Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 7, 2018

Thursday, 08 March 2018 15:49

Upcoming Russia-Iran-Turkey trilateral talks in Astana


A trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers from Russia, Iran and Turkey is to take place in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, on March 16. The ministers will discuss the coordination of efforts by the guarantor states of the Astana process to facilitate a settlement in Syria. The event will differ in format from past international high-level meetings in Astana because representatives from the Syrian Government or the opposition, or external observers have not been invited, with the exception of Mr Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria. The participants are expected to be received by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The ministerial meeting will be preceded by a session of the Joint Working Group and the first meeting of the working group on the release of detainees/hostages, the transfer of bodies of the deceased and the search for the missing.


Preparations abroad for Russian presidential election


With a view to the forthcoming presidential election in Russia to be held on March 18, we would like to draw the attention of journalists and our citizens who will be out of the country on the voting days. That was not a slip of the tongue on my part since March 18 is not the only day on which voting will be open. A number of citizens can vote early while abroad. The Russian Central Election Commission’s site posted detailed instructions on how to vote if one is abroad and is a Russian national. On our part, we would like to specifically underline the information on the voting procedure for Russian citizens abroad. We posted instructions at the Foreign Ministry’s official site on voting procedure for citizens of the Russian Federation who permanently reside or are currently outside Russia, leaving the territory of Russia on private invitations for business, work-related or tourist trips, for Russians who are staying abroad as guests, on business or on a travel tour, and also for Russian citizens who will be en route while voting is open. One can find a detailed list of polling stations outside the Russian Federation, and contact information including addresses and hotline numbers. Everything has been double-checked and posted.  This work was done very carefully since all our foreign missions were involved. If this appears to be insufficient and any additional questions should arise, we are always ready to promptly respond to them.  

We urge all voters who are going to be abroad on those days to carefully read the posted information. We keep repeating this because, unfortunately, information is spread in social networks either by accident or maliciously to the effect that it is practically impossible to vote while on a short business trip or travel tour abroad due to bureaucratic hurdles, allegedly requiring that one register with the consulate and present a whole package of documents. Another myth is that two to three months are needed to obtain documents for voting. None of this is accurate. Everything is done as quickly as possible. It is not a matter of months or weeks. Detailed instructions on how to do it are published in the official resources of the Russian Foreign Ministry, diplomatic missions in respective countries; all the necessary information is first of all published on the official site of the Central Election Commission of Russia.

I saw a post on the internet whose author was endorsing one of the candidates, noting that he would certainly vote for him but unfortunately he will be in a European capital on that day, and since gathering the package of documents will take several weeks, he will not be able to vote. You are able to vote in this case. It can all be done quickly and promptly. All that is required in the passport of the citizen of the Russian Federation.

Let me repeat that step-by-step instructions are posted on the official resources of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.


Crimea: fourth anniversary of reunification with Russia


On March 18, Russia will celebrate an important event – the fourth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

Life has reaffirmed the validity of the decision made by the population of the peninsula during the 2014 Crimean referendum, which became the only way to protect its interests from the rampancy of national radical elements that came to power in Ukraine as a result of the coup, something that some forces are trying carefully to forget now. Today, the Republic of Crimea and the city of federal significance Sevastopol are integrated in the Russian political, legal and economic space. In this context we would like to emphasise the absolute delusiveness of persistent Western hopes to reverse this, in particular, by exerting pressure on Russia.

The politicised character of the information campaign launched against Russia on this issue has been confirmed by the evaluations of over 100 foreign delegations that visited Crimea in 2017. We would like to note once again what we said more than once, that assessments of the political, economic and human rights situation on the peninsula are presented, including through international agencies, by those who have never visited Crimea. Despite this, and proceeding from unsubstantiated data and indirect sources, they publish reports that, regrettably, are becoming a foundation for making corresponding decisions and statements, including official ones.

We have repeated and will continue to repeat: welcome to Crimea! We are not seeking to receive any glossed over evaluations or an embellished picture of Crimea's current life. We want an objective approach.

Those who really know life in Crimea today – I am referring to foreign delegations and representatives – note the interethnic stability and obvious socio-economic success, although there is still a lot to be done. Today, 14 regional, ethnic and cultural autonomies are registered in Crimea, including two Crimean Tatar ones. There is a federal targeted programme for the socio-economic development of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol until 2020 worth 700 billion rubles.

The demand for an objective view of Crimea and interest in cooperation with it on behalf of foreign entrepreneurs and public and political circles is growing. The creation of the International Association of the Friends of Crimea last year reflected this trend.

 Crimea has a strong cultural life. Over 400 public events are planned in 2018, including those timed to religious and national holidays, and memorable dates of the ethnic communities on the peninsula.

Over 120,000 tourists visited Crimea in January 2018 alone.

The large Crimean Bridge will open to traffic this year.

To be honest, Crimeans should say this themselves but considering that I deal with journalists that represent foreign audience, I will say it on behalf of the Foreign Ministry: the residents of Crimea are ready and willing to communicate with you directly.

The Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol are confidently looking to the future and are open to those that are willing to visit these Russian regions and see how matters really stand. We conducted teleconferences for Russian and foreign journalists with their Crimean colleagues and representatives of public organisations and NGOs. We are organising press tours and are ready to arrange specific events at your requests.

Let me repeat that nobody wants to invent anything or paint an embellished picture of what is taking place in Crimea. We all support an objective view of the situation and people's lives there. Go to Crimea, talk to local people and reach your own conclusion, but do not spread false or unreliable information.


Situation in Eastern Ghouta


In response to the daily shelling of the central districts of Damascus by terrorists based in Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian army launched a large-scale operation in this suburban area with the aim of eliminating the outgoing threat to the safety of civilians.

Russia does not view this counterterrorist operation as contradicting the provisions of recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2401 and is supporting the fight against terrorists in Eastern Ghouta with its Aerospace Forces. In paragraph 2 of this resolution, it is clearly confirmed that the cessation of hostilities does not extend to military operations against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra or other terrorist groups recognised as such by the UN Security Council.

At the same time, in coordination with the Syrian authorities, Russian military forces are taking all possible measures to avoid casualties among civilians, which are being used by the terrorists as human shields, as well as to provide them with food and necessary medications through UN humanitarian convoys and evacuate the sick and wounded and those in need of urgent medical assistance.

As part of these efforts, on March 5, assistance was provided to the UN humanitarian convoy going to the largest town of East Ghouta, Douma. The convoy delivered enough food for 27,000 people for a month.

While self-styled "representatives" from the opposition, who are far beyond Eastern Ghouta, make loud statements about the alleged willingness of the armed groups in the enclave to comply with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2401, the terrorists operating on the ground continue to disrupt the daily humanitarian pauses established at the initiative of Russia and strictly observed by the Syrian military, and fire upon a humanitarian corridor intended for the evacuation of the sick and wounded and the release of civilians wishing to leave the area of the counter-terrorist operation.

According to Russian estimates, the responsibility for fighting in Eastern Ghouta, the deaths and suffering of people lies with the terrorists and those commanders of the armed groups who, instead of taking advantage of the opportunities that have been given to them after the de-escalation zone was created in the enclave and instead of fulfilling the provisions of the relevant agreement concluded in Cairo in July 2017 on disengagement from the terrorists and the fight against them, have conspired with the al-Nusra group and have turned into the latter's instrument of struggle.

The criticism from a number of Western capitals of the allegedly indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army on Eastern Ghouta as well as unsubstantiated and logically absurd accusations of Damascus using poisonous substances do not serve the interests of an early termination to the bloodshed and suffering of the civilian population that remain in the enclave, but irresponsibly encourage those who found a place in one trench with terrorists and give them the misleading hope that the determination of the government of Syria to put an end to the terrorist threat, coming from the capital's suburbs, can be broken. This is an erroneous and bloody calculation that perverts the meaning of UN Security Council Resolution 2401, which does not abolish the uncompromising struggle against terrorism and any of its manifestations.


Humanitarian consequences of the operation to reclaim Raqqa by the US-led coalition


We are still concerned about the situation in Raqqa. As part of its contribution to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2401 to assist in the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Syria, Russia put forward an initiative to form an international evaluation mission that would give an independent and impartial assessment of the current situation in that large, by Syrian standards, city, which is also the capital of the province of the same name.

As a reminder, from November 2016 until October 2017, Raqqa, where almost 800,000 people found refuge, including 300,000 local residents and displaced persons, was besieged by the forces of a US-led coalition. ISIS used people that were trapped in the city as human shields. Terrorists did not allow them to leave and the coalition forces did not take care to arrange humanitarian corridors. There was no humanitarian assistance either by the UN or any other international agencies. The forces that had besieged Raqqa considered the city and its inhabitants to be the capital of the ISIS caliphate. At that time, the situation was aggravated by the conflict between the ethnic Kurds and the Arabs.

Raqqa suffered ruthless bombings from the air, and when the attack began US added artillery fire to the air strikes. As a result, most of the city’s districts were almost levelled to the ground. Aerial views of the city, probably made by a drone, were posted online and showed a terrifying picture.

You understand that destroyed buildings can be restored but there are questions that no one can answer for some reason, for example, how many people have remained in Raqqa? What are their living conditions? Who holds power in the city? Who controls the situation there? Who does the so-called city council report to and what is its nature?

There is practically no access to the city from the areas controlled by the legitimate Syrian government. Access is closed even to journalists. We often heard from Western journalists, when they were asked why they were not describing the situation in certain parts of Syria, that it was life-threatening. But it is possible that the reason lies in the unwillingness of those who liberated Raqqa from ISIS to publicise the price the city’s population had to pay for liberation.

Hostilities are always accompanied by collateral losses, especially during the large-scale military operation of destroying such an insidious enemy as international ISIS terrorists. However, we believe it is important that the fulfilment of a combat mission should not result in large devastated regions and a population doomed to abject poverty or in humiliation by the victors. It should provide the conditions for a rapid revival of the economic and the social infrastructure, the relocation of IDPs and refugees. It should not destroy a people’s already difficult life.

In our opinion, it would be normal for a legitimate administration to head this process. Syria was and is a sovereign state and the power and authority of its government should cover all the country’s territory.

There are more questions requiring answers. Is anything being done in Raqqa to achieve this goal? What is the amount of assistance needed by the people who remained in the city? The answers should be given by an international evaluation mission, the establishment of which was welcomed by the Syrian government.


Development of new strategic weapons systems


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Address to the Federal Assembly has been extensively commented on abroad, especially the part on defence-related issues. There were many articles and quite a few official statements on this matter along with comments by political observers and experts. Having focused on Russia’s future weapons, many have unfortunately preferred not to go too deep into the reasons that prompted Russia to develop these systems. They still fail to understand that the steps Russia has taken should be viewed as a response to the consistent efforts by the US and other NATO member countries over many years to intentionally ratchet up military and political tensions. No one seems to see or notice this.

Washington and its allies have clearly opted to rely on a factor of power in advancing their approaches on the international stage while bypassing the universal peace and security mechanisms. The subject of military dominance is a common thread running through US doctrines. For example, in its new Nuclear Posture Review, the US assigns an enhanced role to nuclear weapons in military planning. The US has announced plans to develop low-yield warheads which, once deployed, would significantly lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons. The US also made public its refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and plans to have the means available so as to be able to resume full-scale nuclear testing within a short timeframe. And all this is undertaken in order to be able to continue talks on war and peace “from the position of strength.”

In connection with the development of weapons mentioned by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, we are perplexed by the accusations against Russia of violating its international arms control commitments. Statements to this effect were released by the spokespersons of the White House and the Department of State. It has to be noted that the Department of State also referred to the INF Treaty, which prevents the parties from developing and deploying land-based missiles with a range capability from 500 to 5,500 kilometres. However, President Putin did not mention any weapons of this kind in his Address to the Federal Assembly.

We have also taken note of the “reasonable doubt” expressed by German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert, who said that the Kremlin needed to dispel these fears in a convincing manner, and that there was no reason for Russia to be proud of blatant violations of international law made during the annexation of Crimea, and the development and use of Russian weapons systems in Syria.

In this regard, the Foreign Ministry would like to ask its German colleagues to clarify what specific international arms control treaties and agreements are being violated by Russia. What evidence does Berlin have and why hasn’t it been presented so far? If Germany and its European allies view nuclear weapons as a direct threat, as Mr Seibert said in his statement, why are there no efforts to withdraw non-strategic US weapons from the European continent? Why didn’t the German government spokesperson talk about that in his statement? Why don’t we see new articles and television reports in Germany on this subject every day? Why isn’t German civil society sounding alarm? And what about Germany’s participation in the so-called NATO nuclear missions, which are a direct violation of the ban under the NPT to provide access to or enable the use of nuclear weapons by third countries?

Finally, another legitimate question is why Berlin is so cautious and delicate when it comes to commenting on the new US Nuclear Posture Review, while voicing serious concerns over the destiny of the world and strategic stability? It would be interesting to know whether this critical instrument was coordinated, be it partially, with NATO allies, the key donors of this military block, or the decisions were taken by Washington on its own, so that the European capitals learned about it from the media. It is unclear why Berlin and other capitals are still not uconcerned about Washington’s “incommensurate” approach to the use of nuclear weapons, whereby it can be used “in the most extreme circumstances”, which are not limited to military scenarios. In this sense, by assuming the tasks of “guaranteeing global security”, the US may launch a nuclear strike against anyone who would be deemed an aggressor. By reserving the right to a preventive strike, including using low-yield nuclear warheads, the US puts in place dangerous prerequisites for a nuclear missile war even in low-intensity conflicts. Just think about it, this can even be possible in case of cyber threats! I understand that today this still belongs to the realm of surrealism, but many of the things we once believed to be impossible have already materialised. For example, a nine-year girl somewhere in Asia-Pacific, Africa or Europe presses the wrong button on her parents’ smartphone, and causes a nuclear launch. Is that possible?

We have long sought to establish constructive dialogue on strategic security and discuss with our colleagues matters that are of genuine concern for Russia, as well as an important part of the international community. Specifically, we proposed starting a serious dialogue with our Western partners on limiting anti-missile defence systems. Despite Russia’s efforts, the US withdrew from a bilateral treaty to this effect in 2002. Observers have forgotten this fact almost entirely, as if it never existed. The US anti-missile systems are in fact part of the US offensive capability, posing a direct threat to the strategic balance of power. Responding to our counter arguments, the US pointed to the so-called Iranian nuclear threat and reiterated assurances that the US anti-missile shield was no intended to target the Russian Federation. The US turned down all of Russia’s initiatives to create a joint missile defence system without even looking at them. Since then, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran was concluded, but the US persists with its anti-missile programme in Eastern Europe, which includes violations of the INF Treaty, since interceptor missile launchers can be used to launch offensive weapons that are banned under this treaty.

I would like to remind you that Russia destroyed most of its non-strategic nuclear weapons stockpiles by reducing its arsenal by 75 percent, changing their deployment status to non-deployed and transferring them to centralised storage facilities within the national territory. This effort to downgrade the operational status of nuclear weapons and review its role in the national military doctrine was unprecedented in its scale. Nevertheless, there is still malicious speculation regarding Russia’s non-strategic nuclear weapons.

To sum up, I would like to emphasise once again that Russia was compelled to develop cutting-edge strategic weapons in order to respond to the insistent efforts by the US and its allies to ratchet up international military and political tensions. The response was not as symmetrical as many expected. Let me reiterate that the Russian Federation has not violated any agreements. I recommend that everyone reading carefully the Address by the President of Russian Federation, especially the part were he clearly states that all the efforts to enhance Russia’s defence capability have been undertaken in keeping with the applicable arms control treaties.

We reaffirm that the Russian Federation is open to dialogue on arms control and reductions with the view to achieving equal and indivisible security, without giving up the right to pursue its national interests and ensuring a peaceful and calm living environment for the Russian people. We hope that common sense prevails and at the end of the day our partners find the courage to abandon their meaningless propaganda rhetoric and opt for honest and equal cooperation in the emerging multi-polar world.

Let us live in the real world instead of creating a virtual one.


Situation on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan


The situation on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan remains complicated, with random exchanges of fire resulting in human casualties, including among civilians. New Delhi and Islamabad hold diverging positions on the reasons behind the ongoing tensions.

Russia continues to call on the sides to show restraint. We believe that the disagreements between India and Pakistan should be resolved by political and diplomatic means on a bilateral basis in accordance with the 1972 Simla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration.

Our country is interested in good-neighbourly relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, which should directly help consolidate regional stability and security, and develop mutually advantageous trade and economic ties.


Contacts between North and South Korea


I would like to comment on the latest contacts between North and South Korea. This topic is widely discussed in the media, and we have received a lot of requests to comment on this subject.

We welcome the positive trends in the dialogue between the two Koreas in the context of the March 5-6 visit to Pyongyang by South Korea’s special presidential envoy, who was received by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

We hope the agreements reached between North and South Korea will be implemented in practice and aimed at further reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula and be conducive to a direct US-North Korean dialogue.

We urge all the sides involved to support this process. The collective efforts in this area should help resolve the situation in the sub-region and create a steady mechanism of peace and security in Northeast Asia.


Ukrainian Constitutional Court decision on the state language policy law


The Ukrainian Constitutional Court has recently ruled that the adoption of Ukraine’s law On the Principles of the State Language Policy in 2012 violated the country’s fundamental law, thereby declaring it unconstitutional.

Let me remind you that this piece of legislation, better known as the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law, guaranteed the Ukrainian ethnic minorities’ rights to widely use their languages in various spheres in the regions where they made over 10 percent of the local population, with authorisation by the local governments.

This law has clearly been a stumbling block for Ukraine’s radical nationalists. They openly admit that the law prevents them from imposing total Ukrainian assimilation in the country in disregard of various ethnic groups who speak other language or languages by birth. Of course, this law did not allow the radical nationalists to build a mono-ethnic unitary state. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court, whose primary role should be to defend the law, is unfortunately playing into their hands.

It is revealing that one of the first decisions taken by the perpetrators of the 2014 anti-constitutional coup was to vote for abolishing this law. It was the first thing they did. Even such an odious figure as the then Acting President Alexander Turchinov baulked at signing this decision. Our Western colleagues never stopped reminding us of this when the Russian delegation told them that the current crisis in Ukraine is, among other things, caused by the highly sensitive and abnormal situation around the use of the Russian language. Russia also pointed out that one of the first decisions by the perpetrators of the anti-constitutional coup, who were supported by the radical nationalists, was to attempt to change the language policy in the country, which was only taking shape.  

We were told in response this had only been an attempt and it had failed. Now it has been accomplished successfully. What will our colleagues in the OSCE, the EU and the Brussels bureaucrats say to this? What will the US Department of State say? What will individual countries, for example, in Western Europe or Canada say, considering their language policy experience? What will they say? Or will they fail to comment as they failed to comment on the “law” on the reintegration of Donbass?

We know very well what this can lead to. You know what it led to in 2014 – we talked about it today. The people of Crimea decided to reunite with Russia. The actions of the radicals and the political forces they supported, their attempts to change this law in 2014 became a trigger. Then Crimea was reunited with Russia and protests in southeast and south Ukraine escalated into a civil war. We will see what the current actions will lead to, but we can already make some predictions.

The current Kiev regime clearly has not learnt its history lesson. By persevering with the total Ukrainisation and totalitarian state policy, the nationalist groups are refusing to admit that Ukraine, both historically and at present, is a multi-ethnic entity that has for centuries been populated by various ethnic groups whose rights and traditions must be respected. I want to address these words to Kiev: a multi-ethnic country and people of various ethnic origins are nothing to be ashamed of but something to be cherished. Unfortunately, they do not remember that or maybe they do not even know it. There is certainly no way they can keep violating those rights forever.

Forsaking these basic truths will bring nothing but problems. I would like to point out to our Western partners patronising their Kiev clients that endless support for this nationalist instinct will not end well. We can see the signs of it now, and it will get worse. I just recommend that they retrace contemporary history and possibly the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, although I believe contemporary history should be enough.

We call upon the relevant international human rights institutions such as the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe to give their assessment of Kiev’s discriminatory actions that violate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Helsinki Accords, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.


Another incident of vandals desecrating the memorial to Soviet soldiers-liberators on Schwarzenbergplatz in Vienna


We are outraged by the second incident this year of desecration of the memorial to Soviet soldiers-liberators on Schwarzenbergplatz in Vienna: on the night of March 6, the front side of the monument’s base was defiled with black paint. A similar desecration of the monument occurred on January 10.

 The Russian Embassy in Austria immediately sent a note of protest to the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs with the demand that Austria’s competent authorities take urgent measures to remove the damage from the monument and find and punish those guilty of that offensive act.

We are deeply disappointed by the fact that despite the recurrence of such outrageous acts of vandalism, our numerous appeals to the Austrian side to enhance the protection of the memorial complex by arranging permanent physical protection or installing video surveillance on the square have fallen on deaf ears. The culprits have never been identified and never got the punishment they deserve.

Nevertheless, we hope that the Austrian authorities will investigate this incident, that they will finally resolve the problem and will take comprehensive measures in accordance with their commitments to provide due protection of the monument and prevent similar incidents in the future, in particular, during the events on Schwarzenbergplatz marking the liberation of Vienna by the Soviet troops and the end of World War II. This is especially important since Austrian society carefully preserves the memory of those events. We will be closely monitoring the situation.

I would like to add that we are perfectly aware that installing surveillance cameras is not a matter of finding the money since the spending involved is trivial. Installing cameras at the site and connecting them with the data available on other cameras, which are present in every European capital already, will resolve this issue instantly. Why is it not done? For want of political will? Let me repeat that this is not a matter of technical difficulties of lack of funding as we all realise it costs virtually nothing. It is precisely a matter of will or lack thereof, the presence or absence of the respective political will.


Alleged “war” between Russia and Belarus over milk and dairy product deliveries


At the previous press briefing I was asked about an alleged “war” between Russia and Belarus over milk and dairy product deliveries. As I said then, there are no “military activities” between Russia and Belarus over milk and dairy products; there is absolutely nothing of the kind. Mutual deliveries of food and agricultural raw materials are a crucial item in the trade between our two union states. In 2017, Russian imports of this category of products rose by 12.2 percent to $4.1 billion, with milk having a substantial share. The trend is positive.

It is natural that problems can occasionally arise given such large trade volumes. The key is that they are being resolved through the respective government agencies in Russia and Belarus, primarily by the agriculture ministries, which keep in constant contact in order to remove any emerging disagreements as quickly as possible. We are confident that all the problems will be resolved this time too.

We urge you to treat the situation in this way and to refrain from frightening epithets, all the more so that they do not reflect the real situation, which, let me reiterate, can be described as mutually beneficial, dynamic, constructive and serving to advance Russia-Belarus cooperation in food trade.


Municipal elections in Belgrade


We were asked a question earlier regarding what Moscow thinks of the March 4 city and municipal elections in Belgrade.

According to our estimates, the elections were held in accordance with the Serbian legislation and democratic procedures. Numerous observers were present, including representatives of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade, and no significant violations were recorded.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) won a landslide victory. According to the preliminary reports of the city’s electoral board, the SPP will have 64 seats out of 110 in Belgrade’s city legislature. Its coalition partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia, also got nine mandates. We hope for the development of comprehensive cooperation with the Serbian capital’s new authorities. 


Parliamentary election results in Italy


I would like to respond to an enquiry by Italian journalists who asked me to comment on parliamentary election results in Italy.

We followed the national parliamentary elections to Italy’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies, which were held this past Sunday, March 4. A new Council of Ministers will be formed, in coordination with the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, once the two chambers of the Italian Parliament begin their work, which is expected to happen on March 23. We hope that our joint work with the new Italian Government will build on the positive spirit of Russian-Italian relations.


Update for Russian nationals travelling abroad


In addition to the information on voting stations abroad, I would like to draw the attention of all Russian nationals travelling abroad to the importance of getting medical insurance for their trips, given that the number of Russian nationals travelling abroad seems to be on the rise (up 27 percent in the first nine months of 2017 to 31 million trips).

We have been highlighting this matter annually for the last several years. This effort has not been in vain, since it really helps instil a culture of getting medical coverage during travel. More and more Russians do so, which can prove very helpful in difficult situations. As you know, the Foreign Ministry regularly updates information Russian nationals may need when travelling abroad, if they need to contact a Russian mission abroad. The Foreign Ministry has posted on its website updated information on visa-free destinations for Russian nationals. In addition to this, all the contact details of Russian foreign missions and the opening hours of consular offices are available on the website.

As a reminder, the Zarubezhny Pomoshchnik application developed by the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre Department is available for all smartphones. This is an indispensable tool for all Russian nationals who find themselves in a difficult situation when travelling abroad. All Russian diplomatic missions have an official website and a social media account where they publish updates on the situation in the country, as well as consular and political matters.

Unfortunately, it is still quite common for Russians who forgo getting an insurance policy to find themselves in a difficult situation or face an emergency when they have to pay for emergency medical care. Sometimes people try to shift the financial burden to the diplomatic missions. Let me remind you that under Article 14 of the Federal Law On Entering and Leaving the Russian Federation, in the absence of a medical insurance policy any expenses for medical care abroad, including emergency care, are born by the citizen or persons interested in providing assistance.

The Russian consular missions and embassy are always available and operate hotlines, but this does not mean that travellers do not have to get medical insurance. In order to avoid any difficulties with invalid documents, we call on all travellers to plan their trips abroad in a responsible manner without neglecting any details, which may seem minor when you are still Russia.


Fake media reports on a Russian and Argentine operation to curb illegal drug trafficking


We publish information on this issue on a daily basis – an interview by Russian Ambassador to Argentina Viktor Koronelli, refutations, Russian Foreign Ministry’s officials’ interviews regarding the so-called “cocaine case.” In reality, it is a special operation to curb illegal drug trafficking. We note and capture information that the campaign in the media and social networks regarding this joint operation is increasingly morphing into a powerful disinformation campaign aimed at distorting the facts. 

Let me again draw your attention to the section of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official site where we publish refutations of the materials that are constantly surfacing. Some of them are signed, while others are published with no mention of authorship.

It is obvious that speculations and information attacks of such a level cannot be simply spontaneous. Who is behind them? Why is this being done? Why do they try to disorient the audience and social networks users by spreading fake and false stories? This is an important question. We have also paid attention to the fact that oftentimes such materials and fakes are posted on information resources funded directly by foreign governments. This cannot but raise concerns.

We are analysing such materials, the trend in their emergence and how they are spreading. They will be handed over to the Russian law enforcement agencies for expert analysis and possible inclusion as evidence.

We again urge all journalists to use verified information, to ask questions in writing or orally. We are ready to answer them. But let me remind you again that this investigation is still ongoing.


Excerpts from answers to media questions:

Questions: Italy’s elections mean that instability in the political life of the country and of the entire European Union, of which Italy is a member, will continue. What do you think of the processes unfolding there are? They do impact relations with Italy and with Europe as a whole.

Maria Zakharova: We traditionally regard elections abroad, regardless of whether they take place in EU countries or on other continents, as an internal affair of the countries in question. It is expression of will of the people who live and work in a certain state. It is the people’s prerogative to elect their president, government and parliament. We traditionally say that we will respect the legitimate choice made by the people. I can only re-affirm this position.

Question: Is there a chance that Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will hold a meeting in Africa?

Maria Zakharova: This, as our American colleagues say, is “quite a story.” Our Embassy in Washington sent a request to the Department of State for such a meeting with our US colleague. The Department’s official spokesperson said at a briefing they are not aware of any such request, that they did not receive any papers, and they know nothing about this. This is not true. Such a request was sent. Moreover, receipt was reconfirmed during conversations with our colleagues in the Department of State. They confirmed that the request had been received and is being processed. We do not know why then such a public statement was made that the request has not reached them. We only have one guess – probably because the Department of State was reported to be closed on Friday due to gale-force winds. Probably, some information got held up. But the gale winds have passed, the Department of State should have reopened. Our Embassy published its respective comment with a full assessment of the events. This request has been sent. We are awaiting a US response.

I do not want to evaluate what is going on there anymore. But I can assure and prevail upon you that the request was sent and we have a confirmation that it was received and is being processed. They promised to respond yet have failed to do so. They said publicly the request has not been received, unfortunately, as has been the case as of late.

Question: Last week Armenia abrogated the Armenia-Turkey treaty signed in Zurich in 2009. What does Moscow think of Ankara and Yerevan’s actions in the framework of this treaty? Were they adequate?

Maria Zakharova: We gave an assessment of this treaty itself since the Russian delegation, as you remember, was in Zurich and took an active part in the process. Our attitude remains unchanged. We proceed from the importance of normalising relations between Armenia and Turkey, in the interests of both countries. From our side, we have always done everything in order to reach this goal. The Russian side in Zurich took a most active and, what is most important, effective role in hammering out the respective agreements. We subsequently commented on the topic, too. Those assessments still hold.

Question: London said it will respond robustly if it turns out that…

Maria Zakharova: No, it’s not like that.

Question: Not like that? How is it, then?

Maria Zakharova: Not London said…

Question: OK, Foreign secretary…

Maria Zakharova: Those are two different things.

Question: Boris Johnson said.

Maria Zakharova: When he was the mayor of London, one could say “London said.”

Question: If Russia is found to have been involved in the alleged poisoning of Sergey Skripal, what will be your reaction? What can you say about this unfolding story?

Maria Zakharova: As you know, the Presidential Executive Office, specifically the Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, gave his assessment. I can repeat that as of today this information is absolutely relevant. We do not have information about what could have caused, as you rightly put it, this “story.”

At the same time, we draw your attention to the fact that what happened to Sergey Skripal was immediately used to further escalate the anti-Russia campaign in the western media space. Well before the situation gains any clarity, traditional fake stories are already doing the rounds. Moreover, it is apparent that someone is directing this campaign, statements by British officials have already been voiced. To be honest, it is hard to give any assessment other than that provocative fakes are being aimed at complicating relations between our nations.

Proceeding from your view of the situation, you said it is a “story.” There have been many stories like that. How did the story with Boris Berezovsky end? And the one with Alexander Perepelichny? Do you know? No, of course not. Do we know? Nobody has informed us, either via official channels, for example, that of the Foreign Ministry, or other channels. This “story,” as you rightly said, will end similarly. First, a media background will be stirred up, absolutely ungrounded and unsubstantiated accusations will be voiced, and then everything will eventually be classified. And neither journalists, nor the public nor officials will know what really happened there. Will the same scenario be played out in this case? Look, the situation with both the Berezovsky and Perepelichny cases is identical. The same also happened before. This scenario is no different. 

Question: Did Sergey Skripal lose his Russian citizenship?

Maria Zakharova: We have information that he was not registered with the consular department of our Embassy in London. I have no other information in this regard.

Question: Did you receive an official request to offer support in investigating this story?

Maria Zakharova: As of now, we have not received any official requests or proposals from British officials to conduct a joint investigation that might suggest any participation of the Russian side. A statement and comments about this were made yesterday.

Question: Afghanistan's National Security Advisor, in response to Russia's concerns regarding the redeployment of ISIS militants, stated that certain ISIS leaders are in Afghan prisons and asked that a group of Russian intelligence service members be sent to get it sorted out. How would you comment on this?

Maria Zakharova: I do not have any information at the moment. I will get more information.

Question: On March 1, in his address Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is developing weapons that will render the US missile defence useless. Does it mean you no longer have to be concerned about the global development of the missile defence system, including in Northeast Asia?

Maria Zakharova: And what does it mean for you? I consider it an answer. We keep repeating - and today I have mentioned it several times - that this is about creating a global security system that would avoid dividing the world into dangerous and safe zones and accumulation of power, capacities and technical resources to make one country, one group of countries or one region safe while neglecting others. We are interested in this first of all. We assume that there has to be international interaction, especially given that there are corresponding agreements and doctrinal documents in this regard. We offered cooperation, to have a dialogue with all interested parties. Sadly, all this talk that security is indivisible remains just talk on the part of our partners. We are ready to work on this. We are prepared not only for a dialogue but also for practical implementation of this very pertinent idea of the indivisibility of security. But I think the question I allowed myself to ask you remains very important.

Question: Are there any talks between the United States and Russia on what is going to happen upon expiration of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) in 2021? What do you think the result of these talks should be? How will the Presidential Address and the new information on the weapons affect them?

Maria Zakharova: That's an excellent question. I will definitely give a detailed answer to you personally and we will post it on the site.

Question: Has anyone accused Russia of interference in the parliamentary elections in Italy? And my second question concerns the meeting of the prime ministers of Turkey, Iran and Russia in Astana. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag has recently said that the Turkish troops together with the Free Syrian Army took 50 per cent of Afrin's territory under control. Will the advance of the Turkish troops in Afrin be discussed at the meeting in Astana? What is Russia's stance on this?

Maria Zakharova: As regards your second question, I can say that this issue is discussed on a regular basis during our contacts with the Turkish side. As regards the first one, we have long been accused of interfering in the parliamentary elections of Italy. An Italian colleague will confirm this - recently, just before the elections, a prominent article was posted in the western press on Russia's so-called techniques for interfering in elections, particularly, and the ways they are going to be implemented in Italy. So we were accused of interference in internal affairs long ago, including the elections in Italy, and there have been forecasts about Russia's so-called interference in these processes. Sadly, these accusations cannot be stopped, the process is underway, with more and more false information being thrown in. Once again, take note of the publication I have mentioned. This huge article that claims to be analytical was posted just ahead of the elections. What for? Naturally, its aim is to make voters in Italy biased and frightened, and this way to affect the elections. This is a precise example of outside influence. On our part, we state that this is free expression of the will of people, in particular, in Italy or any other country where election takes place.      

Question: My question concerns the visa regime between Russia and Georgia, which has been in effect for almost 18 years. Is there any progress or changes?

Maria Zakharova: We are working on this progress, as you have called it. Russia was not the side that cut diplomatic ties between our nations. It was Georgia. And this has led to the present situation. We are aware that peoples of our two countries and representatives of various spheres - business, culture and public organisations - want to travel and interact with each other. That is why the Russian Foreign Ministry officials have repeatedly said that the work to make the visa regime between are countries easier is underway and it is relevant and important.

Question: My question concerns the recent meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President's special envoy Chung Eui-young, where Kim Jong-un expressed his consent to hold an inter-Korean summit in late April. The United States, in turn, expressed cautious optimism, saying it will not take part in the official talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea until the country's nuclear programme is fully discontinued. What is Russia's stance on this? The second question concerns South Korean President's special envoy Chung Eui-young's upcoming visit to Moscow to report on the results of the meeting. When is this expected? Who will represent the Russian side at this meeting?   

Maria Zakharova: As regards the first question, today I have already shared our assessment of the contacts between North Korea and South Korea. As regards the meeting on this issue that may take place in Moscow, the dates are yet not known. As soon as the meeting is scheduled we will announce them. We do not have this information so far.

Question: Chair of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs Leonid Slutsky has been accused of sexual harassment by three female journalists.

Maria Zakharova: What does the Foreign Ministry have to do with it? What connection do you see here?

Question: Mr Slutsky represents Russia on the international arena as the Chair of the Committee for International Affairs of the State Duma.

Maria Zakharova: This issue has nothing to do with the Foreign Ministry. The only thing I will say is that yesterday we touched upon this subject during the taping of programme at a Russia radio station, and agreed that more time should be devoted to this issue ahead of the International Women's Day. The programme will be broadcast tomorrow. I am ready to talk on this but solely as spokesperson. I see no reason to give any official comment. I think this is within the competence of corresponding structures – the State Duma's Ethics Committee or the specific deputy.

Question: And what can you personally say on this issue?

Maria Zakharova: Listen to the radio programme.    

Question: Bulgaria’s football fans have asked me to tell you your glass lectern inspires them.

Maria Zakharova: You will be accused of harassment before long. You are getting nervous, I think?

Question: Also, we would like to wish you happy International Women’s Day on March 8. The previous time you wanted to give Russian citizenship to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. This time, an NGO from a city in northern Bulgaria has nominated you for their Honorary Citizen.

Maria Zakharova: It seems you have a simple procedure for granting this honorary status.

Question: Your candidature will be discussed yet. As for now, another private organisation is offering you a registration address [in Bulgaria]. You can choose one of 60 addresses. And this flower arrangement is from Media-Most LTD Bulgaria.

Maria Zakharova: Thank you, it’s very beautiful. Is this the symbol of Russian-Bulgarian friendship?

Question: Yes, these are the flags of Bulgaria and Russia. The Bulgarian and Russian people have always been close.

Maria Zakharova: The colours of the Russian flags are wrong, though.

Question: Everything is good there.

Maria Zakharova: All right, let’s say that the colours are correct but their position is subject to debate.

Question: Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has returned from his recent trip to Bulgaria disappointed. Bulgarian diplomacy has failed in this case, and I have to take control of the situation.

Maria Zakharova: You are like a minister without any portfolio.

Question: Yes, I am. To show how close the people of Bulgaria and Russia are, I would like to invite you to dance merengue with me.

Maria Zakharova: I’ll think about it.

Question: The Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria has announced that it could ensure the safe withdrawal of the leading fighters and their families from Eastern Ghouta. It looks like permission for the fighters to leave Ghouta. What is Russia’s view on this? 

Maria Zakharova: Russia has a clear view according to which the fighters who continue fighting and staging terrorist attacks must be eliminated. Those who want to surrender – you know how this can be done – and civilians can be offered a corridor for leaving the zone of hostilities.

Question: The US has adopted new sanctions regarding North Korea over the alleged use of chemical agents in the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong-un. What do you think about these sanctions in light of the nascent improvement in relations between North Korea and South Korea?

Maria Zakharova: You know about our stand on sanctions and the sanctions policy. We believe that sanctions are legitimate, in particular, regarding North Korea, when they are imposed by the UN Security Council. Any other sanctions imposed over a problem that is on the UNSC agenda that have not been approved by a concerned committee or adopted by the UNSC are not legitimate. This is our position.

We saw the drastic turn the developments took. Several months ago in this very room, I was asked about the possibility of full-scale hostilities on the Korean Peninsula. We should welcome every action that is being taken to normalise the situation, to restore peace and, more than that, to resume talks. The events call for great accuracy. We must prevent actions that could provoke problems and push the us back to a high tension situation, which we have been gradually easing.

Question: Ksenia Sobchak recently said that she has submitted an application to the Ukrainian Embassy for visiting Crimea via Ukraine. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin has described this situation a schizophrenic. We would like to hear your comments on this.

Maria Zakharova: This reminds me of a funny story that happened in the mid or late 2000s. I was working at Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. The UN Security Council convened a joint meeting with the heads of state. The US was represented by President George W. Bush, who was writing something on a pad during the UNSC meeting. A photojournalist from a Western news agency focused his camera on the pad. The photo he later published showed a note scrawled by President Bush asking Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice if he could have a bathroom break. People ask permission for things that are important to them.

Question: Much is being said about Russia’s increased military might following President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly. But everyone knows that we also have the most beautiful soft power – you. I would like to wish you a happy International Women’s Day, March 8. I wish you professional success and interesting briefings.

Maria Zakharova: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure. It is our shared holiday. I wish all female members of the journalist pool a good holiday. This international date is very important to us. Good luck, and have a really nice time.

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