21 October 2018
Moscow: 02:44
London: 00:44

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Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

The situation in Syria


The situation in Syria remains complicated, but the trend towards improvement continues, generally.

The operation by Syrian government forces to eliminate a hotbed of terrorism in the southwestern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra is nearing completion. Over the past few days, the Syrian army, with the assistance of the "reconciled" Shabab as-Sunnah group, has pushed the ISIS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army to the demarcation line with Israel and the border with Jordan. As of July 30, no more than 2 percent of the Deraa province remained controlled by ISIS. About 120 towns were returned to Syrian government control, of which over 50 were taken peacefully. Major supplies of food and weapons, including Western-made supplies, are being discovered in the fortified areas abandoned by the extremists. Losses among the militants are also rising with 230 terrorists killed on the southwestern "front" in the last 10 days of July alone.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces are growing stronger. In addition to "reconciled" illegal armed forces who have joined the government forces, their ranks are being replenished by volunteers from among the gunmen who decided to “correct” their status. Thus, 150 former members of the Free Syrian Army registered with a volunteer recruiting station in the town of Nava in southwest Deraa province in mid-July on the first day it opened.

In the neighbouring province of Quneitra, the process of disarming "reconciled" militants is nearing completion. At the same time, the "irreconcilables" and their families are being taken from there to northern Syria. Over 9,000 people left Quneitra in the Idlib de-escalation area. In Idlib itself, the leaders of some groups are trying to establish contact with the Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides as they try to figure out the terms for possible reconciliation with the authorities.

We noted a statement by Ravina Shamdasani, an official representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, regarding terrorist attacks committed by ISIS in southwestern Syria, in particular, the suicide attack in Suwayda on July 25, which killed over 250 people, and the taking of women and children from al-Shabika hostage. Certainly, we agree with the strong condemnation of these inhumane attacks by OHCHR. However, the UN gave a very unusual explanation for the outbreak of violence in southern Syria linking it to emergence of new ISIS gunmen in the province of Suwayda allegedly brought from Yarmouk, Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun as part of a "deal" between Damascus and the militants. Ravina Shamdasani expressed concern about the possibility that the situation in Suwayda would deteriorate and urged Damascus to refrain from taking ISIS militants to densely populated areas.

In this regard, we would like to note that, in its statement, the OHCHR has purposefully and, I would go as far as saying - shamelessly - distorted the facts. There was no such thing as "evacuating" ISIS members from Yarmouk, Hajar al-Aswad or Tadamun to southern Syria, as there are no agreements between the Syrian government and the militants on this account. The only evacuation operation that has ever taken place during this period was relocating women and children from the three towns mentioned above, and not to the south, but to northern Idlib.

Thus, in fact, simply taking advantage of the tragedy in Suwayda, these "human rights activists" actually tried to accuse Damascus not only of "collusion" with the militants, but also of the subsequent raid by terrorist killers in southern Syria. Notably, the actual deals with ISIS, where they left large towns on their own, such as Iraqi Mosul and Syrian Raqqa, went unnoticed by the OHCHR.


Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani on the situation in Syria


Attempts to hold the Syrian government responsible for the acts of terror committed by ISIS in the southeast of the country are unacceptable. They grossly pervert the real situation in Syria.

We consider these insinuations that, to our great regret, are made by UN officials on the tragedies of the people that were affected by these acts of terror as discrediting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the office she heads. Unfortunately, this is not the first case where considerations of expediency and anti-Syrian objectives have prevailed over common sense and truth, all the more so taking into account the absence of response by this international human rights office on the real agreements with ISIS that I have talked about.


Implementation of the Russian initiative on the return of refugees to Syria


For obvious reasons, the press is paying much attention to the implementation of the Russian initiative on the return of refugees to Syria. There are some details on this issue.

During our daily cooperation with the Russian Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry is actively working on mobilising international efforts to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to the places of their residence.

Implementing this initiative, the interdepartmental coordination headquarters supervising the return of refugees to Syria conducts meetings and joint briefings.

In the process we are maintaining close contact with the authorities of the foreign states that accepted Syrian refugees on their territory with a view to receiving precise information on the number of people.  In the aggregate, over 6.8 million refugees have been recorded in 45 countries, including 2 million women and 3.5 million children. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the highest number of Syrian refugees is in Turkey (over 3.5 million), Lebanon (about 1.975 million) and Jordan (over half a million or 660,000 to be more accurate). In a tentative estimate, a desire to return home was expressed by more than 1.5 – 1.7 million Syrians from eight countries (Brazil, Germany, Denmark, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey).

The homecoming of refugees is most active from Lebanon and Jordan. The Foreign Ministry and the Russian Defence Ministry, as well as our Embassy in Damascus and the Center for the Reconciliation of the Warring Parties all cooperate directly with the Syrian government on the return of refugees. The number of internally displaced persons who are returning to their permanent residences is increasing.

We believe the efforts to resolve the problems of refugees and internally displaced persons should be primarily aimed at increasing humanitarian relief to those who need it, rendering medical aid to the sick and wounded and restoring Syria’s socio-economic infrastructure. These activities should be conducted on a collective and, certainly, depoliticised basis, in accordance with UN rules, in the interests of Syrians and on Syria’s entire territory.

We believe that Syria’s socio-economic recovery and the homecoming of refugees and internally displaced persons is an urgent priority international task. Accomplishing this will largely promote success in expediting the beginning of a truly peaceful life and eradicating terrorism and the factors that generate it on Syrian soil.

The unilateral financial and economic actions that have been introduced against Syria by some countries and regional associations are a serious obstacle on this road. We insist on the suspension of these artificial restrictions that are impeding the normalisation of life in Syria and a long-term settlement on the firm foundation of international law, including the universally adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2254.


Canada’s plans to accept White Helmets activists


We regularly comment on anything related to the pseudo-humanitarian organisation the White Helmets. Actually, frankly speaking, they should have changed their name from White Helmets to White Masks a long time ago. Because these people who had for many years pretended to be humanitarians, in reality turned out to be, and this fact has been proved by now, mere foreign agents who worked on the territory of Syria for vast sums of money, advancing anti-Syrian interests and the interests of other nations. Currently they are being rushed out and stashed away in different countries.

And so we took note of Canada’s recent decision to harbour the White Helmets. Let me remind you that they just pretended to be humanitarian workers, it was all pantomime. No, it goes beyond that – they had close ties to extremists. The fact that they will be hidden away in Canada now, to be honest, did not surprise us for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is well known that Ottawa alongside with some other western capitals has long been providing this group, let us be specific, both moral and  direct financial support. Major sums, millions of dollars. Meanwhile I will remind you that those supposed humanitarian workers, who are in fact pseudo-humanitarian workers, became notorious for their staged scenes on orders from anti-government groups, they tried to keep the war in Syria going as long as possible, to fuel more and more conflicts, to pit Syrians against each other, and to bring Syria and the Syrian people down rather than render real assistance to the victims.

Apparently, there are other factors which prompted Canada to accept these new so-called “refugees.” The White Helmets and the Canadian authorities are one in the same with respect to groundless accusations against the Syrian authorities as well as blaming Russia. By the way, it is a big question what ordinary Canadians are going to feel about such “refugees” after the terrorist groups are destroyed and after realising what is going on now on the ground, and we hope such a realisation will come.

I would like to point out that Canada’s history already has stains, in particular, when it became a shelter for Nazis who hadn’t been finished off, we remember that perfectly well, including the punitive Ukrainian battalions of the SS. We can remind those in Canada who might have forgotten. I would also like to point out that many of them never faced justice for their atrocities. Meanwhile, now Ottawa is embracing a new wave – this time terrorist accomplices. The Canadian public do have things to ponder.


UNESCO’s position on restoring Palmyra


We were asked a question on the UNESCO position and steps that this international organisation is taking to restore Palmyra. I would like to say that the UNESCO position on restoring Palmyra is based on the need to strictly follow the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage and its Operational Guidelines, I mean the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. In this context, the authorities of the Organisation in protecting world heritage are exercised under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and UN Security Council Resolutions 2199 and 2253 (they focus on protecting cultural property in case of an armed conflict) and also UN Security Council Resolution 2347 aimed at protecting  cultural property under the threat of destruction.

The 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee in Manama (Bahrain, June 24 – July 4) reaffirmed that it would be advisable to refrain from restoring objects in Syria before a UNESCO expert mission arrives in the country. In addition, the possibility of sending such a mission in the near future is not being considered and is made dependent on “security conditions.” The UN security service takes decisions on whether conditions are adequate. 

In addition, UNESCO has spread the word that from March 2015 until April 2018, in the framework of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage three-year project financed by the European Union, in which special centres and institutions were involved, over 50 actions were carried out that were aimed at preserving the Syrian heritage, and a list of almost 700 exhibits from all over the world was compiled, some cultural objects in Palmyra were restored, damage to 170 historical buildings in Aleppo  was assessed, and photographs and papers that were under the threat of destruction were digitalised.


To be continued...



15.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the ties between “Bellingcat” and secret services

Question: Russian officials claim that “Bellingcat” is connected to intelligence agencies of the Western countries, but do not present any evidence of such ties. Doesn’t such approach contradict Russia’s position on the Salisbury incident, the MH-17 catastrophe and other notable cases, where the Russian government is continuously demanding to publish proofs of accusations? Answer: There is no contradiction. The fact that “Bellingcat” is affiliated to the intelligence services is obvious considering the whole range of relevant circumstances: date of its foundation (several days prior to the MH-17 catastrophe), nature of published information (which combines signs of intelligence data and highly professional fakes), its orientation (always anti-Russian), timeline of publications (each time at the best moment from the point of view of interests of NATO countries), biography of its leader (Elliot Higgins suddenly turned from a PC gamer into an “icon of independent journalism), non-transparency of its internal structure and financing. If “Bellingcat” can provide any other plausible explanation for such combination of facts, it should be presented to the public.

15.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the British government calls to step up anti-Russian sanctions

Question: How would you comment on the news that the British government has been lobbying a new EU sanctions regime against Russian nationals allegedly involved in use of chemical weapons and cyber-attacks in Europe? Answer: We have taken note of the respective statement by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt of 14 October and the relevant media reports. These suggest that, faced with an imminent Brexit, the British government makes every effort to step up the sanctions pressure on Russia and to complicate as much as possible Russia-EU relations after Brexit.

13.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the investigation of the death of Nikolay Glushkov

Q.: 12 October marks seven months since the death of Nikolay Glushkov. Does the Embassy have any new information on this case? A.: Unfortunately, once again we have to state that the British side continues to evade any sort of cooperation with Russia with regard to the investigation of the death of former Deputy Director General of “Aeroflot” Mr Glushkov that occurred on British soil on 12 March. The British authorities continue to ignore numerous Russian requests, including the official request of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation for legal assistance in the criminal case opened in Russia into the Nikolay Glushkov’s death. There are no answers to the Embassy’s proposals to arrange a meeting or consultations between the Investigative Committee, Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation experts and the Metropolitan Police representatives.

12.10.2018 - Ambassador Yakovenko’s introductory remarks at the press-conference on 12 October 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, In recent weeks we have received a number of media requests concerning the current state of bilateral affairs between Russia and the United Kingdom. I am also often asked how numerous anti-Russian statements by the British officials influence our approach towards the UK. Considering this, I have decided to invite you today to make respective short comments on these issues and answer your additional questions. Currently the relations between Russia and the UK are at a very low level. The reason for that lies in an aggressive anti-Ru ssian campaign launched by the current Tory government and supported by the British media.

09.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the new Bellingcat’s investigation

Question: How would you comment on Bellingcat’s claims that it has “tracked down Alexander Petrov’s real identity”? Answer: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently advised us to consider such publications and statements as a display of freedom of public debate into which the UK Government does not interfere. There have already been reports that the Home Office and Metropolitan Police would not comment on these “speculations”. This is exactly the case when we should follow the example of our British colleagues.

08.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the UK authorities’ reaction to Russia’s official requests following recent flagrant media publications

Question: The Embassy declared its intent to request clarifications from the British side following the recent accusations of cyberattacks, and the media reports on preparations for retaliatory cyberstrikes against targets in Russia. Has there been any response? Answer: Today we have received a reply from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which implies that, as before, the British side is not going to provide us with any details that may serve as the basis of the accusations. In this case, we are not in a position to make comments on the essence of those accusations.

05.10.2018 - Embassy comment on another groundless British accusation against Russia

On 4 October, UK Permanent Representative to OPCW Peter Wilson speaking on behalf of Minister for Europe Sir Alan Duncan claimed that the “GRU” allegedly “attempted to compromise UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office computer systems via a spear phishing attack” and “targeted computers of the UK Defence and Science Technology Laboratory”. The same day the UK National Cyber Security Centre stated that “multiple email accounts belonging to a small UK-based TV station were accessed and content stolen” and “the GRU was almost certainly responsible”.Today, the Embassy has forwarded a Note Verbale to the FCO demanding that the UK Government produces and immediately shares with the Russian side hard evidence and proofs supporting those claims, and informs about sources used to draw such conclusions. We have reminded, in particular, that Russia had repeatedly proposed expert consultations on cybersecurity in order to address UK’s concerns, if any.

04.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the BBC journalist Mark Urban’s book on Sergei Skripal

Q.: How would you comment on the Mark Urban’s book on Sergei Skripal published on 4 October? A.: We intend yet to study this book. At the same time, it is a well known fact that Mark Urban has close links with British secret services. This gives us grounds for considering this book as an attempt to compensate for Sergei Skripal’s public non-appearance as the key witness to the Salisbury incident. Instead of facts, the public is again offered speculation and guesses.

04.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the recent anti-Russian statement by the Foreign Office

Question: How would you comment on today’s statement by the Foreign Office accusing Russia of worldwide cyber-attacks on massive scale? Answer: This statement is reckless. It has become a tradition for such claims to lack any evidence. It is yet another element of the anti-Russian campaign by the UK Government.

03.10.2018 - Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question on INF Treaty

Question: How would you comment on the latest statements by US officials on Russia’s alleged non-compliance with INF Treaty? Answer: Russia has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty). The US allegations of Russian non-compliance relate to one particular missile type. While we have assured Washington on multiple occasions that the mentioned missile does not violate INF, the US has never explained the exact reasons of their preoccupation. These allegations divert attention from the American actions that are breaching a number of INF provisions.

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