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PRESS RELEASES AND NEWS

23.06.2017

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 22, 2017

Day of Memory and Grief

Today, June 22, is one of the most horrible dates in domestic history – the day of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. On this day we recall all those who were killed in action, tortured in Nazi captivity and died of hunger and privations at the home front. We remember all those who fulfilled their sacred duty defending their Motherland at the cost of their lives. The memory of those who died for the sake of the Fatherland is sacred for all of us. We will remember all those who gave up their lives serving their Fatherland.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s participation at the opening of the 14th Russian-German conference of partner cities

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the opening of the 14th Russian-German conference of partner cities in Krasnodar on June 28. Vice Chancellor and Federal Foreign Minister of Germany Sigmar Gabriel is expected to attend the event from the German side.

The conference is called upon to further promote cooperation between the twin cities, which in some cases exists for several decades. Thus, St Petersburg and Hamburg have had a partnership since 1957. Moscow has close bilateral ties with Berlin, Dusseldorf and Munich. In all, about one hundred twin cities in Russia and Germany have official partnership agreements.

The conference will also launch the Russian-German cross year of regional and municipal partnerships in 2017-2018 under the patronage of the two countries’ foreign ministries.

Under the plan, Mr Lavrov and Mr Gabriel will hold talks to discuss urgent bilateral and international issues. This will be the continuation of the discussion started with the newly appointed German Foreign Minister in Moscow on March 9.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov takes part in the second Primakov readings “The World in 2035”

On June 30, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the Second International Forum Primakov Readings.

The holding of this event under the aegis of the National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) has already become a good tradition. It stands out for its intensive programme and respectable foreign and domestic participants – prominent scholars, politicians, diplomats and essayists. In the current international situation that is far from being simple it is hard to overrate the importance of such intellectual forums aimed at a search for the best ways of overcoming common problems.

The Foreign Ministry appreciates that the readings are inseparably linked with the wealthy heritage of Yevgeny Primakov, an outstanding state, political and public leader of our times. Mr Primakov made a priceless contribution to the elaboration of key provisions of modern Russia’s foreign policy doctrine, did much for the comprehensive apprehension of sophisticated processes in the post-bipolar world and, of course, did all he could to promote a multi-polar world concept.

Mr Lavrov will describe his views on the main trends of world development in the foreseeable future and answer questions from the audience.

Developments in Syria

We are pleased to note the generally steady positive momentum in the way the military and political situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has been developing since the May 4 signing of the Memorandum on the Establishment of De-Escalation Zones in Syria by the guarantor countries of the Astana process – Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The Syrian Armed Forces are fighting their key battles against jihadists in the provinces of Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa and a number of the suburbs of Damascus. Militants of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated terrorist groups continue to be eliminated across the country.

The Syrian army is mounting vigorous offensive operations near Palmyra. The Syrian Armed Forces are closing in on the last remaining ISIS stronghold in the east of the Homs province – the town of Al-Sukhnah. After liberating the town, government forces will be able to launch an offensive to unblock the besieged garrison at Deir ez-Zor. Army units gained control of and liberated from jihadists the Al Talila Nature Reserve south of the village of Arak. The Syrian military drove jihadists out of several villages at the junction of Aleppo and Raqqa provinces, advanced towards the city of Tabqa and are pushing towards the Sufyan and Rusafa oil fields.

Meanwhile, terrorist units in the Aleppo province have seized the opportunity offered by the ceasefire to promptly regroup their forces, rotate militants, rush in food and ammunition supplies, and repair hardware.

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are storming the ISIS stronghold in Syria – the city of Raqqa – from the west and east and have taken control of a third of the city. The 4,000-strong Tribal Army formation fighting alongside the SDF in Raqqa has been actively supporting operations by the Syrian army at the junction of Raqqa and Aleppo provinces. The volunteer corps formed by the Bedouin clans intends to fight its way alongside government forces up to Deir ez-Zor. According to some media, ISIS leaders have reportedly engaged in talks with the SDF command about the evacuation of jihadists and their families from the so-called ISIS capital and about the terms of safe corridors in the direction of Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra. Counterattacks attempted by jihadists have on the whole been unsuccessful.

The Syrian government has been stepping up multiple efforts to restore areas liberated from illegal military groups\' militants to peaceful life. Eight new police departments have opened in eastern Aleppo. A batch of school textbooks has been dispatched to East Ghouta and East Harasta. According to offciials from the Syrian Ministry of Education, similar aid will be provided to all state educational institutions, including those located in the terrorist-controlled Idlib and Raqqa provinces.

A UN evaluation mission has reported, following its earlier visit to the Al-Waer district in the Homs province, that life there is returning to normal. The UN officials have confirmed the completion of the demining process. Humanitarian access is available and transport communications have been put into service. Refugees and internally displaced persons are returning to their homes. The Syrian authorities have allowed the Aleppo-Qamishli motorway to be used for humanitarian needs. In cooperation with the Syrian Red Crescent Society, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN humanitarian relief agencies, humanitarian aid has been brought to Harasta, Modira and Misraba in the Damask province – 37 truckloads of food and medicine.

Considering all that, one cannot but feel outrage at the destruction on June 18 the Syrian airspace in the Raqqa province by the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition of a Syrian Su-22 fighter jet performing a combat mission against ISIS militants near Rusafa. The Russian side views such incidents as blatant violations of international law and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity for Syria and as disrespect for the UN Charter. Given the fact that at the time of the strike on the Syrian fighter jet, the Russian Aerospace Forces were also flying combat missions in Syrian airspace, we regard this incident as our American partners\' deliberate non-compliance with their commitments under the memorandum on the prevention of incidents and ensuring air safety during operations in Syria, which was signed on October 20, 2015. For that reason, the Russian Ministry of Defence has been forced to temporarily suspend cooperation with our American partners in the sky over Syria within the framework of the aforementioned document. We are demanding a thorough investigation by the American command into the aforementioned incident and the necessary measures to prevent a repetition of similar situations in the future.

We have been dismayed by reports about the delivery to the so-called anti-ISIS coalition’s base near Al-Tanf of HIMARS high mobility artillery rocket systems and the deployment of an additional American contingent at Az–Zaqf 70 km north-east of At-Tanf. This is evidence that the Americans have been actively building up their military presence in southern areas of sovereign Syria in violation of international law.

On June 19, aircraft of the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition carried out yet another attack on ISIS positions, this time in Tal al-Shayer area in the Hasaka province, killing 12 civilians, all from the same family.

As part of efforts to create de-escalation zones in Syria and bolster and consolidate the ceasefire, Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantor states are conducting preparations for the next round of the International Meeting on Syria in Astana, which is scheduled for July 4-5, as we have already reported. At present, the guarantor countries are drawing up a package of documents on the implementation of the May 4 memorandum. The Russian side is confident that the upcoming meeting in the Kazakh capital will become an important step towards a political settlement in Syria.

Latest reports about unidentified aircraft sighted in Afghanistan

We’ve taken note of new reports about unmarked helicopters ferrying the fighters of ISIS Afghan branch, as well as weapons and munitions for them, in eastern Afghanistan.

On June 14, ISIS captured a large part of Tora Bora, a strategic cave and tunnel complex in the Pachir Aw Agam District of Nangarhar. Some reports say that shortly before this, unmarked helicopters delivered over 50 armed extremists to reinforce the fighters who were preparing an offensive on Tora Bora, as well as a container full of weapons and munitions.

MP Zahir Qadir, the lower house representative of the tribes whose fighters are defending the cave complex, has said publicly that these unmarked helicopters belong to the United States. He also said that the Tora Bora defenders had not received any real support from the Afghan government and its Western allies for nearly a week before the ISIS offensive.

It is symptomatic that neither the Afghan authorities nor the US and NATO military contingent officials in Afghanistan have offered a rational explanation for the increased number of flights made by unidentified helicopters providing support to ISIS fighters in many Afghan provinces. Silence in this case is becoming increasingly conspicuous.

I would like the Western media, including American journalists who have published so many reports about Russia’s alleged assistance to the Taliban and extremists in Afghanistan, to take note of this information. We have repeatedly denied these reports as ungrounded and have outlined Russia’s firm stance on this matter.

We would like these unidentified helicopters to appear not only in Afghanistan but also in the Western media. Dear colleagues, you have the opportunity to ask these questions in the Pentagon, the White House and the US State Department. I know that you are looking for Russian hackers, but you can now shift your attention to the helicopters. It is said in Afghanistan that these are US helicopters and that they deliver assistance not to moderate fighters or extremists, but directly to ISIS.

Lack of European agencies’ response to Estonia’s closure of the case on Russian citizen Ganin’s murder

We’ve taken note of the lack of European officials’ response to Estonia’s decision to close, due to the statute of limitations, the case on the murder of Russian citizen Dmitry Ganin during the defence of the Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn in April 2007.

We have commented on this situation before. However, this time we would like to draw your attention to the lack of any reaction from Brussels, which is not only the capital of a European country but also the capital of the European Union. We are surprised by its silence. The EU, some of its officials and many of its agencies actively comment on developments in Russia, closely monitor the investigation of high-profile cases in Russia and also demand that we regularly update various international organisations on the progress in these investigations. I would like to remind you that we regularly submit such reports in keeping with our obligations within these organisations. We don’t understand why nobody at the EU has issued a statement or requested that Estonia explain why the case of Dmitry Ganin, which is a high-profile case concerned with the protection of human rights, democracy, the freedom of expression and media on a global scale, has been archived.

As I said before, the EU has always claimed to defend the law and fight lawlessness and has never been shy to tell other countries how they should live and what they should do. We know this very well because we have always been in the focus of this organisation’s attention. But it has never been equally active when the matter concerned the human rights situation in EU countries. The EU is a union of countries with different legal frameworks, traditions and levels of democracy. It wouldn’t hurt Brussels to see what happens in this sphere concerning the new EU members and possibly issue recommendations to them to improve their behaviour. As we used to say in the past, it wouldn’t hurt Brussels to take them in tow.

Regarding Ganin’s case, the EU has probably decided to turn a blind eye to the Estonian authorities’ obvious intention to wash their hands of this embarrassing case by closing it due to the statute of limitations.

Likewise, it is surprising that the OSCE institution concerned – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) – has not reacted either to a murder that was committed during a demonstration that was held by locals to protect their rights and historical truth and to express their views on flagrant violations and attempts to rewrite history. We keep returning to this issue and pay so much attention to this case, including in the context of the OSCE, because it concerns an OSCE country that is neglecting its obligations on the rule of law and fair trial. By failing to see the clearly political nature of this case, ODIHR has yet again shown that it cannot work objectively without bias.

We urge ODIHR, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and personal representatives of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on fighting intolerance and discrimination to provide an objective assessment of Tallinn’s unfair decision and to demand that the Estonian authorities respect the memory of those who fell in the war against Nazism and stop any discrimination against Russian speakers in the country.

Developments around the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre

We paid attention to a number of statements by US officials, including Department of State official Hoyt Brian Yee, which are aimed at discrediting the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre (RSHC) in Nis (Serbia). They made absolutely unthinkable, absurd accusations in the worst traditions of the Cold War. They alleged, for one, that Russia has all but created a spy nest on the Balkans to threaten the US contingent in Kosovo. Take a map and find Nis and Kosovo on it. Of course, the US Department of State may not know where Nis and Kosovo are located. If they believe that Kosovo had a referendum, why should they know where it is located? Not to mention the RSHC in Nis.

The RSHC project has been designed and implemented as a joint humanitarian mission with Serbia for work in the Balkans in cooperation with all interested parties. It was registered as an international organisation. The centre took part in responding to emergencies in Serbia, Greece, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We wish US diplomats had found out what these states and their public organisations think about the work of the RSHC before making such absurd statements. Specialists from various countries underwent training in the centre and its facilities were visited by representatives not only of individual countries but also international organisations – the UN and OSCE – who repeatedly invited their colleagues from various countries and multilateral agencies to cooperate with the centre. Incidentally, the US Ambassador in Belgrade was also invited to visit the centre more than once but neither he nor his subordinates wished to take advantage of this opportunity. Why bother? This elegant tactic has been used in many places. If you see something with your own eyes, you will not be able to let your imagination run wild but will have to continue producing fake news.

It is absolutely impossible to understand how four civilian experts from the Russian Emergencies Ministry, several fire vehicles and employees of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior’s emergency response department can threaten the security of 600 US soldiers in Kosovo, 150 km away from the centre. Mr Yee said the centre was a threat to security and, in principle, the US contingent in Kosovo. So, four experts, fire vehicles and a couple of employees of the local Ministry of the Interior versus 600 Americans. What’s wrong with them? Are they so badly trained that they can’t take care of themselves?

We are again urging Washington not to speculate and spook itself, or look for Russian spies in Nis. It would be best to send its experts to the RSHC and draw the appropriate conclusions. It would be great if they could go on record with their account.




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