Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 25, 2018

Thursday, 25 January 2018 11:20

Table of contents

  1. Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Angelino Alfano to come to Moscow on a working visit
  2. Foreign Minister Lavrov to take part in gala event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad
  3. Developments in Syria
  4. The situation in Yemen
  5. Developments concerning the Middle East peace process
  6. Developments in Afghanistan
  7. Developments in connection with the assassination of Serbian politician Oliver Ivanović in Kosovo
  8. Possible review of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Publications in Colombian media suggesting Russia’s possible interference with elections in the country
  10. Preparation and monitoring of the presidential election in the Russian Federation
  11. Anniversary of the liberation of Warsaw
  12. Desecration of the Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army in the Polish city of Olsztyn
  13. Lithuanian website vatnikas.lt
  14. English version of Crimean Journal

Answers to media questions:

 

Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Angelino Alfano to come to Moscow on a working visit

 

Talks are due to be held in Moscow on February 1 between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Angelino Alfano, who will be in Russia on a working visit in his capacity as Acting Chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

During their talk the two foreign ministers will focus on the OSCE agenda for 2018, including the organisation’s role in finding collective answers to the challenges facing Europe, building indivisible security and restoring confidence on the continent. The fight against terror, drug trafficking and cyber-threats, harmonising integration processes in Europe and Eurasia, preservation of traditional values and the rights of ethnic minorities will also be touched on.

Among other topics to be discussed are promoting the settlement of regional crises in the OSCE space, including in Ukraine, Transnistria and Transcaucasia, and the priorities of the Italian chairmanship, such as the Mediterranean and dealing with the migration crisis in Europe.

Other topical foreign policy issues will also be discussed.

The two ministers will continue their trust-based dialogue with a view to further developing multi-faceted and diverse Russian-Italian cooperation in the political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres, notably in the context of implementing agreements reached at the top level.

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Foreign Minister Lavrov to take part in gala event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad

 

As you know, pursuant to the Russian Government’s directive of June 6, 2017 passed in accordance with President Putin’s executive order of February 18, 2017, the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi troops by Soviet forces in the Battle of Stalingrad will be widely celebrated in this country.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in a commemorative event at the Foreign Ministry Mansion at 4 pm on February 1. Invited to the event sponsored by the Foreign Ministry are representatives of the diplomatic corps, both houses of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Defence, the Russian Academy of Sciences institutes, civic and veterans’ organisations.

The participants will see an exhibition of documents from the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy Archive.  

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Developments in Syria

 

Syria is at a crossroads. The defeat of ISIS, achieved with the decisive role of the Russian Aerospace Forces, has made it possible to move closer towards ending the internal fratricidal conflict and reaching a political settlement on issues that caused a split in Syrian society seven years ago.

A solid foundation for these processes exists in the form of de-escalation zones, established with the support of the Astana format. They make it possible to take practical steps towards improving the humanitarian situation, restoring damaged infrastructure and implementing measures to facilitate the voluntary return of refugees and temporarily displaced persons.

As we have already announced, Sochi will host the Syrian National Dialogue Congress next week, on January 29-30. Apart from Russia, Turkey and Iran are actively involved in preparations for the Congress. Invitations are being sent out to 1,600 Syrian participants. UN representatives and a number of regional and international partners have been invited to attend as observers.

Our efforts are designed to bring about peace and stability in Syria without delay, put its economy back on track and enable refugees to return to their homes. We hope that all those sincerely interested in seeing an end to the armed conflict will encourage the Syrians to voice constructive positions during this unique intra-Syrian event.

Unfortunately, other scenarios exist too. A delay in restoring the unity of Syrian society is fraught with new dangerous challenges, including the current developments in Afrin, where units of the Turkish Armed Forces jointly with the Syrian opposition are conducting a military operation. As you know, the Turkish side is presenting this as a response to security threats to Turkey in northern Syria at a time when the Syrian government does not control this territory.

We have also attentively read the January 17 speech by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Stanford University. His speech unveiled the new US strategy for Syria. Statements by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson show that, from now on, US partners intend to prioritise a political approach. This is certainly good.

At the same time, the Americans continue to state that their aim is to remove Syria’s legitimate President Bashar Al-Assad from power. Washington announced plans to maintain an open-ended military presence in sovereign Syria. For some reason, the US did not seek the opinion of Syria’s government on this matter, although that country is a full member of the United Nations.

We strongly believe that this approach is at odds with the international law and does nothing to promote the peaceful settlement of domestic issues in the country under UN Security Resolution 2254.

Following US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s speech at Stanford, US military sources have reported the establishment of US-sponsored border protection units in northern Syria, an area with a majority Kurdish population. Therefore, the US strategy with regard to that country is perceived as nothing but a line aiming to dismember the country.

We are not sure whether Washington has asked itself as to whether the Syrian Kurds or neighbouring Arabs, Assyrians, Turkomans and Circassians want this to happen.

We are certain that it is unacceptable to turn Syria into a stage for confrontation between external forces pursuing their own interests. The people of Syria themselves must determine the future of their country. We hope that the upcoming Sochi forum will become an important step along this road.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov may attend the forum.

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The situation in Yemen

 

We are keeping a close watch on the military, political and humanitarian situation in the Republic of Yemen as fighting continues on its territory between supporters of the Houthi movement Ansar Allah and armed formations loyal to President of Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

In this connection, we paid attention to the latest reports about alleged agreements to hold talks in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, between representatives of the Houthis and a UN delegation. As we understand, these contacts are supposed to pave the way for discussions on the resumption of full-fledged intra-Yemeni consultations that have been frozen since their previous round in Kuwait City in the spring-summer of 2016.

Moscow would eagerly welcome this scenario as matching our principled viewpoint that it is up to the Yemenis themselves to determine the future of their own state and achieve national harmony on the subsequent reconstruction of Yemen with due regard for the opinions if all key Yemeni political forces.

We have taken notice of the intention of the “Arab coalition” supporting President Hadi to embark on a comprehensive humanitarian operation that envisages the delivery of relief aid to the worst-stricken areas of Yemen and the opening of land, sea and air corridors needed for these purposes. We hope that these measures will in fact help alleviate the suffering of Yemeni civilians, who are facing acute shortages of food, medicines and other essential goods.   

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Developments concerning the Middle East peace process

 

Serious tension persists in matters concerning a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement. This tension is being projected on the security situation on the Palestinian territories where the Palestinians continue to clash with representatives of the Israeli law enforcement agencies after US President Donald Trump’s statement on Jerusalem and after US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the region. At the same time, the Israeli authorities continue to build new settlements on the occupied Palestinian territories.

Because of this situation, we consider the further escalation of violence and military confrontation to be unacceptable.

At the same time, we are guided by our principled position in support of the two-state formula for a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement stipulating the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with the capital in East Jerusalem and its coexistence with Israel in peace and security. We continue to energetically encourage the conflicting parties to move towards this solution with the active involvement of the international community. For this purpose, it would be necessary to activate the potential of the Middle East quartet of international mediators.

We support intensive direct contacts with the Israelis and Palestinians and other regional parties for ensuring a long-term Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement.

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Developments in Afghanistan

 

The situation in Afghanistan remains highly complicated despite the expanding foreign military presence there. Taliban remain combat-ready and continue to stage terrorist attacks even in Kabul.

Here is a graphic example: On January 20, Taliban members attacked the heavily guarded Intercontinental Hotel. The media provides conflicting reports when it comes to the death toll, but over 40 people, including 14 foreigners, are reported to have been killed. The figure includes citizens of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Germany and the United States. According to the available information, US special forces were involved in a special operation to eliminate the terrorists. Unfortunately, this shows the inability of the Afghan law enforcement agencies to independently ensure security at major public facilities, including hotels.

We are offering our condolences to the families and friends of the deceased and are wishing a speedy recovery to the wounded.

We are concerned about a report about the abduction of a UN mission official and her son by unknown persons on January 23 in Kabul. We are urging the authorities of Afghanistan to take all necessary action to release the hostages and to bring the criminals to account.

Obviously, the deteriorating security situation in the capital of Afghanistan does not meet the expectations of the United States regarding its new Afghan strategy. We doubt that the deployment of an extra 1,000 US service personnel by the Pentagon, in addition to 4,000 officers and soldiers who have already been deployed in Afghanistan can rectify these terrifying and disheartening trends. We remain convinced that the launching of the national reconciliation process is a key to stabilising the situation in Afghanistan. However, it appears that Washington does not prioritise intra-Afghan dialogue but continues to stake on military force instead.  

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Developments in connection with the assassination of Serbian politician Oliver Ivanović in Kosovo

 

The assassination of prominent Serbian politician Oliver Ivanović in Kosovo on January 16 is a terrorist attack directed against the Kosovo Serbs. It is an extremely grave incident, which undermines peace and stability in the area and is fraught with upheavals in the Balkans as a whole.

We support Belgrade’s demands to let the Serbian relevant authorities and police structures to join the investigation. We would like to note in particular that this step in no way contradicts UN Security Council’s fundamental Resolution 1244, which defined the international legal framework for Kosovo settlement.

We are surprised by the detached attitude adopted by the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX Kosovo), which was deployed in the area with the approval of the UN Security Council. The EULEX heads have actually abstracted themselves from the investigation, placing the matter entirely in the hands of the Kosovo police. The question that has to be answered in this connection is where has “the EU’s key role” in the Balkans, which the Brussels bureaucrats have been doting on for years, gotten to?

In the meantime, the results of the investigation into the Ivanović case are nowhere to be seen and Belgrade’s requests for a joint effort are being ignored. One has the impression that Pristina and its sponsors have something to hide.

At the same time, we have a positive view of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s visit to Kosovo on January 20-21, which made it possible to mitigate tensions in the area that had been destabilised by the assassination of the Serbian politician.

The assassination of Oliver Ivanović confirms our repeated warnings about the inadequacy of the Kosovo pseudo-state, the fragility of the situation in the area, and lawlessness that reigns supreme there. All of this has prepared the ground for systematic anti-Serb actions and spiraling violence, which is expressed in daily desecrations of Orthodox shrines, and attacks and destruction of property.

We would like to stress that this particular terrorist attack testifies to the need for multilateral organisations to constantly focus on the situation in Kosovo and adhere to the schedule for reporting by the international presences in Pristina, at the UN Security Council and the OSCE. It is important to approach the situation in the area in a proactive and objective manner, a situation that is evoking increased concern and is laden, as is now clear to everyone, with a direct threat to peace and security in the region.

We call on all parties concerned to pull efforts in order to carry out, as soon as possible, an exhaustive investigation so as to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.

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Possible review of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

We strongly disagree with the ideas circulating again in the US parliamentary and expert circles regarding the possible review of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton Agreement) and convening an international conference dubbed Dayton 2. As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted at the news conference at the UN Headquarters on January 19, we are against replacing or revising the Dayton Agreement. Even more so, because, to our knowledge, this initiative implies imposing some external new models of state structure on the Bosnian parties. In our opinion, these attempts are not just unacceptable and inappropriate but may in fact sabotage the post-conflict settlement in the country and destabilise the situation in the Balkans in general.

As one of the guarantors of the Dayton Agreement, Russia continues to consistently support strict compliance with its terms. We believe that any further development of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a decentralised democratic state may be only ensured by the strong and balanced foundation of the treaty and reliance on the broad authority of the two territorial entities (the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina) set forth in the 1995 peace agreement, as well as the equality of the three constituent ethnicities (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats).

We call for our foreign partners to respect the Bosnians’ sovereign right to independently solve all arising issues through the dialogue within the framework of the Dayton Agreement. We support the dissolution of the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina with its protectorate presence. We intend to further proactively assist the Bosnian parties in the  implementation of the Dayton Agreement, develop mutually beneficial links with Bosnia and Herzegovina and its entities in politics, trade, the economy, culture as well as the humanitarian area. 

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Publications in Colombian media suggesting Russia’s possible interference with elections in the country

 

We have noted the publications in the Colombian media suggesting Russia’s “possible interference” with the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

We can see that these allegations are being planted, as if they have been commanded, in the countries where election campaigns are underway this year – Mexico, Brazil, now it is Colombia’s turn. The source of these ‘fakes’ is easy to track.

Most remarkably, nobody is even trying to hide that the source of this misinformation is far outside these states.

I think there is no point in saying and repeating that all these fantasies and reports are based on misinformation. Apparently, some countries, not far from Latin America (we suspect it is a country directly in the north of the American continent), are very displeased with the gradually developing Russia-Latin America relations, which are true cooperation, and with the warm and sincere friendship and affinity that are uniting our nations. As you know, in the past years the relations between Russia and Latin American countries have progressed both bilaterally and within international integration associations and organisations.

Frankly speaking, I would like to take this opportunity and let those who are spreading these allegations know that they should have no doubts, our relations with Latin America are stable, as I said, friendly and are not threatened by any fluctuations. Russia maintains links with all the states in the region and their governments of diverse political orientation. It is good to know that for Latin American countries, strengthening relations with Russia is also an important component of their foreign policy based on extensive internal consensus. They speak about this publicly during talks; they visit Russia or welcome us in their country and we value this, of course. Russia has never interfered and will never interfere with any elections in other countries as it goes against the fundamental principles of Russia’s foreign policy.

We understand and welcome the regional governments’ aspiration to ensure that the elections are honest, open and bring victory to a candidate who has the largest support among the voters. There is a certain pragmatic benefit for us in that because a democratic election process according to a country’s internal regulations is mandatory for steady development of Latin America.

We expect that professionalism of Latin American politicians and the media will help them avoid statements and publications that contain unveracious rumours as well as unsubstantiated accusations against Russia. 

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Preparation and monitoring of the presidential election in the Russian Federation

 

Citizens of the Russian Federation living abroad will be able to vote for a presidential candidate at one of the 365 polling stations that are being set up. As usual in such cases, we expect cooperation and assistance on the part of local law enforcement and the relevant agencies of the host countries in securing the polling stations and voters on polling day.

As regards the organisation of the work of international observers, we expect 500 observers from the OSCE, and also, on a bilateral basis, from other international structures, such as the CIS, the IPA CIS, the SCO and the PA CSTO. We are ready to cooperate with all of them in accordance with Russian electoral legislation.

We can already report some problem issues. We regret to note that not all the countries, including those that call themselves democratic, are meeting us halfway in terms of ensuring free expression of the will of our citizens. Thus, Latvia and Estonia, in a departure from previous practice, have banned voting outside the foreign missions.

We also have information about some countries’ plans for destructive interference in Russia’s internal affairs in the context of the presidential election campaign. I would like to stress again that such attempts will be aggressively shut down. If they do not stop, we will have to take corresponding retaliatory measures including a public response and disclosure of the data in our possession.

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Anniversary of the liberation of Warsaw

 

I would like to draw your attention to a momentous event in our common history with Poland. Unfortunately, the Polish media have paid no attention to the event, just like last year. January 17 was the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Warsaw from the Nazi occupation by the forces of the First Belarusian Front and the First Army of the Polish People’s Army. If the Polish media did not see fit to comment on this event, I’ll have to say it from Moscow. I’ll tell you how the event was marked in Poland, in what cities a consistent effort to eradicate historical memory yielded its evil fruit and where the liberation anniversary is still remembered and marked.

Unfortunately, the Polish veterans’ organisations, which held memorial events on the occasion, were prevented from laying flowers at the unknown soldier’s grave in Warsaw. Ceremonies were held at the monument to the soldiers of the First Army of the Polish People’s Army and the memorial cemetery for Soviet soldiers on Zvirka and Vigura Streets. Police officials laid a wreath at the monument to the First Polish Army on behalf of the Mayor of Warsaw, and that was all the authorities did as part of the event. I have to note that representatives of the Russian Embassy and our Belarusian colleagues took part in the ceremonies. The gala reception to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Polish capital at the Russian Science and Culture Centre in Warsaw was also attended by diplomats from the embassies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Against the general background of fighting the past, something certain Polish politicians have been engaging in with abandon in recent years, there are nevertheless a small number of local authorities, which manage to prevent such blatant devaluation and distortion of Polish history in their cities. Thus, on January 18, memorial ceremonies at the monument to Soviet soldiers at the Rakowice Cemetery in Krakow were led by the city’s mayor. A little earlier, similar events took place on a large scale in the city of Radom.

It is deplorable that Polish citizens are being deprived of such an important and joyous event in their history. Instead of seeking to make the younger generation proud of their ancestors, who gave their lives for their country fighting side by side with the Red Army to defeat Nazism, people are being fed values and priorities that are sometimes highly contradictory and make people forget the real past. It is heartening that in spite of everything one can still see historical justice prevail in Poland. One can only guess what pressure these courageous people have to withstand today. For our part, we congratulate all Polish veterans and our veterans (of course, we regularly congratulate our veterans) who fought on this front on their victory in the war. Make no mistake, your heroic feat has not been forgotten.

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Desecration of the Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army in the Polish city of Olsztyn

 

We are outraged by another vicious act on the military memorial heritage immortalising the memory of the Soviet soldiers who liberated Europe from Nazism.

In the administrative centre of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship in Poland, which borders on the Kaliningrad Region, the city of Olsztyn, the Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army, which is under state protection under Polish law, has been desecrated. A blasphemous image with the derisive caption “Monument of Gratitude for Slavery” has been put up on the monument. It is significant that the poster is a version of a specimen of Goebbels’s propaganda dating back to 1944. It is also important to note that all this was done on January 22, the anniversary of the capture of the city (then Allenstein in Eastern Prussia) by Soviet troops.

The provocative action was reportedly staged by persons, who are well known to Polish authorities and who earlier committed repeated acts of hooliganism against Soviet war memorials in the voivodeship. Far from hiding their antics, they parade them. No actions have been taken to stop them from committing these violations of the law.

We strongly protest, and demand that the culprits be punished and that such instances of vandalism not be repeated in future. 

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Lithuanian website vatnikas.lt

 

Another wave of Russophobia and struggling to come to terms with  its own history is sweeping through Lithuania. All this seems to be the total censorship of any alternative opinions. This is completely true about a new website, vatnikas.lt, containing personal data of the Lithuanian citizens who had the courage to express their own views on the events of the recent past. These ‘traitors’ have been accused of glorifying the policy of the Soviet Union and the Kremlin and blacklisted by the website.

This is an example of a bizarre ‘democracy’ and a bizarre idea of freedom of speech. It seems that it is provoking a split within society and constituting a direct fight against any nonconformity. We really hope it will not gather momentum otherwise it will look like the odious Myrotvorets website, which is absolutely discriminatory and goes against all principles of freedom of speech. It also encourages the direct persecution, including the persecution of journalists, and publishes people’s personal data.

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English version of Crimean Journal

 

As you know, the issue of Crimea has been frequently discussed in many countries – European, Asian and African states, but without much reference to facts. These talks are often based on indirect information and data obtained from the people or public organisations who have never been to Crimea.

Therefore, we are pleased to offer you and our foreign colleagues and partners Crimean Journal. From now on, it will also be published in English for those who are truly interested in Crimea. This is a very proactive project. You can contact your fellow journalists from the magazine, organise joint events and share publications. I know they are open for direct communication. Crimean journalists representing this media outlet do not need any authorities or oversight bodies to tell the audience about current events in Crimea. They are willing to share their views in the magazine, invite partners as well as pay mutual visits.    

You can get a copy of the magazine from the stand by the entrance. There is also an electronic version. Once again, your Crimean colleagues are open for cooperation.  

I would like to take this opportunity and note that the Crimean media is not limited by one magazine. There are currently 446 registered news projects in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, from periodicals, television channels and radio to news agencies and online media, including 78 in Ukrainian and 58 in the Crimean Tatar language. There are professional associations of journalists in Crimea and Sevastopol, the majority of which had operated long before Crimea reunited with Russia. Once again, I would like to recommend you to obtain information about life on the peninsula directly from the people who live there.  I think it is convenient to speak to Crimean journalists rather than to dubious sources based in third countries or people who only present themselves as supporters of Crimea’s interests. You have everything to establish direct contacts.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: They say that Russia does not oppose and even supports the operations being conducted by the Turkish side. What is Russia’s position?

Maria Zakharova: Who says this? We have just said as early as today that a political settlement should be dealt with at present.  Unfortunately, it does not happen everywhere. We have also noted what is happening in Afrin proper. Can you quote any official sources which are saying what you have just claimed? There is nothing of the kind anywhere. We are being engaged in a very important, and in our opinion, unique event – the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which should have all efforts focused on it now, in our view. I remember that even those of you sitting in this hall asked a great number of skeptical questions on postponing it or the impossibility to convene it. Everything will be fine and it will be held for the simple reason that the Syrians themselves understand this chance is one of a kind. Many of them have been “worked on”, many of them are discouraged, intimidated, promised something, they are being distracted in some way, including by those acts “on the ground” that are happening there. However, there is a major roadmap ensured by the Russian Federation. We have passed a very hard two-year-long road of fighting the terrorist threat “on the ground”. We understand that the unique chance that we have now may not be wasted. This is why our position is absolutely clear and is not rooted in a double game. Undoubtedly, there is diplomacy, understanding and nuancing, yet we urge everyone not to miss the chance. What is not clear here and which insinuations can be built on that?

I agree with you that there is, in particular, the Kurdish factor (you are understandably interested in that as you represent that part of the population) which has been constantly played for several years, including by our western partners, but not in the interests of the Kurds. There seems to be the impression that the Kurdish population is just being used when it is convenient and needed. I would like you to recall via your media and your friends who stood at the onset of the political involvement of Kurds in the Syria settlement process, who invited representatives of the Kurdish political forces to each meeting and venue and held talks with western as well as regional colleagues on the necessity of Kurdish inclusion. Those were serious talks. Where were they all back then? It appears that when it was still possible to prevent bloodshed and to form a broad coalition by uniting the Syrian opposition, the western colleagues told Kurds that they did not need them. They keep playing this card and exploit the ethnic sentiments of the people. Just ask them and yourself a question: who benefits? And then look at how consistent the Russian Federation’s position is which we do not discard.

The situation with Syria is so complicated that, to be honest, it is hard to imagine an uneasy international situation in a more concentrated way in recent history. Of course, there is the Middle East settlement and a number of other conflicts, but  this situation, I think, is unprecedented in terms of the involvement of people of different ethnicities, faiths, political forces, and the engagement of the most powerful actors. The situation is not that simple to accuse Russia in a blurred articulation of our position. We voice our position very distinctly, and I have just set it out for you.

Question: How can we speak about the final resolution of the Syria crisis when Turkey, a key participant in the Congress, has launched a long-term operation? Could you ask your partner Turkey to solve the Kurdish issue in a different way?

Maria Zakharova: You know the number of meetings and negotiations Russia has with Turkish, as you call them, partners. You might have forgotten which crisis provoked by Turkey we only just got out of recently. Are you telling us that Turkey is a difficult partner? We know that and we do not conceal it. Indeed, it is a nation with its own interests which in many respects do not overlap with the interests of the Russian Federation, yet they are somewhat similar. Our task is to find common grounds with any partner regardless of how hard they are. It is not so easy to do even in bilateral relations. It is ever more difficult to do in the framework of the Syrian settlement. But success comes with tenacity. I could not believe until now that you could be thinking that Russia does not discuss the Kurdish issue with Turkey.  Of course it does, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials keep saying that. Everything has been done for several years to involve Kurdish political forces in settling the situation not just in Syria but also in Iraq. We commented on these matters more than once.

Question: Russia’s position on Kurds is very positive and consistent, for which the whole Kurdish people is grateful. Thank you.

Maria Zakharova: Thank you.

Question: We know that Russia always spoke very well of Kurds and backed them, including the Democratic Union Party (PYD). What has changed recently? Why did Russia change its position on PYD in Afrin?

Maria Zakharova: I have just fully answered this question. This is simply a déjà vu. I can repeat word for word what I have already said.

Question: It’s just that the PYD leaders are saying that Russia has abandoned Kurds in Afrin.

Maria Zakharova: Ask them whether we understand it correctly that from their point of view Russia should bear responsibility for Turkey’s actions. Should it? We have a foreign policy and a clear stance on engaging the Kurdish population in the political process. We have been defending this stance for years.

At present, we are fully focused on preparations for the National Dialogue Congress. As you know, invitations have been sent to Kurdish representatives. It is now up to them not just to accept the invitation, but also to take a more active part in this format. I think that you should bring our position to the Kurdish population through your mass media.

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Question: Our fellow journalists abroad, who intend to cover the National Dialogue Congress and who have already obtained accreditation, have a problem getting visas in consular departments of Russian embassies in their countries, particularly in Arab and Muslim countries where consular departments are closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Maria Zakharova: Thank you for bringing up this matter. We have received requests for accreditation from around 450-500 journalists. These are both foreign and Russian media. They applied at different times and half of them have already had their accreditation confirmed. These confirmations contain detailed information on how and at what consular or embassy institutions they can obtain visas. Considering the urgency and the extreme importance of the upcoming event, they will be given all the necessary help in clearing visa formalities.

Question: What if a consulate is closed?

Maria Zakharova: It will be opened. The accreditation is over. I can say that those who will receive accreditation (if there are no violations of our migration laws, the overwhelming majority, if not all journalists, will get it) should turn to the consular department of a corresponding Russian embassy or General Consulate. Our missions abroad have been properly instructed.

To date, by 3 pm, we have foreign correspondents from 26 countries. Consequently, we will check all visa applications from the journalists who will travel to Sochi to cover the Congress. This work was, as usual, conducted at a very high level.

Question: So, does it mean that they will be able to get visas even on Friday, a day off?

Maria Zakharova: Actually, I have already explained, but you can say it again.

Question: I had a phone call during your briefing. They said they got in touch with the embassy but were told that the consulate is closed and will open only on Monday. What should they do? I promised to ask you.  

Maria Zakharova: Let me repeat that today the working day is already over, but we have a working day tomorrow. If necessary, visas will be issued on the day of the departure. Let them wait for their letters of accreditation. If you have any information, please, let us know, contact us promptly. If anyone needs help, we will provide it. 

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Question: Five countries have put forward some kind of a new political constitutional initiative, sidestepping the processes already in place, including as part of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. What can you say on this theme?

Maria Zakharova: We are witnessing a very peculiar trend of creating all kinds of formats, as if to parcel the frameworks that already exist under international law into separate groups. For this reason, I asked for clarifications. Syria is not the only country concerned. For example, a working group was established by the US, Great Britain, Germany and France to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal.

Question: A comment by the Foreign Ministry on the second format would be also welcome.

Maria Zakharova: I will comment on the second one as well.

As for the five-party meeting on Syria, there were media reports on a meeting in Washington held on January 12, with the US, Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The event was devoted to Syria.

As we have always said, and our position remains unchanged in this respect, all countries involved in the settlement of the Syria crisis are free to initiate any formats or talks in order to find ways to restore peace in Syria, if these efforts are constructive and creative.

At the same time, the main criterion for meetings of this kind is their effectiveness and outcomes. Did any of you, who know the region’s issues so well, hear about any outcomes, progress or any kind of roadmap that was adopted? We have not. There are universally accepted formats. You know them. It remains unclear to us whether the Washington meeting had any added value. What were the goals of the meeting? They are also unclear. We cannot oppose any additional formats, while operating within other frameworks. After all, there is the Astana process whereby Russia, Turkey and Iran cooperate. This takes place at various levels, but there is a declared goal and a specific outcome. All these efforts take place in accordance with universally accepted international norms. In my humble opinion, these contacts are positive, and can actually bring about a breakthrough for the region.

By the way, all these peculiar formats are not just about the Middle East and North Africa. The same happened with North Korea and the Vancouver meeting, held outside of the existing frameworks. All this was far-fetched and artificial. It is possible that the goal was to create some kind of a foundation, legitimise their ideas. “You must have a bite, even if you cannot eat the entire piece,” as the Russian saying goes. I think it describes very accurately what is going on.

As for the working group on the Iranian nuclear programme, we believe that this initiative by the US and the three European countries will not facilitate any progress on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. As we have said on a number of occasions, the way our US colleagues talk about “adjusting” this plan only complicates its implementation.

We operate based on the premise that the agreements and understandings that may be reached within this framework would not affect our overall policy regarding the JCPOA by all of its participants.

Let me remind you of a memorable and unambiguous ministerial meeting on the JCPOA implementation, with the participation of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, held on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York this year. We discussed this at length during political discussions. All countries directly condemned, almost along the same lines, the US for its attempts to wash-out and shatter or even bury the plan. How did the world change over the few months that passed since then? Were there any changes in the implementation of this plan by Iran? Nothing has changed. But why did they change their position? Or why is it beginning to change?

Question: Today, all experts are noting a considerably invigorated peacemaking process around Nagorno-Karabakh and are underscoring Russia’s substantial role as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh. Does Russia plan to continue and expand its activity as a co-chair this year? Will this take the form of the OSCE Minsk Group’s greater monitoring activity? Are any specific compromise solutions possible during the peacemaking process? Although this will hardly help resolve the conflict, but still, are any results possible?

Maria Zakharova: I will ask for experts’ advice on the latter two questions.  

Regarding the first question, I can say that it is necessary to boost efficiency, rather than activity. I believe everyone will do this.

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Question: I would like to touch upon the issue of Ukraine. It is common knowledge that the Minsk Agreements are formalised by a UN Security Council resolution. The Verkhovna Rada has recently submitted a draft law on the “reintegration” of Donbass. What can Russia do after Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko signs the document? Will a meeting of the UN Security Council be convened?

Maria Zakharova: Documents and legislative acts are not approved per se. This is not being done just for the sake of it and not for conducting a certain process. The process should be linked to the main goal, that is, achieving a peace settlement “on the ground.” The matter is different. All documents that are being approved serve a diametrically opposite goal and destabilise the situation still further, without sending a clear message to the warring parties as to whether this reintegration will become part of the state’s policy. Today, one has the impression that all of this will remain on paper. And, unfortunately, one way or another, this is adding even more fuel to the fire that has been raging for the past few years.

As you know, Russia is actively searching for a peace settlement and for ways of implementing it. But this is a domestic Ukrainian conflict. No matter how much Kiev repeats and accuses the Russian Federation, it has to speak and reach agreement with Donetsk and Lugansk, with Donbass residents. Kiev authorities need to do this, without hiding behind the completely absurd and hard-to-implement or absolutely impracticable documents they are passing. On the contrary, they need to reach real agreements because they will also have to live in real earnest.

Question: What can you tell us about accusations of Russia regarding the Syrian Government’s responsibility for using chemical arms?

Maria Zakharova: Yesterday the Foreign Ministry released a special statement in which we said that this is not just a new round of information aggression but is crossing the line. This is a blatant lie. This is how we qualified these accusations in our statement. We commented on the US allegations about the use of chemical weapons and all kinds of insinuations on this score. The Americans “fired from all guns” simultaneously – statements were made by Nikki Haley, Rex Tillerson and the White House. This is an absolutely obvious information offensive. It is possible to talk on end about facts and investigations (we are well aware of how they were made – or rather not made at all). We described at length that most missions and reports were not based on a collection of information on the spot but were made by proxy – through someone else.  I believe that among other things, it is necessary to counter such fake reports with an attempt at logical reasoning. Who stands to gain from a chemical attack in Syria today? Who? A motive is the most important element of any crime. What motive can the government, the official authorities and the lawful President of that country have if they are about to get to the political phase of settlement anyway? Of course, the task of fighting terrorism and establishing reliable security throughout the country remains, but right now all efforts are focused on restoring the life of civilians and rebuilding infrastructure – not high-tech but very basic infrastructure. People need water, bread, medicines, schools and hospitals. These are things that the Syrian Government is trying to provide for them and Russia is actively helping as it has been doing for many years. You know well that this assistance is rendered on a very large scale. So why should the Syrian government use chemical arms in these conditions? Against whom? For what purpose? The Syrian government is well aware that chemical arms are a red flag for the West. Having been through several rounds of accusations, why do this again? With what aim in mind? This is absolutely incomprehensible. Why build schools, bring life back to the state and improve the living conditions of ordinary people and at the same time create additional problems for themselves when there are no strategic benefits “on the ground” for using chemical weapons? Moreover, I would like to remind those who monitor this situation, political scientists and experts (regrettably, their memory has become very short) that it was the incumbent government, not some of its predecessors that fully cooperated with the international community in destroying its chemical arms. In other words, the government gave away these chemical arms, disclosed all the relevant information and most actively facilitated their destruction at home. It made this decision of principle and it was carried out. This is the second important fact. A third fact is the tremendous progress towards a political settlement, and success in searching for and finding consensus. We see that large numbers of participants or representatives of the external Syrian opposition have accepted invitations to attend the National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. This is an indicative fact. This is not only the opposition that is inside the country but also those who live a prosperous life abroad and have not seen the horrors of the war. They have always fiercely opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but the overwhelming majority of them have still agreed to attend the congress. Now that it has all started coming together at the expense of the lives of so many soldiers, civilians, women and children and such enormous losses, why suddenly turn around and use chemical weapons? For what purpose? What is the point of this?

We hear the Americans talk about the Syrian regime in this context all the time. When I hear and speak about Syrian weapons I am always tempted to mention “the American regime” that is accusing Damascus of using chemical arms. The Americans have the motive because this is the “entry point” for destabilising the situation and wrecking the political settlement. It is no longer possible to explain to the political opposition verbally why they should not come to Sochi. Why shouldn’t they? Before, they were told that they would not be able to talk with Damascus, but they did. Before, it was claimed that mostly civilians rather than terrorists were killed there. It transpired that terrorists were killed. When ISIS terrorists were annihilated, the main part of the operation was folded up. It is no longer possible to lie for no real reason. There is a demand for action that will definitely again sow doubt in the minds of Syrians, the Syrian opposition and Syrian politicians that oppose Damascus and prevent them from accepting invitations. This is why this is being done. This is one of the reasons.

Furthermore, there is continuous information pressure aimed at destabilising the entire situation in Syria and keeping everyone “at gunpoint” as regards information coverage. This is why these salvoes are fired. I think there are also many other motives. This is yet another obvious provocation. But the problem is that these were the representatives of the American regime that were sitting with a vial in the UN Security Council. Ms Haley’s US seat – now she is accusing Syria of using chemical arms (and Russia almost facilitating this) – was occupied by Colin Powell who cheated everyone by showing his “evidence.” Just like you, we will never forget this.

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Question: The Federal Security Service’s (FSB) Border Control Directorate for the Sakhalin Region has accused the crew of Japanese fishing vessel Niko Maru 53 of violating fishing regulations. On January 18, the vessel moored in Kunashir Island for a subsequent check. When will Japanese sailors be released?

Maria Zakharova: You should address this question to the FSB. I can ask my colleagues whether there is any headway on this issue.

Question: The Japanese Foreign Ministry has announced preparations for consultations in Tokyo at the level of deputy foreign ministers. The consultations will deal with joint economic activity in the Kuril Islands. What is the exact date for holding them?

Maria Zakharova: We will announce the dates separately.  We have discussed this matter in great detail at our previous briefing. Please read the briefing’s transcript. The date has not been announced yet. We will certainly do so after the date is coordinated.

Question: Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov has noted that he is inviting the US State Department’s special representatives to hold a meeting on the Korean Peninsula in Moscow. Have you received any response from the US State Department?

Maria Zakharova: I will look into this report.

Question: Do you see any possibility for direct dialogue between North Korea and the United States?

Maria Zakharova: It is necessary to work out the appropriate format. The history of this issue includes various examples of such dialogue. This issue directly concerns both states. Mediation efforts have been made for many years because everyone is interested in a peaceful resolution of this issue. But, regarding dialogue between two sovereign states, it is certainly up to them to decide.

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Question: What is the future of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosovo if Belgrade and Pristina sign this legally binding agreement? This option is being discussed internally in an ongoing dialogue. Does this mean that the resolution will be automatically rescinded, or does this call for additional technical procedures?

Maria Zakharova: No, according to UN procedures, it is impossible to annul a resolution if someone so desires. This is a binding document. Many have forgotten about it, but it remains in force, and no one has rescinded it. Certainly, political processes that you are aware of, while following other international issues, continue to develop. Resolutions are passed; they extend previous resolutions, rescind or modify them. This includes such issues as Syria, problems of the Korean Peninsula where the situation continues to develop, to some extent. We believe that Serbia itself should, first of all, state its position as to whether this dialogue continues to develop. Regarding this issue, we will certainly rely on the opinion of Belgrade and legitimately elected authorities. This is standard procedure. We have always presented this issue in precisely such a context. It goes without saying that international law offers various compromise solutions, but no one can now rescind this resolution that remains in force.

Question: Does this mean that the process now underway in Brussels (the Brussels dialogue) will end up at the UN, no matter what?

Maria Zakharova: For this purpose, Serbia needs to voice and formalise its position. The same concerns the process underway in the EU and the resolution. After that, the situation will develop accordingly.

Question: In late 2017, the Atlantic Council unveiled a new draft US strategy for the Balkans. Called “Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region,” the document was published in the United States. The strategy envisions more active involvement in Balkan affairs, and this is what we are witnessing. You have commented on the Kosovo issue. Does Russia have a strategy for strengthening its relations with Balkan countries, including Bulgaria? Is it possible to say that Russia has forgotten about Bulgaria? How can our relations receive a new lease of life?

Maria Zakharova: Regarding the Balkan strategy, Russia has its own foreign policy concept involving this issue. As you can see, the concept is being updated regularly.

Speaking of relations with Bulgaria, I will prepare extensive materials on bilateral relations for the next briefing. This material will also address the development strategy and specific present-day developments.

Question: The United States is accusing Russia and Syria of chemical attacks and the use of chemical weapons. The other day, our Bulgarian colleague presented results of an investigation (a Pentagon document), which said that biological weapons were being developed. Medical centres have been established in more than 25 countries, with two of these located not far from Russia – in Ukraine and Georgia. Isn’t the US breaching the UN Convention by doing this? Can the relevant authorities take up the facts contained in the investigation?

Maria Zakharova: I must check this information about the biological weapons with colleagues. In fact, I have seen the relevant materials, and not only those by the Bulgarian journalist; there were Russian journalists, too, who wrote about this. We will provide a legal assessment of these facts and announce our position of principle with regard to the situation as a whole. If it is true that the United States, as you say, has started working with biological weapons in Ukraine, this explains many things.

Question: One medical laboratory in Georgia was created during the Saakashvili presidency. This centre is still operating under a US programme. All US employees at those centres enjoy diplomatic immunity, which means that it is very difficult to carry out inspections. But if the facts uncovered by the investigative reporting of Bulgarian and Russian journalists are confirmed, is there a threat for Russia and the world?

Maria Zakharova: I will make enquiries and present a detailed report next time.

Question: Representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party said they would attend the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi as an autonomous area, but after the military operation in Afrin they said they would not come at all. Is there any information at this moment as to whether they will participate or not? And if they will, then with what status?

Maria Zakharova: Right now, I cannot present the full list of those who confirmed that they would participate. I know the number. I can say that there is a great number of representatives of various Kurdish forces, which have confirmed their participation. As I was told by our experts, it is proportionate to the Kurdish population numbers in Syria, which means that it is sufficiently representative. We will say who has arrived directly before the event. This will be even more important than who has accepted or not accepted invitations. Who will come and how many of them is not a matter of our ambitious aims; the matter is the extent to which the people who are offered this venue are ready to use this unique chance. This is the crux of the matter. Russia is not holding this Congress just for the fun of it or because it wants to hold a splendid event – we hold a lot of splendid events as it is. We are providing an opportunity and giving a chance to people, political forces, politicians, opposition members and representatives of the current government to decide on their future. For this purpose, we are providing the infrastructure, political support and all the necessary conditions. This is why it is not to us that your question should be addressed. To be sure, whether someone will come or not isn’t our problem. It is a problem of lost opportunities and chances for those people who have vowed for years that Syria’s future is the priority of their lifetime. Many of them were ready to sacrifice their life with arms in hand as they upheld their convictions. Many did that without crossing the “red line,” while remaining in the political sphere. Huge efforts have been made to create all the necessary conditions for this event to become a powerful push forward. Ask them this question: To what extent are they able and willing to use this chance, to what extent is the political horse-trading that many of them are engaged in more important than the future of their country and people?   

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