Saturday, October 22, 2016

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, October 20, 2016

20 October 201618:50
  1. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with participants in the international conference “Middle East: Trends and Prospects”
  2. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with members of the European Business Association in Russia on October 25
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the meeting of the Council of the Heads of Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  4. Sergey Lavrov’s appearance at a Valdai Club meeting
  5. Answers to media questions.

On October 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Russian and foreign participants in the international conference “Middle East: Trends and Prospects” organised by the Yevgeny Primakov Centre for Foreign Policy Cooperation jointly with the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies.
The participants plan to discuss developments in the Middle East and North Africa with an emphasis on the situation in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, as well as on the Middle East settlement.

On October 25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak at a meeting with members of the European Business Association in Russia. Meetings in this format have been held  once every two years (the latest meeting took place in October 2014) and have already become a good tradition, allowing entrepreneurs to join the discussion of priority topics in Russia’s dialogue with European partners.
The meeting will be devoted to the urgent issue of the current state of relations between Russia and the European Union and their prospects.
After making his remarks, the foreign minister will answer questions from the audience.

On October 26, Sergey Lavrov will chair the 28th meeting of the Council of the Heads of Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The main goal of this body is to help the regions to participate more effectively in promoting Russia’s external interests. It was established in 2003 by order of the President of the Russian Federation. It includes the heads of constituent entities of the Russian Federation (one from every federal district) and representatives of the Presidential Executive Office, federal ministries and agencies. The council’s meetings are held whenever necessary but at least once every six months.
Topics at this meeting will include the participation of Russian regions in promoting Russian higher education and consolidating the positions of the Russian language abroad, support for inter-academic cooperation with foreign educational institutions, and  measures to enhance the role of  the humanitarian dimension in the current agreements of Russian regions with their foreign partners and to involve the regions in implementing the programmes aimed at preserving education in Russian in areas with compact Russian populations. Speakers at the meeting include the governors of the Astrakhan, Bryansk and Novosibirsk regions, the Stavropol Territory, the Khanty- Mansiysk Autonomous Area–Yugra, and representatives of the Presidential Executive Office, different ministries and agencies, and the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo).
Relevant final recommendations to the Russian regions, federal ministries and agencies will be adopted following the meeting.

On October 27, Sergey Lavrov will speak at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
We believe that at difficult moments in international affairs similar to what we are going through today, dialogue should be intensified rather than curtailed. We have never declined substantive, honest discussions with our partners, including on the most complicated and controversial issues.
It is hard to overestimate the role of the Valdai format, a respected discussion venue, which contributes to the search for the best answers to a host of contemporary challenges and threats, and to forecasting key global trends. The intellectual rigor that characterises the Club’s activities has earned it respect both in our country and abroad. The cornerstone of its success is its invariably extensive programme and fairly representative body of participants including prominent statespersons and politicians, and members of the academic and expert communities from Russia and foreign countries.
The minister will share his vision of the current situation in international affairs and answer audience questions.

The situation in Syria

The situation in Syria remains extremely tense, and Aleppo still faces dire circumstances. In the eastern part of the city, government troops continue to besiege a considerable force of armed extremists, including Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists and affiliated groups. Illegal armed groups are focusing on defending their positions, as well as on attempts to reinforce and unblock their allies.
We are still hearing from Western politicians and media a highly critical and groundless rhetoric against Russia regarding the humanitarian situation in eastern Aleppo. I would like to emphasise specifically that the difficult situation we see in Aleppo is the result of the failure by the US to deliver on its commitments under the September 9 agreements between Russia and the US to ensure a cessation of hostilities in Syria. The US failed to persuade the armed opposition to withdraw from Castello Road, which would have provided humanitarian access to civilians trapped by the militants. Nothing was done to separate the so-called moderate opposition forces from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
Those who had voiced so many misgivings over the humanitarian situation in eastern Aleppo are simply unwilling to see the suffering of the people in the city’s western part, which is controlled by the Syrian Government. Meanwhile, illegal armed groups continue to target residential areas in Aleppo, Damascus and a number of other communities in Syria with indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks. Only in the last couple of days, the following districts in western Aleppo came under rocket and mortar fire: Hamdania, Manshiya and Sulaymaniyah, where several shells exploded near a maternity hospital.
Civilians, including women, children and people with disabilities, are being killed every day in indiscriminate attacks by extremists and subversive operations against key civilian infrastructure. Let me remind you that the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria is to a large extent attributable to unilateral sanctions imposed by the US, European countries and a number of other states against the Syrian Arab Republic. Let me also remind you that without approval from the UN Security Council, these sanctions are illegal.
For its part, Russia believes that ordinary Syrians, facing hardship and death, no matter in what part of Aleppo they are, should not be set in opposition to each other. Urgent and efficient measures must be taken to bring assistance to all those in Syria who need it, regardless of their beliefs or political preferences.
So far, we have been getting the impression that, except for Russia, the UN and a small group of countries, no one has been willing to contribute to addressing the humanitarian challenges that Syrians face. In a number of Aleppo districts, the Russian military continues to run centres that offer civilians hot meals and living essentials. In the Aleppo, Quneitra, Latakia, Tartus and Hama provinces, as well as in Damascus and its suburbs, humanitarian aid has been distributed, including bread, flour, sugar, rice, tea, canned meat and fish.
At 10 am on October 18, the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian air force ceased theeir airstrikes against rebels in Aleppo in anticipation of the humanitarian pause, which will last from 8 am until 7 pm on October 20. Please note that the Russian Ministry of Defence provides daily updates on this matter.
This unilateral action is intended, among other things, to facilitate humanitarian access to city residents and enable people to leave the blocked districts, should they wish to do so.
The Defence Ministry’s website offers a live webcast from four surveillance cameras installed in the western segment of Castello Road and at the Masharka checkpoint, as well as from UAV-mounted cameras along corridors leading from Aleppo.
We are already receiving alarming reports of terrorists opening fire on the humanitarian corridor near the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. According to preliminary reports, six mines exploded there in the morning of October 20, and small arms were used to fire at the checkpoint.
We hope that the outside parties with a capacity to influence armed opposition groups will use this opportunity to persuade them to force Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists out of eastern Aleppo.
Meanwhile, residents in the Nusra-held district of Al-Qattana in eastern Aleppo have held a rally to demand that they be able to leave to western Aleppo unhindered.
Against this backdrop, the Syrian authorities persist in their efforts to prepare for a possible evacuation of civilians and members of illegal armed groups from eastern Aleppo. The Syrian Government has confirmed that it is ready to guarantee safe passage from eastern Aleppo to all, including militants, so that they can lay down arms or leave for other Syrian regions of their choosing.
In the Hama province, having liberated Maan the Syrian Army seeks to expand its successful drive. The head and members of the so-called Sharia court of the Jund al-Aqsa group were killed by the Syrian air force in a strike against Sauran village. That said, not all casualties among the rebels are caused by the Syrian Army, and sometimes result from internal disagreements and strife underpinned by a competition to secure funding from external sponsors, deliveries of arms and equipment, and financial racketeering in contested areas.
On October 15, the Syrian armed opposition fighters, with support from the Turkish military, took control of Dabiq, a town north of Aleppo, liberating it from ISIS. For ISIS, this was a highly symbolic city, since it was mentioned in a legendary prophecy that predicted a decisive battle between Muslims and infidels in this area. The prophecy was recorded by medieval theologians and was never refuted, but the myth that ISIS will maintain its rule over the conquered territory has crumbled.

New Zealand’s draft of UN Security Council resolution on Syria

Currently the UN Security Council is discussing another draft resolution on Syria, this time New Zealand’s.
As we work on this document, we proceed from the need to make it depoliticised and to orient it to achieving concrete practical results in the context of efforts to end violence in Syria as soon as possible and to eradicate the terrorist threat. It is also important that it take into account the current realities on the ground in the light of Russia and Syria suspending their air operations in the Aleppo area and the coming into force of a humanitarian pause on October 20.
We are working to have the draft reflect, aside from the humanitarian component, the priority of combating the terrorist groups and primarily the need to separate the forces that claim to be part of the “moderate” opposition from the terrorists. The document should also exempt the terrorist organisations from the ceasefire regime.
It is inadmissible that New Zealand’s draft eventually takes the shape of the earlier French draft resolution, which grossly distorted reality and was vetoed by Russia on October 8. This will be another utterly shortsighted attempt by the same countries to tread on the same rake, if they really wish peace for the Syrian people and advocate the settlement of the Syrian conflict by the political and diplomatic methods.

The situation in Iraq

The Iraqi authorities persist with efforts to restore their control over territories in western and north-western Iraq seized by the ISIS terrorist group.
On October 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of a military operation to liberate one of the country’s largest cities, Mosul, which the ISIS terrorists have turned into their stronghold in Iraq. Along with the regular army units, the operation involves people’s militias and Kurdish self-defence forces (Peshmerga).
We support the Iraqi leaders’ resolute steps to fight the ISIS extremism and assure their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. At the same time, we state the importance of protecting the remaining residents and helping those who have decided to leave during a major military operation in a city with a 1.5-million-strong population. As you may know, the latter are quite numerous.
Simultaneously we see as counterproductive – and just criminal – the plans to “reroute” the ISIS militants entrenched in Mosul to Syria, where they would reinforce the decimated jihadist units fighting against the government forces. This policy is openly hypocritical and eroding the basis for an uncompromising fight against international terrorism as coordinated within the framework of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. 

Developments in Yemen

There have been some positive changes in the situation in Yemen.
On October 17, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced a 72-hour ceasefire from the early hours of October 20. At this point, all the conflicting parties – government forces and the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the Houthis (Ansar Allah) and the supporters of former President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh – have confirmed their willingness to join the ceasefire.
We welcome these plans of the Special Envoy for Yemen. We urge all those who have decided to join the ceasefire to comply with their commitments strictly and rigorously. We also hope that this ceasefire will lead to a stable and indefinite cessation of hostilities, which will not be violated as it happened before.
We are convinced that putting an end to civilians’ suffering and ensuring free humanitarian access remain the top priorities. Simultaneously with ending the violence, efforts must be taken to resume the process of political settlement in Yemen. As we said before, such settlement implies finding mutually acceptable solutions and respecting the interests of all socio-political forces in the country.
For its part, Russia will continue to facilitate the search for political and security compromises in dialogue with various Yemeni and regional parties and in cooperation with the UN.

Joint report by PAX and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons on the use of prohibited weapons by the United States in Iraq

In light of the propaganda campaign launched in  member-countries of the Friends of Syria Group  over the dramatic humanitarian situation in eastern Aleppo, whose residents, as we have repeatedly noted, are being held hostage by terrorists from al-Nusra  and other extremist opposition groups, we suggest that you take note of a joint report by the Dutch peace organisation PAX and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) on the indiscriminate use of the depleted uranium (DU) weapons during the US-British intervention in Iraq in 2003. This did not happen in the 19th or 20th century; we are talking about 2003.
The authors of this report have concluded that US troops violated their own manuals on DU weapons by using them against non-armoured targets, including enemy manpower and also near and inside populated areas, thereby posing a direct threat to civilians. According to various estimates, from 10 to 300 tonnes of such weapons were used in Iraq; only in 30 percent of those cases the DU weapons were used against armoured Iraqi vehicles. As a result, vast areas of Iraq have been polluted. This is just one aspect of the problem. The second aspect is the consequences of the indiscriminate use of DU weapons on civilians.
It is highly indicative that the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons has revealed at least two cases of the United States using DU weapons against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Unfortunately, the Western media, which seem to be acting under a political order, pretend not to notice these facts, both old and new, at the height of the propaganda campaign over Syria, Russia, and successful operations of the Syrian armed forces, supported by Russia’s Aerospace Forces, against terrorists and the opposition militants in Aleppo. Their hands must be busy holding the staged photographs they are supplied with. This brings us to a legitimate question: Do you want us to believe that you really care for civilians in Syria? After you have used depleted uranium weapons against civilians?

The Five Years in Five Days First Russian Film Festival in Lebanon

We would like to remind you that on October 24-28, Beirut will host the First Russian Film Festival in Lebanon entitled “Five Years in Five Days.” The festival has been organised by Russia’s Buta Films with the support of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Lebanese Embassy in Russia, the representative office of the Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), and under the auspices of Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture.
Over the five days, cinemas in the Lebanese capital will screen the best films by Russian filmmakers. All screenings will be non-commercial. The films will be demonstrated in the original with subtitles in English and Arabic.

The closing of RT bank accounts in the UK

One more document concluding the opening section concerns the closing of Russia Today bank accounts in the UK.
As you may know, we have already responded to the event. We also appreciate the response by international organisations and the OSCE, which expressed concern over the clearly politicised approach of the British party to this Russian media outlet. As it was stated earlier, we sent an official request for clarification to the United Kingdom and received a response in a note by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have this official document here in front of me. I would like to note that the letter, of course, states that the situation is completely different from how we see it – which is a very British thing to say. But it contains the following phrase: “We (Her Majesty’s Government) understand that RBS/Natwest are reviewing the situation and are in touch with the customer to discuss further.”
I would like to comment as follows. We have also contacted the management of Russia Today in order to ascertain whether this is true, and here is what we found out. Of course, we do not have any specific information regarding the reviewing of the situation by the bank. We could only judge by those leaks and statements that were given by the bank. I would like to remind you that the notice Russia Today received said that the decision was final and would not be reviewed. This is rather intriguing. The sentence I quoted has a part which says that the bank (according to the official note by the Foreign Office of Her Majesty’s Government, as they call themselves) is in touch with the customer. As a matter of fact, the customer, which is Russia Today or a company serving its interests, is not in touch with the bank. The bank never got in touch with RT. Whether this is a deliberate move intended to mislead the Russian party or a mere chance that Her Majesty’s Government allowed somebody – perhaps, the bank – to mislead itself on this issue, we don’t know. But we would like to officially announce that nobody from the bank has contacted the management or the representative office of Russia Today to resolve the problem or to discuss it, neither in the UK nor in Moscow, neither in writing nor verbally. I am saying this to give you an idea of what we sometimes have to deal with – particularly, in our relations with London, and what people allow themselves to write in official documents. They allow themselves to lie. This is a lie.

Answers to media questions:
Question: In an interview with Dmitry Kiselev this week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Russia’s position on Syrian settlement was totally justified as Russia called for united international efforts and opposed dividing terrorists into bad guys and good guys. He also said Azerbaijan shared the opinion that the priority now was to ensure Syria’s territorial integrity and let the Syrian people decide their own fate. Basically, the Azerbaijani President backed Russia’s position on the Syrian issue in spite of the Western charges. Could you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: On what precisely?
Question: Azerbaijan’s support for Russia on the Syrian issue in spite of the Western criticism.
Maria Zakharova: We believe that the international community’s support for Russia on the Syrian issue equals a realistic view on the situation in the region. It is, of course, important for us that all countries should proceed from real facts rather than from the current media campaign.
Question: Speaking on the sidelines of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation summit in Yerevan, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Turkey could play a more constructive role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement under certain circumstances. Are there any plans to encourage Turkey to step up its activities within the OSCE Minsk Group, where it is a member state? Could Turkey become a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group?
Maria Zakharova: I have no information about any changes in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group’s work. To be honest, I’ve never heard about any discussions of this kind. I mean, not in the media but among experts who really deal with this issue.
As for Turkey’s more pro-active role in the OSCE Minsk Group, members of this group are indeed welcome to play a constructive role in conflict settlement. I believe this is exactly what they should be doing – playing a constructive role and doing it pro-actively if we are talking about constructive contribution to conflict resolution.
Question: We all know an operation has been launched to liberate Mosul from ISIS. What is Russia’s position on this operation? Is Russia going to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq?
Maria Zakharova: I think I have fully answered this question when I spoke about our position on the situation around Mosul. So we can say that I already answered the first half of your question at the start of the briefing.
I have also elaborated on the humanitarian situation and possible assistance to the people of that country. As for humanitarian aid, Russia is certainly aware of how important it is. If Russia receives an official request, we will be prepared to consider it. I can add that our country has accumulated a vast and very positive experience of providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.
Question: Another Russian citizen was detained in Prague on Tuesday at the request of the US. Is this yet another episode in the US secret services’ “hunt” for Russian citizens in third countries? Were any charges brought against the Russian citizen?
Maria Zakharova: Are you referring to Yevgeny Nikulin?
Question: Yes, he is being accused of involvement in the hacking attacks.
Maria Zakharova:It is true that this is not the first time an incident of this kind happens abroad. To answer your question whether this is yet another link in a chain of similar incidents, my answer is yes. Of course, what happened is another proof that the US law enforcement agencies are hunting for Russian citizens across the world. It is unfortunate that we have to use this term so frequently. Instead of acting along the lines of the bilateral Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (drafted and signed in 1999), the US is doing what it does, i.e. uses various far-fetched pretexts to hunt down Russian citizens.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that over the last twelve months we have repeatedly offered Washington to hold consultations on fighting cybercrime. We have discussed this at length during our press briefings and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov publicly raised this issue and discussed it in great detail with US Secretary of State John Kerry. However, our US colleagues always brush such things aside with empty pretexts and formal replies.
The fact that the US avoids engaging in normal cooperation in law enforcement is one more proof that its claims against Russia and its citizens are politically tinged. The Foreign Ministry and Russia’s Embassy in the Czech Republic are proactively working with the Czech authorities so as to prevent a Russian citizen from being extradited to the US. We are already working through diplomatic channels to find a solution, and the Russian citizen is getting the consular and legal assistance he needs. A lawyer has been provided. Of course, we will keep an eye on this issue and provide further comments.
Question: Yesterday, Paris hosted an opening of the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre. This new building has diplomatic status and as such benefits from diplomatic immunity, including a ban on searches and confiscating property. This has become a matter of concern for security services fearing that wiretapping devices will be placed there. How would you comment on this issue? The media has dubbed this building a Trojan horse.
Maria Zakharova: Who has voiced misgivings?
Question: The security services in Paris, as has been reported recently. Someone has reported that wiretapping devices will be installed there.
Maria Zakharova: The opening of a cultural centre has given rise to fears that there will be some goings-on there and some equipment will be installed, etc. However, only a few days ago, US Vice-President Joe Biden, weary of his own greatness, admitted outright that the US is preparing a cyberattack or something of that sort against the Russian Federation. Just to make it clear, if the Vice-President of the US comes out with a statement like this regarding Russia (I’m not even talking about the fact that it runs counter to international law and US laws), this just goes to show what kind of possibilities the US has across the world. And no one seems to voice any misgivings or emotions over this in Paris. At least, I have not heard anything of this kind. If global issues like this are not a matter of concern for Paris, I think they should not worry about anything else either.
Question: A regular round of talks between Secretary of State and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Georgia’s Special Envoy for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze ended yesterday. This is the only cooperation format between Russia and Georgia. Can you tell us about the results of this round? What progress has been made towards settling Russia-Georgia relations in the absence of diplomatic relations?
Maria Zakharova:I would like to say that a commentary on the outcome of these talks was posted on the ministry’s website yesterday. But I will tell you about it again.
A regular meeting between Secretary of State and Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Grigory Karasin and Georgia’s Special Envoy for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze was held in Prague on October 19. These consultations were also attended by representatives of the two countries’ transportation authorities.
They pointed out that following the recent parliamentary elections in Russia and Georgia, both countries are willing to continue their dialogue on ways to boost bilateral relations in areas where progress is possible despite the absence of diplomatic relations, such as trade, transport and culture.
We see encouraging results of the efforts to normalise our bilateral relations over the past four years. Bilateral trade increased by 17 percent in January through September 2016. Russia remains the second largest trade partner for Georgia and the main market for its wines: this year, Georgian wine deliveries to Russia went up 36 percent. We hope that the November meeting of Russian and Georgian business people, which is being sponsored by our countries’ chambers of commerce and industry, will help further strengthen economic ties between Russia and Georgia.
The parties pointed to the continued increase in air and motorway transportation between Russia and Georgia. The combined passenger flow exceeded 400,000 people this year. At the same time, practical cooperation between the transport authorities of our countries has improved.
We will continue working on visa liberalisation for Georgian citizens. In particular, the Russian Government is considering visa liberalisation for the crews of Georgian airlines.
There is a stable demand for Russian visas in Georgia. On the other hand, a record-high number of Russian tourists – over one million people – will visit Georgia this year. I hear nothing but praise for Georgian resorts. Many of my friends have been there and all of them said they loved it.
Our growing cultural cooperation includes the participation of Georgian filmmakers in festivals in Russia and tours by Georgian theatre groups. Russia’s National Film Foundation Gosfilmofond has started the transfer of the originals of films made at Gruzia Film Studios to Georgia.
Russia and Georgia have reaffirmed their resolve to carry on a pragmatic policy of the gradual normalisation of bilateral relations, which all of us want.
The next meeting has been scheduled for early 2017.
Question: Can you comment on the murder of Arseny “Motorola” Pavlov, a commander in the Donetsk Armed Forces? What do you think about the rumour that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is controlled by the Americans?
Maria Zakharova: Why only the SBU? That is, the whole of Ukraine is externally controlled, but the SBU is not? This doesn’t make sense. Everything in Ukraine is externally controlled.
Your question on where and how Pavlov’s murder was planned should be addressed to the concerned security agencies.
As for the external control, it takes different forms. We know that foreigners penetrated the Ukrainian Government as advisers over the past years. Foreign special services claimed to be consulting Ukraine, whereas in fact they penetrated the Ukrainian political stage in order to control the processes that took place there. This penetration was later legalised, and we see foreign nationals holding ministerial positions in the Ukrainian Government.
I do not need to remind you that Ukrainian foundations and Ukrainian civil society are financed by the West. What is this if not external control? It is what it is. Just look at the number of contacts and “helpful hints” from US Vice-President Joe Biden. I am sure that he does not call Kiev to urge it to implement the Minsk Agreements, to launch the long overdue political reform, or to formalise the special status for Donbass as it was agreed. No, he does not do this. We see foreign forces micromanaging Ukraine, including – and possibly above all – its defence, security and law enforcement agencies.
Question: After the meeting in Berlin, French President Francois Hollande called what is happening in Aleppo is a war crime. German Chancellor Angela Merkel mentioned criminal activities and crimes against civilians. Can you comment on the possibility of sanctions against Russia over the bombing of Syria?
Maria Zakharova: Russia’s leaders have already commented on this. It appears that sanctions are the only tool the West has. Well, no, there is one more thing they can do – disrupt life in countries around the world. First they make life hell and then introduce sanctions against those who try to solve the problem.
Question: US State Department spokesperson John Kirby has said in a CNN interview that the United States does not consider it possible to sit down with Russia to discuss Syria. Can you comment on this statement?
Maria Zakharova: This is very funny, because this same State Department official, who said the Americans are not willing to sit down with Russians, sat down with the Russian delegation in Lausanne. So I do not know how to comment on this. When we hear such statements, what are we to make of the fact that a great many telephone conversations on Syria have been initiated by the US Secretary of States since October 1? About 60 such conversations have been held in 2016. As you rightly guessed, 99 percent of them were initiated by the US.
This makes one wonder what is happening inside the US administration, and how closely they coordinate things. I have my suspicions about Vice President Joe Biden’s statements on planning cyberattacks against Russia. I think it would be interesting if such attacks, if carried out, revealed the details of Russian-US talks on Syria. After all, mistakes happen, and a cyberattack could target these documents. If this were to happen, everyone would know who asked what, who said what, and who asked to keep certain things secret. We are living in interesting times.
Question: Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem is expected in Russia in late October. When exactly will he come?
Maria Zakharova: We do not know the exact date yet. We are still working on Mr Muallem’s visit. As soon as we have confirmation and the date, we will share this information. Anyway, it is true that a visit is being discussed.
Question: Can you comment on the US State Department decision to deny Russian diplomats the right to act as observers in the US presidential election? What is the reason behind this decision?
Maria Zakharova: I think this question is for the US State Department. But it really is a good question. We will take this into account when assessing the transparency and democratic character of these elections.
Question: The Clinton campaign’s communications director has accused Russia of controlling WikiLeaks. She said that on more than one occasion Russia Today [RT] has actually posted emails from WikiLeaks even ahead of WikiLeaks. RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan has rejected this statement as false and promised to pass it to the lawyers. What can you say about the suspicion that Russia controls WikiLeaks?
Maria Zakharova: I can say that we do not control WikiLeaks. I have taken note of these statements by the RT chief, and I could not stop thinking that we should probably take the matter to lawyers and attorneys so as to hear a legal opinion at least once. We have had enough of this endless stream of lies and nonsense. I think it would be very good indeed if RT lawyers pursued this matter.
Question: Today at 7 am, the DPRK carried out yet another launch of a Musudan medium-range ballistic missile. A medium-range missile of the same class was launched on October 18. The international community condemned these actions. Do these regular launches violate UN Security Council resolutions? What is Russia’s position on this issue?
Maria Zakharova: I do not have any details on today’s launch. I think that our experts are currently looking into this issue. As soon as I get the details, the Foreign Ministry will issue a statement and I will answer your question.
At the end of the day, you know what the Foreign Ministry thinks about it, since we have explained our position on a number of occasions. The launches carried out by the DPRK in violation of UN Security Council resolutions should be condemned internationally for violating international law. This is what we have been saying all along. As for this specific case, I will provide details once I receive materials from our experts.
Question: Under what circumstances could Russia conclude its Syria campaign? What do you expect to achieve? What must happen for Russia to complete its operations in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: That is a broad question. Russia has articulated its goals, and these objectives were also set forth in UN Security Council resolutions and statements, ISSG statements and documents, in the September 9 agreements between Russia and the US negotiated by the Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State. Without delving too much into the history or ongoing global developments, here is what it comes down to: ridding Syria of international terrorism, launching a political process, and working along these two tracks under a single road map. We expect to work on these two tracks together with our partners and colleagues within ISSG and the UN Security Council, and mobilising the international community. In general terms, here is how I can answer your question: destroying the terrorist threat that is no longer a local threat to the Syrian state but a global issue, and facilitating a political settlement in Syria to provide the country a chance not only to achieve peace, but also to reaffirm itself as a secular, democratic, unified country with the rule of law and a stable democracy.
Question: What steps should be made to improve relations between Poland and Russia? As you know, relations between the two countries could have been better in recent months.
Maria Zakharova: I am sorry, but I have to answer with a rhetorical question: apart from these press briefings, have you heard any statements against Poland coming from the Kremlin, the Government or the Foreign Ministry? Have you heard anything against Warsaw, about any plans or strategies targeting Poland or which could be a matter of concern for our colleagues there? The answer is no, because this has never been the case. We discuss Poland only when a specific issue arises, for example about cross-border travel or entry by Polish citizens into Russia. Sometimes we are asked to comment on specific issues. We also discuss Poland when there are contacts between our respective Foreign Ministries and when we are asked to comment, most importantly, on certain statements about Russia coming from Warsaw.
Over the last two or three weeks Moscow has not made any statements about Warsaw. Let us now examine this situation from the other side by considering what Warsaw has been saying during this period about Moscow. Foreign Minister of Poland Witold Waszczykowski has said so many things. Had he been a historian or an expert in history, he would have been popular among his followers, while we would have been free from the obligation to comment on his statements. But he is the Foreign Minister of your country. Polish Minister of National Defence Antoni Macierewicz has also made a number of interesting statements. This is what this problem is all about. Russia does not make any statements regarding Poland that are offensive, humiliating or inconsistent with reality. If there are any such statements, we kindly ask you to point us to them, and we will look into them. I have not seen any such thing. What Poland does week after week is, if you excuse me, throw mud at us. So who should be the one to improve our relations? We are ready, but we were not the ones who spoiled them.
Imagine how Warsaw and people in Poland would react if Russian colleagues of Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski or Minister of National Defence Antoni Macierewicz said just 5 percent of what Poland had said about Moscow.
Let’s examine this issue from another perspective. Statements are important, but there are also practical steps. What did Moscow do in its relations with Poland that could be interpreted as aggressive? I have not seen any actions of this kind nor have I heard of any.
It is important to understand where the problem lies. Overall, we have a plethora of opportunities for promoting humanitarian, economic and political ties, but given Warsaw’s current attitude it is hard to imagine how this can be achieved.
Question: Considering the recent updates on the investigation into the causes of the crash of the Polish President’s Tu-154 plane, when can Poland receive the fragments of the plane?
Maria Zakharova: As usual, our answer is, ask the agencies that are conducting the investigation.
Question: What do Russians think about the planned Italian referendum on leaving the EU? Many people fear that its outcome would destabilise not only Italy but also Europe as a whole, while President Vladimir Putin and other Russian politicians are in favour of stability on the continent.
Maria Zakharova: Can I ask you a question? Do people in Italy think that Moscow is behind the referendum and see Moscow’s hand in it?
Question: No.
Maria Zakharova: A referendum in Italy or any other country is an internal matter of that country. This is our fundamental principle, and it is based on one of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. Therefore, we do not even discuss this issue. It is an internal matter for Italy.
We truly stand for international stability and dialogue, and we are against anything being added to the current complicated international agenda that could undermine stability. The things that can undermine stability include unilaterally withdrawing from agreements, sanctions, aggressive rhetoric and information wars – that is, everything that cannot help build trust but definitely undermines European stability. There are also things that can have a direct effect on stability, such as conflicts and the failure to settle them, for example, the conflict in Syria and the developments in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and the region as a whole are the cause of the inflow of refugees into Europe. This has added a major destabilising element to the situation in Europe. And this instability is only growing. This is how I would answer your question.
Of course, any referendum is an internal matter of the given country based on the free expression of will by the people. It must be based on generally recognised and respected principles. It must be held as the free expression of people’s will. I hope that this is how it is happening in Italy.
Question: Russian-Turkish relations were restored four months ago. Have they returned to the level before the rupture? Does Russia believe Turkey with regard to developments in Syria and Iraq, where Turkey has recently become very active?
Maria Zakharova: I think that it is an ongoing process. It cannot be said that it is complete. As you know, several documents have been signed following top-level contacts, and these documents should help restore our relations to the previous level, including our economic relations. You understand that some time will have to pass between their signing and implementation. And this example shows that the process is not complete yet.
As for Syria, we have indeed resumed contact and are exchanging opinions with our Turkish colleagues. We express our views on the developments in the region and our assessment of Turkish actions there. As I have said, we have resumed contact, but we express our concerns through direct channels rather than publicly. We have always said that public statements do not make relations more constructive. We have established a direct channel and are using it to exchange information.
Question: The magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a cartoon on the opening of the Orthodox Church in Paris. How can Russia respond to this? What levers can it use?
Maria Zakharova: Which media outlet do you represent?
Question: The Federal News Agency.
Maria Zakharova: Good. I say that we should read reports by the Federal News Agency and not Charlie Hebdo. This answer should be satisfactory for you.
Question: I have a question about North Korea’s nuclear tests. Some UN Security Council members, including the United States, intend to impose new sanctions to restrict the flow of labour from North Korea. What does Russia think about this initiative? According to some data, there are over 50,000 North Koreans working in Russia.
Maria ZakharovaAs I have said, we are working on this, but not publicly. Basically, we believe that sanctions, including legal sanctions approved by the UN Security Council, should be targeted and precise. They should not affect the living standards of people but address the concrete goal of preventing violations of international law. Everything that is helping or can help achieve this goal could be used for legitimate international pressure based on sanctions.
Question: Can Russia guarantee compliance with the humanitarian pause to allow civilians to leave?
Maria Zakharova: Yes, we have issued this guarantee, in particular, on behalf of the Defence Ministry.

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