Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 31, 2018

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 13:36

Table of contents

  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at the final stage of the Leaders of Russia contest
  2. Events for Diplomat’s Day
  3. Council of Young Diplomats holds gala event on Diplomat’s Day
  4. 18th Winter Diplomatic Games
  5. Events at Foreign Missions section on the Foreign Ministry official website
  6. Developments in Syria
  7. Turkey’s Olive Branch operation in Syria
  8. The situation in Venezuela
  9. Attacks in Colombia and Ecuador
  10. British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson’s anti-Russian statements
  11. Dutch investigative report on Russia’s alleged interference in US affairs
  12. Statements by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki regarding Nord Stream 2
  13. Differences between Belgrade and Zagreb over the exhibition on the Jasenovac concentration camp at the UN
  14. Remarks by Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski concerning Russia's participation in the Sobibor memorial project
  15. Russian Seasons in Italy
  16. Russian Foreign Ministry’s website in Arabic
  17. Priorities of Russian EAEU chairmanship in 2018
  18. Russia’s role in possible intensification of OSCE monitoring activities on the separation line in Nagorny Karabakh and prospects for peaceful settlement in the region
  19. Prospects for the development of Russia-Bulgaria relations
  20. Latvia launches Language Friend mobile app
  21. Answers to media questions:
    1. Western allegations of Russia’s interference in elections around the world
    2. The possibility of parallel functioning of the High Negotiations Committee and the Constitutional Committee
    3. The ‘Kremlin list’
    4. Russian and US talks with the Taliban
    5. US President Donald Trump’s statement regarding Russia and China
    6. Statements by Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov regarding REGNUM Belarusian contributors Yury Pavlovets, Dmitry Alimkin and Sergey Sheptenko
    7. Contact with colleagues at the US Department of State
    8. Interception of a US surveillance plane over the Black Sea
    9. Possible use of positive cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Syria to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
    10. Statements by Bashar al-Jaafari, head of the Syrian government delegation, regarding the Syrian constitution
    11. Intra-Libyan settlement
    12. Results of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Russia
    13. Possibility of consultations with a North Korean Foreign Ministry delegation in Russia
    14. Possible visit to Moscow by Choe Son-hui, Director-General of the North America Department at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at the final stage of the Leaders of Russia contest

 

On February 7 in Sochi, Sergey Lavrov will address the participants of the Russian Leaders national management contest organised pursuant to the President’s instructions by the Graduate School of Public Administration under the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA).

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech and answers to media questions will be available on the Foreign Ministry web site and official accounts in social media.

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Events for Diplomat’s Day

 

On February 10, the Russian diplomatic service will mark its professional holiday for the 16th time. This year, February 10 falls on Saturday, so most events will take place in the run-up to this day.

Festive events will be held at all Russian foreign missions and the Foreign Ministry headquarters. Our embassies, consulates general and permanent missions with international organisations will also publish corresponding materials.

On February 8, flowers will be laid at burial places of prominent diplomats at Novodevichy Cemetery: former foreign ministers and ambassadors of the USSR and Russia.

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry administration, veterans and employees of the Ministry and young diplomats will take part in the traditional annual ceremony.

As part of the festivities for Diplomat’s Day, flowers will also be laid at memorial plaques in the Foreign Ministry building. There are also plans to pay tribute to the memories of Foreign Ministry employees who perished during World War II or in the line of duty, or who fell victim to political repression.

There will also be an exhibition, which this year is dedicated to the establishment of the national diplomatic service after the October Revolution of 1917. The display of documents will encompass the activities of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs before the USSR was formed in 1922.

A traditional official meeting will take place on the occasion of Diplomat’s Day.

I would like to add that at 11 am on February 8, as part of events for Diplomat’s Day, a memorial plaque will be unveiled at the Russian Embassy in Abkhazia in memory of our colleagues Dmitry and Olga Vishernev, who died in the line of duty in September 2013.

We invite the media to all the events held at the Foreign Ministry. 

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Council of Young Diplomats holds gala event on Diplomat’s Day

 

At 7 pm on February 8, the Foreign Ministry’s Council of Young Diplomats will hold an informal meeting with the young employees of the Moscow diplomatic corps at the Foreign Ministry’s GLAVUPDK (5 Ulofa Palme Street).

The programme includes the presentation of the activities of the Council of Young Diplomats, a review of the first Global Forum of Young Diplomats that was held in Sochi in October 2017 on the sidelines of the World Festival of Youth and Students, a discussion of the plans for the second Global Forum in 2018 and the establishment of an international association of young diplomats and a Moscow diplomatic club.

 We invite all journalists to attend the event. For accreditation call the Council of Young Diplomats until 3 pm on February 7 at +7 (916) 487 43 54.

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18th Winter Diplomatic Games

 

On February 10, Diplomat’s Day, the Moscow Country Club, an affiliate of GLAVUPDK, will host the 18thWinter Diplomatic Games.

The event will be attended by heads and employees of diplomatic missions accredited in Russia, officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry and GLAVUPDK, as well as by famous Russian athletes and cultural figures.

During the event a news conference will be held with the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium Jean-Arthur Regibeau, and First Deputy Chair of the Committee on International Affairs of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Olympic champion Svetlana Zhurova.

I would like to explain why the news conference will be held with the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Moscow. The Moscow Country Club will receive the team and representatives of the Belgian delegation that will arrive for the 2018 FIFA World Club.

The referee’s board will include celebrated Russian athletes: Olympic skating champion Lyudmila Titova, Olympic bobsled champion Vladimir Kozlov and biathlete Alexander Yelizarov, to name a few.

The games will consist of competitions of about 40 teams of diplomatic missions in six sports.

The games will be crowned by a gala hockey match between the winner of the hockey tournament and the team KomAr that will include Oleg Butman, Alexander Mostovoy, Sergey Krestovsky, Kirill Andreyev, Pavel Trubiner, Vladislav Karpovich and other Russian stars of sport and culture.

By tradition, Moscow Country Club guests will be offered an interesting cultural programme and a Russian food tasting session. We invite Russian and foreign journalists to take part in the coverage of the event.

For more information and accreditation procedures go to the GLAVUPDK website.

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Events at Foreign Missions section on the Foreign Ministry official website

 

I would like to point out that the Foreign Ministry website (we will talk about this in detail today) has an Events at Foreign Missions section. By request of our embassies, we will find a special more convenient link, maybe even on the home page, to make it easier to find. This section has been providing information and photographic materials on the activities and events of our foreign missions regularly for several years now. A large number of materials are published daily, and even more materials will be dedicated to Diplomat’s Day. You can find information there as well. 

We will certainly have a special section on the website which will be dedicated to our professional day.

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Developments in Syria

 

On the whole, the situation in Syria continues to improve. A shift to peace is particularly evident in Damascus and in other cities where the government has been firmly controlling the situation for a long time, including in Aleppo and Homs. Life is gradually getting back to normal.

In the past few days, no serious violations of the ceasefire regime were posted in the de-escalation zones in southern Syria and north of Homs, as well as along most of the sections of the demarcation line in Eastern Ghouta, except the Harasta and Jobar districts from where terrorists continue their armed incursions.

The areas still caught in conflict include Afrin, where the Turkish military, supported by the armed opposition, are conducting Operation Olive Branch (which I will talk about separately), and Idlib. Terrorists and the so-called “moderates” have so far failed to go their separate ways in this governorate. And Al-Nusra continues to feel quite comfortable there. The Syrian military continuously face provocations aiming to torpedo the creation of de-escalation zones here. The resolute actions of the Syrian Army, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces, have dealt a worthy rebuff to Al-Nusra whose militants have fled from the Abu Duhur air base, seized by them back in 2015.The government forces have reestablished control over this air base and the Abu Duhur community.

This week, Sochi hosted the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. The event was organised on the initiative of the Russian Federation and supported by the UN as well as by Turkey and Iran, our partners in the Astana format, together with influential Arab countries and Syria’s neighbours. This highly important event will certainly influence the developments in Syria. The forum involved 1,511 Syrian delegates representing the broadest political and ethno-religious strata of Syrian society.

Of course, we deplore the position of those members of the Syrian opposition who, at the eleventh hour, for various reasons, including under the influence of external forces, have decided to abstain from taking part in the Congress. Efforts were made to convince them to change their decision. We even postponed the congress opening but to no effect. We believe it was a political mistake. Nevertheless, the refusal of these people did not mar the atmosphere of the Sochi forum.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took part in the Congress and read out a message by President Vladimir Putin to its participants and international observers.

Fifty-three foreign observers, including a UN delegation led by UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, were accredited in Sochi and took part in the work of the Congress. There were also representatives of UK, French and US embassies in Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also mentioned this yesterday, while replying to journalists’ questions.

Regarding media representatives, the Congress participants worked until late into the evening on January 30, and over 500 Russian and foreign journalists covered the event. Those who did not take part in the work of the Congress could watch live video footage of the opening and closing of the plenary meetings. For obvious reasons, no video cameras were allowed at the event’s working session. It was necessary to create a working atmosphere.

The approval of the Final Statement and Address became a highly important result of the intra-Syrian discussion which sometimes was quite heated. The texts of these documents, including their Russian and English language translations, are on the Foreign Ministry’s official website as well as social network accounts.

It was decided to establish a Constitutional Commission involving numerous members of the Syrian Government, the opposition, civil society, independent tribal leaders and women. The UN Secretary-General is being urged to instruct his Special Envoy for Syria Staffan da Mistura to facilitate the Commission’s work in Geneva.

A broad intra-Syrian dialogue has been launched, and an important step has been made towards the restoration of peace on Syrian territory and towards overcoming the consequences of a protracted bloody crisis.

We hope that the decisions adopted in Sochi will become an asset of the intra-Syrian negotiating process under UN auspices in Geneva and at other locations to facilitate the Syrian peace process involving Syrian parties, primarily the Astana format. And we will do our best to make this possible. The voice of Sochi forum participants who have called for restoring peace on Syrian territory as soon as possible and for reorganising the country in such a way that would guarantee the comfortable coexistence of all components of the Syrian nation, as well as the country’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, security and citizens’ rights must be heard.

I would like to congratulate those whose forecasts did not come true. I answered numerous questions claiming that the forum would not take place, and what we would do if it proved impossible to organise it. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s officials said the forum would take place, and it did take place. The Russian Federation has done everything possible to successfully hold it, so that it would become an important starting point for dialogue between Syrian parties.

I would also like to recall that, apart from those doubting that the Congress would ever take place and would yield any results, numerous negative events were held in the run-up to this Congress. Their participants even predicted that, if the forum did take place, everything would be torpedoed, and that it would prove impossible to reach an agreement. Apart from these materials, instead of admitting that negative forecasts did not come true, they “rained” an entire array of fake news and material. I have no choice but to quote one of them. I will not name the publication, so as not to advertise it still further. I cannot call it anything but marginal. This publication has decided to count how much time was allocated for the Congress’ work and how much for food and rest. This material gradually started attracting sufficient attention online because it claimed that only six hours had been spent on deciding the destiny of Syria, and that 32 hours were stipulated on food, beverages and transfers.

As you know, for those who were present in Sochi and watched the Congress live, the reality was different. From morning until late into the evening, representatives of various groups of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government dedicated their time to work. I would like to ask those who are writing this nonsense, would you like to remind yourselves and your audience how many hours the Syrian war lasted? We are ready to help. Bloodshed on Syrian territory lasted for at least 61,320 hours. Quite possibly, it would be interesting to count how many hours of telephone and direct contacts were spent on international negotiations to resolve the Syrian crisis in Moscow, Geneva, Astana, Cairo and in many other foreign capitals, as well as at the UN. How many hours did the heads of various national foreign policy agencies on all continents devote to the Syrian issue? Well, so much for the time factor. I believe that it is also necessary to rely on these statistics, while discussing this fascinating topic.

Summing up a certain intermediate result, I would like to recall what the Syrians and Russian representatives discussed yesterday in Sochi. I would like to once again draw attention to the fact that the decisions that have been adopted in Sochi will become an asset of the intra-Syrian negotiating process under UN auspices in Geneva and other locations that aims to facilitate the Syrian peace settlement. This primarily concerns the Astana format. I want to focus on this once again. We hope that this will, indeed, lay a very important foundation for moving forwards, and we hope that this process will be expedited.

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Turkey’s Olive Branch operation in Syria

 

We continue to monitor the developments in northern Syria, which are a matter of grave concern.  

The Turkish authorities claim that Olive Branch, the military operation they launched against the Democratic Union Party’s Kurdish popular self-defence forces in the Afrin area on January 20, is in conformity with the right to self-defence that states have under the UN Charter and seeks to eliminate terrorist units.   

According to the incoming information, the number of casualties over the last 10 days of fighting has reached several hundred, including civilians.

We again are calling on the parties to practice restraint.

Moscow has also taken note of the statements made by a number of Kurdish politicians that  accuse Russia, along with the “Syrian regime,” of conniving at the “Turkish aggression” and even of having “betrayed the Kurds.”

We would like to note in this connection that it is not us who have consistently created conditions in northern Syria, which Turkey has deemed a threat to its national security. It was not Russia that was responsible for preventing the legitimate Government of Syria from reestablishing its control over vast parts of that country for an indefinite period of time. It was not Russia that engaged in forming in those areas uniformed services with functions pertaining to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Syrian state, thereby fomenting separatist sentiments.

The current developments show clearly that disdain for international law and attempts at its one-sided interpretation are fraught with the emergence of new challenges and threats both in Syria itself and the turbulent Middle East region as a whole.

In this context, we reaffirm the invariability of Russia’s position in support of the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as  the Syrians’ right to determine the future of their country themselves. To assist with the implementation of this right, we have put forward the initiative to hold the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. I would like to note again that we did our best to induce representatives of Kurdish political parties, movements and unions to join the political settlement process in Syria.

We are confident that it is necessary to speed up the progress towards settlement and normalisation in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 within the framework of the collective effort to facilitate this process at the Geneva, Astana and other venues that provide for full-scale involvement of all parties concerned and, most importantly, the Syrians themselves, who, as evidenced by the Sochi forum’s resolutions,  primarily want their country to return back to a peaceful way of life, which is comfortable for all its citizens, without any foreign interference and outside diktat.

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The situation in Venezuela

 

Venezuela has launched preparations for presidential elections scheduled for late April of this year. We hope that the organisation and holding of the ballot will conform to the internationally recognised principles and norms and proceed in a peaceful and calm atmosphere, as we could observe at the gubernatorial and municipal elections last year. 

We are confident that it is an incontrovertible rule for all political forces in the country to observe the Constitution and the applicable laws. We think it premature to provide any assessments with regard to the upcoming ballot. As we note, relevant statements by certain opposition leaders evince a clear desire to introduce an element of strife as well as  chaos in the domestic stand-off and prevent the campaign from being promoted by the generally accepted political methods.

We regard any attempts at outside interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs, specifically attempts to dictate from the outside the parameters of voting by the Venezuelan citizens, as unacceptable. Unilateral restrictions are even more destructive. Contrary to good intentions declared by their introducers, progressing sanctions pressure is certainly unconducive to the diffusion of social tension, improvements in the humanitarian situation, or normal development of democratic processes in Venezuela.

We are stating with regret that the North-inspired anti-Venezuelan campaign continues unabated in Latin America, a campaign that foments greater hostility between parties to the dispute and destabilises the country.

Under the existing circumstances, it seems extremely important that the Venezuelan political forces continue a constructive dialogue and persevere in efforts to reach compromises and agreements that would be in the interests of the broad strata of the population and make it possible to urgently start solving socioeconomic matters in Venezuela. In this context, it is gratifying to see the parties seek to return to talks, the outcome of which will largely determine Venezuela’s further progress towards stable and successful development.

The material on developments in Venezuela that we read are clearly inspired by the North. The constant calls for democracy that we hear suggest two questions. Firstly, what are democracy’s real aims and objectives? Secondly, aren’t the constant attempts to influence the situation from the outside a factor that discredits the concept of democracy itself?  

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Attacks in Colombia and Ecuador

 

We are concerned about the news of the attacks on law enforcement agencies in Colombia and Ecuador, resulting in the loss of innocent lives, injuries and substantial property damage. We extend our sympathy to the loved ones of those killed and wish the soonest possible recovery to the injured.

Expressing solidarity with the Colombian and Ecuadorian governments and people, Russia strongly condemns any terrorist acts as one of the highest security threats in Latin America and calls for abandoning these methods, regardless of the motives.

We believe plotters and executors of these inhumane crimes will sustain tough punishment.

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British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson’s anti-Russian statements

 

We have taken note of British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson’s statements regarding Russia’s readiness to attack British infrastructure facilities and kill thousands of civilians.

It appears that when the Secretary of State for Defence was making these statements he imagined himself taking part in a new James Bond film. We understand that the UK is going through a difficult time due to its exit from the EU and an internal split within British society that also has an effect on the current developments. It is understandable that an external enemy is needed to distract public attention. They earlier tried to connect the British people’s decision to leave the European Union with the Kremlin but that did not really work out. So now, they decided to approach the matter from another angle.

This time, the claims raised eyebrows even in the United Kingdom itself. Statements of such nature are completely amateurish. Amateurism is what the British security services accused Williamson of and recommended that he stopped speculating and scaremongering.

Obviously, such absurd statements only make it more difficult to enhance our bilateral relations and our cooperation against the actual challenges facing the modern world, which the heads of Russian and British foreign affairs agencies discussed during their talks in Moscow last December.  

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Dutch investigative report on Russia’s alleged interference in US affairs

 

It is known that on January 25, Dutch media published an investigative report that claims that in 2014, the General Intelligence and Security Service hacked into computers at a Moscow “office” that turned out to be “a group of hackers with close links to the Kremlin,” and set up surveillance over the group.

The said group of hackers is incriminated with cyberattacks not only on Hillary Clinton’s election campaign headquarters but also French television channel TV5 Monde as well as the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the dominant party in Germany. It is claimed that for two and a half years, Dutch intelligence agents transferred the collected data “via partner channels” to the FBI and the NSA, which “minimized the damage from Russian interference during the US presidential elections.” So they dragged their feet until election day. They knew, they were tormented by it but would not publicise the information.

To put it bluntly, why has nobody told us about this for two and a half years? They could have communicated this information to us. We have been in contact with Dutch officials. Information security is one of the matters Russian diplomats discuss with their foreign counterparts. Apparently, they did wait until the elections in the US. Let’s turn to logic. If Hillary Clinton had won, the information would not have been revealed and published, even if we only assume that it is true. But, since Clinton did not win, suddenly it turns out that it happened but nobody said anything.

We noticed that, as always, the report did not produce any solid evidence. The journalists explained everything and referred to “a state secret non-disclosure order.” We consider this report to be another injection of unverified information.

Why would the Netherlands become so engaged in the matter now? It seems we have the answer. It all adds up. Next March, the Netherlands are holding municipal elections alongside a consultative referendum on extending the authority of the Dutch security services. The public in the country is rightly concerned with these plans which, once put in practice, may clear the way for more security violations on behalf of the government. Hence the attempt to shift the blame onto someone else and once again scare any Dutch subjects who are still in doubt with the “evil Kremlin.”

The fact is that not so long ago, we saw a copy of this story during the media promotion of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement ratification, when, despite the Dutch government’s efforts, citizens of the country voted the way they voted.  Aren’t you afraid of the same outcome? It is so absurd and all too obvious that it does not hold water. 

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Statements by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki regarding Nord Stream 2

 

We have taken note of the statements made by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in a recent interview with Polish media, according to which the Polish official said during his talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Poland wants the United States to impose sanctions on the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany to suspend or at least hinder its implementation. They have no scruples about talking about this in public.

Poland’s extremely negative attitude to Nord Stream 2 is a long established fact. We have made numerous comments on this. Poland’s arguments regarding this matter do not stand up to criticism.

As an alternative to this project, Poland has proposed importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States, which, Poland believes, should become a major gas supplier to Europe, which would make Poland Europe’s gas hub with an LNG terminal at the Baltic Sea port of Swinoujscie. It is a medical fact that LNG costs much more than pipeline gas, including Russian gas delivered to Europe. If this is a fact and LNG prices are indeed higher, how can its import enhance Europe’s energy security, which appears to be is a matter of concern for Poland?

We would like to remind the Polish side that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, far from threatening Europe’s energy security, will strengthen it by diversifying gas transportation routes, reducing transportation risks and increasing the reliability of gas deliveries to the end users.

The Nord Stream 2 project is not aimed at depriving anyone of the ability to transit gas on market conditions. This concerns both Poland and Ukraine. Russia has said more than once, as a matter of principle, that it is ready to continue to deliver a certain amount of gas to Europe via the existing transit routes after Nord Stream 2 starts operating, provided we coordinate stable as well as economically beneficial conditions.

As for spreading US jurisdiction to this project, many European countries have expressed concern over US attempts to use unfair trade practices. We can see now that Warsaw is trying to do the same. It is our consistent policy to prevent any attempt to hinder constructive energy initiatives that are designed to benefit the European consumers of Russian energy resources.

And one more thing regarding this subject: it has been reported that the United States has started importing LNG, including from Russia.

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Differences between Belgrade and Zagreb over the exhibition on the Jasenovac concentration camp at the UN

 

The Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has sent a note of protest to Belgrade over the opening of an exhibition on the Jasenovac WWII concentration camp at the UN on January 25, 2018. We wholeheartedly support the Serbian authorities’ intention to commemorate the WWII victims.

These days the world is honouring the Holocaust victims. Thousands of innocent civilians from different age and ethnic groups, primarily Serbs, Roma and Jews, were exterminated at the death camp that I have mentioned. We mourn all victims of Nazism.

We will never forget the dramatic path to the Great Victory. Consistent efforts must be taken to prevent any attempts to falsify history or revise the results of WWII. This is especially important in light of the destruction and desecration of monuments to Soviet soldiers in many countries, soldiers who died liberating the inmates of Nazi concentration camps and save Europe and the rest of the world from Nazism.

Also, I would like to remind you that UN General Assembly Resolution on the Holocaust Remembrance (A/RES/60/7, November 21, 2005) says that the General Assembly “commends those states which have actively engaged in preserving those sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labour camps and prisons during the Holocaust.”

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Remarks by Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski concerning Russia's participation in the Sobibor memorial project

 

We took note of the remarks posted by Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs Slawomir Debski on Twitter to the effect that the Netherlands, rather than Poland, blocked our country’s participation in the International Steering Committee of the project to create a new museum, a memorial built on the grounds of the former Nazi death camp in Sobibor.

To quote Mikhail Bulgakov, manuscripts don’t burn, and now it looks like tweets don’t burn, either. Perhaps, it is worth checking whether this information is true, because it was voiced by someone who is directly involved in the situation. Notably, different signals came from the capitals of other countries participating in the International Steering Committee.

We would like to emphasise that what matters most for us is Russia's full-scale participation in this project without any attempts to shift responsibility onto others, which is what some capitals appear to be doing.

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Russian Seasons in Italy

 

A grand opening ceremony for Russian Seasons took place in Rome at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia on January 14. The event included a performance by the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev.

The Russian official delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets. The Italian delegation was led by Undersecretary of State to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Maria Elena Boschi. Numerous representatives of political, public and business circles, and cultural figures attended the opening, which was widely covered by Russian and Italian media.

A news conference concerning the opening of Russian Seasons was held at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Rome on January 15 with the participation of Olga Golodets and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism of the Italian Republic Dorina Bianchi.

As a major cultural project, Russian Seasons is designed to showcase outstanding achievements in Russian culture and art, and to give an additional impetus to bilateral cooperation in the cultural sphere. I'm talking about an event that took place almost a fortnight ago, not to refresh your memory, but to draw your attention to the fact that it was the start of a large-scale project involving more than 200 events, held in 40 Italian cities, including Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Genoa, and Naples, to name  a few.

The Italian audiences will enjoy performances by Russia’s leading theatre and dance groups with a worldwide reputation, as well as modern music and performing arts, unparalleled art collections from national museums, film festivals, and gala concerts featuring Russian stars.

In their public statements and interviews, the representatives of the Italian government have spoken highly of the Russian initiative, which, they believe, will be beneficial for every aspect of Russia-Italy relations.

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Russian Foreign Ministry’s website in Arabic

 

Today, we are launching a section of the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Arabic. From now on, our website will be available in yet another language. It will not replicate the original version in Russian as we will select news and materials that we believe are of particular interest to our Arabic-speaking users.

The Final Statement of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi on January 29−30 will be among the first items posted on our website in Arabic.

This represents another important step in our consistent work to popularise and expand the availability of information posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website.

Please note that the Arabic-language version is available from today, but will run in test mode for now. We expect our users to come up with their proposals and comments, to which we will promptly respond.

Our Arabic-speaking audiences can also use our “Russia in Arabic” image accounts on Twitter micro blog (@Russia_AR) and on Facebook (@RussianFederationArabic), which will now carry material from the new section of the Ministry’s website.

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Priorities of Russian EAEU chairmanship in 2018

 

The integration process in the Eurasian space is actively developing.   In the three years since it was founded (January 1, 2015) the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has achieved convincing results to become one of the determining factors of economic development of its member states: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

A thriving common market for goods is operating. Services, capital and labour markets are being formed on the basis of universal rules. A new EAEU Customs Code came into effect as of January 1.

In 2017 all the EAEU member states registered economic growth (total EAEU GDP was up 1.8 percent). Trade between the member states is growing (in the first three quarters of 2017 mutual trade within the Union grew by 26.9 percent and exports to foreign markets by 24.7 percent).

In 2018 Russia assumed the chairmanship of the EAEU bodies. Russia’s chairmanship of the Union will be based on the priorities set forth by the Russian President in his address to the EAEU heads of state on January 17. At the same time we are open to suggestions and wishes from all the Union partners and we are ready to take them into account.

Russia has an ambitious integration agenda. We see our task not only in “finetuning” the Union by developing supranational regulations and eliminating some exemptions from the common market. Russia suggests that its partners in the Union supplement the integration agenda with new relevant initiatives and projects. The formation of a common digital space of the Union will be a priority. Good opportunities are opening up for increasing the links among the five countries in the fields of nuclear energy, renewable energy sources, the environment, medicine, space exploration, tourism and sports. These were not originally part of the integration agenda, but in the modern world it is hard to imagine sustained economic development without cooperation in these areas.

From Russia’s point of view, establishing close cooperation with foreign partners is very important for the further development of the Union. A Free Trade Zone with Vietnam has been functioning successfully since 2016. We are looking towards a positive outcome of the ongoing talks to create FTZs with Singapore, Iran, India, Israel, Egypt and Serbia. The signing of a trade and economic cooperation agreement between the EAEU and the PRC promises to open up broad vistas.

Together with our partners in the Union we will explore the possibilities for closer coordination of the formats of the EAEU and the CIS some of whose member states could become observers at the EAEU. We are also committed to continued interaction with the UN and its specialised bodies, the strengthening of the positions of the member states and the Union as a whole within the WTO and working to involve the Union in the activities of other international organisations. In line with established practice, the Eurasian Economic Commission, which is the Union’s supranational regulatory body, will shortly present a plan for the implementation of the priorities of the Russian EAEU chairmanship in 2018 and will report on its fulfillment during the course of the year.  

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Russia’s role in possible intensification of OSCE monitoring activities on the separation line in Nagorny Karabakh and prospects for peaceful settlement in the region

 

At the previous briefing, our colleagues from the Armenian media asked me to comment on Russia’s role in the possible strengthening of the OSCE mission’s monitoring activities on the line of contact in Nagorny Karabakh and on the prospects for peaceful settlement in the region.

By way of answering these questions, I would like to say the following.

Russia, together with the other countries that co-chair the OSCE Minsk group for Nagorny Karabakh settlement, is actively seeking to reduce tension on the separation line and is making efforts aimed at broadening the mission of the OSCE observers in the conflict zone.  This topic loomed large during the meeting between Russian President Putin and the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in St Petersburg (June 2016). It was discussed during Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Baku and Yerevan in November last year.

The OSCE had prepared several versions of the document regulating the activities of additional observers. At the January 18 meeting in Cracow of the foreign ministers of the two countries, organised by the “troika” of co-chairs, updated proposals were handed over to the sides.  The ministers agreed in principle with the document prepared by the mediators. Some technical details still need to be thrashed out by the parties before the mission expansion mechanism is launched.

As for the second question which has to do with the prospects of peaceful settlement, I would like to reiterate that only the parties themselves, by displaying political will, can reach compromises that will put an end to the long-drawn-out conflict. At the Armenia-Azerbaijan summit held in Geneva in October last year, the two presidents agreed to step up the negotiating process. Since then, the ministers have met twice. Relevant statements have been issued. The co-chairs plan to visit the region in the first ten days of February to clarify the position of the parties on the problematic issues of settlement.   

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Prospects for the development of Russia-Bulgaria relations

 

 On the eve of the 140th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottomans (March 3), we note certain positive shifts in Russian-Bulgarian relations. There have been intensive contacts between the parliaments, churches and various agencies. Regional cooperation has seen fruitful development. There has been some progress in trade and economic links. Trade between our countries increased by one third to $2.5 billion last year, despite the continuing anti-Russian sanctions on the part of the European Union. At the same time, the two countries are well aware that this is not the limit. There are goals to be achieved and work to be done. This fully applies to the cultural and humanitarian sphere.

In connection with the 140th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke, events were held in 2017 in Svishtov and Pleven (June and December respectively) and at Shipka (August). Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia is to visit Bulgaria in early March to take part in the main joint celebration events. The programme of his visit to Bulgaria is being worked out. For details, we recommend that those interested contact the Press Service of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In our opinion, the current Bulgarian presidency of the EU Council could contribute to progress in Russia-EU relations.

At the same time, we have yet to see any serious changes in our cooperation on energy. The parties are still working on an approach to re-launching major energy projects, i.e. the Bulgarian branch of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline and resumption of the construction of the Belene nuclear station. These projects were put on hold several years ago through no fault of ours. We believe the two sides would gain from expanding the range of cooperation and increasing the share of high-tech products. I can assure you that we will welcome any conscious wish of our Bulgarian colleagues and friends to promote dialogue with Russia.

All relations, whether between individuals or states, have prospects that become evident when the parties seek to enhance these relations. We are ready for that.   

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Latvia launches Language Friend mobile app

 

On January 24, the Latvian State Language Centre (SLC), whose inspections of the Russian-speaking community in Latvia have been dubbed the “language inquisition,” has launched a mobile application that enables any “concerned” citizen to report violations of language norms by this or that individual.

It is notable that the programme envisages feedback to the informer: the SLC will inform “conscious citizens” on the results of the complaints review they have filed.

This latest Latvian novelty that reeks of “the Orwellian world order” is becoming yet another repressive instrument aimed at pushing the Russian language out of every sphere of life and it has a manifestly discriminatory character. I cannot think of any other analogy apart from the era of the inquisition. What is implemented here is, in effect, a “language inquisition.” We expect that authoritative international organisations will make a principled assessment of this provocative sortie by the Latvian authorities.

To be honest, one more question arises. Latvia and other East European countries declare that they want to bid farewell to “the Soviet past” and “the Soviet legacy.” They call it the legacy of a totalitarian regime. But what more closely resembles an instrument of a totalitarian regime than such mobile apps that make it possible to snitch on fellow citizens who speak their native tongue?    

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Answers to media questions:

Question: The West constantly accuses Russia of interfering in elections in various parts of the world. The reverse is the truth. During the last briefing, you noted that Russia has information on plans for disruptive interference by some countries in Russia’s internal affairs in the context of the presidential election campaign. You are not the only ones to come under such pressure. Azerbaijan also holds elections this year. We have already detected pressure in Baku. How can this phenomenon be dealt with?

Maria Zakharova: What can I say? The recipe is simple. First, to record everything. Second, to make it public and present sufficient detail focusing on this topic, because it is a very serious one. Third, to provide information on interference in the internal affairs to the relevant specialised international agencies which are called upon not only to record, but to react to such interference.

Question: If there is an expectation that the Geneva process can capitalise on the results of the Sochi Congress could you explain how the Russian Foreign Ministry envisions the participation of the Geneva Constitutional Committee considering that there are also the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and the government delegation? How can the HNC and the Constitutional Committee relate to each other considering that a representative of the Moscow platform was a member of the presidium at the Sochi Syrian National Dialogue Congress?

Maria Zakharova: Where do you see a contradiction? What is unrealistic about it?

Question: Can they work in parallel or be integrated somehow?

Maria Zakharova: Who is to be integrated with whom?

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Question: The HNC and the Constitutional Committee.

Maria Zakharova: The first assessment was given yesterday by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. As for structuring the work of the constitutional reform body in Geneva, I think this is up to the representatives of the Syrian Government and the opposition. This work, of course, will be closely coordinated with the UN representatives who moderate the Geneva process. I can make inquiries about the interaction mechanisms, and we will send you an answer to your question.    

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Question: Is the Russian Foreign Ministry commenting on the publication of the so-called “Kremlin list?”

Maria Zakharova: The Russian Foreign Minister commented on this matter yesterday. The verbatim report was posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website around 10 pm. You must have seen the comments made by President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

The thing is that, as was noted by a spokesperson for the President’s Executive Office, these clearly unfriendly steps undertaken by a certain part of the US establishment require a thorough and in-depth analysis. Of course, all of this looks absurd and odd on the face of it, but we must certainly analyse what is behind these actions, how they might really influence the situation and bilateral relations, and what their end goal is. According to the US representatives, there is an unpublished part aside from the one that has been published. All of this requires a serious and profound analysis.

The first comments from several sources, specifically by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, were issued yesterday.

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Question: Donald Trump said yesterday that the United States no longer intended to negotiate with the Taliban. Conversely, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared recently that it was necessary to establish a dialogue with the Taliban. Could you give your comment?

Maria Zakharova: We have received a number of questions similar to yours recently, including in connection with statements made by our US colleagues. Shortly before this briefing, we were asked whether Russia was ready to mediate any peace talks between Taliban representatives and the US Government, whether Russia offered the Taliban to mediate these talks, whether Moscow was working on organising a possible Taliban-US meeting in the near future, and whether Russia supported such talks between the Taliban Movement and the United States.

This wave, which originated in the US, and generally the developments in the region you have just mentioned have raised a great number of questions. I’ll try to answer them in their entirety.

In the first place, neither of the parties that have just been mentioned has asked us for our assistance. We think there is no need for it because the Americans can contact the Taliban leadership directly. The thing is that Washington, as far as we know, views the idea of direct talks with the Taliban as unacceptable (at least this was so previously, things change fast over there), while the Taliban are prepared to negotiate with the United States only under the condition that the main topic for discussions will be the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Possibly this is also an answer to your question.

For our part, we are ready to facilitate and will continue to promote the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan. If need be, we are ready to provide, for example, the Moscow venue for contacts between representatives of Kabul and the Taliban. We have repeatedly invited Washington to take part in the multilateral efforts within the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan with a view to launching a direct intra-Afghan dialogue. Regrettably, our US colleagues have shown no sign of willing to assist this process. The Washington-announced policy (although, I repeat, things change fast over there lately) – to build up its military presence in Afghanistan – can only testify to the fact that the United States is still counting on a belligerent solution, even though the developments in that country regularly reveal that this approach as untenable.

A few months ago, when the US administration announced its new strategy regarding Afghanistan, we noted that Washington’s policy towards that state was not long-term. No matter how wonderful a plan is in theory, it never serves the cause of a settlement because the US approach tends to change diametrically within a fairly brief period, specifically with regards to Afghanistan and talks with the Taliban. Of course, this less-than-long-term policy can even be described as short-sighted. All of this is a source not only of regret but also concern because the developments in Afghanistan pose a real threat to regional peace and stability. 

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Question: Will you make a comment on US President Donald Trump’s yesterday statement to the effect that Russia and China are America’s rivals?

Maria Zakharova: We have commented on such statements more than once. Other Washington officials have made statements to this effect in different forms. This view has been included in a number of recent core documents on US national security. Overall, there has been nothing new in this regard for the past few years. By and large, it is a twice-told tale, as we say. Is this a result of deep analysis? I doubt it.

Our position of principle is that we should cooperate with the United States. Frankly speaking, Beijing has not deviated from this position either. At the same time, Washington’s policy towards Russia over the past few years can be described as running contrary to the task of constructive cooperation and interaction.

There are absolutely no examples – unless you accept the Kremlin’s alleged interference in foreign elections – of Moscow exhibiting an unconstructive or unacceptable attitude to Washington. Let’s forget about the totally fake story of our interference in foreign elections, because nobody has provided or will be able to provide any proof of this because there is none. All our statements refer to cooperation with the United States as our priority in many spheres, including politics, cultural ties, the economy, information security and cybersecurity. We are not just willing but are also ready for cooperation in all spheres, from the environment to disarmament and from finance to media cooperation. Moreover, we have been developing this cooperation until recently through presidential commissions and the like. What analytical reports do leading US politicians and experts read to conclude that Russia and China are rival powers?

But President Barack Obama used the same approach – I hope CNN will not cut this part out of the briefing. It was President Obama who first told this tale, and he did not provide any substantiation for it. I presume that this question coming from a network that is clearly opposed to President Trump was designed to show that bilateral relations have not been improving as expected under him. I would like to remind you that the [previous] US administration, which your network supported very actively, has done everything in its power to bury bilateral relations. The Obama administration has done the worst things imaginable, from the expulsion of diplomats to the termination of the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission and the working groups of this vital and efficient cooperation agency, and from visa problems to demonising Russia. You know this very well. Therefore, I believe that you should look for the source of our current problems in the statements made by the Obama administration, rather than in statements made today or yesterday.

I would like to repeat that although we pointed out America’s unconstructive attitude to Russia both under the Obama administration and under the current administration, we also always said that bilateral cooperation has a future and is possible, because this is what our nations need. When you talk to people on both sides of the ocean, you hear that they are fed up with everything going on in the public sphere, including problems with US visas, when its takes a month just to file a visa application, and this in the 21st century.

We can cite many examples of smooth cooperation with Washington on the most complicated matters. We strongly hope that there will come a day when Washington will revise the tone set in bilateral relations and the public sphere by Barack Obama and his supporters. Listen to what our both countries’ citizens, people in the United States and Russia, say. Look at the disgust they feel at this wave of anti-Russia absurdities, which stems from Washington.

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QuestionA little more than a year agoRussian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikovin fact,publicly accused Belarusian citizensRegnum news agency writers Yury PavlovetsDmitry Alimkin andSergey Sheptenko of radicalism and expressed doubt that the detained journalists are true patriots of the country in which they currently live. The investigation into the case has shown that the publications by the above-mentioned writers did not, in principle, contain the word combination “inferior people,” which Mr Ambassador referred to. Considering these circumstances, do you think that the Ambassador should repent and publicly refute his false statement?

Maria Zakharova: We have repeatedly commented on this.

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Question: What contacts with the US side through diplomatic agencies have been planned for the near future?

Maria Zakharova: We maintain a permanent dialogue, permanent contacts with our US colleagues. Meetings are held in Moscow and Washington though our embassies. Questions are being constantly brought up, answers received and opinions exchanged. This dialogue has not been interrupted. Do not listen to the statements that are made, including those by US experts. The dialogue goes on.

True, we would like it to be more intensive and more constructive so that we do not stumble over very aggressive statements about Russia from representatives of various branches of power in the United States. We would like to address concrete, important and useful matters.

Once again, let me draw your attention to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website, where we regularly talk about this, as well as the website of our embassy in Washington. They promptly publish clear-cut information about our contacts in the US and contacts that are conducted with our US colleagues through the diplomatic agency in Moscow. One of the examples is interaction and contacts on the UN platform, including at the UN Security Council.

So, is it possible to say that there is no dialogue between us? There is. And the time is ripe for this dialogue to become really constructive so that from accusations, which we hear from the US side and to which we constantly have to respond, we could move over to real interaction in handling world crises and matters on the UN Security Council’s agenda.       

On our website, we also publish detailed information about talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Pay attention to the website of the Russian Permanent Mission at the UN: it, too, carries relevant information. Russian general consulates in the US also publish information about our contacts on their website.

The fact is that the level of the dialogue does not match its potential or people’s expectations. And yet, it goes on.

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Question: On Tuesday, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert commented on a recent incident over the Black Sea, when a Russian Su-27 jet fighter intercepted a US reconnaissance plane that was approaching our border. Heather Nauert accused Russia of grossly violating international law, including the 1972 agreement between the USSR and the US on the prevention of incidents on and over the high seas. She urged Russia to stop doing this. Our Defence Ministry has already commented on the incident, saying that everything was in compliance with international law. StillI would like to hear yourreaction.

Maria Zakharova: I cannot help but remark that when we remind our US colleagues of the treaties signed two or three years ago, they say that they were not in office at the time and therefore cannot say anything. And here the spokesperson knows about the 1972 agreement. How come? She was only a child back then.

The Russian side commented on this at length, so I do not think that we should repeat it.

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Question: Is it possible to use the successful experience of cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran, which was received at the Congress in Sochi for settling the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh?

Maria Zakharova: This is a strange question: Russia, Turkey, Iran and Nagorno-Karabakh. Do not confuse these two issues – Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. I think these are two completely different issues and mixing them is inappropriate.

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Question: Head of the Syrian Government delegation Bashar Jaafari said the Syrian Constitution should be discussed in Damascus. How could this proposal be translated into reality?

Maria Zakharova: I think this is an incomplete quote. It is misleading to quote this proposal like this because we know all too well that it has a much deeper meaning.

The problem is that the Syrian conflict, the intra-Syrian confrontation did not leave any opportunity for discussing, in particular, the issue of the Constitution inside Syria. Was anyone against this? Over the last several years, the conflicting sides in Syria could not find this opportunity. Therefore, this opportunity was granted in Sochi the other day – to create all possible prerequisites for launching this process that should be most active and, we hope, productive. Nobody has ever suggested that drafting the Constitution should be done by anyone but the Syrians themselves. This is an absolute priority, and Russia has always emphasised this, insisting that this should be done by the Syrians themselves.

Once again, as for geography, this question is not for us. It has arisen as a consequence of the Syrian crisis and the domestic confrontation. However, there should be no doubt that this work should be carried out by the Syrians themselves.

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Question: The Libyan issue has recently abated. It was raised for the last time at the summit of Mediterranean countries in the 5+5 format, when the participants discussed developments in Libya. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s take on this issue?

Maria Zakharova: I will clarify the answer to this question and give you the information you need.

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Question: On January 29, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow. What are the results of his visit?

Maria Zakharova: I would like to remind you that comments on events involving the President of the Russian Federation and summits are made by his Executive Office. The materials on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit are published on the Kremlin website. Our functional responsibilities are divided.

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Question: In a recent interview with TASS, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said, when replying to a question about the nearest visit of representatives of the North Korean Foreign Ministry to Russia, that he did not rule out the possibility of consultations between the foreign ministries of the two countries in Moscow before the Olympics. The Games are just a few days away. Do you have any information on such contacts?

Maria Zakharova: If information on these contacts is confirmed we will report it to you as we always do. At present I do not have such information.

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Question: Is there information on the visit of Director of the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, Choe Son-Hui, to Moscow? 

Maria Zakharova: I can say that we maintain regular contact with our US, South and North Korean colleagues as well as all countries involved in settling the situation. These contacts have not been discontinued, and I can confirm this. We also maintain continuous dialogue with our Chinese colleagues on this issue. As you know, during the last year Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov repeatedly met with US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun both in Moscow and Washington. Mr Morgulov and Mr Yun are scheduled to meet in Moscow next time. The details and parameters of this meeting will be released later. 

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