Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, February 8, 2018

Friday, 09 February 2018 15:11

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Munich Security Conference


On February 16-18, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the regular 54th meeting of the Munich Security Conference.

The Munich forum is an important discussion venue for current Euro-Atlantic and global security problems. By tradition, the conference is attended by heads of state and government, foreign and defence ministers, representatives of international and regional organisations, as well as prominent political scientists and economists.

The participants are planning to discuss the current state and prospects for European security, counteraction to international terrorism, and the situation in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold prescheduled bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sidelines of the forum. Tentatively, his address has been planned for February 17.

We are studying the possibility of arranging meetings with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a traditional meeting with representatives of Russian and German business communities, with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as a number of other bilateral and multilateral meetings. We are also looking into whether we can hold a Normandy format meeting. We will continue to update you on the Russian delegation’s presence and work in Munich. 


Developments in Syria


The developments in Syria last week unfolded in the wake of the successful Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held between January 29-30 in Sochi, despite the salvo of negative publications from the Western media. I have just received another article with a negative view of the Congress. To be more specific, the presumably respectable and impartial Foreign Policy magazine published an article saying that “Russia's highly-touted peace conference to end the war in Syria was an utter debacle.” This is what this impartiality is worth when it comes to summing up the results of the meeting between representatives of the Syrian society.

Together with its partners in the Astana process, Iran and Turkey, as well as the UN, Russia helped them make the first, and maybe the most challenging and important step with the view to bringing about a political settlement and stability in Syria. This was the actual outcome of the forum.

Judging by the reaction (I already gave you an example), the outcome of the Sochi forum did not please everyone. However, no one dared to ignore this event, the first gathering to be held on such a large scale and with a high level of representation in the seven years since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. This is also an important outcome. Terrorists and various radicals also responded, since they saw the decisions adopted in Sochi by fifteen hundred representatives of the Syrian people as a threat and tried to respond by staging new bloody attacks, acts of terror and provocations. The most horrible and ugliest attacks of this kind were the shelling of humanitarian aid distribution centres and Christian churches in the historic centre of Damascus. By a happy coincidence no members of a Russian non-governmental delegation visiting the Syrian capital at the time, which included both Christians and Muslims, were hurt in the shelling, although a mortar bomb exploded just one hundred metres away from them. This delegation distributed aid from across Russia to the Syrian people both in churches and mosques.

This barbarous shelling by terrorists was conducted from Jobar in Eastern Ghouta, killing at least ten Syrian civilians.

On Saturday, a Russian Su-25 fighter jet was shot down near Saraqib, a terrorist stronghold in Idlib Province. We bow our heads to the heroic act by the pilot, Major Roman Fillipov, who once on the ground resisted the terrorists who encircled him until his bitter end. The Defence Ministry provided an extensive report on this tragedy. As you know, the Russian pilot was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Russia. He shall stay in our memories forever. His heroic deed will never be forgotten.

The illegal military presence of the US on Syrian territory remains a major challenge to promoting peace in Syria and preserving its unity and territorial integrity.

In the southern part of the country what is left of ISIS fighters use the 55-kilometre zone created unilaterally by the US around its military base near Al Tanf for hiding from Syrian government forces, regrouping and getting arms in order to carry out new attacks in the Syrian desert. ISIS fighters operate without any constraints near Al Tanf, and used to be able to carry out long-distance raids reaching as far as the Aleppo Province. They still threaten a number of transport roads. The US still blocks the road connecting Damascus to Baghdad.

From Russia’s perspective, this situation proves that the instability in Syria is by and large sustained artificially. There are influential actors who are clearly unwilling to use the available opportunities to promote a political settlement in Syria and do away with terrorists in the country. Instead, what we see in Syria is a continuation of attempts to advance a geopolitical agenda in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which clearly runs counter to the will of the Syrian people expressed without any ambiguity at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to live in peace in a unified and sovereign country.

We understand where this salvo of negative press on the Sochi Congress comes from and who is behind it, including the Foreign Policy article I quoted today.


The origin of the anti-aircraft missile system that shot down the Russian Su-25


As you know, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov commented on the issue and a corresponding assessment was made by the Ministry of Defence.

As for the origin of the portable anti-aircraft missile that shot down the Russian Su-25, I would like to advise everyone to follow information released by the Russian Defence Ministry.

I can say that at present the necessary work is being carried out by experts, which will make it possible to say where the anti-aircraft missile launcher was produced.

Let me draw your attention to the fact – and this was also pointed out by experts –   similar high-tech weapons, as you understand, virtually cannot get into areas of hostilities in Syria and into the hands of terrorists, except with serious outside support and assistance. Such is the reality. We are expecting precise information from our military, who have repeatedly announced that corresponding investigations are being conducted. At the same time, we are perfectly aware of the trends that are unfolding on the ground.


Situation with the Syrian chemical file at the UN Security Council


We have taken note of continued anti-Syria activities at the UN Security Council, including open allegations of Russia’s connivance at the suspected chemical attacks by Damascus. By a bad tradition, these accusations are made at a time of important international events held to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. This time, new allegations of chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta and the Idlib Province in Syria were in sync with the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. It has been done to block out information about the congress participants’ attempts to coordinate an agreement and the results of these efforts. When a practical opportunity to boost the intra-Syrian peace dialogue appears, the other side hurries to plant allegations, for example, about chemical attacks. Why do they do this? Why do they continue to harp on the issue of chemical weapons? Very simple: they do this because this can really split the Syrian opposition and prevent the nascent dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian government. Chemical attacks are the red line for many and also what the people can understand. The people who read about the Syrian crisis understand that chemical attacks against civilians are unacceptable. This topic is often used in information confrontation with regard to the Syrian settlement.    

The three Western permanent members of the UN Security Council eagerly took up the allegations about chemical attacks provided by their own media (the information merry-go-round, which we mentioned before), which quote certain sources, none of which are reliable, including NGOs affiliated with the militants. The US and its allies have used these allegations, which are not based on hard facts but have been supported by their representatives at the UN Security Council, to initiate the discussion of yet another anti-Syria statement by the UN Security Council. The Russian party has proposed amending this statement with due regard for the growing challenges and threats of chemical terrorism in the Middle East. Our Western colleagues have rejected this proposal outright.

We would like to say in this connection that Russia and China have been talking about the need for a statement on chemical terrorism as well as a relevant UN Security Council resolution for over four years. However, our Western colleagues disregarded and continue to disregard these appeals. They prefer to blame these chemical provocations, without any good reason, on the Assad Government and Russia.

Instead of engaging in speculation over the latest fake news, those who claim to be Syria’s friends should wait for the completion of a professional and politically nonpartisan investigation of these attacks by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria. By the way, FFM experts went to Syria on February 1 to inspect the caches of chemical weapons the Syrian Army has found in the territory liberated from terrorists.

In this context we again call on those who have shown increased interest in this subject and claim to be acting in the interests of the Syrians to convince the Syrian opposition groups they arm and finance to give the international inspectors access to the areas which the notorious White Helmets have indicated as the sites of the supposed chemical incidents in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.

I would also like to remind everyone that the White Helmets are the darlings of the very same countries that are waging such information campaigns. As we said more than once, the White Helmets are directly connected with some of these countries’ intelligence agencies.



Russia’s position on the 5+5 meeting on Libya


At my last briefing, I was asked about Russia’s position on the 5+5 meeting on Libya. I would like to say the following.

Libya-related issues are still the focus of international attention. Libyan settlement is a permanent fixture in the contacts between the senior officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the regional and international partners involved in Libyan affairs. The situation in that country and possible ways of its settlement were discussed in detail by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano at their talks in Moscow on February 1. The Russian position was presented at a joint news conference after the talks. The verbatim report has been posted on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.

Practical efforts to lead that country out of its protracted political crisis have been undertaken as well. UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya Ghassan Salamé has been holding daily intensive consultations with various Libyan parties to find compromise solutions to all the outstanding problems on the current intra-Libyan agenda.

As far as the abovementioned 5+5 ministerial meeting in Algeria on January 21 is concerned, this informal “club” that includes ten Mediterranean countries (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania) has been in existence since 1990. Its proclaimed aim was to establish cooperation in various areas, including the security sphere. As of today, it focuses on economic interaction and migration problems. I think time will tell how effective this format will be in dealing with pressing issues. Russia has never attended events held by these countries throughout the entire period that this format has been in existence.

The Mediterranean countries are justly concerned over the situation that has taken shape in Libya and the threats emanating from its territory (terrorism, illegal migration from Africa to Europe). There is nothing surprising in the fact that Libya was high on the agenda of the Algeria event.


Anti-Russia statements by US officials


We have again taken note of the statement by official US spokespersons, including the State Department’s press service, to the effect that Russia bears responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. I think this can be characterised by just one word – insinuations.

I would also like to say that in these latter days the United States has been cranking up unconfirmed information plants on Damascus using chemical agents. There are no facts [to back these allegations]. I have dwelled on this theme in sufficient detail. I can say once again that we are witnessing a classical stage-managed propaganda campaign on the part of Washington and its officials. This, mildly speaking, does nothing to promote, but rather contradicts the United States’ declared goals in the context of Syrian settlement.  


To be continued...

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