Briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, September 3, 2015
Inter-Sudanese consultations in Moscow
As part of the Russian initiative on facilitating the normalisation of relations between Sudan and South Sudan, and at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s invitation, Moscow will host Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Sudan Ibrahim Ahmed Ghandour, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan Marial Benjamin Barnaba, on September 9-11.
The central event of their visit to Russia will be a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, Sudan and South Sudan, as well as bilateral inter-Sudanese consultations.
The inter-Sudanese ministerial dialogue in Moscow is unprecedented, and shows that the Sudanese and South Sudanese partners are seriously interested in close cooperation with Russia on issues related to the normalisation of relations between Khartoum and Juba. We hope that in Moscow, the foreign ministers of the two friendly countries will manage to make progress in achieving a final resolution of the disputed issues in their bilateral relations, and to consolidate the format of a constructive dialogue between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.
For the successful advancement of the inter-Sudanese settlement, both sides should persist with joint efforts, including through a political dialogue at the top and high levels, to unblock the “hung-up” issues. This is a key to success. Russia will continue to energetically facilitate this. As we see it, this effort should be based on the bilateral agreements signed in September 2012 and on the relevant resolutions approved by the UN Security Council and the African Union.
Sergey Lavrov will hold bilateral talks with Mr Ghandour and with Mr Barnaba to discuss the entire range of Russian-Sudanese and Russian-South Sudanese multi-level cooperation, with an eye to its further expansion on a mutually beneficial and respectful basis and in the interests of ensuring peace and socioeconomic development of the countries and peoples in this vast African region.
Upcoming 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council
The 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council will be held in Geneva from September 14 to October 2. Its agenda includes a wide range of themed and country-specific issues.
There will be discussions on gender equality, good governance, the rights of indigenous peoples, unilateral coercive measures and the impact of the drug problem on human rights.
The session participants will also hear reports on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Somalia, Central African Republic and other countries.
As decided at the 29th session, the participants will discuss a report by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the High Commissioner for Human Right.
We still consider the Human Rights Council as the leading UN human rights agency. We hold that its key working principle should be interstate cooperation based on respect for sovereign equality. We hope for a productive depoliticised dialogue and mutually acceptable solutions to the most critical issues.
The Russian delegation will be led by Alexey Borodavkin, permanent representative to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva.
The settlement of the grave political crisis in Ukraine remains a major international issue. Russia considers it to be of priority importance.
It has been reported that the Contact Group held a regular meeting on September 1 in the form of a videoconference, during which representatives from Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, Donbass, the Joint Centre on Control and Coordination and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine discussed the implementation of a ceasefire agreement reached by the sides for the beginning of the new academic year.
We are satisfied that the number of ceasefire violations has been declining since August 28, with no violations on September 1. At the same time, we point out that the “silence regime” should remain in place in the future.
The next meeting of the Contact Group is scheduled for September 8. The goal is to encourage all participants to sign a supplement to the February 12 Minsk Package of Measures on the withdrawal of tanks and mortar guns under 120mm and artillery guns under 100mm, as well as а supplement on verification measures.
Another videoconference is scheduled for September 4 to prepare for the upcoming meeting of the Contact Group.
The Normandy Four meeting of foreign ministers is being prepared as agreed by the leaders of Russia, Germany and France. Russia has submitted its proposals in this respect. We hope the meeting takes place as soon as next week.
Of course, a key issue in the settlement of the situation in southeastern Ukraine is its political component, namely the establishment of a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements with regard to constitutional reform in Ukraine.
In this context, it is essential to reiterate the key provisions of the Minsk Agreements, which are recorded clearly and are not subject to interpretation, let alone distortion. The point is that amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution regarding the status of Donbass should be agreed upon with these territories and include concrete elements of decentralisation. These elements involve the status of the Russian language and special economic opportunities for the said regions, among many others. To repeat, all of this should be written in the Ukrainian Constitution, subject to approval by Donetsk and Lugansk.
However, instead, the Ukrainian authorities have inserted in the draft constitution a phrase in the so-called interim provisions, which are of a temporary character, to the effect that some special local self-government procedure can be established in certain parts of Ukraine, defined by some separate law.
It is surprising that in discussing the draft constitutional reform, instead of promoting a nationwide debate in Ukraine, for some reason, Kiev has again started pointing its finger at the Russian side, claiming that “Moscow is jittery,” “the Kremlin is irked by the constitutional amendments,” “the Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected the Ukrainian constitutional reform,” and so on.
We state with a full sense of responsibility that Moscow wants only one thing, specifically the peaceful settlement of the situation in southeastern Ukraine and the unreserved fulfilment of the obligations that Kiev has assumed under the Minsk Agreements, including the implementation of genuine, not sham reform.
For our part, to the best of our ability, we are prepared and determined to provide the maximum possible assistance to this process.
Regarding the upcoming local elections in Ukraine, including in the southeast of the country, as you know, elections are the most effective expression of people’s will, an indicator of the public mood. It is undemocratic to prevent this expression, let alone ban elections.
We have to draw attention to the fact that amid the generally more dynamic and constructive discussion of the situation in Ukraine at international platforms, bellicose statements are again being heard in Kiev; decisions are being made aimed at escalating the internal Ukrainian conflict; there are attempts to shift the responsibility for unleashing the civil war in the southeast of the country on others and to further complicate Russia-Ukraine relations. Thus, the Ukrainian military doctrine, which was recently approved by the National Security and Defense Council, declares Russia the main threat to the country and there are plans to redeploy the Ukrainian Armed Forces to the east and southeast of the country. Such an irresponsible policy is unlikely to help the consolidation of Ukrainian society.
Nor are US-Ukrainian naval exercises in the Black Sea conducive to peace in the region.
To reiterate, the extremely acute crisis in Ukraine can only be resolved by peaceful means, based on the faithful implementation of the Minsk Agreements by all parties to the internal Ukrainian conflict, through the consolidated and coordinated efforts of the international community.
Russia is ready for this.
Investigation into the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash and the court ruling on the lawsuit by the CORRECT!V newsroom
Russia is committed to implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2166, which it initiated. This document emphasises the need to hold a comprehensive, independent and thorough international investigation into the crash, and ensure, based on its results, that those responsible for this crime are held accountable.
Russia is looking forward to a thorough and impartial international investigation into the Malaysia Airlines Boeing crash.
That said, Russia has some serious questions in this respect.
Among them is the fact that evidence is poor, while Russia has been stripped of any meaningful role in the investigation. Specifically, Russian experts were denied equal and full access to materials that the international technical investigation group and the international criminal investigation group had. Ukraine failed to produce recordings of radio conversations between military air traffic control officers who oversaw the MH17 flight on the day of the crash, or data on missile complexes in the Ukrainian army, their movements on the days preceding and following the crash and the launches of ground-to-air and air-to-air missiles. The fact that Ukrainian radio location stations stepped up their operations back then was also left unexplained.
Russia’s proposals to organise an international investigation in such a way as to make it as transparent as possible by using UN Security Council mechanisms were blocked. Repeated calls by Russia to engage the Council in overseeing the implementation of its Resolution 2166 were constantly ignored. The UN Secretary General failed to report to the Security Council on the possible options for supporting the investigation despite provisions to this effect in Resolution 2166.
The list of questions regarding the investigation that Russia circulated on a number of occasions, including in the Security Council, has been left without any articulated response.
Conclusions on the Boeing crash by experts of Almaz-Antey, the developer of the Buk anti-aircraft missile system, have been expressly ignored alongside other evidence supporting hypotheses that run counter to those put forward by the West and Ukraine.
Moreover, the large-scale media onslaught against Russia by western media outlets continues, with groundless accusations implicating Russia in the incident. The investigation is thus taking place against an extremely negative media background, leading to questions as to whether an independent and unbiased investigation is even possible. We view all these developments as putting pressure on the investigative bodies.
The recent stove-piping by a number of western media, with reposts on the international investigation getting a hand on fragments of a Buk missile that had been allegedly used in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing, is telling. With these new fragments, so many new questions emerge: where did they come from, why has information about them surfaced only now, why does the investigation led by The Netherlands refuse to rely on Almaz-Antey’s expertise? Overall, does anything prove that these fragments actually came from the crash site?
With that in mind, the initiative by a number of western countries to set up an international tribunal on the MH17 crash in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter seems premature and counterproductive. The available examples of tribunals under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) and ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) prove that such institutions tend to be inefficient, costly, take too much time and are highly politicised and biased. It goes without saying that any court proceedings based on objectionable investigation results are doomed to fail. Russia strongly believes that at this stage, what matters most is conducting an investigation into the Boeing crash, not hastily setting up an international tribunal at any cost.
Not so long ago a German court sustained a lawsuit by Berlin-based investigative newsroom CORRECT!V against the country’s Foreign Ministry with respect to dangers for civil air service over Ukraine after Kiev failed to close the airspace in the area where hostilities were taking place in Donbass. This corroborates once again Russia’s long-time claim that Ukraine bears much of the blame for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing, since its authorities did not close the airspace in the area were hostilities were taking place. The Ukrainian authorities are thus guilty of culpable negligence in terms of managing air traffic over their territory, which resulted in a violation of the 1947 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.
It is also worth noting that unlike most of the international community, a national court of a major western power (opposing Russia on the Ukrainian issue and engaged in an anti-Russian campaign of sanctions and propaganda) was unable to overlook the fact that Ukraine was responsible for the Boeing incident.
Terrorist attacks in Yemen
Yesterday, a suicide bomber committed a terrorist attack in a Shiite mosque located in the western district of Sana'a during an evening prayer, killing 32 and wounding 98, the Yemeni news agency Saba reported.
The Red Cross convoy came under gunfire on the Sa’dah-Sana’a road, losing two Yemenis employees.
We express our deep concern over these two recent terrorist attacks and express our condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
We call for an immediate end to the violence in Yemen between all conflicting sides and fully support the peace efforts by UN Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed designed to overcome the Yemeni crisis.
ISIS group reportedly used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria again
Recently, many reports have been coming from various, including government, sources in a number of countries, regarding the use of toxic substances by ISIS rebels and other terrorist groups against the government forces and civilians in Iraq and Syria.
As compared with 2013, when the anti-government forces used toxic substances for military, terrorist and provocative purposes for the first time in Syria, the situation has worsened markedly. The use by Islamists of toxic substances in military operations has taken on a massive, systematic and cross-border nature, and is now being taken to a more sophisticated technological level where they may develop weapons-grade chemical warfare agents. We know this from information about ISIS gaining access to R&D papers for the production of chemical weapons, the capture of chemical enterprises, and ISIS hiring foreign specialists to work on synthesising chemical warfare agents.
There is a risk of these terrorist activities spilling outside Syria and Iraq and, in the worst case scenario, outside the Middle East region.
The likelihood of non-state actors, primarily terrorist groups, gaining access to military chemical capabilities that are banned by the corresponding convention is not only extremely dangerous in and of itself, but can also destabilise the entire Middle East.
In this regard, we consider it necessary that the UN Security Council properly responds to these threats. The UN and OPCW can no longer remain aloof about cross-border terrorist activities involving the use of chemical weapons.
US escalates military presence in Europe under pretext of 'Russian threat'
We have to state that the United States continues to foment the idea of the "Russian military threat." Recently, US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter repeated this again for fear-mongering purposes. Let's see how things really are. All of these groundless accusations against Russia are used by Washington to cover up re-deploying its troops and materiel to Europe and concentrating them outside our borders.
The Pentagon has been steadily expanding its presence in Eastern Europe, including the Baltic countries. The number of American troops, aircraft and heavy armoured vehicles there is growing. The appropriate infrastructure is expanding. US warships are almost always present in the Black Sea. Led by the US staff, NATO military exercises are being conducted near the Russian border on an ongoing basis, and Russia is openly called a potential enemy.
Ashton Carter recently stated that NATO is "an anchor of global security." The claim for the "global" role of the North Atlantic Alliance was made public openly and officially. Frankly, this "anchor" looks more like a stone around the neck of global security.
Meanwhile, preparations are underway to deploy in Romania in the coming months and in Poland in 2018 ground-based US anti-missile batteries capable of not only intercepting missiles, but also launching cruise missiles. In addition, the US military have firmly entrenched in Ukraine, which is a gross violation by Kiev of Paragraph 10 of the Minsk Agreements of February 12.
This alarming trend has much in common with the American policies of the Cold War era and is destructive. Washington and its allies cause direct damage to international security, not to mention a clear violation of NATO commitments about restraints in deploying combat forces on the territories of new NATO members.
Of course, we have to be mindful of the US military preparations against Russia, including in Europe, in our defence planning. We cannot be intimidated. International public opinion about who exactly provokes tensions can be deceived, but not for long. And then again, why do this? We have real global crises on our plate, such as rising international terrorism, etc. We hope that Washington will come to realise that such a policy is wrongful and leads nowhere.
Italian media publishes articles on space weaponisation
We took note of an article published in the August 29 edition of the Italian daily Avvenire, which asserts that Russia, China and the United States had entered a race for military dominance in outer space. The readers of the article might have the impression that this race was spearheaded by Russia and China, and the United States was compelled to respond to it so as not to be left behind.
In fact, preventing an arms race in outer space is a primary goal of Russian foreign policy. In 2004, unilaterally, we made a commitment not to be the first to deploy weapons in space. We keep working on making this a global initiative. Ten countries have already joined it. The fact that the Russian UN General Assembly resolution on the matter was supported last year serves as confirmation that our efforts are positively assessed by the vast majority of countries. Notably, the United States was almost the only nation that voted against it, whereas EU members abstained.
In addition to our efforts to globalise the political commitment to not being first to deploy weapons in outer space, we, in conjunction with our Chinese partners, are actively promoting the idea of signing a legally binding treaty to prevent the deployment of weapons in space. We seek an early start of negotiations on the Russian-Chinese draft treaty at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
Finally, since 2005, upon the initiative of Russia and China, the UN General Assembly has been adopting, on an annual basis, a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space.
In addition, Russia has consistently supported, at UN General Assembly sessions, the annual resolution by Egypt and Sri Lanka on preventing the arms race in outer space. By the way, the United States, along with two or three other countries, votes against it each time.
It’s a pity that the Italian newspaper took up the space theme without putting much effort into sorting out the international political aspects of this issue. The article would have benefitted from it, and the readers would have received a more complete and unbiased picture.
EU visa information system
In addition to the July 20 press release stating that the EU Visa Information System (VIS) will be established in Russia on September 14, 2015, we announce the following.
According to the EU Mission in Moscow, almost all countries that are signatories to the Schengen Agreement cooperate with external service providers to ensure the effective collection of visa applications across the Russian Federation. There already exist joint visa centres in many cities that provide services on behalf of several Schengen countries. In addition, representation mechanisms (whereby a consulate accepts Schengen visa applications on behalf of other countries) have been established in Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Murmansk, Petrozavodsk, Pskov, Sovetsk and St Petersburg, among other cities. At the same time, Schengen zone countries are ready to consider the possibility of opening new visa centres.
The Mission notes that service at visa centres is conducted either on a first-come, first-served basis or by appointment. According to the EU, regardless of which option is used, applicants rarely spend more than half an hour in submitting their applications, including the collection of fingerprints. Schengen countries are obligated to ensure the possibility of submitting an application directly at consulates for all applicants but, as a general rule, by appointment and during specified working hours.
In accordance with the EU Visa Code, a visa application is to be examined and a decision made on it by the consulate of the Schengen Agreement member country in whose jurisdiction an applicant resides. Nevertheless, Schengen countries that use external service providers may allow applicants to submit visa documents at a visa centre anywhere in the country, but the package will be sent for examination to the consulate in whose jurisdiction an applicant resides. This information should be ascertained with the respective Schengen member country.
In accordance with the EU Visa Code, the visa fee at a visa centre may not exceed 30 euros.
The VIS is shared by all the Schengen states. Once fingerprints are collected upon application at any Schengen consulate in the world and saved in the VIS, the consulates of all other Schengen countries will have access to them (for example, based on the visa form number) and they will be copied for subsequent visa applications within 59 months. Consulates may ask an applicant for his or her fingerprints to be collected again only if there is reasonable doubt about the applicant’s identity or if it is technically impossible to copy fingerprints. An applicant may also be asked for his or her fingerprints to be taken if there is no immediate confirmation that his or her fingerprints had been collected over the past five years.
BRICS virtual secretariat
On July 9, 2015, the website of the BRICS virtual secretariat was launched at the BRICS summit in Ufa.
The BRICS virtual secretariat is a free resource available in the public domain the purpose of which is to provide comprehensive coverage of the association’s activities. It operates as its official site and as a source of reliable information about BRICS activities.
The newswire is available in English and Russian. Since the site was launched, over 500 news and analytical items have been posted on it. The media in the BRICS countries as well as other countries are continuously monitored and the most interesting materials are posted on the site. There is a section on documents adopted at BRICS summits and ministerial meetings.
The BRICS virtual secretariat site is available at: http://infobrics.org/
From answers to questions:
Question: Could you comment on the recent statement by the former commander of US troops in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who advised Washington to attract some “moderate” militants from the Jabhat al-Nusra group to join the US-led forces against the so-called Islamic State? This is a very strange proposal, especially from a high-ranking US officer.
Maria Zakharova:I haven’t seen this report yet, nor have I read a direct quotation from David Petraeus.
Russia’s position has always been and remains consistent and simple: terrorists must not be divided into “good” and “bad.” Certainly, it is necessary to work with opposition representatives, and that’s what we have been doing in Moscow in the context of Syrian settlement. But it is unacceptable to divide terrorists into “good guys,” who may be recruited for regime change, and “bad guys,” who must be killed and persecuted. This is a vicious practice, and not simply because it fails to meet high standards and because it contradicts international law. It simply doesn’t work and leads to a dead end.
There are grand theories and there is practice. But if it were possible to cite at least one example of successful experience by our American colleagues in bringing closer those who are “necessary” and “useful” and distancing “harmful” terrorists, if this practice had worked anywhere over the past few decades – in various regions of the world (whether the Middle East or Afghanistan), it would have been wonderful. But it has failed everywhere. Moreover, colossal preconditions were created for international terrorism to spread across the globe.
That’s why, when it comes to “flirting” with terrorists, to lining them up in formations moving in the necessary direction, we have always warned that extreme caution is needed so as not to fall into the trap in which our American colleagues, Western countries and those who supported them within the context of all sorts of illegitimate coalitions, find themselves from time to time. Dividing terrorists into “good” and “bad” and flirting with them is a dead end.
Question: Could you comment on media reports stating that the Islamic Party of Turkestan, a terrorist organisation, is relocating Uigurs from parts of China where terrorist activity is also on the rise to parts of Syria and Iraq, from where native residents are being deported.
Maria Zakharova: Regarding the relocation of citizens from various countries and their recruitment for the “Islamic State”, I advise you to remember the well-known thesis, namely that terrorism has no individual identity and no borders; it unites criminals from all over the world regardless of their nationality, religion, citizenship, and so on. People are ready to abandon the most sacred things and act under the banners of international terrorist organisations.
As you know, people from different regions are joining the ranks of the “Islamic State”. It is a delusion to think that ISIS unites only representatives of the Middle East and Islamic world. There are representatives of Asia, Europe and all parts of the world among members of this group, as terrorists actively use propaganda methods and mass communication tools. One can only envy how effectively they organise their information work, using all opportunities provided by modern technology. With their simple slogans and primitive ideas, which are close to the hearts of many negatively-minded individuals, they are indeed luring people from all over the world into their nets.
There is no doubt about this. Regarding the case that you mentioned, we need to check this information.
Question: In his interview with Interfax yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said that the issue of the Kuril Islands in the Russian-Japanese talks on a peace treaty has been closed. Does this mean a change in Russia’s position?
Maria Zakharova:Thank you for citing Mr Morgulov’s interview with Interfax. I would like to refer everyone to this interview on the issue that you have mentioned. It spells out the Russian position in no uncertain terms and I have nothing to add to this.
Question: What is the status of the efforts to agree upon the specific opposition groups that will negotiate with the Syrian authorities? Have the four subgroups to monitor this process been formed? As is known, proposals were made regarding the specific opposition groups to be agreed on. Is Russia coordinating these efforts with Saudi Arabia, the United States or other countries?
Maria Zakharova:It is difficult for me to speak about status, as we do not build our contacts with Damascus and various Syrian opposition groups on a stage-by-stage basis. To us, this is a process that involves both individual contacts with representatives of a particular opposition group and efforts to establish dialogue between Damascus and representatives of opposition groups. This process also includes talks with our foreign colleagues, who are major players on this issue. I can say that this work is intense, which is borne out by the schedule and the intensity of contacts in Moscow. At the same time, we also work with our foreign partners. The recent contacts between the deputy foreign ministers of Russia and the United States also corroborate this. Let’s speak not about status but rather about intensity. The intensity of the ongoing contacts gives cause for optimism regarding a positive outcome.
Question: As is known, the towns of Kefraya and al-Fouaa in the outskirts of Idlib in northern Syria are constantly affected by the hostilities, and occasionally find themselves encircled. What role could the UN Security Council play at this time? There a risk of seeing these towns becoming completely destroyed and the armed opposition groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey starting a genocide. What can be done to save these towns?
Maria Zakharova: Our efforts are part of Russia’s proposal to establish a broad-based coalition to combat the terrorist threat in this region. This concept was advanced by President Putin, and has two sides to it – integration and the consolidation of the efforts of everyone who is fighting terrorism on the ground, and a political process. Our efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict should unfold within this initiative, which is exactly what we are doing now.
Question: Recently, mass media reported that Syria had allegedly accommodated Russian military aircraft on its territory. Is that true?
Maria Zakharova: I saw this information and comments provided by our Defence Ministry and the presidential spokesman. Both disavowed this information. I have nothing to add to that.
I would like to repeat and emphasise that sensational statements about expanding or, conversely, contracting military and technical cooperation between Russia and Syria are made fairly frequently. We can see these publications appear in different parts of the world, and they always try to make a scoop out of it. During our briefings, meetings with journalists and all of my interviews, I, just like our ministry’s senior officials, say that we have never made a secret out of it. It is part of our consistent policy to provide assistance to official Damascus in combating the terrorist threat.
Early on, a few years ago, when Russia urged the international community to provide active assistance to Syria in fighting terrorism, no one, unfortunately, listened to us. Our international colleagues told us that the terrorist threat in Syria was nonexistent. As you may recall, Western countries built their policy on the assumption that this was just another wave of the Arab Spring and a manifestation of the democratic will of the people. The protesters allegedly were thus expressing their disgruntlement with the authorities. We said that, indeed, there were problems and a dissatisfaction with the policy of official Damascus in Syria, and that not everything was done right in that country previously. Just like in any other country, there is perhaps much that can be improved and reformed in Syria as well. However, we tried to convince the international community that we were dealing with a terrorist threat there. Several years later, the disease, which could have been nipped in the bud, acquired its current proportions.
What you are seeing today in Europe is a ripple effect, or, should I say, a direct outcome of the disease that had to be treated by joint international efforts several years ago. Then, Russia was alone. Even more so, esteemed representatives of foreign media always portrayed our support and assistance to Damascus as propping the “bloody regime.” When we said that Europe would choke on the refugee flow from Syria and the international terrorism in any particular form that it might take, no one listened to us, or believed us. This is not a reason for gloating, as we better than others understand that problems such as this have no boundaries. They have global dimensions. That is why they are called “common challenges and threats.”
I’d like to reiterate that Russia has always provided and will continue to provide appropriate assistance to Syria as a UN member-state in fighting the terrorist threat. We are doing this in full compliance with international law.
Question: Does Russia plan to expand its assistance to the Christians of Syria in the near future?
Maria Zakharova: We regularly raise the issue of protecting Christians at venues of different international organisations. This is one of the most important issues in the context of the Syrian settlement. We are very involved in this issue on different tracks and are using all of our opportunities to resolve it.
Question: Does the Foreign Ministry consider Syria safe enough to send migrants there, who are denied refugee status in Russia?
Maria Zakharova: I hear an enormous distortion of facts in your question. I guess the implication is that as a country we are responsible for everything.
Since you have raised the problem of refugees and Syria, I would like to mention the countries where this problem is assuming disastrous proportions. This is not Russia. As a BBC correspondent, you probably deal more with Russia but I would like to return you to Europe. Every day, I and, probably, you watch horrifying scenes of what is happening with refugee flows in Europe. Today I saw how refugee women gave birth to babies right on the street. I can imagine in what conditions they had labour. Trains are being taken by storm. All of this is reminiscent of the situation after World War II. The scale is not that large yet but the dynamics and trends are very much the same.
We are watching with surprise and strong concern the EU’s obvious helplessness in the face of the refugee flows coming from the Middle East and North Africa. I think it should be clear to everyone that this unprecedented refugee crisis is a direct consequence of the absolutely irresponsible, ill-conceived policy of changing political regimes in the region. Not everyone shares this opinion – many still call these people migrants rather than refugees, which is also peculiar, or think that the refugee problem has nothing to do with the policy of Western states in the Middle East.
I have started putting down alternative opinions of European representatives on this score, which I consider sound. Thus, Austrian Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann believes that the best thing to do is not only to counter human trafficking by organised groups but also to step up efforts to put an end to hostilities in conflict regions. What we have been saying for many years is eventually becoming manifest in statements by European politicians. The Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said that the current tragedy (as he described what was happening in Europe) was of a global nature and the problem of Syrian refugees was particularly urgent because of the ongoing hostilities in Syria.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov emphasised the need to counter not only the consequences, but also the root causes of this phenomenon, primarily, the activities of the Islamic State (ISIS).
I don’t think I should recall the history of ISIS’s formation. You probably know this without me. Mr Mitov expressed concern that all measures that had been taken so far had failed to create conditions for weakening ISIS. On the contrary, ISIS continues expanding the territory under its control and establishing its quasi-state architecture there. To sum up, there is a growing understanding of the root causes of the refugee tragedy.
People fleeing to Europe are afraid to stay in their home-countries, which are swept by hostilities and the anti-terrorist struggle, as a result of which these states experience socio-economic degradation. In this context, we are concerned that some EU members are rushing to use and promote the term “illegal migrants” as regards these people. Under the 1951 UN Convention related to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 relevant protocol, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa gives grounds to qualify these people exactly as refugees.
So, EU member-states acquire international commitments regarding them. We are concerned over the inability (not reluctance, I hope) of the EU to take effective measures to accommodate these people, and provide them with food and medical care. They have come to Europe not of their own free will – their home-countries have been or are about to be destroyed and collapse.
We hope that, abiding by their international commitments, EU countries will not allow continued violation of refugee rights and will duly focus on uprooting the causes of the current crisis.
As for your remark that Russia is not doing something right, I’d like to remind you of the figures, which you can find yourself, as regards Russia’s efforts to accommodate over 900,000 people from Ukraine, more than 400,000 of whom are qualified as refugees. These people have been provided with accommodation, food and allowances. We have been doing all of this and not a single international human rights organisation has any claims to Russia. I think Europe could learn from Russia in this respect. Let me repeat that for Russia displaced persons and the settlement of their lives are not theory. We know what this is from our own recent experience – from history that is literally a year long.
Question: The media reported the other day that during his visit to China President Putin would discuss the opening of Chinese consulates in Kazan and Vladivostok. When will these consulates open, and why in these two cities? What will be their strategic goals?
Maria Zakharova: I need to look into this, as it is specific information. But I’ll certainly answer your question.
Question: Can you comment on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Baku please?
Maria Zakharova: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was on a working visit to Baku on September 1, during which he met with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The results of his visit were covered in a press release posted on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. In his opening remarks before his meeting with President Aliyev, Sergey Lavrov expanded on the purpose of his visit and the state of bilateral relations.
Question: Can you comment, please, on UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura’s plan for “an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers?”
Maria Zakharova: We regard Mr De Mistura’s plan for creating four thematic working groups to address four thematic areas of a Syrian settlement, including the fight against terrorism, as well as an international contact group as a major element of concerted efforts to launch a political process in Syria based on the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communique.
Russia’s practical steps towards this goal, including numerous contacts with many Syrian opposition groups, which we discussed earlier today, as well as with the key international and regional players, are aimed at supporting Staffan de Mistura’s efforts as it has been agreed upon at the UN Security Council.
We consider it useful that UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura and his team have been cooperating closely with the regional parties, primarily Damascus.
Launching a dialogue between the Syrian Government and the opposition in accordance with the Geneva Communique is of crucial significance for ending the bloodshed and the Syrians’ suffering and for allowing them to independently decide on their country’s future.
We are closely monitoring UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura’s contacts and we are analysing his initiatives.
Question: Can you comment officially, please, on a statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and the Foreign Ministry’s stance on the South Kuril Islands?
Maria Zakharova: Igor Morgulov is a Deputy Foreign Minister and his statements on any aspect of bilateral relations should be considered official. As for the official statements of the Foreign Ministry, I don’t think I need to comment on them. I suggest that everyone interested read Igor Morgulov’s interview with Interfax.
Question: What do you think about the potentially possible dramatic worsening of the migration crisis in Europe? What are the chances that parts of the migration flows reach Russia despite the long distance geographically? Is Russia ready to accept refugees?
Maria Zakharova: We are realists. We are looking for a solution to the refugee crisis in Europe, including on international platforms. We are open to dialogue with our European colleagues. They have repeatedly raised the issue of cooperation in this area. We are ready for this cooperation. We are ready for concerted efforts to draft corresponding international legal documents and for providing any possible assistance. We’ll certainly do everything possible to ease the suffering of the refugees and to help the Europeans solve this problem. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said this more than once.
Question: You mentioned the danger of chemical weapons proliferation beyond the Middle East. What has Russia done to prevent this? What are Russia’s plans in the struggle against ISIS?
Maria Zakharova: As I said in the latter part of my commentary on the use of chemical weapons by terrorists, we believe that the UN Security Council should react to the reports about the suspected use or storage of chemical weapons. Work on this issue is now underway at the UN.