Briefing of Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 15, 2017

Monday, 19 June 2017 11:17

Visit by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French Republic Jean-Yves Le Drian to the Russian Federation
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a meeting of the Government Commission for Compatriots Living Abroad
The situation in Syria
Estonian Prosecutor's Office closing criminal case on the murder of Russian national Dmitry Ganin in Tallinn in April 2007
Russia's stance on Cyprus issue
Statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Answers to media questions:

Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
Direct Line with Vladimir Putin
Madrid Proposals for Nagorno-Karabakh settlement
Congratulations on Russia Day
Rescheduling the date of talks on Syria in Astana and Qatar changing its stance on the Syrian settlement
Referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region
Increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan
Nuclear submarine
Ukraine's visa regime for Russian nationals
CNN report on Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh
Oliver Stone's documentary on Russian President Vladimir Putin

Visit by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French Republic Jean-Yves Le Drian to the Russian Federation

On June 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French Republic Jean-Yves Le Drian, who comes to Moscow on a working visit. The meeting will be held as part of the agreements that President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron reached in Versailles on May 29.

The two ministers will discuss joint efforts to establish efficient cooperation in the fight against terrorism, in resolving the Syrian and Ukrainian crises, and in addressing other pressing issues on the international agenda. The sides will also consider individual matters related to bilateral relations and the schedule of future political contacts.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in a meeting of the Government Commission for Compatriots Living Abroad

On June 23, the Government Commission for Compatriots Living Abroad will have a regular meeting in the Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russia Abroad, chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

This Government Commission is the central executive body that coordinates the work of all agencies involved with Russians living abroad. With this in mind, the meeting will highlight the expertise of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs in cooperating with compatriots living abroad. The commission will continue to review the experience of Russian Federation members in the work with Russian communities overseas. The government of the Republic of Tatarstan will share its achievements as it contributes greatly to interaction with the Russian diaspora.

A key subject on the agenda will be the draft programme for work with Russian compatriots abroad between 2018-2020. Preparations for a major international forum held under the auspices of the Government Commission and the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots will feature prominently on the meeting’s agenda. This global themed forum, 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution: Unification for the Future, will be held in Moscow between October 31-November 1, and is expected to gather 155 leaders of compatriots’ public organisations from 91 countries.

The meeting will hear a report on the revision of government monitoring of relations with compatriots that Russian state agencies overseas conducted last year in accordance with the federal law On the Russian Federation’s State Policy toward Compatriots Living Abroad. The participants will also discuss preparations for the 3rd World Youth Forum of Russian Compatriots due in Sofia in September, and vote on the nominees for state awards of the Russian Federation, the Merited Compatriot Badge and the Merited Diploma of the Government Commission for Compatriots Living Abroad.

Our cooperation with Russian compatriots living overseas is taking place at a troublesome time. The current difficulties are mostly objective and result from the present-day situation in international relations that have dramatically aggravated in the wake of unilateral anti-Russian actions by Western countries.

Russia continues to seriously monitor the status of Russians living abroad. We make sure that they are feeling comfortable and can maintain relations with their historical homeland, bring up their children with due respect for their Fatherland, learn Russian, and enjoy Russian cultural achievements. This is a crucial component of our friendly ties with the countries where our compatriots live. We work to keep a constructive dialogue in this area and call on our partners to follow suit.

The situation in Syria

The military-political situation in Syria is showing generally positive dynamics.

The implementation of the May 4 memorandum on the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria and the further consolidation of the ceasefire regime allow the Syrian government forces to concentrate on fighting ISIS, Nusra and other terrorist groups.

The focus on forging local ceasefires continues to yield results. Civilians are returning to the towns of Khan al-Shih, Deir Habia and Drusha southwest of Damascus. The Damascus regional authorities are determined to restore the water and power supply system and social infrastructure as soon as possible. Local authorities recently announced their decision to allow residents of the town of Sbeineh to return to their homes. So far, however, that is prevented by ISIS activity in the neighbouring district of Al-Hajar al-Aswad, the only southern suburb of Damascus where terrorists still retain their presence.

Over 100 Syrian families have returned from a refugee camp in Lebanon to their homes in the towns of al-Tufail and Arsal al-Ward in West Qalamoun.

The Syrian Armed Forces have completed the first stage of a wide-ranging operation in the Syrian Desert. According to Syrian military sources, the Syrian government forces have approached the Iraqi border northeast of the Al-Tanaf border crossing point. New realities are expected to provide the necessary conditions for the final rout of ISIS and al-Nusra in coordination and cooperation with their Iraqi partners. Perhaps, Syrian government forces could have achieved more impressive results in this area but that was hindered by USAF military operations. During the past month, the Americans launched three attacks on Syrian troops, which were advancing in the south of the country, under the pretext of self-defence, purportedly to ensure the security of a coalition base near al-Tanaf.

Syrian government forces are still locked in fierce fighting with ISIS in the Homs province east of Palmyra. The Syrian Armed Forces have driven terrorists out of the Arak oil field and regained control of the T-3 airfield. The jihadists retreated from their strongholds near the al-Mustadira strategic height.

The Syrian military fought back an attack by the al-Jabhat al-Islamiyya group, an al-Nusra affiliate, west of the city of Salamiyah. At the same time, the Syrian Air Force dealt a serious blow to ISIS positions, destroying the terrorists’ field headquarters in the town of al-Ukairibat east of Salamiyah, thus thwarting ISIS and al-Nusra coordinated attempts to sever the road to Aleppo.

Syrian government forces continued their successful advance from the north to the southeast along the right-hand bank of the Euphrates River. Forward subunits reached western districts of Raqqa province and took control of a section of an important highway between Itria and Resafa.

Subunits of the Syrian Democratic Forces are continuing to storm the ISIS capital of Raqqa and advancing to the city from the east and the west. They have gained control of industrial areas, al-Sabahiya and parts of Hattin and al-Romania. Fighting is reportedly going on in the old part of the city. The southern suburbs of Raqqa, where the most ISIS forces are amassed, have not been sealed off yet. Taking advantage of that, the jihadists are actively trying to evacuate in the direction of Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra. Thousands of civilians are continuing to leave Raqqa at the risk of their lives as the city comes under airstrikes by the coalition air force. According to the independent aUN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, since March, at least 300 people have been killed in the Raqqa area as a result of airstrikes by the US-led coalition.

Several dozen militants from the Liwa Ahrar Mambij illegally formed armed group in the north of Aleppo province have laid down their arms and surrendered to the Syrian authorities. A bloody clash took place in the town of al-Bab between the Sultan Murad Division, Ahrar al-Sham, Feilak al-Sham, First Regiment and al-Hamza Division groups, as a result of which over 30 jihadists were killed. We believe such clashes between militants result from their fierce fighting for the re-division of spheres of influence in Syria and access to outside financial sources.

The audio record of a conversation between M. Alloush, a representative of Jaysh al-Islam, and Jamal al Ward, a member of the Politburo of the National Coalition, which has been posted on a number of online resources, is hardly surprising. Alloush demanded $1 million a month as a condition for that militant group to join the National Coalition’s military wing. The leader of the group stressed that such a partnership agreement would not be too onerous for the National Coalition, which is generously financed by other countries. I believe this is a telling example.

The guarantor countries of the Astana process – Russia, Iran and Turkey – are working on a new timeframe for the next round of the international meeting on Syria in Astana. Active consultations are under way to coordinate a package of documents related to the implementation of the May 4 memorandum.

Estonian Prosecutor's Office closing criminal case on the murder of Russian national Dmitry Ganin in Tallinn in April 2007

We cannot deem the Estonian Prosecutor's Office's decision to close the criminal case on the murder of Russian national Dmitry Ganin in Tallinn in April 2007 other than clear evidence of hypocrisy of the Estonian authorities, who repeatedly assured us they will facilitate the investigation of this brutal crime, but in fact made every effort to procrastinate the investigation. Plain evidence of this is the fact that the Estonian law enforcers have not responded to a request made in October 2015 by the Russian investigation agencies, which, for their part, are involved in investigating this murder.

We are indignant at such a disrespectful approach to the memory of the killed Russian national. Our embassy in Tallinn has already demanded that the Estonian authorities provide information about the motives of this unfriendly act against Russia.

We express our most heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of Dmitry Ganin, whose feelings were undoubtedly hurt by such an unjust decision. We will continue to give them all necessary assistance, including in case of appealing against the Estonian Prosecutor's Office's decision.

Russia's stance on Cyprus issue

Moscow is closely following the process of the inter-communal talks on the Cyprus settlement and is welcoming their upcoming resumption in Geneva on June 28. Russia's principled position remains unchanged. We stand for a comprehensive, just and viable settlement on the island for the benefit of all its residents. We will support the decision achieved by the Cypriots themselves and will assess the progress at the talks judging their results.

That said, we deem the persistent efforts made by some of our western partners to intensify the negotiating process and impose an early solution to the Cyprus issue by all costs as unacceptable. The sad fate of the Annan Plan for Cyprus is evidence of the harmfulness of such external pressure.

Statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

We have noted the statement made by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on June 12 following the meeting with Prime Minister of Macedonia Zoran Zaev. In particular, Stoltenberg said that any external interference in domestic political processes is unacceptable.

Frankly, it has been a long time since we heard the NATO Secretary General voicing such serious criticism towards Washington, the EU authorities, Berlin, Tirana, and towards himself and his organisation. It is the blatant interference of the West that has caused the deep protracted political crisis in the Republic of Macedonia, which has seriously aggravated the situation in that country.

We fully support the assessment voiced by Stoltenberg. It would be good if the authorities of western countries began using this approach in practice.

Answers to media questions:

Question: Co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group recently visited Armenia and occupied Nagorny Karabakh. In the opinion of the Russian Foreign Ministry at the moment at what stage is the process of a settlement of this issue? Can the visit of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to Baku be followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia? Will the Russian and French foreign ministers discuss a settlement in Nagorny Karabakh at their meeting?

Maria Zakharova: We should wait for the official comment from the Russian representative who was there. It will follow. The assessment from the Russian representative will be published on the Foreign Ministry’s website. As for possible contacts in different formats, we will tell you about them once they are planned. Right now I do not have any information on this score. We do not rule out a discussion about Nagorny Karabakh when talks on international matters are held during the Moscow visit of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. This is natural. We are conducting a dialogue with our French colleagues and this topic is part of it. A discussion on this subject is not ruled out.

Question: Direct line with Vladimir Putin will be on today. What questions would you ask President of Russia Vladimir Putin both as a diplomat and a Russian citizen?

Maria Zakharova: As a diplomat I will watch the broadcast and listen with particular attention to the President’s answers to questions linked with Russian foreign policy. This is what I will be doing in my office today.

Question: During the past two months Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said more than once that further preservation of the status quo in Nagorny Karabakh is unacceptable. In his opinion this “unacceptable status quo” may be overcome on the basis of the four UN Security Council resolutions passed in the early 1990s. The OSCE Minsk Group that is co-chaired by Russia has been involved in the negotiating process for 23 years. The co-chairs submitted a package of documents that are unofficially referred to as the Madrid Principles. Doesn’t Mr Mammadyarov’s statement reduce to zero all these efforts? Who needs the OSCE Minsk Group and its proposals if a settlement is based on UN resolutions adopted a quarter of a century ago?

Maria Zakharova: I think both sides (official representatives and statesmen from Armenia and Azerbaijan) have their own views on resolving the matter. An established format does exist for resolving this old problem, which provides for searching for ways for a compromise. This means rapprochement from both sides regardless of the fact they may have opposite views. This is international practice of diplomatic efforts – to find solutions to seemingly insoluble issues. We agree with you that this problem requires a settlement and needs to advance. This is exactly why contacts have been intensified recently. They are conducted in different formats. For its part, Russia as a participant in a relevant format is doing everything possible to find a compromise. We would like to see this compromise found and the sooner the better but it should not be to the detriment of the future of the peoples of both countries and the residents of Nagorny Karabakh.

Question: In the end, did the Americans send us their greetings on Russia Day?

Maria Zakharova: It is a very interesting question. We received very many greetings on our national holiday, Russia Day, from heads of state, foreign ministers, other ministers, public figures and the media. I don’t need to tell you about this, because you know how it is done. We have dedicated services, such as protocol and country-specific departments and sections, which keep record of such greetings. We have never thought much about the greetings we receive from other countries, because this is a matter of protocol, courtesy and polite behaviour, especially when it concerns national holidays. We have taken note of this after Washington’s strange explanation. Before that we did not even think of whether they would send their greetings or not. But the explanation we heard made the story really interesting and even mystical. And then we received numerous questions regarding this from the media. We had to analyse the issue, which is when we learned more about it.

The Americans usually posted an informal statement on such greetings on the website of the Department of State. In principle, this is not how it is done in accordance with diplomatic practice, which provides for sending official signed greetings or telegrams to a specified address. This is diplomatic routine, which goes back decades. But the Americans did this differently. This year they have changed their routine. They have announced that the procedure has changed under the new administration and now they would send greetings via their embassies. It looked like they were returning to the usual diplomatic practice. However, when we saw these public statements and checked on them, it turned out that the US Embassy in Moscow has not sent any greeting to Russian government agencies. At the same time, greetings to other countries are still posted on the State Department website. We checked it after receiving your questions. It turned out that this June Washington posted online greetings on the national holidays of Italy, Sweden, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Great Britain, Portugal and the Philippines. It appears that the US administration has clearly got mixed up, either regarding the practice they should use or their explanations. It is difficult to decide what is really happening there. The situation is strange: they either don’t know what they have on their own website, or they are making these statements to cover up for the poor knowledge of protocol. It’s really difficult to say. Maybe they are afraid of saying something good to Russia amid the global anti-Russia hysteria. As you can imagine, we can do without US administration’s greetings with a smile, but it has clearly got its wires crossed. We would not have taken any note of this if not for the statements made in Washington yesterday.

Question: The Astana talks on Syria have been postponed three times this month. Is it because of Ramadan or for some other reason? Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani has recently visited Moscow. Has Qatar changed its position on the Syrian settlement?

Maria Zakharova: I would not say that the Astana talks on Syria have been postponed or that their timeframe has changed. The fact is that the date has not been coordinated yet. You can only postpone an event that has been coordinated or announced. We did not confirm the dates mentioned by the media. We are trying to coordinate them based on a large number of factors, notably their convenience and acceptability for our partners and the Syrian sides, including the Syrian opposition. We are coordinating the timeframe for a meeting. Considering the large number of factors, it is a complicated process.

As for the talks with Qatari officials in Moscow, their agenda also included the Syrian settlement. We are aware of Qatar’s position and do not agree with some of its elements, but there is certainly an opportunity to search for common ground and areas of cooperation. Overall, we talked more about the situation in the regions, the crisis in relations between the countries involved, Qatar’s problem and international mediation aimed at resolving it. I don’t think it can be said that Qatar has changed its position on Syria. Anyway, we keep trying to find common ground because this is part of diplomatic routine.

Question: I read the Foreign Ministry’s comment on the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some media write that Russia is against this referendum. Russia is known to be supporting Iraq’s integrity, but does this mean it will speak up against the referendum? Or do you agree that people have a right to express their opinion? Has Russia developed cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces to liberate Raqqa?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding your second question, comments on everything that happens “on the ground” in terms of military strategy and liberation are provided by the Defence Ministry. If your question also implies political contact, I will need to request additional information.

As for the referendum in Iraq, I have nothing more to say in addition to the Foreign Ministry’s comment that was published a week ago. It was substantive and we clearly put forth our position on this issue. I have nothing more to add.

Question: Several days ago, US President Donald Trump gave the Pentagon chief the authority to send more troops to Afghanistan. Can this improve the situation in that country?

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for asking, because your question is just to the point.

It is an issue of global importance and concerns not only Afghanistan but also US foreign policy in general under Donald Trump, Barack Obama and any other US president for that matter. Just look what’s going on: they adopt highly specific and itemised decisions to send more troops to this or that country or region, yet there is no strategic concept for US actions there. They seem to be dealing with issues of secondary importance, and possibly even with the internal matters of the national defence sector. But they still have no strategy for dealing with the problems of Afghanistan or for stabilising the country and the region, which they invaded resolutely with a UN Security Council mandate but have not yet reported on its achievements there even once. Russia and other countries do not know what the United States plans to do in Afghanistan over a period of the next few years, let alone in a decade. Washington has changed its Afghanistan strategy many times over the past few years, even during the term of one administration. First they said they would pull out of Afghanistan, and then they announced that the troops would remain. And they still do not have a foreign policy concept or a military political strategy. In my opinion, this is why they have not reported to the UN Security Council under the mandate that was issued many years ago to the United States and the US-led coalition. Firstly, they don’t know what to report, and secondly, a report implies overseeing the current objectives. They didn’t monitor what they really did or what they should do there.

They have no strategy and no concept, but they keep increasing, cutting and redeploying troops. I believe this is completely unacceptable in current international affairs. Regrettably, this is happening not only as regards Afghanistan. It is impossible to assess practical steps to build up troops without a clear concept of one’s future actions. In other words, this is movement to nowhere, without a clear goal or strategy, and hence it is impossible to assess it in terms of goals or success. As I said, this is the problem with not just the current administration, which has not yet formulated a foreign policy concept for various parts of the world. The previous US administration also used this tactic, or its absence, and the tendency has been growing stronger over the past few years. We consider this approach to be counterproductive.

Question: Is it true that the nuclear submarine Dmitry Donskoi is on its way to the Baltic Sea to take part in the International Maritime Defence Show?

Maria Zakharova: Submarines are the responsibility of the Defence Ministry.

Question: I have asked them, but there has been no reply.

Maria Zakharova: Submarines are the responsibility of the Defence Ministry. Have they received your request? Do you maintain contact with them? If not, I can help you establish it.

Question: Will Russia respond in kind if Ukraine introduces visas for Russians?

Maria Zakharova: Ukraine must figure out what it is going to do. I read the remarks by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin. Even his position is constantly changing. A year ago, he said that, personally, he was against introducing visa regulations. Later, he changed his mind, and began to offer modified approaches to this issue. It’s hard to tell what they will opt for in the end. Accordingly, we will respond after the fact. When they take action, we will analyse what the Kiev regime comes up with as its latest effort.

Primarily, the citizens of Ukraine, who are trying to survive, conduct business, and operate enterprises, are the primary targets of Ukraine’s actions in these harsh conditions created by the Kiev regime. The reasons for Kiev doing so are anyone’s guess.

One way or another, the political establishment, experts, and journalists are portraying the current situation in Ukraine in a way that cancelling visa regulations with the EU will lead to unity between the people of Ukraine and the peoples of Europe, and open up new opportunities. Accordingly, contacts with Russia are becoming irrelevant and unnecessary. However, there’s a catch: the Ukrainian citizens cannot use visa-free travel to find employment in the EU. So far, they keep working here in Russia, and take the money earned in Russia to pay for their living in Ukraine. Substituting these notions and saying that life will be better and more fun with visa-free travel is, at the very least, an unfair policy of the Kiev regime with regard to its own people.

They ought to be honest and say that it will be easier to travel as tourists, but everything else will remain the same. Exploiting this issue to their own advantage is disgusting. Creating more obstacles for their people as they try to maintain contacts and to stay afloat in almost inhuman conditions is beyond the bounds of good and evil. They are hurting their own people in this situation. Why is the big question.

Question: Did you receive any response from CNN, in particular Christiane Amanpour, to your suggestion to go to Aleppo and make a report about the Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh?

Maria Zakharova: No, I didn’t. Frankly, I would like to talk to them via the CNN office in Moscow. We regularly receive inquiries from CNN reporters working in Russia and CNN reporters in the United States asking us to provide comments on a variety of issues, such as Russian hackers, new sanctions, meddling in domestic affairs, or other topics related to Russia. I receive requests for comments on a daily basis. Perhaps, CNN reporters will, collectively or individually, talk to their leading correspondent, a person who claims to be an expert in international relations, I mean Christiane Amanpour. Perhaps, they will let her know that since she came to Moscow, showed us a photo of that boy at our Foreign Ministry, and recounted his story, which she used to come up with corresponding conclusions regarding the situation in Syria, then maybe she will muster enough courage to make another report to refute her own stories, especially now that CNN is trying to stick to the truth and fight fake news.

To reiterate, it was not just another run-of-the-mill story, but an interview with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In addition, the interview was recorded shortly before the US election. If CNN believes that Russia had interfered in it in any way – without even providing any facts of evidence thereof – then she could look at her own story and her own materials in terms of manipulating public opinion in the run-up to the elections. This is a concrete case of actual manipulation of public opinion right before the elections in the United States.

They took a story that could leave no one indifferent, because it was about a boy – CNN said the boy was killed in Syria – a young child, in fact. Russia was accused of this crime. Directly or indirectly, the story created a sense that the actions by the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria, which led to such casualties, were absolutely illegitimate. However, thanks to the efforts of responsible journalists who do their job properly, the truth has surfaced. Now, we are all aware of what happened. To reiterate, perhaps in the heat of its anti-Russian controversy, CNN could set aside some time to refute its own story, which, indeed, was part of the campaign to manipulate public opinion in the run-up to the elections in the United States.

Question: Did you have the chance to see the first two parts of Oliver Stone's documentary about President Putin? Do you think his position and the way he presented Putin's perspective on Russia-US relations can change the Russophobic policy of the US media?

Maria Zakharova: I think that direct speech, the opportunity for Russia and its politicians, leaders and officials to state their position directly, not through the lens of the media, is a very important way to get through to the American audience. It is important not just to exert influence on public opinion, but also to make sure that the American audience has access to alternative information.

Things that we read about ourselves and our country in the US media are terrifying. The information is distorted, fragmentary, and often stitched together and serves only one purpose, which is to perpetuate the already established image of Russia as a potential aggressor. We want everything that we say, and all of our materials, to be available to the US audience.

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