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Friday, January 20, 2017

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, January 19, 2017


19 January 201719:38
75-19-01-2017

  1. Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov
  2. Sergey Lavrov to attend the opening of the exhibition Holocaust: Destruction, Liberation, Salvation
  3. Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó
  4. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Government Hour at the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
  5. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the opening ceremony for 25th International Christmas Educational Readings at the State Kremlin Palace
  6. The situation in Syria
  7. January 23 Syria talks in Astana
  8. Opening of Russia’s Consulate General in Hurghada, Egypt
  9. Terrorist attack in Mali
  10. Accidental bombing of a refugee camp in Nigeria
  11. Tensions in the Gambia
  12. Obama presidency impact on Russian-American relations
  13. The situation with Russian recreation facility in Oyster Bay
  14. Statement by US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power

Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov


On January 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov in Moscow.
The ministers will address an array of topical issues of Russian-Kazakh relations and review in detail their approaches toward the most important topics on the regional and international agenda.
Priority will be given above all to Russian-Kazakh cooperation within the framework of the EAEU, the CSTO, the CIS and the SCO. Cooperation at the UN Security Council is due to be discussed. As is known, in 2017-2018, Kazakhstan represents at this main UN body a large group of Asia-Pacific states as a nonpermanent member.
The officials will consider a number of organisational aspects of the upcoming international meeting on a Syria settlement in Astana.
Plans also include the signing of a 2017-2018 cooperation plan between the two foreign ministries, including a list of steps related to the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Kazakhstan. It may be recalled that the date is October 22, 1992.
The January 20 talks will be another event in the context of multilevel Russian-Kazakh dialogue and coordination of actions by the foreign policy agencies in the spirit of allied relations and strategic partnership between our countries.

Sergey Lavrov to attend the opening of the exhibition Holocaust: Destruction, Liberation, Salvation

On January 20, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the opening of the exhibition Holocaust: Destruction, Liberation, Salvation, at the Cultural Centre of the Foreign Ministry’s Main Administration for Services to the Diplomatic Corps. The exhibition is organised by the Russian Jewish Congress and is timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day that is observed on January 27.
The event will be attended by representatives of Russian Jewish organisations, the diplomatic corps, public figures, veterans of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, former inmates of Nazi ghettos and Moscow school teachers and students.

Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó

On January 23, Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Péter Szijjártó will be in Moscow on a working visit for talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The discussion of topical issues of bilateral relations is due to continue with a focus on the implementation of the agreements reached during President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow on February 17, 2016.  Plans include an exchange of opinions on international issues, including the fight against terrorism, Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO, the migration crisis in Europe and the situation in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation in the Government Hour at the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation

On January 25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak at the Government Hour at the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.
The Minister is expected to discuss the situation in Syria, the prospects for settling the internal crisis in Ukraine, the development of integration processes within the CIS, and Russia’s relations with the US and other leading nations.
Mr Lavrov’s regular meetings with parliament members help to coordinate approaches to key issues on the global agenda and ensure that joint efforts of the executive and legislative authorities are as effective as possible and in the interests of Russia’s foreign policy. As usual, the deputies will be able to ask their most pressing questions. Therefore, the discussion will be interesting and highly relevant.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the opening ceremony for 25th International Christmas Educational Readings at the State Kremlin Palace

On January 25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the opening ceremony for the 25th International Christmas Educational Readings at the State Kremlin Palace.
The upcoming forum will feature a discussion of the events of 1917 and how they influenced the subsequent development of the Russian state and the course of world history.
The Christmas Readings have proven to be an important dialogue venue and an opportunity to address the most pressing issues of public life in our country. The readings invariably have an extensive agenda that includes substantive discussions with the participation of government representatives, civic organisations, education, science and cultural figures, hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and other local churches.
The Foreign Ministry by tradition pays special attention to the Christmas Readings, including parliamentary meetings on their sidelines. And this year’s forum will not be an exception. Ministry representatives will attend roundtable meetings related, among other things, to streamlining laws on religious organisations and working with Russian compatriots abroad.

The situation in Syria

The ceasefire in Syria, which was introduced on December 30, 2016 with input from Russia and Turkey, is generally holding across the country. Violations are localised and thoroughly dealt with by Russia and Turkey, which are the guarantors of the December 29, 2016 agreements. We note with satisfaction that since December 30, 2016, the level of violence in Syria has visibly declined and the humanitarian situation has improved.
The efforts by the Russian centre for reconciliation of opposing sides have helped normalise the situation in the Wadi Barada area near Damascus. The ceasefire has been joined by nine towns in this district, from which 1,268 militants have withdrawn. Most of them have laid down their arms and returned to a peaceful life. The others will be given an opportunity to leave for Idlib with their families in accordance with the established arrangement.
At the same time, terrorists from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other armed opposition groups, which have not joined the December 29, 2016 agreements, have not abandoned their attempts to thwart the ceasefire agreement. Al-Nusra is especially active in this regard. Its mobile groups shell the positions of parties to the ceasefire agreement, mostly at night, to play them off one another.
Terrorists continue indiscriminate shelling of the al-Fou'aa and Kafraya enclaves in the Idlib Governorate, carrying out missile attacks on Aleppo, which was completely freed recently, and staging terrorist suicide bomb attacks. This is happening in different cities and towns in Syria, leading to civilian casualties.
The situation in Deir ez-Zor has been the most complicated in recent days. ISIS terrorists have received re-enforcement from Iraq and mounted a massive offense with up to 14,000 militants on a Syrian army-held district. The jihadists have cut off a military airfield from city areas controlled by the Syrian authorities. About 200,000 civilians are in danger. All of them have been forced to live under ISIS control for several years and can only rely on protection from a small Syrian army garrison and limited humanitarian aid that is airlifted to them. Regrettably but also tellingly, numerous advocates, those who only recently upheld the positions that are well known to you, in the course of the dramatic worsening of the humanitarian crisis, in particular in eastern Aleppo, near Damascus and other areas, where government forces had to fight against terrorists and extremists, are keeping mum about the tragedy of Deir ez-Zor’s civilians. It’s as if they have been shut off and the issue in principle does not exist anymore.
We hope that the international meeting on a Syria settlement in Astana on January 23 will help consolidate the ceasefire regime in Syria and create a favourable atmosphere for launching an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue in Geneva under the auspices of the UN based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the corresponding decisions of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012.

January 23 Syria talks in Astana

I would like to tell you about two questions journalists often ask. The first concerns an alleged postponement of the Astana meeting. We are preparing for a January 23 meeting. Should there be any changes, the co-organisers and sponsors of this process will make the announcement straight away. I suggest that you rely on official information rather than reprint rumours from unidentified sources, which is counterproductive.
The second question concerns foreign journalists’ attendance of the January 23 events. You can apply for accreditation on the website of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan http://mfa.kz/index.php/ru/press-tsentr/akkreditatsiya-zarubezhnykh-smi/perechen-neobkhodimykh-dokumentov-dlya-akkreditatsii.
The required documents marked “Accreditation” are to be emailed to accreditation@mfa.kz. For any other information, phone +7 (7172) 720424.
Please book your flight and accommodation on your own.
Our Kazakh partners are prepared to help you book hotels at a discount and will also organise transfer from the hotels to the main event venue.

Opening of Russia’s Consulate General in Hurghada, Egypt

The opening ceremony of Russia’s Consulate General in Hurghada, Egypt, is scheduled for January 22. The consulate has been established by decision of the Russian Government taken in keeping with a relevant agreement with our Egyptian partners. The ceremony will be attended by representatives of the Russian Embassy in Cairo, Egyptian officials and representatives of the local government, as well as Russians who live in this part of Egypt.
The consulate already provides consultations to Russian and foreign nationals on citizenship matters, notary certification, legalisation and other issues. The consulate will provide the entire range of consular services as soon as the passport and visa equipment is installed, including the issue of passports to Russian citizens and Russian entry visas to foreigners.
I would like to remind you that our Consular Department has a website and social media accounts. I would like to recommend that those for whom this information is relevant first of all use the website of our consular service in Egypt.

Terrorist attack in Mali

According to updates, some 60 servicemen have been killed and over 100 wounded in the January 18 attack by suicide bombers at a military camp in Gao in northeast Mali. The authorities have declared three days of national mourning.
We strongly condemn this heinous crime perpetrated in an attempt to destabilise the situation in Mali and undermine the ongoing internal settlement process.
We support the Mali authorities’ efforts to maintain stability and to reach national accord based on the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation.
We express our sympathy and condolences over the death of Mali citizens in this terrorist attack.

Accidental bombing of a refugee camp in Nigeria

The media have reported that a Nigerian Air Force fighter jet on a mission against Boko Haram extremists operating in Sub-Saharan Africa accidentally bombed a refugee camp in northeast Nigeria on January 17, killing 52 and wounding 120 people.
Moscow supports the counterterrorism efforts of the Lake Chad Basin countries, including Nigeria. We regret that the tragic accident in Nigeria has resulted in civilian casualties.

Tensions in the Gambia

In light of growing tensions in the Republic of the Gambia and inadequate security guarantees, the Russian Embassy in the Republic of Senegal and the Gambia recommends that Russians refrain from visiting this country.

Obama presidency impact on Russian-American relations

As you may know, the new US President, Donald Trump, is to be inaugurated on January 20. This offers hope that the tensions in Russian-US relations that were engineered by the former Obama team will be supplanted. In recent days, we have heard a lot about Russia, particularly on the foreign policy track, from the US administration and its representatives. Apart from the inauguration, today is the last day for the outgoing administration. It seems that the statements made by foreign policy officials – our colleagues, or our partners, as we call them – over the past few days present an occasion to sum up the relations between our two countries during Barack Obama’s eight years in power. There is a lot to talk about, and so I’ll take the time to talk about it.
The results, regrettably, are lamentable. The outgoing Democratic team has consciously ruined bilateral relations, allowing them to fall to Cold War levels. Moreover, this approach has continued to its final day and even continues in its last hours in an attempt to batter their foundation.
In retrospect, it will be recalled that it was Barack Obama who declared a reset in and an all-out development of relations with Russia at the start of his first term of office in 2009. At a certain stage, we managed to sign a number of important bilateral agreements, including the START Treaty (2010).
But our partnership didn’t last long. While in word promising to cooperate respectfully, Washington really envisioned a style of cooperation that looked more like the leader and the led. This is the approach that the White House is accustomed to using with the Western European countries. When it became clear that it would not work with Russia, the US began to fear that we would strengthen our position in the world and began steering towards a confrontation, which, among other things, included using various forms of pressure.
I would like to stress in particular that this began well before the events in Ukraine. Everything that was later covered up and explained by Crimea, Donbass and so on, had nothing to do with reality. We expressed this on many occasions. I can cite several examples: the anti-Russian Magnitsky Act of December 2012; we also recall that, even before the events in Ukraine, US secret services launched a real hunt for Russians in third countries. The most notorious case in point is the abduction of Viktor Bout, but there were another 27 Russian nationals who fell victim to this vile game thereafter. US secret services and the administration were acting on the sly: they did not advise Russian law enforcement about the grievances against our fellow citizens (although the laws needed for this were in place) but they abducted them during their travels abroad.
Washington even avoided consultations on a joint effort against cybercrime, although 60 per cent of the said arrests in third countries were related to accusations of stealing credit card data or account fraud. Russia regularly and repeatedly offered proposals to cooperate in this area. Similarly, they were reluctant to go along with us on other issues on the bilateral agenda.
Still fresh in our memory were attempts to discredit the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi (incidentally, this was also before Crimea), which were made both shortly before and directly during the Olympics. Later this took the form of an unprecedented public harassment campaign directed against Russia’s entire sports organisation. Symptomatically, the US Anti-Doping Agency played first string in attempts to cut Russian athletes from international competitions. Let me remind you that the USADA is financed by the US.
The coup in Kiev three years ago, in which the Obama administration was involved, put everything in the right perspective in our relations with it. Since the Obama administration openly proclaimed a policy for the systematic containment of Russia, our American partners have suspended many communication channels, including the Bilateral Presidential Commission and its 21 working groups.
Using sanctions to pressure Russia, Washington has imposed or expanded various restrictions against Russia 35 times under a variety of pretexts since 2014. The United States has blacklisted 172 Russian citizens and 350 legal entities, including Russia’s leading companies in energy, the defence industry and the financial sector.
To justify this policy, they have invented a completely unsubstantiated thesis about Russia’s “aggressive behaviour” and unleashed a powerful propaganda campaign to support it. The United States used this pretext to build up the Pentagon’s and NATO capabilities on the Russian border, continued with BMD deployment and carried out other military preparations. We have talked about this in detail and have provided our views on it. Acting within this policy, which has been undermining European and global security, the White House referred to the Baltic countries and Poland as “frontline states,” as if they seriously believed that a military confrontation with Russia was possible.
Initially, Washington’s policy of isolating Russia caused only misunderstanding. It was difficult to take the stated objectives seriously, and we were right, because this policy suffered a crushing defeat. But they provided a philosophical and politological basis for their defeat. US Secretary of State John Kerry said while on a visit in Moscow that the United States cannot do without Russia in tackling international issues. It took them only a few years – not decades – to invent an isolation concept, attempts to implement it and then explain why it failed.
I would like to provide proof of the absurdity of this concept: over 14 months from May 2015 to July 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Russia four times at his initiative. Also, 66 of the 70 telephone conversations with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were held at his request last year alone, at the height of Russia’s alleged isolation. I wonder how many telephone conversations we could have had if the situation in bilateral relations were close to normal.
However, our attempts to work with the United States on some international issues were complicated by the Obama Administration’s inconsistency. For example, Washington kept advancing new demands regarding Syria but failed to implement its commitment to separate the so-called moderate opposition from the terrorist groups. They had more than enough time to do this. The United States made this commitment a year ago, but as you know, it has not implemented it. On the contrary, instead of following through on White House pledges to proceed towards a peaceful settlement, they did their best to protect the terrorists from strikes and even supplied weapons to them, including Jabhat al-Nusra. They planned to use the terrorists to overthrow the government in Damascus. Mind you, we are not talking about imaginary moderates but a combat division of al-Qaeda, an organisation that killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. Under American law, support for terrorists is a serious crime. Americans have all heard about the alleged Russian hackers, but nobody knows that the US administration supported an organisation that killed Americans.
The state of affairs in the economy was no better. Washington’s targeted efforts provided all the opportunities for this purpose, using all available leverage on the international scene to make life more difficult for Russian economic operators and the entire Russian economy. You may recall that Barack Obama noted with satisfaction some time later that the Russian economy was “in tatters.” Of course, this could have been true, but I would like to say that leading US companies did not want to leave the Russian market despite the White House’s insistence. It proved impossible to engineer Russia’s complete isolation even within the United States, although bilateral economic relations were damaged. As you understand, we had to do something. So, we took advantage of the emerging situation to promote our own economic development agenda and diversified our global trade ties.
It should be specially noted that, several years ago, the Obama administration started exerting routine pressure on Russian diplomatic missions in the United States. Unfortunately, attempts by the secret service to recruit Russian officials became an extremely unpleasant part of the daily routine. Last year, out of the blue, came a ban on Russian diplomatic missions using some of  their vehicles, including large-capacity buses, which lasted for several months. This was followed by toughening the regulations for the stay of official Russian delegations in the United States: now they had to notify the US Department of State about any trips outside the 25-mile (41-kilometre) zone around Russia’s diplomatic missions. Just think how much this limited their opportunities.
We are now discussing this openly. All this time, we tried to cooperate constructively with the US Department of State on all these issues. This was our day-to-day work which involved the Russian Embassy and the Foreign Ministry, and continued during talks between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State. We raised and discussed all these issues. On the other hand, we do perceive a desire of State Department representatives to sort things out; many of their efforts proved sincere but were blocked  at the administration level. Our work became increasingly difficult.
In 2013, US authorities began to persecute American citizens planning to take part in introductory tours organised by the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo). As you may remember, we have discussed this issue in the past. The FBI began to summon them for interrogations and openly intimidate them. In January 2016, US authorities went as far as to strip five of the six Russian honourary consuls of their accreditation in various states. These honourary consuls also helped expand bilateral ties, conducted practical work and maintained cooperation involving ordinary people. That is the environment in which we had to work.
It is also hard to assess from positions of common sense the russophobic hysteria that began to be incited in the US in the run-up to the presidential election. The US presidential election is a special factor and a special stage in bilateral Russian-US relations. In the summer of 2016, the White House leaked groundless accusations of Russia interfering in the election campaign and information about “Russian hackers” allegedly tampering with servers, websites, etc. to the media. The media and US secret services incited this all the time through “leaks” and through reports published by their “pocket” media. They forced the public to consume this media concoction involving pseudo-facts.
After the November 8 vote, as I see it, the Obama administration just went over the edge. One had the impression that they had decided to vent their entire wrath on us. It was not simply a conceptual story, where we were a factor in their political infighting. No sir, it was base household vengeance that admitted of all expedients. And the whole reason was that the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost the election. This was done in order to maximally complicate things for the President-elect, Donald Trump, and call into question his victory. All of that, in our view, assumed morbid forms. Lies and not just concoctions about “hacking” and “Moscow’s stolen election” were pouring in torrents.
We have yet another version. Among other things, all of this might have been done and continues in the same vein today because the Democrats want to vindicate themselves before the numerous sponsors of their campaign. That campaign was not simply expensive: it was one of the costliest or even the costliest in history. A huge amount of money was circulating in the race. The mainstream media were trying to leave people in no doubt that Clinton and no other was to win. This was being done to attract even more money. Now they have to give an account to their donors. Some unseemly things are coming to the surface, like improper use of the media, plants and suppression of information. They have to bear not only moral but also financial responsibility before these people. But they always have an answer at the ready as to who is to blame. That’s right, Russia is to blame. Many millions of dollars were invested in the hope of future political and commercial dividends. Of course, they have to acquit themselves. But regardless of their motives, additional serious damage was done on purpose to our relations, primarily to the trust between our countries and peoples.
The expulsion from the United States of 35 Russian diplomats on New Year’s Eve and the barring of access to the Russian Embassy’s and the Russia UN Mission’s recreational facilities enjoying diplomatic immunity (for they have no other status under the law) is a story apart. This is a case of actual confiscation of property that is owned by the Russian government and enjoys diplomatic immunity, which is a gross violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
As you may know, we have decided to refrain from a mirror-like response to these totally inadequate escapades. But the principle of reciprocity in diplomacy is still in effect. The Obama administration’s behaviour is so absurd and shameful for such a great country as the United States that one is hard put to associate these convulsive actions with what the American people stand for.
We sincerely regret that the Obama presidency, particularly its second term, was a period of lost opportunities for bilateral relations. It did little good for the rest of the world as well, with instability increasing over the past eight years, including because of Washington’s reckless moves.
We would like to hope that following the changes in the White House it will become possible to reverse the dangerous trend towards decay in Russian-American ties and lead our relations out of the nosedive where they were sent by Barack Obama. We expect the new administration to display wisdom and willingness for a normal pragmatic dialogue, for which Russia has always been ready.

The situation with Russian recreation facility in Oyster Bay

I would like to note that according to our data and press reports, unidentified persons, accompanied by the police, broke the locks on the fence and entered the property. All this is clearly a violation of diplomatic immunity and ownership rights, and it is also a very dangerous trend that generally violates all the existing norms and ideas regarding the legality of the authorities’ actions.
Let me reiterate, we will monitor the situation, and we will definitely comment on it as soon as we get updates.   

Statement by US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power

And the last remark to wrap up the topic. I cannot leave this without comment because to a large extent the actions taken by our American colleagues regarding Russia were based on unreasonably high ambitions, and at times it simply looked like ignorance. This is confirmed by a recent statement by US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power. She claims that the United States “defeated the forces of fascism and communism” and “now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.”  
Let us get this straight. She referred to four phenomena. Who defeated fascism? This claim is made by a person who works at the United Nations, which was established by the international community following the outcome of World War II. Isn’t it embarrassing to make such a claim? What about the anti-Hitler coalition and its members’ contribution? Is it the US alone that defeated Nazism? She should have said that they defeated fascism on their territory to testify to her total ignorance.
The United States “defeated the forces of communism.” The UNSC has 15 chairs around its table with five of them occupied by permanent members.  Every day Samantha Power faces the Permanent Representative of China. She might at least have wondered how big the membership of the Communist Party in that country is, so as not to feel embarrassed to enter the UNSC. 
Now they “confront the forces of authoritarianism.” So much has been voiced during the election race! The administration was totally engaged in the US presidential election. We watched all that, there is nothing to hide. All the administrative backup was aimed at one thing – Hillary Clinton’s victory. I wonder if Samantha Power knows which countries made contributions to the Clinton Foundation? This is regarding confronting the forces of authoritarianism. Or maybe she believes they are fighting authoritarianism by getting money from it? The list of countries should be made public, and then it will become absolutely clear with whom the US cooperates and from whom the Democratic presidential candidate gets the funding.
I don’t even want to comment on confronting the forces of nihilism. It is nothing but historical and philosophical obscurantism to claim that the world’s largest country is fighting nihilism; this is beyond comment.      
Those claims have cleared up a lot of things.

Persisting violations of migrant rights in EU countries

We have noticed the information coming from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, that recorded 503,700 attempts to illegally cross European Union borders in 2016. Most of these people, 364,000 of 503,700, arrived in EU countries via the Mediterranean Sea.
We would like to note that, despite the reduced migrant traffic via the Aegean Sea, the situation in the central Mediterranean region remains tense. In 2016, 181,000 people arrived via Libya in Italy alone last year from Nigeria, Eritrea, Guinea and other African countries; this is 20 per cent more than 2015 levels. And this figure includes 24,000 unattended minors. Of course, this is the most vulnerable category in need of special attention and protection, so that it will not be victimised by organised crime. They arrive in another country absolutely illegally and completely unattended. Doubtless, a tragic fate awaits most of these children.
Obviously, illegal migration via the Mediterranean will continue through 2017, and could lead to new violations and fatalities. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 219 people died since early January 2017.
We would also like to voice our regret in connection with the absolute sluggishness of the concerned agencies of the EU member-states, including Germany, that have failed to review about 943,000 requests by asylum-seekers in a timely manner. As a result, people have to live in uncomfortable and degrading conditions while waiting for a decision. We urge our European partners to honour their obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
We would like to once again recall that the migration situation has been aggravated by an irresponsible and ill-conceived policy aiming to destabilise states and replace undesirable governments in the Middle East and North Africa. Only a revision of this policy and the attainment of peace and stability in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and other countries can significantly change the situation for the better.

Anti-Russia insinuations in the context of talks on a Cyprus political settlement

We have reacted with dismay to comments by some Cypriot media outlets in the context of the recent conference on a Cyprus political settlement in Geneva. For example, some stories claim that Russia is allegedly trying to prevent the island’s reunification. According to the logic of these media outlets, EU-Turkey rapprochement, as well as EU-NATO cooperation that has been blocked by the unresolved situation at the talks between the two Cypriot communities, allegedly don’t meet Russian interests.
We clearly see the discontent of certain pro-US and pro-UK political circles with the principled Russian stand implying that ready-made prescriptions and artificial haste should not be imposed on the parties to the Cypriot conflict to quickly achieve a final resolution to the Cypriot issue at any cost.
In this connection, we would like to once again emphasise our conviction that a long-term and lasting resolution to the Cypriot issue is only possible if it reflects the political will of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and if it is accepted by the entire population of the island. To the best of our knowledge, the leaders of both Cypriot communities agree with this precept. This is simply common sense.
Claims about any Russian attempts to block, obstruct or hamper the negotiating process are not backed by fact and are unreasonable.
We would like to note that anti-Russia insinuations are like a “smokescreen” for obscuring the real problems that need to be resolved in a Cypriot political settlement. For example, Russia only maintains a cultural-humanitarian and economic presence in Cyprus. At the same time, sovereign UK bases are still maintained on the island under the 1960 Zurich-London agreements. This is an obvious anachronism in the current situation. However, the Western press does not consider this situation in any way, and we are not seeing any mood of protest in the Western media.
Russia successfully develops its relations with the Republic of Cyprus in various areas, and we are confident that these relations will continue to be strengthened in the event of the island’s reunification. We know that Cypriot leaders advocate the sustained development of bilateral cooperation. We believe that anti-Russia comments by a number of media outlets do not benefit this process and do not meet the interests of the Cypriots themselves. We hope that the Cypriot authorities will respond accordingly.

Alleged Russian involvement in cyberattacks against the OSCE

Unfortunately, a new page has been added to the unprecedented campaign to discredit Russia in the eyes of the global public.
Washington tried to explain its losses by blaming the alleged Russian high-tech intervention in the US election system. It also did this to shift the image of the top global cyber aggressor from itself to Russia, although we know from materials which have sent many people in the United States to prison who staged cyberattacks and who were the targets. Instead of remorse and ceasing cyber interference in the global information space, some Western countries continue to work to present Russia as a cyber-aggressor country that is a threat to global cyberspace.
We regret that Germany has taken this path too, choosing to follow in the footsteps of its senior partners. In particular, German security services have accused Russia of attacking OSCE servers, an international organisation responsible for security and stability in Europe. How should we respond to this?
I don’t have to tell you that we have not received any response to the official requests we sent to the related organisations in charge of investigating any such incidents. You only find information in the information space, which prompts the conclusion that our partners never had and still have no proof or facts to implicate our alleged crimes.
These accusations sound especially absurd considering that a month ago Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Hamburg, Germany, an action plan aimed at strengthening confidence in the information space. The first measure was to identify ways to improve the OSCE role in resolving cyber incidents and for the OSCE to provide a platform for direct dialogue on this issue.
Russia has proposed many initiatives on international information security over the past years. These include a concept for a UN Convention on International Information Security, the International Code of Conduct for Information Security drafted by the SCO member states, the above action plan for the OSCE and many other documents.
Russia has long urged its partners to adopt a special legal instrument for fighting mercenary cybercrime and cyber bullying.
This could be the universal UN convention on cooperation in fighting information crime, which Russia drafted. The drafted convention includes several provisions on fighting the deliberate abuse of online information, which is, in plain English, hacking.
Russia is ready for any form of cooperation in fighting cyberattacks and has formulated certain proposals in this sphere, whereas the unconstructive Western position is hindering the development of international cooperation in this area. We hope our partners will stop shifting the blame onto us and will instead look at the situation soberly and without bias.

The closure of Russian school in Vilnius

On January 11, the Vilnius City Council adopted a decision to close the Senamesce Russian-language school by merging it with the Lepkalne Russian-Polish School. This is a matter of concern.
The city explained its decision by a need to reform the system in order to ensure quality education in light of the decreasing number of students due to high emigration. However, these arguments do not apply to the Senamesce School, which had some 200 students on the day the decision was taken.
The authorities of ethnic minority schools believe that this education reform will slash the number of Russian and Polish schools and view it as the government’s deliberate offensive against ethnic minority rights to receive an education in their native languages.
We hope that, in addition to Russia, other concerned international organisations that have the mandate to protect the education rights of national minorities will take measures to redress this injustice.

Answers to media questions:
Question: What level of representation will Russia have at the Astana meeting? Which countries have confirmed participation in the meeting?
Maria Zakharova: I can tell you that at this point it is at the expert level. There may be some additions and adjustments but we assume at the expert level. We will give you more details a little later.
As to participation, apart from the co-sponsors, I do not have the final list, as it is still being compiled. Contacts and telephone conversations are being held, in particular by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with his foreign colleagues. Everything is still being worked out. It is time to receive accreditation for the event, to book tickets and hotels. We will definitely inform you as soon as the preparations are completed.
Question: What is your view on settling and resolving a conflict regarding Turkey and Russia’s agreement on US participation? Who will be making a decision on US participation – the present administration or the next one?
Maria Zakharova: The present administration is through. Today will be the last day of the present administration. Unfortunately, its legacy is not so easy to put behind us.
Regarding who is going to take the decision, it is certainly up to the new administration. The main thing I have read in the news is that Donald Trump’s team has responded to possible participation. They said the issue would be considered. As to settling any contradiction, this can be done through diplomacy.
Question: The Republic of Iran will not welcome US participation. Are there any grounds for resolving the issue?
Maria Zakharova:  I think you overdramatise the situation. All the talks and contacts are proceeding constructively. The parties can find common ground. The process should not be overdramitised.
Question: Is there talk of Russia participating in the “blue helmet” mission in Syria?
Maria Zakharova: To be honest, I have never heard of this.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with his Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz yesterday. Did they touch the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement issue? If they did, which particular issues were discussed, taking into consideration Mr Lavrov’s recent statements regarding the absence of consensus within the OSCE on a number of agreements on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Mr Kurz’s forthcoming visit to the region?
Maria Zakharova:  A broad range of issues was discussed which are both on the agenda of the organisation and related to Russia’s participation in its work, thus practically all the issues were covered “in bold strokes.” Since the issue is one of the Organisations’ questions, that was also mentioned. Of course, these are not negotiations but rather a question of broadly cataloguing all the issues on the OSCE agenda in the context of Austria’s forthcoming chairmanship. I do not have any additional information.
Question: On January 13, the Spanish authorities arrested Sergey Lisov, a programmer from Taganrog, in Barcelona following an FBI request. Did the Spanish file any official charges? Is it known what our programmer is accused of? What did Russia do or what is it planning to do in this respect?
Maria Zakharova:  The situation has already been commented on today by Russian officials. Dmitry Peskov shared his views, Konstantin Dolgov also talked about it. I can say that indeed, on January 14, the Russian Consulate General in Barcelona received an official notification from the Spanish authorities that on January 13, Spanish law enforcement agencies arrested Russian citizen Sergey Lisov in Barcelona who was there as a tourist, and who had been placed on the international arrest warrant list by US authorities “for complicity in a criminal group organised to carry out fraudulent acts through electronic media and computer abuse.” At present the Russian citizen is in custody in a pre-trail detention facility in Barcelona. He has been appointed a free government lawyer. On January 17, the arrested Russian national was visited by a Russian consular official.
The Russian Embassy in Madrid and the Consulate General in Barcelona take all the steps needed to protect the legal rights of this Russian citizen. We will inform you of any updates.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that [our] US partners were sent an invitation to attend the Astana meeting. Did the invitation come from Russia, or was it a joint invitation from all participants? Has the US confirmed its participation?
Maria Zakharova: We have not only confirmed that the invitation was sent but that the United States has already received it and confirmed that fact. The United States has not notified us about its participation yet. I have no information that official confirmation has been made. I believe this is a question primarily for the US. Don’t forget that preparations are in full swing now, and work is underway on the meeting’s format and a list of participants. I believe the same goes for US participation from the US perspective. It is not as if everyone is holding their breath to see whether the US will participate and in what capacity. We have work to do. It is going along. A corresponding invitation to the US has been sent. The process is going in the right direction and at this point constructively so. Who did the invitation come from? Of course, it was subject to the co-sponsors’ approval. It is a collective invitation. There is no need to dramatise the rumours circulating in the media. Preparations for the meeting are proceeding constructively. We act on the assumption that the meeting will take place in Astana on January 23.
QuestionTomorrow, a US president will be inaugurated. How do you assess the prospects for cooperation with the new US administration on Afghanistan and the fight against international terrorism in the region?
Maria Zakharova:  On the whole, regarding the whole range of bilateral relations with the United States and our cooperation on major regional issues, there is hope that the corresponding level of contact and cooperation with Washington will be restored. This is a comprehensive issue. However, our expectations are not related to just one particular region. We should be talking about an array of bilateral relations. The fight against terrorism and Afghanistan are some of the most serious issues, as this involves global challenges and threats facing not only our countries but also the rest of the world.
To reiterate and to stress what I said earlier, until the very last day and even until the last hours, we believed that we were ready to work with the outgoing administration on all tracks. It is very important that you understand this. This is why we did not make public many facts and did not dump the dirt that was piling up in the media. We prioritised the development of bilateral relations, including cooperation to address global issues, putting it above our own perception of the way our partners acted. Although we saw that they acted improperly. Understanding that Russian-US cooperation is crucial for the resolution of global international issues, we put that first. Even in November, December and January, we did not get a feeling that we were out of touch with that administration. We are in contact with it until the very last day. We did not give up on contacts, talks or telephone conversations despite the fact that, unfortunately, what our partners often did was this: First they would request a meeting, talk about plans and make constructive proposals and then the moment those contacts were over, literally the same day, they would introduce new sanctions. That is to say, despite the way they were acting recently, we remained committed to constructive engagement regardless of personalities. We did not predicate our relations and our cooperation in the international arena on who is at the helm in the United States. We have to deal with the people of that country. Our responsibility in the international arena as two powers influencing many global processes is great. It is very important to understand this.
Question: Last year you performed the Kalinka dance against the backdrop of a certain political situation. What dance would suit the current environment?
Maria Zakharova:  I dance regardless of the political situation.
Question: Is there any coordination between the meetings in Astana and Geneva? Should we expect agreements in a situation where the political dialogue in Geneva is far from completed?
Maria Zakharova: We should expect a launch of the process in Astana. If this launch is successful, we will be able to move on to agreements and talk about them, so we need to launch the process first.
As for the link between the Astana process and the Geneva meetings, we cannot agree (and we always emphasised this) with the opinion of a number of representatives and political scientists that one process takes precedence over the other. Not at all! We consider these processes as being interdependent and interconnected. We proceed from the assumption that the international meeting in Astana will facilitate the consolidation of the cessation of hostilities and will create a favourable environment for the launch of inclusive intra-Syrian talks, and the dialogue in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. We believe that these processes are links in a chain. There should be no doubt about that.
Question: When you say that Russia will be represented at the expert level, does that mean that even deputy ministers won’t be present? You said that an invitation to the US was made together with co-sponsors. As I understand it, Iran is one of them. Can you please clarify that? Will the talks in Astana conclude on January 23 or do you think they could be extended?
Maria Zakharova: Sending an invitation is a technical issue. I should specify this. Of course, this point was discussed by the co-sponsors, so, as I say, there is no need to be over-dramatise the existence of differences, because the co-sponsors are in contact with each other and can address any issues online. I will clarify how the invitation was sent. To avoid any ambiguity I will tell you this right after the press briefing.
As for the expert level, let’s wait for the counterpart teams to form, and then we will announce the level of these meetings. I can say that it will not be at the ministerial level, but at an expert level.

The Astana meeting is expected to last several days.
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