Friday, October 7, 2016

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 6, 2016

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 6, 2016

Situation in Syria

I have to start this briefing with a phrase that has opened many of the briefings in the past few years: the situation in Syria remains tense. It is particularly complicated in the north of the country, mainly in and around Aleppo where government forces continue fighting Jabhat al-Nusra militants and groups affiliated with it.

Every day civilians die as a result of the so-called “blind” shelling of western Aleppo controlled by the government forces. Militants from various illegal armed groups have occupied eastern Aleppo and at least half of them belong to Jabhat al-Nusra. They are basically holding the locals hostage and use them as live shields blocking their escape through the humanitarian corridors created by the Syrian Armed Forces and the Russian reconciliation centre at the Hmeimim air base. One of the favourite tactics of the illegal armed groups is using civilian facilities, schools, hospitals and residential buildings, as their headquarters and defence centres, and to open sniper fire from these buildings at Syrian personnel and civilians. A Syrian swimming champion and her 12-year-old brother fell victim to this kind of shooting the other day.

Armed opposition groups and their so-called governing bodies, such as the Aleppo local council, continue to prevent humanitarian aid access into eastern Aleppo. Our opinion is that the foreign “patrons” of the militants – those who provide assistance to them – should have started handling this problem long ago. It is necessary that they influence the militants’ commanders. So far, we have mostly seen attempts by Western forces to protect Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated militants – literally, helping them out of danger – rather than relieving the humanitarian crisis.

Another odious crime happened on October 3 near Hasakah where suicide bomber killed over 30 and injured 90 at a wedding. As we reported before, the Russian Embassy in Damascus was under mortar attack on September 3. The strike came from the suburban town of Jobar, currently controlled by the terrorist groups Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and Faylaq al-Rahman. Fortunately, there were no victims, but the embassy building sustained some damage. We suspect a connection between this terrorist attack and the vague threat of attack recently passed on by Washington. It is indicative that the attack happened in the midst of a discussion to possibly supply the militants with man-portable air-defence systems and other military equipment that could be used from anywhere.

We get the impression that our Western partners are forgetting that Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), ISIS, Jund al-Aqsa, Ahrar ash-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and other similar groups are basically the same evolving Al-Qaeda that conducted the horrible terrorist attacks in the United States 15 years ago. Why do our American colleagues not remember that and why do they not remind their people about it on a daily basis at public events? It is beyond my understanding.

The US is protecting Jabhat al-Nusra by all possible means. For the past two years, almost every day we hear tragic reports of American police killing ordinary citizens who only looked like they could hypothetically be a threat to the police or the public. Some police officers thought they were armed, the others thought they could be dangerous, etc. Those were ordinary people who were only suspected of being a threat. Now imagine that two or three people from Jabhat al-Nusra – so thoroughly protected by the US government – walk down the streets of Washington. Imagine what the police would do to those people if they walked down the street in Washington, Chicago or any US city looking the way they usually look. Nobody would have any doubt that those people clearly pose a threat to civilians. Then why is it that those people would be immediately destroyed in one geographic location with complete public support but in another location, they are presented as fighters for justice, as the moderate opposition, a group that is not yet on the genuine path to political resolution, a group that needs refinement but does not yet meet the high standards completely? It is a very strange approach.

The West’s anti-Russian campaign in connection with the Syrian crisis

We are facing another round of the anti-Russian information campaign in connection with the Syrian crisis, and this is not for the first time. Several years ago, during the concluding phase of the Arab Spring, our Syrian policy and position were criticised as well. Since then, we have seen several phases when Russia’s actions were criticised and the negative information campaign was launched against us.
We are currently facing the extreme, even extremist, round of this campaign. It’s not even a campaign, it’s hysteria in which everyone is involved: the UN Security Council, news conferences by government officials, newspapers, TV, articles, heads of foreign ministry agencies, observers, and others. This time, they are trying to make us look like a bloodthirsty aggressor, an outlaw. On September 29, The New York Times published an article branding Russia “an outlaw state” and saying that Russia kills hundreds of innocent children and women in Syria.
Surprisingly, such statements are voiced by the countries and people that have a huge record of real, not made-up, crimes against civilians all over the world.
Let’s remember hundreds of thousands of civilians killed during the bombings of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, conducted either by mistake or on purpose. We can see that the military equipment of those countries, which is highly accurate due to huge budgetary allocations spent on it, ruthlessly bombs weddings, markets, maternity hospitals and clinics. And after that they say that it is the Russian Federation that kills civilians, while their bombings of civilian objects are nothing but “technical failures.” Why did these countries turn a blind eye on US bombing of Yugoslavia using munitions (you can read online about the type of munitions they used)?
Somehow, these people, who are currently human rights activists, do not tell the truth about what happened in Iraq, in particular, during the second battle for Fallujah.
I’m addressing those who argue about what is happening in Syria: you can start by taking a hard look at yourselves, talk to each other about Fallujah, and I’m sure you will remember a few things. You can also tell the world about what weapons you used there. It would be very interesting and we will finally learn the truth. This is not an isolated example; there is not enough time to name them all.
There is another thing that proves that what we are witnessing is an information campaign. Recently, about six months ago, the same countries called Russia a constructive partner on Syria, and its contribution to counteracting global terrorism received praise.  I’m sure you remember as these were public statements. So what has changed? Did we come too close to Jabhat al-Nusra? Yes, it happens. Their opinion has changed radically. We all remember the leaked NATO report in March 2016, which praised Russia’s Aerospace Forces for professionalism. That is, in March the operation was called accurate and efficient, and now we are bloodthirsty killers. Seems the experts had a good time on holiday this summer.
It is impossible to speak about an adequate and unbiased approach when it changes so drastically within a few years.
And of course, again the media are used as a means for promoting their own interests, in particular, for stirring anti-Russian sentiments, demonising our country’s image and promoting the political interests of one or another party. The world is not perfect, unfortunately.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the Pentagon paid a PR company more than $500 million to create propaganda terrorist videos right after the Iraq invasion. I would like to find out what Washington’s official stance on this is. In particular, on September 29 the Conflicts Forum website published excerpts from a report on the US Special Forces by Jack Murphy, a former Green Beret, saying that the CIA and the Pentagon armed and trained groups that were clearly terrorists.
When we ask our colleagues about where they get the information about Russia killing thousands of children, they say in social networks. There is also information about terrorist training on the internet, you can read it, it’s fascinating.

Anti-Russian statements by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in an interview with The Sun tabloid

We could not leave unnoticed an interview with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, carried by the British tabloid The Sun on October 1. Commenting on Russia’s operation in Syria, Mr Johnson said, “They drop one bomb and then they wait for the aid workers to come out, civilian people pulling the injured from the rubble, and then five minutes later they drop another bomb.” “We have evidence. We have good ground to believe that the Russians themselves have been doing that,” he said.
If you are accusing the Russian Federation so openly, why don’t you provide the evidence (satellite data, geolocation, or any other material that can back up your statements)? Professional people, especially in countries with a long-standing tradition of a law-based state, normally offer facts and proof first, before they hurl accusations, and not the other way around. The Foreign Office chief believes the solution lies in retaliatory measures aimed at making Russia change its policy on Syria.
We heard such accusations before. No evidence, just a head-on attack. We understand that these statements are the choice of London but the more you resort to unsubstantiated statements, the more obvious it is that you are losing control in the region as the situation unfolds contrary to your expectations, hence the accusations.
When such statements are made by unnamed “experts”, it is one thing, but this phrasing belongs to the country’s chief diplomat. Diplomacy is about looking for solutions, not complicating the situation.

Consultations on security and stability in the South Caucasus

On October 4-5, representatives of Abkhazia, Georgia, the Russian Federation, the United States and South Ossetia gathered in Geneva for the next round of consultations as part of international discussions on the South Caucasus. The meeting was co-chaired by the UN, the OSCE and the EU, with the Russian delegation led by State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.
Delegates from Abkhazia, Russia and South Ossetia expressed protest against Georgia’s unilateral initiative voiced in the UN Human Rights Council to organise external monitoring in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have long been outside of Georgia’s sovereignty.
The delegates highlighted Tbilisi’s ongoing destructive and politicised actions at various international venues, made with no input from Sukhum or Tskhinval. We believe this directly undermines the efforts of both the humanitarian group and the entire Geneva format. Tbilisi’s “initiatives” seek to satisfy the political ambitions in this area and, unfortunately, they are normally of no practical use to the local population. Representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia said the “facts” of alleged human rights violations on the so-called “occupied territories” reported by the Georgian Foreign Ministry had nothing to do with reality and were not facts. Tbilisi, nevertheless, continues its policy line, and sadly, prevents the two independent republics from establishing contacts with other countries. Georgia’s unconstructive position has resulted in suspending the refugees’ subject from Geneva International Discussions.
The delegates had a constructive discussion of the current situation on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders with Georgia. The majority of the participants, including representatives of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, agreed the security situation remained calm and stable. Occasional incidents are mostly administrative clashes largely due to the local residents’ confusion over the border checkpoints location. Tbilisi has been refusing to discuss the border demarcation. Sukhum and Tskhinval have to address the issue unilaterally. South Ossetian delegates said they had registered seven border violation incidents by the Georgian police this year.
It was noted that the border checkpoints on the Abkhazian-Georgian and South Ossetian-Georgian borders were operating in due order, ensuring people’s and transport movement across the border.
Regular meetings within the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders with Georgia along with hotline communication have heavily contributed to the stability in the border areas of the three countries.
Delegates from Abkhazia, Russia and South Ossetia once again expressed serious concern over the more frequent NATO exercises in Georgia whose scale in terms of staff and military hardware involved have been expanding every year. Tbilisi’s intensified military activity indicates the need for further negotiations on the draft Geneva discussions’ joint statement on the non-use of force as a step towards bilateral agreements on this crucial issue between Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the one side and Georgia on the other. Discussion of the issue was once again postponed as Georgia said it was not prepared for it.
Geneva Discussions participants reiterated readiness to address humanitarian issues, including preserve the cultural heritage through exchanging archives, looking for missing persons and ensuring freedom of movement.
The next meeting in Geneva has been scheduled for mid-October this year.

Moldovan Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu’s remarks

Moscow took note of the remarks by Moldovan Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu, which were distributed by a number of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the ABC, NBC and Fox television networks, groundlessly accusing Russia of interfering in the preparations for the upcoming presidential election in Moldova, to be held on October 30. In fact, we are blamed for all of the country’s problems, including the serious, critical state of its internal political system.
We regard these remarks as speculation, an absolutely pathetic attempt to blame their own internal development problems on Russia. Probably, there is a personal interest to boost one’s ratings and gain media “exposure” as a result of these kinds of remarks. This is difficult to imagine. Possibly, the idea was to improve the image that was marred when the name that I already mentioned today ended up at the top of a draft resolution submitted to the US House of Representatives providing for the introduction of sanctions against a number of high-ranking Moldovan officials, condemning rampant corruption in the country and the stealing of $1 billion from the state treasury.
As for the upcoming election in Moldova, Moscow hopes that the election process will be up to international standards and will not go beyond the bounds of the law.

Escalation of the situation around the Gaza Strip

On October 5, the Israeli Air Force delivered over 20 airstrikes against different targets of the Hamas Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip. According to media reports, the attacks came in response to the launch of an improvised Qassam rocket against the Israeli town of Sderot. No Israeli was hurt and one Palestinian sustained a fragment wound.
The latest surge in tensions around Gaza arouses serious concern in Moscow. We again urge all parties involved to show restraint, take measures to maintain calm along the perimeter of the strip and preclude the recurrences of confrontation with unpredictable consequences and most importantly, the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
Taking into account the dangerous course of events, which threatens an impasse along the Palestinian-Israeli track, we reaffirm the pressing need for progress, including via the restoration of Palestinian unity, toward the resumption of the negotiating process between the Palestinians and Israelis to reach a two-state solution. This requires the termination of unilateral steps on both sides, including Israeli settlement activity on the occupied Palestinian territories.

UK participation in South Korea air drills

As has become known, the South Korean Defence Ministry announced plans to hold tactical air drills codenamed Invincible Shield with the participation of the South Korean, US and UK air forces on November 4-10, to rehearse airborne combat operations and deliver airstrikes against North Korea in case of an armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
We noted that for the first time these maneuvers will be conducted with the participation of the UK, which plans to provide four Typhoon EF-200 tactical fighters, a Voyager А-330 MRTT aerial refueling tanker and a C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. The key tasks of the exercise include testing the interoperability of the command, control and communication systems of the three countries’ air forces, as well as studying the specific features of the theatre of military operations on the Korean Peninsula by UK aircraft crews.
We will not go into detail now as to how appropriate or justified this muscle-flexing exercise is, considering that the situation in the region is far from calm, and in fact is explosive. We believe that under these circumstances, every step, as well as the consequences of such steps, should be carefully thought out and thoroughly analysed. Of course, this is a subject for a separate, more wide-ranging conversation. Our point is different. If the US and the Republic of Korea have a bilateral military alliance and if US military bases are stationed on South Korean soil, this suggests that the armed forces of these two countries in some way or other collaborate within the framework of their allied obligations. It is another matter in what forms or whether such actions are timely.
There is another interesting point. What is the UK Air Force doing in Northeast Asia? I believe this is the right question to ask now. As far as we know, the UK has no military bases anywhere in the area. We hope that it does not have any post-colonial interests, either, at least none that have been declared. A logical question arises then: why do UK aircraft crews need to know the specifics of the theater of military operations on the Korean Peninsula? Did they not get enough when bombing Libya?
The impression is that London is affected by the phantom pains of the former British Empire. Just to reiterate, these distant times are history now. We would like to hope that there will be no return to this. Everyone, including London, should understand very well that this does nothing to address regional security issues and only makes the situation worse. If [they] want to become involved in resolving regional conflicts, it should be done through the existing mechanisms of international law, by using the diplomatic experience accumulated in the world.
In any case, the striving by certain countries (and this is only one example) to deliberately escalate situations in certain parts of the world, far from their own borders, is obvious to us. This line, which involves destructive action and at the same time rhetoric about the need to resolve problems in a democratic way, is deplorable. This has always been the UK’s distinctive feature.

To be continued...
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