I am referring to the possible use of sarin in Idlib Province on April 4. I would like to draw your attention again to the fact that Damascus almost daily submits to the UN Security Council and the OPCW information on the smuggling of toxic chemicals from abroad and terrorist plans to use them. This is material evidence. These are not just press releases or some papers. This is factual information that a sovereign state officially submits to relevant international agencies.

We are strongly recommending that the new directors of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the use of chemical weapons in Syria (UN Security Council Resolution 2319 expanded the geographical and anti-terrorist mandate of the mechanism) thoroughly analyse who is using toxic agents in this war-ravaged region.

Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova's election as chair of World Health Assembly's anniversary session

On May 22, at the first meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), Russian Minister of Healthcare Veronika Skvortsova was unanimously elected chair of the WHA's 70th anniversary session. We congratulate her.

During its historical anniversary session, chaired by Ms Skvortsova, member states elected new Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Veronika Skvortsova's election as chair of the WHA's 70th anniversary session demonstrates the international prestige of Russia's healthcare system and trust in Russia in the international arena.

We will publish materials related to this topic at the Russian Foreign Ministry's official site (some of them have already been published) so that you can follow developments in this sphere.

Official ceremony to open the department of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute at the University of Havana's Faculty of Foreign Languages

On May 22, after a 30-year hiatus, the department of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute at the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the University of Havana has officially resumed its work. The official ceremony, held as part of the 3rd Forum of Russian and Cuban University Rectors, was attended by Cuban Minister of Higher Education Jose Ramon Saborido Loidi, Rector of the University of Havana Gustavo Cobreiro Suarez, Rector of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute Margarita Rusetskaya, Russian Ambassador to Cuba Mikhail Kamynin, and representatives of the public and the media.

This is, of course, a landmark event which we definitely welcome. The spread of the Russian language in Cuba is a nod to tradition and at the same time a new positive trend. We greatly hope that in the near future it will become a regional trend. The appearance of such an in-demand educational platform is an important step for which we are grateful to the Cuban authorities. Against the backdrop of our dynamically developing strategic partnership with Havana, the opening of the department is clear evidence of greater motivation to learn Russian, which is due to a natural need for professional linguists to assist in the implementation of ambitious bilateral projects and the aspiration to further strengthen historic links and ties of friendship and mutual understanding between our countries.

The plans of the educational centre include carrying out educational, methodological and scientific tasks. We are certain that in the long view it will serve as a base for training teachers for Cuban schools and securing the Russian language's place in the Cuban secondary education system.

CNN’s attacks on Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak

Recently, people working for the CNN television network – reporters, commentators and anchors – have established a kind of tradition in ascribing absolutely absurd actions to Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. I get a sense that as far as CNN is concerned, a day without Mr Kislyak is a day lost. CNN reports of March 2, 3 and 4, April 6 and May 10 referred to the Russian ambassador as none other than a “top-notch spy and recruiter.” And this despite our repeated rebuttals at all levels! Such fake news stories are absolutely unacceptable. What’s more, this bears the hallmarks of a targeted propaganda campaign. In other words, this is not so much about informing their audience as imposing this concept on other media outlets that look to the network with its broad reach. Naturally, the Russian position is not represented in any way and has not been cited in this context despite the fact that a lot of rebuttals have been made, most importantly, accompanied by requests to halt this stream of lies.

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that, to be on the safe side (the laws of the genre are still in effect), all these assessments were attributed to alleged comments by former or current US officials.

To reiterate, for our part, we have repeatedly objected to the absurdity and unacceptability of such assertions. They seem to be designed to discredit the activity of the head of the Russian diplomatic mission and are not conducive to fostering an objective media landscape around our country, bilateral relations, the international agenda or the improvement of Russian-US relations as a whole.

Sadly, our conversations at the CNN Moscow bureau show that these insinuations – there is no other way to describe them – are the result of the channel’s deliberate editorial policy. I would like to underscore this. Our contacts show that this is not the result of investigative journalism (because this is absurd), not journalistic improvisation, not journalistic professionalism. CNN has a Moscow bureau that could have easily found out all the details of Ambassador Kislyak’s career. This is deliberate editorial policy that is handed down to reporters from above. Whether it is formulated within the TV network or is handed down from above – that could in fact be a subject of your journalistic investigation.

The impression is that some people in Washington’s present political establishment are clearly averse to the idea of the possible improvement of relations between our two countries.

Of course, it is very sad that this respected news network is playing first fiddle in this orchestra. I am saying “respected” now, but we’ll see what happens.

New outbreak of anti-Russia propaganda over 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

We have to comment on the politically motivated anxiety among the Western political establishment and media over the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia.

We have seen our Western colleagues’ passions boiling before, over the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. History is repeating itself. Frightening forecasts were made about the 2014 Games by the political establishment and media in some Western countries, and predictions of total disaster in terms of games’ organisation and the host country. They claimed that Sochi was not ready for the games and pointed to corruption, the poor quality of construction, and the allegedly unfriendly and inhospitable Russians. They turned everything in this country so as to present it in a bad light. All of you remember how the Games were held, the mood and emotions of the athletes and journalists as the Games ended, let alone the spectators, fans and the national teams. Not a single frightening forecast came true, and that flow of absurdity was washed away by the truly spectacular atmosphere in Sochi.

You will witness now (but not participate, I hope) an information campaign that will grow in scale as the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia draws nearer. You will see claims that the sports facilities are not ready for the Cup and the Russian organisers are unfriendly and unprofessional. Like in the case of Sochi, human rights issues will be scrutinised, though not through a magnifying but through a distorting glass. You may remember the horrible stories about human rights violations in Sochi the Western media reported. Exactly the same is happening now.

It appears that the Norwegian Football Association is showing even deeper concern than the others. On May 16, it sent a letter to FIFA, also signed by three other North European national football associations, asking the international football association to investigate the alleged use of migrant labour to build the St Petersburg Stadium in conditions that can be described as modern slavery, that is, without registration, for starvation wages and without any healthcare services. The Netherlands had previously expressed similar concerns. I have great respect for the work of civil society institutions and human rights organisations. But I am against these organisations exploiting such issues as this inappropriately, as instruments of political pressure or blackmail, or as it happened in this case, in a slanderous information campaign.

More and more attempts are being made to intimidate football fans with the horrors they will allegedly encounter in Russia from the thuggish football fanatics who are allegedly ready to tear foreign fans to pieces. We have hosted many sports events before, including the Sochi Olympics, which was an extremely complicated event. The games’ conditions were very complex: they were both unique [geographically] and difficult organisationally. But we got everything done. You must remember the Sochi residents and people from all over Russia who came to Sochi to help. Do you recall any aggression on their part? Or any thuggish fans? What are we talking about? There are fans in all countries, and they can be divided into aggressive and normal ones.

As I said, we are not the first country to organise such an event. We are just doing what many other countries have done before us. Yet we have been subjected to such attacks as this one before each large international sports event we host. The lies that have been fabricated! There have been many incredible reports about the organisation of events in Russia, the alleged dangers facing tourists here, all kinds of mud-slinging, the absurd photographs that turned out to be doctored images or were not taken in Russia. But this did not prevent us from hosting many international sports events. I believe the same tactics are being used now. We urge you to disregard such fakes.

As for the employment and residence terms of the North Korean workers mentioned in the letters sent to various international organisations, which took the alleged human rights violations in Russia so closely to heart, the employment and residence terms of migrant workers are regulated by national labour and migration laws, and the migration authorities that are responsible for monitoring compliance with these law. In other words, we’ve got people overseeing the rights of migrant workers in Russia. I suggest that our Western colleagues take a look at other countries, where the working conditions of migrant workers leave much to be desired. Strangely, nobody seems to be interested.

It is regrettable that this close attention to human rights has become a selective instrument used for political purposes, as I said.

I suggest that European countries – we are talking about their recent actions now – as well as other countries stop inventing fake news but instead read a recent report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights about the current migration situation in the EU, in particular the discrimination and inhumane treatment of migrants in the European democracies. Just look at what is happening in this sphere in the countries I have mentioned. Maybe the Netherlands or Norway should prepare and send petitions to international organisations about exploitation in their countries? This could be interesting. I suggest that Norwegian organisations survey their own country’s compliance with democratic values and human rights.

It is even more surprising to see the Norwegian media write about the Russian authorities’ efforts to artificially bolster the people’s pride in their country and its greatness. To me, this sounds like jealousy. Are they confusing us with someone else? We don’t need to artificially bolster the feeling of national pride. But we will never allow anyone, especially anyone abroad, to try to denigrate it. There are many things we can be proud of. John Kerry has recently told American students to learn Russian. There are opportunities for doing this, in Russia or Cuba. I suggest that you study Russia’s history, its map and contribution to global development, and then you will be able to avoid making such embarrassing gaffes.

We can organise a briefing and visits to sports facilities for the Norwegian media and other journalists working in Northern Europe and Russia. Other journalists are invited as well. We can also hold briefings with the organisers of the World Cup matches and give a tour of the Cup’s facilities. We can do anything, but please, stop writing nonsense. Just ask us for the information you need.

The 22nd international charity golf tournament

On June 5, the 22nd international charity golf tournament devoted to International Children’s Day will take place at the Foreign Ministry’s Main Administration for Service to the Diplomatic Corps (GlavUpDK), at the Moscow Country Club.

Since 1996, this event has been not only a prestigious sporting event but also an effective tool of raising funds to help children with serious conditions. The funds thus raised are sent to charity foundations, children’s hospitals and boarding schools.

Representatives of diplomatic missions, the Russian political and business communities, prominent athletes and cultural figures usually participate in tournament events.

We invite media members to visit the Moscow Country Club on June 5 and cover tournament events.

Detailed information is available on GlavUpDK’s website.

Answers to media questions:

Question: Yesterday, a meeting of the Foreign Ministry Collegium took place on the situation in the South Caucasus and Russia’s policy in the region. It was chaired by Foreign Minister Lavrov. The press release says the status of and prospects for relations with each South Caucasus state were discussed in substance. In this context, I would like to know Russia’s view of its relations with Azerbaijan, taking into account the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

Maria Zakharova: This is a non-question. We maintain relations with Azerbaijan, developing them in various spheres: political, economic and humanitarian. This is a nation that is close to us. Until recently we had a common geographical space within the bounds of a single state. Our ties will develop. Our country does not predicate the relations that we are developing with Baku and the people of Azerbaijan on any other international factors. These relations have a value for us in their own right. Naturally, when we discuss the international and regional agendas with that country’s representatives, we raise difficult issues. This is normal. Nobody sweeps them under the rug. We have a trust-based and open dialogue. If you are interested in more detailed aspects of bilateral cooperation we are always willing to provide an appropriate material to you.

Question: On May 29, President Vladimir Putin will go to Paris at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron for top-level talks. At almost the same time US President Donald Trump will be on his European tour. Earlier, Russian and US government sources talked about a possible meeting between the two presidents in late May. Have any instructions been issued to the Foreign Ministry concerning preparations for such a meeting?

Maria Zakharova: As you know, matters related to summits and top-level meetings are commented on by the Presidential Executive Office and the Presidential Press Service. We will not depart from this tradition.

Question: A few days ago, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was in Russia. He had to cut short his visit due to a terrorist attack in his country. Are there any antiterrorism cooperation plans with the Philippines?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at his meeting with Philippines Foreign Minister Alan Cayetano have already been published. The meeting took place in Moscow today. The Russian minister reiterated [Russia’s] “adherence to the agreements to expand cooperation in fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime.” These issues were addressed. Our country reaffirmed its unqualified commitment to the existing agreements.

Question: Has the Foreign Ministry issued any recommendations to Russian citizens on visiting the United Kingdom after the terrorist attack in Manchester?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that official UK agencies, including the Government, have raised the terror threat level to critical, the highest possible level. In this connection, guided by these decisions of the British side, we advise Russian citizens to refrain from attending any mass public events and visiting crowded areas in British mega-cities, unless this is motivated by urgent personal or business considerations. We believe that it is necessary to follow this recommendation until British authorities stabilise the security situation and reduce the terror threat level. We are issuing these recommendations on the basis of the decisions made by official London.

Question: US officials are noting absolutely clearly that they are expecting Russia to help resolve the situation in Donbass. What do you think of US expectations of possible Russian moves? Does this solution call for going beyond the Minsk Agreements?

Maria Zakharova: All decisions and all moves are linked with fulfilling the Minsk Agreements, one way or another. I don’t know who in Washington is expecting these moves from whom. Fulfilling the Minsk Agreements is the main issue today. We realise that official Kiev is delaying the fulfilment of the Minsk Agreements. All moves, due to be made by the other side, have been made. Everyone is now expecting official Ukrainian authorities to fulfill precisely their share of the Minsk Agreements’ provisions.

Is there any point in going beyond the Minsk Agreements? Quite possibly, this matter should be addressed to experts or political analysts perceiving this situation in a hypothetical context. There can be many different scenarios here, and we are reading numerous publications on this subject.

Regarding the official position that is being accepted and supported by everyone, we would like to note that the key to resolving the crisis in Ukraine lies in fulfilling the Minsk Agreements. It would be hardly appropriate and effective to draft a new package of agreements and to press for its approval or modification in these circumstances. We can see the antagonism being voiced by Kiev for the generally accepted Minsk Agreements, and we can see how reluctant Kiev is to fulfil the provisions of this document signed by the Ukrainian leader. All Kiev needs to do is fulfil its part of the work under the Minsk Agreement, as pledged by the Ukrainian authorities.

Question: Bulgaria is hysterical over the statements President of Macedonia Gjorge Ivanov has made during his visit to Russia. How can you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: Am I right that you are referring to Mr Ivanov’s statements on Slavic literacy. I would describe the articles I read today online and other related statements as absolutely unsubstantiated. Their authors probably did not get the gist of what was said. Indeed, the President of Macedonia made statements to this effect during his visit to Russia, where he came to receive an award from the International Foundation for Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations. Nobody in Russia has challenged the contribution made by the First Bulgarian Empire to the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet. Trying to do so would be contrary to historical fact. President Ivanov spoke about “Macedonian soil” as a geographical notion. The region where St Cyril and St Methodius were later born was known as Macedonia back during the Roman Empire. There must be no misunderstanding or misinterpretation here.

We are convinced that the bright day of May 24, when we celebrate the Day of Slavic Literacy, must not become reason for conflict, but should help deepen rapprochement between our peoples, both of whom worship St Cyril and St Methodius. More than that, it must not be used to fuel unreasonable discord. This scandal, which can be potentially used to add tension to Russian-Bulgarian relations – I hope this will not happen – can hardly benefit our nations. As I said, the statements made were likely misinterpreted and presented in the wrong way. I don’t want to dig into history and the root cause of this case. Our position on this issue has been put forth very clearly. We believe it would be better to focus on the discussion of current issues of bilateral relations rather than look for reasons for confrontation where there are none.

Question: Slavic literacy is for Bulgaria like The Sacred War song is for Russia.
You have introduced a new form of diplomacy. I have a request to you on this score. The Metochion of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is located at 29 Goncharnaya Street in Moscow. I believe that an attempt to seize the area nearby illegally has been ongoing for a while. In fact, this has been going on for four years. The Metochion’s archpriest has been writing letters, but none of them have been answered. Illegal construction is underway on this area.

Maria Zakharova: As you know, the Foreign Ministry has no authority in this case, which is the responsibility of the municipal authorities and law enforcement agencies. I can take whatever materials you have on this issue and see to it that they are delivered to the right authority. I would like this to end the answer to this question, considering that it is not the Foreign Ministry’s responsibility. Submit the materials you have to me, and we will forward them to those who are dealing with this matter.

For my part, I am asking you to report our position on this issue to the Bulgarian public without misinterpreting it. I think you are able to do this very well. I hope you will do this. You don’t need to tell us about the significance of St Cyril and St Methodius for Bulgaria. We have known that since childhood. Knowing that this is a vital issue of national culture for Bulgaria, I understand why many other people who have the same understanding of this issue nevertheless try to exploit it for unseemly purposes and look for discrepancies. There are no discrepancies in our position, which has been put forth clearly and unambiguously for those who have tried to interpret it as an attempt to rewrite or distort history. We have not done anything of the kind. I believe that this information has been misinterpreted or mistranslated.

Question: Russia and Bulgaria are also cooperating within BSEC. Can their cooperation within this format be even broader and closer?

Maria Zakharova: We are ready to cooperate with Bulgaria in any format, including at international organisations. I can ask our experts about their views on Russian-Bulgarian cooperation within BSEC on your behalf and give you more details.

Question: NATO has agreed to take part in the fight against ISIS as part of the US-led coalition. Could you comment on that? Can the coalition achieve success fighting ISIS?

Maria Zakharova: If you are referring to the results of the current summit in Brussels, we are analysing them. We will assess them and provide a detailed commentary as soon as our experts offer their conclusions.

Question: Manchester was hit by a terrorist attack two days ago. An hour ago, the Federal Security Service reported that it had neutralised a group of militants in Moscow, who were preparing terrorist attacks in the transit system. To what extent, in your opinion, is Russia succeeding in making its Western partners understand that we are jointly fighting against a common enemy, which is terrorism? What efforts is the Foreign Ministry making in this regard?

Maria Zakharova: You’ve asked a difficult question. You see, you can try to get something across but it may fall on deaf ears. We are trying to get our message across and to do a quality job. But it is a big question whether the fact that only collective efforts are a cure-all and a medicine against the terrorist epidemic that is engulfing the world has become generally recognised. Russia is getting this idea across in different ways. We are using bilateral and international contacts and are actively promoting this idea at the UN. You may remember President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to create a broad front for fighting the terrorist threat, specifically ISIS, which he presented at the UN General Assembly slightly less than two years ago. We discuss this in all possible formats. We introduce initiatives and use public diplomacy. We say this directly by communicating our concerns and vision of this situation to NGOs and civil society, because in this case this also matters. Regrettably, however, we see that the West is predominantly concentrated on developments at home and puts its trust in its own capabilities in the face of this global threat. Our point of view is that [coping with it single-handedly] is impossible. It is only by pooling efforts and cooperating that we can draw closer to the coveted goal, our victory, or at least achieve stable success in fighting international terrorism.

Every time there is a terrorist attack in Europe, in the West, or elsewhere in the world, unfortunately, we often see a ‘virtualised’ reaction from civil society, especially in the Western countries: people change avatars, paint buildings the colours of the corresponding flag, organise marches and demonstrations; major political leaders join some of the rallies. All of this is important indeed because it sends the appropriate message and shows a sort of moral resistance to terrorism. Still, this is not enough. If people rally on social networks and one photo can fly around the entire information space of a social network within an hour and become an avatar for millions, this, however trivial, is an example of how we could close ranks in other areas. But this does not happen. Why? Because of political ambitions.

There is something else I would like to draw attention to. Unfortunately, if you look at recent reports on US and European media (TV shows, articles, radio programmes), Russia is presented as a main enemy for many countries. Unfortunately, this virtual fight with Russia is substituting for a real fight against terrorism. All the efforts of the mainstream media, online publications and other resources are aimed at trying to analyse the degree of threat from a potentially aggressive Russia.

Meanwhile, there is a real enemy out there. There is no need to prove that this is an enemy because it is a universally recognised fact. This enemy consumes dozens, hundreds of lives, and cripples even more every day. Among other things, this enemy is undermining moral foundations, specifically, people's belief in justice, that evil can be punished. The most recent attack in Manchester hit the most sensitive – children. Who better than Russians know this anguish? We have suffered through horrendous terrorist attacks against children and perfectly understand what they are aimed at. The effect of these attacks is much greater than that of aggression directed against adults. Children are the most vulnerable people, and they are our future. In other words, this aggression is targeting the future, it is aimed at or tuned to the future.

Unfortunately, once again, all efforts are concentrated on virtual reality – fighting the fictitious enemy represented by Russia. Meanwhile the real enemy has already sprawled away. Indeed, until recently, five years ago, terrorist associations were called cells, units or organisations, that is, operated on a smaller scale, with only vague trends to unite. Now we are dealing with an entire self-proclaimed terrorist quasi-state. The point is that in recent years, these groups have begun to merge at an incredible rate and are now actually claiming a place on the modern geographical map as an entity. Of course, this entity is not recognized; it is being denied; it will never be legalised, but it is about mentality – they are trying to undermine the traditional concept of how the world works. All this targets young people, who are being brainwashed under the guise of absolutely false values and ideas of justice. People are being recruited and primed to the idea that this is not about some rebel groups – their ultimate goal is to control at least one region, and ideally the world.

The bell has long tolled. The evil grows stronger every day, while people are not joining their efforts, unfortunately. Still, this does not mean that we will stop trying to convey this idea. We will go on doing it the same way as we always did.

Question: How do you assess the results of the 9th International Economic Summit “Russia- Islamic World”? Are you planning to hold similar events to develop relations with the Islamic world?

Maria Zakharova: I will allow myself to give you additional information on the issue after consulting our experts.

Question: The terrorist attack in Manchester has revealed the need to combat international terrorism. But we remember well how British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to Moscow. What is better: to come to Moscow and discuss these international problems or to refuse to do so, and in the meantime terrorists will keep staging explosions throughout Europe and across the world?

Maria Zakharova: Believe me that in this particular case he did not cause any major harm to anyone except himself. As for Britain and anti-terrorism cooperation, the issue is far more serious and far more complicated. Between Moscow and London there is a whole array of tools for joint efforts aimed at combating terrorism. This involves secret services, special structures and relevant mechanisms. We have experience in holding consultations and information exchanges – various hotlines and so on. All this was unilaterally blocked by Britain a fairly long time ago.

Your timing is absolutely right when it comes to bringing up this subject. I would like to remind you that when we are talking about the existing mechanisms for bilateral anti-terrorist cooperation, we aren’t talking simply of their existence or that they may potentially bring some results. Nothing of the kind. They did bring definite results. One of them is the Tsarnayev brothers. Few Western public figures know that Russian representatives supplied Washington with information about them long before that bloody incident and that everything could have been absolutely different. This mechanism works. Unfortunately, at that moment, despite the fact that Russia provided that information on fairly reasonable grounds, it was nevertheless blocked in the United States for unknown reasons. Anyway, this example shows that on our side these channels do not just exist, but that they worked and can work.

I understand that this is a very painful topic. Nevertheless, just imagine people in Manchester, whose relatives were hurt or killed in this act of terror. If it were up to them to decide at this moment whether to open or block the anti-terrorism cooperation channel between Moscow and London, I am 100 percent confident that they would vote with both of their hands for this mechanism to be unblocked. There was a hypothetical opportunity to get additional information through these channels.

Ask London why it blocked this cooperation and who gains from it. Under the cover of some potential aggression on the part of Moscow, the unpredictability of Moscow (where we are unpredictable is just beyond comprehension), an absolutely predictable thing, namely the fight against terrorism, is being blocked. The issue remains open.

Question: What is your view on the arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia in the context of the ongoing conflict in Yemen?

Maria Zakharova: We have made public our view on the situation in Yemen several times, saying that the most serious measures had to be taken against its further degradation and making explicit statements as to the reasons for this deteriorating situation, as well as to who is responsible for it. Of course, deals between countries, if they are made legally, is a matter of bilateral relations provided that international law is complied with. Of course, the signing of this type of contract requires the understanding of the situation in the region.

Question: You said that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was going to meet with Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan Nechirvan Barzani in June. Do you have information about the issues they plan to discuss?

Maria Zakharova: I also said that we would provide the details of this meeting before it begins. As soon as the meeting is prepared, in terms of the protocol and agenda, we’ll release information on the format and issues included on the agenda. Either I’ll do this next week or the relevant information will be posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Question: We’d like to get more details of our participation in the briefings which, as you said, will be organised in connection with the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Maria Zakharova: You can forward your questions to the Foreign Ministry’s Press Service or the official responsible for the Japanese media.

You have an association of foreign correspondents, who normally ask the ministry’s press service to hold briefings or news conferences on various subjects. You can collect all the questions you want to ask the ministry and we’ll delegate our officials to speak at a meeting that can be held on the association’s premises. The initiative should be yours in this case. We organised and held trips to various regions for foreign correspondents at their request. Please advise us on the subjects, questions and formats which are of interest to you and we’ll try and comply with your request.

Question: In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda radio station you were absolutely right in saying that if you haven’t built up your presence on an internet site it means you’ve lost. Telegram has become increasingly popular on the internet of late. Do you plan to use this alternative internet site?

Maria Zakharova: We have a channel on Telegram, which we’ve announced six months ago. As for me, I don’t have a channel there. My channels of communication include meetings with journalists at their request – separate meetings with foreign and Russian reporters – and I have my personal account on Facebook. But the Foreign Ministry has a Telegram channel.

Question: On May 24, President Vladimir Putin met with Song Young-gil, the special envoy of the new South Korean President Moon Jae-in. During the meeting, President Putin said he was ready to send a special envoy to the DPRK to help resolve the issue of North Korean nuclear programme, if necessary. Is the Foreign Ministry studying or discussing this matter?

Maria Zakharova: Naturally, the Foreign Ministry implements all statements of the President who formulates the foreign policy agenda because this is perceived as an appropriate action plan for the Ministry. We will provide you with any additional information, if there is any.

Question: I would like to ask a question about Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, now serving a 20-year prison term in the United States. We have organised a news conference for members of his family who said they had contacted the Foreign Ministry and requested assistance in his release. Are you addressing this issue somehow?

Maria Zakharova: It is disappointing to hear this word “somehow.” We address this issue in the most attentive manner, using the entire arsenal of diplomatic methods, rather than somehow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov personally monitors this issue all the time. After some of Konstantin Yaroshenko’s chronic health disorders became aggravated, the Foreign Ministry used all options to convince the US side of the need for urgent medical treatment. During each contact with the US side, we provide detailed information about the state of his health that worries the Russian side and about compliance with his rights. We don’t divide people by categories.

We assist every Russian citizen in a similar situation. However, there are simply unprecedented incidents when Russian citizens were abducted from the territory of various states and whose cases were distorted by judicial agencies and the concerned departments in other countries, in particular the United States.

Everything has been turned upside down, including trumped-up charges, fabricated cases, etc. I regularly comment on situations that Russian citizens find themselves in – their health conditions and incarceration in various countries. We regularly raise this subject, the situation concerning Mr. Yaroshenko, in our contacts with the US side. At some moments, when dealing with US colleagues, we had the impression that they were deliberately doing everything possible to aggravate his stay in prison and his health condition. There were also some bright moments and a sense of understanding. We got the feeling that they understood that this situation was completely absurd. The Russian Embassy, the Foreign Ministry and the Human Rights Ombudsman are all doing their best to monitor the situation.

I know of tragic events in Yaroshenko’s family, and we are offering our condolences. We understand the human pain suffered by his entire family and his mother perfectly well. She fought so actively for him that one wanted to know all the time where she got her strength from. It now appears that she has run out of steam. I would like to say once again that we will continue to fight for him.

Question: Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada is discussing the introduction of visas with Russia. If it decides to do this, will Russia retaliate?

Maria Zakharova: The issue of visas, about which some Ukrainian politicians are dreaming, reminds me of that joke about cactuses that were thorny but continued to be eaten nonetheless. Talking to different people (Ukrainians by nationality and Ukrainian citizens) who are not particularly fond of Russia’s current foreign policy on Ukraine, I felt that even they understand how absurd such statements are.

It is necessary to understand who will fall victim to the suicidal tendencies of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, what a heavy burden this will be for Ukrainian citizens, the economy, finances and contacts. Those who occupy tough national position that we don’t share fail to understand that this is the road to nowhere. This is Ukraine’s current reality.

The adoption of laws that restrict the use of the Russian language in Ukraine is a similar case. Ukrainian media and experts that wonder how to carry out these laws and what to put on the air got what was coming to them.

The discussion is led inside Ukraine by those who have never been pro-Russian and have always been hostile to Moscow’s policy. They realise that they are the hardest hit not because pro-Russian feelings are hurt but simply because this is how things are, this is how finance and the economy work. They have not been cancelled even in Ukraine. The laws of physics cannot be abrogated.

The same applies to a ban on Russian social media in Ukraine. It will hurt the Russian-speaking population.

Even the agencies that have always supported Kiev in everything, and that shaped its foreign policy emphasised that in taking such actions and drafting laws it is necessary to think about the observance of human rights, adherence to obligations and development of the domestic information space.

But it is not a uniform picture. On May 16, teachers in Kiev were awarded the Nikolai Gogol prize for the Russian language and literature, which was instituted by the association For the Native Tongue established a few months ago.

The prize committee said they held a contest to select teachers and that prizes were awarded in four categories. The jury was headed by Director of the Kiev Centre for Political and Conflict Resolution Studies Mikhail Pogrebinskly.

Decisions are made by members of the mainstream. The Ukrainian reality is somewhat different from what the Rada wants to present.

Even the most adamant advocates of Maidans and regime change realise that this is primarily harming Ukrainian citizens rather than Russia, the Russian language or Russian citizens. Our task is to attend to the implementation of the Minsk agreements and monitor observance of the human rights of Russian speakers. What is currently being adopted by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada is harming them, not us. Why they are doing this is the big question. It is enough to recall the ban on the production and dissemination of the St George’s ribbon. You understand full well that what is happening in the Russian Federation will not affect domestic developments in Ukraine in any way but will have a huge negative impact on them. This will be one more element of hostility or another factor making reunification of people in many regions of Ukraine impossible. This will be one more argument in favour of delaying the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Question: US President Donald Trump met with EU leaders in Brussels today. After that meeting, President of the European Council Donald Tusk said the talks with President Trump revealed no “common position” on Russia. Can you comment on this situation?

Maria Zakharova: In our opinion, the EU has lost its identity on many international issues and the foreign policy agenda over the past few years. It has never had an independent voice before. Now it looks as if some EU representatives fear that their views on the international situation might differ from those of Washington. A possible explanation is that they have been following the US mainstream. They didn’t have a political idea that could compete intellectually. The more independence Brussels shows, the more its prestige will grow. Everyone makes mistakes, but it has been making mistakes alongside the United States over the past few years. It’s time the EU started developing its own agenda.

Question: Will the US establishment obstruct President Trump’s attempts to improve relations with Russia?

Maria Zakharova: The current situation can be described as the continuation of the deadlock into which relations with Russia were led under Obama. President Obama worked to curtail relations with Russia, which was expressed in the form of various accusations, statements that got personal, and ultimately, the decision to expel Russian diplomats and cut off access to Russian property in the United States. It all went together, and that chapter was finally closed only in late December. Some members of the Obama administration have not lost their influence and continue to advocate their anti-Russia ideas in Congress and the US parties. John Kerry has made a strange statement about the need to learn Russian under the current administration. The Democrats had two terms in office to improve relations and learn Russian, which they failed to do.

Question: Is the current US administration’s policy regarding Russia an issue of concern to you?

Maria Zakharova: We believe that this policy is only in the making. Some issues have been identified as priorities, but the overall concept is still being developed. For example, several positions were put forth during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Washington. We have held a wide-ranging dialogue in a number of areas, but it was nothing more than an exchange of views, especially since it was Sergey Lavrov’s first meeting with President Trump. The numerous visits Donald Trump is making are designed to flesh out the new US foreign policy. However, some members of the US establishment are doing their best to completely block our dialogue. The issue of Russia will be used during the US congressional elections this year, and the more this issue is discussed, the more hardened the positions of those pushing it will become. Election cycles in the United States must not be allowed to block solutions to major international issues. This is a dangerous trend.

Question: How important is a meeting between presidents Putin and Trump?

Maria Zakharova: This issue falls within the authority of the Russian President’s Executive Office. Overall, developing dialogue with the United States is crucial for bilateral relations because we need to find solutions to a great many international and bilateral issues, including Syria and Afghanistan. To do this, we must not only exchange views but develop practical cooperation.

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