Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Uzbekistan

 

On March 26 and 27, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Tashkent to attend the International High-Level Conference on Afghanistan, Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity.

Moscow believes that this major international event can facilitate national reconciliation and stabilisation in Afghanistan, including as part of the efforts taken within the framework the Moscow format and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group.

Sergey Lavrov will hold several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the international conference.

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Special Representative of the President of China, State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi

 

On March 27 and 28, Special Representative of the President of China, State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi will make a working visit to Russia. On March 28, he will hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The two ministers will exchange views on Russian-Chinese strategic partnership as well as prospects for its further development. They will also discuss bilateral cooperation on the international stage and current regional matters.

 

Foreign Ministry statement

 

The conclusions issued by the European Council on March 22 regarding the chemical attack in Salisbury are regrettable. The wording used by the European Council attributing Russia with the responsibility for the incident solely on the grounds of “no plausible alternative explanation” essentially constitutes an accusation against us without giving any evidence. The European Council’s readiness to agree with the British version of the events in Salisbury can only be explained by the desire to support UK Prime Minister Theresa May who found herself in a difficult situation. It should be noted that every day more and more discrepancies emerge in the said scenario, from an unprecedented swiftness with which the British identified the ‘Russian origin’ of the toxins found at the site of the attempted murder of Sergey Skripal and his daughter to the fact of chemical laboratory employees in Porton Down being pressured by British officials which was revealed by the media.

We have not yet received any reasoning from Great Britain that would demand “answers” from us with respect to the tragedy in Salisbury as the European Council proposes. We are absolutely ready to work together with Britain; however, our British counterparts are avoiding cooperation. We see further exchange of opinions possible within the competent international body of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). We believe that if EU leaders had a sincere desire to help the investigation they would prompt our British partners to begin constructive consultations with Russia according to applicable OPCW procedures. Even more so, because support of the dialogue and cooperation in the interests of strengthening international non-proliferation instruments such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, is expressly envisaged not only in the 2016 EU Global Strategy but in the 2005 roadmap on the Russia-EU common external security space too.

It is regretful that instead, the European Union prefers to be at the vanguard of yet another anti-Russian campaign triggered by London and its overseas allies with an obvious goal to put another obstacle in the way of normalising the situation on the European continent.

 

The situation in Syria

 

The situation in Syria remains tense.

The international community continues to focus on Eastern Ghouta where an unparalleled counter-terrorist operation is being carried out by the Syrian army with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces. The goal is to eliminate the terrorist threat to Damascus from Jabhat al-Nusra extremist armed groups, which took control of this densely populated suburb of the Syrian capital. The operation is unusual in that to be successful, it is necessary to separate the terrorists from the civilians whom they are using as human shields.

With the assistance of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides, over 80,000 civilians have been evacuated to date from Eastern Ghouta through dedicated humanitarian corridors, which represent a large part of the local population. The people were evacuated under the supervision of representatives from UN institutions, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), which did not find any violations of international humanitarian law during the evacuation process.

The residents left the place of their own accord, and none of them were subjected to violence or robbed by the Syrian military or security forces who kept order. Once free, the people started crying and talking about the suffering they experienced while held hostage by the terrorists. Their hatred of the extremist groups which arbitrarily killed civilians, robbed them of their property, appropriated humanitarian aid and forced ordinary people to starve, was running high.

The Syrian Government deployed three camps for the temporarily displaced persons outside the towns of Dumayr, Adra and Hirjillah. The Russian military are actively involved in providing food, bedding and first aid. We expect that the international community will join these efforts.

The terrorists tried to prevent the evacuation of the civilians from the fighting zones, intimidated people and opened fire at the humanitarian corridors realising that the presence of a significant number of civilians in Eastern Ghouta hampered the actions of government forces as they tried to avoid collateral damage.

Residential areas of Damascus are coming under regular rocket and mortar attack. On March 20, gunmen launched rockets at the Kashkul market from an area outside Ain Terma in Eastern Ghouta, which is controlled by the Failaq ar-Rahman group, killing 37 and wounding 35.

By now, the Syrian army has liberated about 80 percent of Eastern Ghouta. In accordance with the agreement reached with the assistance of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides, the evacuation of illegal armed groups from Harasta to the province of Idlib began on March 22.

In liberated Eastern Ghouta towns, the Syrian military found several makeshift workshops for manufacturing munitions and reservoirs with poisonous agents, in particular, chlorine, weighing about 40 tonnes, which is indicative of the scale of the provocations planned by the terrorists.

The town of Afrin in northwestern Syria was taken as part of the Olive Branch operation by the Turkish military on March 18. Fully cognizant of their responsibility for the lives of the local residents, the command of the Kurdish units had decided to leave the city without a fight. Syrian illegal armed groups entered Afrin and proceeded to ransack the town. The mayhem was stopped only a few days later thanks to the decisive actions of the Turkish army, which arrested over 100 marauders.

We note the lack of progress in implementing UNSC Resolution 2401 concerning the situation in Raqqa and Rukban Camp for temporarily displaced persons. To reiterate, access to these sites is controlled by the US military, and has so far been closed to representatives of the legitimate Syrian authorities, the UN and independent media. During a meeting of the international task force on humanitarian assistance to Syria in Geneva on March 16, the UN Resident Coordinator in Syria Ali al-Zaatari confirmed the willingness of the Syrian government, the ICRC and the SARC to start delivering humanitarian aid to Rukban after receiving written security guarantees from the Americans.

We plan to continue our efforts to implement the provisions of UNSC Resolution 2401, which is aimed at reinforcing the ceasefire and improving the humanitarian situation throughout Syria while resolutely fighting terrorists, and call upon all parties to help us in any way they can.

We consistently work on the political track seeking to achieve a settlement in Syria. A trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantor countries behind observing the ceasefire in Syria took place in Astana on March 16. The ministers agreed to continue to assist the Syrians in restoring the unity of their country and achieving a political settlement of the crisis under UN Security Council Resolution 2254, in particular, by creating a Constitutional Committee and launching its work in Geneva, as stipulated by the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

The first meeting of the working group on releasing detainees/hostages, transferring the bodies of those who lost their lives and searching for missing people took place on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting in the capital of Kazakhstan, and was attended by representatives of the UN and the ICRC. The start of its practical work has become an important contribution to the process of restoring confidence among the Syrians and normalising the situation in Syria in general.

 

Developments in Afghanistan

 

The security situation in Afghanistan causes us considerable concern. The Taliban movement is actively engaged in terrorist activities, systematically carrying out attacks in various parts of the country, and continues to keep up to half the country’s territory under full or partial control.

The activity of ISIS, a terrorist group banned in the Russian Federation, remains an essential factor in the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. ISIS is consistently increasing the number of militants in the north of the country. The network of ISIS camps set up in the north of Afghanistan for the training of militants, including those from Central Asia, Russia and other countries, is a cause for special concern. We have documented facts of interaction as well as clashes between ISIS and the Taliban in the north and east of Afghanistan.

We are seriously concerned about the increase in terrorist activity. At the end of January, a series of bloody terrorist attacks occurred in Afghanistan, killing over 200 people and injuring more than 400.

On March 21, the first day of Nowruz (the Afghan New Year), another terrorist attack took place near Kabul State University, killing 33 people, presumably carried out by a suicide bomber from among ISIS extremists.

We strongly condemn this barbaric act. Again, we express our condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

 

Death of a large group of Indian citizens at the hands of ISIS, banned in Russia

 

We express our sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of the 39 Indian citizens who were captured in 2014 in Iraq and later killed by militants of ISIS, a terrorist group banned in the Russian Federation. This sad news has been officially confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India.

We declare our solidarity with the leadership and people of friendly India in resolutely combating terrorism and extremism. This bloody crime confirms the correctness of Russia’s position concerning the need to form a broad international antiterrorist front involving all countries.

 

Air safety over the Baltic Sea

 

We remain concerned about the increasingly more active NATO, Swedish and Finnish military planes’ flights near the Russian border in the Baltic Sea region. Between September-November 2017, two-thirds of NATO, Finnish and Swedish state-owned aircraft flew with their transponders switched off. These actions may provoke dangerous incidents with far-reaching consequences.

Russia, for its part, has done a lot to reduce tension in the region. In 2017, members of the ICAO-sponsored working expert group for military-civil cooperation coordinated off-route flights for Russian military aircraft flying from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad and back. Under the Russian Defence Ministry’s voluntary air-safety maintenance measures, all aircraft fly with their transponders switched on and in accordance with previously submitted flight plans.

Recommendations for resolving conflict situations in regional air space, being used by civil and military aircraft, have been drafted and have entered into force. This has been done to reduce the possibility of aviation incidents.

Unfortunately, we don’t see any response on the part of NATO member-countries. The group’s ICAO mandate has now virtually expired. Despite earlier promises, we witness NATO’s reluctance to launch an expert discussion of this subject at the Russia-NATO Council. This is the right format for discussing all military aspects of this matter, which would help scale down overall tension between NATO and the Russian Federation. We are noting the fact that NATO is not prepared to go beyond measures that have already been coordinated by members of the working expert group for military-civil cooperation.

In addition, we note that NATO member-countries have failed to comply with agreed-upon recommendations. For example, they continue high-risk and unjustified intercept missions against Russian aircraft formations flying with their transponders switched on and whose flight plans have been submitted in advance.

It appears that European countries and the United States don’t need really transparent confidence-building measures over the Baltic Sea region. They aim to uncontrollably build up their military potential.

As far as Russia is concerned, we reaffirm our readiness to discuss ways of scaling down tension in the Baltic Sea region and to hold constructive consultations on this topic. We are ready for bilateral consultations with all the concerned countries and for those within the Russia-NATO Council. This will make it possible to coordinate recommendations for preventing aviation and high-seas incidents.

 

Ukraine’s decision to end economic cooperation programme with Russia

 

Ukraine, primarily its current government, is a constant supplier of news that call for comment.

The other day, Kiev announced yet another victory over common sense – the decision of its government to terminate the 2011-2020 economic cooperation programme with Russia. In this way Kiev is consistently and stubbornly working to advance its “strategic goal” – to damage its own economy as much as possible. By refusing to cooperate with Russia, the current Ukrainian authorities, in their anti-Russian frenzy, are actually destroying their inheritance from the Soviet Union in advanced areas – the nuclear industry, nuclear power and aerospace engineering, space and aviation technology, transport and the defence industry. These are the areas that the Ukrainian people could be rightly proud of in the past.

The rupture in trade and economic ties with Russia is not compensated for in any way by the EU and the miniscule quotas allowed for the supply of “strategic” commodities to the EU – honey, mushrooms, juices, condensed milk, grain, tomatoes and poultry. We are witnessing Ukraine’s de-industrialisation. Next, Western curators –  the “benefactors” of Ukraine – will demand higher gas prices for consumers, the lifting of the ban on trading agricultural land and permission to supply the EU with round timber, to name a few. In the future, Kiev will be compelled to pay through the nose for American liquefied shale gas, as is now the case with American coal.

Looking at these not quite adequate actions of the Ukrainian authorities, we can only feel compassion for the residents of Ukraine who are bound to hear new “victorious” reports from Kiev. We are convinced for some reason that more than enough pretexts will be found.

 

Blacklisting of independent international observers at the elections in Crimea by the Ukrainian extremist website Myrotvorets

 

We noted that the personal information of independent foreign observers that were in Crimea during the presidential election in Russia were included in the data base of the website Myrotvorets (Peacemaker), the server of which is located in the United States. On March 18, the website published the names of observers from Italy, Spain and Sweden. The names of three Cypriot observers appeared there a bit later. Independent observers from Finland, Germany, Norway and Italy that visited Crimea before were included in the website’s data base before March 18. The website noted that these foreigners “deliberately violated Ukraine’s state border” and “engaged in propaganda efforts.”

We would like to note that UN human rights agencies have already drawn attention to the website’s violation of the right to a private life and presumption of innocence, and advised Kiev to conduct an investigation and shut down the server. Similar concerns are expressed in the report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine published in September 2017. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised in this report the lack of progress in the criminal investigation of the website Myrotvorets and called on the Ukrainian authorities to guarantee that a credible investigation of its violations be held immediately. The latest, March report of the Monitoring Mission contains similar appeals. It notes that although the Ukrainian police launched criminal proceedings against it, nothing has yet been done.

In 2016, Dunja Mijatovic, the then OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, also expressed her concerns to Kiev when the website Myrotvorets published life-threatening personal information of journalists accredited in Donbass.

The reluctance of the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a credible investigation of the activities of the notorious website and take relevant measures is a violation of their commitments in the Council of Europe, which are established by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. The notorious website is not only using and spreading personal data for illegal purposes but is also violating the right to privacy.

In its practical activities the European Human Rights Court proceeds from the premise that in similar cases the state’s practical and effective protection of an individual’s private life consists in the adoption of effective measures to identify and prosecute the violators, which has not been done since the website is still functioning with the clear tacit approval of the Ukrainian authorities. The website publishes more personal information about citizens of foreign states, including the EU, every week.

Apparently, this is how Ukraine is fulfilling its obligations in the Council of Europe, the UN and the OSCE – it continues subjecting its own and foreign citizens to lethal danger. By now all observers that were mentioned in its data base have returned to their home countries. In their opinion, the elections in Crimea were held at the proper level and without serious violations. Kiev’s antagonistic reaction is the best proof of this.

 

Latest outrage committed by radical Ukrainian nationalists

 

We were outraged to learn that radical Ukrainian nationalists have desecrated the monument to General Nikolai Vatutin in the town of Berdichev in the Zhitomir Region of Ukraine, where neo-Nazi young men in broad daylight broke the commemorative plaque and mocked, with impunity, the memory of the commander who led the Red Army to liberate Ukraine from Nazi invaders.

We strongly condemn this raid by vandals who call themselves “patriots.” We are convinced that this and similar shameful actions are not supported by millions of Ukrainian citizens whose fathers and grandfathers helped save the world from the scourge of fascism. Yet again, we call on the Ukrainian authorities to take necessary measures to protect the symbols of victory of our peoples in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 and end its policy of indulging extremists.

 

Accusations against Russia of cyber attacks

 

We have noted the resumed frenzy in the German media and the spreading of reports on Russia’s involvement in an alleged attack on the computer system of the German government by Russian hackers. It is alleged that that attack damaged sensitive personnel data of the German Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Defence.

We should point out that throughout the years of the West’s campaign regarding the so-called “Russian cyber threat” Moscow has received no requests to clarify the situation or respond. Instead of choosing to engage in political dialogue and go through diplomatic channels, as well as formats for partner cooperation between special services, and legal assistance through law enforcement agencies, which Russia has repeatedly offered, the emphasis has been on drumming up public support and making unfounded accusations against us that are not supported by the slightest bit of credible evidence or proof.

Considering all this, it appears that the anti-Russian hysteria is purposely being escalated, in particular, to justify the spending, ostensibly for defence in cyberspace, including the creation of cyber forces and headquarters, primarily for preparing attacks on the internet infrastructure of Russia, their supposed opponent, as part of their offensive strategy.

In response, we reaffirm that we are ready for serious discussion of all pressing issues at the negotiating table.

Russia has put forward a constructive agenda: developing rules for states’ responsible conduct in the information space and seeking mutual understanding regarding incidents there, as well as expanding confidence-building measures in this field and taking advantage of multilateral negotiation platforms.

We expect that the partners will resume seeking mutual responses to cyber threats through dialogue on international platforms and bilateral channels.

 

Time magazine’s pseudo-investigation into alleged Russian-Venezuelan collaboration to create the petro cryptocurrency

 

We have taken note of a pseudo-sensational item, which is very similar to many other fake news that have popped up recently, about Russia’s alleged contribution to the creation of the Venezuelan cryptocurrency, the petro. This “exclusive investigation” into the alleged involvement of the Russian authorities in the creation of the state-backed Venezuelan digital currency is a deliberate falsehood. The Russian Finance Ministry made a comment on this matter to our colleagues from Times. It said the following:

The Finance Ministry of Russia did not and does not have any connection to the Venezuelan cryptocurrency, the petro. The Russian financial authorities did not take part in this project in any capacity. During a meeting in Moscow on February 21, 2018, Venezuelan Finance and Economy Minister Simon Zerpa gave a promotional booklet about the petro to Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. Mr Zerpa’s only goal was to inform the Russian partners about this project. The ministers did not raise or discuss the possible use of the digital currency in Russian-Venezuelan cooperation.

We would like to ask our colleagues from Time and other journalists who are interested in this issue to use reliable official information, because the sources which you often cite either do not have the information or deliberately misinform you.

Also, I would like to point out that under the Russian Constitution the only legal payment instrument in Russia is the rouble issued by the Bank of Russia. The issuance and use of any other payment instruments are illegal in Russia. Anton Siluanov spoke in detail about the possibility of using any form of blockchain technology for financial settlements in Russia in a recent interview with the RT television channel (LINK).

 

Large-scale demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers in Poland

 

We resent the large-scale campaign to demolish monuments to Soviet soldiers who fell during WWII while liberating and saving Poland and Polish people.

According to our information, such monuments have been demolished in the towns of Inowroclaw in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, Pulawy in the Lublin Voivodeship, Skierniewice in the Lodz Voivodeship, Strzegom in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, and Choszczno in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship.

Poland is flagrantly violating the February 22, 1994 intergovernmental agreement on burial sites and places of remembrance of victims of wars and repression. This is brazen disregard for the history of our peoples’ joint struggle against the Nazi invaders.

The financial aspect of the hasty demolition of monuments is especially cynical: the Polish decommunisation law, which provides for the demolition of all memorial and cultural history facilities that do not suit the current Polish authorities for ideological reasons, also stipulates government payments to those who demolish historic memorials by March 31, 2018.

It is painful when these considerations take priority over human decency, tribute to the memory of the fallen and a country’s international commitments.

 

Russia’s response to demolition of monuments in Lithuania

 

During the previous briefing, the Sputnik news agency asked about Russia’s response to the demolition of monuments in Lithuania. We would like to say the following.

First of all, it should be noted that the court proceedings concerning the headstones on the graves of Red and Russian Imperial army soldiers in the Antakalnis Cemetery continues, and that a final ruling has not been handed down thus far. Therefore, the Lithuanian military history association Forgotten Soldiers still expects to prevent the demolition of these monuments.

However, in principle, in the event of any disrespectful actions with regard to Russian memorial sites in Lithuania, we believe it possible to take reciprocal steps, in particular, concerning Lithuania’s memorial activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.

 

Entry procedure to Macedonia for citizens of the Russian Federation

 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia has updated us on the decision taken by the Government of the Republic of Macedonia on March 13 to extend visa-free entry of Russian citizens on short-term trips to Macedonia for another year.

According to the established procedure, Russian citizens need to have a valid foreign-travel passport and insurance to enter Macedonia. This procedure applies only to short-term trips, implying a less than 90 day stay in Macedonia in every six months, counted from the day of first entry.

The visa-free travel of Russians to Macedonia, previously introduced by Skopje, is extended until March 15, 2019.

 

Excerpts from answers to questions:

Question: Is the fact that the Turkish army has recently occupied a number of villages in the suburbs of Aleppo, previously controlled by the Syrian army, a violation of the Astana agreements that established de-escalation zones in Syria?

The second question concerns the statement made by Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipila after a high-profile meeting in Brussels that Finland has not yet decided on the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Helsinki, but, he said, a number of European countries have already made this decision. In particular, he named France, Poland and the Baltic countries. What reaction will follow from the Russian Foreign Ministry?

Artyom Kozhin: About the first question, I have to say that all the agreements reached in Astana have been widely covered at the news conferences of Russia’s special presidential envoy on the Syrian settlement, Ambassador-at-Large Alexander Lavrentyev. All information is published on the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry and on official accounts on social networks.

Send us, please, the list of villages you are talking about, and we will give you an answer, because such facts have to be geo-referenced, as they say.

I will not say much about the departure of European diplomats from Moscow or the expulsion of Russian diplomats. We know about this only from the media – from your colleagues in fact. No one has addressed us on the issue in an officially established procedure. If someone does, we will explore this topic.

Question: We understand that the EU has decided to recall its Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Markus Ederer, for consultations. How do you feel about UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for a tough response to the Salisbury incident? Do you think the EU has already taken a decision on anti-Russian measures, as Ms May demanded?

Artyom Kozhin: As for UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s statements, I can say that I started this briefing with a statement. Our position on this issue will be in the transcript. As for the departure of foreign diplomats and the alleged decision to recall EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation Markus Ederer for consultations, we are only aware of this from media reports. No one addressed us according to the established official procedure.

Question: Should we expect any changes in Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept approved by President Vladimir Putin on November 30, 2016, or Russia’s foreign policy priorities after the presidential election? In particular, we are interested in cooperation with the countries of the South Caucasus. Or will the country’s foreign policy continue to be based on the 2016 Concept?

Artyom Kozhin: This is too broad a topic. If you are interested in a detailed answer, we are ready to give it to you separately. I can only say that, in general, Russian foreign policy, based on compliance with international law, will not change fundamentally and will continue to be implemented in accordance with generally accepted international norms.

Question: Will representatives of the Taliban movement participate in the conference in Tashkent?

Artyom Kozhin: I do not have such information. I will clarify and will get back to you with an answer.

Question: I have two questions for you. What do you think about changes in the Trump administration, in particular, the appointment of a new national security adviser, John Bolton, who is considered a hawk?

We can see that the Skripal case has become a kind of a watershed dividing all the countries in their attitude to Russia and Great Britain. The European Union is officially supporting Britain, yet refuses to take tough measures. Which countries support Russia? At the most recent briefing, we saw Serbia and Venezuela voice their support. China and India supported us in the UN Security Council. Have the countries of the CIS, the CSTO, and the EAEU expressed their solidarity with the position of Moscow?

Artyom Kozhin: The first question is not for us, but the Americans. We do not interfere in government appointments made in other countries. We will work with whoever is appointed.

With regard to the Skripal case, many statements have already been made. You are aware of Russia’s position and all the details. Recently, Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Yermakov gave a very detailed briefing. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also had a lot to say on this matter, in particular, during a news conference following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Tokyo. I can say that we are not sure if there is such a “case” or not. No evidence or data have been presented. So far, it has been more like creative writing.

With regard to supporting Russia in particular issues, such as the one you mentioned, such support is provided by the countries which observe international law, rely on UN rules and conduct themselves in a civilised manner.

Question: In the context of the most recent telephone conversation between President Putin and President Trump, the media reported that respective foreign ministers were instructed to make arrangements for a bilateral summit in the near future, which gave rise to rumours of the pending resignation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. How is that connected?

Artyom Kozhin: This is not your first time visiting our briefings. We do not comment on rumours, because they are rumours. We will not waste our time on this. With regard to arranging special meetings at a particular level, keep an eye on official information sources.