- Foreign Minister’s visit to Azerbaijan
- Foreign Minister Lavrov to take part in a meeting of foreign ministers of the Caspian states in Kazakhstan
- The situation in Syria
- The Chilcot Inquiry
- US involvement in anti-government rallies in Belgrade
- The report by the Defence Committee of the British House of Commons
- Statement by Supreme Commander of Sweden’s Armed Forces Gen. Micael Byden
- Investigation into the murder of a Russian couple on Fiji
- Answers to media questions
- Work in Artek
- Developments on Iran-Iraq border
- NATO activities in the Black Sea
- NATO summit in Warsaw
- Russian-Turkish relations
- Russia’s views on the rock festival in Berlin’s Treptower Park
- Russia’s views on conflicts in the Caucasus
- Russian-Turkish relations
- The impact of Russian-Turkish relations on regional ties in Crimea
- Invitation of National Front leader Marine Le Pen to Black Sea Fleet Day celebrations
- Extradition of wanted persons
- Visa facilitation in Crimea
- President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Azerbaijan
- Denial of visas to Crimeans with Russian travel passports
- Developments in eastern Ukraine
Question: The rock festival in Berlin’s Treptower Park is approaching. Has Russia’s view been taken into consideration? Is there a dialogue on the issue, and what will be done next?
Maria Zakharova: I expected that this question would be asked and so I have found the latest information. We have commented on the issue already, as you know. Our experts are monitoring the developments surrounding the Berlin authorities’ intention to hold a rock festival at the Treptower Park memorial. No official decision has been taken yet, and we expect it in late July or early August.
The Russian position remains unchanged: We insist as before that the venue be transferred from this site of remembrance and mourning, a place dedicated to soldiers fallen in those years [WWII]. We hope our opinion will be heard and not merely taken into consideration, but followed by practical steps. To reiterate: we are keeping abreast of the situation and will inform you as soon as there is any news.
Question: Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said yesterday that the Russian-Turkish rapprochement would help to settle regional conflicts. How, do you think, will it facilitate the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh and Kurdish issues? What are the prospects for simplifying the visa procedure with Georgia?
Maria Zakharova: We have already commented on the simplification of the visa procedure with Georgia. The issue is being discussed. Though [Russian-Georgian] diplomatic relations were broken off at Tbilisi’s initiative, we have always said that it is not merely impossible to sever links between our two nations but that they will never be severed. That was not our choice. Now, a number of practical steps have been made to simplify the visa procedure and the work goes on. It will certainly take longer than a day, a week or even a month. The work is underway and we are in contact with our Georgian colleagues.
We think everything possible must be done to promote humanitarian and civil society contacts. At any rate, we are doing everything that depends on the Foreign Ministry Information and Press Department to enable Georgian journalists to visit Russia: we consider applications and respond to them promptly. I think Georgian journalists will say that’s true.
As for the normalisation of Russian-Turkish relations and its impact on resolving regional issues, this concerns primarily the Middle East and North Africa. It certainly concerns the Syria situation and information exchanges to counter terrorist threats. We will do everything we can to convince Ankara that Turkey’s support for militants in Syria is unacceptable. I reiterate that we will raise the issue in bilateral contacts and at international venues as before. Dialogue is always a step toward addressing regional and other problems.
As for Nagorno-Karabakh, there are relevant formats: the OSCE Minsk Group, direct dialogue with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents’ summits. These mechanisms work and are sufficient. Even so, we can only welcome any constructive initiative by any nation.
Remark: Thank you very much for the opportunity to visit this beautiful land.
Maria Zakharova: Better late than never.
Question: Yesterday President of Russia Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone with his American counterpart Barack Obama. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. They concentrated on the Syrian issue, specifically the resumption of talks and joint struggle against terrorism. What could you say about the current Moscow-Ankara contacts on this issue? Is there any progress towards a potential resumption of the inter-Syrian talks?
Maria Zakharova: We believe the inter-Syrian talks should be stepped up. It is unacceptable to give up because the mission was accomplished or not completely fulfilled. This cannot be left as is. It is necessary to make the effort. You rightly mentioned the regular telephone conversations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry. They are both paying special attention to this issue. I said today what must be done on the ground to disengage the terrorists and the opposition. We are actively dealing with this although we understand that this process is much slower than it should have been. However, we don’t have the feeling that it won’t make headway.
Russia is in contact with Turkey. Mr Lavrov held talks with his Turkish colleague in Sochi, during which they mapped out specific steps towards normalisation.
Yesterday I was asked a very interesting question on the resumption of the flow of tourists to Turkey. I think that truth always comes out of the mouths of – well, I cannot say babes, but teenagers. They asked: How come that just a month ago Russia said it was dangerous to travel to Turkey whereas now the barriers to tourism are being removed. I said – and I consider this very important that political dialogue is indeed coming back to normal – political barriers to contacts, including tourist contacts, are being removed. That said, we are certainly speaking about the persistent threat to tourists that are coming to Turkey not only from Russia but from other countries as well. We haven’t stopped talking about this – either in the past or present – for a single day. I’d like to emphasise that this is the responsibility of our citizens that, despite the political chill, continued flying to Turkey. Every citizen, but especially those travelling with family, should be extra careful about their decisions under these difficult circumstances.
It is necessary to understand one important point. The absence of political contacts and deterioration of relations dealt a direct blow to the contacts between military officers and representatives of relevant services that exchange intelligence information on terrorist threats. If there is no political will, if there is no appropriate political atmosphere, there is no forward movement. We realise that some information on Turkey failed to reach Russia. Now we hope that political normalisation will facilitate other ties. As for the struggle against international terrorism, normalisation of our relations will help counter the terrorist threat. So we believe it is primarily necessary to step up our efforts in this area.
Question: Do you think resumption of Russia-Turkey relations will influence the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol in terms of economy and industry?
Maria Zakharova: When this happened – when the Russian plane was downed and its pilot killed and then another Russian army serviceman lost his life in a rescue operation, when the political divergence began due to these tragic events, I attended many meeting with representatives of different Russian regions. They were worried because they had established contacts with Turkey and investors had come (Crimea and other regions were mentioned), and launched joint construction, opened schools and carried out other projects and then a heavy blow was dealt to all this.
I must say that there are things that cannot be just left behind. When it comes to a deliberate action rather than an accidental offense by mistake, when this action leads to the death of a Russian citizen, everyone should understand that we cannot just leave it behind. The pain of each should become the pain of all. This is an underlying principle of our society and state. It was impossible not to respond to this. That said, Russian leaders said at the top level, including the Foreign Ministry, that we were not rupturing person to person contacts or economic ties although we understand full well that the political chill would directly affect the economy, the investment climate, etc. Now these barriers are being removed because Turkey offered its apologies. We believe this should have been done earlier but let me repeat: better late than never. We accepted these apologies and promptly did our best to restore relations. We believe the investment climate, economic ties and regional contacts will only benefit from this.
Question: Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Defence, has sent an invitation to Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front party, to visit Sevastopol during Black Sea Fleet Day celebrations. How would you comment on this? Have our French partners responded in any way?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, I have seen this report. We’ve contacted the Russian Embassy in Paris and learned that the invitation has been submitted to the secretariat of the leader of the National Front political party. It is still too early to talk about the response of Ms Marine Le Pen because the invitation was just sent.
We welcome any contact that can help show the real situation in the Republic of Crimea to the Western public, including the European public. It is extremely important to make sure that people, ordinary Europeans, obtain first-hand information about the developments here, including positive and negative events, difficulties, problems and achievements. We are inviting media outlets, representatives from international organisations and politicians here. Anyone who wants to come can legally enter Crimea and see what is taking place here. We are not hiding the difficulties, and we are not inventing any “Potyomkin villages”; we are ready to show Crimea the way it is. Most importantly, the people of Crimea want to and are ready to do this. Yesterday, I met with the head of the Crimean Journalists’ Union who is here and who said he was very much offended to read what the Western press writes about the republic. People who have been living here for decades, rather than people who have arrived here from Moscow and who head agencies established two years ago, are saying this. Just recently, these people were citizens of another country. They took a well thought-out step, they formalised it under the law, and they are now reading tall tales about their native land. They are ready to show and to speak about everything they have. Come and see for yourselves.
Question: Russian citizens were among the attackers at the Istanbul Airport. Is this true, and has this information been confirmed? Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, said the other day that terrorists from Russia have been having a good time on the Turkish coast for quite a while, and he also gave their names. Is it possible that these people will be arrested and extradited, now that relations between Russia and Turkey have improved?
Maria Zakharova: Of course, we have read media reports, including Western media reports, that Chechen militant Akhmed Chatayev allegedly masterminded the terrorist attack in Istanbul that claimed 44 lives. I would like to say that Russia issued an international search warrant for him some time ago on charges of facilitating terrorist activity. Despite that, Chatayev obtained refugee status in Austria in 2003. He soon became a leader among the militants, coming from a certain region, in Western Europe. In 2008, he was arrested by Swedish law enforcement agencies. I would like to recount the circumstances of his arrest. He was found sitting inside a car packed with weapons and ammunition. After the arrest, Russia asked Sweden to extradite this terrorist. As you can guess, Russia’s request was turned down, just like many other requests on extraditing suspects linked with terrorist activity in the North Caucasus. In 2009 Chatayev was released in Sweden and deported to Austria.
I would also like to quote the Moscow correspondent of Sweden’s Expressen newspaper. After Chatayev’s release, his terrorist career soared, and he surfaced in Georgia and Ukraine, the newspaper writes. The Swedish correspondent believes this person has been engaged in terrorist activity for a long time, including the spread of Islamist propaganda, and the training of ISIS militants, and directly planning and perpetrating terrorist attacks.
Russia has more than once directed its Western partners’ attention to the spread of jihadism in the Caucasus and the need to coordinate measures to prevent the growth of extremism in this region. We appealed to our Western partners because these terrorists find refuge in the West.
You said, quoting Ramzan Kadyrov, that some terrorists live in Turkey. And how many of them live in Europe? I have told you about the “career” of one of them. He didn’t live in Turkey, but in Austria and Sweden, whose authorities we have officially asked to extradite this criminal. Why haven’t they done it? What did they do with him? Why did they release him, and why didn’t they monitor his movements? Or did they? What is happening to him?
Remember that we have repeatedly asked the UK to extradite those who are connected with international terrorism in the Caucasus or to convey a message to London that the campaigns waged by many Russian or former Russian citizens in the UK in support of terrorists can only promote terrorism. Did London listen to us? No. And all this time Europe has been working to protect these people from the North Caucasus, presenting them as freedom fighters, fighters for the freedom of Chechnya. We remember that the BBC and other television networks never called them terrorists. They called them rebels but not terrorists. Why? Why do they release these people instead of extraditing them? It is yet to be determined precisely how many crimes these people have committed and what criminal network they have created, even though we had the relevant information and have shared it with our Western colleagues.
Take the terrorist attack in Boston. Russian security services provided the names of the terrorists involved to our American colleagues. What reply did we receive? When we provided the names of these people and suggested that our colleagues monitor their activities, they replied that everything was fine, that these are their people. And then “their people” commit barbaric terrorist attacks. Do you know what happened after that? They say that these terrorists are Russian citizens. This is an interesting turn: it is not Russia who refused to extradite or call these people to account, but when they commit a crime it turns out that these are Russians.
Regarding the other persons involved in the Istanbul terrorist attack, we are monitoring the situation. I can ask our law enforcement and security services about the information they have.
I told you a specific story to show you that the people who are persecuted in Russia for terrorism feel at home in Europe.
As I said, the improvement and normalisation of relations with Turkey have not settled all of our problems. When the terrorists who are wanted in Russia find refuge in Turkey or any other country, we will request that they be extradited. I don’t want anyone to think that some problems can be swept under the carpet or that we will turn a blind eye to them. We won’t.
Question: Have you considered simplifying the visa regime for foreigners who want to visit Crimea, especially under cultural exchange programmes?
Maria Zakharova: We have the same visa regime throughout the country, including for those who want to visit Crimea. For special purpose groups, for example groups of journalists or representatives of international organisations, we do our best to provide the necessary information to them and to expedite visas and other papers without violating Russian law.
If you want to invite someone on behalf of Moskovsky Komsomolets, you should send a corresponding invitation. If you invite journalists, you can notify us of this and we will help expedite the issuance of visas for the journalists who want to visit Crimea. We have always tried to create conditions in which our consular departments can do their job quickly and to quality standards. In fact, we are not set up to issue certain groups of visas quickly and with good quality [which should be the standard], but to respond to problems in this area. When visas are generally issued quickly and to quality standards, we focus on problems with the issuance of visas. Few people have visa complaints. We issue them quickly. As I said, if you want to invite delegations on behalf of your newspaper, you can ask for our assistance and we will do our best to help.
Question: It was reported yesterday that President Putin will go to Azerbaijan for a trilateral meeting with the leaders of Iran and Azerbaijan. Do you know anything more about this?
Maria Zakharova: Per tradition, comments on the president’s schedule are provided by the Presidential Executive Office.
Question: The sanctions have directly affected people in Crimea: they are denied visas as they present their Russian passports. Is the Foreign Ministry working to break through the Crimean blockade and enable locals to obtain European visas freely and with less effort?
Maria Zakharova: Of course; this is basically discrimination. And this is the very human rights violation that we have always been criticised for. As things stand now, the rights of these citizens are being directly violated. Failure to issue a visa based on a territory of residence, or because certain citizens voted the way they did, or because they have the political views they have is a direct violation of every international obligation the countries so acting have assumed. This is simply a direct breach of all that the OSCE and EU member-countries have accumulated for decades in their positive human rights experience. We raise this issue during bilateral contacts and at international organisations and we remonstrate with their heads about the unacceptability of this discrimination. Regrettably, Europe, the cradle of human rights and the world’s human rights documents, is now spearheading this sanctions policy that is directed at specific citizens. They are punishing specific people who expressed their will by voting in a referendum rather than the heads of state who engaged in the decision-making. This is simply unacceptable! We’ve been working on this. To reiterate: we are raising this issue at international organisations in the course of direct talks. We’d like visiting foreign correspondents to reflect this in their stories. You can’t be on the lookout for Russia-committed human rights violations in Crimea, to mention this area as an example, and yet turn a blind eye to the human rights violations perpetrated by Western countries with regard to the people of Crimea. After all, this is a direct violation of the right to freedom of movement.
Question: OSCE monitors are reporting a buildup of armed forces and equipment on the line of contact between Ukraine and the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. What steps has the Russian Foreign Ministry been taking to reduce tensions in the region?
Maria Zakharova: First of all, we are working with the OSCE. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE in Vienna Alexander Lukashevich regularly – practically every day – conveys the Russian assessment of the situation to the OSCE, drawing its attention to specific facts. We are working within the trilateral Contact Group that is based there and includes Russian representatives. We hold talks with our foreign colleagues. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov maintains telephone contact with his US counterpart John Kerry. Recently, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went to Paris and held talks with the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. There is an ongoing exchange of views with many of our colleagues. A number of measures have been taken as well. We maintain a dialogue with our US colleagues on many levels in addition to the foreign ministers. Vladislav Surkov and Victoria Nuland are also in contact with each other. We ’are doing our best to prevent a disengagement breakoff.
You are absolutely right that the OSCE has been recording not only the de-escalation but also the fact that Ukraine is responsible for the overwhelming majority of [ceasefire] violations (about 70 per cent). These are OSCE data. The disappearance of Ukraine’s heavy weapons from the storage facilities, where they should be kept in accordance with the relevant decisions, has also been recorded in Kiev-controlled areas. We are doing all we can to prevent this from spreading further. This is necessary not so much in order to freeze this situation as to use this opportunity for achieving political progress. I am referring to constitutional reform and the need to draft and approve a law on the special status [of Donbass] and to start a direct dialogue.