21 September 2017
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PRESS RELEASES AND NEWS

09.09.2017

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, September 8, 2017

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Saudi Arabia and Jordan

On September 9-11, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
In Jeddah Mr Lavrov will be received by King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and hold talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
In Amman Mr Lavrov will meet with King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein and Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi.
During these meetings the sides will discuss in detail the current condition and prospects of consolidating Russia’s diverse relations with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We hope to jointly analyse the implementation of relevant decisions and agreements reached earlier at the top level and agree on further specific steps on upgrading bilateral cooperation.
We consider our common tasks the maintenance of regular political dialogue, expansion of trade and economic cooperation and implementation of joint projects in the energy, industrial, investment, scientific and technical, and infrastructure areas. In addition, we are planning to discuss the promotion of humanitarian contacts, including scientific and cultural exchanges and cooperation in tourism.
Current global and regional issues will feature prominently during the contacts, including support for Russia’s approaches and initiatives in the UN and other international agencies.
Considerable attention will be devoted to the Middle East and North Africa, with an emphasis on the need to settle regional conflicts and crises by political and diplomatic means, during a mutually respectful dialogue with due account of the balance of interests and concerns of all parties involved.
Naturally, during his trip to the Middle East, Mr Lavrov will focus on the situation in Syria, the formation of de-escalation zones there, in the framework of the Astana process, and the current efforts to establish a united delegation of the Syrian opposition for the Geneva talks with the Syrian Government under the aegis of the UN. He will also talk about the situation in Yemen, Iraq and Libya and the issues of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process.
As a follow-up to the Minister’s contacts during his visit to Kuwait City, Abu Dhabi and Doha on August 27-30, Mr Lavrov is planning to exchange views with partners on the ongoing disagreements between some Arab countries and Qatar. We are invariably urging all parties concerned to overcome this alarming situation at the negotiating table and achieve a compromise that will bring their relations back to a non-confrontational and constructive path and ensure their unity in the face of many current challenges, primarily the threat of international terrorism. We reaffirm our support for the mediation of Kuwait and Sheikh Sabah IV Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah personally.
We view Mr Lavrov’s forthcoming visits to Jeddah and Amman as an important part of Russia’s consistent efforts to enhance multilateral and mutually beneficial cooperation with all partners in the strategically vital region of the Middle East and North Africa. We believe this meets the long-term interests of ensuring peace and stability in this entire region.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with CSTO Secretary General Yury Khachaturov

On September 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold a meeting with CSTO Secretary General Yury Khachaturov to discuss urgent issues related to CSTO activities.
In the run-up to the forthcoming sessions of the CSTO charter bodies, primarily the CSTO Collective Security Council, Mr Khachaturov is conducting consultations with the leaders of the CSTO member states. In particular, he visited Kazakhstan (August 23-25), Armenia (August 28-30) and Tajikistan (September 7-9).
Mr Khachaturov became CSTO Secretary General last May, as we have already announced.

Developments in Syria

The development of the military-political situation in Syria in the past two weeks was distinguished by the consolidation of the positive trends towards further normalisation, favourable conditions for the political settlement of the Syrian crisis, restoration of the economy and return to normal life.
The Syrian Government Army has achieved serious success with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces. ISIS units have sustained a crushing defeat in the eastern and central parts of Syria. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, in all during this time the Syrian armed forces freed from terrorists 4,800 sq km of land and thrown militants out of 59 cities and villages. They have won the battle with ISIS for Deir ez-Zor. As a result, about 200,000 people have received access to food and medicines and an opportunity to freely travel in the country.
A column with humanitarian relief entered Deir ez-Zor following the advancing units of the Syrian army.
We are urging our international partners to join Russia’s efforts to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria, primarily in the regions that were controlled by terrorists for a long time and in the de-escalation zones. The scale of destruction left behind by terrorists is appalling. Retreating, they mine residential areas to impede civilians from returning home.
The sixth international meeting on Syria is scheduled to take place in Astana on September 14-15. During this event, the guarantors of the ceasefire – Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the observers of the Astana process – the UN, Jordan and the United States are planning to discuss the formation and functioning of de-escalation zones in Syria. They will focus on consolidating the ceasefire, boosting humanitarian aid and facilitating mine clearing.
The situation in the de-escalation zones operating in southwestern Syria, northern Homs and Eastern Ghouta is stable. Armed clashes occur from time to time on the border of the southwestern de-escalation zone between units affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, on the one hand, and the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, on the other.
In Idlib, Jabhat al-Nusra’s alliance of Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham continues its attempts to consolidate its monopoly on power by force. Extremists captured a number of administrative institutions, including city offices in charge of electricity, water supply and transport. They are trying to gain legitimacy by declaring their readiness to cooperate with other “revolutionaries.” We would like to emphasise that all manoeuvres of militants from Jabhat al-Nusra and their unscrupulous collaborators are doomed to fail. Coordinating its actions with the legitimate Syrian Government, Russia will continue its uncompromising struggle against the terrorists that are still operating in that country.

Russian efforts to increase humanitarian aid to the population in de-escalation zones in Syria

The strengthening of the ceasefire regime and successes in the struggle against criminal terrorist units are creating a new reality in Syria. After six years of fratricidal conflict and the constant threat of terrorism, the people in the country are being given a chance to lead a peaceful life. But it has to be done on the ruins left behind by the terrorists when schools, hospitals and critical facilities were destroyed or looted. The task of rectifying the humanitarian situation in Syria takes on particular significance in terms of supporting the positive trends and as a result of successful implementation of the de-escalation zone concept worked out in the framework of the “Astana process.”
We are convinced that today the most vigorous efforts are needed to assist the Syrian people, humanitarian demining, restoration of vital civil and economic infrastructure facilities. Broad opportunities for this are opening up. Most importantly, the level of violence has dropped dramatically. Russian military police are ready to help secure access of humanitarian cargoes to the functioning de-escalation zones. In the course of the work of the local ceasefire committees, the needs of specific communities for food, medicines, school and medical equipment and instructional materials are being determined.
Russia delivers regular and significant amounts of humanitarian aid to the Syrians: food, medical supplies, blankets and basic necessities. The Russian military take part in mine-clearing of the territories liberated from terrorists, training local combat engineers, but the amount of work to be done is such that these efforts are not sufficient.
We expect that our regional and international partners genuinely interested in creating favourable conditions for a political settlement in Syria on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and the UN specialised agencies will decide to send additional humanitarian aid to the Syrian population. We call on the international organisations to make the most energetic efforts possible to rapidly improve the humanitarian situation in the de-escalation zones and on the whole territory of Syria.

On clearing up the circumstances of the disappearance of 220 tons of toxic substances from the Libyan Ruvaga chemical weapons storage facility

Against the background of extreme politicization of the “chemical dossier” by the Western countries we note their utter indifference to clearing up the situation around the leakage of 220 tons of toxic chemicals from the Libyan chemical weapons storage facility Ruvaga.
We are consistently in favour of an early fulfilment by the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of the instruction of the OPCW Executive Council on an immediate and full-fledged inspection of Ruvaga in order to finally clear up the issue and to help that country to plan further work of assessing and clearing up the ecological damage due to possible spillage of chemicals.
The security situation in Libya has by now improved compared to the military-political situation at the time last year when chemical weapons were removed from that facility because in June the adjacent territories came under the control of the Libyan National Army. Its command has expressed readiness to ensure the safety of OPCW inspectors. We believe the OPCW Technical Secretariat, together with the Libyan authorities in Tobruk, must fulfil the instruction of the Organisation's Executive Council in the shortest possible time.
An OPCW inspection of the Ruvaga facility will rule out any chance of speculations on the topic of alleged disappearance of combat toxic agents and finally close the issue.

Ethical and legal aspects of the searches of Russian diplomatic premises on US territory

We have taken note of comments that came from the US State Department’s press service on bilateral relations and responses to what were, let’s face it, hostile actions by the US with regard to diplomatic property and Russian diplomats. I would like to quote from this statement. During the course of a briefing the US State Department explained the reason for the mayhem taking place on the territory of Russian properties, including San Francisco and other cities.
“The whole reason why it happened is that the Russian Government has demanded parity. They asked many of our staff to vacate our facilities in Russia, and we are trying to achieve parity here.”
I have a simple question to the US State Department: from what moment do you count the response measures as having begun?
We have also taken note that the press service of the US State Department has repeatedly said that the only aim the US really seeks is to establish normal relations with Russia and, of course normalisation of the whole range of bilateral ties and contacts. How does everything that is happening on the territory of the Russian Federation building, which used to house the Russian General Consulate in San Francisco, contribute to normalising the situation? Why are people whom we do not know and whom no one has invited there engaged in who knows what? Do they also “contribute to the normalisation of bilateral relations”? Who sent them there? For what purpose? What are they doing there? Why do they feel like they can make themselves at home there? It is the property of the Russian Federation. What are US citizens doing there?
This week a good deal has been said about the searches which, we understand, were instigated by the FBI. Incidentally, perhaps this is the core of the problem. Perhaps the US State Department really seeks normalisation of relations with the Russian Federation and what we hear at the US State Department briefings are quite sincere statements. Perhaps it is the case that the Unite States simply does not have a single and comprehensive agenda with regard to the Russian Federation. Because from our information and, as we understand it, everything that is taking place with regard to Russian diplomats, perhaps behind it all are, among others, members of the American special services and specifically the FBI. In effect, the property of our diplomatic agency has been raided and seized.
I would like to touch upon the legal and moral aspect of the issue.
Diplomatic immunity and inviolability of diplomatic premises are, of course, the rules of the game, enshrined in international law, which enable states, even at a time of very acute crises, to be able to interact in a civilised manner. The key phrase is, even at the time of the most acute crises, wars and ruptures in diplomatic relations. This was the whole point of creating and introducing the concept of “diplomatic immunity.”
But how does one conduct a dialogue and build relations if the partner violates the agreements it has recognised as a subject of international law? This phrase should also be pondered, not passed over but looked into more deeply.
The United States felt it could afford to ignore the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 – two fundamental documents of diplomatic law.
The United States as the host state is obliged to respect and protect the consular premises and consular archive and not try to use these documents for its own purposes. Even to just enter the territory of the General Consulate the US authorities had to get the consent of the head of the Mission. The FBI did not bother to do this, and what’s more, the agents said in so many words that they would force their way through the entrance door. What was their aim? Was it not an attempt of the American special services to stage an anti-Russian provocation and perhaps plant compromising materials in the building and then find them? Because we haven't the faintest idea of what they are doing now. Special equipment and technology have been brought in, some kind of work is going on and, of course, nobody informs anybody about it.
In September 2012, Islamist extremists attacked the US Consulate in Libya. They broke into the building and set it on fire. This caused the death of four US citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Ten Libyan policemen also died. At that time, in 2012, US President Obama described the illegal intrusion into the territory of the country's Consulate as a violation of the very ideals on which the UN was founded in its time. Why is it that today it is not representatives of rebels, revolutionaries or some mercenaries, but the representatives of the US law-enforcement bodies that are violating the same international legal norms as were violated by the Libyan militants? When did the US establishment cross that “red line” not only from the legal, but also moral point of view? Perhaps when it first blocked the condemnation by the UN Security Council of another in a series of mortar attacks on the Russian diplomatic mission in Damascus or perhaps when out Embassy in Kiev was attacked? Perhaps these are links in the same chain? When no measures of political protection through the reaction of states and international organisations were taken with regard to Russian diplomatic property and the facilities covered by diplomatic immunity? At the time all this was blocked. Earlier we said that the blocking was done by Western colleagues, today we say openly that the US was behind it.
Some Western media say that Russia and the US are exchanging tough diplomatic measures on a tit-for-tat basis. It is important to remember who kicked off this string of events. It was not Russia but the United States.
Commenting on the forcible closure of Russian diplomatic institutions, the press service of the US State Department declared that these are “symmetrical actions in response to the cut of the American mission in the Russian Federation.” True, the US State Department press service chose to ignore the fact that it was the US that initially expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country and deprived our country of two facilities that were under diplomatic immunity.
Still earlier, in 2016, the US State Department cancelled the accreditation of five of our honorary consuls in various states. You forgot? It never happened? Yes, it did happen. I am a hundred per cent sure that those who work today at the US State Department have no idea what happened a year ago. I am sure no one knows about the honorary consuls. But I would like to remind you that their accreditation was cancelled by the US. And yet at the time Russia refrained from retaliatory measures – talking about parity which the US State Department press service is playing up. It was only a new round of sanctions and Washington's decision to refer Russia to the world “axis of evil” that prompted the Russian side to revise the size of the American diplomatic mission in the country. And again, speaking about parity, I would like to remind you that the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN is functioning on the US territory. How about parity? They didn't count it either?
A new tonality of relations is being imposed on us, this is being done now, practically every day – going backwards, rejecting cooperation, including at the level of contacts between our peoples.
The search incident is not the first instance when the US crudely violated international law. Such behaviour does not behoove a subject of international law, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which was among the founders of the modern system of international relations. Unfortunately, it threatens to become not just a precedent, but a new American tradition. We believe that in this way the United States is not only destabilising the Russian-American relations, but the whole of global international order.

Latest information on Russian citizen Viktor Ageyev, detained in Ukraine

We have taken note of a Novaya Gazeta story citing the mother of Viktor Ageyev, a Russian citizen who was taken prisoner in Ukraine. We have repeatedly commented on this situation. In particular, Ageyev’s mother says a representative of the consular service has not met with her son yet. An email was sent to the consular services in Kharkov but there was no response. I would like to publicly clarify the situation and give a complete account to the media, the general public and, of course, Ageyev’s mother, of what is going on.
Since Mr Ageyev was detained by the relevant Ukrainian agencies, the Russian Consulate General in Kharkov has been doing all it can to help him.
Because of the Ukrainian authorities, who are violating norms of international law and the bilateral consular convention between Russia and Ukraine of January 15, 1993, Russian representatives have so far been unable to meet with Russian citizen Viktor Ageyev.
I would like to restate the facts and say what action has been taken and what has been done.
On June 6, right after receiving the relevant notification from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, the consular agency sent a request to the Ukrainian Security Service Directorate for the Lugansk region (the Russian citizen is being held at a pretrial detention centre in the town of Starobelsk) for a meeting with Mr Ageyev. On July 14, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service Directorate denied the Consulate General’s request for a meeting with the detainee, explaining that it could only take place after the investigation process was completed. Since July, the Consulate General has submitted follow-up requests three times, citing the relevant provisions of the Consular Convention between Russia and Ukraine of January 15, 1993. Applications in writing were followed up with applications by phone.
The Consulate General has established contact with the detainee’s lawyer in order to organise the prompt and effective protection of his rights and interests.
However, the lawyer, who was hired by Mr Ageyev’s mother, stated that he had been denied access to his client on the grounds that the detainee had purportedly turned down his services and preferred to stay with the state defence counsel who had been earlier appointed for him by the investigation.
For his part, the public counsel said in a telephone conversation that he had last met with Mr Ageyev during an investigative procedure on August 21. He assessed his client’s health as satisfactory. At the same time, he denied a Consulate General officer’s request to help provide certain items [of clothing] and food to the detainee. In addition, he said that he could not help organise a meeting between consular officials and his client. According to the public defence counsel, in September the investigating team intends to send the Russian citizen’s case to court.
We have checked this information and will continue doing so in the future. The Consulate General keeps Mr Ageyev’s mother informed about the steps that are being taken. If this information is not sufficient or if this is being done in a form that she finds unsatisfactory, we will work on this and ensure that she receives exhaustive information and that this is done promptly.
We hope that the Ukrainian side will honour its obligations.
For its part, the Russian Foreign Ministry is doing its best to defend Russian citizen Ageyev’s rights and interests.

Finnish authorities ban Kruzenshtern ship from calling at Mariehamn

We regret the decision of the Finnish authorities to refuse the Kruzenshtern sailing training ship permission to call at the port of Mariehamn on the Aland Islands (September 18-20) despite an invitation from the city administration. This totally unsubstantiated decision looks more than strange considering that just a few weeks before, this ship called at the Finnish ports of Kotka and Turku as part of the international Tall Ships Race.
The residents of the Aland Islands have been denied an opportunity to see for themselves the legendary four-mast bark that invariably draws a large number of people at sea ports all over world, who wish to see it, and that has a really big public response.

Situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine province

We are closely watching the developments in Myanmar’ Rakhine province. We are concerned by reports of casualties among civilians and government law enforcement and security personnel, as well as the sharp deterioration of the situation in the region.
At the same time, in our assessments of the events in Rakhine, we seek not to rely on report in foreign media outlets and on social media, which are clearly being used in an effort to disseminate information that does not correspond to reality. We pass judgment and draw our conclusions on the basis of objective reports from reliable international sources and, of course, from our embassy in Yangon.
Once again, we urge all parties to the conflict to refrain now and in the future from any actions that can lead to the further deterioration of the situation and begin a constructive dialogue as the only possible way of achieving a comprehensive settlement of the multi-dimensional and challenging problem of the Muslim minority in Myanmar. We act on the premise that official Naypyidaw will take all possible measures, without delay, to prevent the escalation of violence, restore law and order in this territory, ensure normal socioeconomic conditions and resolve the refugee problem. In the present situation, considering the Myanmar authorities’ evident readiness to follow the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, any pressure on Naypyidaw alongside unsubstantiated accusations of violence made against Muslims can only aggravate the situation in and around the country.
We will keep watching the situation. Corresponding statements were posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website regarding planted and fake news stories on this topic. Please use only verified information.

Increased activity of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria and Cameroon

Recently, militants of the Boko Haram extremist group have stepped up their activities in northeastern Nigeria and northwestern Cameroon, carrying out a series of terrorist attacks, using suicide bombers, including women and children, against civilians. There have been increasing attacks on refugee camps and humanitarian convoys. According to some estimates, the civilian death toll at the hands of terrorists has already reached several hundred in the past half a year.
We express serious concern over the growing threat and the worsening humanitarian situation in the region. We strongly condemn Boko Haram’s criminal ideology and practice. We are convinced of the need for further coordinated efforts by both the Africans themselves and the international community in fighting terrorism. We consistently support the efforts of the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments and subregional organisations to eliminate the terrorist threat.

Niger floods

According to reports, 44 people were killed in floods caused by continued rainfall in the Republic of Niger since June. Over 77,000 people were affected and rendered homeless. Hit hardest was the country’s capital, the city of Niamey, where 17 people (mostly children) were killed and over 8,000 houses were destroyed. Serious damage was caused to the backbone of the Republic – its agricultural sector.
Niger regularly experiences floods. The last time a natural disaster of this magnitude took place was in 2016. Back then, almost 50 people died, and over 14,500 people were rendered homeless. Serious damage was caused to the transport and telecommunications infrastructure. The situation is made worse by the fact that floods in this part of Western Africa are often followed by epidemics of malaria and other dangerous diseases.
We offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

The situation in Kenya

On September 1, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya, upon hearing the plea filed by the opposition, ruled that the August 8 presidential election in that country were invalid, cancel its results (the incumbent President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta was proclaimed the winner) and hold a repeat election within 60 days.
As follows from the Supreme Court’s ruling, the election of the head of state was organised by the Independent Electoral Commission not in full conformity with the country’s Constitution and was accompanied by violations.
The opposition has welcomed the ruling of Kenya’s highest judicial authority. President Kenyatta said he is prepared to respect the Supreme Court’s decision irrespective of his personal opinion of this verdict.
We believe that what is happening in Kenya is an internal matter for that country. It is important that all procedures should stay within the constitutional framework and comply with national legislative norms. Moscow hopes that in the interests of the future of the friendly nation of Kenya and the stability of its democratic institutions, all political forces of the country, including candidates for the top government post, will approach the issue of the legitimate completion of the election process in the most responsible manner so as to avoid destabilising the internal situation and prevent a fierce political standoff and heightened social tensions in Kenyan society.

The situation in Guatemala

We are aware of the complicated dynamics in the internal political situation in Guatemala, which is due to tense relations between the local government and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, set up under UN auspices.
We are interested in maintaining stability in Guatemala with which we maintain good and constructive relations and carry out economic cooperation projects.
We hope that this situation will be resolved in compliance with the current laws of that country. We hope Guatemala will enjoy internal political stability, which is an important element of the positive political climate existing in Central America as a whole.

Temporary ceasefire

We welcome the signing in Quito, Ecuador, on September 4 of a temporary ceasefire and cessation of hostilities agreement between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel organisation. The agreement was reached through the mediation of Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Norway, Chile and Ecuador as guarantor countries of the peace process in the friendly nation of Colombia.
We regard this agreement as an important step towards a permanent ceasefire and hope that it will pave the way, along with the successful progress of the reconciliation process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for the final settlement of the long-standing internal conflict and the establishment of civil peace in that country.
We, for our part, reaffirm our readiness to continue to provide comprehensive assistance to the intra-Colombian peace process, including within the UN Security Council framework.

The situation in the Caribbean

Hurricane Irma, the most powerful in decades (Category 5) in the Atlantic Ocean, made landfall in the northeastern Caribbean on September 6. As of September 8, 13 people were dead and more than 20 injured. The overseas territories of France (St Barthelemy and St Martin), the island of Barbuda (Antigua and Barbuda), the British overseas territory of Anguilla, and Puerto Rico were the hardest hit with many houses destroyed, streets flooded, roads damaged, air traffic interrupted, and power supply cut.
A state of emergency has been introduced in the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, 17 provinces of the Dominican Republic, and in the state of Florida, where the hurricane is headed. Local residents and tourists are being evacuated. We recommend that anyone staying in the area not leave enclosed spaces.
With regard to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the hurricane passed more to the north of these nations than expected, and they were not affected in a major way. Reportedly, air traffic with the Dominican Republic will resume on September 8. An additional flight by Rossiya airline will take home the Russian tourists who were unable to leave the Dominican Republic as flights were cancelled. Two more flights by Rossiya and AZUR Air airlines were transferred from September 7 to September 8.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall on the northern coast and the eastern regions of Cuba. An emergency situation was declared in the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguin, Las Tunas, Camagüey, Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara. Severe weather warnings were issued in Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus and Matanzas. The probability of tourist infrastructure getting destroyed on the islands of Cayo Coco and Santa Maria is high. The local authorities are evacuating tourists to safe areas. It is reported that the international Jose Marti Airport in Havana will operate as usual on September 8 without any changes in its arrival and departure schedule. The Russian Embassy has opened a crisis headquarters. Measures are being taken to ensure the safety of Russian nationals. The situation is being monitored at all times in coordination with the Cuban authorities.
The Russian Foreign Ministry promptly and timely informed Russian citizens about the impending threat, including through its Foreign Assistant app (don’t forget to use it). In response to the raging weather, the Russian embassy in Washington and Caracas posted recommendations for the Russian citizens on their Facebook accounts. The Russian embassy in Venezuela published emergency telephone numbers in the Dominican Republic. The Russian Embassy in Cuba opened a 24-hour hotline to update Russian citizens about the approaching storm and measures to minimise damage.
We also note that two more Atlantic storms, Jose and Katya, have been upgraded to hurricanes. We are monitoring the developments and will provide updates accordingly.
Again, I’m asking Russian nationals in that region, and tour operators, to use all the information resources provided by the Foreign Ministry and our embassies.

Situation on the Korean Peninsula

The situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula sharply escalated after a “thermonuclear explosive device” test was announced by Pyongyang on September 3. The apparent neglect of the global non-proliferation regime and respective UNSC resolutions by the PDRK is disappointing.
We consider the ongoing speedy militarisation of the region by both the sides, under the pretext of ensuring their own security, extremely dangerous. This regional “arms race” will inevitably result in a full-scale military conflict, which the years-long “endless circle” of reciprocal threats, military drills and missile and nuclear tests is leading to.
We are actively working on different levels with all sides in search of a peaceful solution for this set of problems on the Korean Peninsula. We are confident that the policy of “maximum pressure” on the DPRK, including sanctions, has exhausted itself and we have said that a number of times. Apparently, its end result will be either a military disaster in the North East Asia, or a humanitarian disaster in the DPRK.
It is crucial to prevent further development of either of these unacceptable scenarios. We call on the world community to use maximum efforts in order to encourage the sides involved in the conflict to start the process of dialogue. In this respect, we welcome any peace initiatives by the interested countries, their readiness to render mediating services or provide a venue for holding such negotiations.
We stress that the joint Russia-China initiative – the Korean settlement roadmap – is open to new proposals and amendments. At present, no other alternatives to it are within view.

Afghan civilian deaths in consequence of US airstrikes

Increasingly frequent reports of civilian deaths resulting from US airstrikes in Afghanistan have drawn our attention. Three US bombing attacks were registered, which led to civilian casualties in Afghanistan, within several days after US President Donald Trump’s “new policy” was made public.
On August 28, US Air Force planes bombed Bakhtabad, Shindand District in Herat Province, where there were no hostilities. Apart from the 16 killed and four wounded Taliban members, according to some reports, houses next to the target were also damaged, with 13 civilians dead and eight, including women and children, wounded.
On August 30, US Air Force attacked the city of Puli Alam in Logar Province, killing 28 people, 13 of them civilians and 11 more people were wounded. Media reports indicate that there were no rebels and no military activity in the region.
On September 6, US aircraft fired at a wedding ceremony in Qarabagh District, Kabul Province. According to some reports, two people were killed and three wounded.
Attempts by the command of the US forces to hush up the facts of civilian casualties resulting from these bombings cause concern. It should be noted that in the follow-up to the Pentagon’s investigations of some earlier incidents, including the bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz in October 2015, when over 70 people were killed or wounded, nobody was brought to criminal justice, while the perpetrators were only disciplined.
We call on the Afghan authorities to thoroughly investigate each incident and give a public evaluation of actions that cause civilian deaths.

Investigation of Australian service persons’ crimes in Afghanistan

Since 2016, the investigative service of the Australian Armed Forces has been conducting an investigation in connection with the information on the alleged murder of Afghan civilians, including children, by its service personnel from 2005 to 2016. Some cases involve cover-ups or fabrication to appear that soldiers acted in self-defense.
Up until present, the Australian military have refused to provide any information about the events, arguing that reporting the data may “impede current operations.”
We shall follow up on the investigation. This topic is of relevance, particularly in a situation where strikes by the US-led coalition in Syria are accompanied by mass civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Russia is still being reproached for its “indiscriminate use of weapons.”

Investigation into the desecration of the monument to Red Army soldiers in Kosice

We are closely following the Slovak authorities’ investigation into the desecration of the monument to Red Army soldiers in Kosice, which we already mentioned during the briefing on August 24. We were surprised to learn that the vandal, who was detained by the police on August 30 during an attempt to repeat the unlawful actions, had been released. This happened after the personal intervention of Slovak President Andrej Kiska, who believed his placement in custody to be an “excessively strict” measure. Such actions, despite how obvious the criminal act is, are puzzling. Actually, this is an encouragement for the offender, who insulted the memory of the Red Army heroes who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Slovakia from Nazism.
We hope that the Slovak law enforcement and judicial authorities will investigate this crime and fulfil their duties in an objective and impartial manner and that the culprit will be duly and fairly punished.

Denying Russian citizens entry into Georgia

We have learned about new cases of denying entry into Georgia to Russian citizens of Ossetian descent – those from the Kazbegi district, specifically the village of Kobi. Through Switzerland, which represents the interests of Russia in Georgia, we are trying to get an intelligible explanation from the Georgian authorities in regard of this prohibitive practice that prevents people from visiting their homes and landed properties, visiting their ancestors’ graves and performing religious rites.

Facebook statement on fighting fake accounts

We were pleased to hear about the statement by Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos made on 6 September. It states that an investigation conducted by the website’s administration identified a group of 470 fake accounts, which spent about $100,000 to promote their Facebook posts in 2015-2016.
We are glad that Facebook is at last beginning to take the issue of fake accounts seriously. They should have done it long ago. We could not get the attention of this social network’s administration when fake accounts appeared, and not just some incognito structures but those that presented themselves as official agencies and claimed to be the only official accounts of, for instance, a Russian embassy in some country. We tried everything – publishing our Ministry’s comments, drawing attention to this in social media, making official statements during briefings – but there was no reaction. And, finally, a breakthrough! We hope that now when we publicly mention fake accounts posing as Russian foreign missions, these accounts will be promptly blocked.
Moreover, I have mentioned this many times during briefings, interviews and media comments, let alone in social media, we tried to draw attention to attacks by Lithuanian fake accounts and bots on the social media accounts of Russian foreign missions and the Foreign Ministry. Unfortunately, once again, no reaction from the Facebook administration followed.
We see that this discovery by Facebook security experts has expectedly turned once again into an element of the anti-Russia information campaign. Allegedly, these accounts were managed from Russia and, again, were directly connected with the US elections. I have just one recommendation or a proposal to the administration, the management team, the owners: let us coordinate the efforts of the social network’s administration and the relevant Russian government authorities (law enforcement agencies, oversight bodies), and all other agencies that should be involved in this matter. Provide us with your information, and we will make our information readily available to you too. Why should we always operate through third parties? Why should these things always turn into information campaigns? We have a great opportunity here to launch a constructive dialogue. You will hear us and we will hear you, and this will turn into a normal exchange of information as it should be. If we encounter any issues or problems on this path, we can share these problems with the media. Today, in order to block a fake account of a Russian embassy, we have to come to a briefing and speak from the rostrum in a conference room. Unfortunately, there is no normal communication between us and Facebook administrators. This is a problem not just for us, but also for many Russian government agencies that cannot get the attention of Facebook and other social media in their attempts to get the fake accounts blocked. Now the social network itself has faced the same problem. To reiterate: Russia is open to cooperation at the level of relevant agencies.

From answers to media questions:
Question: Protests against the deployment of the new US missile defence systems took place in South Korea. Protesters say that by doing this Washington has put their country at risk. Why is Russia against the deployment of these systems in South Korea?
Maria Zakharova: Because this decision impairs the strategic stability in the region, without giving it the long-awaited tranquility or any prospects for a politico-diplomatic settlement of the issues at hand. It, in fact, aggravates them. Our position is widely known. We have stated it many times and provided the relevant facts.
Question: I would like to repeat my question from last week regarding the note delivered by the Polish Foreign Ministry to the Russian Ambassador in Warsaw regarding the fact that access to the crash site of the Polish president’s plane near Smolensk is being limited. Could you comment on this topic?
Maria Zakharova: We do confirm the receipt of such a note. Now experts are examining it, and, probably, a response will follow. Every country has the absolute sovereign right to choose its form of communication. We have always advocated normal working dialogue on this matter. The information in the note is now being double-checked to prepare a response to the Polish side.
Question: Recently, the Russian-Turkish Business Forum took place in the Turkish city of Izmir. It was attended by ministers and representatives from Russia and Turkey. Could you comment on that?
Maria Zakharova: I think you mean Russia’s participation in the 86th International Fair that took place in Izmir on August 18-27 and the bilateral contacts made in its framework.
This year, Russia participated in the Izmir International Fair as a partner, at the invitation of the Turkish side. Our delegation, which included representatives from several Russian regions, for example, the Republic of Tatarstan, as well as the Vladimir, Lipetsk, and Tula regions, was led by Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak, who is the Chairman of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation.
The Russian display featured samples of products produced in our country and in line with the main topic of the exhibition, which was dedicated to energy and innovations. Russian special economic zones were presented to Turkish investors.
The Russian delegation held a number of bilateral Russian-Turkish events on the sidelines of the Fair, including a meeting of the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Commission, a business forum entitled “New Stage of the Russian-Turkish Partnership in the Trade and Economic Area,” as well as consultations on the reciprocal lifting of the remaining restraints in bilateral trade.
I would recommend that you apply to the relevant ministries for more detailed information (Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Economic Development, and Ministry of Industry and Trade). I have given you the Foreign Ministry’s assessment.

To be continued...




LATEST EVENTS

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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