22 September 2017
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Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 16, 2017

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Leonard She Okitundu

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Leonard She Okitundu will be in Moscow on a working visit on March 22-24.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him on March 22 to discuss prospects for developing Russian-Congolese relations with an emphasis on promoting effective cooperation in the political, trade, economic, humanitarian and other areas.

The ministers will also engage in a substantive exchange of views on current issues of the global and regional agenda, including countering international terrorism and unblocking crisis situations on the African continent.

Lecture by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for higher officers of the Academy of the General Staff

On March 23, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak before high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces, representatives of ministries and departments, as well as army officers from foreign countries who are taking the “Army and Society” course at the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Minister Lavrov will speak on the topic “The Role of Russia in Global Politics”. He will share his assessments of the international situation, discuss Russia’s approaches to key issues on the international agenda and priority areas of work for Russian diplomacy and, of course, take questions from the audience.

As you may be aware, the “Army and Society” course started on January 12. Its purpose is to improve the competence of the command staff of the Russian Armed Forces and boost interactions between the army and society.

The third anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia

On these March days, we celebrate the third anniversary of a landmark event in the modern history of Russia, which received the poetic name of the Crimean Spring.

The proclamation in March 2014 of the independence of the Republic of Crimea and its unification with the Russian Federation were a legitimate exercise of the right of the people of Crimea to self-determination following an armed coup in Ukraine and the mayhem wreaked by radical national forces that did not hesitate to use terror and intimidation on both political opponents and the population of entire regions of that country.

In these circumstances, on March 17, 2014, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Crimea, based on the results of the general referendum in Crimea on March 16, decided to proclaim Crimea an independent sovereign state, the Republic of Crimea. On March 18, the Republic of Crimea signed an international treaty to join the Russian Federation. As a result, the Russian Federation gained two new constituent entities, the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol.

The future has proved the legitimacy of the decision to reunite with Russia taken by Crimeans three years ago. The legality and validity of this exercise of the right to self-determination are on graphic display today, in light of the disgraceful bloody campaign waged by the Kiev regime against its own people. Extrapolating Ukrainian political realities of recent years to Crimea, it is easy to imagine what would have happened to the peninsula had it remained part of Ukraine. It is even easier to imagine if we recall the deplorable outcome of the twenty-odd years in which Crimea was part of the Ukrainian state.

Today, the task of ensuring sustainable socioeconomic development of Crimea continues to be a top priority. Over the past three years, extensive work has been done to establish and integrate the region into the Russian Federation. Active work is underway to build new and upgrade old infrastructure; a bridge is being built across the Kerch Strait; the construction of the Tavrida Motorway has begun, which will connect the Kerch Bridge to Sevastopol, crossing the peninsula from east to west. The Free Economic Zone with its preferential regime in the sphere of land relations, construction, and special terms for entrepreneurial activity creates a wide range of opportunities for investors in Crimea.

There is a trend toward economic growth, including through developing the energy and recreation sectors, and expanded housing construction. Industrial output is higher and unemployment is lower than the average for Russia. These are important economic and social development indicators. With regard to Crimea, this includes jobs and good salaries for the Crimeans, and innovative products made by local enterprises. All of these changes have taken place amid the sanctions imposed on the peninsula by Western countries, as well as unending provocations on the part of Ukraine, including attempted water and energy blockades and severing air, sea, passenger rail and mail services.

The situation on the peninsula is not perfect. However, despite objective difficulties, the federal and local authorities have already done a lot to improve the life of Crimeans and to ensure the comprehensive development of the peninsula as part of Russia. Still, more needs to be done.

Crimea has fully preserved its multinational population. Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and representatives of other ethnicities who have been living on the peninsula from time immemorial, are building a future together in peace and harmony. Since 2014, Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar have been official languages in the Republic of Crimea.

Over the past three years, Russia has been attending to and promoting the socioeconomic, cultural, religious and other interests of all the peoples and ethnicities living in Crimea at the micro and macro levels. This includes Armenians, Greeks, Crimean Tatars, Italians, Germans, and, of course, Russians and Ukrainians. The efforts of the authorities to strengthen interethnic stability are clearly visible to an unbiased observer. As a result of this policy, according to opinion polls, more than 90 percent of Crimeans say they do not experience any significant interethnic tension in their daily life.

The past three years have clearly shown that despite all the difficulties and controversy with regard to Crimea, there is strong interest in developing cooperation with the peninsula on the part of foreign parliamentary, business and sociopolitical circles, as well as representatives of culture, sports and the media. In particular, over 100 foreign delegations visited Crimea last year as compared to 73 in 2015, and over 70 international events were held.

Preserving its uniqueness and boasting vast potential for development, Crimea attracts attention not only by its remarkable natural beauty and cultural and historical heritage sites of international importance, but also by the hospitality of its people, who are open to dialogue and cooperation.

Anyone can form an impartial opinion of their own by visiting Crimea and Sevastopol and seeing for themselves the actual state of affairs in these two constituent entities of the Russian Federation.

Let me remind you that last year the Foreign Ministry created a pool of journalists who wanted to go to Crimea and see special infrastructure facilities located there. We are ready to proceed with this work. If anyone wants to go there and files a relevant request, it will be taken up gladly. Crimea will again open its door to members of the foreign media.

The situation in Syria

We note with satisfaction that the cessation of hostilities (CoH) in Syria, guaranteed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, has made it possible to significantly reduce the level of violence in that country. Ceasefire violations are limited. The CoH regime has made it possible to concentrate the Syrian Army’s efforts on fighting ISIS. As a result of the successful offensive operation by the Syrian Armed Forces, vast areas in the east of Aleppo Province extending as far as the Euphrates River were liberated. The al-Khafseh water treatment facility, recaptured from terrorists, has resumed fresh water supplies to the provincial capital and the area around it.

Syrian government forces, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces, have routed ISIS militants near Palmyra and pushed the terrorists back from the city, which is part of world cultural heritage. As you know, while ISIS was in control there, they caused serious damage to historical landmarks that are part of this ancient city’s architecture. The extent of the damage, of course, has yet to be assessed. It is encouraging that different international agencies are already showing their readiness to participate in the reconstruction of Palmyra and its historical sites. At present, mine clearing is a particularly pressing issue.

Militants from illegal armed groups active in the Damascus area, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, continue shelling residential areas in the Syrian capital. Al-Shughour, Ibn Asakir, Bab Touma, Adavi and other districts have come under rocket and mortar attacks by radical forces. On March 10 and 12, several rockets exploded in close proximity to the Russian embassy in Damascus.

Earlier, we commented on the recent bloody terrorist attack in Damascus that was carried out on March 11. Responsibility for it was claimed by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, which is the very same Jabhat al-Nusra that constantly changes its “facade” but whose al-Qaeda essence remains unchanged. Over 70 people were killed and about 120 injured at that time. However, there is another aspect to this tragedy. Our Western partners in the UN Security Council, who are purportedly determined to fight terrorism (at any rate, this is what they regularly declare), act beyond the bounds of logic and common sense. They constantly avoid condemning terrorist attacks under various pretexts. This calls into question the sincerity of their intentions to fight terrorism in Syria and reveals their attitude toward that country and its people.

I must mention new terrorist attacks in the Syrian capital that took place yesterday, March 15. A corresponding comment has been posted on the ministry’s website. I’d like to reiterate that such heinous attacks on civilians, which are provocations aimed at maintaining an atmosphere of fear in society, must not be allowed to thwart the efforts to promote a peaceful settlement of the Syria crisis.

On March 14-15, the third international high-level meeting on Syria took place in Astana. It was attended by delegations from the three CoH guarantor countries: Russia, Turkey and Iran, as well as Jordan, the US, the UN and the Syrian government. The discussion focused on consolidating the ceasefire, setting up a constitutional commission and a working group on the exchange of persons held by the parties to the conflict and identifying the location of terrorist groups and moderate opposition units.

We regret the fact that a delegation of the Syrian armed opposition showed disrespect toward the organisers of the forum and its other participants, who met in the capital of Kazakhstan, and indulged in speculation around its presence in Astana. The reasons cited by its leaders are absolutely unconvincing and unacceptable. After all, talks are designed above all to resolve existing problems, as we have repeatedly stated. Refusal to negotiate means only one thing: a reluctance to address the problems that the international community as a whole has been dealing with for many years.

Possibly, those who encouraged the Syrian armed opposition to boycott the event tried to deal a blow to the Astana, as well as Geneva, negotiating format. We are satisfied with the fact that this attempt has failed. We note the effective and well-coordinated efforts by our Astana-format partners, a format that continues to operate successfully, providing effective assistance to the Syrian parties in ending the bloodshed and moving forward with a search for political solutions based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Mechanism for assisting in the investigation of crimes committed in Syria

According to our information, on March 9, the Hague hosted a closed meeting on the so-called mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011. The event was organised by the Netherlands with the support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The meeting was attended by various Western and pro-Western NGOs, which feed off of the Syrian crisis, and states known for their anti-Damascus position. Russia, as well as Syria, was not invited to participate.

This mechanism is based on UN General Assembly Resolution 71/248 of December 21, 2016, adopted against the backdrop of a propaganda campaign launched in late 2016 to discredit the operation to liberate Aleppo, the second largest Syrian city. Russia, Syria and another 13 states voted ‘against,’ while 52 states abstained.

We consider the so-called mechanism to be legally untenable. The decision to create this prosecuting body is beyond the powers of the UN General Assembly and contradicts the UN Charter. Prosecution, criminal investigation or assisting criminal investigation are beyond the jurisdiction of the General Assembly. Moreover, the decision was taken without Syria’s consent and against its will. The UN Secretariat and personally the Secretary-General should take these circumstances into account when developing their position concerning the so-called mechanism.

It should be noted that the active supporters of this body are only those who actively support the Syrian opposition, including the armed opposition groups, which involve many extremists. They are also the main sponsors of the mechanism financed through voluntary donations. There is no doubt that the initiators of this idea, who are preoccupied with regime change in Damascus, started to gather evidence against it. Certainly, our ‘beloved’ White Helmets and other fake activists have already prepared multi-volume compromising materials. As for crimes committed by ISIS and other illegal armed groups, they will certainly carry little weight.

In any case, artificially highlighting the issue of ‘fighting impunity’ can become a serious obstacle to the political solution at the current very delicate stage, when talks in Geneva and Astana are just trying to make headway. The issues of national reconciliation, with Syrians in the leading role, should crown the political settlement. In fact, this is specified by the decisions taken by the UN Security Council.

The latest exposure of the White Helmets

It is obvious to us that the hyped story of the White Helmets that reached its climax with that organisation, which has been toiling in Syria, being awarded the “alternative Nobel Prize”, while a film about these activists received an Oscar, is just a large-scale PR campaign. We have repeatedly raised this issue during briefings, casting doubt on the noble efforts of the White Helmets. Particularly, we questioned and even exposed videos and other materials that that organisation released.

This time we would like to draw your attention to the conclusions that independent Swedish human rights activists arrived at after analysing a video posted by White Helmets. The monthly Indicter magazine of the European Human Rights Front has published an article detailing the degree of cynicism and absolute heartlessness displayed by these gifted “stage directors”. The authors turned to qualified medical professionals to help study a video showing White Helmets administering emergency aid to kids. Their conclusion: not only does the treatment violate medical standards or appear to be staged, but it is also dangerous. The most inhuman aspect of this is that, according to the authors, the footage shows a child being literally killed on camera. The child is one year old at most, his eyes are half-open, and he is immobilised but alive. At that moment, he receives a shot right in the heart area. According to qualified medical experts, if the child was still alive, such a shot would certainly kill him.

It is telling that some Western and Middle Eastern politicians have repeatedly and with tears in their eyes suggested using the White Helmets’ video and other materials as irrefutable evidence of the crimes committed by the “Syrian regime”. Naturally, we are unlikely to hear any of them address the revelations of the Swedish Indicter magazine, just as they kept silent when the Western coalition’s not terribly precise and not terribly successful attempts to take Mosul left numerous civilians dead. All these facts are related and reveal a propaganda effort to bolster the failure of the Middle East policy of our Western partners.

The situation in Libya

Fragmentary and largely conflicting reports coming from different sources regarding renewed fighting, in early March, in the so-called oil crescent along Libya’s Mediterranean coast, where the country’s main oil infrastructure is concentrated, do not make it possible to get an objective picture of what is going on. A number of foreign correspondents have asked us to comment on the situation in that region. As a matter of fact, we received such a request yesterday and today we have prepared a corresponding comment.

As you know, in September 2016, these areas, which were earlier controlled by the Petroleum Facilities Guards formally answering to Tripoli, passed to the Libyan National Army under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Later, the facilities located there (deposits, oil terminals, refineries and storage facilities) were transferred to Libya’s National Oil Corporation. The country resumed oil exports. Oil export revenues went to Libya’s Central Bank in Tripoli and were supposed to be used for the country’s current needs, above all to deal with the socioeconomic problems that have aggravated in recent years.

In March, these areas, including the main oil ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, were seized by militants from the so-called Benghazi Defence Brigades and placed back under the control of the aforementioned Petroleum Facilities Guards. Now Haftar’s army is trying to regain control of these areas or has done so already.

Amid the general political chaos in the country, it is rather difficult to say who is right and who is wrong, what intra-Libyan forces or possibly outside players are behind this or what goals they are pursuing.

One thing is clear: What is going on is hardly conducive to stabilisation in the country, which is going through a crisis that is probably the worst in its history. So we urge all of the parties to the conflict in Libya to show common sense and refrain from the use of force in dealing with particular disputed issues in order to avoid a dangerous escalation of the civil conflict, which is fraught with the final disintegration of this once prosperous country.

By the way, shouldn’t the public groups that are so concerned about the crimes of the “Syrian regime” and that meet in the Netherlands and other places be interested in raising the same issue with regard to Libya? The fact is that Libya was fragmented deliberately. There was no international terrorism there and nobody was fighting any extremist militants there. They simply went and destroyed the country as a viable state. The number of people who were killed, injured, otherwise affected or impaired not only physically but also psychologically has yet to be assessed. The same goes for the number of generations of Libyans who will have to bear the stigma of what is now happening to their country: how many generations have had their futures disfigured by ill-considered, bloody decisions.

The use of chemical agents by ISIS in Mosul

We are gravely concerned about reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation on the use of poisonous substances by ISIS in Mosul, Iraq. As a result, 12 people, mostly women and children, have been hospitalised with clinical symptoms caused by chemical agents.

At the same time, we are dismayed by an apparently hasty statement by Iraq’s Ambassador to the United Nations that his country’s authorities lack any evidence proving the use of chemical weapons by terrorists.

Nevertheless, we praise the Iraqi Government’s intention to contact the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in line with its obligations under Article VII of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction and to request assistance in conducting a national investigation regarding the use of these weapons of mass destruction during hostilities in Mosul. This is particularly relevant since ISIS militants had Mosul University’s chemical laboratory under their control for an extended period of time. We have spoken about it more than once.

We see the latest ISIS crimes as evidence of the fact that the use of chemical weapons by terrorists, including against civilians, has already become systematic. We don’t doubt it that ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra militants, as well as those from affiliated extremist organisations and groups of the armed Syrian opposition, possess industrial/household chemicals, such as chlorine, and full-fledged chemical agents, including yperite (mustard gas) and sarin. We have also repeatedly noted this fact.

We have been talking about the growing threat of chemical terrorism for the past two years, and stressing the need for the international community’s prompt and proportionate response to this at various international venues, primarily the UN Security Council. However, our Western colleagues have turned a blind eye to this acute issue and ignored our calls. How many more chemical attacks must be perpetrated for them to finally display their readiness to tackle these challenges? We hope this is not just a rhetorical question.

Unfortunately, our worst fears that chemical terrorism may spread all over the Middle East and beyond its confines are beginning to come true.

It goes without saying that we support the OPCW’s intention to provide all-round assistance to Baghdad in investigating all circumstances of this crime.

We will continue to actively monitor the situation. Those responsible for such crimes must be exposed, their guilt proved, and they must be brought to justice.


20.09.2017 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's opening remarks during talks with President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, New York, September 19, 2017

Once again, I would like to thank you for the hospitality you showed us several months ago. We also look forward to your visit.

20.09.2017 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks during talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Peter Szijjarto, New York, September 19, 2017

As you know, we have always advocated the unity of the European Union, so we wish you all the best.

20.09.2017 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's opening remarks during talks with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, New York, September 19, 2017

We value any opportunity to hear your views on developments in the region, as well as to coordinate our further steps regarding the issues of concern to us in the interests of stability in the Balkans and the development of the region’s countries in accordance with the will of their people.

20.09.2017 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks during talks with President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, New York, September 19, 2017

Sorry for a small delay. Very nice to see you again. We believe that our dialogue is important. After your visit five years ago, this would be a good occasion to check where we are and what we get to do together to promote our very good relations and friendship.

20.09.2017 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with TASS and The Associated Press, New York, September 20, 2017

Question (in English): After your meeting with Secretary Tillerson, how would you evaluate the relationship with the United States? And has Russia given up on hopes of a significant improvement under the Trump administration? Sergey Lavrov (in English): The relations are at a very difficult and a very low point, which is the legacy of the Obama administration. We certainly noted what President Trump was saying when he was running for president about the relations with Russia and what he continues to say. Basically, that he wants to have good relations with Russia, understanding that this would be in the American interests and the interests of solving quite a number of important and most acute world problems. And what I feel talking to Rex Tillerson is that this is the position of the administration. They are not happy with the current state of relations, and we are not happy at all. And I believe that the understanding is that we have to accept the reality which was created, as I said, by the spiral of unfriendly steps started by the Obama administration, but this reality is with us. And being responsible people, I believe the Russian Government and the US administration should exercise this responsibility in addressing the bilateral links as well as international issues. We are not yet at a point where this would become a sustained trend but understanding of the need to move in this direction is present, in my opinion.

19.09.2017 - Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Under-Secretary-General of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office Vladimir Voronkov

On September 18, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Under-Secretary-General of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office Vladimir Voronkov on the sidelines of the General Debate of the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York.

18.09.2017 - Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

On September 16, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the initiative of the US side.

18.09.2017 - Joint statement by Iran, Russia and Turkey on the International Meeting on Syria in Astana 14-15 September 2017

reaffirming their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic; guided by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2254 (2015);

15.09.2017 - Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

On September 14, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by phone with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the US initiative.

15.09.2017 - Press release on Alaska delegation’s visit to Russia

On September 4-10, Russia was visited by a group of public figures from Alaska, including representatives of the academic community and non-governmental organisations, members of the Alaska Historical Society and prominent figures of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.

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